Sunday, January 1, 2023

Silver Gull Campaign Update: "Fleshcrafting: Not Even Once!"


One of the things I love about my Xen campaign is that its history is so big and vague that I can put anything in  from the darker, stranger eras of the game, and as long as I bury them right, and give a context of which horrible age of the Empire's past it comes from, the players will find it all perfectly sensible.

For this round, I decided to use some bizarre monsters from the Creature Compendium by Richard J. LeBlanc. It worked wonders to freak my players out.

The Apprentice 

Way back in the beginning of my campaign, the player characters were sent into a dungeon under the auspices of recovering the lost secret of teleportation magic. In reality, they were sent in as a hostage exchange. The kobolds demanded that for every one of the Magic-Users captive henchmen and apprentices they were to release, he needed to send in two hostages in return. The kobolds hand intended this to work as a never-ending scheme to build a larger pool of hostages, just like the rat-things in Jack Vance's Eyes of the Overworld.

Instead, the PCs devastated the kobolds with brutal tactics and sheer ruthlessness. One of the NPCs they rescued was a grateful apprentice magic-user named Piryaan. Piryaan carried their gold and helped them pick out valuable titles from the library, and carried torches for them after the rescue. When they vanished without a trace playing with a teleportation booth, Piryaan took the coins and started a new life for himself over the hills in the city of Tarvaad.

When the PCs landed in Tarvaad, they ran into Piryaan, who gave them some useful leads and helped them make connections in the city, which he had been living in for six months by then. He proved a friendly NPC with useful knowledge of the ancient ruins in the area, as he had developed an interest in finding the lost library of Old Tarvaad.

The PCs proceeded to get tangled up with an evil enchanter in the town, hunting for cockatrices, fighting nagas, and becoming indebted to a green dragon, only to have the dragon killed by the nagas, and the PCs attacked simultaneously by a naga and a zombie dragon in one of the most terrifying ambushes I had run to date.

Nov. 14: The Madman & the Map

When the PCs finally collected the latest rumors after they finished having their crew ransack the Temple of the Seven Gods, this is the list I gave them:

Things to do in Tarvaan as of the 3nd of the Ebb of Abren:

  1. Piryaan, the apprentice wizard you saved in the ancient Orrery, has been missing for four days 
  2. There is a cavern near the ancient standing stones that is alleged to be filled with evil spirits. 
  3. The fortune-teller who hangs out in the market square briefly woke from his catatonia, screamed for an hour, and then perished. His niece has been found comatose recently.
  4. There are whispers of dragons becoming active all over the Empire.
  5. A cult of strange, Masked figures attacked a member of the red Church while she was patrolling the valley to the East.
  6. A local shepherd discovered a confused, babbling old man wandering in the hills. He has moments of lucidity, and moments where he seems to be perfectly, clearly interacting with a place no one can see. Whatever the case, he has mentioned the Door of Hau, a lost relic from the Kendi Dynasty.

They decided to seek out Piryaan,  and ended up discovering that rumors 1 and 6 were interrelated. 

Piryaan had finally located the lost library of Old Tarvaan, and gone to explore it. He left a map with a local contact 8n case he went missing, but that the contact had been attacked outside the local sanatorium and mugged of the map by an escaping lunatic... the same man found in rumor 6.

The Madman is, in fact  Feloren the God of lost travelers from Petty Gods (which I reviewed here).

I had a wonderful romp planned for the PCs if they went after the Mad God, which would have handed them clues to a lost artifact and a feud between  rival Petty Gods.

My players, after investigating the Madman a bit, devised he was a red herring.  They got as many clues as the contact could give them to narrow the search, then began searching from the air with the Silver Gull and their reconstructed ornithopter.

They located his camp and found an excavation where Piryaan had tunneled into the library from above,

In the second reading room, they found Piryaan as a mindless husk with a cephalapoidal brain bat still feeding on the last vestiges of his memory. They slew both Piryaan and the  brain bat, along with a few of its flockmates. Then they decided to search the rest in hopes of finding out what Piryaan has lost  his life to discover.

Nov 21: Squid In the Library 

"Brain Bat" from the Creature
by Richard J. LeBlanc

Zee, Linna,  Finch and Reina pushed deeper into the library to discover what had attracted Piryaan. Going down a set of stairs they found themselves in the waterlogged ruins of an ancient shelving room of an arcane library. Here the Brain Bats laid their eggs and preyed on lesser vermin.

The PCs weathered several attacks by the Brain Bats in a row as they explored the library. Eventually, they reached the front desk where visitors were carefully vetted and tomes were kept before being re-shelved.

A careful investigation of the ancient stone desk revealed several hidden and locked cabinets, one with a poisonous dart trap that Reina quickly disabled.

Inside the PCs discovered a magical bell that hurls bone-shattering sonic waves as a means of ejecting unwanted intruders, a box of gems and platinum coins, a spellbook, and an ancient tome on the art of "Fleshcrafting"

The illustrations ad details of the art described within were so grotesque that they left Linna vomiting, but didn't quite manage to shred her sanity. Zee became obsessed with the possibility within that she might be able to graft her mechanaria to her flesh.

The PCs were so absorbed in their discussion of what to do with the tome, they almost misaed a large wave of brain bats that swarmed them.

Dec. 12: ...And See What's on the Slab

Tragically for the PCs, the library was, in fact, the home to the author of that book, and most of the abominations wandering it the descendants of his creations.

They passed back through the stacks and into a laboratory on the Eastern edge of the library. The samples displayed in the various jars there were sickly, and distrrubing, and showed the various evolutionary steps of the Brain bat in sample jars.

Off of the lab they found a stairwell down protected by a magical field that cleansed all passing through it of grime, sweat, and moisture, Below they found a cleaner, drier dungeon filled with taxidermized monsters from the fleschrafter's gallery.

As they observed these they were attacked by two hulking alabaster-skinned women: advanced flesh golems created by the twisted master of the dungeon who have been waiting for human intruders to come by for thousands of years. They badly injured finch with stone-shattering fists, and left the whole party battered and exausted.

Following the corridors from whence the golems came, the party found a lab for the assembling of golems so thick with dust that it was clear the golems had been standing still for years, and nothing human-shaped had come through in years.

Down a side-passage, they discovered a mausoleum with the now dusty, skeletal remains of humans and giants once used in the master's experiments. While eerie, the room had no threats. They proceeded  down a hallway and, using their map, realized that they found the back end of a secret door that would allow them to back-track to the golem lab if need be... and need swiftly presented itself.

"Brain Crab" from the Creature
 by Richard J. LeBlanc
As they PCs tinkered with the secret passage, a rattling sound drew their attention, Looking back they way they came they were greeted with the sight of a carpet of skulls scuttling toward them... another of the masters' creations: brain crabs. These horrid hermit crab mutations have the capacity to break spines and hollow brains out of the way of their prey to let them occupy their favored home of humanoid skulls,

Thinking fast, finch used the Jug of Alchemy to create 10 gallons of lamp oil and slicked the hall, letting Reina light a carpet of fire when the swarm drew close enough.

Exhausted from their battle, the PCs ducked through a nearby door that turned out to be an intact section of the library. No sooner had they caught their breath than a fresh threat shoed up in the for of mind moths, another bizarre psychic horror courtesy of the Creature Compendium.

Linna, seeing them appearing and disappearing from sight decided to hit them with faerie fire, which negated the Mind Moths' greatest defense. Still, they shocked Zee to within an inch of her life before they drove them off.

This dungeon was far more full of horrible, aggressive, unintelligent monsters than most of my fare, and it was unsettling for them to find all of the strengths they had developed suddenly being less important.

"Mind Motht" from the Creature
 by Richard J. LeBlanc
Beyond the library they found a sealed room with reading couch, a lantern with a continual flame, and six lecterns each for a spellbook of a different level, all protected with a door frame that cleanses those passing through just like the stairwell above.

The PCs pledged to find a way to collect the doorframe and install it on the Silver Gull for the sake of keeping their crew clean and pleasant.

Dec 19: The Librarian

After spending a night resting in the wizard's spellbook room, the PCs pushed onward, finding the ancient magician's atelier and bedroom full of rarified treasures such as an emerald fit for casting soul jar, rods for casting contingency, a mirror for scrying, piles of gems, and about 6,000gp in raw coin.

The wizard's privy turned out to be a perilous location, as the slimy underground river that ran underneath the lavatory was home to an Otyugh, who attempted to grapple Finch and pull him into the toilet. they answered by cutting him free and pouring 10 gallons of flaming oil into the toilet after it.

After a brief pause for some rather demented humor, and establishing that - yes - Finch knows how to use the three seashells, the PCs decided to head back up to the main library floor.

Struggling to carry this loot, they used the secret door to the golem lab, just in time to spot some stray brain crabs. Not willing to mess around, they simply launched a bomb at them. 

Before heading upstairs, they checked a final corridor in the library basement to discover it  connected to the underground river where it was clear the brain crabs and brain bats have long since escaped into the Underdark.

"Rotmouth" from the Creature
 by Richard J. LeBlanc
They headed upstairs, and before returning to the stacks, decided to open some jars and barrels attached to the fleshcrafting lab, which is how they released a barrel of dormant rotmouths, bouncing screaming balls of diseased meat with mouths and eyes.

Finch slashed almost all of them out of the air in one flurry, but it certainly had made the characters decide that Fleshcrafting was a horrible art not to be tolerated. "Fleshcrafting: Not Even Once!" as Finch's player put it,

Opposite the fleshcrafting lab, they found a shrine to Jhilenneth, the petty goddess of improbably formed and impossibly situated monsters. One of its wings was partially collapsed, and yet they decided to digh a box partially buried in mud and rubble, which caused a collapse, partially burying Finch alive.

Between Finch being able to move his left hand and drink a potion of Stone Giant Strength and using the new magic bell, plus some clever use of rope and pulleys they were able to un-bury that battered, but unbroken Finch.

Jhillenneth, petty god of
improbably situated monsters
from Petty Gods
Finch spent more time with low hit points in this adventure than his entire adventuring career.

Staggering up to the uppermost floor, the PCs decided to take a peek in a reading room they had skipped before.

Which is where they found the lich.

Back when a tide of earth consumed Old Tarvaad, the magus who owned the library tried to defend it by creating a field that suspended entropy itself. It didn't quite work as planned.

He kept the library from being crushed and preserved much of it, but the act killed him, leaving him a being trapped in the edge of life and death caught at the moment of the ritual's completion for thousands of years.

His soul, unable to properly move on settled in a familiar place, the emerald he used for Magic Jar, and he became a nascent lich.

Slowly over centuries the spell has faded inch by inch allowing the buried library to flood in places, collapse in others, but remain intact. Enough damage over time would eventually free him.

Something I tracked as I went with the players: each time the players damaged or pillaged a section of the dungeon I dealt 1d4 damage to a hit point total of 20 for the spell (in the style of Index Card RPG). If it had reached 0, the lich would have awakened quite insane.

As it was, the spell had 3hp when they found the lich, and called in the magic-user henchmen they had taken on from the adventuring party that had been their rivals until it was wiped out. She managed to assess the spell, and its fragile status. And, when presented with the treasures, managed to deduce his phylactery.

The PCs are now trying to decide whether to just reinforce the spell and bury the lich alive, or simultaneously destroy his phylactery and blow him up will all of their reserve explosives. For now, however, the rest of the crew of the Silver Gull are carting out the treasure boxes, alchemical supplies, salvageable books, and usable equipment they can while the PCs and their most trusted henchmen guard the chamber that the lich rests in.

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