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.


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.

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?


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...