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.

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