Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Jewels of the Carnifex (part 2) ~ 05.25.14

Two brand-new DCC RPG recruits at today's open table, we ran over 6.5 hrs, and had one of the best surprise endings in DCC history!

Wilber Wifflelinks: Halfling/3
Terezi: Thief/2
James (aka "Captain Bloodbeard"): Warrior/3
Remus (aka "Outlaw Lepus"): Cleric/2
Bardle: Beadle/0
Matilda: Hunter/0
Honey Dew: Dwarven Blacksmith/0
Bop Dogwood: Potato Farmer/0
Maladian the Red ("Red for short"): Wizard/1

Back in the city of Great Bell, Red find a couple of people who'd been curious about leaving their mundane lives in search of adventure and glory and ... oh, who are we kidding? He scruffs a handful of unsuspecting local schmoes who happen to be sitting nearby in the tavern as he drags the details of the latest "map quest" out of Magmar the Lucky, and Red & Co. hurry off after his friends. Descending below the city, following the directions to a tee, they find the open door to the undertemple...on the other side of a chasm and busted sewer function. Hardly stopping to blink, Red jumps across the fifteen-foot gap of doom and through the icy current of the city's offal, leaving the new kids to catch up or die trying. [No fatalities. Yet.] Seeing the bloated mess of what was once an arachnid at the threshold, they continue in, and can faintly hear voices ahead. They press on and descend into a dark, pillared antechamber. The voices are louder now, coming from an area shrouded by a pale green mist, but they sound familiar -- but the frog-like...man...thing rushing toward them with giant, mad eyes and multiple tongues flailing behind it as it gallops wildly away from the mist -- that ain't at all familiar, and all 5 newcomers press themselves into the shadows, against the walls, hoping to avoid detection. It races past without a glance, and Red peers out to announce himself and the newcomers. Introductions and threats about Magmar's future well-being are made.

Catching up on the situation, the group weighs their current options: Door #1, wooden, carving of emaciated child begging for food; and Door #2, hammered bronze, image of arrow-pocked warrior on his knees bleeding from multiple wounds. Door #1 is clearly less foreboding, and James moves to open it. The handle dissolves in his grasp as the door rots away before his eyes, and he is greeted by the sight of a transparent starving urchin, holding his empty bowl mournfully. Without hesitation, James drops a handful of his rations in the bowl, and the visage fades. Beyond is a small chamber, wherein a tiny skeleton lies half buried in soil and debris. A faint yellow light shines from above, betwixt enormous, half-dead roots that hang from the ceiling. Remus moves in to bless the child's remains while Terezi scampers up to the source of the light. She emerges into a small, narrow hallway that is nearly choked off by heavy vegetation. She sees a door within reach to one side and a clearer area in the other, where the roots seem to die off or have been cleared away. Most disturbing is the sound: A slow, methodic bass note, as if from a large drum. After not being attacked during her moment of deliberation, she calls down to the others and checks for any obvious methods of harm on the door. Remus pulls himself up, remarks that he's not comfortable with brothels (based on the noise) and starts to approach the opposite side, but is stopped in his tracks by a deep-seated feeling of dread. Wilber is next up, and sidles out the door. The drumming gets louder and the remainder of the intrepid group scurries up.

The door is opened into a long underground chamber with two other openings (doors, perhaps?) along the same wall, and there is a long stone stairway leading some twenty-five feet above to the next level. The ground is overrun with black moss and lichen and sickly yellow roots hang from cracks in the walls and ceiling. The cloying smell of rot assaults everyone's senses in time with the drumbeats.

Wilber starts toward the next opening on the far wall, and is surprised by a javelin sticking into his arm. The drumming suddenly stops. James, next out, returns fire up onto the balcony. Beadle tries to sneak out and gets a javelin for his efforts -- but his response is to remove it and throw it back in kind! The drumming resumes, and the party negotiates its way across to the stairs over the next few rounds, dealing a few critical hits to the two visible assailants. Terezi attempts to hide in the shadows as she emerges from the cramped hall, and takes a javelin that nearly knocks her unconscious. Before James ascends the stairway, he sees a worm-like thing on the first step that looks a bit like a slug, roughly five inches in diameter, but it makes no move to stop anyone climbing the stairs. By the time James reaches the upper level, the two guards are felled, but the drummer waits until combat comes to him to cease pounding the instrument. James takes a running start, leaps onto the head of the drum, and comes down on top of the drummer, but only lands a glancing blow. Downstairs, Red fails a spell check and Remus fails to heal Terezi. Bop and Honey Dew, following James up the stairs, rush over and provide additional targets. The party convenes to finish off the third ... person here. They are very uneasy at the creatures that seem to have started out in a basic humanoid shape but are now disfigured or mutated or diseased or...something. The hoods that are tightly sewn shut over their faces really make the new recruits a little green under the gills. Red slams his staff into the critter on the bottom step before coming up, earning disgusted moans from the party for killing the "plague banana slug". Inspecting the drum (human skin, of course - "It's the other white leather") brings more grimaces, especially realizing the mallet had been a human femur wrapped in rat skins. The cache of prepared torches and makeshift javelins are collected for later use. Remus, having tried a couple more times to help his fellow party members and failed miserably [2 deity disapprovals in a row], hides in a corner to pray and recenter himself.

Paying little heed to Remus, the rest of the group deliberates on their next exploration. Should they check the hallway beyond the arch that Wilber saw downstairs? Or the door on the far end, which is chained shut? Or do they attempt to traverse the overgrown jungle that this level has become? It is eerily quiet now, but the fact that there are torches - albeit guttering and smoking - set into the roots and mounds of moss in the area not ten feet away lure them in.

The barrage of incoming javelins strikes almost as soon as they commit. Firing into the mess of hanging roots is far too ineffectual, so James charges in to close with one of the concealed attackers. Unfortunately, few realize the impediments involved, and everyone else stays back to either use their ranged weapons [Wilber, Terezi, Red], cower on the stairs behind [the new guys], or keep praying in the corner [Remus], leaving the opponents free to continue tossing pointy hurty sticks. Red spellburns to try his spell again, and summons a dire wolf to his defense. Bardle finally tires of hiding and attempts to tie a torch to one of the javelins, hurling fire through the dense vegetation, though way off the mark. Terezi quickly realizes the incoming fire is more efficient than hers, and she ducks back. Matilda moves up to nag Bardle (it was more effective than her shot) and becomes the first recipient of a critically-thrown javelin that pins her arm to her chest for nearly five times the amount of damage she could withstand. Bop stood up to help throw stuff and suffered a near-death experience [re: Judge recalculation/retcon]. A few victories are had by the party, but the battle seems interminable.

When the dire wolf drags down their fourth kill, the light gets brighter about twenty feet ahead of James, and a powerful, disembodied voice comes from that direction: "Hold." James holds his swing, and three figures move out from their positions of cover to stand stock-still. "Would you be interested in a parlay? Clearly we are on the same side, if you have come to destroy what remains of the evil cult of the Carnifex." He says the last word with an audible sneer, and seems to be directing his inquiry to James. There's a bit of a kerfuffle among the rest of the party as they pipe up with question after question (this even brings Remus out of his reverie) yet none are addressed. A brief conversation is had between the perceived party leader and the prideful voice who reveals himself to be Azazel, Scion of the Light. Highlight reel: "The Carnifex has been imprisoned, but we require your assistance to destroy the Jewels of the Carnifex and make it permanent; individuals less holy than myself or my Swords are the only ones who can touch them; you're welcome to the remainder of the treasure hoard so long as you destroy the Jewels." In true obtuse NPC fashion, vague answers are given to more detailed questions. In answer to the request for healing: "Do you not think I would have my beautiful Pious restored, could I do so?"

As there only seems to be one option, the group agrees to the request, and they slowly emerge from the overgrowth into a large area cleared out to make space for nearly two score pallets around a fire pit. At the far end of the room is a towering (fourteen feet tall) idol composed of woven roots and reeds and stuffed with black moss and lichen. When the last of the group trails in, a squadron of ... people ... resembling the ones fought earlier comes seemingly from out of nowhere to follow them in, thereby closing the ranks. Two of the Pious shuffle to an exit in the west wall and gesture to the stone steps below. With no small feeling of foreboding, the group files in, descending into a natural grotto. The uneven rocky chamber and its pools of moisture are carefully bisected by a line of dozens of candles set along the floor, each spitting and sparking unnaturally. The true item of focus, however, is a five-foot-tall statue made of jade ("Not emerald!") in the form of a bizarre, monstrous worm. Unbelievably large rubies are set into its two claws and weird beak. Remus finds it difficult to approach the statue, and skirts around to a natural alcove. No instructions are necessary for the rest: Wilber swings his cast iron frying pan at the base of one of the gems to dislodge it from a claw. Wilber is seriously put off by the fact that Vinnie still hasn't glowed, even when they were surrounded, but Vinnie briefly flashes when Wilber prepares to smash one of the jewels with his frying pan. He finally breaks out a ring found earlier this year, and uses it to cast Speak with Dead to see if this is a good idea. Sadly, he gets no response - at least that anyone else can tell. The dire wolf has no problem wresting the ruby from the other claw. Red takes the jewel back up to the temple -- causing Red and every ... person ... to shy away from him -- and asks how they need to be destroyed. He gets the haughty and noncommittal answer, "You can probably figure that out." Terezi makes a great shot with her shortbow, knocking the jewel out of the creepy mouth, but the stone beak lashes forward and snaps shut, cleanly severing the arrow in half. Knowing that could've been her hand, Terezi goes quiet.

In hopes of guidance of some sort, Red invokes his Patron [netting a +5 to his next spell check but nothing further]. Remus casts Second Sight, invoking Aristemis, demigoddess of strategy, knowledge, and diplomacy. Based on the amount of praying and repenting Remus had put in recently [and the spell check result], he gets a little more than a yes or no answer to his carefully-phrased, "What happens if we break the jewels?" The response is disjointed, but essentially, "Your power will be diminished; your death will come sooner rather than later." Predictably, reporting this to the party only results in more tail-chasing.

Grumbling about the collective misdirection, the rudeness of "Sparky" upstairs, and the observation that they are outnumbered and possibly underpowered vs. twenty-plus minions, they decided to explore further into the grotto. Accidentally knocking over one of the candles as he crosses the line, the dwarf notices that the candle, its wax shot through with flecks of gold, has a faint green glow to it. He immediately relights it from one of the others and carefully puts it back in place. (Nobody wants to disrupt whatever's being warded -- in or out -- until they have a better idea of what's going on here.) The worn steps continue downward and open into another natural grotto, but a massive boulder blocks the way. Inscribed on the boulder are a series of runes, and there is a thick layer of wax around the stone's edge. At its base is a pool of inky water, in which rest three skeletons. The dead here are kept with their ruined armor and holy symbols as were the ones found in the undertemple; these starburst symbols are quickly recognized as the ensign of primal life and light. Red easily translates the runes for everyone, and anyone who could do basic math could tell there were four names listed as sacrifices, but only three bodies rested here. The last name was Azazel's.

The party knows there's something wrong at this point but they're uncertain of which direction they should face or avoid. All are suffering from low health and low inspiration. Finally, Wilber calls out that they were tired and hurt and would destroy the jewels tomorrow, after they get some rest, and they tuck themselves into the alcoves of the grotto. *1*

Day 2: Nobody disturbed the night watches. Too easy. Wilber's ring, which can only be used once per day, is now available again. He skips down to the lower grotto and activates the ring, targeting the spell on the poor bloke in the middle [and burning 7 pts of Luck to add 14 to the success]. "Hi! You're dead! Wake up! We need to talk!" *2* Through the course of what is, to everyone else, a one-sided conversation, it is unclear if Wilber's actually conversing with someone or just bat-shit insane. (Jury's still out.) But after a few exchanges, the remains of Bauherm slowly rise to a sitting position in the pool, and the skull pointedly turns toward the bones to either side of him. It peers at the skull on top of Wilber's helm, tilts confusedly at the halfling's enthusiastic response, and remains still for some time. (Bauherm, once a brother in arms and peer of Azazel's, was awakened from the sleep of the dead to find that he was duped into being sacrificed for the "greater good". He sees little reason to aid the fanatical godling, and prods the intruders into doing that which Azazel fears.)

Trying to ignore Wilber's continuous prattle, Terezi examines the boulder and the wax seal, and discovers there is a complex trap that could seriously screw up her day unless the huge sections of wax - which appears to be of the same type as that forming the candles on the floor in the upper grotto - are carefully heated and removed in the order in which they were originally set. Red and Remus assist Terezi in figuring out the order, and as soon as Wilber communicates that it's a good idea, begins the process. Wilber contentedly sits on the edge of the pool and slings an arm around the long-dead shoulders of his new buddy and introduces him to Remus, sharing the details he's gotten. Once the wax is fully stripped, Bauherm is carefully laid back to rest and the four PCs put their all into moving the boulder out of the rut it's been in for at least a century. James is called from his lookout post in the upper grotto to join them below...

...and James catches sight of a barrel being pushed down the stairs from the chapel. He leaps to the safety of an alcove and the wood shatters when it hits the jade statue. Seeing that it's suddenly a lot...wetter in the grotto than just a moment ago, he calls out a warning to the new guys to regroup below, and flees the area himself as a cask with a piece of burning cloth sticking out of it is hurled into the grotto. Oil ignites, aided by the giant molotov and the mystical, gold-flecked candles, and the area explodes as the four heroes dive down the rough, rocky stairwell to join their compatriots -- just out of range.

The behemoth stone finally gives, revealing a sooty grotto beyond, and Terezi catches just a glimpse of a swishing serpentine tail in the gloom -- but a moment later, a woman emerges in a hooded cloak. Her pale, flawless face approaches each of the four present, thanking them individually for rescuing her. Her voice is low, soft but with a hint of power, her words kind and sure. The effect is one of beguile...especially to Wilber. (His former wife - Fiance? - I thought she was just his girlfriend? - No, now Ivrian's considered his wife - But she died, you know, so now he's a widower - Pay no attention to the fact that he was the one who threw her head into the ravine...) The Carnifex's movements are sharp, jabbing and jerky, at odds with her words. She graces each of them with an icy cold kiss. Remus is hit with a strong aversion and recoils, murmuring a prayer for strength. Wilber holds up a plain ring to his future ex-wife.

James, Bop, Honey Dew, and Bardle hear rustling overhead as they book it down the steps, and they are buzzed by a large black raven...which flies into the lower grotto and settles onto the shoulder of its queen. The Carnifex approaches her other four saviors in kind, saying little other than expressing gratitude and quickly kissing each of them. From the sounds above, it is clear that they are going to have to fight their way out, and the group looks to the woman, expecting her to lead the way and blast the mutated fighters into oblivion. Instead, she asks gently if they would grant her one last boon. Wilber cries, "Yes!" and Terezi has to physically restrain him from launching himself at the Carnifex. The woman bends to meet the halfling's gaze and growls, "Cut a bloody swath through my foes." Wilber nods emphatically, and Bop has a 'light bulb' moment...resulting in Terezi handing over the silver chain with the three-headed raven. *3*

Judge Notes: 
*1* Azazel sees no harm in giving them a false sense of security. Let 'em feel refreshed when they die.
*2* Yes, that's how Wilber greets him. I kid you not. If this dude had a lower lip, it would've trembled. That's a horrible way to wake up someone who's dead!
*3* When we next convene, the charge up to the chapel will be led by the first cleric of the Carnifex known to exist for centuries -- and it's one of the new players! I am stupidly excited about this.

Jewels of the Carnifex - Harley Stroh / Goodman Games

Post-adventure math:
Wilber: +12 XP, +1 Luck
James: +12XP
Terezi: +12 XP
Remus: +12 XP, +1 Luck
Beadle: +10 XP, +1 Luck
Bop Dogwood: +10 XP
Honey Dew: +10 XP
Maladian the Red: +12 XP

PARTY LOOT:  18 makeshift javelins / 3 giant rubies / 1 pissed-off demigoddess 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Jewels of the Carnifex (part 1) ~ 04.27.14

Wilber Wifflelinks: Halfling/3
Terezi: Thief/2
James (aka "Captain Bloodbeard"): Warrior/3
Remus (aka "Outlaw Lepus"): Cleric/2

Just the previous day, Magmar the Lucky had approached the party in the predicted locale (tavern) and fed them a couple rumors and a map with the request that Luthold the Mad be found. Magmar's the same one that tipped them off about Odo a while a back, so there was no reason to distrust him. A handful of the group took the bait map and trudged off to investigate (see entries for 04.13.14 and 04.27.14 [works in progress at the time of this post]).

Today, Magmar catches up with Terezi, a fellow member of the local Thieves' Guild. Magmar's looking more hungover than usual, and acting very guilty. It comes out that he may have sent her friends on a wild goose chase, because he has no idea what map he gave them. But this map is definitely the right one, and would they mind looking into it? Some brief "fact-checking" with the locals confirms some tidbits they'd heard before (an army of the finest noble sons disappeared beneath a chapel, and whatever ate them is still there; and the ruins are guarded, with occupied crow's cages warning others not to trespass). Other phrases -- "cult of executioners and torturers" and "jewels the size of my fist" -- were both worrying and intriguing.

Magmar beats feet, but not before being accosted by another member of the party, demanding to know where his friends are. [He joins in the next session.]

The map leads them underground below the sewer workings to a point where they can see the beginnings of a structure...across a gaping chasm. To make matters more challenging, one of the giant pipes above has burst, and a torrent of liquefied foulness spews into the unfathomable darkness below. All present brave the curtain of frozen yuck and leap across without aid from equipment (but not too proud to take the halfling's assistance). Clustered atop the small platform, cold and miserable and stinky, Terezi relights her lantern and realizes the engraved skull on the door before them is actually comprised of a mosaic of hundreds of tiny runes, forming a protective seal. She removes (and saves) a few of the lead fillings, and James muscles the door open. They have enough time to realize they're in a circular room, and as their eyes travel across the ceiling, they see an enormous, globule-covered monster perched above the door, sending a couple silken strands down toward them. James the Warrior wastes no time in using his two-handed sword to dislodge the thing, revealing a disgusting layer of pus on the ceiling and what appears to have once been a spider, now made immobile by its mutations, suffering on the floor. The others end it quickly.

The rounded room they're in covered from floor to ceiling with alcoves, each filled with humanoid skulls. The spiral staircase in the center of the chamber resembles vertebrae of a twisted spine. Terezi sneaks up it, thinking this is the way up to the ruins of the temple, but instead finds herself at a cave-in point with water trickling through the debris above onto the form of a humanoid "statue" that appears to be pinned between the rubble and the highest stair. The lawful thief decides her skin is worth more than anything shiny on the fossilized dead guy and carefully treads back down. Meanwhile, James lights a torch and Wilbur notices a pattern among the skulls: Each has been marked with a sigil of an animal and a date. The party gets pretty twitchy when the dates are revealed to be 200 to 500 years in the past, and they move on before Remus can get it into his head to bless every single one of them.

The stone stairs round down to a vaulted antechamber, nearly dark but for a pale green glow coming from the room beyond. The pillars here are carved into the image of terrified youths being dragged beneath the earth by skeletal hands. The party can't believe they're willingly in a place that would worship such an image. The hammered copper bowl containing wafers is eschewed, but the full skeletons lying on the floor get their attention. Their remains include suits of rusted armor and useless weapons, as well as holy symbols: Each had one of a three-headed raven, borne on silver chains. Remus recollects it as the sigil of the Carnifex. None of the six bodies seem to have worn a ring, however, so they are deemed "not princes or royalty", thus dismissing one of the rumors heard earlier. Terezi takes one of the chains. Immediately they hear whispers from the shadows: "We must usher the faithless on to their reward." With Vinnie (the skull atop Wilber's helm that acts as his Chaos Detection Warning Plan) glowing from the eye sockets, Remus is the only one without a light source and the shadowy figures set upon him at once. Remus reaches for his own holy symbol and attempts [for the first time ever] to turn the unholy beings from their course. Four dark forms race along the ceiling in the direction from which the party came, disappearing around the bend. A shade approaches Remus from the shadows, sliding its frozen touch across the cleric's face [stat drain: -1 Str and -2 Sta]. James slices at another, and it wisps away to nothing. Remus nearly destroys the last one before it can flee [rolling a 25 to Turn Unholy]. He waits a moment to make sure they are gone, then blesses the remains of the six bodies while praying his own damage is less permanent.

All too happy to be done with that, Wilber rushes toward the next area, trying not to pay attention to the flaking murals of skeletons terrorizing the living. He finds himself in an entryway of sorts, with three doors before him. The green glow is coming from a mist emanating from the third door, one of clay depicting an old, squat man with large, sad eyes. When the others catch up, they agree that the images on the other two doors look far more ominous. No hinges are visible on this door, so Wilber reaches to touch it. The old man on the face exhales glowing tendrils of mist, which transform into thick tongues and grab for Remus and Terezi. Well, this is clearly something unholy and unnatural. As soon as the other three get attacks in, Remus turns the frog demon in the name of Aristemis [nat 20].

{end of session ... continued on 05.25.14}

Jewels of the Carnifex - Harley Stroh / Goodman Games

Post-adventure math:
Wilber: +7 XP
James: +7XP
Terezi: +7 XP
Remus: +7 XP, +1 Luck

PARTY LOOT:  1 holy symbol (Carnifex)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

On tomorrow's table...

Kudos to Mr. Stroh for making reach for the virtual thesaurus three times during my studies!

After "completing" The One Who Watches From Below (honestly, who really "completes" that one?), the alternate PCs started into this, which is to be happening simultaneously as #81. It's been a while since I've cracked into Harley's works, as many have a one-shot feel for me. I've been waiting to get to a point where I can comfortably run this without scaling it back. #70 is superbly written, and while not a two-month-long dungeon crawl, has plenty of meat to keep me on my toes. If it wraps up tomorrow, the next journey is subject to the players' whims... Will they ditch the big city in search of more subterranean adventure? Or will they pull Paragon, the dragon-prowed ship, out of the docks and head for their homeland?

It's been a month since we last convened, but cooing over the goodies from the box of swag that arrived yesterday should soothe them into a false sense of safety...

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Acolyte Ascension

You may have noticed that Spellburn's Episode 22 is up.

Totally related: "Meet the Band" has a spiffy little write-up (and is more eloquent than when one is put on the spot).

Apparently Gary Con was an audition. Good thing I didn't know; I would've tanked it.

Also related:   {skip this part if you're afraid of me "ruining the magic"}
Yes, I have been known to wear funny clothes and sing in front of people at least once a year. Usually they're complete strangers, and I'm good with that. If they like it, cool! If they smile and walk on, that's cool too. If they hate it, they'll keep walking. It's all good. Performing for friends/peers, on the other hand...I always feel sketchy. Similarly: When recording for Marooned releases, I can do multiple takes until it's right, and then I'm fairly confident in the little shrinkwrap-packaged disc I sell. Live? Not so much. It's difficult to break out of the 'perfectionist' mindset. But, hey -- Michael Curtis is a tall dude, and I can hide behind him for an episode. Right? ;)

One final thought: Dagnabbit. I totally forgot to level up on air!

Thanks for the support, all!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Semiannual check-in

Blog status ~
Gary Con update: in progress
8 2014 Road Crew game session reports: in progress
2 2013 Road Crew game session reports to be revised/unredacted: in progress

Yeah, I suck at this part of the DCC awesomeness this year.

Meatspace status ~
Despite needing to postpone the regularly-scheduled game due to - of all things - Mother's Day, all sorts of creative stuff is in the works in this corner. Including a photo shoot that made me feel like I was 14 again. And potentially running a home game for the first time in nearly two years. I may also foray into the online medium in the near future (via Roll20), which will be a first. Had to procure a new headset for a number of projects anyway, so I may as well have fun with it, right?

In lieu of blog posts listing the first 8 World Tour appearances on the 2014 Road Crew, here's a list of the modules the open table has gotten through:

playtest: To Forge a Ring / The Making of the Ghost Ring (official name TBD)
- #80.5: Glipkerio's Gambit
- #69: The Emerald Enchanter
- #81: The One Who Watches From Below
- #70: Jewels of the Carnifex {in progress} (takes place simultaneously with #81, using alternate PCs)

I won't say what I've got in mind for them next, but they may be taken back to open water...

Still a bit torn about splitting the table. It makes it tough to have an "open table" when there are 9-10 players already seated; it has to be daunting for others to even approach. I may have the regular players put in a vote about changing the nomenclature this summer and closing the table. A large group is certainly a different dynamic and takes a lot of patience from both players and Judge, but without the right mix, a small table can be just as exhausting. {insert Jeopardy theme here}

Game on!