Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Play Report: Arête

 I wanted to give an account of my solo experience with the adventure module Arete, which I reviewed in my previous article, to give you an idea of how this high-octane, high-powered first level adventure played out for me. 

Not having OSE on me, I grabbed Swords & Wizardry for most rules and my brand new AD&D Monster Manual for treasure types and In Lair rolls. I established that I would treat 0hp as unconscious and dying, and -3hp as dead, and otherwise keep to vanilla S&W, although I used the Monsters' saving throws published in the module.

I chose to run the game using a party made up of Hector, Bellerophon, Perseus, and Medea. 

Hunting the Minotaur


My first hunt of The Minotaur went well. Armed with torches and yarn, my party managed to sneak up on The Minotaur, and we hit him in with a brutal sneak attack, and then incredible damage thanks to Bellerophon and Hector's super-powers. However, the low hit points meant that I had to play strategically to defeat him: one hit from the Minotaur would have killed my PCs. Hector and Bellerophon focused on melee, while I had Perseus and Medea run interference by doing things like trying to trip, confuse, and blind the Minotaur.

Victory meant claiming the Axe of Ares, a +2 weapon that sever limbs like a vorpal sword, and that can hurt certain immortal creatures.

Harpy Attack!

On my way to my second target, my team was attacked by harpies, who refused to fear mere mortals, and fought hard even after Medea summoned a black dragon to attack them. They nearly dragged Perseus off to their lair. Upon finally killing them, I tracked them back to their lair and claimed a scroll with Wizard Lock and Magic Mouth, and a set of Boots of Leaping.

The Nemean Lion

Once I started closing in on the Nemean Lion, I realized how utterly terrifying the encounter that I had just chose at random was.

I decided to take a stealthy approach. Once Bellerophon found its trail, I sent Perseus ahead with the Axe of Ares, and had him pray to Ares for aid... luck was on my side and he gained Ares' blessing: +100 attack and damage, on top of sneak attack, and a natural 20 to boot. The Nemean Lion was down!

For more blind, stupid luck, I found two +2 suits of chainmail, a Mirror of Mental Scrying, and a Helm of Reading and Comprehending Languages in his lair. At first I thought that hiding a Treasure Type V in the Lion's Lair was crazy... but given how this game has played, not so much. Those treasures barely carried me through.

Just for a final stroke of luck, my PCs encountered a Pegasus on our travels that Bellerophon was able to tame.

The Goddess of Night

But here my luck went very foul indeed.

I sent Medea on a scouting mission: mounted on Pegasus, she could scan the marshes where the Erythmenian Boar was prowling, get an aërial view of the region, and then use her Mirror of Mental Scrying to spy it out and gather intelligence. the only random encounter that I thought would be a threat were more harpies... How wrong I was.

Medea managed to run into Nyx herself. The goddess of Night and Slumber (according to my solo play oracle) wanted the Erythmenian Boar for herself - alive and unharmed, to be taken to her shrine in the marshes. And she was not in the mood to hear complaints. (Nor did Medea's prayers to Dionysus to come and distract the goddess work out.) Failure would bring a curse and monsters to claim Medea.

Immortal Foes

While she was scouting, the PCs had the Nemean Lion's skin turned into armor for Perseus that made him immune to harm from mortals, and Bellerophon made a rattle from its claws at the instruction of the Archon Xephon, who servers as Hades' emissary.

Armor that protects you against mortals sounds great... but in this setting isn't as impressive as it might first seem. On the PCs' journey to hunt the boar, I rolled that the Harpies were back from the dead and seeking revenge. They had surprise, and shredded Medea down to -2hp on the spot before Hector was alert enough to play human shield. They yanked Perseus into the air. Being immortal, they could rip right through his awesome new magical protection.

Perseus was able to use his new magic boots of leaping to survive when they dropped him, but Hector was too busy using his healing powers to save Medea from death's door to shield Perseus as the Harpies continued to rip him to pieces. Bellerophon was forced to hold the fight on his own. In fact Hector spent most of the battle hunched over the fallen and attempting first aid to keep Perseus from bleeding out. Bellerophon felled three of them before the fourth decided it was finally time to back away from these particular mortals.

In the end, they slung their two compatriots onto the back of a miraculously brave pegasus and spent a few days (and their dwindling gold) licking their wounds.

But not all for nothing... they took the dead harpies and entombed them in Polis so that when they raised from the dead the next day, they were be trapped in a solid stone crypt away from ears of those they might hypnotize. I decided to roll my Oracle die regularly to see if she set out to free her sisters.

Back from Hades

Heading back out for fear that Nyx's curse might fall if they delayed, the PCs were approached by a strange woman on the road. Thankfully, Persues identified her as Medusa before she could trick them into meeting her gaze. Snake eyes on the reaction roll told me she was out to ensure Perseus was turned to stone and would never to enjoy the Elysian Fields again!

Everyone turned their backs or hid faces behind shields. Medea called her dragon again... but it was turned to stone while attempting to swoop on Medusa and shattered on the road. Perseus leapt over Medusa in a display of superhuman acrobatics thanks to his magic boots and stabbed her in the back, while Hector and Bellerophon helplessly slashed at her from behind their shields. Medea managed a very lucky sleep spell, and finally put her down. Her head was hewn from her body and tucked in Perseus' old cloak.

I was holding my breath. With the Medusa in this module having save or die poison on top of petrification, and being immortal, I figured Perseus was about to return to Hades the hard way. As it was, Medusa's lair was filled with gold and electrum, so they loaded up pegasus and headed into the Marsh.

The Erythmenian Boar

Tracking down the Erythmenian Boar was easy enough thanks to Medea's scouting and Bellerophon's ranger abilities. When they found it, it was not surprised,  but not immediately hostile, only threatening... which gave Bellerophon a 1 in 6 chance to tame it before I broke out the Medua's head. Barring that working, I would be forced to subdue the beast.

 I got lucky, and Bellerophon managed to tame the boar, letting us take it peacefully to Nyx's shrine. Along the way I rolled another encounter with Medua... but as I had her head in a bag, I skipped it... as I decided that I would with future Harpy encounters until they were set free,

At Nyx's shrine she awarded the heroes with 4,000ep and a few gems. (I rolled a random Treasure Type C, which seemed apropos to a shrine to a Titan who would not have been worshipped properly for centuries.)

Revenge of the Harpies

Heading home, I rolled another harpy encounter and consulted my Oracle. The Harpy had tried to free her sisters and failed, but in doing so, she caused mayhem in Polis. The citizens of the town demanded that the PCs hunt kill her from the moment they returned.

As my PCs had been to the lair before, Medea could use the magic mirror to read the harpy's thoughts as she spied: she learned that the harpy set a pit trap, and intended to use her song to lure the PCs to the edge of a pit (only one or two run-away allies would be enough to throw the party into disarray,) then push them in.

The PCs bought wax to stop their ears, and faked being under the Harpy's spell when they got close. As the Harpy descended to push the PCs in, Bellerophon and Hector surprised her and cut her down. Bellerophon rode back in haste on Pegasus to display the dead harpy before casting her into another tomb.

The Stymphalides

Herakles and the Styphalian Birds
With new riches, and hero status restored, the PCs made their plans to deal with the Stymphalides next. They had already heard gossip about the birds' toxic poop. They decided to look for more rumors, but, aside from hearing about how Herakles scared them with a rattle, there was little in the way of helpful gossip.

Along the road, they encountered a herd of Pegasi, and Bellerophon was able to tame mounts for the whole party. (Bellerophon tames Pegasi automatically, all other animal-like monsters have a 1-in-6 chance.)

Riding the Pegasi, they were able to find the Stymphaides from above, away from the poisonous dung. Medea dismounted and applied perfume to protect herself from the stench, then crept up near the nest while the others swooped down on them with surprise and began rattling noisemakers.

Six birds took off immediately, and Medea's sleep spell knocked out the rest. Medea crept in, stripped of her gown, and slit the throats of the sleeping Stymphaides, collecting their bronze feathers. A pittance of 133ep in the purse of a dead foreign trader was all that remained in the village they had ruined.

This left the Hyrda, and Cerberus himself.

Knowing that Cerberus is possibly the most powerful of the monsters in the region, I decided my PCs would go for the Hydra first. They were not able to learn much they didn't already know, but being aware that only one of its heads is immortal, they decided to arm Hector with the Lion's Pelt, so that only one head could harm him, while granting him superhuman strength through Medea's new Enlarge spell. Bellerophon and Perseus would drop flaming Amphorae of oil on the beast from above. They would try opening using Medusa's head for good measure. (An item that allows her gaze attack to be employed indiscriminately in a 30' radius )

Zeus and the Chimera

As I had tamed a herd of Pegasi, slain and imprisoned Harpies, beheaded Medusa, and was flying, I decided to ignore any encounter rolled except the Chimera or a god on the random encounter table. Lo and behold, I was attacked by the Chimera within moments of making this ruling.

The encounter happed in the air at a fair distance, so I decided to call on the gods, for help. Calling on Zeus, Perseus caused the Chimera (one of the few Mortal enemies on the table) to be smote from the sky with lightning. The party resolved to pay Zeus back with a generous offering of gold.

The Lernean Hydra

The Hydra
Spotting the Hydra, Medea dismounted at distance with Hector. Bellerophon held back. Perseus attempted an initial flyby with the Head of Medusa before his allies came into range. It's abysmal save spared the PCs terrible danger... as my plan probably would have killed Hector. I hadn't accounted for the Hydra's venom 

The Hydra was pertified...

...as was Perseus' pegasus! His boots of leaping reduced the fall damage, but he was still injured severely. 

The 1,000ep worth of ancient coins they fished out of its murky lair was a small comfort... and they had to walk back, Perseus having no mount. Medusa's head was lost in the swamp, where it would one day grow into a fresh incarnation of the immortal Medusa.  A mixed victory at best.

Returning to Polis,  they had but one creature left to deal with. Cerberus. Consulting Xephon, they learned about the uses of Feather Mail in defending themselves. And its weakness to hydra Poison... which unfortunately was lost to them as an option. As was petrifying the beast. The party donated all of the electrum in the Hydra's Lair to Zeus' temple.

The PCs made a plan: They would have feather mail fashioned for themselves over a few days. They would try to blind Cerberus with a fly-over attack pouring an eye irritant - vinegar on him in hopes of disabling his terrible gaze. Then Hector, Bellerophon, and Medea's Dragon could close on the Beast, while Perseus attempts to use the confusion to harm it from behind.

Nemesis Calls

Along the road to Cerberus' known hideout, another complication arose: a Nemesis appeared to the PCs.

Even when adjusted for the party's high Charisma scores, and a mild bonus for having served her mother, Nyx, Nemesis was in no mood for glib mortals. She loathes Arrogance before the Gods, and my party... especially Bellerophon... was arrogant before the gods indeed.

I asked the Oracle if she intended to strip my party of some of their advantages, and I received a "No... but...", Did she want to give them a disadvantage? "No." Did she have another task for them? "Yes, And..." Okay. Did it need to be done before they could take on Cerberus? "Yes." Is it another monster of Greek Myth? "Yes... a BIG one."

I determined she wanted the eye of a Cyclops as an offering to punish their impiety. And she would not allow the PCs to call upon the gods until they did. The reward would be Aegis, a better defense against Cerberus' gaze, and Perseus' rightful property.

The Cyclops

The PCs returned to Polis and planned to hunt the Cyclops... No easy task.

I started to regret my random choice of monster when I realized just how powerful a cyclops was, but I decided to stick with it. Consulting the oracle, I established that the Cyclops was not immortal, but had an immortal weapon... so now I had an idea of why he was marked for divine wrath... he had kept back some of the javelins of lighting he forged for Zeus (I rolled 1d4+1 and found he kept 3 of them.)

My team ran low on rations on their way to the Cyclops' lair, and could not afford an elaborate plan. Perseus successfully crept into the Cyclops lair and cased it enough to get the lay of the land and steal some scraps. He then used the Mirror of Mental Scrying to watch until the Cyclops was distracted at his forge before the party moved into an ambush position.

When Bellerophon drew the Cyclops' attention, Perseus struck from secret hurling a jar of vinegar (left over from my Cerberus plan) into the Cyclops' eye, blinding him for 1 round (on 1d4). It was not the time I was hoping to buy, but it was enough time to give him a saving throw penalty against the breath weapon of Medea's dragon, searing 31hp off of the Cyclops (who turned out to have only 45hp to begin with.) A fortunate +11 to attack and damage to Bellerophon's javelin cast (thanks to his super power) slew the giant.

Helping themselves to the Cyclop's herds, javelins, and eye, the PCs headed home victorious.

Medusa's Seduction

Little did they know that during their journey, Medusa had returned to life and acquired a new disguise before beating them to Polis by two days. Impersonating a female NPC from the gossip gathering earlier, she sent word to Perseus that she needed to see him.

Heading straight there while his companions rested, Perseus found himself brought into an intimate apartment where the flirtatious young woman met him wearing seductive veils. (I gave Perseus a 2-in-6 chance of spotting the disguise. he didn't) In fact, he didn't realize the trap until a spit second before it was too late. A glimpse of scales beneath a veil let him cover his eyes as she disrobed (That he made the saving throw was a miracle.) Attacking blind, Perseus wounded Medusa, but her venomous snakes sank their fangs into him. he failed his save. Perseus killed Medusa, but there was no help in reach, and the gods would not answer his desperate prayers. He died of poison praying in the street.

By the time his allies found him, someone else had stolen Medusa away.

The next day, the offering to Nemesis was completed alongside a funeral for Perseus. Being granted the Aegis was a bittersweet gift.

A Helpful Visitation

On the road to Cerberus' lair, the PCs crossed a river that suddenly surged as Triton, god of waves, appeared. Unlike other gods they had encountered, he was there to be a boon. (I rolled two sixes on NPC reaction.) Triton told the PCs to take heart, he could help them free Perseus from Hades' grasp once again if they would undertake an enterprise for him... but first Cerberus must be returned to his master. He gave them tactical counsel n how to fight Cerberus.


Herakles delivers Cerberus to Hades
The PCs approached Cerberus' haunt but gave themselves a few hundred feet of distance. Bellerophon moved to a position apart from Hector and Medea, who took shelter in a stand of reeds. When everyone was ready, he clattered the noisemaker. 

When Cerberus came to investigate, Bellerophon hurled a javelin of lighting to antagonize him. Out of reach of all other attacks, Cerberus retorted with his gaze, only to have the attack reflected by the Aegis. While Cerberus reeled from the power of his own gaze, Medea cast Enlarge on Hector, who braced for a charge.

Cerberus closed and spewed a cloud of toxins that fell harmlessly from the feather armor the PCs were wearing. Bellerophon stuck it with another Javelin of lightning, severely wounding a head, and deflected another gaze attack.

The warriors then closed in and hewed at Cerberus' heads. The Axe of Ares severed one. Bellerophon killed another head even as the jaws clamped around him and crushed his ribs, dropping him to -2 hp.

Medea, now in the air threw the final javelin of lightning at the surviving head while Hector shielded Bellerophon with his body and brought him back from the brink of death. Its fangs grazed and sparked off the armor, with near misses. 

Once he was sure Bellerophon was alive, Hector was able to strike back and slay the final head, returning Cerberus to its owner.

Victorious, the heroes mounted their Pegasi and headed back to Polis for Ouzo, Wine, and fine meals before heading toward the sea and the shrines of Triton to hear more about the god's mysterious offer.

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