Campaign Diary - Heart of Darkness: The Daughters of Rojukan

We assume you're interested since you're on our forums.
User avatar
Heart of Darkness
Pat's Knob Polisher
Posts: 149
Joined: Mon Dec 16, 2013 1:26 pm
Location: A place near Boulder in the state of Colorado.
Contact:

Re: Campaign Diary - Heart of Darkness: The Daughters of Rojukan

Postby Heart of Darkness » Sun Oct 13, 2019 1:09 pm

Chapter Ten: The Nameless Horror
There are plenty of ghosts and mutants in the old hills. But there is one… thing… that defies all description. All tongues and teeth, and not symmetrical on any plane. What sort of blasphemy unleashed that upon the world? I can't say, I just hope that I never see it in person.

The Daughters of Rojukan begin preparations for a raid on The Mound, but it will be a long time coming, and they decide that they should seek out the Nightshade Witch. They find her cottage in a cemetery that was built on an island that rises above a vast dark water bayou. The witch, who goes by the name of Belladona, is a slender woman in her early thirties with dark hair, pale skin, and thick mourner’s makeup. She claims to have power to grant the living the semblance of death and the dead the semblance of life, and will sell her services to the Daughters of Rojukan for a price.

They ask if she can break minor curses, and she says that she can, but the group decides that they want to keep on Mytilidae’s good side and decline to break their binding oaths. They ask if she can break the curse on The World’s Edge, and she tells them that it is divine magic, and she is merely a witch, it will require a god, or atleast a genie, to undo that sort of enchantment.

When asked about wandering undead, the Nightshade Witch says that something has changed since she learned necromancy as a girl, and the dead are spontaneously rising in places where corpses are concentrated. She can keep those around her home under control for now, but soon the corruption will spread and corpses in the wild may start rising.

They ask her about their recent encounters with the Sidhe, and she tells them that this has always been unseelie territory, and their leader is someone named Aloadae.

After exchanging recipes with the witch, the group decides to press on to Dragon Mountain to parley with their allies there. The Daughters of Rojukan make camp in a cave in the mountain’s foothills, and are awakened by the sounds of something large and wet moving towards them in the darkness.

As it draws closer, they see the mutated beast, like a misshapen conglomeration of mouths torn inside out and sewn together. Larger than the largest bear and covered in thick yellow mucus, its pinkish body is asymmetrical and malformed, with three legs on one side and two on the other, its twin tails of drastically different lengths.

The group tries to stay quiet, but it appears to be tracking them by licking the floor, and once it come into contact with their fire it goes berserk, flailing and lashing about the room and injuring those it strikes. They scatter in the darkness. When they get to the cave’s mouth, Lina lights her lantern and sees that Liam is not with them, slowed down by his heavy armor.

They attempt to engage the beast, but Lucia cannot get close; every time she strikes the creature it turns upon her with great ferocity. Eventually, they deduce that it is blind and deaf, and Anabul and Liquade are able to use their bows to draw it away from Liam’s unconscious form and into a dark corner, where Lina traps it with a wall of fire and the group then peppers it with all the ammunition they can muster. When the fire dies out it appears to be dead, but the group does not stick around the make sure. Liquade considers butchering it for meat, but her companions quickly talk her out of it.

They travel through the night, and in the morning light they stumble upon a forgotten highway, and follow it for a while. They come upon a faded sign with an arrow pointing towards “The Thing.” They argue about whether or not they should follow it, Lina thinks they have seen enough “Things” for one day, but she is outvoted and they continue on.

By mid-morning they find Jacob’s Waystation. Behind it, in a pavilion tent, lies The Thing, a tourist attraction of sorts, run by a thin man in jeweled brown robes who calls himself Caliph Assad. He claims that The Thing was once the Devil, cast out by the gods and forced to dwell on Earth for a thousand years before finally being turned to stone for his crimes; helpless but not quite dead.

The Thing itself lies in the tent on the floor. It is in the shape of a man and about five meters long. It is either a stature or a stylized suit of armor, smooth yet skeletal, with long claws and a tattered cloak. It is made of a black material that is somewhere between iron and glass, and has faded red runes atop it. On its brow is a crown of fossilized albatross bones and its chest has a hollow within it that Kithicore is strangely drawn to. There do not appear to be any joints or holes in The Thing, and even the eye sockets are merely depressions in the mask.

Lina’s insight reveals that The Thing bears a thousand and one terrible curses, all held at bay by a powerful mysticism spell. It also has the resonance of many other spells, and a necromantic aura that is incredibly old but still strong.

After leaving the Thing, the group finds their way to Dragon Mountain and arrange a joint raid on The Mound with the trolls who dwell there; they will promise the trolls mastery of the mound and all the treasure it entails so long as they enter into an alliance with Meridia against Duke Redborne’s forces.

They agree to meet at The Mound in three weeks’ time, and then the Daughters of Rojukan return to Meridia to recuperate from their battle with the Nameless Horror.

Rumors:
The fey seem chaotic and disorganized, but they do have an organization of sorts. It is called the Sidhe, and you will find its leaders far, far, to the north, in the icy land of Permafrost, where they are guarded by giants and ruled over by a terrible queen.

The Houses of Lamentation still lie beneath the hills, and their worm dies not.

There is a ruined coliseum in the badlands. Old place, older than Meridia for sure. Long abandoned. Still, it must have been glorious in its heyday, and I can't imagine the empire that would have commanded such games. Must a been a sight to see. Still, if you believe the local freeholders, and I wouldn't, it isn't quite so abandoned. Sometimes strange lights burn in its windows, and if one listens hard enough, they can still hear the echoing clash of swords, the screams of the dying, and the roar of a ghostly crowd.


Commentary:
This one was short, but had its fair share of drama during the fight with the mutant in the cave. I don't play with random deaths from dice rolls, but at the same time I warn players that death is on the line if they are performing a blatantly suicidal action. The party wanted to simply retreat and abandom Lucia and Liam in the cave with the monster, at which point I announced that death would be on the line if they did that, to which Lucia's player got angry, stating that the rest of the group shouldn't be able to decide her fate.

Then, when they were attempting to trap the monster, they demanded to know why the seemingly blind monster was moving in an intelligent manner, and I explained that generally when an NPC makes a decision that could reasonably go either way, I tend to choose what I think will make for a more exciting game, which typically means smarter decisions if the party is doing well and dumber decisions if the party is struggling. They asked me not to do this, and I agreed, although it would come back to bite them a bit in the next session.

Also, in writing this up, its kind of funny, a good story and a good game are different things. While I thought that trapping the monster and finishing it off with projectiles made for kind of lame game play, the narrative sounds much better than "and we heroically traded blows until the monster died!"

For anyone interested, The Thing is authentic, although Assad's story is not. It is actually the armor and crown of the BBEG from the previous campaign, and a bit of foreshadowing for the future. Mostly I just thought the idea of roadshow attractions in a world with legitimate monsters and mysterious artifacts was something not often explored.
Looking for feedback on Heart of Darkness, a character driven RPG of Gothic fantasy. Full playtest rules available at http://www.heartofdarknessrpg.com

User avatar
Heart of Darkness
Pat's Knob Polisher
Posts: 149
Joined: Mon Dec 16, 2013 1:26 pm
Location: A place near Boulder in the state of Colorado.
Contact:

Re: Campaign Diary - Heart of Darkness: The Daughters of Rojukan

Postby Heart of Darkness » Mon Oct 14, 2019 9:53 am

Session Eleven: The Mound
The only thing that keeps us humans safe is that the monsters spend most of their time fighting one another. They have a keep, a command post if you will, from which to organize raids on Meridia. It's not far from here, at a place they call The Mound. The various factions fight for leadership, and once they get it, they will march on us sure as you can spit.

The journey to The Mound is uneventful save for the discovery of a few standing stones carved with ancient glyphs. The group eventually stumbles into a sacred place where numerous shrines dot the land as well as a dozen or so massive stone Moai.

A robed goblin maintains the shrines and claims that this is where raiders from the mound come to seek the blessings of their ancestors. When asked if any of the heroes are trolls, the goblin, Tellok, tells the travelers that few of the warriors at The Mound much care for trolls, as long ago the trolls sided with the humans against the ogres and have never been fully forgiven. He offers to bless the travelers but they all decline save for Anabul, though he does not benefit from the blessing as he is pledged over to darker powers.

Upon breaking from the forest, they see The Mound, a ruined hill fort built in a cyclopean style, with rough mountains on two sides and a swamp on a third. A raging river splits the plains before the mound, and the only safe crossing appears to be a small wooden foot bridge.

Standing in the center of the bridge is Brakuhr, an especially large and stupid ogre even by the standards of his kind. He has been appointed to stand guard over this bridge by Lady Arriah, the new war-master of The Mound, and is able to demand whatever tribute he sees fit. He demands that each traveler give him their “best thing,” but he is refused, and after a few moments of threats and posturing a fight breaks out. The ogre is very tough, wielding what appears to have once been a barn door as a tower shield and a farmer’s sickle as a sword. He holds the bridge valiantly, but eventually Anabul is able to slip past him and, once flanked, the ogre is quickly brought down.

The group is, however, shaken. They were told the creatures of the mound were disorganized and had no leader, and now they have a dead guard and a group of, apparently, hated trolls weighing them down. The Mound appears to be inhabited by several hundred abhuman warriors, far too many for a straight fight.

The trolls meet with the Daughters of Rojukan and they decide to approach the nearest camp, that of the ogres. The ogres form up in a line and bellow at the interlopers, demanding the trolls go home. Lina attempts to intimidate them, threatening them with death unless they submit to the soon to be masters of The Mound, but the ogres react by throwing stones and yelling all the louder. Eventually, Anabul breaks the siege by saying that they have important information about Meridia for their leader, and one of the ogres agree to allow them to speak with their chief.

The ogre chief is Kun-Fat-Lao, a slender and graceful warrior, at least by ogre standards, with yellow-gray skin and a long blue moustache. He is a sly and suspicious leader, and he is uneasy about meeting with armed outsiders in his yurt. The humans repeat their position, that they have come to take the mount and wish an alliance with the ogres against Duke Redborne’s forces. When Lao asks what is in it for him, they tell him that he will be allowed to keep his life, which sours his mood. He demands that they share their secret information, and when they admit that it was merely a bluff, he sends a messenger to Lady Arriah to tell her that he has caught some assassins from Meridia sent to strike her down, and then orders his soldiers to attack.

The ogres are clumsy fighters who are slow to react, and ill prepared to deal with Lina’s sorcery. Lao is quickly targeted by an inferno, and slips into the shadows, where he moves into a flanking position and, while they are distracted, takes the unarmored Nightsong and Puma out of the fight. Anabul soon catches onto him, and once it becomes obvious that the ogres are losing, the chieftain maneuvers his men between the invaders and himself, sacrificing them to make his own escape.

Outside, the trolls have held their own against the ogres, mostly due to the Mytilidae’s sorcery, though three of their number have been killed and more wounded, only saved by their trollish regeneration. Liam is able to negotiate a surrender from the remaining ogre warriors, and though a few of the trolls are vengeful, the ogres are willing to let bygones be bygones and prepare for a joint attack on the lizard folk in the swamp.

The swamps are dirty and saline, and Anabul’s mother informs him that they are unnatural, tainted by a power that is alien but similar to her own. The lizard folk are primitive sauriels, savage hengeyokai. Their queen squats naked on a throne made from a downed tree, adorned with bones and beads and feathers. At her side is one of the civilized breeds of lizard folk, dressed in expensive silk robes that have been fouled by the muck.

It is this robed emissary who translates the Lizard Queen’s words from her language of clicks and whistles into the Terran tongue. She demands tribute and, when Anabul hands her the jerky he took from the gnoll champion, she smacks his hand away and hisses, though her minions are quick to gobble it up when it falls to the ground.

Negotiations go poorly. The Lizard Queen demands that she is a goddess and be treated as such, and will not share power. Eventually Anabul offers himself as tribute, and though the sauriels ignore him their emissary says he will personally be willing to buy the boy and, in exchange, convinces the Lizard Queen to keep her warriors out of the fighting. He also promises her control of The Mound when the fight is over, though he doesn’t let the humans in on this fact.

The orcs live in the foothills to the west of The Mound, and they are the last who are approached. The orcs respect strength, and a full force of men, ogres, and trolls march into their village of stone ruins and mud huts. They are taken to an old amphitheater where their warlord holds court. She is an extremely tall and muscular woman named Kishanth, nearly nude save for a few scraps of bronze armor and with skin such a deep shade of olive green it is nearly black. She wields a massive war hammer and possesses a fierce beauty, at least by orc standards.

She refuses to show weakness, and every threat that is visited upon her is returned. The orcs threaten to pillage Meridia, and the humans claim that the city is unassailable, if the orcs had that sort of power, they would have already done it. They then guarantee that once Redborne is dealt with and their grandfather’s armies free to do as they please The Mound will be their first target.

Lucia proposes an alliance, and Kishanth states that she will never bow before humans or trolls. Mytilidae draws Lucia aside and tells her that she is perfectly willing to be the power behind the throne, she doesn’t care for glory or privilege, and is happy to offer Kishanth the position of war master.

Kishanth further asks if the people of Meridia are really willing to side with orcs against their own kind. Will they be willing to step aside and allow the greenskins to despoil Redborne’s lands once the Duke has fallen? To allow them to run wild, eating and enslaving women and children? Lucia says that she has no qualms about it, for if they allow the lands respite a new tyrant would soon arise, destruction is the only way to break the cycle of violence.

Kishanth muses that Lady Arriah has done nothing to better their lot in life since taking control of the mound, and agrees to usurp her. The orcs join the invading army, and they march on The Mound itself, though it is not without its defenders, many of the raiders who dwell here, particularly those of other races, have pledged allegiance to Arriah directly rather than to one of the three chiefs.

As the trolls, orcs, ogres, and large numbers of expendable goblin slaves attack the main gate and distract Arriah’s forces, Lina conjures up a volcano to blast a hole through the side wall and allow them entrance into the courtyard. Kishanth leads the Daughters or Reynard inside and screams a challenge to Lady Arriah.

The Lady shows herself, a dark-skinned giantess nearly twenty feet tall, and in a silky voice chides Kishanth for siding with the humans and expresses her disappointment. Then she agrees to the challenge, claiming it is time to exterminate the vermin that infest her lands.

At the far side of the courtyard a robed figure can be seen, and beneath his hood a squirming mass of tentacles. It chants in a language that only Anabul can hear.
Liam moves to engage, and she kicks him in the face, sending him sprawling. Arriah then strides forward and picks up Lina, squeezing the breath from her and then tossing her unconscious body aside. Lucia, Kishanth, and Anabul move to engage her from the rear.

As Liquade draws her bow Kun-Fat-Lao appears and engages her, but before his blades can fall on her she locks eyes with him and uses her hypnotic powers to command him to attack Lady Arriah, and he finds himself utterly unable to shake off the spell.

Anabul strikes one of the arteries in the giantess’ leg and she begins to gush blood, the weight of her own body working against her, and a moment later Lucia leaps upwards and drives a powerful blow across her head and chest. She staggers backwards, clearly in pain, and gasps, “All right, you are tougher than you look. Normally I save this trick for that special time of the month; but I think you have earned it.”

She then blinks the blood out of her eyes, which open sideways with nictitating membranes, revealing a yellow iris and slit pupil beneath. She then rises, taller and thinner before, as her skin changes into scales and her teeth into fangs. She swiftly transforms into a humanoid serpent, towering above them with feral rage, and her wounds close in an instant.

Liam has recovered enough to join the battle, and Lao and Liquade are soon upon the serpent. The companions attempt to surround her or trap her in a corner, but she is too slippery, slithering between them and delivering poisonous bites. Though she is struck many times for each blow she delivers, Arriah’s wounds are simply healing too quickly.

Eventually, Lao succumbs to the poison, cursing that he always knew he would die the same way as his master. The were-cobra maneuvers her pursuers into a tight formation and then slams them into the castle wall, knocking Liam and Liquade unconscious, and then turns to devour Anabul, swallowing him whole.

Lucia and Kishanth take this opportunity to strike in unison, the orc’s war hammer crashing into the giantess’ spindly knee as Lucia drives her blade into the beast’s heart. The orc warlord quickly pulls out a hand-axe and chops off the falling serpent’s head, freeing Anabul in the process. The giantess’ body contracts into its previous form and grows pale in death.

The tentacled figure makes a quick exit, tripping over his robes in his hurry to scramble away from The Mound now that Arriah is dead.

After wounds are bound, they speak of politics. Kishanth doesn’t know where Arriah came from, she merely appeared a few months ago and declared herself war master, crushing any who opposed her, and then started directing raids and claiming that an attack on Meridia was imminent but never making any true progress. Liam asks if Duke Redborne had dealings with her and Kishanth says no, if Arriah was meeting with the Duke it would have been in secret, and if the Duke’s men had shown their faces around here her orcs would have torn them off and eaten them.

Mytilidae officiates over an oath of vengeance between Meridia and The Mound against Duke Redborne, and when Lucia goes to seal the deal by shaking Kishanth’s hand the orc uses her superior strength to force the human to her knees and tells her to remember that this is where she belongs.

The Lizard Emissary meets with the group to claim his prize, and true to their word the Daughters of Rojukan give Anabul up, though they take his gear first and lock him up in a set of shoddy manacles to which he has swallowed the key. The lizard man claims that he is eager to leave the swamp, that he is only here as a missionary. He bows before Lucia and departs, saying “May she greet you with gently smiling jaws.”

A week later, a large white fish gets Liquade’s attention. It speaks to her and claims to be one of the white salmon of wisdom, and tells her where she can find Anabul, drunk and beaten on a river bank outside of Meridia.

Anabul claims that the lizard man kept him drugged and tried to convert him to the worship of something called The Serpent, though he rebuffed him with feigned piety towards the gods of Valhalla. The lizard folk weren’t keeping him, but were instead planning to use him as a bargaining chip against something called the Synovial Current that is desperate to acquire him.

Anabul was moved through the ruins near Meridia, where he spoke with his mother, as well as the mushrooms and flowers, and witnessed the lizard folk guards dealing with mobsters who had the faces of apes. It is unclear what, if any, of this was real. While they were on a skiff moving up the river, Anabul heard his mother telling him to play dead, only to see three massive eels rise from the river and swallow his captor’s whole, before disappearing into the water.

The Amber Amulet of Power

One of Lina’s first actions after mastering her own power was to push forward and create an artifact to enhance her abilities, imbuing her favorite piece of jewelry with a portion of her own soul.

This simple amulet allows her to cast the Scorch spell free of mana. On a critical success, this artifact imposes a -20 penalty on the subject’s attempt to resist the spell, while on a fumble the amulet’s power is exhausted for the remainder of the mission.

This amulet requires proximity to its targets, and has a maximum range of one hundred yards, which may be shortened by dense walls or other obstacles that lie between the amulet and its target.

Rumors:
Meridia is far from the first empire to hold dominion over these lands, and it won't be the last.

Legends say that a mad demigod stalks these lands. The secret bastard child of Artemis, always eager to ignite the divine fire in his blood through acts of ritual sacrifice. Stay clear of the dread huntsman's path!

Ah-loo-whin was once a mage who wished to learn all the secrets of the cosmos. Not so different from a thousand others. What sets him apart was that he actually succeeded! Of course, his feeble mortal body couldn't hold all that knowledge. They say that his ghost still haunts these lands, burning as it falls, like a comet in the night.


Commentary:
After the players asked me to stop adjusting monster tactics to balance the adventure's difficulty, I started playing the enemies a lot more brutal, vicious, and out to win this session. The players noticed my change in tactics, and of course were upset. Apparently what they were really asking was for me to always play the monsters really dumb.

Furthermore, when Lady Arriah gave her cheesy line before transforming, Anabul's player insisted that he should be allowed to take a free attack against her out of turn, and claims that he has a strict "No monologuing" rule, despite the fact that her "monologue" took less than ten seconds to deliver. Lina's player backed him up on this, claiming that her definition of a monolgue is "information that is conveyed through in character dialogue" and that "It is one constant in gaming, if anyone is talking in character, they are the only person at the table who is having fun." Which really encapsulates the vast disconnect between me and my players.
Looking for feedback on Heart of Darkness, a character driven RPG of Gothic fantasy. Full playtest rules available at http://www.heartofdarknessrpg.com

User avatar
Heart of Darkness
Pat's Knob Polisher
Posts: 149
Joined: Mon Dec 16, 2013 1:26 pm
Location: A place near Boulder in the state of Colorado.
Contact:

Re: Campaign Diary - Heart of Darkness: The Daughters of Rojukan

Postby Heart of Darkness » Fri Nov 08, 2019 12:38 pm

Session Twelve: The Old Coliseum
There is a ruined coliseum in the badlands. Old place, older than Meridia for sure. Long abandoned. Still, it must have been glorious in its heyday, and I can't imagine the empire that would have commanded such games. Must a been a sight to see. Still, if you believe the local freeholders, and I wouldn't, it isn't quite so abandoned. Sometimes strange lights burn in its windows, and if one listens hard enough, they can still hear the echoing clash of swords, the screams of the dying, and the roar of a ghostly crowd.

Lina convinces her companions to travel to the Hag’s Meet so that she can replenish her mana, and on the way, they find a group of pirate captains gambling at an old stone table. Lina and Anabul join in and work together to clean them out, and after trading insults the pirates threaten their lives if they ever catch them at sea. Anabel’s mother claims that this stone table was likely one of the many sites declared as neutral ground by the Pirate King Gaikhano before his fall.

The group passes by an ancient mausoleum dedicated to their distant ancestors. It is blessed, or cursed, with an aura of respect, and Liquade falls prey to it, leaving a rich offering before they are on their way.

On the edge of the Badlands, they find a large black bear in a trap, starving a few yards away from a pile of rotting meat. At great risk to himself, Anabul is able to sneak up and free the bear. Liquide then soothes the beast and shares the group’s food with it, meaning that everyone else is on half rations and will be weak with hunger upon reaching the coliseum.

The group finds the coliseum a few days later, bear in tow. They approach suspiciously, sending Anabul in to investigate while Liam inspects the outside. All of the entrances except for the main gate onto the arena floor have been sealed, solidly mortared shut with an unfamiliar technique.

The inside of the arena is circular, about fifty feet across, with a sand floor. Corpses sit in the seats, most human, but not all, and though many are mummified some are skeletal or still fresh. The only living things are a sextet of harpies, large vultures with the heads and shoulders of filthy women, with large hooked noses and pendulous breasts. They tear at some of the fresher bodies, periodically squawk at one another, and intently watch anyone who enters the arena.

There are four large portcullises around the edge of the arena that lead to the fighting pits below. At the far end are a pair of winding stone staircases around a fifth, smaller, portcullis and leading up into the Podium Box, where a massive mummified corpse sits upon a throne.

Anabul and Liam reconvene and, after discussing strategy for a bit, decide that the party will enter the arena together and search it for treasure. When they enter, the portcullis slams shut behind them, torches burst into green light, and the audience of the dead turns to look upon them. The massive corpse upon the Podium then bellows:

“Welcome to the arena Krazukag! I thank you for risking your lives battling for my amusement, but before I allow you to fight, I must test to see if you can cut it against those who could not!”

Two of the side gates open and skeletal warriors with mismatched arms and armor march out. The two teams pair up and the humans easily defeat the undead in their duels. At one point, Nightsong is left isolated and alone, and several harpies move to descend upon her, but Lina surrounds her with an aura of fire and drives the bird-women off.

Krazukag sighs in boredom and contemptuously tosses a pouch of copper coins onto the arena floor while giving a half-hearted clap.

“Very well, you have proved your metal. Take a moment to rest before the main event.” He then has his skeletal servants drag him a rotting hippopotamus carcass and a keg of dark beer which he devours while watching the upcoming fights, most of it falling through his desiccated ribcage.

The heroes bind their wounds, and a few moments later a skeletal herald announces the entrance of Bragrok’s Bashers, a group of a dozen hardened orcish raiders and pit fighters. The skeletal audience begins to chant the word bashers over and over again.
The orcs move to surround the humans, maintaining discipline despite suffering a few wounds from arrows and shotgun shells. Liquade attempts to use her mental powers to disrupt them, but order is restored with a quick boxing of the ears.

Eventually, Lucia and Anabul break ranks and charge into the orcs on their right flank, and Lucia and Puma do the same on the left. Bragrok and his burliest men then charge straight ahead. Lina scorches them with hell fire and Bragrok moves to catch her, taunting her and calling her little witch.

Liquade uses her mental powers to entice the orcs into provoking the bear. Bragrok is left alone with Lina, his guards moving to subdue the bear while she goes to help the outnumbered Puma.

Lina conjures a ring of flames to protect her, but Bragrok simply bull-rushes her through it, burning the both of them in the process. The orc moves to strangle the life from the small girl, but then her sister looks back and commands the gladiator to feed himself to the flames, and he is unable to resist her gaze.

Lucia and Liam defeat their foes mostly unscathed, and though Anabul is wounded he takes out more than his fair share of the orcs. The bunyip and the bear are eventually subdued, the fight beaten out of them, but by then the orcs are too few in number to put up a fight and with Krazukag’s leave the yield the floor to the Daughters of Rojukan, the healthy carrying their wounded, and the dead walking out of their own accord.

Krazukag applauds and tosses handfuls of silver to the victors. After a moment’s rest, the skeletal herald announces the main event, the Daughter of Reynard versus the reigning champion, Zamira who Strikes Faster Than Hearts Can Beat. The travelers wonder how the skeleton knows of their grandfather, but are interrupted by the appearance of Zamira from the doorway below the podium.

She is a naga dervish, with the lower body of a giant python and the torso of a lithe woman with long brown hair and a pair of cruelly sharp scimitars. True to her name she strikes quickly, moving in and out, never staying still long enough to let herself be surrounded. She strikes to debilitate rather than to kill, tripping and disarming. Several times the harpies descend upon those whom she leaves wounded and unarmed in the dust, and eventually Lina decides to drive the scavengers away from good by setting their feathers alight.

Despite being outnumbered, it seems that Zamira will eventually triumph, until Liam gets in a lucky blow and stuns her. Lucia takes that moment to drink the Tonic of Heroism she received from Father Christmas and rushes into battle while Lina provides her with a flaming sword and Anabul sneaks in to flank.

As Zamira regains her bearings, Lina cuts off her escape with a wall of fire. As she grows bloody the Ogre tells her in a low gravely voice that she should yield, but the Naga spits and defiantly refuses to submit, and fights on for a moment before being cut in two by Lucia.

The lich applauds wildly and tosses handfuls of gold and jewels upon the new champions. He then proclaims that while he enjoyed the fight, they killed his champion, and one of them will need to stay behind to take her place and defend their title. When asked how long it will be until the next bout, the ogre despondently responds that it will not be until some more fighters happen to come by, typically about once every four years. They flatly refuse his offer, and he tells them that if they refuse to honor the traditions of the coliseum, he must make amends by the ancient law and feed them to the lions.

A moment later, the side wall of the coliseum bursts as a rampaging chimera charges onto the field in a blood frenzy. The creature has the body of an elephant, the heads of a lion, alligator, and goat, and the tail of a venomous serpent. Liquade attempts to soothe the beast, but to no avail, it is too far gone. The group quickly quaffs potions to mend their wounds and Lina casts a spell to shroud them in hell fire.

They then fight to survive, surrounding the beast and fighting defensively, and though they get a few good hits off, in truth it is the beast’s own ferocity that does it in, for it pays no heed to the fire that shields its targets and is quickly burned beyond recognition.

Krazukag guffaws in mirth and pours out the contents of his chest upon the arena floor, showering the wounded warriors with treasure. He then says that he enjoyed the fight, but lost his beast, and asks to keep the bear in return. Liquade agrees, but demands compensation, to which the ogre smiles and says that is might be easier for him to simply kill the lot of them and raise them to fight for him death.

Liquade relents and leaves the bear, and the ogre claims that he is going to have it sent to a witch for modification. Anabul inquires if it is Hyacinth that he is talking about, and the ogre confirms his suspicious, and Anabul notes their shared love of terrible food.

They then depart for Meridia, born down by treasure but light on food, foraging along the way. Upon getting home there is a letter waiting for Lucia:

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men wish that they could do what I can do.
Come see me at the House of Miracles upon your earliest convenience.



She journeys alone and asks for Daniel. The girl at the counter tells her that he isn’t here, this task is beyond him. She has been meditating on Lucia’s condition and thinks she has a solution. She says it will be very painful, but Lucia agrees.

The girl tells Lucia that sleep will only make the pain worse, and though she could probably track down a sedative that would do the trick Lucia doesn’t seem to be the type for it. She has Lucia sit on the bench and then produces an ancient ceremonial dagger which she uses to cut Lucia’s aura away without ever actually touching her. The pain is intense, bringing old memories of forgotten torment bubbling up and bleeding out. She then has Lucia drink from a golden chalice of liquid light, which burns her mouth like molten lead and with each beat of her heart sends pain radiating outward through her circulatory system.

After finishing the procedure, she tells Lucia that her scarring has been healed, and her chi is now freed up for other purposes. Her soul will heal in time, though it will take longer to fully recover than it does for a mountain to rise from the Earth. She says that the cup is that of Llyr, Son of the Tuatha de Danann and father of mankind. When she was younger, she once sought the Holy Grail before she discovered it was merely a metaphor, and stole this cup thinking it was the chalice of life. She tells Lucia that the Grail once had a physical existence in this world, and that if she can track it down it might be able to accelerate the restoration of her soul.

Rumors:
They say that the ancients could forge an indestructible metal. I know, I know, just another legend, but I have seen it. Pieces that were obviously thousands of years old, but that looked to have been cast yesterday. That technique is still out there waiting to be rediscovered, some craftsmen have waster their entire lives perusing it, or gone insane obsessing over it. Some poetic types have even dubbed it “The Riddle of Steel.”

They say that our navy, you know, the one we got out on the seas blockading Duke Redborne’s ports, fought a battle against a swarm of sea serpents t’other day. But that’s not even the weirdest part, weird part is, the sea serpents won.

The Pale Worm of Forever? Nightmare incarnate. Even your grandfather wasn't fool enough to tangle with that thing. It doesn't kill what it comes across, that would be too easy, oh no, being eaten is only the start of your agony.




Commentary:

Not a whole lot to say about this one. Fairly straightforward fight.

Only drama was after the session, when Lucia's player insisted that the Zamira fight was completely unfair and he didn't like how I built NPCs. I tried to explain that she was not any more powerful than a PC of her level, which Lucia didn't believe, so I went to the trouble of actually building her as a character and made up a sheet for her, complete with backstory and fluff. It was a bit passive aggressive, and Lucia's player refused to even look at the sheet.
Looking for feedback on Heart of Darkness, a character driven RPG of Gothic fantasy. Full playtest rules available at http://www.heartofdarknessrpg.com

User avatar
Heart of Darkness
Pat's Knob Polisher
Posts: 149
Joined: Mon Dec 16, 2013 1:26 pm
Location: A place near Boulder in the state of Colorado.
Contact:

Re: Campaign Diary - Heart of Darkness: The Daughters of Rojukan

Postby Heart of Darkness » Mon Nov 11, 2019 1:42 pm

Session Thirteen: The Dread Huntsman and the Return to the Mound
Several weeks after the battle at the coliseum, a small being in filthy robes beckons Liam into one of Meridia’s alleyways and hands him a scrap of hide with crude writing upon it. It is a message dictated by Kishanth which states that the slimy lizard priest has betrayed them both, and promised the Lizard Queen leadership of the mound in exchange for Anabul’s life. Sauriel raiders have been moving from the swamp and picking off their scouts and foragers.

Kishanth requests that the Daughters of Rojukan honor their pact and assist the goblinoids in driving the Lizard Queen from the region for good.

Unfortunately, Liam was still recovering from being mauled by the chimera at The Coliseum in the badlands and was not able to travel immediately. Furthermore, when the group does depart, they are beset by the Dread Huntsman.

He ambushes them in the night. First, he knocks out their sentinel, Anabul, with a fowling arrow, and then moves to execute Lina. Fortunately, she survives the attack, barely, and awakens her companions. The huntsman falls back into the woods and launches volleys of arrows on their campsite from the dark. As the warriors attempt to engage them, he falls back and they get caught up in various booby traps he has set; snares and trip lines. Lina is able to focus her will despite her wounds and sets the huntsman alight with balefire and he retreats.

The next morning, they happen upon a fellow traveler. She is a girl in her early teens with a boyish figure, short dishwater blonde hair, and ornate earrings. She walks alongside a horse garbed in elaborate barding, and at first they think her a vagabond and horse thief, but she introduces herself as Dame Iolanthe and tells the Daughters of Rojukan she is a knight errant out looking for adventure. The group is skeptical, but she offers to accompany them on their quest to prove her worth.

A few days later the group drinks from a cursed spring and falls into a sickening sleep, and when they awaken, the Huntsman attacks again. Their movements are slow and the pain of his arrows barely registers. He has tamed an Irkuiem, or slithering whale, a massive swamp aberration, to serve as his guardian and he falls back behind it.

Unfortunately, luck is not with the huntsman, and his clumsy beast blocks his escape rather than aiding him, and soon both the huntsman and his pet are surrounded and cut down by the Daughters of Rojukan and Dame Iolanthe.

The group chooses to turn back to recover from their poisoning in Meridia rather than press on to The Mound.

The sisters feel that Dame Iolanthe fought admirably, and invite her to join their household. She is enthusiastic about the prospect, but upon talking to their family elders they are told that the people of Meridia are leery of feudalistic bonds, have been ever since escaping the tyranny of Donnatrius the Vile, and that while she might be a loyal defender, the other families might use her presence as a weapon in the game of politics.

The party takes a vote and though Lina is strongly in favor of keeper her around, she is overruled and Dame Iolanthe is sent off. Anabul steals her handkerchief before she goes.

They set off again, and when they finally reach The Mound, they find it deserted and in ruins, with no sign or their allies.

The Daughters of Rojukan proceed to enter the briny swamps and track down the remaining sauriels. The lizard folk, being unable to speak Terran, cannot be reasoned with, and battle ensues. The group forms a ring and does battle with the attackers as the Lizard Queen breaks through their lines and attempts to attack Lina directly.
After a short brutal battle, the sauriel are defeated, but the Lizard Queen’s wounds heal almost as quickly as they are inflicted, apparently there is some truth to the legends about her being immortal while immersed in salt water, and Liquade commands her bunyip to eat her alive.

After pillaging the sauriel camp, the group returns to The Mound and hears what they take for an approaching horde of raiders; war whoops and yells as well as more than few screams. As it draws closer, they can hear more voices, chanting and speaking and pleading and moaning and gibbering in a multitude of languages.

Then the Pale Worm of Forever comes into view. The group runs from it and takes refuge in the remains of one of the towers. The worm pursues them. As they hunker down for the night, they see that Liam is not with them. They stay up all night, driven to a panic by the alien monstrosity and the cloud of strange voices that surround it, but eventually it leaves for parts unknown. Liam is found hiding in a muddy ditch nearby, none the worse for wear.


The Endless Quiver
This enchanted quiver was carried by the Dread Huntsman. Any arrow placed within it is replicated endlessly, meaning the archer who carries it will never run out of ammunition. Further, it allows for a variety of arrowheads. Liquade filled it with three bodkins, three flight arrows, three fowling arrows, and three pile arrows, making one of each variety from iron, tooth, and silver respectively.

Lina tried to convince Liquade to see if they could make a fortune by endlessly replicating the golden arrows and then melting them down, but Geomanthus warned them not to test the artifact’s generosity.

Rumors:

You ever been to the Lotus Downs? Beautiful little valley, not far from here. Quaint little village right in the middle. Used to be part of Meridia, but not anymore. Maybe it’s time to pay them an official visit before Duke Redborne decides to snap them up?

Hey! You! You're Rojukan's get, right? I know a secret that may interest you. It cost me a pretty penny, and you'll have to make it worth my while, but I know where he kept his secret treasure. Wealth beyond reckoning, for someone young and fit enough to make the journey to get it. But, once your stinking rich, I hope you'll remember the one who helped you get there?

Crazy old gnome lives in the hills. Makes toys for the little ones. Tinkers like all his kind do. If you ever want to visit him make sure you do it soon, before the son of a bitch blows himself up, as his kind are want to do.


Commentary:
And this is the game where the sandbox format broke down. The party noticed a flaw in the mechanics, that they could simply return to town and rest up each time they had an encounter, planned or random, meaning they would only actually continue to the adventure site if they had no random encounters or mishaps on the journey, and once there they would only play through a single encounter before repeating the process over again. I actually skipped over several of the trips back to town in the writeup above because it is silly and detracts from the narrative.

In the end I decided there needed to be some consequences for the party's actions and that they would simply arrive too late to be of any help, costing them another ally. The players tried to "put the cart before the horse" and blame me, saying that they had so many random encounters that they had no choice but to turn back as they could never have survived them all, completely ignoring the fact that the only reason they had so many random encounters is because they spent months of game time travelling back and forth between Meridia and the mound.

A few sessions later I would realize the position was unworkable and drop the sandbox aspect of the campaign entirely.
Looking for feedback on Heart of Darkness, a character driven RPG of Gothic fantasy. Full playtest rules available at http://www.heartofdarknessrpg.com

User avatar
Heart of Darkness
Pat's Knob Polisher
Posts: 149
Joined: Mon Dec 16, 2013 1:26 pm
Location: A place near Boulder in the state of Colorado.
Contact:

Re: Campaign Diary - Heart of Darkness: The Daughters of Rojukan

Postby Heart of Darkness » Fri Nov 22, 2019 1:31 pm

Session Fourteen: Al-hoo-whin and the Return to the Bolt Hole
Ah-loo-whin was once a mage who wished to learn all the secrets of the cosmos. Not so different from a thousand others. What sets him apart was that he actually succeeded! Of course, his feeble mortal body couldn't hold all that knowledge. They say that his ghost still haunts these lands, burning as it falls, like a comet in the night.


As the party returns from their encounter with the Pale Worm of Forever at The Mound, they take refuge in a monastery. It appears abandoned until they find the monk’s bodies in the library, their eye sockets smoldering and empty.

In the center of the room is the former mage and current Archon Al-Hoo-Whin, shining like a luminous butterfly. It sends out waves of psychic energy that only Lucia and Lina are able to remain conscious through, and then attempts to devour the young sorceresses’ mind. She is able to steady her thoughts and create a blade of pure energy which Lucia is able to swing and end the Archon’s long existence with one glorious cut.

After recovering from the battle, the group decides to return to the Bolt Hole. They are caught by a tropical storm, which destroys their shelter and makes slow going through the insect infested quagmire in its wake, leaving them sick and exhausted when they finally reach their destination.

They see a warband of nezumi out to spread plague and pestilence, which might or might not have been the same group they encountered earlier. The Daughters of Rojukan attempted to set up an ambush, but the keen-eyed rat folk see through it and instead split the party.

Lina attempts to incinerate them with a barrage of fireballs, but the nimble creatures are scarcely harmed and the battle goes poorly. Lina then changes to mass scorch spells and is able to take out most of the rodent warriors. The survivors offer their surrender, but Liam refuses and the remaining hengeyokai are killed after a short but brutal skirmish.

Lina clears the beetles from the tunnel with a wave of fire. They move forward and find an underground lake with a few rickety wooden boats at its shore. In the center is an island inhabited by a massive Amphisbaena, a giant armored serpent, and that lives off the black beetles.

The bunyip swims out to attack while the rest of the group engages the serpent from the shore with bows, bolts, thrown knives, and shotgun shells, but the creature’s neck is more than long enough to reach them. They fall back, leaving the bunyip to fight alone. It is quickly picked up and shaken, its neck badly injured in the process. Lina conjures sheets of flame crisscrossing the island to distract the serpent, and it pulls back into its hole while the bunyip limps away.

Lina then fills the amphisbaena’s tunnel with lava, hoping to be rid of it, but a moment later the charred and smoking creature lurches out of its burrow and crashes across the lake towards the shore, bowling through the group. Liquade sets her spear and blocks its path while her companions move to flank it and drive their weapons into the soft gap in its exoskeleton that allows it to turn its head. The massive monster is decapitated and dies soon after, although its severed head inflicts a single serious wound first, a deep bite to Lucia’s leg.

Once the monster’s head has stopped smoldering, the party uses one of the rickety boats to cross to the island and find that it has been piled high with treasures; coins and jewels and art objects, likely offerings made to the great beast. In the far wall they find a narrow tunnel with numerous footprints; most armored and inhuman.

Anabul travels down the tunnel for almost a kilometer before returning and reporting that it appears to lead all the way to the underground, and it appears that numerous subterranean warbands have been using it to launch raids on the surface world. Lina superheats the rock and collapses the tunnel before returning to Meridia to store their treasures and sell the salvaged weapons and armor taken off their defeated foes.

Rumors:

Beware of men that walk as beasts and beasts that walk as men. The most dangerous of them is an ancient knight, once a glorious seeker of the grail. Over the course of his journey an old woman approached him and begged him for help, but he refused to be swayed from his quest. Three times did she beseech him for aid, and three times she was rebuffed. Then she revealed herself as the Goddess, and she tore the visage of humanity away to reveal the beast within. He still searches for the Grail, now to cure his affliction, and if he finds you in the wild, he will rip off your visage in turn.

Clover. Clover. Clover. I can't get her out of head. The strange woman who runs sky-clad through the fields. They say she alone can change your fate, but I still don't have the courage to approach her. Maybe you could talk to her for me?

Hey, a word of advice if I may. Its' a bit of a walk, but I wouldn't go too far into this world without making the acquaintance of the Heart-Blossom witch. Unlike most of her kind, wicked old crones wreathed in warts and wrinkles, she is kind and easy on the eyes. They say that she can heal any injury, and never charges more than you can afford.


Commentary:
Not a whole lot to say about this one. Last session was supposed to be a "clean up" mission where the players revisited a few places and dealt with threats that had been skipped over the first time, but the players insistence in returning to town and fully resting up after every fight meant that it took much longer, both in real hours and game time, than expected, and had a disproportionate amount of random encounters.
Looking for feedback on Heart of Darkness, a character driven RPG of Gothic fantasy. Full playtest rules available at http://www.heartofdarknessrpg.com

User avatar
Heart of Darkness
Pat's Knob Polisher
Posts: 149
Joined: Mon Dec 16, 2013 1:26 pm
Location: A place near Boulder in the state of Colorado.
Contact:

Re: Campaign Diary - Heart of Darkness: The Daughters of Rojukan

Postby Heart of Darkness » Sat Nov 23, 2019 11:28 am

Session Fifteen: The Lotus Downs
You ever been to the Lotus Downs? Beautiful little valley, not far from here. Quaint little village right in the middle. Used to be part of Meridia, but not anymore. Maybe it’s time to pay them an official visit before Duke Redborne decides to snap them up?

Travel is slow, the river is broad and many of the surrounding environs are still flooded after the previous month’s storms. The group has to stop and resupply several times in small villages and rural homesteads. At one point, Anabul finds that a curious monkey has made off with the few coins that he had managed to save up.

The Lotus Downs are the lowest point in the region, a bowl-shaped valley surrounded by rolling hills. The lowlands are wet but not swampy, full of clear-water ponds and rivers that are coated in flowering aquatic plants.

The village itself is fairly small, no more than two hundred people. Upon approaching, the group hears raised voices; a large man is yelling at one of his neighbors, threatening to report him to a group of Witch Hunters that has been operating in the area. Upon sighting the Daughters of Rojukan, the man mistakes them for said witch hunters and calls them over.

The man introduces himself as Mr. Dauterive, the local miller. He claims that the other man is a cultist of Moloch and has been sacrificing local children to his dark god, and that he won’t let him take his daughter, Safana.

Anabul quickly falls into the deception and plays along, pretending to be the inquisitor’s eunuch man servant, who is negotiating on his master (Liam’s) behalf. He agrees to question the suspect, and Mr. Dauterive encourages them to torture the truth out of him.

The other man invites them into his home and has his wife prepare biscuits and lemonade for them. He is well-dressed and mild-mannered man who goes by the name of Phineas, and works as the local tailor. Lucia questions him and finds that he was once apprenticed to the Starspools of Meridia.

He claims that people have been disappearing without a trace around town, most of them children, but a few adults as well, a member of the militia, a pair of wood-cutters, and several housewives. He assures the party that he knows nothing, and when asked who the first child to go missing was he tells them that it was Peregrine, the glass-blower’s son.

The group then goes to the glass-blower’s shop. Anabul stays behind to watch Phineas and snoop through his house, while Nightsong spends her time with the bees in a nearby apiary field.

They find Peregrine’s parents shoveling sand down by the river. They tell the party that their son went out to play one morning and never returned. Over the past two months many children have similarly disappeared without a trace, most while out playing in the fields, but also a few from their beds at night. The only children who remain in the village between the ages of weaning and puberty is old Widow Henderson’s bastard Chim.

Liam goes to find the town sheriff and discovers him sleeping on his office porch. When he is awakened, he is momentarily startled by armed strangers in town and goes for his whistle, but Liam calms him down. He introduces himself as Claude, the sheriff, mayor, town clerk, and owner of the only gun in town.

He claims to have done everything he can, but there is simply no evidence for him to move on. Liam asks why he doesn’t go from house to house or start interrogating the supposed cult members, and he says that he is trying to keep it calm, the last thing they need is the town turning upon itself or forming a lynch mob. Liam accuses him of being cold and complacent, and wonders what will happen to the town without children? The sheriff says that there will be more children, and the he is himself expecting two, one with his wife and the other with his mistress. Liam leaves in disgust.

The party regroups and Anabul presents his findings, a suspicious looking book which he can’t read. Lina is able to identify it as one of the lesser Keys of Solomon, a tome which details methods for both warding and binding demons.

That night, the Daughters of Rojukan have dinner at Mr. Dauterive’s house. The miller is pleased that they are investigating, but a little disappointed by their slow progress. The group asks how he knows Phineas is a devil worshipper, and he replies that it is just gossip, one of his wife’s friends claims that he tried to induct her into a cult; few things can stay secret in such a small town. When asked what the town’s priest had to say about the issue the miller says that the town hasn’t had a priest in almost twenty years, since the old church burned down with the preacher in it. He ruminates that it was right about the same time that Phineas traveled to Meridia for his apprenticeship, and that there could be some connection.

They sleep in the Miller’s barn that night, after they promise that they have no interest in his daughter. The next morning, they seek out Widow Henderson at the edge of town. She is an unpleasant woman in an ill kept house, with long orange hair going gray. When asked about her son, she says that he is an evil seed and constantly in trouble. He father was a handsome and well-dressed stranger from Meridia who seduced her with promises of wealth and life in the big city shortly after her husband passed away, and then left her with the rotten child. She doesn’t know where he is, and then asks the party for a handout to compensate her for her time. They leave.

They find Chim sitting on a fence overlooking the cemetery near the burned-out ruins of the church, claiming that it is the most interesting place in town. The cemetery itself is strange, with lumpy ground and broken tombstones. A single tree grows in the churchyard, toppling several headstones, and is of a species much larger than those native to the region. The mediums in the group can see the shadows of hanged men dangling from its branches.

When Chim is asked if he is sad that the other children are gone, he tells them that he is actually glad, that they were always mean to him, throwing rocks and making fun of his clothes, telling him that his mother was a witch and his father was the devil. The young man tries to keep his foul tongue in check, and when asked about why he stays in town he says that he is just taking care of his mom until she passes and he can make for the big city.

He doesn’t have any information on the disappearances, but when asked if there is anything interesting around town, he tells them about a really neat hole behind one of the hills.

The group hikes out into the hills and finds the hole. It is about ten inches in diameter, almost perfectly round, and too deep to measure. The group prods at it for a while but is unable to decipher its nature, and are about to leave when they hear a voice coming from it. At first, they think it might be one of the missing people, but it only sometimes seems to answer their questions, the rest of the time it merely spouts out cryptic and vaguely threatening nonsense. They soon realize it is their own words echoing back at them, albeit not in the same order that they were spoken.

The group then decides to check for more holes. They find that the region is crisscrossed with caves, but that most of the entrances have been collapsed some time ago. Liam spends the rest of the morning attempting to excavate one only to find that it is too difficult to explore without significant spelunking experience.

When the group returns to Mr. Dauterive’s house they ask about the Chim and the hole. He tells them that Chim isn’t as bad as people make out, and says that he occasionally even gives the boy handouts. He also knows of the hole by reputation, Dougan’s Hole, after an old inventor who used to run experiments on it, like hooking up a phonograph to it and getting messages from far away in time and space.

Liam decides to stop skulking around and demands to search Phineas’ house. Phineas reluctantly agrees, but at one point Liam notices the man hiding something from him and has Anabul recover it; a jeweled holy symbol that undoubtedly belongs to the fallen angel of wrath. Liam confronts him directly and Phineas refuses to budge, instead sending his wife to get the sheriff, while Liam sends Anabul to get the rest of the party.
When the sheriff sees the adventurers gathering outside of the tailor’s house, he sends his deputy to round up a posse incase the situation escalates. When Liam comes out to talk to the sheriff, Phineas locks himself inside. Claude attempts to talk Liam down, but Liam instead gives an impassioned speech and turns the majority of the town against him. He calls to his deputy to arrest Liam, but the young blonde man named Gareth steps aside. The sheriff curses the town and throws down his star, but keeps his gun and stomps away.

A moment later, a tall man in an expensive velvet robe walks out from the crowd, leaning on an ornate cane. He is an ugly man, with a pronounced unibrow, a flabby frame, and long curly hair that was once black, but his voice is rich and commanding. He takes Liam’s hand in a hairy handshake and introduces himself as Mr. Langstrom. He thanks the party for everything they have done in ferreting out the culprit and tells them that Phineas is released into their care.

Phineas tries to ask the town for support, but everyone he turns to simply looks away.

The group leaves with their prisoner and his wife, but once they are out of town, they tell him that they don’t think it’s over, and give him a change to talk in exchange for his freedom. He confesses that he was indeed the leader of a cult of Moloch, but they are a legitimate church. They help the community, and never sacrificed anything larger than a pig. In fact, their last prayer was for Moloch to watch over their town and bring their children back to them safe. He further says that Mr. Langstrom is happy to see him and the sheriff go, as he is the richest man in town will basically the run the place in their absence, especially without the church of Moloch paying off people’s debts to keep him from repossessing their land. He will be able to prey upon the populace like a wolf among sheep.

Phineas further chastises them as the real savages, persecuting legitimate folk religions in the name of unity. The would-be witch hunters demand he provide them with a list of names of his fellow cultists and then take Phineas back to Meridia, where they keep him under arrest at their family compound. When the Daughters of Rojukan return to the Lotus Downs, they enter the village under cover of darkness.

Liquade knocks on the miller’s door and is greeted with a meaty fist to her jaw. Liam interposes himself between Liquade and Mr. Dauterive, and the man pounds uselessly on his armor before falling into sobs and shouting that they broke their promise.

Lucia immediately intuits the situation and asks to see Safana’s room. There are no signs of a struggle, and she appears to have left willingly. Liquade tracks her path to a secluded willow grove near a lagoon. As she investigates the scene her pet bunyip slips beneath the surface and begins to hunt the local waterfowl.

Liquade is able to surmise that Safana snuck out to meet a boy, and that the two of them were dragged off. She is unable to follow the trail, but does see several signs of a struggle including gouges in a log that appear to have been made with a military pick and a print from a small clawed foot.

The next day, the group investigates the old burned out church where Phineas claimed to have held service. They do indeed find an altar and the remains of sacrificed livestock. They also find a strange cellar door. Anabul unlocks it and they see a long musty staircase descending from view. They travel down the narrow passage for a long time, far longer than the staircase could possibly be, until Anabul starts complaining about his allergies and says he won’t be able to make the return journey.

They make a mark in the wall and go down another fifty yards before returning. They find the mark where they left it, but after only a few hundred steps they emerge into the light. Lina and Kithicore are not able to detect any magic in the area.

Lina uses psychometry to get an impression of the area. She gets a vision of a man in the robes of a priest of Ares surrounded by concentric patterns composed of flower petals. He performs a ritual where he attempts to steal the fiery breath of a shadowy dragon and take it into himself. A moment later he bursts into flames and the fire spreads to the rest of the church, and a tall figure composed of wispy orange fire rises from his unworthy flesh, sees itself begin to burn out, and quickly races across the western sky.

The Daughters of Rojukan question some of the supposed cultists whose names were given to them by Phineas. They are reluctant to talk about first, but fear of exposure loosens their tongues and they corroborate the tailor’s story. When asked about the cellar, they say the group is very lucky. Normally it is only an old root cellar, but when the arch-devil is watching it stretches all the way down to Hell. They frequently prayed that Moloch would come up and bless them with his presence, but he never did.

They attempt to question Mr. Langstrom, and though the wealthy man is talkative not a lot comes out of the conversation, although they do grow a little suspicious when he excuses a monstrous yawn by claiming he was out conducting business late at night,

The group begins to despair as to ever finding the missing people. Mr. Dauterive invites them to the village pub to have a drink with the locals and relax. While there, he gets roaring drunk and congratulates Gareth on becoming the new sheriff, and tells him that he will have him as a son in law once Safana is found.

Despite being the subject of the toast, Gareth quickly finds a way to slip out when nobody is watching, and Lina follows. She pursues him quietly through the cornfields out on the edge of town before he gives her the slip. Lina seems lost, or perhaps cursed, as she passes the same scarecrow half a dozen times. Then she notices that each time she looks the scarecrow is a little closer, until eventually it is standing right beside her, and when she jerks back it nimbly leaps over the fence and moves to wrap its sticklike fingers around her throat. She manages to slip away and wreath herself in flames, which causes the golem to recoil. It then leaps backwards, bounding across the field with an impossibly tall gait, almost like a puppet on strings. Lina fires several bolts of flame after it as it disappears from sight.

The rest of the group soon notices Lina is gone and sets out after her. They are able to quickly locate her in the burning fields. As they approach, Liquade begins to choke on the smoke and has a fit of coughing and sneezing. Anabul hands her an elaborately monogrammed handkerchief. After she is breathing normally, she looks at it and sees, among other symbols, the family crest of the house of Redborne. When asked where he acquired such a thing Anabul claims that he got it from Dame Iolanthe.

They soon meet up with Lina and she tells them what happens. Liquade is able to track Gareth to an old dilapidated manor house on the hills at the edge of town, a place which the locals told them once belonged to the local governor when this village was still a vassal of Meridia.

They send Anabul inside and, in one large and drafty back room, he sees Gareth and three other young men from the village meeting with Mr. Langstrom. They appear to be performing some sort of ritual that looks to be as much a fraternity initiation as a religious rite, and overhears the name Skoll amongst their chanting.

Anabul reports his findings and the rest of the group bursts in, ready for anything. Mr. Langstrom mutters “Not now,” while the four younger men turn and make feral grins that eventually become so wide their heads split open to reveal the jaws of wild wolves within. A moment later, Mr. Langstrom sighs and joins them, his body bursting out of his clothes to reveal a massive salt and pepper colored wolf.

As the warriors prepare to do battle with the werewolves, Lina feels a tap on her shoulder and turns to see the scarecrow grinning at her. Liam moves quickly and bashes its head in with his hammer, sending straw flying, but the scarecrow’s only reaction is to hum the melody to “If I only had a brain,” before continuing the fight.

Puma rolls about on the floor with the werewolf that was Langstrom while Anabul and Lucia do battle with the cubs. It is a long fight, for their wounds heal almost as quickly as they are inflicted when struck by non-silver weapons, but their inexperience eventually allows the humans to strike killing blows, returning their surprised corpses to those of the men they once were.

After Lina manages to catch the scarecrow on fire and put an end to it for good, Liam turns to Langstrom and brings his hammer down upon the alpha’s head. As it recovers from the powerful blow, the rest of the warriors descend upon his prone form and cut it to pieces.

The group ransacks the mansion but finds no clues as to what the wolf pack was up to or where they might have taken the missing people, and Liquade says that their tracks didn’t match those found near the place where Safana disappeared. Anabul does, however, find a few valuable art objects to make off with.

In the lowest basement they find a heavily locked metal disk on the floor, which Anabul springs open. Shadows pour outwards in a solid mass like ink dropped in water. Then they begin to coalesce, phantasmal figures that grab at Lucia with icy claws. Weapons do nothings against the shades, and Liam works to put the heavy lid back in place, but the shadows fight him. Lina and Liquade find that the shadows are as resistant to their magic as they are to physical attacks, they have no spiritual presence at all, and instead Lina conjures a flaming blade for Lucia to defend herself with.

Once Liam manages to close the portal, Anabul locks it in place. Lucia is able to banish the darkness, the shades fading away as they reach for her and stroke her hair. She is left stiff and numb, her legs feeling as if they were deeply asleep, but she struggles on.

As the group returns to town, they hear the sound of crashing stone and screams, and they hurry as fast as they are able.

When the reach the village, they find a giant sinkhole has opened in the center of town and emerging from it is a warband of morlock raiders, hairy gray skinned humanoids with wide pallid eyes. They are busy capturing fleeing townspeople. Behind them is a massive Sarmatian, an enormous snail-like creature the size of a rhinoceros, with a slimy alligator like head and claws emerging from its armored shell. A fortified palisade has been built atop its back, and from within a half dozen morlocks launch sling bullets at anyone who escapes from the perimeter.

Lucia charges directly towards the great mollusk while Anabul and Liquide fire upon its riders. Puma and Liam work to chase down and subdue the morlock raiders and free their captives.

Anabul and Liquade are quickly knocked unconscious by heavy stones to their head and Puma falls back to guard their bodies. Lucia is able to slay most of the howdah’s inhabitants before the carnivorous slug brings its jaws down on her sword arm and takes her out of the fight.

Liam moves over to keep its attention while Lina works to defeat the monster, but its slimy bulk resists her fire. A tense few moments pass as Lina’s mana and Liam’s stamina grow shorter by the moment, but eventually she is able to harness the energy within her amulet to ignite the creature with balefire.

As their massive war-beast dies and fills the air with the stench of its burning flesh, the remaining morlock raiders lose their nerve and retreat back into their tunnel, leaving the town damaged but whole.

The heroes do what they can to help rebuild the town as they recuperate. At a town meeting they agree to talk their house into sending a company of soldiers and miners to garrison the town, protecting it from both the morlocks and Duke Redborne’s men. Hopefully they will even be able to give chase to the morlocks, destroying their camps in the region and potentially even rescuing some of their captives that still live in slavery below the earth.

On their way back to Meridia, the Daughters of Rojukan stop to resupply at a small trading town. While there they see a group of tough looking men tying a scared looking townsperson behind their horses, preparing to drag him behind them as they leave town.

Lina tells the men to stop, and they identify themselves as the Society of the Evil Eye, the self-same witch hunters that the people of Lotus Down had heard were in the area. She tries to intimidate them with fire, but the men claim that they know how to deal with sorceresses, and wouldn’t be opposed to giving the people a free demonstration of their skills.

Lucia asks what they are doing, and they claim that the man, Jessup, was a carpenter who offended the local fey by cutting down one of their sacred groves. He promised them five stones of platinum for their protection, and once they had dealt with the fair folk and returned for their payment, he confessed that he didn’t have the reward. Now, the witch-hunters plan to execute him in a brutal display of what happens to those who refuse to pay.

Lina is able to negotiate for the man’s life, paying the witch-hunters half of what he promised as well as a favor to be named later. When Jessup is freed, they tell him that under Meridian law he is now their slave, and he can start repaying his debt by helping repair the damage the morlocks inflicted on the Lotus Downs.

Upon returning to Meridia, the girls’ parents explain that they set Phineas free, that they can’t believe their children were impersonating church officials to take free men prisoner. Phineas has, presumably, returned to the employ of the Starspool clan.

Some days later, the party is sold a map which purports to lead Rojukan’s secret treasure. They find that it leads to Nightsong’s grove. When questioned, she says that she has no knowledge of any treasure and the group concludes that the nymph herself is the treasure. Upon questioning, she confirms that Rojukan was the friend she was talking about, and claims to have seen him within the past several weeks and that he will soon return.

Rumors:

Somewhere out there in the wild lands is a sword. A real sword. A weapon of unimaginable power that was ancient when the world was new.

You see them giant insects in your travels. Mean cusses, manargus I think they are called. They hide their hives well, but they are all over the backwoods. Used to be a lot more of them, or so they say. But I don't worry, because I know the trick to keeping safe. The simple household object that can kill them dead is... (the sailor passes out into his drink and cannot be revived).

Ever hear of a place called the Swinging Gorge? No? How about the Screaming Gorge? Same place. Terrible deep ravine, with an old bridge hanging over it. Back in the old days, 'fore your fathers time, the Dukes used to hold public executions there. Of course, one can't show that many people that kind of pain and terror and expect them murderer’s ghosts to just flit away. ‘Course its haunted. Why wouldn't it be?


Commentary:

This one turned out to be a lot more stressful than I anticipated. I intended this to be a fairly typical site-based adventure which was inspired by urban legends of the American Midwest, primarily those of the Skin-walker Ranch and Stull Kansas. The idea was for the players to explore the town, talk to the locals, kill some monsters, and then stop the Morlock incursion.

The players, however, decided that it was a murder mystery and were eager to "solve" the town, and grew increasingly frustrated when the answers weren't forthcoming. I actually got to the point where I had NPCs flat out telling them they should investigate the burned down church or the abandoned manor, only for the PCs to respond with "There's no time for that! We have a murder to solve!".

This was compounded by the fact that three of the five players had been up all night playing video games, and were both in a bad mood and periodically kept falling asleep at the table and missing important information!
Looking for feedback on Heart of Darkness, a character driven RPG of Gothic fantasy. Full playtest rules available at http://www.heartofdarknessrpg.com

User avatar
Heart of Darkness
Pat's Knob Polisher
Posts: 149
Joined: Mon Dec 16, 2013 1:26 pm
Location: A place near Boulder in the state of Colorado.
Contact:

Re: Campaign Diary - Heart of Darkness: The Daughters of Rojukan

Postby Heart of Darkness » Fri Dec 06, 2019 10:40 am

Session Sixteen: The Beast and the Return to River Crossing
Beware of men that walk as beasts and beasts that walk as men. The most dangerous of them is an ancient knight, once a glorious seeker of the grail. Over the course of his journey an old woman approached him and begged him for help, but he refused to be swayed from his quest. Three times did she beseech him for aid, and three times she was rebuffed. Then she revealed herself as the Goddess, and she tore the visage of humanity away to reveal the beast within. He still searches for the Grail, now to cure his affliction, and if he finds you in the wild, he will rip off your visage in turn.

Several months after the massacre at The Mound, the group decides to return to explore the now empty sewers at River Crossing.

On their way, they encounter The Beast on a dark and overgrown path through the deep forest. At first it sounds like a column of mounted knights, with echoing hoofbeats and clanking armor, but then a single massive figure emerges from the gloom to block the heroes’ path. A huge minotaur covered in slabs of incredibly heavy iron armor, a solid shield, a chipped sword, and a spiked helm made from the skull of a rhinoceros. Upon sighting the travelers, he lowers his head in a bestial challenge and then charges.

The front line is sent sprawling. Liam rises to his feet and attempts to deflect the monsters blows, but is quickly cut down. Lucia and Anabul flank the creature and do their best to find a chink in its armor, but it is simply too thick. Liquide attempts to use her mental abilities to drive the monster off, instead it falls to its knees and presents its sword to her.

The minotaur then follows them on their journey and protects them from the beasts that inhabit the sewers, taking over the brunt of Liam’s role after the blacksmith finds his wounds turning septic in the swamp.

As they move through the dark and labyrinthine sewers, the Daughters of Rojukan are attacked by several slimes but are able to drive them off without issue. In one dead-end chamber, they find a monstrous Jishin, an ancient crustacean that has long dwelled here and preyed upon those that stumbled into its lair. Anabul tells the party to fall back and wait in ambush while he lures it out, firing a bolt into its carapace and then falling back, but he doesn’t anticipate the monster’s horrific speed and it quickly clamps a claw around his ankle and draws the young rogue back into its lair.

The Beast moves in after him, completely blocking the tunnel, and the two monsters do battle, neither able to penetrate the other’s armor plating. Lina is able to gather her concentration and focus her power on the Jishin, and a moment later its carapace bursts, spraying the chamber with its steaming guts. A thorough search of the stinking pit turns up more than a few treasures scattered amongst the remains of its previous victims.

The explorers find one large grate in the sewers and tie their rope to it, dangling into the darkness below, marking it for future exploration and a potential emergency escape route if they get lost or things go bad.

Moving into the lower sewers, the group passes through a long corridor with numerous worm-holes on the sides, and as they pass, giant burrowing worms grasp at them with toxic tentacles. Lina casts a spell to heat the walls and drive them back, allowing for safe passage.

They pass down into the central chamber around the Grand Maw of Yuggoth. A voice speaks to them from the alcoves, asking why the traitors have returned. A group of troll refugees, survivors of the slaughter at The Mound, have returned to their old home. Lucia asks what happened and they say that without their allies from Meridia, the Goblinoids and the Sauriels entered into a protracted and extremely costly stalemate, and then when their numbers were low the Pale Worm of Forever absorbed their dead and drove off the living, killing most of the tribe, including Mytilidae. Lucia is able to stave off violence by placing the blame on the Dread Huntsman and overselling the injuries the Daughters of Rojukan suffered at his hands, but the trolls announce that their alliance is over and the humans are no longer welcome in their territory.

Anabul takes this opportunity to seduce one of the young trolls, and the pair excuse themselves to one of the side chambers. They invite Nightsong to join in, but she is content to watch.

As the group leaves the sewers, they are again attacked by the tentacles of the burrowing worm. The Beast is quickly ensnared, and his thrashing in the tight corners injures several of his allies, including trampling Anya and injuring her rather seriously, much to Lucia’s regret.
Lina attempts to heat the walls again, but this time the worms have entangled themselves, some are pulled out of their tunnels into the main hallway, others pull their foes to them. Puma is badly burned as the worm presses him against the heated section of the wall and holds him there, like searing a piece of meat.

After a long and chaotic battle, the worms are killed or driven back, but the companions are in poor shape, most suffering from the effects of paralytic poison and more than a few burns. Lina does her best to create an antidote, but while she is applying the salve, the ground begins to tremble, and a few moments later the far end of the tunnel collapses as a massive worm emerges.

This worm is a great Orm, a different species than the burrowers that have previously attacked them, possessing a circular toothy maw instead of tentacles and being as least ten times their size. Lina quickly summons Kindlesnap as well as several minor fire elementals who use their kismet ability to ensure that the massive worm is unable to swallow anyone whole. As her companions pepper the great beast with ranged attacks, Lina binds the fire elementals into the corpses of the dead burrower worms, creating blazing corpse candles which dig through the soft earth and slowly corral the orm away from the area.

Once it is gone, they find themselves trapped. The way to the upper levels is completely collapsed, and they lack any tools to help with excavation. The search for an alternate way out, even asking the trolls, but to no avail, and so Lucia recklessly strips off her armor and dives into the Grand Maw.

She soon finds herself carried along into the dark by flowing water, unable to find breath in the churning liquid. She then hits a grate at the end of the drain and is pressed against a spongy mass. She feels around and after a moment realizes what it is, the drowned corpses of those who have taken this route before.

Anabul does not wait long and quickly jumps in after her, heedless of his wounded leg. He is better able to see in the dark, and is less concerned with finding an escape route than with pocketing the various offerings the trolls have thrown into the pit over the years, including Liam’s watch. Lucia uses all of her might to bend the bars of the grate apart and push Anabul through.

Anabul falls through the darkness for a long time before smashing into icy black water far below. His last sensation before losing consciousness is being wrapped in warm tentacles.

Lucia tries to find a latch but is unsuccessful. She knows she can’t swim upstream, and instead attempts to smash the grate. Part of her mind knows it is hopeless, but she ignores it. As her vision begins to go gray from lack of oxygen, she feels a slimy tendril wrap around her, and she bites and claws at it, grappling as it pulls her up the drain shaft.

Lucia does not stop fighting until she is well and truly gone. Anya had tied the troll’s bedding materials together to make a crude rope and had The Beast do the best he could to fish her out of the pit. They let her sleep off the cold and the damp. Of Anabul, there is no sign.

The trolls do not know what brought the Orm, but feel that they are being punished by Yuggoth for abandoning this place, and without Mytilidae to re-consecrate it they are no longer safe here.

The only way out is through the worm tunnels, cramped and damp and probably still inhabited by the poisonous carnivores. But it is the only way out, and the group goes through single file, perhaps to their deaths. Fortunately, most make it to the surface without incident, though Liquide has a scare when she finds her tunnel blocked by the carcass of a dead worm.

Once on the surface the group scours the city for excavation tools so that Liam can do his best to help The Beast and the Trolls escape the sewers in which they are trapped. During the search, Lucia hears the voice of Anabul’s mother calling to her, and finds the young man on a bed of reeds at the edge of one of the canals, half drowned but still alive.

Liam is able to supervise the digging, but his gangrenous wounds stop him from contributing much to the effort, though he won’t admit it. Once the trolls have departed the Daughters of Rojukan set out to visit three witches, Clover, Hyacinth, and Heart-Blossom.

The Clover Witch is a practitioner of changing fate through the magic of wyrd. She dwells alone in the great fields, and is eager for companionship. She is a slender woman of about twenty, though she seems much younger, with a long nose and straight hair pulled tight in an orange pony-tail. She is playful and mischievous, and treats everything as a joke. She helps Lucia create a great number of tonics of serendipity.

Rose is known as the Heart-Blossom Witch and dwells in the plains between the great river and the scrublands. She is kind and motherly, a tall buxom woman with a heart-shaped face, heavily freckled skin, and long auburn hair that falls down her back in a mass of thick curls. She welcomes the Daughters of Rojukan into her home after their adventures in River Crossing, sharing her medicinal knowledge with Lina and Lucia while curing Liam of the gangrene he contracted in the sewers.

While in the labyrinth, Anabul joked that The Beast is a better boyfriend for Liquade than Liam and that perhaps they should get married, and suggests that they visit Hyacinth in the nearby moors and ask her to perform the ceremony. Most dismiss him, but Lucia decides that this might not actually be bad idea.

They pay a visit to the witch of the moors and Lucia asks if she can return the beasts humanity. The witch agrees, although it is a very costly ritual. Upon completion, the bull transforms into a shaggy human man, with a long black beard and untrimmed nails. Unsteady, he requests a mirror and laments that the beast years of his life were lost to him while in the form of a beast. He then demands the witch conjure him a pitcher of water, both to wash himself and to ease his throat while he remembers how to speak.

He thanks the Daughters of Rojukan and kisses their hands, and tells them they are welcome to visit him at his palace. He introduces himself as Sir Rimould, lord of the town of Jasper Hill to the south of the great river. When the group tells him that those are Duke Redborne’s lands, the knight is incredulous and wonders why the self-proclaimed Duke is suffering from unwarranted delusions of grandeur.

The party offers to help him in taking his lands back, but he says that they are being premature, that he would like to handle a diplomatic solution first, but would welcome their aid in battle if it comes to it, especially in tracking down the witch who cursed him. He then demands that their boy (Liam) refit his armor for his human form before setting off.

Rumors:
You ever hear the expression “To open a can of worms?” You ever wonder where it comes from? It’s not just a figure of speech, its literal. It refers to some sort of artifact or other. No, not Pandora’s Box, something much worse.

The green folk once dwelt here, but now they are gone. I don't know what they were or where they went, but I sure am glad they left.

No, not Wart, Wort. If you want to see the Witch of the Worts, I can show you the way. It's a long trek, but I can guarantee that if you do find her the return journey will be a lot easier.



Commentary:
This would be Anabul's last session, and also the source of the biggest OOC fight of the campaign.

Liam and Lina's players would miss the session due to illness, and so I figured it would be a good time to tie up some loose ends rather than progressing the story, and let Lucia and Anabul run the missing players' characters.

This lead to a couple of dramas. First, Liam decided to troll the absent players, taunting Lina's player by saying how much more effective Lina was when played by someone who knew what they were doing, and then taunting Liam's player about how he was cucked by a cow. This, combined with several non-game related issues that I won't go into here, was enough for him to be disinvited him from the group.

The second drama involved downtime. Lina has the leadership ability, which allows her to recruit and train followers. After the mission, Lucia asked what to do with it. I looked through my notes, and said to go ahead and upgrade Anya (Lucia's handmaiden) as it was by far the most efficient use of Lina's time. When Lina found out about this, she was furious, saying that she was planning on upgrading Night Song instead (even though, due to the exponential nature of upgrade costs in this system, doing so was essentially pointless at this time) and that we had "robbed and enslaved Lina".

The two players began to fight, threatening and calling one another names. It eventually escalated to the point where they were threatening to murder the rest of the party and then leave the gaming group, and I eventually stepped in, did the best to take the blame, and then told them that they could upgrade both followers.

To this day, over a year later, both of the players still resent me for not taking their side.
Looking for feedback on Heart of Darkness, a character driven RPG of Gothic fantasy. Full playtest rules available at http://www.heartofdarknessrpg.com

User avatar
Heart of Darkness
Pat's Knob Polisher
Posts: 149
Joined: Mon Dec 16, 2013 1:26 pm
Location: A place near Boulder in the state of Colorado.
Contact:

Re: Campaign Diary - Heart of Darkness: The Daughters of Rojukan

Postby Heart of Darkness » Tue Jan 21, 2020 5:12 pm

Session Seventeen: The Swinging Gorge
Ever hear of a place called the Swinging Gorge? No? How about the Screaming Gorge? Same place. Terrible deep ravine, with an old bridge hanging over it. Back in the old days, 'fore your fathers time, the Dukes used to hold public executions there. Of course, one can't show that many people that kind of pain and terror and expect them murderer’s ghosts to just flit away. ‘Course its haunted. Why wouldn't it be?

After a night of celebration, Anya is sent out to pick up some wine and never returns. Lucia spends several frantic days searching for her, but to no avail, Firiona claims she never arrived and nobody else has seen her. A few days later a messenger claims to have found her, and politely asks for a prisoner exchange for Anabul, framed as a simple transaction to return lost property. Lucia agrees and, without telling the group, lures Anabul out under the rouse of a card tournament.

When the agents arrive, they do not have Anya, and Lucia treats this as a double cross, but the men in black explain that she has a reputation for responding with violence and betraying her allies, that Anya will be returned once Anabul is spirited away.

Lucia eventually talks them into making the exchange in a public place and they accept because she and Anabul are apparently alone and unarmed. A group of armed mercenaries accompany Anya to the meeting, and as she is apparently unharmed, Lucia does not attempt immediate retribution, although she makes note of their faces for the future.

Looking for a replacement for Anabul, the group finds the sell-sword Ga-shia looking for work. She is a member of the Night Blade, an exclusive order of assassins. She is a young woman, short and slender, with a round face, pale skin, and long black hair. She does her best to remain silent and wear her featureless mask at all times, especially in public places.

The journey to the badlands is uneventful, but while there the group comes upon a cliff which inspires feelings of hopelessness in the group, and Liquade and Liam succumb to them, throwing themselves from the ledge. Though they survive they are injured and require alchemical healing to get them back on their feet. Lina believes that this location was once the location of a suicide and that event has tainted this place, the aura of self-destructive hopelessness haunting it like a ghost.

The group wanders the badlands for a while and runs low on water. Though she tries to remain stoic, Ga-Shia is not used to wilderness travel and is the hardest hit, requiring tonics of vigor to remain on her feet.

The Daughters of Rojukan are ambushed by a group of outriders loyal to Duke Redborne. They start by rolling several desiccated logs down a hill at the group and then charging them. One of them mentions that their source in Meridia came through and that they were starting to wonder if the group would actually be coming out this way.

Liam is able to ward away a direct assault and Lina ignites their saddles, forcing them to dismount. They dispatch their enemies easily, the only serious wound suffered in the battle being to Puma, who takes a spear to the side. The victors take the supplies from their enemies and then send their horses on their way, leaving them to the mercy of fate.

The Swinging Gorge itself is surprisingly fecund, covered in flowering and herbaceous plants. An old stone bridge crosses the center, with numerous gas-lamps lining the sides. Mummified corpses hang from these lamp-posts as well as the bridge’s trusses, and Lina is able to see angry ghosts attached to the bodies, causing them to jerk and twist with malevolence. As they get to the middle of the bridge, Lucia moves to poke one and it lashes at her. As the group debates what to do with the bodies, the bridge begins to shake and swing with heavy footfalls.

They look up to see a giant creature lumbering towards them, four times the height of a man. It is somewhat humanoid, with a hunched posture, shaggy malformed shoulders, and an almost comically oversized nose. It reminds Lina somewhat of a Goliath. It is clad in hides and holds a large sack in one hand and an uprooted tree in the other, which it swings before it in a sweeping motion.

The group moves to fight him, but instead of doing battle the behemoth simply brushes them over the side. Lina puts up a good fight, transforming herself into living fire and creating waves of flame that travel the length of the bridge, but the giant is undeterred, blowing her fire out and sending her toppling down below.

The Daughters of Rojukan land in a refuse pile below the bridge. Despite the fifty meter drop, they are relatively uninjured, suffering more from the giant’s battering than the fall. The refuse pit has many corpses, as well as mud, decaying plant matter, and other things that are less pleasant to dwell on. There are more than a few valuables in the pile, and the group spends a while looting, but eventually tendrils poke out of the mud and begin to wrap about them.

Nightsong is chocked into unconsciousness, and Lina is only spared the same fate by immolating herself, though her flame does little to the slimy tendrils that glisten with moisture. As Lucia and Ga-shia sever the tentacles one by one, they find that they do not die, but instead turn into serpents and disappear into the muck.

As they attempt to revive Nightsong, they find the commotion has attracted a group of men, ragged and feral, who seem to know no fear and attack with their bare hands and teeth. They are easily defeated but fight to the death.

The group then decides to head west, through the swampy chasm bottom, and have to drive off several Kobab devil-toads, large toothed amphibians which are quickly taught their proper place in the food chain by the ravenous bunyip.

They are attacked by another group of feral humans, these in much worse shape than the first, to the point where their rotting wounds should have already killed many of them, and Lina surmises that they are some form of undead or ghoul. In truth they are ghasts, but none of the travelers know this. This group is large, and moves forward as a mob, undeterred by Lina’s fireballs they quickly surround the party and begin scratching and biting. They are soon defeated, but not before inflicting several vicious bites, particularly to Liquade.

Eventually, they find a narrow game trail which leads out of the canyon, although their ascent is halted by several Arrachs, large insectile predators that live inside the cracks of the rocky canyon walls and lash out of their long claws. Although they narrow confines of the chasm make fighting them difficult, Lina is eventually able to drive them off with blasts of fiery magic.

The group debates returning to the bridge after finally reaching the top. When Lucia calls the goliath an insulting name, Anya speaks up and states that his name is Humbaba, and that he was once the guardian of the border between the lands of men and the fey. When Lucia asks how Anya knows this, she says that she saw it in a book, and when Lucia reminds her that she can’t read, Anya explains that it was a picture book, which leaves the older girl exasperated.

The group decides to raid a hive of giant bees which pollinate the flowers on the cliffside, lowering themselves into the bee’s hive, slaying several enormous drones, and then making off their honey.

When they decide to face Humbaba again, they make sure to pepper him with arrows, throwing knives, and shotgun pellets rather than letting him close with them. Rather than attempting to sweep them from the bridge, this time the the Goliath simply bashes them and stuffs them into his sack, although he is eventually killed before he can collect the entire group.

In addition to his captives, the giant’s sack is full of shiny objects he has collected over the years, a rather rich haul, and the group then decides to return to Meridia to nurse their wounds.

Once back in town, Liquade becomes violently ill, shaking, becoming sensitive to light, and having violent dreams that often bleed over into waking hallucinations. Lina thinks it might be rabies, and it is beyond her skill to treat. They debate taking her to the Heart Blossom witch, but instead decide to go to the House of Miracles, where Daniel is able to cure her from a neurological virus he does not recognize.

Back in Meridia, the group parts ways with Ga-shia and tells her they will call on her again in the future if they ever need an assassin, but privately decide she isn’t worth the money for wilderness travel. They also hear rumors of an old tinker who lives in the hills between the rivers, and decide to pay him a visit.

While wandering the old forests near where the river’s fork, the Daughters of Rojukan come upon a large castle which appears to have been abandoned centuries ago, long looted and mostly reclaimed by the forest. In the great hall, they find the mummified body of a massive man sitting in the lord’s chair, dead by garrote. His family crest bears the image of a swan and identifies him as “Sir Donnatrius the Valiant.”

Linq surmises that these might be the remains of Donnatrius the Vile, the evil king who rules these lands with an iron first until a popular uprising put an end to him almost eight centuries ago.

His armor is a magnificent thing, well-crafted and impervious to any form of harm the travelers can subject it to. Liam is able to remove it from the body and disassemble it, and although it is too large for him, he is eventually able to incorporate a few of the pieces into his own armor for greatly enhanced protection.

When they eventually find the tinker’s workshop, they discover that he is not a gnome at all, but a shaved dwarf. His name is Tarek and he speaks little of his past save for occasionally pining for the high-quality metals he used to work with.

When Liam shows him his shotgun, Tarek regretfully says that it is one of his older works, but he is embarrassed by the crude quality and offers to make Liam something better, as well as teaching the metal-worker a few things about gunsmithing and sharing his recipe for dynamite with Lucia. When asked why he lives out in the hills he explains that there is a secret cave nearby from which he collects guano.

When showed a piece of metal taken from Donnatrius’ armor he identifies it as adamant, and dismisses it as inferior to good dwarven steel.

Rumors:

She is one of the old people, the cliff dwellers. She sits on the mesa, her sun-kissed skin bare and marked only by ritual tattoos. She talks to the clouds and reads the wind, telling the future based on what they bring her. She is Dandelion, and she carries the weight of the world in her seed bowls.

Lily. Tiger Lily. Fire Lily. All the world is a game to her, and if she gets bored, she will burn it all down. Approach her if you dare. Never could figure out how to get on a redhead's good side, just ask my late wife.


You have heard the tale of old Brass Belly, right? Only dragon in these parts. Course you have, were it not he that finally made an end of your old pap? Well, you are getting to be kind of big heroes yourselves, and maybe the lot of you just might be able to do what he couldn’t and reclaim his mana in the process. His lair is far from here by foot, but you seem to know the roads better than most.


Commentary:

It's been a while. Dang holidays.

With Anabul gone, the group needed a rogue type, and decided to take on a mercenary. I had created a stable of hirelings for the players to choose from, but they had neglected to actually purchase any before now. Unfortunately, this isn't really the type of mission where a stealth character is terribly useful, so she turned out underwhelming, but bringing along NPC hirelings would become the standard from this point on.

This was a pretty straightforward and unremarkable session at the table, but it sparked one of the longest forum controversies of the campaign.

Hunbaba was a mutant fomorian. I wanted him to be more curious and comical than sadistic, and evoke a sort of "fairy tale-ogre" feel. One of the changes I made was to replace his evil eye ability with a sneeze attack, as I felt this better matched his flavor and his preferred tactic of tossing people off the bridge / stuffing them into his sack rather than killing them.

After the first encounter, Lina accused me of railroading. At first I thought this meant creating an encounter where the most likely outcome was the players being tossed over the edge, but later I learned it was because Lina's player thought I had pulled the sneeze attack out of my butt on the sport to counteract her elemental body spell, as it would otherwise allow her to solo a monster with no ranged attacks and then split the party.

This wasn't the case of course, but I still started a thread about whether or not creating an encounter where the most likely outcome was the players suffering a set back did indeed count as a railroad. The just seemed to be out, but instead it started the enduring topic of "gotcha monsters".

I am still not quite clear on what this term means, and it appears to mean something different to everyone, but in this case I believe the idea is that I created a monster than appears to be a big dumb melee brute, thus lulling the PCs into a false sense of complacency and then getting them to waste spell slots, and then springing the ranged attack on them without warning.
Looking for feedback on Heart of Darkness, a character driven RPG of Gothic fantasy. Full playtest rules available at http://www.heartofdarknessrpg.com


Return to “Role Playing Games”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 7 guests