Thursday, February 17, 2022

A Darkness Strewn with Gems: Session Recaps, LotB Campaign

After many years, I've finally gotten my brains together enough to start running a Legacy of the Bieth campaign again. It's brief spurts -- 2-3 hours over Discord -- but I need to bite off small chunks to get my head in the game (and make sure I'm adapting properly to the schedule). 

I'm adapting Gus L's Tomb Robbers of the Crystal Frontier as the introductory dungeon. TRCF does a really good job at tapping into some of the Roadside Picnic-meets-spaghetti-western feel that I've craved over the years. I've had to use a bit of elbow grease to make details fit with my own setting, but of course that's going to be the case with any module! The core ruleset is currently a modification of  "Savage World of Krul," created by Hydra Coop colleague Robert Parker. 

The game is drop-in/drop-out, so not all the players are expected to be in a single session. (The conceit of TRCF, which starts players with a preexisting expedition to join, helps a lot with this framing.) The current roster of PCs:

  • Rahat al-Qamar, charming ex-street brat (warrior)
  • Tizemt, caravan guard turned adventurer (warrior)
  • Kifli, mercenary guard (warrior)
  • Fadhil Barwari, poet-assassin (warrior)
  • Izohr, distracted academic (magic-user)
  • Wali, mercenary guard (magic-user)
  • Dassin al-Kahina, nimble marabout (warrior)
Incapacitated PCs:
  • Nikoloz, magus from the steppes (magic-user)
  • Azod, phlegmatic merchant (warrior)
    The Adventure So Far...

    Saleema the Sparrow
    "Yellow Elf" by Uzlolzu
    The players were hired on as specialists by Saleema the Sparrow, a fixer based in the city of Maaqil. Saleema, a specialist in delving into Bieth ruins, had discovered a major find that a rival fixer, Murtaza, had been excitedly crowing about before his (assumed) demise, and wanted to put together a crew to investigate the site. She offered them a deal: conduct an initial survey of the site and bring her whatever valuables they find, in exchange for 500 dinars. She'd provide the expeditionary support, supplies, and the method for getting into the find. If the players wished to continue past the initial survey, they could keep any not-readily-salable artifacts they found. 

    (A bit of a railroady start -- not something I like generally! -- but I needed an easy pitch to get myself started running the game and not just thinking about how to run the game. TRCF offers a good setup for this, which is part of why I went with it as a starting spot. The initial caravan also has a nebulously sized group of hirelings, who can serve as convenient PC replacements if any of the PCs bites it or is otherwise incapacitated. Alas for the fragility of first level!)

    The group headed southwest out of Maaqil, away from the fertile river valley and into the wastes - not quite the deep desert or the twisted regions of the Zone, but bad enough. Around midday, the group noticed that Wali, the hireling who was taking point, seemed to be stumbling, drifting off course, and non-responsive. When the group investigated, they found that a strange honey-and-lemon taste filled their mouths. Those who were closely investigating were drawn off-course in the same direction as Wali, unable to step back or move away from an otherwise unremarkable patch of land. Those remaining further behind were able to lasso Wali and the others, drawing them away...but after they were secured, Nikoloz the wizard wanted to investigate the phenomenon more closely. Moving towards the strange taste, Nikoloz found himself unable to break away...and instead chose to run full-tilt towards the phenomenon. The remaining group saw him dash forward briefly, then thud flat onto his back and lie completely still. Lassoing him away and pulling him further back, the group found Nikoloz completely insensate. When he recovered consciousness, the wizard repeatedly attempted to dash right back towards the strange patch of land, remaining otherwise nonresponsive. The group managed to tie the wizard up and prevent him from dashing back to the site. 

    Maaqil at 04, 03; Oasis at 02, 04
    Delve Site at 02, 05
    Wali's diversion had pulled the group off-course, and they had to alter their route in order to get back towards their goal. As the group approached a nearby valley (housing the Spinetooth Oasis, source of some renowned purple flowers used for some of the most sought-after intoxicants in Maaqil), they came upon a massive fissure opening near the cliff face. Two of the group heard strange whispers coming from the fissure, one with tidings of encouragement and one with a warning about strange owls. Moving closer to the fissure, the group were startled to see three gaseous, vaguely humanoid forms rocket out of the fissure, crackling with energy, then streak towards the party. As the group retreated post-haste, Rahat, the closest of the party towards the three forms, flinched as they flew left, right, and overhead, bracketing him. As they loomed close, he heard a raspy whisper, "Congratulations, mortal - you have been visited by the jinn this day," before the three forms reversed course and flew back into the fissure. 

    "Tomb Robbers of the Crystal Frontier"
    Gus L

    After clambering down the cliff face and skirting Spinetooth Oasis, the group took about another day's journey to reach Murtaza's delve site. In the midst of the desert, a large impact crater was visible, with vast irregular spires of purple crystal jutting out into the sky -- their position indicating that much of the structure was likely beneath the surface as well. Approaching, they discovered that some of the crystals bore carvings and architectural ornamentation, that a ragged pathway had been smashed in through some of the crystal and covered with some canvas, and that another potential entrance was visible. Saleema advised them that the smashed pathway was "typical Murtaza slop" and that they should sit tight while Faiza, her gemcutter specialist, opened a safer entryway (the dust from improperly broken crystals can lead to an incurable progressive disease). 

    As the gemcutter prepared her work, Wali and Fadhil investigated the architectural ornamentations, and found two concentric circles with strange glyphs on them. Wali's read magic spell revealed the cryptic message:
    "Praise to the Ascended Regent! Praise to his line! He has cast down those who opposed his reign and scattered their hosts. The winds howl over their bones. Their servants rend their garments, and their steeds have spilt their red blood. He was a warlord during the time of <unintelligible> and a warlord during the time of <unintelligible>. The High One used to cause him to descend to the sacred bark, that he might perform escort duty, that he might come to the ways, and that his gifts be made as though he were a prince, while the like was not done for any equal of his. Now this palace is his. Now and forever."

    The inner inscription read: "My body fails and my hands grow weak. But my spirit does not yield. I am a wall which comes out of a wall. My mouth is strong, and I am equipped against the right eye of the sky and the left eye of the sky. Let them not have dominion over me. I am master of my throne. I advance of this season. I have opened a path."
    Handling blooderfly eyes isn't quite
    dealing with a warp core, but still...
    (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)
    As the group settled in for the night to await the completion of Faiza's work, the second watch heard the beating of vast wings approaching the camp. A colossal crystal butterfly was swooping towards the group. As the party scrambled to alert the camp and form a defensive posture, the behemoth turned its gaze towards one of the hirelings. A torrent of blood burst forth from the man's orifices and surged into the still-flying butterfly, turning its previously clear wings slightly pink. Horrified, the group volleyed spears (and bullets from Fadhil's matchlock) into the beast, finally bringing it down. The wizard Izohr instructed his two apprentices to go retrieve wingscales and the still-glowing eyes of the creature, but was stymied when the apprentice Anokalis screamed in pain, suffering significant burns from his attempt at removing the butterfly's eyes. 

    The next day, Faiza completed her preparations and was able to carefully shatter some of the crystals, revealing an entry into the depths of the crystal structure. Saleema, Faiza, and the rest of the carvan hirelings would maintain a base camp up above, while the party would enter the crystals and conduct an initial mapping survey. The group descended into a small round antechamber with two exits, where smaller crystals were slowly forming around the exterior. The group attempted to carefully pick their way past the small crystals towards one of the exits, but the warrior Tizemt missed her footing slightly and trod on some of the growing crystals, sending up a cloud of the feared crystal dust. The group surged forward towards the exit, barely making it away from the dust in time. Moving forward, Fadhil the assassin-poet peered into the room ahead andits strange shadows, and was seized with visions of the crystal complex in the past. The group retreated to the antechamber, where Tizemt managed to step in the same patch of crystals again, prompting the group to flee to safety a second time.

    The next day, Fadhil, Wali, and Azod gathered their strength for another delve into the structure. Proceeding towards the unexplored (and less crystal-festooned) exit, they found two doors engraved with strange scenes. One door swung open readily and revealed blackness beyond, while the other was wrenched open, making an awful shriek. As the group observed the path beyond the second door, a sound like metal tearing echoed down the hallway towards them. Sensing some movement in the area beyond their light, Fadhil fired his matchlock blindly -- only for the group to be extremely surprised when his bullet found its mark. A small rubbery humanoid creature, its body a shade of verdigris, lay in the hallway beyond.

    Azod the trader - art by his player
    Brother Juniper
    Pressing onwards, the group found a dead end with three bundles wrapped in canvas and a wall festooned with packs, saddlebags, and the like. Suspicious, the trio prodded the canvas bundles, and were alarmed but unsurprised to see the bundles writhe and rotting, crystal-infused hands ripping their way out of the wrappings. The undead monstrosities demanded to know who the group were, but wasted precious little time in badinage before attempting to maul the trio. Fadhil, Wali, and Azod struck back, and in short order the three undead were struck down. Azod lopped off the heads of two of the three monstrosities. Investigating the bodies and the packs, the group found a great deal of mundane equipment (which they seized for the expedition's general usage), an impressively fashionable cloak styled after a manta ray, an unworked crystal emitting a pale orange glow, and a shamshir and animal-tooth necklace on the central undead. As they worked to stow the newly acquired loot, they heard skittering noises flicking down the hallway towards them. Adopting a defensive posture, the trio saw a swarm of five or six glass spiders rushing towards them, eager to attack this new prey.

    Azod was bitten by one of the glass spiders, a grotesquely warm venom pumped into his veins -- but between his slicing, Fadhil's stabbing, and a well-placed flask of burning oil from Wali, the group managed to eliminate most of the arachnid assailants. As they sighed in triumph, however, Azod looked queasy and toppled to the ground. His comrades confirmed that he was still breathing, but he was clearly out for the count. Sighing, the two dragged the doughty merchant-marauder back to the camp, where it was determined that he'd be in recovery for over a week. Once they had returned to the basecamp, Saleema was able to confirm, with a smug grin, that the shamshir and animal-tooth necklace were certainly those of Murtaza, the fixer who had first attempted to claim the spires. 

    The next day, the group essayed one of the side tunnels they had bypassed earlier, encountering a mess of crystals that began ringing if touched or interacted with. As the ringing escalated from "painfully loud" to "blood dripping from nostrils and ears," the group beat a hasty retreat. Venturing to the door with blackness beyond, the group found that the darkness contained a large chasm...festooned with more undead bearing shards of crystal within their flesh. Dassin the marabout dared to pole-vault from the narrow ledge the group stood on over to another ledge farther out, but discovered that there did not seem to be a ready path to the other side. 

    This is summarizing like six or seven sessions, and I've been delaying putting this up for a while, so some bits may have been elided over. Hopefully future session recaps will be easier and quicker to get together!

    Next steps on a campaign level, after this dungeon exploration concludes, include revising and tweaking the PHB rules and presenting the urban neighborhood notes I've been working on -- with Evlyn M art! -- coming soon.

    Treasure and XP:

    From Blooderfly -- scales from the wings were recovered. (Izohr's apprentice was unable to recover the creature's eye before suffering his strange burns.) 

    115 XP each for Rahat, Tizemt, Fadhil, Azod, Izohr, and Wali

    From Murtaza's Expedition -- orange-glowing occulith stone worth 1,000 dinars, along with: 22 dinars, in mixed currency, 6 daggers, 100’ rope, 4 bundles of torches, a lantern, 12  flasks of oil, a crowbar, 8 iron spikes, a mallet, 4 cloaks (one of which was a very cool-looking manta-styled cloak), and a set of thieves’ tools including lockpicks, lubrication oil, and flash powder). Murtaza himself had an impressive-looking shamshir, gold-and-animal-tooth necklace (200 dinars). Creatures slain: 2 crystal zombies, 1 crystal wight (Murtaza), 1 rubbery verdigris...thing..., and 6 glass spiders.

    444 XP each for Fadhil, Azod, and Wali