Hard choices make heroes
– 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, but more of that later
– Gunion – scholar and practitioner of mystic arts, currently studying secret tablets in an unknown location, a half-immortal Perim
For this last session, Gunion is still off being mystical, Jushuur couldn’t be there, so some catch up is required. I’ll add any decision to this blog later. For once, I’ll reserve my thoughts to the end of the blog, rather than interjecting
The tunnel, dimly lit by bio-luminescent moss awaited. At least it was tall enough for all to walk down in comfort, and wide enough that they could walk two abreast. The way seemed clear, Farshad leading the way with the magic lit shield. That light was a temporary and hollow comfort. For soon the darkness spread down the tunnel from the well, reaching through and beyond the group, tendrils of darkness reaching beyond and through the bodies of the group, chilling them to the very marrow, leaching their body heat and energy, continuing growth on, stealing light from every source, the moss on the walls, the lantern José lit, even the light from Jalabu’s shield, all drained and diminished.
Trying to push on, the group are interrupted by the sound of rushing feet behind them, they turn round, to see three warriors of an unknown tribe coming at them with war axes. Combat is joined, Jalabu and Utana facing the enemy, José and Farshad doing what they could to provide light, at least until Farshad and Dhran were seized by two shadow creatures, emerging from the darkness with life draining grasps.
Utana was beset, injured whilst Jalabu fared better, switching to two weapons since Farshad had his shield, and some of his hits got through, but Utana got stunned, dropping his spear. Despite managing to break free, Farshad using his silver dagger, which seemed to cause the shadow creature to recoil, and Dhran’s sacrificing life force to his cursed knife to wound the creature holding him, the returning attacks drained and stunned them.
Dhran, already fatigued by powering the spell of the cursed knife, was cruelly injured and dropping his precious knife. José, holding up his lantern with one had, did what he could with his khopesh, but the group was battered, things looking bleak until, with a shock, light came down the tunnel racing to them and past them, dissolving the Shadow creatures and blinding the Dark allied warriors, allowing Jalabu and a recovering Utana to finish them off.
José did what healing he could, before, leaving the bodies of their attackers undisturbed, they continued, battered but able to move under their own power until they come to a round chamber, arched columns meeting at the centre to a point where a crystal lens focusses a light into a ball of fire about four feet from the ground under it. Where the light that the crystal focussed comes from could not be determined, and no one wanted to disturb it, the ball seemed like unsupported energy, not attached to anything.
When the group walked into the chamber, a voice spoke the Prophecy,
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
One shall gift all,
the most precious of gifts
Or all shall gift one,
A gift of meaning, or not at all
These words, and moreover, the extra words, make the full meaning clear. Either one of the group sacrifices their life to the Light, or all sacrifice something that has true meaning and value to them. After some brief discussion, they each thought on it.
The first offering was Utana, with his golden armour that he had found in the tomb, even for a noble the value of that could have bought an estate. It glowed even after taken from the ball of light, and Utana found his injuries healed, his own body glowing.
Others considered what they might offer. A helmet Dhran had had made, whilst personal, was not accepted.
Jalabu made a great gesture. He forgave the debts of Farshad, took the responsibility of them onto himself, making repaying his family his responsibility, he offered documents that he had, copies of the bonds and charges, as token. He too felt invigorated, and glowed now.
Next, touched by Jalabu’s offering, Farshad offered his flute, that enhanced his ability to charm others, and had so recently saved the lives of all by charming the rats that otherwise might have ripped him and his companions apart. Healed and glowing, he stepped back.
José had thought about this hard, and his amulet that enhanced his skill as a healer was the thing he offered, the thing that aided him in his aid to so many. He stepped back, as the others.
All eyes were on Dhran, he knew what the most suitable offering was, but did not wish to relinquish it. He was a poor farm boy, seeking his way in the world, and this was a thing of value and usefulness, but to give so much more, to him, than even the gilded armour was to Utana, was too much to ask. But, he did it, the fire blazed, the knife was washed away of its curse in a great blaze, it now seemed blessed. Now all were healed, refreshed, cleaned and now glowing with a pure light holding purified versions of their offerings, also glowing and seemingly more powerful.
The voice spoke again, saying
From the Light to the Light
From the Source to the End
From the Earth to the Temple
The gift will be accepted
In the Goddess’s Fire
The group understood what the words meant, that their next destination was to be the Temple of Mamdedmerha, to the main offering fire, to complete their sacrifices. They checked for any alternate exits from the chamber, but the only route back was the tunnel, still lit by the light from the chamber to the well.
Clambering up some knotted ropes helpfully left by the attacking Warriors of the Dark they emerged from thee Rubis Weg well, and found themselves in a city at war. Where they were was behind the front lines though they could hear the sounds of battle ahead in the main square. The stars were hidden by the darkness arching over and infusing the city with a chilling gloom that also seemed to strangle artificial light.
A choice faced the group, to try and relieve the pressure on the beseiged Iralunii, fighting their way to the Temple, or to try and find a way to sneak to it, a bit of an issue since all glowed and repelled the dark around them.
They decided to take the back lanes, south of the main square, to avoid conflict,coming up on the eastern side of the city, coming to the Temple from the rear. Crossing the Temple Lane, they saw the central square, the priestess Aslahya and her victims still hovering above it, the victims circling her, as Irlaniis made a last stand,some on the roofs hurtling things down at a seemingly unending wave of attackers. Although most of the attacks came from the West, they could see that the militant order. the Children of Mamdedmerha, were besieged in their fortress House.
Despite the steady lines of the Irulanii defence, still the circle was pushed inwards, and occasionally one of them, touched by the Dark, would turn on their neighbours as committed as any of the worshippers of the Dark, further adding to the pain suffered.
The group slipped into the Temple via the door in the Temple’s adjoining quarters, forgotten in the defence of the Temple as no enemy has come that way, to find the main temple doors being held closed by worshippers, whilst others prayed, Offerings were being made at the main fire as well as the lesser fires around the Temple, but to the main fire came the group, each in turn offered their gift, which was consumed and the fire glowed brighter and bluer with each gift.
The reluctance Dhran showed in offering his knife again resurfaced, he offered the helmet once more but, though personal and valued, a goal he had long sought, all knew that the knife had become precious to him over the last few days, becoming his most prized treasure. None forced him, they knew that it had to be voluntary or not at all, and none forced him, but none could offer him comfort either. Eventually, reluctantly, at a cost to his sense of having a big step in making his way in the world snatched from him, he made the offering.
With Dhran’s last gift, the Light of the Fire of Mamdedmerha exploded from the offering basin, strong with power and yet not blinding. It forced the doors of the Temple over, flinging the worshippers to the ground. across the central square, and up against the Dark. It seemed to leap from person to person, from house to hous, challenging the lightning in the sky, until the whole of Iralun is ablaze with sapphire blue unconsuming fire, whose light seems to make even the most run down building look clean and new.
The Dark, driven back to the walls, grows thicker, and curls up over the city again, the Light rallies, blasting the Dark from the sky, and all in the city lose consciousness.
The group wake up, the doors of the Temple are still open and a golden sunned dawn is rising into a cloudless sky. The Dark is gone, most of its adherents are either fled, or have woken up from a numbing dream, both scared and yet with some sense of freedom from horror. Soldiers come to the group and kneel, begging that they come with them to the House of Thirteen to meet with the Council. Others are cleaning up damaged, and attending to the fallen.
They are brought to the House of Thirteen, whose main chamber, that last time was arranged as a court, is now arranged for a feast. Those remaining of the Council of Thirteen, Teralag of the Temple of Ghalmerha, Tamordiu, the Priest of Sikavilmerha who sheltered them the night before they entered Iralin, Girlahaz, sub priest of Mamdedmerha in the stead of the unconscious and injured Aslahya, her and her satellites having fallen from the sky when the Dark was driven away, and various citizens who distinguished themselves in the fight are here, being fed and refreshed before a speech is made by the Lord of the Council, Elisim Deorsin.
To those that we once feared as agents of the Dark, you proved to be our rescuers, and those in the city owe their lives to you. We did not know why you came to the city, but we thank you for all that you have done.
We cannot reward you as you should be, the city is long from its time of wealth, however we declare you Freefolk of Iralun, you shall never be subject to taxes for entry or import to this city for as long as you live. By the time you leave, charters will be presented to you, confirming this, as will symbols of rank.
In addition, as the Council of the City of Iralun, heirs to the Satiryas of the City of Iralun, the governors appointed by the Rule of Haxamanis, we grant you land and rule in our name in the lands beyond the River Baika! Now, that is not as generous at it seems, those lands are covered by the Great Forest, I doubt that you will ever claim them, but you will also be presented with patents of lordship, you never know when a bit of prestige might be valuable.
Finally, you came here for a reason, all that can be spared to help you in your research will be done done, though much needs done to bury the dead, repair the buildings and deal with the lost souls left here when they awoke from the touch of the Dark. Aslahya herself is confined, her body lives, but is weak, and she sleeps, no one knows if she will wake or what state she will be in. All are injured from the fall, when the Dark was banished.
You are our guests until your work is finished, here at the House of Thirteen, or back at the Temple of Ghalmerha if you prefer. Rest, Study, Recover.
The group rest up, and enjoy some comfort and start to think about using their time to hone their skills, whilst the Temple of Ghalmerha study the documents they brought to see about a translation when, three days after, the city is abuzz again. The sounds of drums hammer from the east, the rumour goes of an army, cavalry in their hundreds and tents being put up. The guard, militia and some of the temple troops rush to the eastern gate. The group goes, perhaps reluctantly, to the gate, and are shown up to the walls by the soldiers, with awe and reverence that has not yet worn off with familiarity.
Dhran looks out, his sharp archer’s eyes spotting the banner of Harvan, agent of Niralha, the magistrate of the Haraxan kingdom that is your current employer. Harvan has arrived with a small guard and some Quulbari guides, certainly not the hundreds or even thousands spoken of, and he has come as he said he would do, to seek the translation of the books you found in a forgotten tomb thusands of kilometres to the East, all those months ago.
And, vouching for their employer to the city guards, welcoming him to the city, and guiding him to the Temple of Ghalmerha this session, and this adventure ends. They have saved a city, but at a cost of terror, and things of worth. What will the future hold?
So, many weeks later, it is done. We discussed this quite a bit after the session. This is a bit like the “Kobiyashi Maru“, from the point of view of your average player, it ends in a no-win scenario, you get massacred, or one of you gives up a character, one that has taken ages to get up the levels to be able to play. It’s a choice, it’s a great gesture, as Andy playing Jalabu said, it would have been a hell of a thing at the time, that kind of self sacrifice wasn’t part of adventures, but I felt it was a bit of a gotcha.
As I have been wrestling with the notion of meaningful sacrifices in the RPG that this DeagonQuest campaign is testing the world for, the notion of such a sacrifice, but one shared by the party, occurred to me.
The original prophecy is pretty explicit, the fate is pretty damn obvious
Out of the West,
The Dark comes crawling,
Higher and higher.
Till it touch the sky.
Whlle in the East.
The Light, still burning.
Sends the Hero,
To the funeral pyre.
My changes were maybe too subtle, so I added on the extra verses to make it clear that there was the choice of solutions when they got to the Source of the Light. Not sure why it was where it was,but there you go.
Fun thing about the tunnel encounter, there is supposed to be a Death Knight on
Nightmare in there. It’s seven feet, a little over two metres, high, so HOW!
The only way I could imagine that is a Hobbit Death Knight on Shetland Pony, no way can the normal thing fit in there.
In the tunnel fight, there is an option for the Light to rescue the party if they are doing badly, and I was prepared to have more warriors follow down the well to attack, but DragonQuest has a deadly combat system, so the party, constrained in the tunnel, were doing badly enough as it was to fulfil the rescue criteria.
After they come out of the tunnel, there is supposed to be a running fight, one that the power of the Light can help with, but it is still possible to fail. This is easier in AD&D, with fighters getting multiple attacks and mowing down low hit dice creatures. Less easy in DragonQuest, but I think that the route they took, glowing as they were, was one where they could have avoided the few creatures I had ready had they gone to the main square.
The party have sacrificed items of power, so I think I will have to resist compensating them for that. Jalabu’s offer is going to mean that the player plays to that, meaning any backsliding into old habits will see the character penalised in terms of XP, but bonuses for good use of it. Will Farshad’s investments prove shrewd or foolish?
Utana, though a noble, giving up the value of an estate, I am not sure what might result from that, but I feel it will have consequences.
Dhran seems to have a quest, and I think that we should see something that plays to that, his desire to find security and a place in the world.
Will José find a way to reconcile his trade of being a mercenary captain with his new vocation as a healer?
One problem for this party in dealing with some of the things they should encounter is, no magic. The one magic using character hasn’t been around, because of calls on the time of the player. Yes, any DragonQuest character can start with magic, but they traded that for other skills. This meant that a couple of the specifics of the adventure I had to change, because they had no way to deal with it. Another obstacle had an alignment element, not being AD&D, that wasn’t viable either
DragonQuest doesn’t have clerics either, and healing is limited. So there isn’t the usual AD&D recovery options, and as combat can be more quickly brutal, the “throwing large numbers of opponents at players” is going to get them killed, unlike throwing kobolds at level 7 AD&D fighters.
This was an amazing adventure in its day, and still holds up, but I think anyone running it should run other adventures in Irilian first, introduce them to the factions and personalities first. If nothing else it might be seen as a waste of the city to use it for a solitary adventure, and you might as well meet the people before they risk them falling to the forces of the Dark.
It also would make some of the connections easier between sections of the adventure, players knowing who might be the best person to talk to, or to know alternative NPCs who might know answers.
If running again though, I would use things like the above, and anything else I can think of, to try and allow players have the possibility of finding their own solutions.
One last thing, always say your weird names out loud a few times, Mamdedmerha isn’t really that hard to say, but unpracticed, it can trip you up, other names can be worse, so, see if that unfamiliar name works out loud before committing to it.