Thursday, August 23, 2012

The House of Dust and Ash, pt. 1

Sorry for skipping a few days. Work. Ugh.

The next Dark Heresy adventure I ran was "The House of Dust and Ash," an adventure included in the Disciples of the Dark Gods splat book. On first read, it was really intriguing, and presented a lot of possibilities for my future campaign, once I got off of the teat of pre-written material. It also, it turned out, was my first attempt to impose my own gaming style onto the Dark Heresy universe. This mostly involved an extension of the material presented, and the planting of seeds for further adventures.So, here's a brief synopsis of the adventure.

The acolytes were called to look into an auction of items belonging to the rogue trader, Erasmus Haarlock. He was a man of ill repute, one who may have been involved in the Cold Trade of alien (xenos) artifacts. Their mission was to infiltrate the auction, figure out what items looked suspicious, blasphemous, or whatever. Then they were to buy them, if possible, or to figure out who did. Then they could track down the folks who ended up with what they couldn't buy outright.

Here's the Overview from the book itself:

As the adventure begins the Player Characters are transferred temporarily into the service of a shadowy and notorious figure in the Holy Ordos, Inquisitor Silas Marr, on the bleak and poisonous
industrialised hive world of Solomon. Marr has in mind to use the Acolytes to perform a covert investigation and observation mission by having them attend, under false identities, the auction
of several artefacts belonging to the estate of Erasmus Haarlock, a Rogue Trader long believed lost. The auction, one of several to disperse his goods from properties across the sector, is being held
at the House of Dust and Ash—a huge and ancient crematoria and tomb complex that dominates a volcanic promontory set amid Solomon’s toxic Balemire Sea known as the Burning Isle.

Thanks to Marr’s intervention, the long hand of Inquisitorial authority has covertly held back the auction with legal wrangling until a small team of Throne agents (the Acolytes) could be planted at the sale. Their job is to observe events and look for wanted heretics and potential conspirators among the bidders—dangerous individuals and groups who might be drawn by the promise of forbidden items among the Rogue Trader’s belongings. This, at least, is what Marr has informed the Holy Ordos and the Acolytes’ Inquisitor. However, it is not the whole truth. Marr has a secret agenda.

Marr believes that Erasmus Haarlock (see Player Handout 3 on page 230) is neither dead nor lost, and that he has arranged the auction to draw out his enemies and entrap them. This suspicion is the reason he has used his influence to requisition the Acolytes’ help. He prefers to risk them rather than lose his own servants in what he thinks could be a potential death trap. However, not even Inquisitor Marr fully suspects just what is about to transpire or what monsters will be drawn to Haarlock’s legacy…

The adventure itself is divided into four parts that should be played in the order that they are presented. The adventure has numerous optional encounters and room for expansion. It might take as little as two or three sessions of play to complete, although it will likely be longer, depending in part on how much interaction or investigation the Acolytes undertake of their own accord—and how much opposition the GM throws at them in the adventure’s finale!
The adventure breaks down as follows.

Part One: The Master of Chamber XIII

The Acolytes are unexpectedly inducted into the service of the sinister Inquisitor Marr and learn of their new mission and the events that surround it.

Part Two: A Voyage Over a Poisoned Sea
The Acolytes, travelling incognito, take passage on the skyship Cygnan Martyr along with several other interested parties headed to the auction. The intrigues begin with bribery and murder, culminating in an ambush and piracy before they reach the Burning Isle.

Part Three: The House of Dust and Ash

Upon arrival at the great crematoria, the manoeuvrings and plots begin in earnest. The Acolytes meet their contact and receive some very disquieting news. They also have time to conduct investigations and intrigues of their own, as well as view the auction lots on offer and the potential bidders involved before the main event.

Part Four: Death Trap
The auction commences and Haarlock’s trap is sprung, ensnaring all within its deadly embrace. From this point onwards, the Acolytes have 13 hours to live as the great crematoria counts down to destruction. They must uncover the secret of Haarlock’s trap and survive the attentions of their fellow attendees if they are to escape with their life intact.
Pretty cool stuff, huh?

The adventure was HUGE, with tons of named NPCs to manage, and a variety of locales to inhabit with mooks and color. They do a decent job giving you an outline of all these things, but there's a lot of details you have to fill in on your own. That's what made this adventure a good one to put my own special touch on. I was thinking a lot about the Lamentations of the Flame Princess development that was going on at the time, and how to really go for The Weird in this adventure. It also involved coming up with a list of appropriate items for the auction, to supplement the list provided. In fact, that auction list probably took more time to do than just about anything else. I wanted to have a combination of cool but mundane items, mundane and boring items, extremely useful items the PCs themselves might really, really like, and, of course, a lot of heretical stuff that might get them killed dead, dead, dead, or corrupted by chaos, or driven completely mad. You know, FUN STUFF.

I also developed a short system for running the auction itself. It looked like this (sorry for the fucked up table. I'm not sure how to covert it so it shows up better):

  NPC Bidders # Other Bidders Competition for Item Final Price (% over start) Which NPC Bids What does s/he want? How many thrones?
Roll d6 d8 d10 d20 Choose xxx xxx
1 None None One bid  5 Lanus Cisten Written Materials, Anything Old 450,000
2 None One One bid + 10 Vymer Weapons 275,000
3 One One Two bids 15 Quill Weapons 250,000
4 One Two Two bids + 25 Octavia Nile Grey Skin Psalter, Other Books 3,000,000
5 Two Two Three bids 30 Abbot Tamas Gilded Widow 800,000
6 Three Three Three bids+ 40 Karl Prost A Book Unbound 1,500,000
7   Three Three bids++ 45 Shar Mei Lee Bloody Seal,  3,000,000
8   Four Four bids 50 Alexis Molotov Grey Device, Puzzle Box, Sealed Rosewood Box,  1,200,000
9     Four bids+ 60 Rand Delaur Zamarkand Rose Tree 100,000
10     Four bids ++ 65 Magyar Marshrek Pict Viewer, Haarlock Multicompass,  800,000
11       75 Karl Prost Weapons, Art, Wine, Fine Things 1,880,000
12       80 Captain Rubio Things that make him seem legitimate 1,500,000
13       85 Master Nonesuch Stone Manacles, Idol of Sleef, Disturbing City Statuette,  100,000
14       90 Someone Else #1 Any 1,000,000
15       100 Someone Else #2 Any 500,000
16       120 Someone Else #3 Any 350,000
17       150 Someone Else #4 Any 140,000
18       175 Someone Else #5 Any 890,000
19       200 Someone Else #6 Any 500,000
20       250 Someone Else #7 Any 200,000

Basically, I wanted to have a way to auction off the items, and make sure they'd have to bid, but not in a way that was too heavy-handed. I'd probably seen a "roll all the dice" table on someone else's blog, and said, "Aha! That's it!" and adapted it to this. It actually worked, though the auction dragged out a long time. It was my fault, as the final list of items was 100 entries long. The original list was only about 15 or so, as I recall.

Okay, so that's it for now. I'll get into the details of the adventure in the next installment. Gotta go to my kid's school orientation right now.