Saturday, 21 July 2018

Jungle Trek session 7: blood for the blood god

Last time on Jungle Trek, the party exposed a conspiracy in the giant ruined metropolis of Pra'xi'rek. They were originally helping the Drow start a feud between different giant clans. Then they discovered that both Drow and Giants were being manipulated by snake-themed aberrations to fight each other and find a posionous artifact. Also, unicorn flesh tastes good.

This session lasted 3-4 hours and had a nice rhythm to it with a heist, some random murder to satisfy a new toy, and a rough spot with frustrations when clues weren't enough to solve a riddle. Said frustrations were aired nicely when a two-sided double cross went south for the snake-abominations. Riddle was solved in the end with some help from an artifact, but this still has me looking lovingly at Gumshoe.

Our band of explorers:

  • Indiana Gnoll - male Gnoll ranger with a whip, comes with gills and wall clinging suckers after experimenting with a mutating altar. Deranged laugh. Hankering for strange meat, tasted Unicorn and linked with its Nightmare mate. [player: Robert]
  • Woody the Warforged Wizard, a black-and-white ogre-sized bot. Albino body, shiny black scales, extra fingers and extra mouth, sticks to walls. Dude loooooves him a mutating altar. [player: Bas]
    dead - beaten to a pulp and then flamed to a cinder in spite of his regeneration and fire protection.
    mobile again after a deal with -- well, that would be telling, but suffice to say that he's rooting for the blood god now. This also involved his familiar turning demonic, which let me pull out a voice&character I have been saving for years.
  • Drake - male human healer [non-player character, hireling, idiot] dead - lured to Eorie's grave by Woody, then sacrificed to the rusty dagger. The first of many to fall this session. Truly, this team is playing the cultists.
  • Eorie - female human rogue [non-player character, hireling] dead - friendly fireball
  • Santash - male kalashtar psion who shoved his mind into his psicrystal [non-player character] dead - vaporised by anti-kalashtar/quori energy shield

DM notes: my need for speed

I've been reading a lot of Night's Black Agents lately and it got me thinking of keeping up the pace during the session. Less poring over rulebooks, more interaction with the setting. Not enough info? Get out there and find clues. Looking back on this session, I think I need to improve exactly that aspect - my clue-giving. Players were legitimately looking for info that I was being too stingy with. I'll note that in between the session recap.

No forwarding address

Last session, the group proved that the high priest of Vulkoor the Scorpion was, in fact, a Rakshasa demon in league with nasty snake abominations from the deep earth. Matron Ghyrra steps in quickly and detains the entire sect for questioning. An enemy knows their location, so Ghyrra also starts prep for immediate relocation of the Drow camp. Meanwhile the characters have mostly free reign to go through high priest Vorruul's belongings and try to track him down. The Drow camp may not be here when they return (and no forwarding address will be given to the increasingly fucked up visitors), but there are spots that the scouts will monitor where the party can contact the Drow.

Somewhere in all that is the scorched corpse of Woody the Warforged Wizard. His flying squirrel familiar Ukkie ('tiny') is sitting on his chest, chittering at master's demise. Until the golem's eye gems flare and he returns to consciousness. First thing he sees? His familiar, gazing into his eyes - and slowly licking its lips. "Welcome back mortal."

I loved acting that out.

Sugar glider of Doom (source)

The bot is back and has a powerful need for vengeance - and sacrificing sentients to the dark master that returned him to life. Woody will be racking up quite the body count this session with his new sacrificial dagger. We're drifting to that oneshot / end-of-campaign feel where consequences start to mean less and less. Guess I'll have to have some paladins paratrooper in to fight the demon excursion. In the meanwhile, the party raids the temple and finds the box with holy symbols of the Silver Flame (demon-binding spiritual force) that's keeping their prophetic feather safe. This time, they'll start to put it to gooduse.

His head, on a stake

What will the party be doing this session? We run a list of possibles.

  • Matron Ghyrra continues to back the fetch quest for the Stinger of Vulkoor artifact. Not because she still thinks that the Scorpion has foresaken his people, but because she wants to keep it out of the hands of whatever cult "Vorruul" was serving.
  • In point of fact, if the party comes across Vorruul, dead or alive, Ghyrra would appreciate it if they brought it to her. Some digging turns up info that Vorruul is probably a Rakshasa demon, with animal features, shapechanging powers and quite the tough skin. Sanctified piercing weapons will do the trick, but the Drow confess they're not experts in that kind of magic and also don't have blessed crossbow bolts in storage.
  • Ghyrra could care less about the original request to start a blood feud between the city's giant clans.

This scene was a back and forth of rules-vs-story, with the players bringing up spells that could layer the "holy" power on a weapon, and me putting my foot down and telling them to think more myhical, less rules-as-written. I'm truly getting fed up with the tome-of-rules approach to roleplaying where you can only do what's written down and if it's written down as an option, you have a right to do it.

Options we found for getting weapons blessed:

  • steal the Sword of Dorraan in the temple/compound of the Dorraan giants (modern day Dol Dorn being a sun/strength/holy/paladiney kind of god).
  • climb the Tower of the Sun beacon and look for ways to transfer its power onto a weapon (but Woody already investigated two sessions ago and found it a pretty bare-bones deal with little clues on how to tap its power - the Giants mounted it to complete their city's mystic grid but didn't want much to do with blessing, cleansing divinities);
  • find the local shrine to the Silver Flame and get a spear blessed there (the Drow tell them the easiest way is via an underground stream);
  • find an artificer wizard or a priest of a deity with the domain of crafting magic weapons (none such amongst the Drow, but who knows what expertise can be found in the city?)

Downtime: whip it good

We agree to a day of downtime, in which baddies recuperate and players get to heal up, refresh spells and gather information.
  • Woody takes some nasty burns from the holy symboled holding box to find his prophetic feather scribbling furiously inside: "the fang is near the scale is near we are near the fang is near the scale is near..." When asked, the feather quickly informs him that "the Scale and Fang are at the Forge and the Feast". Indy deduces that this points to the temples of Onatar the Forgemaster and Olladra of Feast and Fortune. He overlays a map of the city with the traditional layout of the Sovereign Host symbol (an eight-pointed shape with every point corresponding to one deity). Conclusion: the Forge can be found in a jungle covered no man's land, the Feast should lie somewhere in the yet unexplored part of the city run by the barbarian Urggruk giants.
  • Indy decides to visit the now empty shrine to Vulkoor and mortify his flesh with his own whip to get closer to the gods of the Dark Six that he fancies. In particular, the Traveler is known to bestow strange insights and gifts on his worthies. Two hours of flagellation later, Indy wakes up from his trance with zero divine inspiration - and whip marks that form the symbol of the Silver Flame all over his body. He thanks the Traveller and proceeds to the party's room to find Woody all alone.
  • ...because Woody has pleasantly surprised his henchman Drake the healer by asking him on a trip to former henchman Eorie's grave. Drake thinks that they will be paying proper respect to their former comrade. Woody is testing out his new sacrificial dagger and sucks Drake's soul into the demon blade.

And now I get to break out a voice and character that I've had prepped and ready to go for seven years. Originally an imp bound in a summoning circle decades ago and bored out of his mind; will gladly serve and will positively purr when the new master does something to tarnish his soul. Voice notes: breathy, stretched vowels, wet smacking of lips.

With an oily voice and shivering with pleasure, Woody's familiar croons "yess master, do it again!" He'll keep egging "master" on during the session and will commit little acts of horror like breaking hatchlings' wings. 

Woody is fine with this shit. Woody has no clue how his new familiar works .

Giants, then Silver Flame, then fuck up snakeface

It's plan of action time. The party first want to score themselves a blessed weapon and they decide to go for their original quarry, the Sword of Dorraan. Where the damn thing is hidden in the temple compound is still a riddle, but they're sure they'll work it out. If plan A doesn't work, they'll head for the Silver Flame shrine to try and bless a weapon there.

Paralyse and EAT YOU
(found here)
En route, the pair find a couple of Carrion Crawlers noshing on paralysed giants in a broken temple to Eberron's many moons. After taking care of the huge corpse making/feeding caterpillars, Woody slits the neck of the surviving giant to get him out of his misery. And stocks up some more hit dice for the demon dagger.

Wrestle me up a sword

Scouting the Dorraan temple from the bushes shows that the giants have a noble wrestler vibe going on. Some ten of the brutes are oiling themselves up for bouts in the wrestling circle. Above it all is the empty-handed statue of Dorraan, on a 20m high building in the central courtyard. Every bout won or lost, in fact any reason at all has the giants shouting THE SWORD IS IN THE HEART at the top of their lungs. Making it worse is that the head of the tribe is carrying a humongous horn (but no sword) to sound the alarm. Ten giants plus however many more from the surrounding area is too much for the pair to take on. 

The players debate a bit how to tackle this - use a grease or silence spell and try to take out ten giants? Sounds a bit ambitious, however much help they can get from Woody's magic dagger.

The team lay in wait across the path to market to find a solo giant to talk to. One trader going to market tells them that the Sword of Dorraan is in the Dorraan's Vault under the statue. Freakishly, she gets to live.

Not so the trader coming back from market who ends up falling into a magical pit. After a couple of arrows in the face (finally Indy is doing some damage) he starts to talk: the sword is in the central vault, only the tribal leader can go in, and of course you can challenge the elder to a wrestling match, but...dude is BIG. Unsurprisingly, this guy doesn't get to live, as Woody sucks yet another soul into his dagger.

The thing is humming with power now and could turn one of the guys into a giant for a while. They doubt even that will make a wrestling match a fair fight, so they look for a sneaky way in. Indy gets turned invisible, sneaks into the central vault ("locked" only with a bolt) and finds only a smaller version of the same swordless statue, about a halfling high on top of a big stone base.

Bad clues - bad scene

It's here that I really should've given more specific clues.

The same magic phrase "the sword is in the heart" is running along the walls, but Indy cannot read Giant. Even so, he knows the phrase from Woody's translation but it doesn't occur to say the words out loud. 

It becomes quite frustrating for both of us: the player ends up flipping through the rule book looking for a magic answer while I'd like him to investigate the site more and get better clues. (Yes, I did try to explain about less-rulebooking and more clue gathering in the session and will do so again next session. For my part, will need to give more comprehensive clues a la Night's Black Agents in the future.)

Indy ends up leaving the shrine empty handed and asks Woody to investigate. Woody mucks about in the shrine, doesn't get any further and asks his magic prophetic feather for a clue on how to get the sword. Despite being told "take hold and speak the words" it takes a bit for him to decide to grab hold of the statue and state that "the sword is in the heart" - upon which, he can lift the statue-hafted sword out of its stone sheath. And gets a negative level for his trouble, because holy swords don't like evil cultists. With the last bit of his invisibility spell, he flies back to his waiting Gnoll buddy and they hurry back into the jungle.

Counter ambush with more snake dudes

Where to now? Indy is tempted to follow the Traveller's advice and head for the Silver Flame temple, but on the other hand the team now already have a blessed weapon to take on their Rakshasa - need to find him first though. They remember meeting a four-armed mansnakething in an underground hall that seemed linked to the snake cult. And so they head back to see if they can shake info from the snake.

I gloss over the trip, describing landmarks they take to find their way, and only after skipping the trip I realise after that this would've been a good place for Indy the ranger to shine as he remembers the way. Noted for next time.

The two-way ambush in the depths goes quickly against the snakebominations - a dude with fine scales all over his body, snakefaced and four-armed and brimming with force field wizardry, a thing wearing the skin of a Drow warrior over its own skinless form, and a freak with two long poisonous snakes grafted to his shoulders. This last guy guards Indy's way in and has sensed him long ago, but is faking out the ranger and his much shorter range darkvision.

Cruddy stats being what they are, snake-shoulders doesn't stand much of a chance (but does have Indy blowing his entire spell budget of a Delay Poison after he gets injected with a paralytic Dexterity-poison). Woody, finding another way in for his much bigger body, surprises drow-suit with a web spell and then finds out this still allows for too much wriggle room to slash the thing's throat with his dagger. Four-arms encases Woody in a force field and hurries off with drow-suit to help snake-shoulders, but that guy is already toast thanks to the Sword of Dorraan. Woody uses a dimension door spell to teleport out of the force field and murder-fireballs the two remaining guys.

Both mooks dead, some first aid revives the four-armed caster (wisely bound and gagged) enough for a round of bracing interrogation. Not every lie given during the interrogation was spotted, so only highlight the text below if you want spoilers:
  • the wizard-thing is part of a snake-abomination cult and serves the deep master under the earth [TRUE]
  • the cult's stronghold can be found near the dinosaur pens of the Songraa [FALSE, they hold the God Forge of Onatar]
  • the cult is looking for the Fang of the Sky Serpent, an artifact known to the Drow as the Sting of Vulkoor [TRUE, but not complete: the cult is also looking for the Feather relic and already holds the Scale.]
  • two infiltrators were manipulating the locals: Whisper (familiar to the cloud giant Skyfather) and Six Glyph (posing as high priest Vorruul) [TRUE]
  • the fact that Six Glyph has been exposed and driven off was not yet known to the cult [TRUE]
  • Six Glyph has not made his way to the cult stronghold. His whereabouts are unknown [TRUE]
  • the Sky Serpent Cult is trying to reincarnate their dismembered patron, a custom made demigod crafted by the Giants but murdered as the Drow rebelled and the Dragons obliterated the ancient Giant Civilization, Christ that's a lot of Capitalisation [unasked]
  • the Sky Serpent and the Scorpion Vulkoor were crafted as a pair; the serpent as an assassin-seer, the scorpion as an infiltrator and spy. Vulkoor butchered its sibling and claimed her poison fangs as his stinger [unasked, can be found in the archives of the Giant city or by asking High Priest Vorruul - the actual one, who is a prisoner in the God Forge]

Next session: hunt down Vorruul/Six Glyph, find the Stinger of Vulkoor, and then look for a nice place to retire from all this madness.