Friday, October 23, 2020

Solo Game: Pacts & Blades II: The Jester's Return pt.2

This is part 2 of my solo play through of Pacts & Blades with the Salamandur Household supplement. In part 1, I decided a highly randomized adventure based on the setting and scenario that I rolled up using Salamandur Household. I will divide the play report into two articles. For a more pleasurable reading experience, I will save commentary for a separate article, and game mechanics stuff will be marked in teal or easy skipping.

And So We Begin...


Images Created in Hero Forge & Photoshop
used in accordance with their EULA

"Are you sure about this, Merry man?" Walken looked outside at the Carmine sky. The first of the brimstone shards were beginning to come, carving bright golden streaks in the sky between the grey flakes of ashen snow and shimmering embers.

A partially armoured hand clapped down on his shoulder. "I thought your people were fire-proof, Wak," Shanix chided.

He contemplated her light brown fingers against his mottled red skin. He hated having nicknames. He didn't much care for Shanix' attitude, nor her smirk. If adventuring work were anything like war, he knew that would change... providing her cockiness didn't get her... or him killed.

"We are. But we aren't immune to falling rocks. The storm's just getting started. They will be the size of fists in an hour."

"Merry!" replied the Jester, chuckling as he hitched up the last of his gear, "But sure? Never about anything! Hardly pays to be sure. I will say I am mad enough for this expedition, and Madness is a far finer thing than Certainty! And madness tells me we should make haste afore the rocks are fists, for I have been told I have a punchable face."

"And so you do," Shanix snarled, pulling away from Walken.

"Erm, for what it's worth," this was the soft, androgynous voice of Lorenz, "I've read up on the storm. It is caused when the Kingdom of Fire comes too near the Oirith. My Patron, the Lord of the House of Salamander as power here. He gives it to those who open themselves to the storm and walk... unprotected... through it. I augured it (Salamander, ⚄⚄,⚀, -2 RV next roll) and He says it is true. Or, at least it is true for us."

"Are you mad?" Walken looked at the flimsy, pale farm-boy in the antique robes with horror. "We need your magic to get us through safe."

Dealing with the Storm

Mirdon threw the door open violently, letting in the sounds of crashing stone and the crackle of embers. "Magic and madness live in the same house. They often sleep in the same bed and have beautiful children! I have done more foolish things for magic! Come apprentices!" With that, the ugly hunchback lunged out the door, his arms thrown wide and his face up to the sky. As he did so, embers began to swirl around him. His gambesson smoked and smouldered, but as he strode on the whirlwind of sparks became more intense and bright. By now, Lorenz could feel the power, he was following, doing the same. Shanix shrugged and did the same, trying to figure out how to be open. Cursing, Walken threw his shield over his head hearing cracks and thumps as stones pelted it.

And the the whirling golden sparks around Mirdon spiraled upwards, a luminous cyclone. The hunchbsak suddenly fell to his knees gasping ad the sparks rose up then dove into his mouth his eyes glowing brightly as strange lore seared itself into his brain.

Even as Mirdon stood back up, the glow in his eyes fading a similar whirlwind was forming over Shanix and Lorenz. Lorenz let out a  sudden shriek as the heat became too much, and his skin he can to scorch. Walken burst into a run throwing himself to his knees and sheltering the downed boy from falling stones.

"To hell with magic, boy, life is more important."


Lorenz whimpered as his eyes blazed an then last of the sparks funneled down his throat. Then, his clothes smoking, he pulled himself to his feet. "I, I will live."

(Automatic Damage: Mirdon ⚁, lt.; Lorenz ⚃, mod.; Shanix ⚃, mod., Walken ⚀ -2, no damage. New health rolls: Mirdon ⚂+6: 9/5/3; Shanix ⚂+2: 5/3/2; Lorenz  ⚁+2: 4/2/;)

Mirdon

Blades: Longsword -1
      Hammer -1
Pacts: Lucis, Lord of the Judging Light -1 (Order)
      Mephistopheles, demon of ill winds  -2 (Chaos)
     Salamander -1 (Orderr)

Alignment: Chaos 2/4 Order 1/4
Reserve Limit: 5

Hit Difficulty: 3 (9)

Wounds 

πŸ”²◻◻◻◻◻◻◻◻◻l.t
πŸ”³◻◻◻◻◻    Moderate
πŸ”³◻◻◻              Severe

Shanix

Blades: Flail -1
Pacts: Salamander -1 (Order)
Hit Difficulty: 2 (6)

AL: Chaos 2/3 Order 1/3
Reserve Limit: 3

Wounds

πŸ”³πŸ”³ ◻◻◻◻◻       Light
πŸ”³πŸ”² ◻◻◻                Mod.
πŸ”³ ◻◻                      Severe

Lorenz

Blades: -
Pacts: Salamander -2 (Order)
Hit Difficulty: 2 (6)

AL: Chaos 1/3 Order 2/3
Reserve Limit: 3

Wounds 

◻◻◻◻      Light
◼◻             Moderate
◻◻              Severe

Walken

Blades: Spear -1
Pacts: -
Hit Difficulty: 2 (6)

AL: Chaos 1/3 Order 2/3
Reserve Limit: 3

Wounds

πŸ”³πŸ”³πŸ”³ ◻◻◻◻  Light
πŸ”³πŸ”³ ◻◻                Mod.
πŸ”³πŸ”³ ◻◻             Severe


Constraints

To keep me honest and the game moving, I will say that the PCs will not be allowed to rest. That means no healing between encounters, and unless they are lucky, each player-character may only try a particular magic effect once. This mission is on a timer before the Queen Fire Bee returns to her slumber.

"This is magic?" Shanix suddenly laughed.  "No wonder so many people do things to  get it! Better than Sex!" She raised her hands, hissing in a tongue she never learned, (Salamander ⚃⚃,⚂ vs. RV 5, maximum effect), The Embers above them obeyed her call to the King of Fire bending into a sheet above their heads sheltering them from the increasing rain of flaming stone. Mirdon pulled Lorenz up to standing and grinned as he too murmured a spell, calling on Salamander to undo the work fire had wrought on Lorenz' flesh. (Salamander, ⚀⚅,⚄ vs. RV 5, become ethereal.)

As the burns slowly softened and returned to pale flesh, the ugly hunchback became luminous, translucent, brilliant. He smiled with crinkled glowing eyes.

"There's much for you both to learn of magic,  my pretties, now step lively and we might live to see more... and nothing is better than sex!"

"Ugh! How would you even know?!" Shanix said, scrunching her face, the awe suddenly gone like sleep when doused with ice water.

Still shimmering, the Jester pressed on...


Getting Down

Magic does not hold forever. As heavier stones buffeted crashed against the magical shield, Shanix could feel it strain like an arm burning from exertion. Mirdon slowly sank back into his ugly fleshly reality as the stones pounding on nearby rooves like great fists and crushing cobblestones about them.

They followed Walken to a low, broad building perched at the edge of the Great Fissure, one that rumbled and groaned from the power of the slow-turning windmills hanging from it over the fissure..

"This'll get us into the tunnels the millers use for their machines. Should get us a long way down."

"I am starting to lose this damned spell!" Shanix shouted. "Hurry up!"

Walken pounded on the door calling out an old Inferno hail. (NPC Reaction roll: ⚃⚂; Indifferent.)

"Yeah, what do you want?" Called a voice from the other side of the door.

"Are you Argus?" Asked Walken, "I'm told that Argus would be minding the safety of the mills today."

"I'm he. I don't know you, aside from the fact that you're daft enough to be out during firefall."

"I am Walken, we share a cousin in Astanial on your mother's side and my father's. We also have both served in the army at very different times."

"You can drop the formalities. I don't care much for the old naming of kinships: It means little to me."

"Yeah, hurry it a long Wak," chided Shanix. Her arms above her head as if it would somehow hold the spell longer, "I'm new to this spellcraft thing, and I don't know how long I can keep the rocks off my head."

Walken grunted and continued.

"I'm here to ask a favor. My friends and I are seeking away deeper into the chasm. We'd rather not climb it. Can you let us into the machine shop so that we can go by the old forges?"

"And risk my job? The Forge-master doesn't like people wandering through the millworks. He'd like it less so if it was while we had all the machinery pulled in. I hope you have a good reason why I ought to do that, cousin-of-a-cousin. It doesn't seem like there's much wisdom in letting in a bunch of outsiders, whatever they say there doing. And even less to allow a kinsman, if that's what you are, commit suicide by going down to those pits. Lots of things wake up during firefall what usually stay asleep. Don't think I care much to have a cousin-of-a-cousin eaten by the Bandersnatch. There'd be scowls at the dinnertable."

"We're going down to try to get royal jelly from the the fire bees. And maybe earn her favor by slaying the Bandersnatch. If we bring up a barrel of that stuff, will be heroes. And will tell the tale that you masterminded our voyage with your knowledge of the upper tunnels and your peerless mountain lore."

"Is that it, then? You'll talk me up with the ladies? Is your side of Astanial's family full of fools and marks, then?

"I can see you're not one of them. How about a flask of the proceeds if we make it back up?"

"How will get you to keep that promise?"

"Oh, for fuck's sake," Shanix shouted. "I've a fine smith's hammer here; better than any tool you own. Worth 50 mirrors. I'll give it to you. I'll buy it back your flask, which will be worth eight times that much easily. Take it, a chat up, and your family with Wak has an honor thing . And if that won't do you, we'll climb our way down and keep our flask and my hammer."

(Shanix made an honourable deal at sacrifice to herself" +1 Order. She is past her reserve limit and her magic would normally be unstable; I will spend a Chaos point to even it out: Chaos 1 / Order 1)

"I like a lady who can talk sense."

"You have it, cousin of a cousin. Do we have a deal?

(Walken persuading the Miller against the difficulty of three. Two narrative advantages. RV 7. ⚄⚂..)

The door open to reveal hey Haggard old half salamander with a sneer on his face. He held out his hand, and Shanix slapped the hammer handle-down into it. The older half-salamander swung the hammer a couple of times, and nodded, pleased.

"Right this way, Oh immortal heroes, I will show you to the lowest forge I know."

"Merry, Uncle," said Mirdon. "I heard you mention the Bandersnatch. What have you heard?" 

Mirdon against difficulty 2, one narrative advantage: RV 5. To get information about The Thing. ⚅⚀)

"I hear it prefers to eat fools. I am guessing you are here as the bait."

"Verily, Uncle, that was my mother's maiden name. But, I'm here to grow richer and fatter not to be eaten. That is why I asked."

"It's the size of a horse, but it is flesh and blood, like you and me, sure enough."

(Salamander household Form and Size tables: 6 and ⚂. I'll give each a two in six chance of being false.)

"Thank you kind miller" Lorenz added before Mirdon tried more wit, "let's move on before you are missed at your station."


The Decent: Encounter 1 - The Geyser

(Encounter Table roll: ⚁⚁; Hazard roll ⚂⚀: Geyser; Terrain ⚂: Lava Tubes)

Argus led the team carefully by lantern light into the mill, down shafts with steel ladder rungs anchored into them to shelves where standing windmills, usually extended to take advantage of the hot thermals of the geyser, had been pulled in on rails to avoid being torn  up by storms. The cast trains of gears and belts that normally would be rumbling are now silent, amplifying the stony crack! crack! of the firefall. The lurid orange light of the Magma at the bottom of the fissure sometimes flares up as a firestone tumbles past.

Then down ever deeper, into the forges and tunnels of the half-salamanders in their earliest days. A maze of red stone masonry. Argus knew his way until they finally hit an half-ruined shelf overlooking the chasm. Lava tubes erupted from the walls here, caused by ancient, inert flows. Tunnels of black glass broad enough for someone to hunch in, and not much more. It was here that they prayed Argus good fortune and carried on, stooping, often crawling downwards throug the tubes in hopes of finding a way into even lower parts of the ancient Labyrinth.

It was as they reached a slightly larger cave, a damp and hot intersection where several ancient tunnels interconnected that Mirdon first heard the hissing.


Round 1

"Eh?" he asked his party. "Do you hear something?"  Shanix was about to make a remark when a cloud erupted from the floor, enveloping Mirdon in a rush of turquoise water and steam.

(Automatic Damage: Mirdon ⚄, Mod..; Lorenz ⚁, Lt..; Shanix ⚅, Severe., Walken ⚁ -2)

The scalding torrent threw Mirdon forward, crashing against Shanix with a metallic crunch before scouring steam washed over them both. Lorenz and Walken were hit by the heat but aside for stinging eyes and burning nostrils, both stayed standing at the edge of the chamber. Even as they tried to catch their breat, they watched as Mirdon and Shanix tumbled together towards a steep and ragged tube.

(Using OSRIC initiative: Mirdon: 3, Shanix 10, Lorenz 9, Walken 4

Screaming down towards oblivion, Mirdon attempted to channel all of his acrobatics training into a bid and twist to Pull Shanix and himself from Danger (Difficulty 4, narrative advantage -2, RV 10: ⚂, Partial Success)

Grabbing Shanix' with his feet, he grabbed hold of a stalactite, howling as his sodden gambesson became scorching hot. Fighting the Heat of the water through gritted teeth he tried to keep them both from being ground to death in an unexpected flume.

Bracing himself, Walken grabbed hold of his spear and extended it towards Shanix' flailing hands.

Gathering his wits, Lorenz called out in the alien tongue, Begging Salamander to steal the water's heat.

(Lorenz: Salmander -2 vs. Difficulty 3: ⚂⚄, ⚀, -2 on next roll)

Steam burst out in weird, jets out of the water into the caves as the water cooled to body temperature.

Shanix reached out to grab the spear and pull herself free.

(Walken: -1 Pact of the Spear; Difficulty 3, RV 8, ⚁⚄, Partial Success)

Hanging on, Shanix slung free of Mirdon and let herself be pulled to shore, leaving only the Merry-man to his own devices.

Round 2

(Automatic Damage: Mirdon ⚄ -2, Light)

Still buffeted by water (but much cooler water at least) Mirdon tried to pull himself free, his limbs strainging from the cold and his sodden clothes. Then his shoulder wrenched way. He let out a howl even as he forced himself higher up. (Mirdon: one advantage vs. Difficulty 3, ⚃⚂, Partial Success) Finally, nursing a wrenched shoulder he barley made it to his feet, clinging to the stalactites nearby.

Freeing his spear from Shanix, Walken swung it to Mirdon to lift him across (Walken: -1 Pact of the Spear; Difficulty 3, RV 8, ⚅⚂, Total Success) Howling all the way, he lifted Mirdon from the ground and put him on dry(er) terrain.

"Can we heal you with more magic?" Walken asked.

"Nay, Uncle. Salamander heals only burns, and has done that miracle for me all he cares to."

Shanix clapped a wet hand on Walken's shoulder. "You saved my life. Thank you, Walken."

Walken nodded, and then looked for a dry passage. "Where now?"

Progress: 1


The Descent: Encounter 2 - The Wyvern

(Encounter Table roll: ⚂⚁,⚄: Progress +3; ⚂: Feral Wyvern; Terrain : Ancient Cliffside Ruin)

Sodden and  sore, the company around through the lava tubes until it met a Cliffside ledge. Only a few yards below, an ancient stone staircase carved into the living rock. The climb was simple.

"Walken" Asked Lorenz, "Why did your people leave so much unattended? How is it no one could guide us down to the bottom?"

"Too many quakes and cave-in.  Things were always changing down here. The chasm itself gets wider by inches every decade. We moved up an built the surface town little by little. Eventually we didn't even come down to the deep parts. Especially once we found iron elsewhere on the mountain. We just left it to shift, and collapse in its own time."

Resting for a moment, Shanix assessed her Brigandine. "Your head dented my chest-plate, Mir."

"Second hardest part of my body, I assure you. I shall be fine."

"I don't give a damn about either of your heads. It is going to take me days to fix this. If I had my hammer, I could probably magic the metal warm enough to shape it and weld this rent..."

"You're a born witch, auntie!"

"So, I've been told..."

Lorenz himself murmured a spell silently (Salamander -2, -2 bonus vs. Difficulty 2, Automatic success!  Feat: ⚁, Cast with supernatural speed) and a warm breath came over them, drying their damp clothes.

"We should get moving."

The ancient stairs were crumbling in places; and while the firestones rarely fell this far, the debris they smashed loose from the chasm above came in rains of grit and pebbles. Reminding them of what dangers there are above. All were relieved when the stairs turned into a gaping cave filled with the ruins of stone buildings. The ones closest to the edge had already lost their outer walls as time gnawed the stone out from under them. Here and there tiny vines of luminous cyan flowers glowed on vines clinging to the walls.

(Rolling BD&D-style Surprise: Wyvern ⚁, surprised, Adventurers ⚃; Monster Reaction⚅⚃ = 8: Neutral; Initiative: Mirdon 2, Shanix 4, Lorenz 4, Walken 5)

As they entered one of the ruined, roofless structures, Mirdon froze, holding his hand out to hold back his allies. Their whispered banter came to a halt.

Laying in a crusted nest of scales, the creature seemed impossibly large: its sinuous russet body curling in on itself over ragged bat-like wings. It lifted a scarred, serpentine head, regarding tis visitors with luminous eyes, confused. Broken arrows and javelins stuck in its scales rattled as it moved.


Feral Wyvern πŸ”Ί️ Difficulty: 2; Blade (Bite-2 RV), Blade (Stinger -1 RV, Poison acts like a curse)

Wounds: 6 Light, 4 Moderate, 2 Severe

"Easy, friend," Mirdon said in a soothing coo. "We're all good company here." He always got along with creatures better than people. Most animals cared little about how ugly he was.

Shanix, carefully moved a little back from the door, unbinding her flail from where it was coiled on a custom leathern cushion on her back, out of the creature's sight.

Lorenz held his breath, taking the creature in. This was a large and old Wyvern, far stronger and wilder looking than the ones he'd been admiring in the town aerie. No Dragon of Old, perhaps, but perfectly capable of shredding them if they were foolish enough to anger it. He waited with a spell in mind.

At Mirdon's sideward glance, Walken opened his palms and coached Mirdon in the drake-handler's calls to settle the beast. This one had been wild a long time, but he could see it recognized his Air Cavalry armour.

(Monster Reaction, +4 for Neutrality, +2 for friendly actions ⚃⚁, Neutrality; Initiative: Wyvern 4, Mirdon 4, Shanix 5, Lorenz 2, Walken 10)

Lorenz found himself holding his breath. Was his magic good enough for this? He thought himself a fair mage, although it was clear now that Mirdon knew much more than he let on.

Mirdon himself walked slowly forward, repeating Walken's assurances, hands wide, even as the creature unfolded its length and regarded him uncertainly.

Shanix kept her nearly-ready flail hidden. Slow, careful movements. Listening to Walken's coaching.

(Monster Reaction, +4 for Neutrality, +2 for friendly actions ⚄⚅, Friendly)

In its mind, old memories of service in the skies came back. The creature lowered its neck and offered its head to Mirdon. Gently he put his hand on its muzzle. "Ah, there we are, friend. I knew we could work this out."

He scanned up and down the Wyvern's length. In several places javelins had hitched into its scaly body leaving knots of scar tissue and sores. He ran his hands slowly down the scaly body to look at them, turning his head to look ruefully to Walken.

"Why is this beast injured, Apprentice?"

"Some of the Wyverns after a few months of battle go half-mad. They won't take riders. If we can, we breed them. Some are too far wild after that. They try to break loose to the high crags. After that they go back to the old ways: eating sheep and their shepherds. Looks like this one slipped its hunters."

"Can we help it?"

"We haven't much time for this," Shanix growled. "I don't want to miss our chance."

Mirdon scowled at her. "We could be dead right now. This creature showed us mercy." A flash of Doraleous' broken body haunted his memory. "We should return in kind."

(Midron Alignment: Chaos 2/4 Order 2/4)

Lorenz sighed and came forward. "I've tended wounded horses that've had similar. I might be able to do something. Walken, can you help keep it calm?"

"Fine Apprentice! I hired a wizard, but there are days when a farm-boy is just what we need!"

(Lorenz: one -1 narrative bonus against a Difficulty 3, RV 8, ⚄⚂, Total Success) Carefully, Lorenz worked the spearheads out, and tended the wounds. Shanix cycled the oil in the lanterns as he worked while Mirdon and Walken whispered to the creature, and watched the work, learning much about the aim and angle of spears as they went.

Mirdon

Blades: Longsword -1
      Hammer -1, Spear -1
Pacts: Lucis, Lord of the Judging Light -1 (Order)
      Mephistopheles, demon of ill winds  -2 (Chaos)
     Salamander -1 (Orderr)

Alignment: Chaos 2/4 Order 2/4
Reserve Limit: 5

Hit Difficulty: 3 (9)

Wounds 

πŸ”²◻◻◻◻◻◻◻◻◻l.t
πŸ”²◼◻◻◻◻    Moderate
πŸ”³◻◻◻              Severe

Shanix

Blades: Flail -1, Spear -1
Pacts: Salamander -1 (Order)
Hit Difficulty: 2 (6)

AL: Chaos 1/3 Order 1/3
Reserve Limit: 3

Wounds

πŸ”³πŸ”³ ◻◻◻◻◻       Light
πŸ”³πŸ”² ◻◻◻                Mod.
πŸ”² ◻◻                      Severe

Lorenz

Blades: Spear -1
Pacts: Salamander -2 (Order)
Hit Difficulty: 2 (6)

AL: Chaos 1/3 Order 2/3
Reserve Limit: 3

Wounds 

◼◻◻◻      Light
◻◻             Moderate
◻◻              Severe

Walken

Blades: Spear -2
Pacts: -
Hit Difficulty: 2 (6)

AL: Chaos 1/3 Order 2/3
Reserve Limit: 3

Wounds

πŸ”³πŸ”³πŸ”³ ◻◻◻◻◻  Light
πŸ”³πŸ”³ ◻◻◻              Mod.
πŸ”³πŸ”³ ◻◻                 Severe

(Walken New Health roll: ⚂+2 = 5)

As the creature slowly rose from where the last of the tarry plasters made from chalk, lamp oil, and charcoal was applied, it let out a musical trill. And then with a snap of its wings, Launched itself into the thermals of the canyon.

"Some thanks," muttered Shanix. Mirdon, however nodded, smiled, and then bade them continue.

Progress: 5


The Descent: Encounter 3 - The Drop

(Encounter Table roll: ⚁⚁; Hazard roll ⚂: Sudden Drop Off; Terrain ⚃: Winding Caverns)

Deeper still, past the ruins and into caves that were a mix of natural tunnel, quarry and empty mines. Here, patches of luminous fungus, sulfur, nitre, and the occasional shimmering flower patch could be seen. It was a fine sight to all when they saw their first fire bee; a crimson insect the size of a palm, with patches of luminous orange about its body, and trailing a heat shimmer. (Test for Surprise: ⚄) It was so strange a sight that Mirdon nearly didn't notice the drop until it was just a few inches before his foot. He stopped with a gasp.

Although it looked as if the tunnel before them was a clear, gently sloping opening to the Chasm edge, there was a crack in the cliffside causing it to drop sharply right before his feet. Taking a deep breath, Mirdon edge closer and looked down. The crack plummeted into a landing below thick with luminous flowers. They were close.


"Let's get those spikes and hooks out, my lovelies," he said. We've a rappel down to the bottom. This part, I've done before!

Shanix pulled out a set of iron wedges and grappling hooks, then cursed letting her best hammer go, as she pulled out a throwing hammer to use to drive a few wedges into a crack in the wall where she might better secure some rope and chains. Chuckling, Mirdon offered her his heavy mallet.

She hefted it for a moment and nodded. "Thank you, Mirdon."

"I warrant my full name at last! She must love me after all"

(Shanix: one narrative advantage vs. Difficulty 2, RV5: ⚀⚅)

After a few moments of work, wedging and wrapping chain into the crags, then knotting rope into the chain, Shanix grunted.

"That ought to do. I'll go first."

As she moved, chains rattled and rope creaked, deafening even over the echoing crashes of the firefall above, but it held. Within moments, she had set herself down in a patch of shimmering flowers with glowing insects swarming all around.

"Get the lead out of your asses! I think I see the Hive!" she called.

(Mirdon: three narrative advantage vs. Difficulty 2, RV3: ⚄⚃, Total Success)

(Lorenz: two narrative advantage vs. Difficulty 4, RV4: ⚃⚄, Total Success)

(Walken: two narrative advantage vs. Difficulty 4, RV4: ⚄⚅, Total Success)

Swiftly the others followed.

Progress: 6

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