Sunday, January 20, 2013

MGoU-H: The Mysterious Temple of the Serpent God, Session 1

So, we started a new adventure arc for Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad (MGoU-H). This time it was me GMing, and +Adam Muszkiewicz resumed his role as player. We were joined by +Gabriel Perez Gallardi+Bear Philippe, and +Wayne Snyder. Sadly, +James MacGeorge will be leaving the game for a few months. He will be missed in the interim. His character, Crag Beerbeard, was extremely talented with his short bow, and iced many a man-ape (pygmy or white) in his time. 

SPOILER WARNING FOR Jason, from my face-to-face group: I'm going to run this for you guys. Quit reading. :)

When we started the adventure, the PCs were in Tenkar's Tavern, in Mustertown, just outside the walls of Ur-Hadad.

Description from Module:

Not as famous as The Soiled Dove, Tenkar's Tavern is a disreputable place at best, though its owner is a retired city guardsman. He had high hopes that he would be joined by a few of his active and retired brethren in the guard, but instead the establishment tends only to attract travelers from distant lands, adventurers, thieves, thugs, disreputable priests of weird religions, hedge wizards, merchants, and other assorted riffraff. They are a surly lot, and gamble and drink and fight in equal measure.
At Tenkar's the PCs are drinking heavily, and telling tales of their adventures to an incredulous audience. Some mutter that they are lying, and then one of these fellows (ably depicted by this Technoviking image) suggests that, if they're so tough, then they'd best put up or shut up. 

Vane Barbute, the chaotic warrior with a set of giant ape balls (No, seriously. Giant. Ape. Balls.), and always ready to oblige a loudmouth who wants to fight, punches homie in the face before he could even complete the sentence. [Correction: It was Xalto, and it was a headbutt. Thanks +Wayne Snyder!]  And, verily, 'twas on. A bunch of Drunken Louts joined in on the side of the Loudmouth. Their tokens looked like this: 

The internet is just the best sometimes. I mean seriously look at 
this guy. Drinking, dancing waving a sword... What's not to like?

Here's how I hoped to do this scene: 
Run this as it unfolds. Nobody will draw weapons on the PCs unless they draw first; then it's anything goes. Fight until the Loudmouth (below) is knocked out. After that, the others will back off and offer to buy the next round, as it's clearly just a bit of a misunderstanding, right?
 Loudmouth: Init +1; Atk dagger +1 melee (1d4+2) hand to hand melee +2 (1d3+2); AC 12; HD1d8 (5 hp); MV 25’; Act 1d20; SV Fort +2, Ref +2, Will +0; AL C.
 8 Drunken Louts: Init +0; Atk dagger +1 melee (1d4+1) hand to hand melee +2 (1d3+1); AC 11; HD1d6 (2, 3, 1, 4, 2, 2, 2, 2 hp); MV 25’; Act 1d20; SV Fort +1, Ref +1, Will +0; AL C.
 Another person observes the fight, one Azziz, a wizard's apprentice who has been sent there by his master, Amor Ba'Gish, to recruit adventurers for a task. He will approach them after the fight and ask them to talk to his boss about a job offer.  
It ended up being a pretty easy fight for the party. There aren't a lot of nuts the players can't crack with 16 PCs, some of them level 2 already. There were a couple of times when I asked whether or not they really wanted to draw weapons. They, after some consideration, decided that, no, that would be a bad idea. THey were correct. It would have resulted in... trouble for them. They stuck to using fists and feet, and all went pretty well. Lots of 1-shot knockouts occurred, eventually taking out the Loudmouth Drunk. The other guys backed off, bought them drinks.

The PCs, having vanquished the foe, and gotten free drinks for their trouble, talk with this guy, Azziz. I really fucked this up, because I forgot that Azziz was the apprentice. I got it mixed up in my head and didn't call the wizard Amor Ba'Gish. So, those of you who are playing... dude's name is not Azziz. It's the other one, Amor Ba'Gish.

In any case, they got the kid drunk, extracted some information from him in a friendly way, and made their way to the wizard's house, inside the walls of Ur-Hadad. For those not familiar with Ur-Hadad, it's a walled city, and really a sort of gated community created to keep out the riffraff (you know, like the PCs). You need an invitation to enter. Azziz the apprentice got them through the gates and to the house of the Amor Ba'Gish, a nice but fairly modest dwelling of adobe and timber.

When they arrive at the manse of Amor Ba'Gish, he greets the PCs warmly. He's a smiling man of middle years and short stature, with dark skin and green eyes (one of them at least). The other eye is an opalescent, faceted, blue-white gem of some kind, but he seems to be able to see just fine with it. He has long, stiff red hairs on the backs of his hands, though his other hair is dark. He invites them to sit for drinks and a light repast as they discuss the terms of a potential arrangement he would like to make with them. Eventually, the PCs noticed that what they might have mistaken for jeweled pins on his clothing were, in fact, brightly colored spiders creeping hither and yon. He doesn't seem fazed by this, nor does he remark upon it in any way.

Amor Ba'Gish speaks at length about the Serpent Men and their history, and of their downfall after the coming of the Imperial Elves. He's a bit pedantic, assuming that the PCs have no knowledge of the topic, but his main point is that he's interested in their abilities for mayhem. For, while what he's interested in having them do is a relatively routine courier job, the destination is somewhat distant, and the cargo will be extremely valuable, to him at least. He intimates that he's merely a collector of old things associated with the Serpent People. 

When they asked what they'd be conveying, he told them that it would be his payment for an artifact recently recovered by his factor, Balas Forktongue in the port of Samsara. After a check, we discovered the several of the PCs knew Samsara to be a den of scum and villainy, like unto fabled Mos Eisley. It didn't surprise them that such a place would be their destination. The payment was contained in a large, metal chest of dwarven make, with a complex lock of dials and buttons. It's made of stainless steel, and weighs nearly 400 pounds. The thieves did their best (at his urging) to open it. They failed, despite some pretty high rolls. They were also told that the chest contains 50,000 sp worth of platinum (we're on a silver standard, so that's like gp in Ur-Hadad). 

Should the PCs manage to open it, they will indeed find it is full of small bars of platinum, with a total worth 50,000 gold pieces (500 10-gold-weight wafers worth 100 gp each). The chest itself is worth 1,000 gp. Though the chest actually has no additional security measures, its best protection is Amor Ba'Gish himself. For, despite his avuncular manner, he is a terrible enemy. Should they be so presumptuous as to steal from him, and somehow find an antidote for the poison, he will hunt the PCs down using whatever cat's-paws are required to do so. He will get answers about the location of his property, and then he will kill them.

They negotiated the price. He offered 100 sp per PC and 25 sp (total) per day for expenses. They countered with 200 sp per PC, but didn't negotiate higherthe expenses. Eventually, they settled for 130 sp per PC, plus a total of 30 sp per day for expenses. Amor Ba'Gish didn't seem to be too worried about that price, and probably would have agreed to more. In any case, that's fairly serious money for a mere courier job, and the party was a bit suspicious of his generous offer. When asked, Amor Ba'Gish said that the price reflects both the risk faced by the PCs and the value of the object with which they are to return. 

Having negotiated the price, he smiled broadly and proposed a toast to their success, offering them each a small glass of liquid poured into tiny crystal cups from an ancient-looking flask. "This is very difficult to get," he says, "but will perhaps improve the auspices of your journey." At their hesitation, he drank first, to show them it was not poison (though it was poison, actually). I truly expected my players to resist this, but I guess that, with our penchant for sampling all manner of vile brews and arcane substances, they just don't give a shit at this point. So, they drank off the shots. He then immediately informed them of the following: 
 Unknown to the PCs, the glasses are coated with a virtually undetectable (DC 20, but only if looking) contact poison derived from a rare spider. Amor Ba'Gish, naturally, is immune because of his long-standing bond with Atraz A'Zul, Mother of Spiders.
 The poison is long-acting, taking anywhere from five minutes to two months to kill a human target (see below, "Hourglass"). The poison is known as Hour Glass because it's extremely easy to alter the time the death of someone who has taken it, almost to the minute. The period of time can be set by a skilled alchemist with knowledge of poisons and antidotes. Amor Ba'Gish knows these things, and has given the PCs 30 days to complete his task. He will not tell them how long they have, only that they should not delay.
The poison briefly paralyzes the target (about five minutes and then moves into its second phase, where the poison instantly liquefies the victim's innards, making them fit for arachnid consumption. Should they fail to return, they will die horribly. He is perfectly frank in telling them about this, explaining that it is "necessary" given the value of the cargo involved.
 Should the PCs fulfill Amor Ba'Gish's task, he promises to provide them with the antidote, a rare and expensive serum from mysterious Liao, far to the east, and to reward them 100% above the price he had negotiated for their services.

So, after spending some time in Ur-Hadad, provisioning themselves, they made their way to the docks, and their ship. 

Though their passage takes about six days, they are not particularly hindered by the two at-sea encounters they chanced upon--A pride of sea lions (who numbered too few to feel the odds were in their favor, and moved on) and a pirate ship. The encounter with the pirates was more interesting. The wizard Formerly Known as Ian (FKaI) used the helm he got from the Crypt of the Lizard King to guide the ship's captain in among the rocks and reefs, shoreward. I used a series of opposed d20 rolls modified by the helm's bonus (+3) for finding one's way at sea. They weren't particularly successful in getting away, and the pirates were very successful at following them safely through obstacles. Eventually, FKaI just Slept the pirate captain with his foul wizardry (and grew another inch of hair in doing so, because, you know, Mercurial Magic). A couple of crossbow bolts followed, and the pirates failed a morale check. They made their way toward easier prey. 

Hmm... these PCs seem to be pretty formidable. Are my monsters up to the task? Must look into this...

Eventually, the PCs arrive in Samsara. Things are very odd there: 

The PCs arrive at the port of Samsara, only to find it ravaged. Traders from other ports have arrived in the last day or so, and found many of its people slaughtered and the rest, vanished. Some of the citizens of Samsara have since returned from hiding in the jungle, telling outrageous tales about men with the aspects of snakes attacking the town and dragging off the townsfolk, especially targeting the children.
There are funeral pyres burning to the north of the town, on the beach, as is the custom in these parts. In some places there are obvious signs of battle, but not as many as one might think. The attack may have happened during the night, as many of the inhabitants were slaughtered in their homes or even in their beds. Their wounds, from what can be seen, are somewhat different, depending on the victim. Some have puncture wounds, some have large bites taken out of them, and some appear to have been crushed, their bones broken and a variety of fluids dripping from their various orifices. Some have been killed with weapons of various kinds.
Inquiries about the location of Balas Forktongue sent the PCs toward the wealthier quarter of town. As the PCs traveled away from the waterfront, they noticed that people are looting the now-vacant buildings and shops. They also saw their first real signs of sustained fighting: Bloodied cobble stones, dead soldiers, and hacked-apart serpent men with odd spears, the heads of which are twin-bladed and inscribed with strange designs.
Eventually, the PCs were led to a tall, dark stone house, architecturally weird, grim-looking, and carved with hideous creatures of legend and lore and with other odd designs. Any wizard or cleric in the party would recognize that these include runes of protection, prayers, and signs and symbols thought to bring good luck and/or avert bad luck.
An examination of the interior of the house reveals it to be the site of a vile ritual.
The former inhabitant, Balas Forktongue, has been hung by his feet from a beam and his heart cut out of his chest. Strangely, there is little blood in evidence. The victim's skin has been tattooed (or possibly burned) with what appears to be thousands of words in an unfamiliar script. The writing is clearly mystical, and even looking at it causes a sense of unease and revulsion well beyond what seems normal, even considering the condition of the body itself (DC 10 Will Save or dizzy and nauseous for 1d4 hours). Any wizard in the group may be tempted to remove the skin for later viewing. Any attempt to read it requires a Read Magic spell check.
FKaI had Read Magic, used it extremely well, and learned a new 3rd level spell, which I have yet to stat up:
This spell (Inquisition) combines both binding and compulsion, holding its target in thrall and forcing it to answer questions truly—It doesn't matter what language is spoken, as the spell includes a mechanism for translation. It's a 3rd level spell.
They examined the room by lantern and torchlight:
A large ritual knife made of incredibly hard black metal has been driven through the victim's head, in one ear and out the other. On the floor of the room below the body are figures of arcane design and non-Euclidean geometry (of course), drawn directly upon the stone with a silvery, chalk-like substance, and in the same script with which the body is tattooed.
A brief perusal of the premises reveals a variety of tomes of lore, an apothecary cabinet and alchemical apparatus, and a variety of weird implements. The PCs also find a small chest made of dark wood. It is now smashed open. It lies next to a hollow in the floor. A flagstone was removed, exposing a hidden space beneath it, where the box was, one presumes, hidden.
And that's where we had to stop, as we'd run over our allotted time by about 45 minutes. Got to work on that whole time management thing, maybe, though my players didn't seem to mind too much.

So, next time, the PCs will investigate the scene of the crime, as it were, and try to determine what can be learned from the house, possessions, and desecrated corpse of Balas Forktongue. 

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