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.

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