|The Blue Book cover to the Holmes|
version of Basic Dungeons & Dragons
C 1978 TSR Inc. Art by David C. Sutherland
I have no idea if anyone reads these, but I'm sure enjoying writing them.
As I wrote about in a previous article, the dice led to the generation of a rival group of NPC adventurers in the town of Orhan, which have been picking up the slack where the player characters have been ignoring local concerns. These adventurers managed to put themselves to the cusp of fourth level before they went into a ruin and woke a dragon. Three of these NPCs were killed, two captured, and only one managed to escape the dragon. This dragon, Arenax, is the focal point of my two most recent sessions.
Having slain the Demons of the Oracle of Inkandus, the PCs returned to the holy Mesa where cactus people draw on the Water of Life to gain visions. They are warned by the talking Crow, which serves as the guardian to many local holy sites, that they have come at a bad time: The Behir that guards the Mesa is hunting. The PCs get under cover just in time, as the Behir wanders into the entrance to the mesa. The Crow lies to it it says it is not seen any humans.
The PCs wait for the creature to leave, and then ask the Crow some questions. First about the Djinni that guards the oracle, and whether it can be trusted to allow the PCS to pass now that they have done as it instructed. She answered "yes" to those questions, but with warnings to watch for wordplay.
They also asked the Crow about herself. They already knew that she was a polymorphed and immortal sorceress, but the rest of the details were hazy. She introduced herself as Razia, a sorceress who lived in the earliest days of the Empire, and who had been variously friend, enemy, lover, and rival to another wizard they had encountered from that same era, Sandivh. Razia had done something so wicked and sinful that she had been cursed by a group of demigods from the region. She was polymorphed into a crow and forced to eternally protect the sites of the Cult of Malek from fools and fell sorcerers until such time as the evil of the city of Imran was no longer a threat.
Having discovered a bottle that turns any creature into a human when properly prepared in the demonic liquor cellar of Inkandus, Finch offered to turn her back into a human. They suggested that perhaps the gods had arrayed things so that the PCs could purge the oracle, slay some of the Achaierai, and drive off other monsters left over from the era of Imran. That they, in fact, had fulfilled the conditions of the curse, and have the means to lift it by holy design.
She assented once they were done with the Oracle.
They proceeded unmolested to the Djinni, who offered to play a game of chess with Riene, as she wasn't sure what she wanted to ask the oracle. Meanwhile, Finch and Zee entered the oracle's chamber, where a well containing the Waters of Life are found. The sentient cactus being there instructed them to drink, so that they would understand the speech of plants temporarily. This had the side effect of reducing their age. For Finch, who is entering into middle age, this wasn't a problem. For the much younger Zee, on the other hand, it reduced her to the age of 15 again, which she found very alarming.
Finch asked the Oracle how he might save his soul and The souls of his companions. He was told that continuing to do as he had been doing, learning the will of hell then betraying it, slaying demons, and seeking to keep Zee alive long enough for her to try to free her goddess from her frosty prison we're all legitimate steps on his journey.
Zee asked the Oracle how she might free the goddess area from her Frozen prison. She was told that the predictions she got from the hellish Oracle of Inkandus were accurate, as the demons believed she could cause great chaos by freeing the goddess. A true prophecy was in their interests. The oracle also told them theat the Demons were right on that - if she did not have the right help in accomplishing her task.
Meanwhile, Reine proves such a formidable opponent in chess that the Djinni awarded her a chess set made of obsidian and quartz chased in gold.
On attempting to leave the canyon, however, they found the Behir lying in weight. This could have very easily been a TPK, but the party had one last one-shot petrification item, and my dice obliged them with a natural one on the monster's saving throw.
During downtime, the player characters restored Razia to her human form, and she promised to reward them with magical aid in the future. But had a long adjustment to mortal life again ahead of her first.
While hanging out at the local Inn several days later, Finch was approached by a woman covered in cuts wearing bloody robes. She introduced herself as Bassani, a local sorceress who has been adventuring with some friends since the PCs inspired them several months ago. She tells them of how her group used magic too bypass the cactus Forest to the south to reach the ancient ruin about 14 miles out into the desert, only to discover a blue dragon inside.
The dragon was small, but vicious and powerful. Bassani fled, and used illusion to hide from the Dragon when it came out of the ruin looking for her. She is not sure whether her allies are alive or dead, but the Dragon mocked her saying that it had hostages. She pled with Finch to gather his allies and rescue her friends from the dragon.
At a critical stage in the manufacture of several delicate alchemical goods, Reine could not join the party, but Zee showed a sudden, almost religious excitement at the possibility of meeting a dragon, amplified by the fact that her body was reduced in age to 15 by the Waters of Life at the oracle.(Zee's player has doing a wonderful job of portraying Zee as a temperamental teen.)
Jus as she was attracted to the ice goddess Irielle, who had tried to destroy the Empire thousands of years ago and was imprisoned for it, the found herself strongly drawn to dragons, believing them to be misunderstood and vilified needlessly.
Finch and Zee flew with their airship to the entrance of the ruin. They aimed the heavy flaming oil projector they had mounted on the fore of their ship to cover their escape if needed.
They did some brief scouting, and then decided to take a bold approach. They walked up to the dragon and began speaking
Finch and Zee plied the Dragon, Arenax with flattery, complements, and freely offered information about the age and the region. As is often the case with this party, NPC reaction rolls make creatures that one expects to be hostile into quite pleasant interlocutors.
They managed to ransom the two captive adventures back from the dragon for 800 pieces of gold. They also persuaded the dragon that her plan to simply attack Orhan would be successful, but that it was wasteful. The town was about to lose its greatest defenders, and was in a state of great flux. If the dragon arrived offering protection in return for tribute they might not just hail her as a hero, but worship her. It helps that Delgradia, the succubus, had been priming the community to develop a cult of chaos for months.
They negotiated on the town's behalf a tribute of 3,000 gold pieces a season in the finest of gems, along with goats for food, and songs of her greatness.
The dragon agreed and declared that she would visit the town in 3 days collect her first tribute.
The PCs hurried home, recruiting the surviving adventurers as henchmen and crew for the Silver Gull. Finch quickly had an audience with Canoness Badroo, the religious leader of the community, and explained the situation. He told her that they would need to travel and take care of matters but would be back with the resources necessary to ambush and kill the dragon after she had become complacent and believed the community was coedd.
He suggested that they could gain the help of Razia and the bottled simulacra of the wizard Sandivh as a weapon when the time was right.
With this tribute constituting roughly a sixth of the community's income, it could be borne for a little while. Badroo agreed. Although she was not happy with the deal, but was even less happy with the prospect of losing villagers in a needless battle against a dragon when they can play it smart.
Sensing that the Goodwill of the community could quickly be exhausted, The Silver Gull lifted off the day before the dragon's arrival and set sail for the town of Arka, where their Adventures had begun before they wandered into a teleportation machine. They had a wizard to take revenge on before they could fulfill (or renege) the rest of their bargain with the devilish emissary known as Mirdon.
On the 5th day of the flight, they ran into a fury of harpies who demanded a toll of 600 gold pieces and one male crewmate. When the PCS refused, the harpies began to sing, trying to lure the hapless crew to walk off the deck.
This was a perfect opportunity for one of my players to show off her new character, Linna, a runaway noblewoman turned bard who joined the crew at the last minute to get swift passage away from. Orhan. (I adapted The Bard class from advanced Old School Essentials to S&W.) Her anti-charm ability saved the crew, and let her fascinate a harpy, and eventually charm her.
Meanwhile, Zee finally got to test out her mounted artillery flamethrower on the rest of the harpy flock. A barrage of arrows and musket fire forced few the survivors out of the air.
The harpy that they managed to charm was brought a board for questioning. They wanted to know what the harpies had intended to do with 600 gold pieces. The answer was that they intended to use it to commission a magic item from a human sorcerer in a nearby town. The Sorcerer met with beings of Chaos in secret beyond the edges of the community, selling lore, spells, and magic items in exchange for the plunder of local monsters.
The magic item, in turn, would be presented as a tribute to the Night Queen, an ancient dragon who had recently awoken in the underworld, and was now gathering forces to her.
This was not the first time that the PCS had heard mention of the Night Queen, and now the threat started to feel more immediate.
Wondering if this sorcerer might be the same wizard who tried to sell them to kobolds in the first adventure, the PCs changed course to Tarvaan to meet with this sorcerer, interrogate him, and probably turn him over to the red Church.
They then got the harpy to direct them to her sister's lair where they pillaged the gold and jewels the harpies had amassed, and laid explosive traps for them when they should limp home.