Friday, September 28, 2007

Session 12 - Requiem for a Cannon

Saturday, May 5, 2007 from 5:00 PM to 10:15 PM.

As usual, we meet and have dinner together. This is the first time our friends get to be with our dog, Buster, in our home. We adopted it just a few days prior to this session. The food is varied and great, as one might expect from the excellent cooks that happen to be playing in campaign. I mostly remember the tortillas filled with Nutella and Strawberry slices we had for dessert.

Session 12 - Requiem for a Cannon

Still the 25th of Rain

Our heroes defeated Armenius Shiver and his alchemists. They know he was in league in Zalathar and some Shuul who performed experiments on them for some unknown reason. They also so know that somewhere beyond the galleries spreading from the Lodge they will find some sort of cannon Armenius wanted to protect at all costs. What is the purpose of this cannon? That's what they have to find out.

The girls loot the bodies and search the surrounding area before taking some well deserved rest. They do not know when their next stop would take place, and know that whoever is guarding the cannon ahead is already aware of their presence. With no element of surprise left to them, they might just as well prepare for the worst.

26th of Rain

The next day, the girls progress through the galleries below Old Town towards an unknown destination. They soon reach some sort of old catacombs and decide to explore them.

They walk through vault after vault giving shelter to ancient crypts and sarcophagi predating the modern city of Ptolus. There is no light source but for the sunrods they brought with them. The air is thick with the smell of dirt and rot. As they progress through the surrounding darkness, they can hear the faint sounds of air moving high above. There is no ceiling to be seen.

That's when the first attack comes. As it turns out, some sort of insect creatures, half-human, half-flies, use one of the vaults as a nest and breeding chamber. The combat itself lasts a split second. The dimwitted beasts are no match for our magic and bow-wielding team. They are routed, but the warning is clear enough: these crypts hold more secret dangers than the alchemists' alone, if they ever were to be found in such foul place.

This session's set-up using Dungeon Tiles and various props.

It just takes a few minutes to confirm the warning. As soon as they penetrate the main vault of the complex, one of the sarcophagi slides. A juicy, rotten corpse emerges from the tomb below. Its movements are erratic. It stands up awkwardly and stretches a hand towards them. Its mouth opens. Bloody bile flows onto its chest, and it whispers: "You... are... doomed..."

Simone knows when things are about to get worse, and things are definitely going to get worse in this instance. She sprints at the other side of the vault just as Oscar the Otyugh takes a hold of the animated corpse with its tongue. She reaches a gate opening on a dark corridor. The others run through the vault. Some trap is triggered. In the corridor beyond Simone, a wall section slides mechanically. The undead corpse escapes Oscar's grasp and rushes towards the corridor, soon followed by the Otyugh. It welcomes what it calls "the Master" with a high-pitched voice: "You are coming Master! You are free Master! Yes! Yes! Welcome the Master!"

A hulking form walks heavily through the opening revealed by the side panel. It is half organic, half mechanical. It is a collection of corpses stiched together and covered with a spiked, rusted, wet plating of some sort. The monster growls as it marches on. Its spikes impale the undead wretch at it cries its undying love for the Master. The creature then gets rid of Oscar, pushing the Otyugh aside as if it was lighter than a feather. Blood flows through the rusted orifices covering its plating. It wants flesh. It wants blood. It wants them.

Beket goes in contact with the creature but fumbles and crashes on its spikes. Simone becomes temporarily corporeal and stabs the thing in the back to no avail. Hennie concentrates and extends hear fingers towards their enemy. She shakes them as if they were boneless tentacles. There is a sudden tension in the air. Pseudopods of ethereal darkness from the ground up to the creature. They search for openings and flaws in its armor, insinuate themselves through it, search through the dead flesh and eat the rot from within. The plating cracks loudly. Pieces of the creature's armor crash down and send metallic echoes throughout the crypts. That's just the occasion Beket needed. She sends her fist through the creatures misshapen head with all the strength she can gather. She sends pieces of flesh and rotten pulp flying in all the directions. Some skull within explodes, and bits of brain matter cover Beket's face as the creature tries to keep its footing. She squeezes whatever her fingers can find. She takes a deep breath. She pulls... and pulls... to rip off some sort of enormous, twisted spine from the creature. She throws the thing across the room.

The creature stops dead in its tracks. Its unnatural life stolen from it along with the spine now shaking and wiggling on the cold floor of the vault, its amalgam of a body collapses in a sickening fleshy sound. It is followed by the silence of death.

And then more silence.

Until the girls manage to draw breath again.

Oscar the Otyugh and his friend, Beket.

Flakes of dust float in the air. A few drops fall irregularly from the ceiling of the vault. The girls look at each other. This one was close. Very close. But far from breaking their determination, it only strengthens it. The rest of the exploration is a succession of traps and hostile encounters with wizards and duergars working for the alchemists. The girls know that they are close from the cannon. They push forward relentlessly, triggering, disarming traps, defeating foe after foe... until they finally reach their goal.

There, in a large room that is nothing short of a gigantic shaft reaching up for the surface of Ptolus, a curious structure of basalt looking vaguely like a monstrous hand reaching for the heavens has been assembled by the alchemists. It is surrounded by building platforms, but seems to be operational since strange gems embedded here and there along its surface pulse with a threatening, impious red glow that seems to give life and energy to the machine. Wires connect the structure to the walls of the chamber. Somewhere high on the platforms, a group of Shuul alchemists is waiting for our heroes.

Bullets, arrows and magic missiles are exchanged. Beket climbs up the black structure to reach the Shuul. As more projectiles fly all around, Beket looses her footing. She falls.

Puppy Buster is waiting for the game to be over.

And that's when all hell breaks loose. Just as Beket falls, the markings covering her body suddenly hurt. Hurt very much. The runes are alive. The runes want to save her. They shine like the sun. Wings spread from her back. White feathers meet air. Beket finds a new life within.

The runes are alive. All of them. Hennie's body is now cloaked with flames that do not hurt her. Simone runes make her hear the slow pavan of the dead buried here, perceive their lost hopes, their wishes unfulfilled, their cries for help and revenge. Iliana's runes uncover new layers in her psyche, a sea of deep thoughts she can use and shape as blades to assault her opponents.

The tide turns in favor of the runebearers. The alchemists die, one after the other, paying the price of the treachery and price they put in all these experiments they performed on them. The whole necropolis is shaken by the awakening of the runes. None within can ignore the obvious threat the girls now represent. Blocks of masonry crash here and there. The whole place is about to collapse.

Some of the servants of Armenius Shiver rush to the room. They want to flee from the area. Their leader, Ozhûl, bargains for their lives and reveal what the girls want to know. "The alchemists? They are the Ogden Suhl, the servants of the flame, some of the Shuul who followed the harrow elf and his wretched master once they sucked all the technological secrets they could from the organization."

They ask about the wretched master Ozhûl mentioned. "He too is a harrow elf like Zalathar, but he is the Master. Zalathar was just the Apprentice. Nobody knows his name. Everyone knows he is the one who proposed the construction of the cannons."

The girls are stunned. "Cannons? You mean there are several of them?"

Ozhûl shakes his head. "Seven of them. They're all aimed at the sky. They are all using some Chaositech and some of the secrets of the Shuul. They can shoot straight up, straight to..."

"... the Vallis moon." Hennie understands suddenly. "They want to destroy the Vallis moon."

Ozhûl confirms. "Definitely. Everyone got in for the power that represents. Just a chunk of the moon crashing down on Ptolus... the magical potential is enormous! That's what the Ogden Suhl are after, but not the Master. The Master has another agenda in destroying the moon. He unearthed rituals and means to make the moon come back. Nobody knows what he really wants. He betrayed the Fallen and Forsaken, then the Shuul, all for some goal that has to do with the destruction of the moon and Goth Gulgamel."

Goth Gulgamel. The fortress built by the Skull King on the side of the Spire. One of the deadliest places of Praemal.

Simone and Yorick the familiar.

The girls let the information sink. Simone then asks "How can we get to Goth Gulgamel?"

Ozhûl looks at her like she suddenly became insane: "You sure?"


"Alright... it's your life." A block of stone crashes to the ground and breaks apart not far away. "Just beyond this chamber, you will find a Maw."

"A Maw?"

"A portal. It's alive. Looks like a maw, with teeth and everything. You should step through the Maw. You'll be on your way there."

The whole necropolis is falling apart. Ozhûl asks if he can leave. The girls reluctantly agree: time is running out.

They rush to the next chamber, and exactly like Ozhûl explained, there stands a sort of gate that strangely looks like a maw. They do not waste any time: one after the other, they jump through the gate. Beket, Hennie, Simone, Iliana, Hamrick, Oscar... they all get through. The sound of crashing rock fades behind them.

Nothing is left but silence.

XP Breakdown

Beket and Simone are Level 5. Hennie and Iliana are level 4.
- Combat vs. Insect people - CR 4
- Combat vs. ghoul and "master" - CR5
- Electric trap - CR 4
- Combat vs. Duergar and Wizard - CR5
- Combat vs. ex-Shuul agents - CR4
- Deal with Ozhûl - CR4
XP per PC for Session 12: 1,166 for level 5 PCs, 1,333 for Hennie, 666 for Iliana (player left early).
Total XP earned (Beket and Simone): 12,051 XP.
Total XP earned (Hennie): 11,243 XP.
Total XP earned (Iliana): 9,276 XP.
Hennie levels up.

DM's notes

Another good session. The fight with the ex-Shuul agents waiting for the PCs at the cannon took forever. The awakening of the runes was foreshadowed earlier in the campaign. I wanted it to take place gradually and this is the first of two big awakenings leading to the great confrontation with the bad guys in Goth Gulgamel and beyond.

This is at this point in time that I learned that two (and soon a third) of the players would not come back for the next school year (all the players are teachers in our community). I now realize I haven't much time to finish the campaign, or bring it to some satisfactory closure. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realize I did not want to end the Praemal Tales, at least not definitely.

This is how this awakening of the runes, the Maw and the deal with Ozhûl came into play. These were ways to speed up the resolution of the game without really bringing in a deus ex machina. It was another opportunity in disguise, really.

It's important to precise that the pieces of the puzzle (the purpose of the cannons, the link with the Vallis moon and so on) were really put together by the players alone. Ozhûl provided some big chunks of information, but the deduction was really theirs. I think that was particularly important in this case. Having such a release of information happen any other way would have robbed the players of any sense of achievement. There was definitely one at the end of this session.