Why does everyone we meet die a horrible death?
– Farshad – A merchant adventurer, small of stature, blamed for more than he should be
– Dhran the White – A farmboy seeking his way in the world, owning his name to a brush with fear
– Juan José – A mercenary and healer from the barbarous West
– Jushuur – A mercenary and ranger, deadly in combat, a half-immortal Perim
– Utana – A noble and agent of the Haraxan magistrate Niralha
– Jalabu – A merchant guard with questionable skills from the far south, who thinks Farshad could be blamed for more
– Gunion – scholar and practitioner of mystic arts, currently studying secret tablets in an unknown location, a half-immortal Perim
I’ll say that this session, for my performance as a GM, was he least I have been happy with myself for, a while, not just because I was feeling sleepy, but for other reasons I will discuss later.
The group considered their approach to the House of the Children of Mamdedmerha as Dhran appeared, breathless, ahead of the mobs searching for the group, who seemed to be getting the blame for all that had been happening, at least when the mobs weren’t fighting each other. The House looks more like a small castle than a a religious institution, as befits the Children as a Militant arm of the Goddess Mamdedmerha, yet Pilgrims come seeking a holy experience, even as the city falls apart.
Priests, armoured as heavily armed soldiers, in armour of plates rivetted to leather, check the Pilgrims over and guide them in, and when the group approach the guards do not seem particularly perturbed to see strangers approaching. They tell the guard that they need to see someone in charge, that they are sent by that High Priestess Teralag of the Temple of Ghalmerha. That satisfied them enough to escort the group to the refectory of the House, past a hospital building being readied for casualties from the chaos outside.
The courtyard inside is clear, giving views to the chapel where the few pilgrims are being escorted, or the stables where the House cavalry’s mounts are kept. The refectory was busy enough, some meals being taken but also a meeting of some sort. One of those present, a large, well-armoured man with a florid face, though only armed with a knife. This was Krisaef, the First Seneschal of the House.
The group laid out their needs, a book of evil that only a truly Holy Relic would destroy, a relic such as the sceptre held by the Children . If they could but borrow the sceptre, to use against the book, then that might free the city of the madness gripping it. Krisaef refused. He stated that the book was not his problem, and that he could not help them, that for them to touch the sceptre would be a profane act. The group was escorted out of the House, to be met by Irakandil, the lieutenant who had escorted them from the Council House.
I was kind of surprised that José, who often takes on these negotiations, didn’t use his Empathy to try and get some understanding of Krisaef, and if he had doen then there was a chance, had he been slightly more persuasive, that Krisaef might have decided to allow it and roll with it not working, but they group weren’t quite that charming.
However it does strike me that, to the group it must have looked as if the GM was just being obstructive, why wouldn’t the Children want to defeat an artefact of the dark?
Pondering their next move, they spoke about leaving, taking the book away from the city, but Irakandil took them up to the wall, there a mist concealed the horizon, the sharped eyed could see stakes surrounding the city, the sharpest eyed saw apparitions in the mist. Escape was no longer an option.
The group considered ways to perhaps steal the sceptre, and decided to go in disguised as pilgrims. Irakandil knew of a place near the House where pilgrims borrowed robes before going to the House, and Irakandil stashed the large weapons of the group there, and escorted them back to the House, secreting himself in a doorway until they returned.
This bit disappointed me a wee bit, they went for the default option as presented in the scenario, but I had wondered if this would have seen Jalabu and Farshad stealing over the walls, sneaking in and lowering Farshad on a rope like a taller Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, to snatch the sceptre in the middle of a service.
Just as before, the examination of the pilgrims seemed just to ensure that they had no large weapons rather than any examination of piety, instead rather they were welcomed and escorted to the chapel, noting the large stables for the House cavalry, and to the House Temple, decorated with carvings and paintings relevant to the faith. The inside is lit brightly by the glowing sceptre on the altar, the gold and silver triptych backing it focusing the light down the main hall, where pilgrims knelt on mats and joined in the service.
The group pretended to do likewise, though the light was not without a sense of cold and fear, they managed to not be obviously out of place, save Dhran. After the service concluded, the Priest officiating came over to question him. It is hard to say whether or not he accepted Dhran’s explanation of being newly brought to the faith of Mamdedmerha, but that was rendered moot by the actions of Jose and Jalabu, Jose was cautiously moving toward the sceptre with the book, when Jalabu rushed forward and, despite the icy cold of the sceptre threatening to burn him, Jalabu smashed it against the book.
The Book was unharmed, but the sceptre broke apart, the top flew off, leaving Jalabu with the stub out of which poked a rolled up parchment. The Priests in the room were stunned, genuinely surprised and horrified, too stunned to seek revenge. This let Utana and Jose read the document, which seemed to be a component of a false relic spell, not the spell itself, but a binding charm, created by one Zhoraqam.
The place is still silent, apart from gasps and a couple of priests hitting the floor, stunned in shock, until a group lead by Krisaef the First Seneschal shouldered their way through. It might have surprised those there that he did not decry the group for heresy or crimes against the Goddess, but seemed aware of the fraudulent nature of the relic. After some initial discussion the group were invited top follow him to the Armoury next door, leaving the gently sobbing pilgrims and priests in the temple.
The First Seneschal seems brazen about the deception, and although Jose’s claim to know everything falls apart when Krisaef tells them that the relic was always a fraud, that the story of searching out the sceptre as part of a quest was just part of the lie, rather than Jose’s hope that the House had pawned an original that could still be found. His original plan to enhance the reputation of the House got out of hand, but, once committed there was little he could do about it.
Instead he offers to help the group talk to Zhoraqam, creator of the false relic, and the only truly powerful magician in the city, now resident in the ancient Haxamanis Wizard’s Tower behind the House of the Children of Mamdedmerha. He would send with them the Third Seneschal, Sister Aestagyu to speak for him, though she was unaware of the deception. Sister Aestagyu, a strongly build woman almost as well armoured as Krisaef, keeps her own council, but he wants the silence of the group.
That is not enough for Jalabu, who suspects that once away from the House and the scent of scandal, Krisaef would arrange their quiet murder. Jalabu hints to Krisaef that this would be a bad move, and Farshad suggests that their memories might grow worse if distracted by shiny money. Krisaef balked at actual payment for silence, but, upon a suggestion from Jalabu, offered weapons freshly silvered, soemthing the armoury is busy doing as the Dark gets ever closer. 12 arrows, a silver shortsword and a silver dagger. The archers split the arrows, the shortsword goes to Jalabu and the dagger to Farshad. The group leave the House, being led out the Gate and round the wall to the Wizard’s Tower.
The streets outside are still deserted in places, but with sounds of fighting ringing down to where the group emerge, scuttling round as quick as they can. The wind is picking up as they approach the green, slightly glassy tower, built in a generally Haxamanis style but without the usual exterior decoration for such a buiding, steps spiral around the outside, piercing buttresses that support the walls and flow out from the top to form horns. The group rope themselves together, as the wind is getting stronger, what was a breeze at the base grows to be storm force by the time they near the top, so strong that sounds of fighting in the streets is drowned out. Utana and Farshad slip, proving the worth of the ropes, as the group dashes from the relative safety of one buttress to another, until the top is achieved, on where is a font like object, with instructions to place your hand in the found and state your business.
Jalabu places his left hand in does so, and the group hold themselves onto the found and each other for a minute until a doorway opens in the floor to reveal a stairway down into the interior. The group seeks the welcome refuge from the storm and descends, finding themself in a large area with a tall ceiling, well lit, one half a workshop with shelves of mysterious ingredients, strange symbols and odd stains. The other half had a table and chairs, looking more concerned with relaxation and thinking in peace than formal dining. The largest chair is occupied by an androgynous figure, who remains silent, a cat seated on their lap, and flanked by two strange creatures, one resembling a man but with the head of an ibis, the other shorter and with feathers instead of hair and clothes.
The seated figure’s rough, patched and stained work clothes seem at odds with the carefully arranged white hair, held back with a golden headband with a glowing red jewel. As they wait for the group to explain their problem, they tease the cat with a carved bone wand. After all is explained, they chuckle and answer.
“As you will no doubt have deduced, I am Zhoraqam, creator of the false relic. I am truly sorry that you have had to suffer such inconveniences apologise especially to you Aestagyu, although for reasons which l cannot explain, I am not entirely to blame. Do you not find it amusing that the Children of Mamdedmerha, dedicated to truth and the law, should guard a fake relic? No? Well, perhaps not. Still allow me to make some small reparation; perhaps I can gain some information to help you.”
They invite them to an inner chamber, through a door guarded by a solitary bronze statue, The servitors furl up embroideries depicting various magical operations, opening up the room and showing it to be a more formal version of the room next door, with true silver symbols on the floor, racks of ingredients and even another table and chair set up for non-participants to wait. As the group take refreshment served by the strange servants, Zhoraqam conducts a ritual in one of the circles on the floor, seeking to find answers in the Realm of Light. Their chanting is interrupted by a sigh of exasperation, and they open up the circle and face the group.
“By the Seven heads! This is intolerable.. The routes to the Realms of Light have been closed to me! WHO!!” They turn to the group “YOU! To have this closed off to me by a power that I cannot break, and yet you have blithely interfered with little difficulty. How? What power do you have? What patron aids you? Why are you still sane matched against it?”
The group, unsurprisingly, can supply no answers, and they attempt another ritual, though the group seems concerned by it and ask if this statement by Zhoraqam
“I will try one of the Lower Reaches, see if I can find one there who can aid me”
is a good idea.
The sorceror’s second attempt seems to go better, their chanting changes to a more measured pace, then they will stiffen then relax. They gasp, blackness starting to pour from his eyes, ears. nose and mouth as they whispers. ‘It comes. Leave.’
The urgency of this is reinforced by streams of dark pouring out of every orifice, EVERY ORIFICE, in Zhoraqam’s body, a flowing mass with tendrils that spreads out, flowing across the floor and walls, the group chop at reaching tendrils, but there are more, and eventually they touch the servant spirits. These start then leap towards the fallen Zhoraqam, hands transforming to claws. The shorter is despatched by Dhran, who pulls out his cursed knife and slams it into the servant’s back. Dhran’s face is almost as white as his hair, this seems to have cost him a lot of effort.
The servant dissipates, sloughing its fleshy form and leaving the non-corporeal spirit behind, the other is tackled by the bronze statue, whose arm reaches from behind the group to snap the servant’s neck and it too, dissipates. The group now realised that the statue at the door was another kind of guard. Zhoraqam regains consciousness briefly, and casts a protective spell that the tendrils seem unable to penetrate and, though it tests the barrier, generally it retreats.
They then say to the group ’Seek for the source of the Liquid of Life; Delve in the dark for the secret of Light.’
Then, with a low mutter, ‘Needless obscurantic doggeral as usual’. and loses consciousness again, the Dark again flows forward, though it seems to rise in a hemisphere above Zhoraqam.
As the group discusses what the words mean, the cat, now transformed into a human, has a greater sense of urgency, and ushers the group to the stairs and urges them to flee. The cat triggers the door and joins the statue in fighting the dark whilst the group make a retreat, back into the storm.
Pausing only to rope themselves together, and to ponder the carnage that they leave in their wake, they descend the tower, seeing the square to the north and streets to the North-East full of angry mobs. The only clear route is to the west, towards the city’s main gate. Their progress is noticed, and the mob starts to give chase. Irakandil, shouted “RUN!” and then charged the mob, seeking to buy the group time as they hammered west, seeking refuge though the noise ahead did not seem hopeful, cries of mobs and the sounds of weapons.
The way ahead is blocked by a mob spilling into the streets ahead, but the group is beckoned into a building in the jewellery quarter by Erea, one of the councillors who had spoken up for the party only a few hours before. Her family were taking refuge in their business, their home above, and they barricaded the door.
Unfortunately Erea’s hope that the group had solved all the problems of the city were dashed, but they told her the rhyme and their belief that the ‘Liquid of Life’ referred to a well, but which well? Erea was able to supply the information that the well closest to the building, in Ruby Way, was the oldest well in the city, it’s first well, and they decided to investigate that, but how, with the streets full of a violent mob seeking their death, as well as an encroaching darkness?
That problem was made more urgent by the hammering starting on the doors and windows, as the mob had found benches and beams to use as rams to break in, the group shored up the doors and windows as best as they could and, with Erea and her family, retreated to the roof, which had some planks on it that, at the narrowest point, could be used to make a bridge to the roof opposite. Although the winters in these parts can be harsh, summers can also be excruciatingly warm, and many houses have areas to rest, and even sleep out of the heat of the house.
The group left the councillor and her family making a new fort in this empty house as they rushed to the well in Ruby Way. The well looked deep, and the walls slimy with moss and what to do next was obvious, they attached a rope to Farshad and lowered him down. He used the magical buckler that Jalabu had, that had a light spell on it, and with that he was able to see a patch of moss that looked different, about 6 fathoms down.
Holding on for dear life, he levered away a wooden cover to reveal a tunnel, which he clambered into . The others followed, seeking this one hope that they were on the right path and, as Jalabu followed up at the back, he saw the moonlight and stars above cut off by the dark flowing over the well.
And there we left it, the next session should be the end of this adventure
So why was I unhappy with this. I have remarked before that this adventure is on rails and it is never more apparent as with this whole section. It is not only predicated on going to a place, and then to another place, possibly with no reason to do so, but the clues are unhelpful.
So, your players have to do exactly as expected or be shunted onto the path, rather than nudged. And in this session we see another flaw, they session starts trying to find an answer to this book, a method to destroy it, by the time it ends they are seeking SOMETHING, they don’t know what, and the book?
The book? Who remembers that? Though I think I might be using it if the players want to continue with this campaign after this session.
I have rewritten and amended this adventure, and hoped to be responsive for alternate methods that the players find to advance this adventure, but, with them outsiders coming to a strange place, I think that hasn’t happened. An alternate would be to run a campaign set in Irilian for a while, get the players familiar with the place and the people in the city and then run the plot, but not as written.
I am grateful for tolerant players.
It prompted a brief discussion about old adventures, classics rightly held up as so, and steps forward in the “state of the art”. Unfortunately, in this case and in the case of one mentioned by Andy, who’s character Jalabu is, the state of the art has progressed somewhat.
Out of the West,
The Dark comes crawling,
Higher and higher.
Till it touches the sky.
While in the East.
The Light, still burning.
Sends the Hero,
Gifting the sacrifice pyre.