Monday, 21 October 2019

Belswick 9: Escape from the Isles of the Dead

Last session, the party managed to murder the wizard Vedric von Vermis in his favourite bath house, but ended up paying with their lives. This session, they make a shady deal to escape from the Isles of the Dead and take triple revenge on the asshole spellcaster. Returning to life, they get to raid Vedric's tower, a restocked Arcanist's Mill.

...it's an interesting thing to see the group so viscerally enjoying the punishment they get to heap on the wizard Vedric von Vermis. Interesting because I'm not quite sure where the feeling comes from.

Tilbørd's player fills me in after the game: not only is the guy thoroughly unpleasant, or trying to kidnap an NPC they've taken a liking to, he's clearly out of their league and happy to rain death on poor villagers (even if those level 3 villagers pack a punch). Most damningly, Vedric managed to escape, barely, the first time they met. (Thanks to this good advice!)

"You cannot imagine how good it was to end that bastard", Tilbørd's player tells me. The party definitely earned this victory.

CREW

  • Tilbørd, a nosy human priest of the Authority with more supernatural deals than he or we can count
  • Lomin Mor, an elf thief who masquerades as dear old Lady Olga of the struggling fief Cullfield 
  • Mike, a human druid/fighter with the grand wish of starting a big animal sanctuary 
  • Guy, a human diviner who hunts smugglers and other rogues while looking after a crippling 10,000 gp college debt to the Lodge of Augurs and Diviners
  • Aju, a hammerhead shark-fishling of the barbarian persuasion, looking for the magic amulet that will turn him into a regular shark again (absentee player)
Paper mini's and a handcrafted gallows out of cardboard. Inspiration: CardboardDM.


SETTING THE SCENE

The party remembers dying. They are woken by a bell ringing someways in the distance. They wake up side by side, swinging from the gallows. The rope hurts like hell but their lungs don't burn. Crows circle overhead. "Give us your coins and we'll set you free! *snigger*" Two copper coins in their pockets - their favorite clothes, but all their belongings are gone. Lomin alone has no coins.

Some acrobatics sets the group free. As they look at each other and speculate in what part of the afterlife they are, they notice weird details. Aju seems to flicker between a full shark and a fish-man. Lomin looks his usual self. Mike and Guy each have a weird spectral tentacle emerging from the back of their head, trailing off into smoke.

And Tilbørd? Oh boy. He's covered in spectral markings. A black flame tattooed H on his left forearm from the smugglers of Harkness, an third eye amulet on his brow, hands blazing with the Radiant Maiden's golden light and the voice of the Authority in his voice. His breath, not that anyone came close enough, smells like that of a ghoul.


Arnold K's Isles of the Dead are great to have in your DM binder. Just knowing that you can continue play even after a total party kill is freeing.


EXPLORE AND ESCAPE

The party explores the island. From the belltower, they can see a larger island up north, and smaller islands to the east. On the main island is a forest, a tower that can't make up its size and a hill with a shining silver-golden light at the top. They head for a dock on the island they're on.

Passing the gallows again, they find a familiar face: their victim Vedric von Vermis! He wants to team up to escape, but the PCs only tie him up tight. When they walk away, suddenly black-gold light blazes in a circle on Vedric's chest, draining away almost all of his soul; he's now see-through and expressionless and drifts off to the dock.

The water is quiet as the grave, a mirror surface you can't see below. "We're NOT swimming in there", my players decide. Wise, as it's chock full of angry skeletons.

The mute ferryman demands two coins from each passenger. Lomin nor Vedric are fondly remembered among the living and they have no coins. But there's another way: the ferryman offers his oar. Vedric, listless, agrees. The moment his hands touch the oar, grey floods his transparant flesh. For the rest of eternity or until he can convince someone to take his place, he is now the ferryman of the Isles of the Dead.


ESCAPING JUDGMENT

Ferried to the main island, the party discuss where to go. Face judgment? Their feet didn't sink as deep into the sand as Vedric's did, but it's clear their souls aren't clean. (None of them ever prayed for forgiveness or bought an indulgence.)


A line of people snaking up the hill, the tower behind the dark wood - neither are appealing, and the party opt for the third path. On a rocky outcrop they find Mary, crying for a devil to take her back to the land of the living. Tilbørd looms close, eyes her. "You called me?" It turns out Mary wants to return to life to warn her sister Agnes not to marry Edmund, her murderer. Tilbørd assures her it will be dealt with and sends her up the hill, presumably to be judged.

I'm not sure what the penalty on impersonating a devil is.

From the outcrop, the party can see a structure on the small island to the east. At the beach, they are greeted by a shade of someone they knew and helped. This shade helps them across the water via an invisibly submerged path. Each sees another person:
  • Mike sees his father, killed by a cult to Outsider horrors;
  • Lomin sees his fiancée, murdered by his princeling brother;
  • Guy meets his sister who he thought was alive, poisoned by agents of a Baron Ballumbie;
  • Aju greets his wizard friend Nunawe, a turtle-ling;
  • Tilbørd is surprised to see the hapless Swanling merchant Dinadan, his heart burst by the spectre riding him for spilling secrets to Tilbørd.
Charon, etching of Gustave Doré (from)

THE BURNED CHURCH

Brimstone fills the air near a ruined church on the easternmost island. There is a defaced statue of an angel, six-winged and four-faced above an altar, split by a crack in the ground. Red light and heat from below. Buddy, a shadow dwelling demon in halfling form, offers to bring one person back to life if another will offer his soul for eternal service; or two souls to bring back three.

To bring back the entire party? Murder the judgmental angel on top of the hill. Or, I improv off-hand smuggle Buddy to the world of the living by letting him ride one of the party for five months.

Mike's player is down with that shit. He hands me a note with five demands: no children or animals hurt, not in the barony where the party lives; a week instead of 5 months (he agrees on 5 weeks), and a reward of 1500 gold.

"...You're asking him for money?"
"Sure! Gotta build that animal sanctuary."

This will become interesting. Belswick's demons are...different. Buddy has secured the right to ride Mike's buddy for five weeks "to do something about a priest", but he's not starting that clock just yet.

A raft is quickly constructed out of skeletons and crows serving Buddy. All sneak aboard and cast off to the east. Under the waves, hundreds of skeletons turn their skulls to see the strange ship go by.


BACK AND ON THE CUTTING BLOCK


The party wake up in a cave, armored in full plate and lying on ritual altars. Seems someone has hauled their bodies away from the bath house. Whoever did so was planning to use their souls to animate these constructs, but called it a day and left them to continue the next day. Sleeping bodyguards in a room nearby, still with the burn marks from Vedric's final fireball. Lomin economically slits their throats. In a ceremonial room they find another armor, with Vedric's body inside; a glowing coin/medaillon on the chest holds the remains of his spirit from the botched ritual they saw happen on the Isles.

"We take his head for Liselle, his body to give to the ghouls, and the soul coin because I bet we can think of ways to pester this asshole with it."

Sneaking on, the party finds themselves emerging from a cave system under Vedric's water mill / tower. Under the millstones is a room with a lightning apparatus that is used to energize the plate armor constructs. A voice calls down: "My name is Vedric von Vermis and you are trespassing in my tower!" Apprentices trying to stand in for their master are just adorable.

The animated armors are bull-dozered aside by Mike, who wildshapes into a bull for the occasion. The apprentice, Disguise Selfed as Vedric, is pushed down a hatch by bath house owner (and assassin) Seymon, who decides to make a run for it. Apprentice goes down in a flash, Mike (heavily wounded AGAIN) shifts into Wolf shape and runs down the assassin, who has at least 5 levels on him. But no way to gain sneak attacks, and the party joins up to bring the murderer down in seconds.

My restocked version of the beautiful Arcanist's Mill by Jonathan Roberts. (Added the bridge and docks myself.) An awesome place hanging over the edge off a cliff. Full of accidents waiting to happen like massive turning axles and grindstones and rickety bridges over a deep drop to the rocks. Decidedly easier to fight your way through from the catacombs at night than via the locked and warded front door.

JUST REWARDS

It is, finally, time to rest and then ransack. Find the list of loot below. "Hey, if we're in Lord Vennax' territory, we don't have to pay taxes to that bastard!" How quickly they learn.

We time skip weeks to make all that possible. And next session? There'll be a Bard in town who can spin tales of scary dungeons to loot - the players can describe, then I get to roll to find out what was rumour, what was true and what twists I get to add. In addition, I've asked each player to send me ideas for cool magic items they would like to find for their players, and also to suggest one such item for another player. Secret Santa with magic items, they're sending me awesome stuff.

For now, they'll have to make do with:

Total value: 8025 gp
XP value per PC: 1605 XP

(Overview of all rewards, taxes etc)
  • boots of elvenkind, worth 500 gp
  • stone of good luck, worth 500 gp
  • potion of flight, 1hr, worth 500 gp
  • scroll of rope trick, worth 50 gp
  • gold bracelet, worth 25 gp
  • embroidered vest, worth 25 gp
  • silk handkerchief, worth 25 gp
  • Vedric's spellbook, worth 500 gp (see tab "Spellbooks")
  • Apprentice spellbook, worth 100 gp (see tab "Spellbooks")
  • 3 amethysts, worth 300 gp
  • piece of jade, worth 100 gp
  • garnet, worth 100 gp
  • chess set, turquoise animals, worth 250 gp
  • gold bird cage, worth 250 gp
  • gold ring with bloodstones, worth 250 gp
  • silk robe, gold embroidery, worth 250 gp
  • 2500 cp, worth 25 gp
  • 7000 sp, worth 700 gp
  • 1100 gp, worth 1100 gp
  • Vedric's library, worth 725 gp (see tab "Labs and Libraries")
  • Lady Liselle's reward for Vedric's head, worth 1000 gp
  • Incriminating letter from Baron Ballumbie ordering Vedric to kidnap Liselle, worth 250 gp
  • Incriminating letter from Lord Vennax ordering Vedric to assemble bandits and plunder the Cullfield/Crossroads trade road, worth 250 gp
  • Incriminating letter from "H", blasphemously in the Archbishop's handwriting, ordering research of more advanced animated armors, worth 250 gp

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