Friday, April 24, 2015

Idalium Game 19: The Great Detectives

Session date: Monday, April 6, 2015
Game date: Thursday, March 21, 208 to Friday, March 22, 208

Tod P. Quasit, Jr., Fighter 2, hp 14, xp 3105/4000
Tyrriel, Elf 1, hp 3, xp 2743/4000
Caryatid, Magic-user 2, hp 8, xp 3524/5000
Vito Aneti, Thief 2, hp 10, xp 1491/2400

Brother Jibber, Cleric 1, hp 5, xp 1155/1500
Wilhelm, Magic-user 1, hp 4, xp 1102/2500
Ylil, Thief 2, hp 5, xp 1237/2400
Sprat, Thief 1, hp 3, xp 254/1200

Picking up where the last session left off, the Infestation Managers (sometimes known as The Proper Authorities) continued their investigation of the murder and theft that occurred during an auction of strange and occult artifacts. Gulleck's player, and therefore Gulleck, had family obligations and couldn't attend the game.

The party regrouped in the morning, short of sleep, at the Rusty Lantern and then set out to pay a return visit to the apartment of Gregor Snapespindle. Finding the front door of the apartment house unlocked, they entered a small entrance hall. A flight of stairs led upwards, and next to a single door a wooden plaque was engraved, "#2 Andrew Goodman, Manager".

Tod knocked on the door, and it was answered by a gruff, middle-aged man. He didn't seem particularly interested in discussing his tenants' private affairs with strangers. The players tried all sorts of interesting conversational tactics ("He's our old friend and we wanted to surprise him!" "We met him at a party and he dropped something there." "We think he might be a murderer."), all of which only seemed to increase the landlord's skepticism. Tod decided to come straight, announcing that they were representatives of the Adventurer's Guild (thereby breaking the First Rule of the Adventurer's Guild: "You do not talk about the Adventurer's Guild"). Tyrriel tried to bribe him with a single gold daric. Perhaps her elvish heritage gave her a strange perspective on the value of currency, but Goodman was not impressed. He closed his door and would not speak to them anymore.

The group then went upstairs, checking nameplates. On the second floor, a sign read, "#3 Richard Holtson", and on the top floor was "#4 Walter Dornsby". Neither resident seemed to be home, so the group returned downstairs. They found the landlord peering suspiciously from his door. He dropped some blatant hints that he was willing to give them some information for a better price. Eventually they coughed up 10 gold darics, and he told them the peculiar story of how Gregor Snapespindle came to be his tenant.

A couple of years ago, Snapespindle came to him asking to rent a flat. The house was fully occupied, so Goodman tried to turn him away. Snapespindle, however, told him he was specifically interested in renting the basement. The basement was just an unfinished storage room, but that didn't bother Snapespindle; he was willing to have it built out as an apartment at his own expense. It seemed a bit bizarre to the landlord, but Snapespindle had ready cash and was willing to sign a five year lease, so he agreed to the deal. Snapespindle has been a perfectly acceptable tenant since then, keeping mostly to himself but always paying his rent on time.

The group walked around the block, and then approached the back of the house from a rear alley, so as not to be seen by the landlord. Listening at the door that seemed to lead to the basement, they heard nothing, so Vito picked the lock (his player used the Big Green d30 to improve his odds) and they cautiously entered. Gulleck's nose picked up a faint trace of that sickly sweet smell they had noticed at the auction house. They found a candle near the door, and lighting this, they quietly explored the basement apartment. They found a sparsely furnished living room, a small library filled with books and scrolls covering topics ranging from medicine to theology to occult spiritualism, a dining room and kitchen, and then a bedroom, where the sickly sweet stench was stronger than elsewhere. Inside a closet, they discovered a false floor, and below the planks, a trapdoor. They heaved the trapdoor open, revealing a dark shaft plunging into the Earth, with ladder rungs set into the side of the shaft. The smell was suddenly nearly overpowering now.

Vito grabbed some bedclothes from the bed, lit them afire from the candle, and tossed them into the hole. They could see what looked like a stone floor, some 30 feet below, before the sheets burned out. The players debated at great length whether it was foolhardy to climb down into this pit with no weapons or armor, or whether they needed to finish this investigation now, before Snapespindle discovered they had been in his home. Eventually Vito got sick of the arguing and decided he was going below.

The room below was horrible. The walls seemed to be made of slabs stolen from mausoleums, and the rooms was festooned with "tapestries" made of death shrouds and bone fragments. A wooden door led away from the room, and a small table and chair sat in the middle of the room. On the table was an open book, which turned out to be Snapespindle's journal. Tyrriel glanced it over. The last entry confessed to plans to steal the brazen head from the auction, in hopes that its legendary powers would give Snapespindle knowledge and wisdom regarding the true nature of death and what lies beyond it.

The group had little time to discuss this discovery, however, for as they skimmed the diary, the wooden door was pulled open. The sickly sweet stench became overpowering, as four horrific humanoids lunged into the room. They were the walking dead - rotting flesh dripping off their dirty faces, yellowed fangs and claws bared as they snarled with hunger and rage at the group.

"Run!" was the order of the day, and they all backpedalled for the ladder as quickly as they could, Tyrriel snatching up the diary as she went. Vito threw a dagger with perfect aim into the chest of the monster in the front, but it barely seemed to bother it. Fortunately for the party, they were not encumbered by armor and were able to quickly scurry up the ladder before the horrible fiends could reach them. They could hear them snarling below as they pulled themselves back up into the bedroom. They closed the trapdoor and covered it again with the planks, and then fled this sinister apartment.

They chose to take refuge in Tod's apartment, above a pub not too far from the Rusty Lantern. They ate lunch and perused the diary. Gregor Snapespindle appeared to be a man obsessed with, and afraid of death. "What truly occurs at the moment of death? Is it possible that our essential identity survives this transition? Are those spirits that take the form of our predecessors truly the same as they were, or is it merely some sort of trick by demons that have stolen their faces and memories? Is it possible for a man to stave off the inevitable? My communion (in many forms) with the dead has brought me wisdom, but not the ultimate answer."

Snapespindle wrote of his lair within the catacombs and crypts of Ancient Idalium, below the city. He said that the dead were restless there, that there was some unknown power disturbing their sleep. He had not yet found the source of that power, but if he did, he believed it would give him dominion over the dead and access to all of their secrets. He believed that the brazen head could tell him how to find the source of power. The diary described the necessary rituals that would bring the head to life and force it to answer his questions.

The next morning, the group met at the Rusty Lantern to make a scouting run to the catacombs. Unfortunately, they weren't sure where to find such a thing! The diary spoke of a "temple of death", and they were studying their maps in vain to find it. Eventually, they were reduced to asking the Night Walkers for help, who happened to be in the tavern celebrating a successful delve. The haughty elf brothers Deathwatch and Cobweb took 50 gold darics from the PCs and then told them to search in the area of Ancient Idalium where the grand civic buildings are.

So the party descended into the dungeon and made their way to the grand avenue where they had found the bank and the hall of records, etc. At the south end of the avenue, a huge wrought iron gate stood ajar. A sign above it read, "Through these gates all must pass in their own time." Inside the gates, a wide plaza stretched out ahead of them. Two statues of skeletal reapers flanked the entrance. The plaza was dotted with stone benches, on which reclined several crumbling skeletons. There were also little wicker baskets on the ground of the plaza, some of which contained tiny infant skeletons.

A paved path led south from the entrance, lined with three pairs of statues. The statues appeared to be angels, wings held behind their backs, but their faces were covered mournfully by their hands, and they bowed their heads over the central path. The party chose to take the long way around the plaza, eventually coming to the temple of death itself.

Tod pushed the double doors open, and they walked into a vestibule, and were shocked to discover they were not alone. Fortunately, the other party turned out to be the Brothers Fruthwood, an NPC party with whom the group had a cordial relationship. The three hobbit brothers and their comrades were on their way back out of the temple, and the PCs, unnerved enough by the plaza (and short of actual time in the session), decided to accompany them back to the surface.

As they returned to the plaza of the dead, they were alarmed to see that the statues of angels were no longer covering their faces, but now held their hands to their sides. Their faces looked impassively down on the path between them. The Brothers Fruthwood walked between the lines of angels, gazing at them with wonder and trepidation. The party followed hurriedly after, and the two groups made their way back to the Rusty Lantern.

On the way, however, they had a strange encounter. As they turned a corner, they saw some 60 feet along, a humanoid figure holding a torch. It seemed possibly female, and was wearing a full veil that completely obscured its face. It was accompanied by two large dogs, or some kind of dog-like creatures in any event. The figure stared at them for a few moments, and then stepped through a door off of the alley and closed it behind her and her animals.

"She closed the door and ran away! That's our signature move!"

With this strange apparition to speculate on, the two parties swiftly returned to the surface, again short on treasure and experience, but with a clear goal in mind for next week.

I've enjoyed these role-playing heavy sessions, and they are a nice change of pace from the usual dungeoneering, but I think we are all ready for some successful treasure hunting. It's been quite a few sessions since the group had a significant haul of treasure.

Some of my readers may have found the auction scenario a bit familiar. I adapted this from an old Call of Cthulhu scenario called "The Auction", changing the names and setting to better fit my campaign world and the D&D level of technology, etc. It is interesting to see how a Call of Cthulhu scenario adapts to D&D, where the usual reaction to horrible undead monsters is simply "kill it dead again" rather than being filled with primal horror. It helps that my campaign is set in a big city where you can't just walk around all day in full armor and military weaponry, and so descending into the pit beneath Snapespindle's apartment still managed to make the players feel vulnerable and anxious for the safety of their characters.

The next few sessions I expect will take place in the catacombs, a more traditional dungeon setting but I hope I can still carry across a sense of dread and unease. I don't care how well armored you are - creeping around in a crypt full of the restless dead should always be unnerving.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Idalium Game 18: The Auction

Session date: Monday, March 30, 2015
Game date: Wednesday, March 20, 208

Tod P. Quasit, Jr., Fighter 2, hp 14, xp 3105/4000
Gulleck Stonefoot, Dwarf 2, hp 10, xp 2494/4400
Tyrriel, Elf 1, hp 3, xp 2743/4000
Caryatid, Magic-user 2, hp 8, xp 3524/5000
Vito Aneti, Thief 2, hp 10, xp 1491/2400

This evening's session was a total change of pace for the campaign. There was no dungeon delve tonight, or combat against hideous monsters. Tonight the party attended the semi-annual auction of strange and magical artifacts. We also welcomed the return of Vito's player after a hiatus of several sessions.

Every six months, on the spring and fall equinoxes, the Adventurer's Guild cosponsors an auction of exotic and obscure artifacts. It attracts two groups of bidders: adventuring parties like the PCs and wealthy collectors seeking exotic curiosities. The players received an auction card of the 14 lots that were to be auctioned off, and read through it with interest, deciding which items they were interested in bidding on and how much money they had available to bid with.

At the appointed hour after dark, the party arrived at the Runcible Trading House, an elegant mansion in the wealthy section of the city of Idalium. They were invited into the house by a well-dressed butler, and quickly met by a representative from the Adventurer's Guild, who brought them upstairs to the graciously appointed room where the auction would be held.

In the auction hall, musicians played harp and flute softly in a corner and a buffet dinner was laid out along a series of side tables. The group was shown around the room and introduced to some of the other attendees. The party recognized several other rival adventuring parties from the Rusty Lantern: Rugger's Raiders were there, as were the Night Walkers and Shorty's Sirens.

At the other end of the class spectrum, the PCs were reunited with Baroness Millicent Trenevant and her servant Roger, whom they had met several months ago. Lady Trenevant was at the auction to purchase interesting and artistically pleasing pieces to display in her home. Also at the auction was a Lady Mary Jameson, a snob but one who seemed intrigued and excited to talk to such roughnecks as adventurers. She was here to bid on obscure and intriguing artifacts, and was particularly interested in a brass head on the auction block.

Next the group was introduced to Mr. Vincent Patrenzi. Whereas Lady Trenevant and Lady Mary were dressed expensively but with impeccable taste, Patrenzi (who was not from an old wealthy family but was "nouveau riche") wore gaudy and flashy clothes, showing off his significant wealth. He was looking for exotic curios for his home, and mentioned a special interest in the "hand of glory", a preserved human hand that allegedly held many mysterious powers.

Finally, their host introduced the group to a man named Gregor Snapespindle, a somewhat withdrawn and quiet man. He said he was a collector and researcher of the occult and obscure, and was interested in artifacts with great historical value such as a metal ankh that was being auctioned.

The group had some time to chat with the other attendees of the auction, and eventually the dinner was cleared away, the attendees took their seats in front of a table and the auctioneer's podium, and Lord Runcible himself, the owner of this trading house and the chairman of this auction, stepped forward. He welcomed them to the evening's auction, wished everyone good luck, and began the auction. Each piece was brought forward and displayed to the bidders for several minutes, and there was an opportunity to ask questions about the piece or for it to be displayed from different angles or manipulated. Once the bidders were satisfied, the auction began. As each piece was sold, it was brought to a side table labeled with a card with the winning bidder's name.

The party soon discovered that the bids quickly rose beyond their available funds, and while they bid on a few items, they were not able to bid high enough. Gregor Snapespindle was the winning bidder on the ankh he had his eye on, paying 23,000 silver shekels for the exotic item. Rugger's Raiders paid 12,500 shekels for a magician's cassock, wand, and athame, all decorated with astrological signs. A shaman's medicine bag from the northern barbarians was purchased by Vincent Patrenzi for 7,000 shekels, and he also acquired the hand of glory for 52,800 shekels after a heating bidding war against Rugger's Raiders. Shorty bid 12,000 shekels for a carved wooden fetish and drum from the people who lived far to the south across the Great Sea, and then managed to acquire a magical sword engraved with skeletal patterns for the opening bid of 50,000 after Rugger was unable to bid, having exhausted his party's funds on the magician's accoutrements.

The next item on the agenda was a smoking urn from across the sea to the east, a brass and hold bottle that was warm to the touch and trickling a continuous stream of smoke. There was a delay in fetching the urn from the preparation room, and Lord Runcible filled the space with graceful conversation. After a few more minutes passed, he began to look concerned and sent another servant to see if there was a problem. That servant left the room, and moments later, there was an earsplitting scream from outside the auction room!

Lord Runcible excused himself and left the room, and then returned a few moments later, ashen-faced. "I'm very sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but the auction cannot continue tonight. If you would please collect your winnings and then move quickly to the exit, my staff will escort you out. I offer my humblest apologies. I will let you know when and if we are able to reschedule the remainder of the auction."

The wealthy elite nervously gathered their belongings and left, but most of the adventuring parties lingered behind in case they could help. The Night Walkers were uninterested in extracurricular activities: "We came here to buy magic items, not put our lives at risk! Come, Cobweb, let us leave this place." The two condescending elven brothers and their entourage turned and left. The representative from the Adventurer's Guild looked very concerned. Since the Guild was a cosponsor of these events, an incident that threatened the safety and stability of this auction could undermine any future ones. Lord Runcible accepted any help that was offered, and brought the adventuring groups to the preparation room near the room the auction had been held in.

The servant who had been sent to see what the delay was lay at the threshold of the preparation room, apparently frozen in shock and fear. His eyes darted wildly and his lips trembled but he could not speak or move. Beyond him, the room was a horrible sight indeed. The remains of the first servant who had been retrieving the urn were scattered across the room, torn limb from limb. There were visible claw and perhaps gnaw marks on the body parts. The items for the auction were here, scattered across the floor. The PCs checked the items against their auction card, and noted that only one item was missing - the brass head mentioned by Lady Mary Jameson. Lord Runcible said that there were legends surrounding the brazen head that claimed that with the right ritual it would come to life and answer questions of metaphysical import, but whether there was any truth to that he did not know.

Rugger and his group took one look at the carnage and decided they had had enough for one night. "Good luck everyone, but it's getting kind of late for us." Only Shorty and her sirens remained with the Infestation Managers.

There was a dumbwaiter at the far wall that was used to bring auction items up from the vault in the basement. Trails of blood led to the dumbwaiter, and there a strange, sickly sweet smell that hung in the air. Lord Runcible led the adventuring parties down to the basement. The vault was locked, but when Lord Runcible had it opened, they saw that a tunnel had been dug through the wall and into the vault. The sickly sweet smell was thicker here and there were bloody footprints on the stone floor as well. They didn't quite look human, although they seemed bipedal. Gulleck took a look at the tunnel and judged it to be a very poor tunnel indeed, with no support structure of any kind. Whoever came through simply pushed the dirt and stone aside without regard for air or sight.

The party asked Lord Runcible if he knew of anyone with a particular reason to steal the brazen head. Lord Runcible said he suspected three of the attendees. Lady Mary Jameson, Vincent Patrenzi, and Gregor Snapespindle had all approached him prior to the auction and offered to buy the brazen head. He refused them, as it was already published in the auction listing, and all were visibly disappointed. Snapespindle even stormed angrily from the trading house. The party asked for the addresses of these three and decided to drop by on the pretense of inquiring after their safe arrival home. Shorty's Sirens decided to bail at this point, since it was well after midnight.

Lady Mary's mansion was first on their tour. They were met at a door by a rather stuffy footman, but soon Lady Mary herself came to the door. "Oh, it's the adventurers! Have you come to take me out for drinks? Oh, I'm just teasing, my father would never allow it! Wasn't that thoroughly scandalous tonight!" When Gulleck attempted to tactfully explain that someone had been killed and ripped limb from limb, Lady Mary became quite contrite. "To think I was making light of it and someone has died! How dreadful..." They asked to see her basement, "just to make sure you're not in danger", but there were no signs of any disturbance at the outer walls here.

Then they went to see Vincent Patrenzi. His mansion was as gaudy as his clothes, and he met them at the door and invited them in. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary in his basement, either.

Finally, they left the wealthy district and headed back towards the working class neighborhood that houses the Rusty Lantern tavern. On the way, they passed through a middle-class district of craftsmen and merchants, and found the dilapidated three story house that Gregor Snapespindle was said to live in. The front door was closed and they could see no lights in any of the windows. They quietly crept between buildings to investigate the back of the house. Steps led down from a dingy alleyway to a door that apparently led down into a cellar. There were no cellar windows. Gulleck peered into the keyhole and could dimly see (with his infravision) a short hallway ending in another door).

As it was now very late at night, the group decided to return to their homes and get some sleep and reunite in the morning to continue their investigations. Like I said, a definite change of pace, but one that seemed to go over well. The auction was fun to plan for and then simulate the bidding process. Next week, instead of advancing a week forward in game time as usual, we will pick up the situation right where we left off, with the PCs busy investigating a brutal murder and the theft of the mysterious brazen head.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Player Journals from Session 17

Journal of Tod Quasit for March 16th
It is with a heavy heart that I must report the death of our beloved Elf friend and staunch retainer Twiffle. He managed to die not once but twice, and that's better then most. This week he was done in by those most hideous monstrosities we call Knockers. Like deformed and evil gnomes with hearts of coal and souls of fungus. 

I suppose it was partially my fault for thinking we could take on a dozen of them. I don't understand it though. We were well armored. They shouldn't have been able to keep hitting us. But they did. And Twiffle is dead. I will drink to his memory when we gather for his wake at The Thumping Pipes. They put on a good buffet there and the taps are usually clean. 

Did I mention Jibber died too? Now that's a story.  So, we entered the Under City full of confidence and swagger, because we knew we were the Proper Authorities.  Our plan was to go through the Temple of Lust to the Under Under City and explore more of the ruins down there. We met another group of people, led by a terrifying woman going by the name of Frost. They had black robes on and fancy medals around their necks. Frost had a very fancy shield. Oh yeh, that reminds me. Enough with the two-handed sword. I'm through with it. I'm switching to a regular sword and I'm going to start carrying a shield. Never seem to hit anything with that two-handed sword anyhow. But back to the story. After a brief but tense encounter, we parted ways. They were just leaving. We met a few gnomes with a sack full of coins. And then we discovered someone had destroyed that beautiful crystal statue that was guarding the way down. Never thought of fighting the thing. I mean, it was a magical miracle of technology and an astounding piece of Art! Oh well. 

Then we had to check on the dead rat room. Hah ha!! Full of knockers. Gulleck and I started stood in the door and let them attack us. For some reason they kept going after Gulleck. Maybe I scared them. At any rate, they started hacking away at Gulleck pretty good. He withdrew and Jibber, resplendent in his shimmering plate mail and large pointy hat took his place in the door. I'm not sure how, but those little knockers got through Jibber's plate mail in no time at all and he dropped dead. In my desperation I started smashing  deformed Knocker heads together. They just kept coming, and the ones in back kept throwing things at us. It was actually quite impressive. That's when it happened. One of the knockers threw a dead rat at Twiffle and as if his neck was made of the most delicate dry wood, it snapped and Twiffle dropped dead on top of Jibber. After another forty-five minutes, we eventually managed to kill all the knockers without anyone else dying. I mean, they snapped his neck with a dead rat. He must have had some sort of severe calcium deficiency or something right? It was a hell of a shot though. Smack dab right in the face. 

Now it was time to race with our fallen comrads to the pool of rebirth. And that's when we ran into the orgy in the temple below. They wouldn't open the door and I couldn't break it down. Finally they let us through, we raced to the pool and dumped Jibber in. After what seemed like a few minutes, he emerged, healthy, happy and apparently enlightened. He just kept smiling. Then we dumped Twiffle in and nothing. Just nothing. Gulleck heroically dove into the pool to retrieve Twiffle's body and when he emerged, he seemed more robust and healthy somehow. So the pool only works once. Good to know. 

Our spirit broken and our egos bruised, we took Twiffle's soggy body back to the surface. Once again we had no treasure to show for our troubles, Just sorrow. Twiffle, I didn't really know you, but I will sort of miss you. Adieu. 

Just one more thing to note. Jibber hasn't stopped smiling in two weeks. And he's not nearly as judgmental as he used to be. I hope it's just a phase.

Gulleck's ninth journal
Ol pointy ears is dead. Damned Knockers killed him. Killed Brother whosit too, but the weird pool brought him back. Guess it only works once each.
Gonna rip those things apart. Hated em before, hate em more now. Vile abominations of everything natural.

More mad humans down below, too. Cultists and lunatics. Why anyone would go down into a bunch of ruins for an orgy I just don't understand. Maybe the sun turns em off or something. Crazy, crazy, crazy.

Caryatid's Diary
Dear diary:

Death, death, and more death. Last week we resumed our adventures under the city, presumably in pursuit of treasure which has been quite elusive of late. We find creatures, bandits, even orgy-ism-ists, but alas no treasure. New favorite thing to hate: Knockers. These evil bastards simply won’t die fast enough, are nearly impossible to kill, and are FAR too deadly. In an awful fight minutes into our adventuring, We lost Bother Jibber AND Twiffle to the horrible creatures! We managed to revive Brother Jibber but the magic bath could not resurrect Twiffle. I expect to head on over to the magical items auction before we adventure down below again. I’m in the market for Instant-Death-To-Knockers wand, or something similar!