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Kingmaker: Intermission #3, Session 10, Part 1

So, what do we know about Iobaria? It’s the large area off of the eastern edge of the Stolen Lands map, neighbor to Brevoy and the Nomen Heights. It is a land that seen the rise and fall of several empires, both human and cyclops. And it has been so devastated by various plagues over the millennia that most of its cities lay abandoned, and the few remaining people live primitive lives in the harsh wilderness. Why do plagues love Iobaria so much? It’s not said, but given that there have been several major ones there and hardly a mention of any Black Death-like events elsewhere in Golarion (that I’m aware of, anyway) makes it seem like there’s a definite (unstated?) reason behind it all.

Fun fact: Choral the Conqueror, who invaded Issia and Rostland and turned them into Brevoy, originally hailed from Iobaria!

The PCs had arrived in this cursed land thanks to a plane shift spell, and were stuck there until happy hour (when Remesio the cleric could recover his spells and teleport them home). The group’s knowledge of Iobaria was sparse; they had never had a reason to go there before, and anyway, it was off the map! Although it should be said that Orseen the warpriest has wanted to conquer the place since he first learned of its existence, as he does with any neighboring realms, despite being repeatedly told that there wasn’t much there to conquer. As this might have been my only opportunity to showcase the place, and as the party probably wouldn’t even be spending the night, I wanted to make it memorable.

After reading up on it (here is the wiki page; which is mostly drawn from the gazetteer in Varnhold Vanishing) I thought an abandoned city built atop an ancient cyclopean ruin would make for an interesting location. It might even tempt the players to do some treasure hunting while they wait! The setup reminded me a bit of the old AD&D module I1, Dwellers of the Forbidden City. A ruined city populated by mutants and degenerate snake-people certainly seemed in keeping with a place ripped apart by magical plagues. That the ghouls in I1 turned their victims to jelly even lined up with one of the listed plagues! In the end I took some ideas from the gazetteer, mixed in other ideas from the module, and kitbashed some monster stats in Hero Lab. And hoped that the party wouldn’t just hop on their carpet and fly away!

As an aside, that Choral was from such a cursed place, and was either allied with red dragons or was one himself, and that red and white dragons had allied with the last real kingdom in Iobaria (before the “drakeplague” killed most of them off) and were actually allied at the time of his conquest of Issia and Rostland, and that the condition of that alliance was that the cyclopes’ ruins be ceded to the wyrms, and that the drakeplague occurred a mere 20 years after Choral created Brevoy, (deep breath) and that the Vanishing of Choral’s bloodline happened exactly 200 years after that conquest… well. Putting all of that together says to me that the Vanishing was caused by some ancient cyclops curse, or some cyclops debt come due. As my players have been interested in the cause of the Vanishing and have gone looking for answers, it feels good to have finally arrived at the beginnings of an answer.

I didn’t want to detail the city or its inhabitants too much, since as I mentioned the players likely wouldn’t be staying long. I quickly settled on Leng ghouls as ghouls that could actually play in the PCs’ ballpark, and modified gelatinous cubes for the once-humans who had been turned to ooze by the ghouls. There’s no yuan-ti in Pathfinder, but the serpentfolk are similar enough. I built some different options by adding class levels, and picked a deep naga with a couple of sorcerer levels as a stand-in for the yuan-ti abomination, on the off chance the PCs went after their lair.

The City That Never Sleeps

So, our adventurers arrived in the middle of an abandoned city that looked like it had been built by giants and refurbished by humans. Cliffs surrounded the ruin on all sides. The group debated whether to just wait in a rope trick until happy hour or to go looking for treasure, and the desire for treasure won out. They hopped on their flying carpet and floated close to the ground, so as not to be spotted, heading towards the closest tall structure: a four-sided stone pyramid. The pyramid had no obvious entrances at its base, but flying upwards they saw part of its upper portion had collapsed, allowing entry to a chamber inside. The areas that had been exposed to the elements were covered in dirt and debris, but they found passageways that led further in, to better preserved chambers.

They found signs of burial artifacts, but it looked as if much that could have been valuable had already been picked over. After some time they were surprised by a group of translucent human-shaped oozes, but the creatures were easily dispatched.

Eventually they located what appeared to be the main burial chamber of the pyramid, but it had already been looted – from the inside! A dusty tunnel that led underground still remained, perhaps leading back to the thieves… The group decided to go down. They found rough earthen tunnels and rooms, bones, bits of broken and discarded items from the pyramid above, and… fresh tracks in the dirt! The prints looked like they came from barefoot, clawed humanoids. They pressed on, only to be ambushed by three ghouls hanging from the ceiling!

After weathering the surprise round, Satampra the swashbuckler and Orseen fought back while Aakif the arcanist used Arcane Step to transport himself to the ceiling. Remesio was quickly paralyzed by the ghoul’s touch, and matters went downhill from there. One ghoul joined the arcanist on the ceiling, forcing him to retreat more and more from the rest of the party. One was cut down by Satampra’s sword and a barrage of magic missiles, but not before the swashbuckler was paralyzed as well. Orseen picked up a nasty disease from the last ghoul, which started to turn his flesh into ooze, and then he, too was paralyzed!

The one ghoul on the ground started to feast on Orseen, who was alive but could not move, and soon the one on the ceiling had paralyzed Aakif. Luckily Remesio had overcome his paralyzation by that point. Seeing that the warpriest was likely dead, he grabbed the immobile swashbuckler, Dimension Hopped over to Aakif, reached up, and dimension door’d them back up to the surface. After they could move again and were healed, they headed back for their fallen companion.

They found the remaining ghouls still eating the warpriest – he’s a big guy! – though they heard the adventurers approaching and went into hiding. The PCs flushed them out with AoE spells, and then went to town. The last one ended up trapped by Evard’s black tentacles, and pleaded for its unlife to no avail. Once it had expired, the group scooped up the warpriest’s remains and one of the ghouls (for a create treasure map spell) and teleported home to Stagfell.

It’s Not Easy Being Orseen

Now, Orseen’s player Bill really likes lizard people, and wanted to eschew the traditional raise dead for a reincarnate from the kingdom’s druid PC-turned-NPC Iofur on the off-chance he could become one. He had a 1% chance – a result of 94 on d100 – to change his race to lizardfolk. He rolled… a 93! But the 3 was cocked a little, and anyway becoming a kobold would have probably meant the end for Orseen, so I let him re-roll that die. Now he had a 10% chance! He rolled a 7, for a 97 total, meaning that Orseen came back as… an orc. Orseen was now “Orc-seen,” also known as “Porcine.” On the plus side, the change boosted his Strength and gave him Darkvision. On the downside, he was now a warpriest for a sun goddess who was sensitive to sunlight.

While the warpriest recovered, Aakif sliced the withered skin off the back of the ghoul they had taken home and used it for a create treasure map spell. The roll of skin was filled with a map of the caverns under the pyramid, showing X‘s where all the ghouls’ treasure was located. On the next day, they teleported back to the ghouls’ lair, tracked down the treasure, disarmed the traps, and counted their loot (lots of coins, potions, and scrolls).

Feeling invigorated by treasure haul, the group wanted to explore more of the area. A thorough reconnoitering of the tunnels turned up an entrance into an ancient giant-sized sewer system, which they thought might be a handy way to get around the city unseen. And so they plunged into the inky depths.

Next: sewers of the serpent people!

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Kingmaker: Intermission #3, Session 9, Part 2

One plane shift later, and the adventurers found themselves in the First World city of Gorias. They had come, as before, seeking information, and headed directly to the library that they had visited on their previous journey. The library’s caretaker, a giant talking owl named Ibis Sophus, greeted them as they entered. Forgetting their original intention of learning how to contact the Owl Prince, a powerful fey they sometimes met with in Golarion, they peppered the avian sage with questions about the Green Lady and these new beings that they guessed to be working with her – the Misbegotten Troll, the Gnurly Witch, the Wriggling Man.

Ibis told them what he knew of the Green Lady – that she had been a lover of one of the Elders of the First World in ages past. That Elder, Count Ranalc, had been banished to the Shadow Realm and had not been heard from since. The Green Lady suffered as well – the Elders punished her, and since that time she has spent her days in her demesne of Thousandbreaths, rarely venturing outside of its borders. He added that she had invited figures of a similar stature to herself to come live in her realm, but only those of the lowest repute would associate with one who had earned the ire of the Elders.

Satampra the swashbuckler showed the owl the map of Thousandbreaths from Zuddiger’s Picnic, which interested the creature greatly. Satampra’s player had theorized that the locations on the map might correspond to places in the First World that they had previously visited, including Gorias itself. But Ibis told him that he was mistaken. Their questions exhausted, the group paid the sage for his services and promised to return with a copy of the Thousandbreaths map.

Welcome to My Nightmare

The Emperor’s next big idea was to plane shift and then teleport to the one place they had been to that appeared to be part of Thousandbreaths, according to Zuddiger’s Picnic and its map – the giant frozen graveyard (location C in Thousandbreaths). Ooops. I had let the party visit there a long time back, as part of my efforts to foreshadow book 6. But now they were 12th level and could travel there at will! A smarter DM would have had the post-plane shift teleport fail, as part of the weirdness surrounding the Green Lady’s home. Instead I figured they would go there, get spanked by the first thing they ran into, and run home in short order.

What ended up happening instead was they arrived in the graveyard, where it was eternally winter and the markers rose taller than people, and promptly got on their flying carpet and headed north. This took them past the massive Nightmare Rook (location D), who saw them and launched into the sky to run them down. It was faster than they were, so the adventurers flew down into the forest to avoid the bird, only stopping when they reached the wall around the Fruiting Orchard (location E), which Satampra wanted to see to confirm his theory that it was a mushroom city. The Rook swooped down, ripping up trees with its massive talons as it sought to reach the PCs. Aakif the arcanist cast fly on Orseen the warpriest and then lobbed enervation after enervation at the beast, until it was forced to run away. Don’t tell anyone, but I let it take damage beyond its hit points so that it wouldn’t die at this early stage… All in all, the Rook was a real disappointment for its CR.

Meanwhile, Satampra scaled the wall around the orchard, determined to find out what was there. What he found was an area that looked much like the bloom that had spawned in Caerelia, and that was similarly overrun with mandragoras. But the little blood sucking plants, instead of swarming over the swashbuckler and draining his blood, gathered together in a great mass that grew taller and taller, until it resembled a giant mandrake monster!

To cover the Nightmare Rook’s escape, I brought in the black dragon Ilthuliak (from nearby location J), who was invisible and conjured an acid fog to hinder the PCs. My foreshadowing had turned into a full-blown spoiler! Luckily, the adventurers decided that between the unknown caster and the giant mandragora, it was a good moment to run away, and I didn’t have to bring in any more of the Green Lady’s minions to chase off four 12th-level PCs…

When the party tries to return, I will probably say that the Green Lady, Wriggling Man, and Gnurly Witch will have erected a teleport-proof barrier around Thousandbreaths. Within the story, this will have the effect of delaying progress on their larger goal, so that whether they discover the truth or not, the players will have made a difference in the fate of the Stolen Lands with their impromptu assault. I am also going to rebuild the Nightmare Rook. It should, at the very least, have Power Attack, and looking at the latest version of the Advanced Bestiary, I see it should have the Nightmare Lord template instead of Nightmare Creature, owing to its Hit Dice.

Note: It’s come to my attention that the First World isn’t supposed to be accessible via plane shift. This is mentioned in the final adventure, and it’s why the PCs need trophies from the blooms to access Thousandbreaths at that point. I goofed on that ages ago, I suppose. On the other hand, the party still could have traveled to the First World by finding another portal (like a faerie ring) and then teleporting to Gorias or Thousandbreaths or wherever after stepping through. I’ll have to have a talk with the players about this.

Anyway, the plane shift back to Golarion took them a couple of hundred miles to the east, which landed them in the cursed land of Iobaria. Normally the PCs would teleport to their true destination after traversing dimensions, but Remesio the cleric had used his one domain spell to get them to the graveyard, and Aakif had used up all of his high level slots during the battle. So they were stuck, at least until they could recover spells.

Next: layover in Iobaria!

Kingmaker: Intermission #3, Session 9, Part 1

The group had been surrounded by innumerable mandragoras – evil mandrake plant creatures – who now threatened to bury the adverturers! The mandragora swarm is a CR 13 creature (taken from book 6 of the adventure path), which I figured should be a fairly easy battle for four 12th level characters. As it turned out, though, I didn’t look closely enough at the stat block, which appeared to have been designed by a real rat bastard of a DM.

Aakif the arcanist leveled a fireball into the crowd of little root babies as the plants rushed towards, dropped onto, or came up under the party. Satampra the swashbuckler, not having any particularly good area of effect attacks and noting that his sword would do little against such numbers, broke out his wand of sound burst. Orseen the warpriest didn’t even have that, so he swung his flaming greatsword around even though it had no appreciable effect. But it looked cool?

The creatures shrieked, and everyone had to make a DC 25 Fort save or be nauseated for 1d4 rounds. Then everyone took 5d6 points of damage, 1d6 points of Strength damage from blood drain, had to make a DC 27 Fort save or be confused by poison (which required 2 consecutive saves to get rid of), and then had to make a DC 25 Fortitude save or be nauseated by the standard swarm distraction ability.

The arcanist, who was the group’s best weapon against the swarm, failed his saves against basically everything. The others endured the mandrakes’ terrible shriek and resisted their poison for a few rounds, but were up and down on whether they could do anything useful due to the distraction of being covered in little venomous monsters that were biting them and sucking their blood. Orseen held out the longest with a string of impressive Fort saves, which was unfortunate in that he was the one character who couldn’t do much against the swarm. He bravely attempted to carry immobile people out of the swarm, but didn’t have much luck. Especially when a confused Satampra started trying to stab him.

On the positive side, all the Strength damage meant that attacking oneself or another party member due to the confusion resulted in less than normal damage!

When lucid and able to act, Aakif and Remesio the cleric managed to hit the swarm with some area of effect spells, but after several rounds it was still at around half hit points and the situation was looking like a potential TPK if they didn’t run. Luckily, they did run, teleporting back to the capital and leaving their flying carpet behind.

That Sucked… Blood

After recovering from the poison, resting, restorting the Strength damage (most of the PCs took 10 points!), resting again, and going back all sneaky-like to get their carpet, the rulers of Caerelia were ready to assess the damage. The bloom’s growth had slowed, but not before it had engulfed Salar’s Rest, the Versailles to Stagfell’s Paris! An examination from above revealed that the city buildings had been destroyed by rampant plant growth, which shot through roofs and toppled over walls. Of the 6,000 some inhabitants – 10% of the kingdom’s population – there was no sign. “They probably got their blood sucked out by those mandragoras and turned into compost,” grimly noted the Emperor.

What to do when the kingdom loses a small city? If I individually demolished every plot, that would increase Unrest by 1 per occupied square on the district map, or +61 Unrest for Salar’s Rest. By the rules, you lose control at an Unrest of 20! I decided this horrific event was worth +15 Unrest just to keep things manageable (10 for the city + 1 for each lost hex). Even so, the kingdom still couldn’t fail an Economy check, though with the loss of such a big settlement its Loyalty and Stability checks became near-impossible.

Iofur the druid spent some days examining the area while Marshall Pelagia and her rangers patrolled its borders. The mandragoras weren’t too tough in small numbers, and the kingdom’s guardians were able to keep the threat contained. Iofur eventually reported that it looked like the incursion had lost steam, and it was dying off faster than it was expanding.

Aakif spent some time, aided by Stagfell’s +12 to Knowledge (arcana) checks, trying to formulate some theory about what had occurred. It seemed like the strange figures encountered at the bloom’s epicenter had conducted an epic sort of ritual that could transplant part of one reality into another. Though from what they had said, it wasn’t working the way they wanted it to… yet.

The arcanist, aided by Stagfell’s general +8 to non-arcana Knowledge checks, also sought clues as to the identities of those visitors. In books of stories from the land of faeries, he found references to the Misbegotten Troll, whose name had been spoken by the hag. Further research in that vein led to mentions of other strange, wondrous, and fearful beings. Two likely candidates for the hag and worm-man were:

The Gnurly Witch, one of three sisters who had cruelly betrayed her family and had been cursed for her wickedness, and

The Wriggling Man, a wizard whose will to know everything was so strong that he bargained with an Elder of the First World for immortality. While he did die, his consciousness lived on in the worms that consumed his mortal remains.

Satampra had the idea that they should consult the Owl Prince, a noble fey that held court a couple of hexes north of the capital. But the proper phase of the moon that would herald his presence was still two weeks away. “We don’t know where he lives in the First World, do we,” said Drew, Satampra’s player. Which struck me as an odd idea – I have never thought where the Owl Prince or other faeries were located when they weren’t appearing in the human world. Would they be in the First World? But it didn’t matter, they had no more idea than I did where the Prince could be. Drew reasoned that they could find out, perhaps, in the faerie city of Gorias, where they had visited seeking answers once before. And so preparations were made to travel to the faerie realm, hopefully to get some answers.

Next: give a hoot!

Kingmaker: Intermission #3, Session 8, Part 2

Summer came to an end, and the rulers of Caerelia moved their court from Salar’s Rest back up the road to Stagfell. It had been a productive season; they had resolved to build up the kingdom’s income, in theory to support future conquests, and had gotten to building more lumber mills, mines, and quarries. Now the once mostly-untouched Narlmarches echoed with the sounds of sawing wood and toppling trees.

A few days after the autumnal equinox, an urgent messenger arrived in Stagfell, having recently come from Tatzylford. The woods across the river from that town had been overtaken by wild growths of prodigious size, and it was rapidly spreading! None of the lumberjacks who worked in the area had been seen since the explosion of nature had been noted, and none who ventured into the area had returned. Lord Mayor Loy Rezbin requested the council’s immediate aid with this strange new phenomena before it overtook his town.

The rulers took to their flying carpet to investigate. What they found was a massive area of gigantic plants and fungi that had overtaken miles and miles of forest. Whatever had been inside the covered territory could not be seen. And as they examined the borders of the growth, they could actually see it spreading! New shoots of the strange plant life were appearing, even as the existing flora continued to visibly expand. “This is definitely some faerie BS,” muttered Orseen the warpriest.

They swooped in for a closer look. Aakif the arcanist identified the plant life as originating from the First World. Orseen snorted. “Told you!” Furthermore, the flora appeared to be gripped by some powerful and chaotic magic that was causing it to rapidly grow, but not in predictable patterns.

This was a “premature” version of one of the blooms in book 6, in order to foreshadow to the players what the BBEG’s ultimate aim was. I had picked the “dead unicorn” hex, one hex west of Tatzylford, to start the bloom in and rolled d4+1 to see how extra hexes it would consume before stopping at the rate of one a day. That resulted in 4 more hexes being overrun. Then I had the players roll a d6, then a d8, a d10, and finally a d12 to see which hex would be affected each day (counting from the “top” of the top-leftmost hex). The first roll caused it to spread southwest, then it expanded to the northeast, the west, and finally to the southeast. Everything that’s been built in those hexes has been destroyed, and the hexes are no longer claimed by the kingdom.

While the group was examining the strange plants, little plant people that looked somewhat like plump children started to gather, gazing at the humans in wonder. Satampra the swashbuckler tried addressing them in sylvan, and then when that elicited no response, the common tongue. “Come closer!” they sniggered in reply, beckoning with tiny fingers made from roots and tubers.

“I wouldn’t advise that,” said the arcanist. “Those are mandragoras – living mandrake plants that drink blood.”

Instead the swashbuckler tried to get the leafy babies to say where the source of the incursion was, by asking them to take him to their leader. The little evil plant children indicated that “the door” was to the west, and the carpet zoomed off, just as some of the mandragoras attempted to drop down onto it from the mushroom caps above.

Meet the New Neighbors

After a couple of hours of searching, the rulers found a clearing some 15 miles from Tatzylford. In the clearing, a huge troll towered over two human-sized figures that were conversing while examining the plants and fungi. The troll leaned on a massive polearm and wore little, save for a chain around its neck. From that chain dangled tiny cages, several of which contained faeries that struggled against the bars. One of the human-ish figures was a bent-back crone with long scraggly hair and purplish skin. The other was covered in leather armor and cowl, and casually carried a magical-looking staff. As the carpet approached the clearing and touched down nearby, the troll’s eyes tracked its movements, but he did not budge.

Aakif used his ring of chameleon power to blend into his surroundings and endeavored to get closer without bringing further attention to himself. Satampra, meanwhile, casually strolled up and started mimicking the actions of the others, pretending that the plants and fungi were of great interest to him.

“…bloom is not stable. It should collapse within a few days,” said the hag to the other.

“I told her the anchors were too few,” replied the leather-clad figure in a voice that sounded as if he had a mouth full of moist dirt. With a start, Satampra noticed that under the leather was not skin but rather masses of wriggling earthworms.

The woman did not reply, for she was regarding the swashbuckler through narrowed eyes. “That’s a real shame,” Satampra said casually. “The anchors are very important, as we all know.”

The earthworm-thing seemed to notice him then, for a brief instant, and then went back to its work. “Why do you let the gnats bother you?” it asked of the crone.

“I know this gnat. This gnat helped kill my daughter Toboura.”

Satampra was about to protest when the leather-clad thing said, “And? You have many daughters.”

The hag pouted. “She was one of my favorites. Let’s kill him, and his pretty little friends, too.” She gestured in the direction of the flying carpet, upon which Orseen and Remesio the cleric sat.

“A waste of time,” the thing replied in an almost absent-minded fashion. “They will be taken by the blooms, once we perfect the rituals.”

“So impersonal. What if the Misbegotten Troll ripped them to shreds while we watched?” The giant troll perked up a bit upon hearing its name.

“Forget the mites. We’ve learned what we can here. Let us return.”

During this exchange, Aakif inched closer to the troll until he could cast a message spell on one of the caged faeries. In a panicked voice, she promised him a boon if he could free her, which he was happy to attempt. Unfortunately, his knock spell had no effect – the cage had no doors or openings!

And then the three strange figures plane shifted away.

The others left the carpet so they could all poke around the area that the unusual trio had recently occupied. As they were looking around, noises from all directions caught their attention – they had been surrounded by thousands of mandragoras!

Next: blood bowl!

Kingmaker: Intermission #3, Session 8, Part 1

The summer of 4719 was approaching, and what better way to spend the summer than in one’s summer palace? The rulers of Caerelia had founded Salar’s Rest atop the ruins of the elven castle that held the Dancing Lady, and constructed a palace there for just this reason. As a bonus, it was only a day or two’s ride from the capital.

The days of tranquility amidst the trees and rivers of the Narlmarches were interrupt when Garuum the boggard came to town. The original party – of which only Satampra remained – had encountered Garuum a long time ago while mapping the Greenbelt. Garuum was a friendly frog-man with a pet slurk, who had been exiled from his tribe in the Hooktongue Slough after being beaten in a leadership challenge. He’d been keeping to himself in the years since then, but he came now to the palace hoping to make a deal.

For good ‘ol Garuum had found a fly, which he tried to eat, but it turned out to be made of stone! And it was magical! He wanted to trade it to the rulers of Caerelia if they would be so kind as to depose the current leader of his people – the priest-king Sepoko – and install him in his place. And give him Sepoko’s head, so that his slurk could feast on it. Garuum especially wanted to see that!

Just how magical is that fly, the PCs wondered? Aakif the arcanist shrugged. “It’s alright,” he said. “I could make one for a few thousand gold.” He told them that it could be commanded to turn into a giant fly, which the owner could then ride around on. Satampra the swashbuckler made a face – there was no way he was going to be seen on the back of giant fly! Remesio the cleric and Aakif could fly with magic. Only Orseen the warpriest was at all interested in it.

The council was much more keen to talk about installing a puppet government in the Slough, which had not really been explored to date and was filled with all sorts of unknown dangers. Having a friend in charge of a whole tribe could give them lots of useful intelligence, and give Fort Heptamus warning should anything crawl out of the swamp and in the town’s direction. And so they decided to knock over a boggard village.

Why bring up this quest now, which is from the back cover of Blood for Blood? It had been on my to-do list once the war situation calmed down, but also I was looking for ways to distract the players from floundering around. I want some time to pass before starting book five, and I want a couple of events to happen before then. But they didn’t have a clear direction this session, having forgotten about tracking down Imeckus Stroon or looking for the Green Lady’s sword, and were discussing the prospect of invading different River Kingdoms (which I didn’t really want to get into, as they’re off the edge of the map!). So I dangled some bait before them, and they went for it.

Battle of the Frogs

The PCs teleported to Fort Heptamus and then took a short carpet ride over Lake Hooktongue to M’botuu, the village of the frog people. While still on the carpet, Orseen called out Sepoko for a challenge on behalf of Garuum, and then buffed himself while waiting for a response. The priest-king did show up, behind a half-dozen elite boggards, but he declared the challenge invalid – humans could not be a part of a challenge! Only boggards! The Legless Lady commanded it!

So the fully-buffed warpriest jumped down off the carpet, intending to wade through the guards with casual ease, before dispatching Sepoko in single combat. He got as far as the first round, when Sepoko’s wardens, all rangers with most of their Favored Enemy bonuses in “human”, swarmed him for about 70 points of damage. “I’m tapping out!” he declared. “Help!”

Once the full party got involved, it didn’t last long and I handwaved much of the combat. Aakif conjured a stinking cloud, Remesio called down a holy smite, and even Satampra got into the act with a wand of sound burst. Orseen healed himself and cut down the remaining rangers.

Sepoko invoked a flame strike on the warpriest, which did a paltry 17 damage. It was basically over after that. The priest-king called out to the Legless Lady to spare him, but no divine intervention occurred, and Orseen chopped off the frog-man’s head. The battle was over.

The Demoness and the Frog

Garuum and his slurk came out, and true to his word, the slurk ate Sepoko’s head. The happy boggard was declared the new king of M’botuu, and his first decree was, “Down with the Legless Lady! We go back to worshiping our creator, Gogunta!” His second decree was, “Death to the bog-striders!” There was clearly a lot going on here, and the PCs had many questions.

Gogunta was a bloated demon goddess who supposedly vomited up the Slough and gave birth to the boggards in the process. They had warred with other inhabitants of the swamp, particularly the hated bog-striders and any human settlers who wandered by. Fort Drelev had beaten them back though, and Sepoko had turned to a new power, the Legless Lady, in desperation.

What were bog-striders, the humans wanted to know? Insect people, they were told, like bugs who can walk on the surface of water, only much bigger. Remesio shuddered at the thought of such hideous creatures, and gave the boggards his blessing for going to war with them.

Who is the Legless Lady? The boggards couldn’t say, exactly. She was said to be a powerful goddess who looked like a snake with a humanoid face. Sepoko often went to a place called the Swamp Scar; perhaps it was sacred to her in some way?

Finally, the players wanted to know about Old Hooktongue, the monster that supposedly lived in the huge lake. The boggards had many stories of the beast, but nothing recent – it was said that no one had seen Old Hooktongue in years, and maybe it had died.

Good Day to be a Fish

The adventurers, naturally, wanted to test that out, and visited a butcher in Fort Heptamus to fill their bags of holding with chum. They then spent a day flying above the water of the lake, dropping animal chunks into the water every so often. They attracted a lot of aquatic attention, but not from anything monstrous. Disappointed, they teleported back to their summer palace, where Orseen intended to test out his new flying… fly.

Next: in bloom!

Call of Cthulhu: Amidst the Ancient Trees, Part 3

“Join us,” moaned the corpse of a Civil War soldier, as it rose from a glowing stone coffin! The other dead soldier rose from its coffin as well, adding its horrible dry raspy voice to that of its partner’s. The investigators,

  • Jack O’Toole – a local private eye (played by me)
  • Dr. Mac Addington – a middle-aged doctor (played by Bill)
  • “Baby-Face” Fenster – a gangster pretending to be a concerned citizen (played by Antony)

stumbled back, firing their guns – except for Doc! Despite his earlier promise to Jack to shoot any walking corpses wearing Civil War outfits that he saw – a promise he never thought he’d have to keep – he did not raise his shotgun. Instead, he briefly contemplated stabbing the blasphemous things with the alien metal spike in his hand.

The dead were out of their coffins and advancing, so the group scrambled up out of the root cellar in a bit of a panic. Fenster slammed the trap door shut and stood on it, while Jack and Doc worked on untying their captive gangsters, Eugene and Sidney, who were also in a bit of a panic. “Join us,” came the unearthly voices from down in the cellar, as the dead attempted to push open the trap door.

Once the criminals were untied, everyone ran outside and into the sunlight. The things clambered out of the cellar and moved forward, but… they would not leave the shade of the cabin. “Join us,” they begged from beyond the open door.

Fenster aimed his Tommy gun at the pair and pulled the trigger. The bullets produced dust, not blood, where they hit, and while the corpses did not fall, they did move back into the cabin where they could no longer be seen. “Join us,” came the whispers from the dark.

“That was them! That was them!” yelled Sidney, who had earlier told the disbelieving investigators that some old soldiers had grabbed his kidnap victim, Jane Lucas, and taken her away. Fenster the rival gangster smacked him and told him to quiet down.

“Jane wasn’t in there, though,” observed Jack. “There were five coffins down in that cellar, and only two… soldiers. Maybe there’s three more?” The private eye shuddered. “Could be they took her further down the path.”

Down By The Water

Further down the path took the group to a large lake, which filled those who had dreamt of water on previous nights with foreboding. But their attention was quickly drawn from the water to five tall wooden poles sticking up out of the dirt near the shore. There were five bodies tied to the poles, each with a metal spike coming out of their chest! Doc ran over to take a look and discovered, to his horror, that the people were still alive! (SAN losses all around)

The man being examined by Doc moaned weakly and murmured, “Kill me.” All the victims, who looked to be painters, roused themselves and repeated the plea. “Kill me. Kill me. Please. I want to die.”

It took some time, but the group was able to get some information out of the bound and spiked painters. There was a dig north of the lake, and a teen girl along with a hunter and his son were being held captive there. Dr. Addington thanked them, and then tried to remove one of the spikes. When it pulled free, no blood emerged from the wound, but the man died all the same.

Fenster got out a notebook and pencil, and tried to record their names and hometowns of the remaining four painters, so that their next of kin could be notified. Then Doc turned around while Baby-Face and Jack pulled out the rest of the spikes, bringing an end to the men’s torture.

With that bit of grim business concluded, the investigators let Eugene and Sidney go – they didn’t trust them enough to bring them along and it didn’t feel right tying them up anywhere near that cabin or the lake – and headed north with hardened hearts. Following the painters’ directions, they found a large clearing that surrounded a big blast hole in the ground. There were all the signs of a major job scattered about – a large pulley, temporary buildings, lots of workers in hard hats. Jack strode out into the open, gun at his side, seething with rage, followed somewhat reluctantly by Doc. Some of the workers pointed at the armed intruder, and a foreman named Clay White came over to confront him.

In response to Jack’s demands, White looked puzzled and said that Carl Lucas had hired them to survey the area. “I’d like to believe you, Clay,” snarled Jack, “but a quarter-mile down the way there’s five dead artists tied up by the lake with metal spikes in their chests.” He pointed his gun in the direction of the trail to the water, stabbing the air as he spoke. Clay played dumb, but the PI wasn’t buying it. When it became clear that Jack wasn’t going to stand down, the foreman’s demeanor suddenly changed.

“Take them and throw them in the pit,” White ordered without any sort of emotion. The other workers swarmed around the two investigators, grabbing them, and pushed them into the big hole. Once they picked themselves up, they saw that the bottom was lined with bundles of TNT.

Fenster, still in hiding, had noticed the plunger to the explosives and moved over to it while the workers were occupied with Jack and Doc. He rested one foot on the box and calmly aimed his Tommy gun at the men. “You guys can come back up,” he called to his fellows. “Unless these idiots want to get shot.” The workers didn’t move as the two came back up to the surface.

While the Tommy gun-toting gangster kept the crowd from doing anything, Jack looked around. One of the temporary buildings was marked “Storage” and had its windows boarded up. As that seemed like the best place to store some kidnap victims, he went over with Doc and wrenched the door open. Jane Lucas was tied up inside! Along with the hunter and his son who they’d met earlier! And also, a Civil War zombie soldier… who was not tied up!

“Kill him,” the dead thing said while looking at Doc and pointing at Jack. Doc suddenly turned on his partner, slashing at him with the metal spike that he’d picked up from the glowing coffins and still carried. Jack moved back, calling for Fenster, who decided that was the signal for hitting the plunger.

BOOM

The gangster was thrown back as dirt and noise and force exploded from the pit. Then a previously unknown worker emerged from the woods, armed with a gun! Ears ringing, Fenster found his Tommy gun and traded shots with the man while Jack tried to avoid getting stabbed by Doc. And while Fenster did get some good shots off against the man, bullets did not seem to faze the worker, who returned fire and killed Baby-Face. And Jack did get lightly stabbed, but then the PI got the good doctor in a headlock. After a few minutes, the urge to kill wore off and Doc was himself again. (my notes don’t say what happened to the worker with the gun, or the other workers, at this point – maybe they ran off for some reason? I feel like the TNT exploding was a bad thing for the bad guys, though our characters had no idea WTF was going on)

The remaining two investigators checked on their dead companion, with Jack grabbing Fenster’s Tommy gun as the doctor said a prayer for the young man’s soul. Then they went back to the shed. Jack made Doc for sure promise this time to really shoot the walking dead Civil War soldier, and Doc readily agreed. They went through the door, and… the thing ordered Jack to kill Doc! The old man dropped his shotgun and ran as the PI turned on him with the Tommy gun. Thankfully, Jack was more of a pistol kind of guy, and Doc was only grazed before Jack came back to his senses.

After apologizing and helping Dr. Addington bandage his wound, Jack went to the storage building again, alone this time, and blew that damn dead monstrosity back to hell before it could open its damn dead mouth.

And that was how Jane Lucas and a father-son hunting duo were rescued from… something… that was maybe still down there in the lake. And a lot of other people died. Oh, and the son was left catatonic by his experiences being kidnapped by a walking mind-controlling dead soldier from a long-gone war, but that’s life in Call of Cthulhu land for you.

Jack got his reward money form Jane’s dad and moved to the desert so as to get away from the trees. Dr. Addington continued to be a respected pillar of the community and nature enthusiast, though there were parts of the woods where he would no longer venture, and he never so much as dipped a toe in a forest lake again.

The End

Call of Cthulhu: Amidst the Ancient Trees, Part 2

A shoot-out in the woods of Bennington, Vermont! Bootleggers kidnapped prominent local business owner’s daughter and absconded with her into the forest! One citizen search party had the misfortune to find the wayward gangsters, and were now being shot at from inside a run-down shack, amidst the ancient trees!

Our Keeper for this investigation was Drew, and the unlucky searchers were:

  • Jack O’Toole – a local private eye who was down on his luck and in need of the reward money for the daughter’s safe return (played by me)
  • Dr. Mac Addington – a middle-aged doctor who loved nature and knew the woods well (played by Bill)
  • “Baby-Face” Fenster – a gangster rival of the kidnappers’ pretending to be a concerned citizen, hoping for the chance to get even with the them (played by Antony)

Whoever was shooting at them from inside the shack sounded like a crazy person. But Eugene, their captive gangster, recognized the voice of his boss, Sidney. “Hey, Sidney!” he shouted out. “It’s me, Eugene! Stop shooting, would ya!” But the answer was more yelling, and more bullets.

Fenster and Jack sneaked around opposite sides of the cabin, and then Jack proceeded to make a racket to draw Sidney’s attention. While he was distracted, Baby-Face ran in and tackled his gangland rival! As they tied him up, he kept ranting about a “them” who took Jane Lucas, and how “they” can’t be killed, ’cause “they” ain’t human no more. Doc gave the delirious man a shot of morphine to calm him down.

As it was now dark outside, the trio made plans to spend the night in the creepy shack, with one person on watch to guard the two prisoners. Dr. Addington took first watch.

Jack had a disturbing dream where he was walking down a path covered in yellowed leaves, with the hilt of a knife sticking out of his chest and blood running down from the wound. He later figured it was caused by the past couple of days of stumbling around the woods and finding that stabbing victim.

Fenster had another bad dream himself. Instead of a lake this time, it seemed like he was awake and alone in the same cabin where they were sleeping. He heard a constant refrain to “join us,” coming from outside, and he both needed and feared to open that door and follow the command.

The next watch was Jack’s. His boredom was interrupted when his eye caught a hint of movement from outside the window! The private eye shined his flashlight out from the broken windows, finding nothing over there… nothing over there… and then a man! Startled, he quickly raised his revolver and fired a shot, but the figure was no longer there – if it ever had been! The weirdest thing was, Jack could have sworn the guy he saw was dressed in a Civil War costume. Also, the man had looked a little… decomposed.

The gunshot naturally had woken everyone up, which Doc was grateful for. He, too, had had a nightmare, where he was standing on the edge of a lake. There were tentacles coming out of the water with eyes on the ends of the tendrils! The body that the tentacles came from heaved itself out of the water and looked to be made of metal, and then a spike came out of the thing and stabbed the doctor in the chest! (I think everyone lost some SAN over the night)

No one believed Jack’s story about the dead Civil War man. In the morning, they questioned Sidney again and he said he saw the man too, but then no one believed him, either. The gang boss went on to say that his gang knew about this cabin and planned to hole up there after the shoot-out with the cops. Dobbs was supposed to have arrived at the shack first, but when Sidney showed up with their hostage, he found Dobbs dead in the tree. He barricaded himself in the cabin, but then two Civil War soldiers broke in, grabbed Jane, and dragged her off into the night. When the investigators showed up, he thought they were more weird soldiers coming to take him away.

Before leaving, Jack pushed Sidney’s shotgun into Dr. Addington’s hands, who protested that he couldn’t shoot anyone. “I’m not asking you to shoot a person, Doc. Just… if you see a dead-looking guy in a Civil War outfit, pull the trigger, OK? That ain’t against your oath, right?” Doc thought that his fellow searcher had lost his marbles in the night, and agreed in order to placate the man.

Another Cabin in the Woods

With the two gangsters tied up and in tow, the searchers went back out to look for some sign of Jane or her new kidnappers. They found a small path which eventually led to another cabin. Inside they found long-dead game, rusty knives with dried blood on them, some old rifles, and… Civil War uniforms. “I think these kidnappers were just dressing up,” concluded Dr. Addington. “Maybe they thought they could scare folks. There’s old stories about the ghosts of deserters being in the woods here.”

“We know, you told us over and over, remember?” snapped Fenster.

While examining the items, Jack mused, “If so, they really went for authenticity. This stuff is old. Maybe those stories had some truth to them.”

A trap door was discovered, and after tying their captives to a post, the group headed down into the root cellar. They did not find anything remotely like what they had expected.

Down in the cellar were five stone coffins with no lids. The coffins… glowed… with a soft blue light. Never a good sign! The three closest appeared empty, but as they advanced they could see that the two in the back of the cellar held bodies! Dressed as old soldiers!

The “empty” coffins actually held old Civil War-era knick knacks, green dust, and strange metal spikes. Doc examined one spike, having a flashback to his nightmare as he touched the cool metal. The material was unlike anything he had ever seen before, and his first thought was that it was not of this world, which shook him greatly (lost some SAN).

Fenster was busy pocketing a diary and anything else that looked like it might be valuable when Jack went to get a closer look at one of the corpses. But when he shined his flashlight onto its face, the body suddenly bolted upright and spoke! “Join us,” it croaked, looking right at Jack with its dead eyes! (que more SAN loss)

Next: to join, or not to join?