Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Campaign Background: The Seven Spires

At this point, I should probably remind everyone that the players of the Praemal Tales had played another campaign prior to this one. The Seven Spires started out as an Arcana Unearthed game using a homebrew setting which most notably blended elements from Ghostwalk and Laelith, a Fantasy metropolis designed by the crew of the French magazine Casus Belli in 1986, which also happens to be extremely similar in ambiance and layout to Ptolus, the City by the Spire. By the end of its run, the campaign had become, from a rules’ standpoint, a blend of Arcana Evolved and D&D 3.5.

The First Season of the Seven Spires (September 2004 to June 2005) campaign started in the vicinity of Manifest. From there, the player-characters ended up in Laelith, where they ended up saving the city from the ravages of the Emerald Death (see below).

The Second Season of the Seven Spires (September 2005 to June 2006) involved old and new player-characters who investigated murders taking place in the small community of the Delver’s Cliff. From there, the PCs started exploring the dungeons connecting the Cliff area to the “Cloaque”, the gigantic labyrinth on which Laelith stood. Another thing the Holy City had in common with Ptolus, which would inspire the campaign’s very conclusion in rather surprising ways (see below).

This is relevant to the Jewel of the Mind and the Praemal Tales because I would, during that particular game session, slowly link the characters of the Praemal Tales to those of the Seven Spires, foreshadowing the idea that these were in fact the same souls, the same heroes incarnated as different individuals in particular times, places. Universes.

Let us find out more about the Seven Spires.

The Cast

Amalruth Ironhorn, Unfettered Horned Devil (Benoist P.)
Jezabell, Quickling Winter Witch (Tiana K.)
Mandingo, the Hummingbird Totem Warrior (Domingo M.)
Miriell, Female Dwarven Paladin (Milica T.)
Nacht, Female Unfettered (Lisa Maria S.)
Sa Qebah, Female Shapechanging Assassin (Nerissa M.)
Slydracna, the Mojh Mage Blade (Caroline P.)

From Left to Right:
Jezabell, Miriell, Sa Qebah, Slydracna, Mandingo and Nacht.

The Campaign

The Spellwardens in the first part of the campaign saved Spellhold, school of magic, and the whole city of Laelith from the Emerald Death, a sort of magical plague which appears when the powers of Life and Death are imbalanced (when the powers of Life and Death are tempered with, the powers of Life might compensate on a Cosmic level, which initiates a sort of chain reaction where Life itself becomes an auto-destructive disease that devours its own to survive... the Emerald Death).

This plague created an equal, but reversed, chain reaction from the powers of Death in the region. The Undead, who were until that point monsters mentioned in bard tales and half-forgotten legends, reappeared in the Maze under the city at a dramatic rate. Adimarchus, or "Marcus" as he was known, was a teacher of Spellhold who thought this represented an opportunity to be seized. He was haunted by dreams of incredible power and discoveries, and his will shattered after months of this treatment.

Marcus allied himself with the Pactlords of the Quaan, a most eclectic alliance of monsters including aberrations, fiends and dark elves from other planes. Together, Marcus and the Quaan brought back to life the mummy lord Gwalchmesh, a hideous undead who was the key to an inverted pyramid buried deep below the earth. This pyramid, it was said, was the tomb of the "God Who Was Not Meant to Be", a powerful and corrupt entity which long ago was part of the chorus that created the World.

Marcus and the Quaan meant to open and plunder the pyramid. They thought they could play with power without getting burnt.
They were wrong.

Once the pyramid was opened, Gwalchmesh turned against his masters. The Quaan soon lost confidence in Marcus who quickly became utterly insane. The drow part of the alliance decided to exterminate the other members of the Pact and allied themselves with Gwalchmesh. This is during these events that the Spellwardens became directly involved.

Previously, they were investigating murders in the community of the Delver's Cliff, a small village of adventurers exploring the catacombs below their village not far from Laelith itself. Soon, the Spellwardens knew that whatever the key to the mystery of the Cliff was, it was to be found in the depths of its dungeons. They also were charged to find a teacher of Spellhold... Marcus... who disappeared from the school without any warning. The Headmaster was particularly concerned as far as the well-being of his friend was concerned.

It came as a surprise to the Spellwardens to find out that Marcus was a big part of the problems going on around and under the Delver's Cliff. They also soon discovered that the pyramid was opened, and that the mastermind behind all these events, including the Emerald Death and events way beyond their scope, was the mysterious messiah of the God Who Was Not Meant To Be... the Bonelord.

Shortly after all these elements were revealed to them, somewhere in the catacombs, while fleeing from a Nightcrawler pursuing them, the Spellwardens encountered the horned devil Amalruth Ironhorn who was summoned by their enemies to kill them. But strangely the horned devil, breaking free from his bonds to the Infernal Realms Beyond, wouldn't bring himself to do it. Victims together of a trap in that same area, they were all transported through a dimensional rift to the Land of I'ix, a plane condemned to eternal winter. There, they long searched for a way to escape, and escape ultimately they did.*

When the Spellwardens made it back from I'ix, they emerged from a portal right into a melee between the forces of House d'Astradeen and the drow of the Delver's Cliff. They sided with the forces of House d'Astradeen. The wardens then learned of the death of the God King of Laelith killed by his own concubines (charmed by a vampire from the Delver's Cliff) during one of the ritual orgies of the Palace, and freed Eldariel, a Trumpet Archon imprisoned below the Cliff for centuries.

Along with the Archon and Amalruth, the unfettered Devil, the Spellwardens decided to end the threat once and for all. While the forces of House d'Astradeen went North to help with the drow siege of the Delver's Cliff, the Wardens went South, directly to the pyramid and its main Seal.

They confront a first time the Bonelord in caves near the Seal, but the ageless undead uses a Word of Recall to sneak away while some of his minions fight the wardens. The minions, including Hill Giants and an Undead Troll, put up a good fight, but the Spellwardens were helped by their determination and some old friends showing up right on time (the Ettercap Razuth, ex-member of the Quaan, who was helped by the Spellwardens and accepted in Spellhold for magical training because of them, Edwin, long lost brother of Jezabell and a warforged from Laelith's city guard).

Drawing closer to the Seal, the Spellwardens defeat Gwalchmesh once and for all and in a fit of mercy, let the drow priestess go.

Our heroes finally confront the Bonelord one the last time. After an epic battle during which most of their friends and allies gave their lives, the Spellwardens end up trapping the Bonelord into an Iron Flask. Nacht the Unfettered used all her cunning and skill to pull this off (a memorable fumble on a Will save from the DM helped a lot too, I should point out).

But their deeds are not over. The pyramid slowly opens, and the heroes have to reactivate the Seal. Eldariel tells them the Seal needs the essence of a being of Good to live on. They need to kill her, and she offers them her silver sword: "Only the sacrifice of a being of Good will put an end to this."

This is when the wardens hear Sa Qebah's shout as she commits suicide. During all these adventures, Sa Qebah the were-cheetah, the rogue and monster, the freak, tried to control her urges and amend for the many murders she committed during her life. She now had found a way to redeem herself. She fell to the ground and died, tears at the corner of her eyes.

Silence filled up the room. Eldariel was weeping.

The Wardens stepped closer to Sa Qebah and picked up her body. The Archon picked up the Iron Flask and brought it to her lips. She looked at the wardens as she did so and drank the soul of the Bonelord. She collapsed with a bitter smile on her lips. "This was the only way. Now, the world can change. The world ... has ... changed."

This is how Eldariel the Archon of the Realms of Celestia left this world forever.

After hours of walking and crawling back through the Maze, the Spellwardens found their way out with Sa Qebah's corpse with them. The world had changed, indeed. The city was no longer Laelith, but "Ptolus". The world was no longer Osterande, Realm of the Spires, but the Empire of Tarsis.

Slowly, the Spellwardens learned more about this new world. They were told by an oracle of the Street of a Million Gods that maybe, by destroying the essence of the being they knew as the Bonelord, they also destroyed a part of the world they loved. Somehow, the world was indeed not the same. Similar, and yet different.

Nobody knew who these "Spellwardens" were, nor did they know how they had become so rich so fast. Slydracna the Mojh bought one of the most glorious estates in town. Jezabell the Faen left Ptolus by sea to find her native village, Ogrebound, without knowing if it still existed in this world. Miriell the dwarven paladin went on later quests and, it is said, still helps the Keepers of the Veil from time to time, the only one of the Spellwardens to still be known as an active adventurer. Nacht disappeared while investigating the City's underground societies. Story has it that she was working her way through the criminal organizations of Ptolus to oppose the Balacazar family in some fashion or another, though her reasons for doing so remain unknown.

As for Sa Qebah, she was buried in the Necropolis under a monument funded by all the surviving Spellwardens. Nobody in town really knows why the monument is so appealing. Even awe-inspiring. Nobody knows the name of the person buried there. Children often wonder about this mausoleum and the legacy this unknown hero may have had; they invent stories and come up with great deeds and adventures where always, somehow, the hero ends up saving the day through her own sacrifice...

The memory of the Seven Spires fades away. Even to the surviving Spellwardens, it becomes hard to remember the shores of the High Waters, the faces of familiar friends and enemies. Even Sa Qebah's memory seems to fade from the wardens' minds. Is this world better, safer, or even more decent? The Spellwardens have to make this place their home. No one knows what the future will bring.


To see more pictures and find out more about the Seven Spires, you might want to check out the Lake of Blood and the Seven Spires End Game (which includes a draft of this post) on ENWorld.

* The Adventures of the Spellwardens in I'ix occurred when Nerissa, Beket's player in the Praemal Tales, and Sa Qeba's here in the Seven Spires, decided she wanted to try her hand at running the game. This allowed me to become a player. During the whole time the Spellwardens were trapped on I'ix, my character was Amalruth Ironhorn, the unfettered Devil discussed above. Once the Spellwardens made it back to the Seven Spires, I resumed my DM duties, and Amalruth stayed around as an NPC, sometimes controlled by me, sometimes controlled by the players themselves, depending on the particular situation.