Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Campaign Background: The Seven Spires

At this point, I should probably remind everyone that the players of the Praemal Tales had played another campaign prior to this one. The Seven Spires started out as an Arcana Unearthed game using a homebrew setting which most notably blended elements from Ghostwalk and Laelith, a Fantasy metropolis designed by the crew of the French magazine Casus Belli in 1986, which also happens to be extremely similar in ambiance and layout to Ptolus, the City by the Spire. By the end of its run, the campaign had become, from a rules’ standpoint, a blend of Arcana Evolved and D&D 3.5.


The First Season of the Seven Spires (September 2004 to June 2005) campaign started in the vicinity of Manifest. From there, the player-characters ended up in Laelith, where they ended up saving the city from the ravages of the Emerald Death (see below).

The Second Season of the Seven Spires (September 2005 to June 2006) involved old and new player-characters who investigated murders taking place in the small community of the Delver’s Cliff. From there, the PCs started exploring the dungeons connecting the Cliff area to the “Cloaque”, the gigantic labyrinth on which Laelith stood. Another thing the Holy City had in common with Ptolus, which would inspire the campaign’s very conclusion in rather surprising ways (see below).

This is relevant to the Jewel of the Mind and the Praemal Tales because I would, during that particular game session, slowly link the characters of the Praemal Tales to those of the Seven Spires, foreshadowing the idea that these were in fact the same souls, the same heroes incarnated as different individuals in particular times, places. Universes.

Let us find out more about the Seven Spires.

The Cast

Amalruth Ironhorn, Unfettered Horned Devil (Benoist P.)
Jezabell, Quickling Winter Witch (Tiana K.)
Mandingo, the Hummingbird Totem Warrior (Domingo M.)
Miriell, Female Dwarven Paladin (Milica T.)
Nacht, Female Unfettered (Lisa Maria S.)
Sa Qebah, Female Shapechanging Assassin (Nerissa M.)
Slydracna, the Mojh Mage Blade (Caroline P.)

From Left to Right:
Jezabell, Miriell, Sa Qebah, Slydracna, Mandingo and Nacht.


The Campaign

The Spellwardens in the first part of the campaign saved Spellhold, school of magic, and the whole city of Laelith from the Emerald Death, a sort of magical plague which appears when the powers of Life and Death are imbalanced (when the powers of Life and Death are tempered with, the powers of Life might compensate on a Cosmic level, which initiates a sort of chain reaction where Life itself becomes an auto-destructive disease that devours its own to survive... the Emerald Death).

This plague created an equal, but reversed, chain reaction from the powers of Death in the region. The Undead, who were until that point monsters mentioned in bard tales and half-forgotten legends, reappeared in the Maze under the city at a dramatic rate. Adimarchus, or "Marcus" as he was known, was a teacher of Spellhold who thought this represented an opportunity to be seized. He was haunted by dreams of incredible power and discoveries, and his will shattered after months of this treatment.

Marcus allied himself with the Pactlords of the Quaan, a most eclectic alliance of monsters including aberrations, fiends and dark elves from other planes. Together, Marcus and the Quaan brought back to life the mummy lord Gwalchmesh, a hideous undead who was the key to an inverted pyramid buried deep below the earth. This pyramid, it was said, was the tomb of the "God Who Was Not Meant to Be", a powerful and corrupt entity which long ago was part of the chorus that created the World.

Marcus and the Quaan meant to open and plunder the pyramid. They thought they could play with power without getting burnt.
They were wrong.

Once the pyramid was opened, Gwalchmesh turned against his masters. The Quaan soon lost confidence in Marcus who quickly became utterly insane. The drow part of the alliance decided to exterminate the other members of the Pact and allied themselves with Gwalchmesh. This is during these events that the Spellwardens became directly involved.

Previously, they were investigating murders in the community of the Delver's Cliff, a small village of adventurers exploring the catacombs below their village not far from Laelith itself. Soon, the Spellwardens knew that whatever the key to the mystery of the Cliff was, it was to be found in the depths of its dungeons. They also were charged to find a teacher of Spellhold... Marcus... who disappeared from the school without any warning. The Headmaster was particularly concerned as far as the well-being of his friend was concerned.

It came as a surprise to the Spellwardens to find out that Marcus was a big part of the problems going on around and under the Delver's Cliff. They also soon discovered that the pyramid was opened, and that the mastermind behind all these events, including the Emerald Death and events way beyond their scope, was the mysterious messiah of the God Who Was Not Meant To Be... the Bonelord.


Shortly after all these elements were revealed to them, somewhere in the catacombs, while fleeing from a Nightcrawler pursuing them, the Spellwardens encountered the horned devil Amalruth Ironhorn who was summoned by their enemies to kill them. But strangely the horned devil, breaking free from his bonds to the Infernal Realms Beyond, wouldn't bring himself to do it. Victims together of a trap in that same area, they were all transported through a dimensional rift to the Land of I'ix, a plane condemned to eternal winter. There, they long searched for a way to escape, and escape ultimately they did.*

When the Spellwardens made it back from I'ix, they emerged from a portal right into a melee between the forces of House d'Astradeen and the drow of the Delver's Cliff. They sided with the forces of House d'Astradeen. The wardens then learned of the death of the God King of Laelith killed by his own concubines (charmed by a vampire from the Delver's Cliff) during one of the ritual orgies of the Palace, and freed Eldariel, a Trumpet Archon imprisoned below the Cliff for centuries.


Along with the Archon and Amalruth, the unfettered Devil, the Spellwardens decided to end the threat once and for all. While the forces of House d'Astradeen went North to help with the drow siege of the Delver's Cliff, the Wardens went South, directly to the pyramid and its main Seal.

They confront a first time the Bonelord in caves near the Seal, but the ageless undead uses a Word of Recall to sneak away while some of his minions fight the wardens. The minions, including Hill Giants and an Undead Troll, put up a good fight, but the Spellwardens were helped by their determination and some old friends showing up right on time (the Ettercap Razuth, ex-member of the Quaan, who was helped by the Spellwardens and accepted in Spellhold for magical training because of them, Edwin, long lost brother of Jezabell and a warforged from Laelith's city guard).

Drawing closer to the Seal, the Spellwardens defeat Gwalchmesh once and for all and in a fit of mercy, let the drow priestess go.

Our heroes finally confront the Bonelord one the last time. After an epic battle during which most of their friends and allies gave their lives, the Spellwardens end up trapping the Bonelord into an Iron Flask. Nacht the Unfettered used all her cunning and skill to pull this off (a memorable fumble on a Will save from the DM helped a lot too, I should point out).

But their deeds are not over. The pyramid slowly opens, and the heroes have to reactivate the Seal. Eldariel tells them the Seal needs the essence of a being of Good to live on. They need to kill her, and she offers them her silver sword: "Only the sacrifice of a being of Good will put an end to this."

This is when the wardens hear Sa Qebah's shout as she commits suicide. During all these adventures, Sa Qebah the were-cheetah, the rogue and monster, the freak, tried to control her urges and amend for the many murders she committed during her life. She now had found a way to redeem herself. She fell to the ground and died, tears at the corner of her eyes.

Silence filled up the room. Eldariel was weeping.


The Wardens stepped closer to Sa Qebah and picked up her body. The Archon picked up the Iron Flask and brought it to her lips. She looked at the wardens as she did so and drank the soul of the Bonelord. She collapsed with a bitter smile on her lips. "This was the only way. Now, the world can change. The world ... has ... changed."

This is how Eldariel the Archon of the Realms of Celestia left this world forever.

After hours of walking and crawling back through the Maze, the Spellwardens found their way out with Sa Qebah's corpse with them. The world had changed, indeed. The city was no longer Laelith, but "Ptolus". The world was no longer Osterande, Realm of the Spires, but the Empire of Tarsis.

Slowly, the Spellwardens learned more about this new world. They were told by an oracle of the Street of a Million Gods that maybe, by destroying the essence of the being they knew as the Bonelord, they also destroyed a part of the world they loved. Somehow, the world was indeed not the same. Similar, and yet different.

Nobody knew who these "Spellwardens" were, nor did they know how they had become so rich so fast. Slydracna the Mojh bought one of the most glorious estates in town. Jezabell the Faen left Ptolus by sea to find her native village, Ogrebound, without knowing if it still existed in this world. Miriell the dwarven paladin went on later quests and, it is said, still helps the Keepers of the Veil from time to time, the only one of the Spellwardens to still be known as an active adventurer. Nacht disappeared while investigating the City's underground societies. Story has it that she was working her way through the criminal organizations of Ptolus to oppose the Balacazar family in some fashion or another, though her reasons for doing so remain unknown.

As for Sa Qebah, she was buried in the Necropolis under a monument funded by all the surviving Spellwardens. Nobody in town really knows why the monument is so appealing. Even awe-inspiring. Nobody knows the name of the person buried there. Children often wonder about this mausoleum and the legacy this unknown hero may have had; they invent stories and come up with great deeds and adventures where always, somehow, the hero ends up saving the day through her own sacrifice...

The memory of the Seven Spires fades away. Even to the surviving Spellwardens, it becomes hard to remember the shores of the High Waters, the faces of familiar friends and enemies. Even Sa Qebah's memory seems to fade from the wardens' minds. Is this world better, safer, or even more decent? The Spellwardens have to make this place their home. No one knows what the future will bring.

THE END

To see more pictures and find out more about the Seven Spires, you might want to check out the Lake of Blood and the Seven Spires End Game (which includes a draft of this post) on ENWorld.

* The Adventures of the Spellwardens in I'ix occurred when Nerissa, Beket's player in the Praemal Tales, and Sa Qeba's here in the Seven Spires, decided she wanted to try her hand at running the game. This allowed me to become a player. During the whole time the Spellwardens were trapped on I'ix, my character was Amalruth Ironhorn, the unfettered Devil discussed above. Once the Spellwardens made it back to the Seven Spires, I resumed my DM duties, and Amalruth stayed around as an NPC, sometimes controlled by me, sometimes controlled by the players themselves, depending on the particular situation.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Session 13 - The Jewel of the Mind (Part 1)

Sunday, May 27, 2007 from 3:30 PM to 7PM.

Details of our interactions prior to the game on that day are now forgotten. Since I recorded the time when the session started, it seems we had lunch together before playing.

This was our penultimate game session. I knew our time together was coming to an end, and needed our campaign to finish with a ‘bang’. The idea up to this point was to let the PCs investigate the plans of the alchemists of the Ogden Suhl further. They would have discovered the construction sites of a few more of the seven alchemical cannons, maybe investigated the experiments of the alchemists with the rifts created millennia ago in Kem by the Wars of Fire, or their prior relationships with the Forsaken, the Fallen and the Necropolis of Ptolus.

But as I realized at that time, most of the players of the game would leave their jobs on the island and not come back for the next school year. We had a handful of sessions to play, 5th level characters, and a huge finale in the works. From there, I was left with two options: either downgrade the finale to fit 5th level characters, or drastically improve the efficiency of the players’ characters to make them tough enough to face the threats of Goth Gulgamel and the Ogden Suhl.

As the following session clearly shows, I chose the second solution and found unexpected ways to level up the characters, upgrade their existing equipment, and provide them with allies which they would run themselves, thus ensuring they would be up to speed to face the dangers of the Spire… and beyond.

Session 13 – The Jewel of the Mind


Still the 26th of Rain


The echoes of rocks crashing above the runebearers’ heads fade in the distance. All becomes dark and silent. There is then a feeling of movement and acceleration; a cacophony of many shades and colors, as if experienced directly through their own minds instead of their worldly perceptive organs; strange patterns swirling all around on courses too complex for their intelligence to fathom. There is a sense of twisting and turning; abrupt stops, and acceleration again.

Light. Too much light.
Blindness.
Pain.

They all open their eyes. The forest all around them is quiet, almost silent. A light breeze caresses the high foliage of a century-old tree nearby. There is the sound of a stream in the distance. No bird songs. No animals of any kind. Something is not quite right with this landscape.

They stand up, check on each other.

Beket, Hennie, Simone, Iliana, Hamrick, Oscar… they are all unscathed.

Do not move.

The voice came from the low bushes and high ferns further away.

Drop your weapons.”

They all comply. There is a moment of doubt, though the voice did not seem particularly menacing. The ferns slowly part, and a group of three strange-looking humanoids walk up to them. Their bodies are lean and muscular, covered with a thin fur, two brown, one black. They have long, narrow hound snouts and large, pointed ears which give their faces the vague appearance of jackals. They are equipped with bows, swords, leather shirts and even one with plate armor, just like any other group of adventurers.

Where are you coming from, and what is your purpose in these parts?

The runebearers explain they are coming from Ptolus and are pursuing a group of alchemists in the hopes of stopping them from destroying the world. The creatures seem genuinely surprised by their explanation: “We do not know this Ptolus you are talking about. We are the Sibbecai, the servants of Lothian, the redeeming messenger of our Faith.

Hennie seizes the opportunity: “If you are the servants of Lothian, then the actions of the alchemists threaten your way of life just as much as ours. We should stop them before they destroy all that we hold dear.

The Sibbecai seem to believe her, but they seem hesitant nonetheless. “We have to bring you before Savvan, our guide and leader. Only he can determine what should be our next course of action. He will be able to see through your souls and find out if you are trustworthy. Will you come with us, or fight us?

The girls look at each other silently. On one hand, time is of the essence, and they have to find the alchemists as soon as possible. On the other hand, they cannot deny that the Sibbecai’s help is needed. They do not even know where they are. They still need all the information they can possibly get to thwart the Ogden Suhl’s plans.


The walk to the Sibbecai’s encampment is a blur. Still no bird songs, no encounters in the forest. Just the unnatural, quiet peace of it all. As the girls look at each other and their companions, they notice subtle changes in each other’s appearances. One moment, a shade looks much darker than it is supposed to be. At another, the patterns of a cloak look like they have slightly changed. There is something about this place that feels definitely off.

The runebearers, their companions and their guides finally arrive to the Sibbecai settlement, deep within the forest. There, they meet Savvan, a Sibbecai zealot who leads his brethren with an iron grip. He listens to the girls’ story for the next while. After carefully considering what they told him of the Ogden Suhl, the Vallis moon and the possible end of the world, he finally announces: “Lothian alone knows the hidden truth behind your tales. You must prove yourself before the One God, and this requires an holocaust, a sacrifice worthy of Him and His Wisdom.”

The girls do not know what to make of his words.

I know of unworthy visitors to this Jewel who came to me a little while ago. They are sinners in the face of the One, and must be brought to Justice. They brought one of the Damned souls of the Netherworlds with them, a Demon of formidable power, and it is that wretched creature which must be sacrificed at the Grove for you to prove your worth.

Once they realized we would not hear what they had to say, they flew North with the Beast. We sent scouting parties to find them before they could do the Jewel any harm. That’s how my brethren found you. Go now, find these heretics, and bring them all before us. You will then find our help.

Be weary, however, for this is Av, the Jewel of the Mind. The forest will play tricks on you, and you must do your best to ignore its callings. Should you falter on your quest, you will be lost forever to the light of the Lord and His charitable Redemption.


27th of Rain

Thus the runebearers left the Sibbecai in search of these visitors who preceded them. If they are Ogden Suhl and brought a demon with them, this would prove to be a terrible confrontation. The girls and their companions, Hamrick the Halfling and Oscar the Otyugh, explore the forest. It soon becomes clear that the forest indeed tries to communicate with them. Some trees shift places. They find themselves walking into the same clearings they explored earlier in the day, time and time again.

Beket finally decides to climb up a tree to have a peak at their global surroundings. Once she reaches the upper branches of a large oak, she suddenly realizes that the forest stretches in all directions far beyond the horizon. As she silently prays to the Old Man, she suddenly realizes that the faces sculpted in her bracers look at her with real, flesh and blood eyes.

She takes them off, raises them above her head and examines their detail in the sunlight. The entire sculpted faces now seem alive. They smile at her, and whisper: “Do not worry. I am here. Wear us, and you will hear.

Taken aback by such a turn of events, Beket hesitates for a moment. She remembers Savvan’s warning: “The forest will play tricks on you, and you must do your best to ignore its callings.” This is not the forest, however. These are her own bracers! She decides against the Sibbecai’s advice, and puts the bracers back on her wrists.

Everything suddenly seems clearer. Beket feels the world around her, and the world beyond, as part of herself. She feels as if she was in contact with the Old Man himself, and as such, gets a sense that all that is happening to them makes no sense whatsoever in the grand scheme of things. Everything is part of the grand tapestry, and the grand tapestry cannot be destroyed by the actions of just a few of its knots. Why then must she fight? Why resist at all?

She ponders these existential questions, sitting high on the branch of the oak.

Far below, Hennie and Simone are experiencing similar doubts.

Hennie feels the flames gather around her, and realizes that this whole fight is about her and her place in the world. It is for her to seize all these opportunities to develop and refine her magical might. This isn’t a curse, but a boon to be cherished, and cultivated.

Simone looks at her bow. The very matter of darkness seems to emanate from its limbs and string. She shoots aimlessly. The arrow leaves behind it a trail of black fumes and wisps of darkness. She feels the Dark surround her; infuse her mind, thoughts, conscious and unconscious. Does she have to betray her friends and companions, just like she betrayed the House Sadar before them? Or is this all about her final steps into the arms of Death, and ultimate oblivion?

CRRRACK!

The sudden arrival of an enormous horned beast breaks the charm. Two trees are flattened when the muscular purple humanoid charges through the clearing head first. The Demon! It stops at the foot of the large oak Beket climbed, crouches powerfully… and jumps high up through the foliage like a bullet fired from a dragon rifle! It head-butts Beket on its way up, seizes her at the same time by the arms, and they both crash through the branches and finally back to the ground with in a loud thump that sends pieces of earth and wood fly around them.

WHO ARE YOU? WHAT DO YOU WANT?” The creature yells as it grasps Beket’s head with one of its massive hands, ready to squeeze it between its oversized claws. The monk is about the resist when she notices a strange look in the beast’s eyes. There is anger within, some amount of fear for sure… but no hatred. No evil. This puzzles her, and she decides to try to negotiate with the creature.


We hail from Ptolus. We are searching for the alchemists. We need help.

Another male voice comes from the trees. “This is all right, then. We need your help as well.

Three individuals walk into the clearing. One is wearing a purple hood and robes; another a plate armor and a massive broadsword of stone; the last one is a minotaur wearing priestly clothes. The one with the purple robes speaks first: “I am Odhanan Baoisgne, and this is Orien de Saeth,” he says as he points to his armoured companion wearing the huge blade of veined marble. He then points to the minotaur: “This, is Shibata.” Odhanan then seems to realize the purple beast is still squeezing Beket’s head: “You can let it go now, Amalruth.

The creature lets Beket go with a grunt: “You are lucky I am not hungry.

Orien steps in: “Now, now. They did not start the fight. We did.” He smiles and adds to Beket's attention: “Amalruth is a Devil who freed himself from the clutches of his masters. He only seeks to live on his own terms, and is a valuable asset for our little team.

He extends a hand towards her: “I apologize for the attack, but we just weren’t sure what your intentions were.”

Hennie walks to the newcomers. “We were sent to hunt down your friend here. The Sibbecai want to sacrifice him to Lothian. Only then would we be deemed worthy of their help.” Shibata, the minotaur, seems very interested by these revelations.

Hennie goes on: “We are here for the alchemists of the Ogden Suhl. We want to stop them from precipitating the end of the world, or whatever they truly want out of the return of the Vallis moon. What are you searching for?

Odhanan and Orien look at each other. The minotaur answers: “The Cask of Frozen Dreams, a powerful artefact which we must bring back to the Pale Tower.

Simone and Beket do not seem to understand what Shibata is talking about. Hennie fills in the blanks: “You mean to say… you were sent here by the Malkuth, the angelic powers of Ptolus?

Odhanan nods: “This is the truth.


Hennie seems genuinely puzzled: “What is the Cask of Frozen Dreams? Why do you have to bring it back to the Malkuth?

Shibata the minotaur shakes his head: “We are not at liberty to say. Suffice for you to know that this could be one of the instruments needed to bring about the end of the world. Maybe the alchemists you mentioned are searching for it as well. We need to take it off this pocket plane back to Ptolus, at the Pale Tower. Will you help us?

The girls are now faced with a conundrum: Helping Savvan sacrifice Amalruth, or band with these adventurers, and recover the Cask of Frozen Dreams. Beket asks: “How can we help?

Shibata nods: “We need to defeat Savvan and get him away from the Sibbecai. We need to get the Cask from him. He is not what he seems. He is…” Amalruth cuts in, baring his teeth: “I know a Spawn of the Abyss when I see one.

The Devil straightens up: “He is the ‘demon’. I don’t know how he got there, and how he managed to convince these Sibbecai he is some sort of Holy priest sent to lead them in Lothian’s name, but he is what he is: Evil and power-hungry.”

Odhanan: “Maybe he’s done so with the help of his advisor, this human… what was his name again?

Orien cuts in: “Zalathar.

Simone is the first to react: “Zalathar! But he’s dead. We killed him! He’s the one who’s done experiments on us. He’s in league with the alchemists. He’s the key to all this!

None of the girls’ new companions seems the least bit surprised. Odhanan explains: “This is this place. Av, Jewel of the Mind. It responds to the sentient beings within its reach. Your alchemists probably saw an opportunity there, and brought Zalathar’s soul back from the Netherworld. That or it was just coincidence, a subconscious answer to the alchemists’ desires. I’m sure Av talked to you already.

Hennie confirms: “It has. It seems to exacerbate my own desires. The selfish ones…

The ones you want to suppress,” Shibata points out.

Beket nods in understanding: “We need to attune ourselves to Av’s whispers.” She walks to the tree she climbed earlier. She reaches for her sacrificial dagger, and stabs its bark. Sap slowly starts to bleed from the tree as she pulls her knife from its wound. “We shall drink, and remember.

The girls take turns and drink the sap from the tree.

At first, nothing seems to happen. But then, then… they remember.

To be continued...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Session 12 - Requiem for a Cannon

Saturday, May 5, 2007 from 5:00 PM to 10:15 PM.

As usual, we meet and have dinner together. This is the first time our friends get to be with our dog, Buster, in our home. We adopted it just a few days prior to this session. The food is varied and great, as one might expect from the excellent cooks that happen to be playing in campaign. I mostly remember the tortillas filled with Nutella and Strawberry slices we had for dessert.


Session 12 - Requiem for a Cannon

Still the 25th of Rain

Our heroes defeated Armenius Shiver and his alchemists. They know he was in league in Zalathar and some Shuul who performed experiments on them for some unknown reason. They also so know that somewhere beyond the galleries spreading from the Lodge they will find some sort of cannon Armenius wanted to protect at all costs. What is the purpose of this cannon? That's what they have to find out.

The girls loot the bodies and search the surrounding area before taking some well deserved rest. They do not know when their next stop would take place, and know that whoever is guarding the cannon ahead is already aware of their presence. With no element of surprise left to them, they might just as well prepare for the worst.

26th of Rain

The next day, the girls progress through the galleries below Old Town towards an unknown destination. They soon reach some sort of old catacombs and decide to explore them.

They walk through vault after vault giving shelter to ancient crypts and sarcophagi predating the modern city of Ptolus. There is no light source but for the sunrods they brought with them. The air is thick with the smell of dirt and rot. As they progress through the surrounding darkness, they can hear the faint sounds of air moving high above. There is no ceiling to be seen.

That's when the first attack comes. As it turns out, some sort of insect creatures, half-human, half-flies, use one of the vaults as a nest and breeding chamber. The combat itself lasts a split second. The dimwitted beasts are no match for our magic and bow-wielding team. They are routed, but the warning is clear enough: these crypts hold more secret dangers than the alchemists' alone, if they ever were to be found in such foul place.

This session's set-up using Dungeon Tiles and various props.

It just takes a few minutes to confirm the warning. As soon as they penetrate the main vault of the complex, one of the sarcophagi slides. A juicy, rotten corpse emerges from the tomb below. Its movements are erratic. It stands up awkwardly and stretches a hand towards them. Its mouth opens. Bloody bile flows onto its chest, and it whispers: "You... are... doomed..."

Simone knows when things are about to get worse, and things are definitely going to get worse in this instance. She sprints at the other side of the vault just as Oscar the Otyugh takes a hold of the animated corpse with its tongue. She reaches a gate opening on a dark corridor. The others run through the vault. Some trap is triggered. In the corridor beyond Simone, a wall section slides mechanically. The undead corpse escapes Oscar's grasp and rushes towards the corridor, soon followed by the Otyugh. It welcomes what it calls "the Master" with a high-pitched voice: "You are coming Master! You are free Master! Yes! Yes! Welcome the Master!"

A hulking form walks heavily through the opening revealed by the side panel. It is half organic, half mechanical. It is a collection of corpses stiched together and covered with a spiked, rusted, wet plating of some sort. The monster growls as it marches on. Its spikes impale the undead wretch at it cries its undying love for the Master. The creature then gets rid of Oscar, pushing the Otyugh aside as if it was lighter than a feather. Blood flows through the rusted orifices covering its plating. It wants flesh. It wants blood. It wants them.

Beket goes in contact with the creature but fumbles and crashes on its spikes. Simone becomes temporarily corporeal and stabs the thing in the back to no avail. Hennie concentrates and extends hear fingers towards their enemy. She shakes them as if they were boneless tentacles. There is a sudden tension in the air. Pseudopods of ethereal darkness from the ground up to the creature. They search for openings and flaws in its armor, insinuate themselves through it, search through the dead flesh and eat the rot from within. The plating cracks loudly. Pieces of the creature's armor crash down and send metallic echoes throughout the crypts. That's just the occasion Beket needed. She sends her fist through the creatures misshapen head with all the strength she can gather. She sends pieces of flesh and rotten pulp flying in all the directions. Some skull within explodes, and bits of brain matter cover Beket's face as the creature tries to keep its footing. She squeezes whatever her fingers can find. She takes a deep breath. She pulls... and pulls... to rip off some sort of enormous, twisted spine from the creature. She throws the thing across the room.

The creature stops dead in its tracks. Its unnatural life stolen from it along with the spine now shaking and wiggling on the cold floor of the vault, its amalgam of a body collapses in a sickening fleshy sound. It is followed by the silence of death.

And then more silence.

Until the girls manage to draw breath again.

Oscar the Otyugh and his friend, Beket.

Flakes of dust float in the air. A few drops fall irregularly from the ceiling of the vault. The girls look at each other. This one was close. Very close. But far from breaking their determination, it only strengthens it. The rest of the exploration is a succession of traps and hostile encounters with wizards and duergars working for the alchemists. The girls know that they are close from the cannon. They push forward relentlessly, triggering, disarming traps, defeating foe after foe... until they finally reach their goal.

There, in a large room that is nothing short of a gigantic shaft reaching up for the surface of Ptolus, a curious structure of basalt looking vaguely like a monstrous hand reaching for the heavens has been assembled by the alchemists. It is surrounded by building platforms, but seems to be operational since strange gems embedded here and there along its surface pulse with a threatening, impious red glow that seems to give life and energy to the machine. Wires connect the structure to the walls of the chamber. Somewhere high on the platforms, a group of Shuul alchemists is waiting for our heroes.

Bullets, arrows and magic missiles are exchanged. Beket climbs up the black structure to reach the Shuul. As more projectiles fly all around, Beket looses her footing. She falls.

Puppy Buster is waiting for the game to be over.

And that's when all hell breaks loose. Just as Beket falls, the markings covering her body suddenly hurt. Hurt very much. The runes are alive. The runes want to save her. They shine like the sun. Wings spread from her back. White feathers meet air. Beket finds a new life within.

The runes are alive. All of them. Hennie's body is now cloaked with flames that do not hurt her. Simone runes make her hear the slow pavan of the dead buried here, perceive their lost hopes, their wishes unfulfilled, their cries for help and revenge. Iliana's runes uncover new layers in her psyche, a sea of deep thoughts she can use and shape as blades to assault her opponents.

The tide turns in favor of the runebearers. The alchemists die, one after the other, paying the price of the treachery and price they put in all these experiments they performed on them. The whole necropolis is shaken by the awakening of the runes. None within can ignore the obvious threat the girls now represent. Blocks of masonry crash here and there. The whole place is about to collapse.

Some of the servants of Armenius Shiver rush to the room. They want to flee from the area. Their leader, Ozhûl, bargains for their lives and reveal what the girls want to know. "The alchemists? They are the Ogden Suhl, the servants of the flame, some of the Shuul who followed the harrow elf and his wretched master once they sucked all the technological secrets they could from the organization."

They ask about the wretched master Ozhûl mentioned. "He too is a harrow elf like Zalathar, but he is the Master. Zalathar was just the Apprentice. Nobody knows his name. Everyone knows he is the one who proposed the construction of the cannons."

The girls are stunned. "Cannons? You mean there are several of them?"

Ozhûl shakes his head. "Seven of them. They're all aimed at the sky. They are all using some Chaositech and some of the secrets of the Shuul. They can shoot straight up, straight to..."

"... the Vallis moon." Hennie understands suddenly. "They want to destroy the Vallis moon."

Ozhûl confirms. "Definitely. Everyone got in for the power that represents. Just a chunk of the moon crashing down on Ptolus... the magical potential is enormous! That's what the Ogden Suhl are after, but not the Master. The Master has another agenda in destroying the moon. He unearthed rituals and means to make the moon come back. Nobody knows what he really wants. He betrayed the Fallen and Forsaken, then the Shuul, all for some goal that has to do with the destruction of the moon and Goth Gulgamel."

Goth Gulgamel. The fortress built by the Skull King on the side of the Spire. One of the deadliest places of Praemal.

Simone and Yorick the familiar.

The girls let the information sink. Simone then asks "How can we get to Goth Gulgamel?"

Ozhûl looks at her like she suddenly became insane: "You sure?"

"Sure."

"Alright... it's your life." A block of stone crashes to the ground and breaks apart not far away. "Just beyond this chamber, you will find a Maw."

"A Maw?"

"A portal. It's alive. Looks like a maw, with teeth and everything. You should step through the Maw. You'll be on your way there."

The whole necropolis is falling apart. Ozhûl asks if he can leave. The girls reluctantly agree: time is running out.

They rush to the next chamber, and exactly like Ozhûl explained, there stands a sort of gate that strangely looks like a maw. They do not waste any time: one after the other, they jump through the gate. Beket, Hennie, Simone, Iliana, Hamrick, Oscar... they all get through. The sound of crashing rock fades behind them.

Nothing is left but silence.

XP Breakdown

Beket and Simone are Level 5. Hennie and Iliana are level 4.
- Combat vs. Insect people - CR 4
- Combat vs. ghoul and "master" - CR5
- Electric trap - CR 4
- Combat vs. Duergar and Wizard - CR5
- Combat vs. ex-Shuul agents - CR4
- Deal with Ozhûl - CR4
XP per PC for Session 12: 1,166 for level 5 PCs, 1,333 for Hennie, 666 for Iliana (player left early).
Total XP earned (Beket and Simone): 12,051 XP.
Total XP earned (Hennie): 11,243 XP.
Total XP earned (Iliana): 9,276 XP.
Hennie levels up.

DM's notes

Another good session. The fight with the ex-Shuul agents waiting for the PCs at the cannon took forever. The awakening of the runes was foreshadowed earlier in the campaign. I wanted it to take place gradually and this is the first of two big awakenings leading to the great confrontation with the bad guys in Goth Gulgamel and beyond.

This is at this point in time that I learned that two (and soon a third) of the players would not come back for the next school year (all the players are teachers in our community). I now realize I haven't much time to finish the campaign, or bring it to some satisfactory closure. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realize I did not want to end the Praemal Tales, at least not definitely.

This is how this awakening of the runes, the Maw and the deal with Ozhûl came into play. These were ways to speed up the resolution of the game without really bringing in a deus ex machina. It was another opportunity in disguise, really.

It's important to precise that the pieces of the puzzle (the purpose of the cannons, the link with the Vallis moon and so on) were really put together by the players alone. Ozhûl provided some big chunks of information, but the deduction was really theirs. I think that was particularly important in this case. Having such a release of information happen any other way would have robbed the players of any sense of achievement. There was definitely one at the end of this session.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Session 11 - Answers at Last

Saturday, April 21, 2007 from 5:30 to 10:00 PM.

We gather around 5:30 PM and have our early dinner together. As you might guess, the meals are as varied and short lived as one might expect with a group of hungry role-players like ours. When we are done, we take some time to just relax and digest, as the picture below can testify. We resume the game around 6:30 PM.

I wasn't sure we were going to play!
Session 11 - Answers at Last

25th of Rain

The girls wake up at the Ghostly Minstrel and head back to the Lodge. All has already been done to protect Simone's body after her untimely demise when facing an ogre there, and they can now resume their exploration of the network of underground rooms and galleries beyond the customers' area.

Once there, the girls discover that the bodies of the ogres and yuan-ti they fought they day before weren't moved. They know the monsters employed by the Lodge have taken over the area after they discovered some members of the staff had been replaced by dopplegangers in league with the Alchemists they are trying to find, so they proceed with caution when searching them.

Indeed, they discover the bodies were booby-trapped sometime during the night. This means that either the monsters, the alchemists or both are now more than aware of the adventurers' presence and thought they might come back really soon.

After salvaging what they could of the monsters equipment, the girls go back to the cavern where Iliana originally spied on the ogre cook. Despite their caution, they trigger a trap carefully concealed on the cave's floor while walking in. Not far from them, they spot what looks like a metal bottle topped with a crystal sphere. When the trap is triggered, the crystal sphere falls from the bottle and rolls to the center of the sphere where it starts to spin and levitate.

The girls retreat just before the sphere explodes. Large amounts of chaotic protoplasm erupt from the grenade and quickly take on volume. It shapes itself into some massive... something with two necks, a large belly... scales, horns and claws... an hydra!

Our heroes spring into action. The two-headed creature spits flames at them, hovers around, tries to catch them, but the girls have learned their lesson: they coordinate their efforts to confuse the beast, divide, and finally conquer.

The Two-headed Polyhydra spraying fire on the PCs

When they are done with the creature, the girls explore the cave further. Beyond a stream of water flowing nearby, they find an otyugh chained to a wall. The poor beast calls the girls to its help. It is terrified of the rats swarming all around. It calls itself "Garbage", since that's what the employees called it. The girls will have have none of that: they decide to help the otyugh and baptize him "Oscar".

Oscar knows its way around, and knows that the monstrous employees of the Lodge were the ones who trapped the place while the girls were gone, with the help of the alchemists! The summoning grenade the girls just faced was one of the alchemists' gifts to their new allies, it seems. Certainly, Oscar doesn't explain all this in these terms, since it is not all that bright, but it has witnessed a lot due to the fact that both monstrous employees and alchemists were dismissing his presence as the one of mere item, nothing more than a walking garbage bin really.

Oscar wants to follow the girls and help them find the alchemists. It doesn't have vengeance in mind, however, but rather a particular affection for these adventurers, these two-legged people who were the first to acknowledge its presence as a sentient being worth talking to.

With Oscar's help, Simone's newfound ghost abilities and some rather disturbing ingenuity (tossing a corpse as some sort of test weight around the corners of corridors would have been very disturbing to watch by the faithful of the Church...), the girls easily disable the traps they meet along the way.

Oscar the Otyugh happily munching on a corpse...

Soon, the group reaches a locked door. Simone becomes incorporeal and looks through it: beyond, there is a forge, and a large pool of molten metal. There, two Azers, who look like dwarves with burning beards and hair, are talking together and are obviously bored, as if waiting for something to occur. A fire mephit pierces the pool's surface and taunts them, but they simply ignore the remarks of the smart outsider.

Simone reports to the group. When doing so, the girls hear some movement beyond the door: they have been heard! The door opens wide, and the mephit stands alone in the room, right on the pool of molten ore: "Welcome, my friends! Please come in! I'm afraid my masters weren't as brave as they thought, and they left me with the fortunate task of dealing with your disturbances."

Our heroes, including the girls, Oscar the Otyugh and Hamrick the Bold step forward. The mephit smiles. "Now, you have a choice before you: we either play for a while with charades and see where it leads us, or you die. Now." The girls can't believe their own ears: play charades, in a moment like this?!

"Yes, play charades with me. All you have to do is to sign... here" the imp precises as he produces a burning piece of parchment that is not consumes by the flames all around. The girls try to talk it over with the mephit, but the elemental imp is obviously short-tempered. He gives up his idea of a game of charades and attacks instead!

The mephit attacks after changing into a magma hurler!

The mephit changes into a creature made of magma. It attacks by throwing blocks of molten metal towards its opponents. Simone runs forward in a room the girls did not explore before while Hennie Nagel reads a scrolls to summon a fire elemental she found some time before. To her surprise, Hennie's incantation works perfectly, and instead of a minor elemental, this is a Aarsaklaash, Lord of the Everburning Citadel and Archon of the Molted Skies of Al'Rashan who answers the call! The monumental fire being reaches from beyond and talks to Hennie: "What is it that you want, mortal?"

"Command that imp to leave us alone!"
"This will be done, Sorceress."

The huge elemental turns to the mephit. "FEAR MY WRATH, MEPHIT! Leave the Scion of Nagel to her quest! Begone with you!"

The mephit opens its fiery mouth to protest, but doesn't dare. It sinks into the pool of molten metal once again.

Ahead, Simone reaches a room with stairs climbing up to another level of the Lodge. There, a duergar stands with a chain in his hands. Two bugbears slaves are each tied to one of the chain's extremities. When the duergar slaver sees Simone, he doesn't think twice and flees before she can say anything.

The girls and their companions, including Aarsaklaash, soon join her. They hear the sound of conversations upstairs. They climb up and rush into the room...

The group climbs up the stairs...

When the girls enter the room, they find an aged human scolding the duergar: "So, you choose to leave your post, is that it? You choose your death, my friend." With this, the aged, gaunt man dressed in a military fashion thrusts his blade into the dwarf.

There are many people around the old man. Two alchemists, a young woman armed with a rapier and a dagger, what looks like a wizard of Kemite descent, a Shuul renegade, an Ogre mage armed with twin becs de corbin made of the whitest of horns and a clockwork machine of humanoid shape.

The old man sends the wizard, the ogre mage and the clockwork away to guard "the cannon", as he puts it. He then welcomes the girls: "So, you made it this far? You should certainly be proud of yourselves. You survived the cryotubes, the cloning, the implementation of these runes you bear... you are my own personal miracles, since I, Armenius Shiver, is the one who provided the knowledge necessary to your survival."

The girls are stunned. Armenius Shiver... of House Shiver? Cloning? Are they clones themselves, or the ones of have been cloned?

"We can solve this with honor and dignity... or not!" He fires a dragon pistol on Beket! A tremendous fight ensues, during which Armenius is literally disintegrated to ash by the Elemental Lord who came to Hennie's help earlier, his daughter, the young woman armed with rapier and dagger, succumbs to the combined efforts of Simone and Iliana, all of this while the Shuul fires at the adventurers. The latter finally understand the tide has turned in favor of the runebearers: he leaves the scene before dying like all the others did seconds before.

Fight against the alchemists of Armenius Shiver

At the end of this combat, our heroes now have a lot more answers: Zalathar was in league with this Armenius Shiver and his alchemists. They not only experimented on them, but cloned them (if they are not the clones themselves, that is). There is some sort of "Cannon" ahead which has to be protected at all costs. A cannon for what? That's what our heroes will soon find out...

XP Breakdown
All characters are Level 4.
- Fight against the Pyrohydra - CR 3 (5 characters involved)
- Second trap disabled with Oscar's help - CR4
- Third trap (poison arrows triggered by Beket by tossing a corpse) - CR2
- Duergar Slaver and Bugbears - CR5
- Armenius Shiver and company - CR7
XP per PC for Session 11: 1,410.
Total XP earned (Beket and Simone): 10,885 XP.
Total XP earned (Hennie): 9,910 XP.
Total XP earned (Iliana): 8,610 XP.
Beket and Simone level up.

DM's notes

Good game session where I had the occasion to test a few of my own designs, like the Summoning Grenade, and where the players had a variety of threats and NPC interactions.

Oscar was definitely a highlight of the game session. I played him like a muppet, with a deep voice, repeating his voice, a bit naive and very (overly) friendly: it was a complete success. The encounter with the mephit could have been much better, but I didn't have the time nor the inspiration to get on with it. I was desperate to get to the finale.

All around, a good session really. I adjusted my prep work on the spot to feel the need of the moment, and nothing went really bad. Prep time is important, but it shouldn't stop a DM from improvising on the spot if it makes more sense at the moment!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Session 10 - A Sudden Twist of Fate

Saturday, April 14, 2007, from 4:00 PM to 9:30 PM

We invited two new players to join our game.

One shows up today: Stephanie, one of the teachers of the local school (like all the other players of the game). I prepared a character using what I knew of our group's composition: we had a rogue, a sorcerer and a monk. The two D&D archetypes missing to have an iconic party are the Cleric/Healer and the Fighter/tank. I did not want to create a Cleric since Beket would multiclass as one and because the Cleric basically is a support role I think is unfit for people who want to discover the game (unless they are the sole character in the game, that is).

Stephanie inspecting her character sheet.

I want the character to be simple and use straightforward mechanics allowing her to quickly grasp the basics of the game. Further options, spells and rules can be discovered as the game unfolds. To start playing, nothing beats a character with a focus on action: the character does one thing well that has a chance to meaningfully impact the flow of the game, and that's it.

I chose to go with a female warlock named Iliana. The Warlock can be found in the D&D supplement Complete Arcane, published by Wizards of the Coast. It is an excellent character class for newbies since it encourages an active role in combats, thanks to its Eldritch Blast ability. It also has Invocations, which are supernatural abilities always "on", basically. No need to keep track of them all the time. You can just relax and enjoy the game. You can shoot stuff and have fun. Exactly what Stephanie needs.

Some relevant information about the character:

- Iliana, female human witch. She is a Runebearer who doesn't know anything about the marks she bears since she was born. After being rejected from her community, she ended up in Ptolus, trying to make it as one of the numerous adventurers flooding its streets. She was recently mugged by some alchemists. She tries to find out what they want from her and ultimately joins the PCs in their investigation and adventures.
Warlock Level 4.
Feats: Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Weapon Focus (ranged spells), Rapid Shot.

Prior to the game, we also level-up all the players' characters. I prepared everything in advance by writing down all the necessary modifications to the character sheets in my campaign notebook. This allows us to not waste time shuffling through rulebooks to check that modifier or this hit die.

We have an early supper with tacos, salads, home-made bread and sushi. We are all well sated and end up resuming our game around 6:00 PM.


Session 10 - A Sudden Twist of Fate

Still the 24th of Rain

Beket Per Aau-Nu, Heinrietta Nagel and Simone Ahrenameer just defeated a Yuan-Ti and her abyssal minions within the Lodge, the adventuring resort for the wealthy indirectly owned by the Balacazar crime family.

It turns out, as Malkeen Balacazar pointed out to them two weeks prior to their visit, that the Lodge was under new management for some time: some doppelgangers allied with the alchemists who originally tortured them had infiltrated the resort, but the monstrous staff (playing the monsters in the fake dungeons the costumers of the lodge explore during their stay) found out just before the girls came in the picture. Now, the monsters control most of the area and don't seem too keen on discussing things over with our heroes. They have to fight their way through the complex to be able to track the alchemists back to their secret lair, wherever that may be.

After looting the orcs, gnolls and Yuan-Ti on the lower level of the Lodge, the girls are about to climb up the stairs to the upper level when the air suddenly shimmers and bends before them. Patches of color sparkle around and agglomerate to form a smooth and featureless body. It grows, and takes on more details to become a young woman standing tall before them, thin, with dark brown hair, brown eyes and pale skin. She is wearing a long blue coat, leather boots and banded mail. She carries some adventuring gear including backpack, rope and all. She does mean business.

The girls recognize the new comer: she is a runebearer, and was mugged by some people a few days earlier. Zavere had learned about this somehow and had her brought to Castle Shard to rest and recover. She remained unconscious during our heroes' stay there.

She explains that she awoke soon after the girls left for the Black Ladder. She is a new adventurer to Ptolus and doesn't know why she was mugged in the first place. The Lord and Lady of Castle Shard roughly explained the situation to her, but they didn't waste time: they thought it was best for her to join Beket, Hennie and Simone in their quest for answers.

Hennie Nagel wants to confirm Iliana's story before she can trust anything she says. Watching over the stairs leading up to the second level of the Lodge, she uses her thoughtstone and contacts Zavere directly. She concentrates on the gem and soon hears the Lord's voice in her mind. It just takes a few seconds to confirm Iliana's tale. All seems well and good.

When the conversation is over all the girls hear a deep voice resound upstairs: "Dinner is almost ready, boys!"

Iliana decides to sneak upstairs and check out what it is all about. She soon finds herself in a vestibule of sorts. Two doors are in front of her, leading to the customers living quarters. On her left, a book case concealing a secret door was recently swung open. She decides to sneak past the secret door. Just beyond, she finds the corpse of a richly dressed woman in an advanced state of decomposition. On the other side of the secret door, marks of nails and blood. This poor creature had been sequestered here until she died alone in the dark.

Iliana is now standing at the edge of a vast underground cave connected to the Lodge via the secret door she just walked past. At about 60 feet beyond the corner opening on the cave itself, she notices the flickering flame of a brasero. Shadows slowly slither on the natural stone wall facing her; there is some movement down there.

She hides in the shadows and peaks around the corner. She spots an ogre armed with a gigantic cleaver knife. He is about to slaughter some furry animal standing on a huge wooden platform. Nearby, another furry beast lies dead, covered with what looks like large chunks of ice. The ogre is humming a song as he tests the edge of his knife with his bare fingers. He lifts the blade above his large head and suddenly hacks at the beast standing there. A huge grin deforms his face. He does not seem to have noticed her hiding nearby.

A good cook cuts his meat by himself, wouldn't you say?

Iliana decides to retreat. She goes back to the other girls and relays what she just witnessed to them. The group discusses it over for a few seconds and climbs back up the stairs. When they all reach the second floor, they decide to go for the doors leading to the customers' living quarters.

Once there, they realized they have just interrupted another Yuan-Ti and two ogres who were chatting while waiting for their evening meal!

The Yuan-Ti leaps into an adjacent room away from the girls' sight. One ogre decides to run through a guest room while his partner kicks the dining table to project it at the heroes' faces!

As the ogre runs to meet with the intruders, gunshots and bolts of eldritch energy burst left and right. Simone turns around the obstacle through lateral corridors but finds herself face to face with the first ogre who went through the guest room! She quickly shoots an arrow. It fends through the air and pierces the ogre's eye. The hulking monster shakes his head violently before charging. He then hits her with all the might he fosters from the pain and hatred he feels at this precise moment. The blow lands on Simone's bare jaw...


... and sends her flying through the door frame! She crashes on a table at the other side of the dining room. She is unconscious. The ogre's blow crushed half of her face under its impact. The girls fight on. Beket notices Simone's body starts shaking uncontrollably. She runs to her and inspects her wounds. The shakes stop. There is a moment of doubt that is soon cleared up: the body lays there, lifeless. At peace.

Simone is dead.

The rest of the girls' fight becomes a blur. When everything is over, they all stand among the corpses of their former adversaries. Not that any of this matters anymore: Beket kneels beside Simone's corpse. Iliana is just a few steps behind, not knowing how to react. Hennie stands straight, her thoughts quickling racing through her head.

She picks up her thoughtstone and says a name aloud: "Zavere..."

The Lord of Castle Shard connects his thoughts to hers. She explains the situation and as soon as everything is clear to him, the Lord does not waste time. He just tells them to wait and be patient. Silence follows the initial shock and indeed they wait.

Seconds turn into minutes, and minutes into hours. Or so it seems.

Another shimmering wave grows in the air. Patches of color. Another teleportation. A smaller individual appears before them: Hamrick, the bold halfling the girls have been meeting on and on since they escaped from Zalathar's lair. The halfling carries a pair of silver bracers in his hands. He walks directly to Simone's corpse and puts the bracers on her forearms. He stands aside and waits.

Nothing happens at first. Beket, Hennie and Iliana feel like they're waiting for a miracle to occur.

A fine phosphorescent outline surrounds Simone's body. Then, Simone gets up. She looks around and meets her friends' looks of surprise. She smiles at them. She notices there is some sadness in their eyes. She looks around, notices Hamrick but cannot say another word: her own body is still lying there, on the floor.

She looks at her hands. They are translucent.

"A ghost," says Hamrick. "That's what you are. For now."

The girls decide to retreat. Just as they step in the vestibule the ogre "cook" Iliana spied on earlier emerges from the secret door leading to the cave beyond. Another fight ensues. Simone soon finds out she can actually touch her friends physically but cannot reach other people or items. She distracts the ogre's attention enough for her friends to take care of him.

When the cook finally lies dead, the girls take a decision: it is time for them to back off, go back to the surface and make arrangements to bring Simone back to the world of the living.

When the girls emerge from the basement of the Black Ladder an hour later, no customer, no member of the staff dares to intervene. The somber and decided looks on their faces, their clothings torn apart and the various wounds they have suffered thus far clearly show they won't put up with complaints right now.

Dusk is upon them as they reach the streets of Ptolus. They catch a carriage cab and indicate their next destination to its driver: St. Valien's Cathedral, the largest of the nine churches dedicated to Lothian's cult in the city.

The magnificence of the building with its elaborate sculptures, evocative iconography, colored stained glass all around isn't sufficient to divert the girls' thoughts away from their grave purpose. Their steps echoing down the Cathedral's nave, they walk firmly towards the altar. An acolyte steps forwards and greets them formally.

As soon as the adventurers start explaining why they came to St. Valien's, it soon becomes clear from the acolyte's dispassionate tone and careful choice of words that they are not welcome here. He tries to redirect them to St. Gustav's chapel, where the Church "attends to the need of the bold and the unwary who plunge and plunder the dungeon below for a living."

The discussion quickly heats up after the acolyte spots Simone and recognizes her for what she is. He mentions the Keepers of the Veil and how the "creature," as he immediately starts calling her, should be brought to the Necropolis under the Order's watch. Only the intervention of Sister Mara Von Witten, an adventurer devoted to the Church who just happens to catch bits and pieces of the argument stops the exchange before it becomes too vehement for everyone involved.

She gracefully yet firmly sends the acolyte on his way and excuses herself on his behalf.

The girls explain their situation to Sister Mara. She listens carefully. She corrects them whenever she thinks some factual details are wrongly interpreted, but she does so with respect and deference.

She tells the girls the Church can indeed help them bring back Simone from "beyond the veil", as she puts it. She explains that the Holy Rite of True Resurrection could be performed by the Archbishop Adlam Theobold. Unfortunately, His Grace would not be able to perform the Holy Rite before next Theoday (five days from now). The Church of course would "welcome" a donation as a "necessary" sign of Faith on their parts prior to performance of the Holy Rite. The girls do not object.

Sister Mara helps them with the details. The acolytes of the Church help carry Simone's body to the Guild of Morticians stationed not far from the cathedral. There, the body will lay safe while the girls carry on during the next few days.

Tiana wearing Simone's Silver Bracers

Dusk has long morphed into a dark, starless night when the girls finally reach the Ghostly Minstrel where they plan to rest for a while. They discuss all that happened to them with the other patrons of the tavern including luminaries such as Urlenius, Star of Navashtrom, Steron Vsool, Shiva Callister and the two well-known mavericks Daersidian Ringsire and Brusselt Airmol.

Together, they discover the nature of the bracers Simone's spirit is wearing: these, Daersidian points out, are some Bracers of the Silver Shroud. "These," he explains, "are artifacts of great magical value once forged by the Wizards-Priests of Ni-Gorth whose worship is now all but forgotten: they allow their wearer's soul to linger and stay among the living. The soul can then shift between the worlds, become as tangible as each of us or remain incorporeal, as the wearer's sees fit."

The girls are all worn-out. They decide to go to bed. Simone joins the Minstrel himself and talks with him through the night, learning from his own experience of death and spiritual states of being. Such a twist of fate. Much remains to be learned. Much to be discovered.

Just another day in Ptolus, citizens say...

XP Breakdown

All characters are Level 4.
- Combat vs. Yuan-Ti and two Ogres - CR 6
- Combat vs. the Ogre "cook" - CR4
- Dealing with Simone's death - CR 4
XP per PC for Session 10: 1,200 (4 PCs).
Total XP earned (Beket and Simone): 9,475 XP.
Total XP earned (Hennie): 8,500 XP.
Total XP earned (Iliana): 7,200 XP.

The Dwarven Forge set-up for Session 10
DM's Notes

I don't think the death of player-characters has to be a problem in a tabletop RPG campaign. Actually, I think it can be just the opposite: an opportunity in disguise. You can bring about all sorts of dramatic moments or new plot elements when one of the PCs die. This is an important moment. A defining moment even, as far as the characters' emotions go. New perspectives can be exchanged. New information unveiled. New characters can be met, and many events triggered. A death doesn't "have to" matter in your campaign, but it certainly can, in a very productive way.

We may see some dramatic moments show up in the game sooner rather than later, since Simone's player does not actually want to be resurrected (she just finds the fact of playing a dead character really exciting).

The group already invested in the Holy Rite of St. Valien. What happens when Simone suddenly doesn't want to be back from the dead? What will the reaction of her comrades be? What about the Church and the Keepers of the Veil? What about the dark forces looming over Ptolus, such as the Fallen and Forsaken of the Necropolis? There are tons of possible developments, and I'm sure what will end up happening has not been foreseen. It's well and good. It's part of the reason I am the DM: if there weren't any surprises for me in the game, what would be the challenge, really?

Another issue I wanted to talk about is the thoughtstone. It is like a magical cell phone for Ptolusite characters. The stone Hennie uses during this game was given by Zavere to the group so they could keep in touch further on.

I do not want the item to become some sort of deus ex machina provider each time the players are in trouble. Hennie's player tried to use the stone on a few other occasions during the game, but didn't get any response from Zavere.

My rationale is that people like Rill and Zavere may have thoughtstones and provide them to the people they want to be able to contact, but that doesn't make them available all the time to pick up and chat whenever the PCs want. It's like people in real life: when they are attending meetings, doing some work around, or engaging social exchanges that forbids them from just "picking up the phone", they just don't. That'd be just rude to do otherwise, right? Same thing in Ptolus, particularly considering the people owning this stones usually are very well-known and influential citizens. They just don't have the time to chat endlessly over the "stone".

Overall, this was a good game session with some surprises for everyone.

Our new player, Stephanie, liked the game very much, and was pretty much hooked as soon as we started using the miniatures to simulate combats and movements. Something to remember for people I introduce to the game (and this is not the first time I witness it): people really love to have something concrete to play with. When miniatures are on the table, the game doesn't look as "weird" as it may have looked like otherwise: it's not abstract, it's not "too far out" - there's some tactic, some strategy going on, and a bit of acting to make the whole scene look more vivid and entertaining. That's all the newbies need to understand at first. Keep the drama for later. Keep the complex situations out of the way for the moment. There's always time to spice things up later on!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Session 9 - Welcome to the Lodge

Sunday, April 8, 2007 from 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM

We gather around 1:00 PM. I am a bit late on my schedule: when the players arrive to our place, I am not quite done with the miniatures set-up I started after cleaning up the place, around 11:00 AM. Somehow the time flew by. I woke up in a "Ptolus mode", as I came to call it, and can't wait to start the game.

We enjoy our "brown lunch" (thus branded by Tiana/Simone because of the common tones of all our courses), with curried shrimps, ash brown potatoes, breaded chicken and the like. We take our time, but soon enough, the players naturally migrate from the couches to the table where I set-up a replica of the Lodge at miniature's size by using various elements of Dwarven Forge sets and fish tank props.

We're ready to roll!

Hedgehog delights

Session 9 - Welcome to the Lodge

During the two weeks following their first meeting with Lord Zavere and Lady Rill, Beket Per Aau-nu, Heinrietta Nagel and Simone Ahrenameer decide to stay at Castle Shard while some of their troubles take care of themselves, so to speak.

It soon becomes obvious that making an enemy out of an Imperial Eye wasn't necessarily the best thing to happen to our little group of adventurers. Zavere advises the greatest of caution and asks them to stay while he takes care of the matter with Commissar Igor Urnst directly.

During their downtime, the girls get to know more about the residents of Castle Shard, including Moynath Autumnsong, an elven sorcerer who spends most of his time cloistered in his own quarters, and Narasha the female Satyr who demonstrates quite early on both an overwhelming sexual appetite for any type of male around and great blabbering skills, one often triggering the other and vice versa.

Simone visits her parents at Emerald Hill. All sarcasm aside ("so... you are still alive, my daughter... nice to hear from you again"), they are really glad to see her again. The main reason for Simone's visit, however, is to get in touch with Vania Ahrenameer, her younger cousin, to get her to work at House Sadar while Simone is away. It takes some time to convince her (by guilt-tripping her into doing it, actually), but the elf finally gets her way. She does not have to worry about losing her job at the Sadar estate.

Hennie walks down the street one day and pays a visit to her family as well. She faces Fransin and her laments about the loss of her husband Kurtlan once again. The family is penniless, without any standing or alliances that would work in its favor, and Hennie is harshly blamed for not doing anything about it. "After all, you are an adventurer, aren't you?" Even the Knights of the Golden Cross don't seem in the best of dispositions to do something about the Nagel's dire situation. It seems clear that if Kurtlan is ever to see the light of day again, it will be through the intervention of Hennie and her friends.

Beket stays at Castle Shard and meditates with Rill. It's hard to follow her, since she always seems to speak in cryptic terms and refers to events and topics while seemingly assuming her interlocutors know as much about them as she does, but overall, Beket learns much about self-control in her company. When Hennie asks her about her future as a sorcerer one day, Lady Rill proposes to join the Brides of Magic, but makes clear it would mean she would marry magic itself, thus leaving behind the troubles of House Nagel and any hope of a personal life she could have. Surprisingly, while this is clearly not to please Hennie herself, Beket is in the room when this conversation occurs and follows Lady Rill's explanations very closely.

Later, she makes clear to her new mentor that, even though she still believes in the existence of the Old Man and the Watcher in the Skies, it seems to her she's been misled into believing these deities represented the overall meaning of Creation in the universe. She now believes they are part of a bigger picture she still has to uncover, and further, she believes magic itself to be closely tied to this "grand scheme of things". She comes to worship magic itself.

24th of Rain

After two weeks have gone by, Lord Zavere talks to the girls once more. He explains he's had some measure of success with the Commissar. The girls shouldn't be troubled again by the Imperial Eyes, but they should keep some measure of caution when dealing with the authorities of Ptolus. He also informs them that he arranged a meeting with Alderaan Kernst, the owner of the Lodge they heard so much about, for lunch on this very day.

Alderaan's Lodge, simply known as "the Lodge" by the wealthy families of the City by the Spire, is an underground resort for nobles and rich bourgeois alike. There, people who can pay may enjoy the life of an adventurer for a while, exploring dungeons, killing and looting monsters, without dealing with any of the consequences such a "dirty way of life" implies for the multitude of delvers trying to make a living out of it.

Alderaan Kernst is a famous business man in league with the Balacazars. This confirms part of the tale Malkeen Balacazar shared with them at the Onyx Spider. If the rest of the tale is true, this means something dark is going on at the Lodge, with some of the staff at least sharing some kind of alliance or pact with the alchemists who originally trained Zalathar, the tormentor they have to thank for the horrific experiments they have been subjected to after hunting for ratmen a few weeks ago.

Somehow, to know what the ultimate goal of Zalathar was and to understand the big picture that would have something to do with the so-called "Night of Dissolution", the Runebearers and the Vallis moon, the girls have to first find out what exactly is going on at the Lodge.

The Black Ladder

The girls finally meet Alderaan Kernst at the Black Ladder, a fabulous restaurant located at the corner of the Emperor's Road and Vock Row, in Old Town. It is a peculiar establishment, particularly when compared to the Aristocrat's Table in the Nobles' Quarter. Indeed, the Black Ladder's meals have a reputation to rival even the quality of those presented the Aristocrat's Table, but the Black Ladder is known for taste over presentation while still proposing a wide array of courses for all budgets.

The Black Ladder has enormous kitchens serving hundreds, if not thousands of meals to many, many customers during lunch hours. Its main room looks like an enormous amphitheater carved out of a single block of black marble. Two or three tables can fit the width of each of its tiers. The basic rule at the Ladder is this: the closer you sit from the center of the amphitheater, the rarer and better the courses become, the prices increasing exponentially to follow their overall quality and rarity, of course.

When the girls come in, they wisely choose to stick to the higher levels of the Ladder. Aldeeran Kernst soon joins them: he is a tall, gaunt fellow with a bald head, dark eyebrows and a goatee finely trimmed around his colorless lips. He talks to them for while, trying to understand their interest in the Lodge, and the girls successfully pose as the bored rich daughters of wealthy merchants just wanting to "have some fun".

They pay the basic fee for entrance at the Lodge (100 Imperials per customer, no less) and agree to pay for the lodging, the meals as well as any extras they would require during their stay separately. Alderaan also points out that the Lodge takes a flat 25% share of all their findings in the underground levels of the city. Definitely not a vacation for the poor.

When their lunch is over, Alderaan takes the new costumers down to the basement of the Ladder. There, they reach a oval-shaped room where a basket that could easily hold about 10 people standing aside of each other hangs over an even larger well of unknown depth. A steam engine provides the means of descent for the basket and whoever it carries during its runs. Alderaan steps in the basket, followed by the "newborn" adventurers. A nearby employee starts the steam engine, and they thus plunge down the well...

Havoc at the Lodge

When they finally reach the bottom of the well, Alderaan and his customers walk through a network of irregular corridors up until they reach a vast natural cave. In front of them, an underground lake, a damaged bridge thrown on top of it. Beyond, a solid watchtower, and beyond still, a vast mansion embedded in the natural stone wall facing them. This mansion looks like many one could find on the surface. It looks like it could have been taken apart from there and just rebuilt stone after stone to fit its gloomy surroundings. All around the mansion, torches shed some light here and there upon the unusual setting.

As the girls make their first steps along the lake and towards the broken bridge, they see a man run on it, jump over its chasm and land awkwardly on the other side, towards them, while shouting: "Flee! Flee while you can! They're evewhere!"

Just at this moment, the man receives a gigantic arrow in the back. The impact projects his corpse down the stairs of the bridge at the feet of the adventurers. The shot came from the other side of the lake, near the mansion.

The corpse then starts to change shape... a grey-skinned and featureless creature soon replacing the man that was there. Alderaan Kernst swears loudly and turns to Hennie Nagel. He attempts to stab her with his dagger!

The girls are fast to react. They fight Kernst and kill him as another gigantic arrow is shot at them from the other side of the lake. Hennie takes cover behind the steps of the broken bridge while Simone retreats to do the same thing behind one the corridor walls behind them. Beket tries to cross the lake as fast as she can. The lake is clear and shallow, but it's muddy bottom is particularly treacherous for fast movement.

After just a few steps in the water, Beket suddenly sees a large mass of rot and algae emerge from the lake, right in from of her. The long legs, the bloated body, the multitude of eyes almost paralyze her with fear. A giant, black, hairy and wet spider stands before her, an ettercap rider on her back.

Beket runs for the Bridge. Another gigantic arrow misses her from a few inches. She climbs the stairs as fast as she can, one of Simone's arrow shooting back at the sniper somewhere at the other side of the lake. She runs while the spider and her rider walk through the lake to intercept her. Before she can jump, she already knows it is too late: the spider is way quicker than she is. She has to confront the beast.

Beket attacked by the giant spider and its ettercap rider

She readies herself for a jump, but soon spots a large mechanical balista hovering towards her. What kind of a devilry is this? An orc pilots the balista and shoots yet another enormous arrow at her. Luckily for Beket, Simone has her own idea in mind. She shoots at the hovercraft and sends it into a mad spin in the air. The pilot tries to master its erratic movements while Beket jumps at last, using the spider's face as a springboard to jump higher and reach the machine... but she misses it at the last moment, landing on the other side of the bridge.

Hennie casts a Blood Spikes spell (Complete Book of Eldritch Might). Horns of bone rip the ettercap's flesh apart as its blood coagulates. The creature screams in pain while Beket jumps once one, this time reaching the hovercraft and holding on to it. The machine is still spinning in the air for a second, but the pilot finally finds a way to control it. He plunges towards the bridge to lose Beket and tries to harpoon Simone (who is now running along the side of the lake) in a sudden kamikaze attack. Beket lets the hovercraft go just before in slams into the cavern's wall.

Meanwhile, the giant spider went for Hennie. She manages to stand her ground for a moment, just long enough for Simone to run back to her and help her slaughter the monstrous thing.

On the other side of the lake, a small group of orcs and gnolls were watching the fight as it unfolded. Not too eager to join the fray immediately, they just sit on the benches in front of the mansion and enjoy the spectacle. This says a lot about their sense of duty and abnegation. When the fight quickly turns in favor of the newcomers, they decide to barricade themselves in the mansion, waiting for the storm to pass by.

But the girls are not exactly done with them. After making sure the hovercraft is still able to fly properly, Simone attemps to slam it into the mansion's main entrance to ram her way through, but at the last moment she fumbles on the gas pedal. The hovercraft makes a 'L' shape turn and slams on the cavern's ceiling instead!

Simone jumps out of the hovercraft just before it slams into the ceiling. She lands on the ground and tumbles almost immediately. She avoids the remains of the hovercraft crashing just after her at the spot where she originally landed. It explodes in flames and a huge cloud of thick, oily smoke while she gets up and looks at what she has done.

Simone's safe landing. Sort of.

Just as Hennie and Beket join Simone in front of the mansion, the orcs and gnoll inside try to force their way out. Looks like something made them change their mind. Beket stands her ground and fights several of them at once while a gnoll finds his way through and sprints through the cavern. He believes he's succeeded in his escape, but just as he reaches the exit to the Lodge's cavern, he receives an arrow in the back right between his shoulders. As the gnoll's body crashes to the ground, Simone lowers her bow with a smirk. This one would not go any farther, she points out to herself.

She walks to her target and finds out the gnoll is still alive. She asks why they attacked. The gnoll answers: "The staff! We've been working for the Lodge for a long time, but everything's changed! The staff changed! Doppelgangers everywhere! They've been working with the alchemists, but we don't want to die at the hands of the Balacazars! We have nothing to do with it, and if you're not doppelgangers yourselves, or even allied to these alchemists, you should die nonetheless! Nobody will bring back the news to the Balacazars before we're long gone!"

The gnoll tries to attack Simone in a last attempt to escape, but this is already to late: the elf's bow is much quicker than a fist.

Beket and Hennie have some success to with the orcs and gnolls they're fighting. As soon as they can they step in the mansion, searching for more of these cowards. Immediately, a female voice addresses them from the shadows: "You are violating my domain, foolish girls. Go now, and live."

The girls would have none of that. Beket shouts: "Show yourself instead of making empty threats!"

On one of the tables of the lodge, a form materializes from the shadows. It has a female abdomen, head, arms and shoulders. There are no legs, but a serpentine body supporting her weight from her hips down. She has a greenish skin and white hair. A half-blood Yuan-Ti.

"Leave now," she warns them. Beket makes a step towards her. She extends her snake-like hand and spreads her long fingers as she utters words of power. Three abyssal creatures with disjointed limbs, eyes and maw inverted on their elongated faces, appear to defend their mistress.

The Half-blood Yuan-Ti and her abyssal minions

One of them jumps past Beket and Hennie and crashes through one of the mansion's window, straight for Simone who came back and was walking outside! As all girls fight for their lives, they realize their opponents are far from the usual monstrosities found in the sewers of Ptolus. These ones' blood is alive with mischievous magic that animates it and changes it into nasty tentacles of ichor which reach out for life when the flesh keeping them within is torn open by the blades of the adventurers.

The Yuan-Ti becomes invisible as the girls fight her minions. Outside the mansion, Simone struggles on the ground with the last of the abyssal pets. The fight changes into a strange ballet of wits, guns, fists and claws as the adventurers try to outsmart their opponents.

As it soon becomes obvious they will win this fight, the Yuan-Ti pops out of nowhere as her tail grabs Hennie by the throat. The daughter of House Nagel doesn't waste time. She calls upon the blood spikes again, tearing the flesh of both the Yuan-Ti and one of her minions apart. Beket kills her opponent swiftly and races to the Yuan-Ti. She hits the monster with her closed fist with unbelievable strength dislocating her jaw and sending pieces bone fly through the air as the Yuan-Ti's wretched mouth explodes from the violent impact.

The Yuan-Ti hits the ground, like the others before her. There's nothing here to stop the girls in their quest for answers. Nothing will stop them from understanding at last what's happened to them. Nothing will stand between them and their goal: to find the alchemists and know their fate at last.

Beket's Victory Shot

XP Breakdown

All characters are Level 3.
- Great fight outside of the mansion against a giant spider and its ettercap rider, a doppelganger, a flying balista and its pilot - CR 7
- Fight against the Orcs and Gnolls trying to escape - CR 3
- The Half-blood Yuan-Ti and her abyssal minions - CR6
XP per PC for Session 9:
2,400 (3 PCs).
Total XP earned (Beket and Simone): 8,275 XP.
Total XP earned (Hennie): 7,300 XP.
All PCs Level Up.

DM's notes

This was another great session. We laughed a lot and made sure that there was plenty of action to keep us entertained. I noticed that the players imagine the surroundings of their characters with much more ease now, and don't rely too much on what's on the table in front of them. They also describe their actions much more than before, probably because we haven't been using 3D decors and miniatures during the last few sessions.

There's a certain pleasure in using Dwarven Forge again, and I'm sure it's heightened by the fact we don't use that sort of diorama at every game session.

If you want to see more pictures of this game session (and other moments of the Praemal Tales), don't hesitate to have a look at my Flickr album.

Another thing I'd like to mention: for this session of the Praemal Tales I used the Magic Item Compendium of Wizards of the Coast for the first time. I particularly used the tables to generate treasure randomly according the slain creature's Challenge Rating located at the end of the book. I must say I'm very impressed by the ease of use, organization and overall gaming goodness this book provides. I let the players roll for their treasures after a Search check which basically determines the CR I use (low roll CR-1, average CR+0, high roll CR+1). They like this very much, and apart of one roll I had a player re-roll (On the Half-blood Yuan-Ti, Beket got a plate armor or some such that the NPC obviously didn't have), it worked great. The girls love to roll for treasure.

MIC certainly is a great tool I'm going to use from now on.