[Play Report - 2] The Lotus Plantation
tl;dr of player tactics
Know that in the halcyon days of year 3995 of Solon, in the middle of the waxing spring month of Peritios, the following occurred.
After their excursion to the cavern hidden in the cliff-face overlooking the sea of lost days, the company of Esen the Etunian, Kyrene the Borrower, Arkesilas the Fighting-Man, and Gao the Imperial Theurge returned to Zyana and spent two week's time schmoozing and boozing. Esen rented a horse from a stable and practiced a famed maneuver from his homeland where he would shoot his bow at a target directly behind him from horseback.
The company's plan was to obtain passage from Zyana to the isle of Cahli in search of the daughter of the merchant Carthallo. The rest of the group had learned that the missing girl's name was Maia, that they could join the merchant vessel The Shimmering Eel on its voyage to Cahli, and that two brave souls would join their company on their quest for riches. One was the Amazonian scout Melesias, the other a local thief - not the ordained type in the marble temples of Fedafuce! - named Simonides. In addition, their numbers were bolstered with a pair of Vangarian brothers - the spearmen Pyros and Pylos, and the continued service of the Amazonian Peltast, Tuma. These men were outfitted with polearms courtesy of Arkesilas. The vessel's captain Arkantos, a fat turbaned merchant the thickness of an aurochs, was willing to charter them for 60 silver. A fair price! Chatting with the crew, the comely Melesias and streetwise Simonides heard rumors from these hardscrabble men:
- Cahli was all but officially ruled by a necromant of staggering power named Tizun Thane
- Countless uncharted jungle islands dotted the sea of lost days, many teeming with untold riches and temples to prehuman gods...
The voyage began, a light breeze with the wind off their backs. Arkesilas passed the time with the amenable crew by arm wrestling a sailor and winning. While it was still a day's journey to Cahli, an island was spotted off the port bow. The crew prepared to disembark and take their small boats to the island, while Simonides took the first mate aside to ask questions. He learned from the erstwhile first mate that the crew of The Shimmering Eel had lost gotten blown out here by a storm, but discovered a rare type of fruit here which they harvested and sold to the islanders of Cahli. Kyrene, Melesias, and Simonides aided the harvest by climbing the trees, daggers gripped in teeth, and harvested some of the coconut like fruit, for which they were paid a few silver apiece.
Night fell and the full moon rose over the island. Shortly after the setting of the sun strange events began to unfold. The party heard a distant moo from what sounded like an agitated cow from the interior of the jungle. The crew was wary and prepared for the worst, but the party decided to investigate. Arkesilas told them in no uncertain terms to return before the sunrise, else the boat would leave without them. Gao lit his lantern - though the full moon provided ample visibility - and off they went.
Advancing through the jungle inland to the north, with the three thieves hiding in the canopy's ample shadows, the party came to a clearing where they came across a ghastly sight - a man (or the form of one) eating a bull. Kyrene and Melesias planned on ambushing the man, with Gao preparing a spell, before realizing it was a simple zombie. The zombie died quickly without incident.
No matter. The thieves continued their slinking in the dead of night and saw a low squat building in the distance - but a hundred feet before it was a shimmering barrier of force. Arkesilas wondered aloud if maybe cows predated men, and this was a temple. Simonides threw a rock at the barrier, resulting in a "ping" much like a tuning fork and for the rock to harmlessly bounce away. A guard was present, wielding an odd two-tined spear. When a button was pressed an arc of electricity ran between the two tines. The guard inquired as to if this was a prank and if so he wouldn't be mad. Arkesilas replied with an attempt at a moo, which resulted in fury from the guard. Banter commenced - the guard in frustration announced he would muster the forces in the garrison.
During this, the thieves were circling the building getting details. (Imagine a square with a [ taken out of it - that's what the building looked like). The building was low, only 15', but with a 50' tall enclosed colonnade. At the center of this cloister was a massive palm. The lower building had an entrances on the north, west, and east faces. To the south of the building was a smaller wooden building. Curiosities upon curiosities which grew more curious still!
As sly Simonides circled the building, a clump of dirt was hurled from nearby at the force field - meeting with a harmless ping. This continued methodically. The curious Simonides attempted to touch the thrower, skin meeting inhuman flesh. A pair of red eyes materialized and asked Simonides in a buzzing monotone "WHO DO YOU SERVE". Simonides replied "truth, justice, and the Zyanan way". The invisible creature did nothing in response to the jest, save say that Simonides did not appear to be an enemy and should invade the complex to help the master of the unseen one.
The invisible one continued this, finding eventually a hole in the force field on the northwest side. The group gathered and breached the force field. They decided to spike shut the northern entrance and perform more recon. The thieves climbed atop the building after leaving their waterskins with Arkesilas and Esen, and crept along the rooftop to peer into the cloister.
What a wonder of wonders they saw! At the base of the giant palm lay a field of lotus flowers, and resting against the trunk serenely sleeping was a lizard of titanic proportions (later identified as an allosaurus), with a green light blinking softly in the dark on the creature's neck.
There was a regrouping - even the invisible one appaeared again - and a plan for the party to invade through the large stone eastern entrance while the invisible one would enter through the south. This great eastern stone door had to be forced open ("what's with the builders on this god damn planet", remarked Gao) by Arkesilas, who was immediately greeted with a cast spear, which whizzed past him. Three men were in this room - he who tossed the spear, and two others. Before the melee was joined, Esen and Kyrene responded with javelin and sling, handily killing the spear-throwing man. So much for him. The battle was indeed fast and furious. Pylos and Arkesilas both missed their men, and the price was large. Pylos, the brave Vangarian, despite his plate armor and superior weapon, was felled immediately by a dagger-wielding common bastard. The other man had a short sword, and managed to swiftly cut the left arm off Arkesilas' body. Kyrene immediately moved to staunch the bleeding as the rest of the group rushed to kill the two aggressors, who fell quickly under the onslaught of steel. Arkesilas could stand, placing his severed arm in his backpack, but knew another hit would send him to join Pylos.
This structure was lit from the ceiling with fluorescent lamps at odd intervals that cast long, ominous shadows on the floor. The group wandered through the complex. From the room where Pylos' body lay (his brother swearing to return for it), they could proceed west or north. They chose north, arriving at a door to the left - noting to return later, then a turn to the left. They went through the turn, eventually coming across a corridor with a passage to the south on one side and the spiked shut northern door to the complex on their right. They returned to the door they previously encountered when they heard groaning and shuffling behind them. It was a pursuing party of 4 zombies, who they killed immediately. Finally back at the door, the group attempted a gambit at the door - the old "knock on door, leave puddle of oil, and then light it up" routine, but the inhabitants told them to screw off due to Arkesilas mooing at them, claiming he was a were-bull. The room's interior grew silent.
The party swing into action. They sprinted to the corner, laid a few puddles of oil so that if the taunted enemies were going to come around and investigate, the party could light them up. The plan succeeded - a four man crew rounded the corner, and the puddle set three aflame. One died before he could bring harm to the Zyanan reavers, while two met their end at Pyros' polearm and Esen's spear. The last fled.
The party pursued, turning a corner to the west. Shortly after THEY were caught in a crossroads by foes to the north - the fearful man from earlier, four zombies, and a gaunt inhuman red-eyed man with a hole in his neck. The red-eyed man pointed a gnarled, clawed finger (ok this grows tiresome, it's a ghoul...) at Esen (now leading after Arkesilas' wound), asking why he had come. Esen and Simonides talked about lotus, to the ghoul's amusement. Gao crept closer to ready a web spell. The ghoul offered an ultimatum - the life of the men here for lotus, as the ghoul had desired a meal for ages but could not partake as a ghoul's killing touch only creates another ghoul. In reply the human ambusher turned on the zombies and began attacking wildly, but was quickly put down. A horrid melee would have ensued if not for Gao's web spell, handily trapping the ghoul and the three zombies. The ghoul was inquired about various things but merely responded with unholy swearing and thrashing. The wretched beast tried to wriggle free but was slain with spear and polearm, along with zombies.
It was discovered the zombies wore chains around their necks (these were the first zombies searched) and the ghoul had a silver one, worth a healthy sum - the silver chain was branded with a name: Tizun Thane.
The party mulled over this as the thieves descended into darkness. This northern passage was a spiraling passage into the earth, where the lights grew dim. The party came across prison cells, two inhabited by unanimated skeletons, one inhabited with a skeleton wearing an intact pair of gloves, and the other inhabited by a crazed-looking wildman. He began to sniff the air, shouting out "who are you, new to this hell of mine!", claiming he could recognize an unfamiliar scent. As Melesias went to interrogate the wildman, Kyrene deftly picked the locks of the other cells and pilfered the gloves, which were made of an unknown synthetic leather.
The prisoner was 1) quite clearly insane, incoherently begging to be let out, screaming loudly and 2) shackled to the wall with silver manacles. In between wild grunts and thrashing, he told them he had been shipwrecked for maybe half a year's time on this island and woke up in this prison cell, tormented by a guard named Zen Drosel. The invisible acquaintance of Simonides appeared suddenly, asking who the prisoner was. The party tried to introduce the two, and when the wildman claimed desperately "I'll kill whoever you want, just free me!" the invisible creature went silent. The party saw the bars bend in front of their very eyes and proceeded to run, leaving a bag of marbles scattered on the stairwell behind them. They heard an inhuman yell transform into a loud roar, followed by a Looney Toons sound effect and a heavy thud, accompanied by loud, pained groaning.
The party booked it to the south, coming across a chamber with a dried trail of blood leading from another stairwell to a wall. In the chamber were the bodies of three men, with what looked like a hole punched through their stomach. They died with agonizing shock on their faces, clutching their daggers and swords, which the thieves quickly pocketed.
They heard the sound of deeply heavy footsteps behind them, deciding not to go down into the unknown depths or to investigate this trail of dried blood, but further south. They came across various doors and picked the southwestern one. In this room was another dead man with a hole in his chest, clutching another dagger for swift-footed Simonides' bandolier. More fortuitously was a window to the outside! Esen opened the window with his incredible strength as Gao spiked shut the door. All were able to crawl through the window, and as the last was out, a hideous beast burst through the door. It appeared to be a lumbering, raptor-postured shark kind of like this:
|Chris Holmes' original illustration of the Were-shark from Alarms and Excursions #13, July 1976, which I found from this post on the excellent ZENOPUS ARCHIVES blog.|
The horror! The beast attempted to follow but its colossal head could not fit through the window. It bellowed in anger as Pyros and Esen attempted to stab it with their polearm and spear, to no avail - Esen's spear even broke on the beast's scales!
Quick thinking Melesias noted their proximity to the wood out-building, which she surmised was a cattle pen for the bull
that had prompted constant mooing from the players all night they had seen earlier. Melesias took the silver chain taken from the ghoul's neck, and whapped the were-shark on the nose a few times. It had backed off, momentary aggression abating, with a ravenous hunger in its black eyes. Melesias told the were-beast that the party would feed it, and if it came out through the south door they would leave some cattle for him.
The shark roared in agreement as the party swiftly entered what appeared to be the bull's pen. Tending to the bulls was a single zombie, a lasso at its side, wearing a straw hat and overalls. After a minute of shocked silence the party ran it through without incident.
Swift-footed Simonides took the lasso, looping it around a bull, and lead it outside. They noted a path of flattened grass that led from the bullpen to a possible secret entrance but did not pursue such an avenue, as they staked this bull's rope to the ground. The lumbering were-shark burst out of the southern entrance. The party stepped back as the horrid abomination bit the head off of the beast in a single chomp. It ravenously continued to consume. Melesias told the beast there was more in the wooden building .It nodded its large, terrible head and continued to feast as the party ran like hell to the jungle. Evil eyes peered out at them as they flew through the brush, breathless, arriving at the ship.
Pyros was distraught. He asked the party when they would go back for the body of his brother, to which he was met by cold silence. The inconsolable Pyros spit at Gao (who hired him), calling the party dishonorable churls. He stormed off alone to the jungle. Gao gave Tuma some more money as she was unnerved by this affair. Arkantos shot judging glances at the party as he retired to his quarters. The party slept below deck, grumbling about how they should have taken the plate from Pylos' dead body. The sun rose, with no sign of Pyros, and the Shimmering Eel cast off.
Arkesilas needed surgery for his missing arm or he would surely die - Kyrene had to perform surgery on the ship with her tools. However, Arkesilas did not make it - the loss of blood and strain of surgery did him in before the boat even tucked in to Cahli. They threw his body overboard - a fitting grave for a traveler.
They arrived at Cahli with the setting of the sun. Arkantos told his men to stay below deck, and hurriedly took the party to the tavern as they passed through abandoned streets. Arkantos told the party of the doom that had befallen Cahli - of Night Things, beasts no man had lived and seen which killed anybody out or with an open window or door when the moon peeked out from behind the clouds. More pertinent to the party were rumors that Tizun Thane had disappeared half a year ago- his brother Diker had came in to town for supplies every now and then, but never spoke of Tizun. Last but most interesting was this - the desperate townspeople were willing to pay 2000 silver for a solution to the terrible Night Thing problem.
The party tucked in for the night, behind the silver-barred windows of the inn. Their company had their first death.
|A charming player drawn map of the day's events.|
I had a few principal aims with this session:
- To get my players to up their pace. I wanted to see what they would do in a limited timespan situation. It did not go even remotely as planned because I forgot the simple fact that climbing the side of the building was child's play in a party with three thieves, thus the treasure rich interior went practically untouched! That combined with several max reaction rolls against the Invisible Stalker meant that shit hit the fan, in a terrible terrible way for the inhabitants...but it wasn't too lucrative for the players. Additionally, the only random encounter rolls were against pathetically weak zombies and the already friendly invisible stalker. This could have ended much much differently...
- Introduce and emphasize the technological aspect of the setting - last session there was little or none, and two new players joined. Thus, the "cattleprod" spears carried by the elite guards (which would have had d5+d7 charges [I have to get some use out of my DCC dice...] and done either 1-6 normal or 2-12 subdual damage), the force field, and the Allosaurus' electronic collar. The players liked all of it.
- Give a chance for players to get several good items. However as little of the complex got looted and NPCs that could have revealed secrets got killed or escaped, they left with only the magic gloves (gloves of phasing from Fight On! #5 - thanks Calithena!) and a paltry silver chain...I must decide soon if I want to try to port AD&D exp. for kept magic items in this campaign. I think I will try to run it with minimal mechanical adjustments first. Such a step could be a MASSIVE overcorrection.
In hindsight I should have adjusted the sizes of the random encounters. 2-4 was insufficient for zombie parties. Even the ghoul and 4 zombies was a joke thanks to web.
Possibly my biggest mistake was not running the enemies intelligently enough. There WERE tactics employed, with roving patrols and reinforcements and an attempted ambush, but the initial combat encounter (despite leading to the death of a hireling and a PC!) should have gone different. I think the ghoul should have attacked instead of talking, but I wanted to introduce the tension between the humans and ghouls at the complex. Stupid! The players were clearly in "smash and grab" mode, not "faction intrigue" mode! Villain monologues are not for mid-invasion situations! Much to think on re: tactics.
Will they die horribly in the Halls of Tizun Thane? Likely.
2 - I wanted a "CLEARLY DO NOT MEET THIS IN STRAIGHT COMBAT OR YOU WILL DIE" element, dragons can generally do that I feel. However no dragons in Fomalhaut! I was uncreative and just found a dinosaur. I am also a twelve year old boy at heart. I made a mistake and used a variant of the Gorgosaurus' stats instead, so the creature was a mere (hah!) 13 HD. Due to its poor treatment it was only going to attack as a mere 6+1 HD creature (hah!) though with claw-claw-bite as the Allo-Gorgo-saurus coupled with the monstrous damage on that bite...would have likely ran through the party like a hot knife through butter. I rolled incredibly badly on its HP getting something like 36. If they through firebombs at it from a great distance it could have been felled, maybe, but not without great personal injury.
3 - Web is a level 1 spell on Fomalhaut. I'm rolling with it.
4 - The party was quick to come up with a connection between Tizun Thane's disappearance and the capture of the were-shark. Hooray for unintentional red herrings!