Tuesday, June 13, 2023

The Silver Gull Campaign: Fiends in Mirrors

Zeelagur character portrait made w/ Stable Diffusion
and ethically sourced image libraries by her player.
©️2023 D. Westfal
 My players have finally closed a major chapter in the Silver Gull Swords & Wizardry Campaign over the last handful of sessions:

March 20th: Obliteration

Returning from the Fae with a rescued cleric in tow, the PCs all went to the cloning lab Reine discovered and beat the Echthroi flashcrafter there to a pulp, forcing him to tell them where to find the gear they left behind. And discovered that a replicant of Zee had been sent to take the 'Gull.

Fearing the worst, the PCs rushed back to their ship to find a stretch of smoldering carnage below her. As the Echtroi hadn't managed to take Zee quickly, they decided to fake it, and send their flawed copy of Zee with a few stalkers to board the Gull.

Tragically, the replicant had used good, everyday manners and humour that wasn't back as the void itself. The NPC first mate, Corwyn. saw through the ruse and simply bombarded the replicant and Ecthroi stalkers on principle.

(I used a modified NPC reaction roll for the ship when the Echhroi arrived to determine how effective the Echthroi ruse was... and the 3 on the reaction roll, modified by a -2 due to a poor disguise was enough to simply have Corwyn release Hell.)

When asked what if it had been the real Zee, Corwyn simply shrugged. This was, strangely good enough.

March 27th: Looking into the Future

With the diversions of New Tarvaan resolved, my players spent a session planning treasure, future expenses, and prioritizing the leads they wanted to follow. It is one of those occasional "housekeepng sessions" a good campaign needs every year or so.

April 24: Pamuk

After losing almost a month to illness, my players and I finally reconvened and had the players arrive in the city of Pamuk -  goal they had set for the game in February 2022. They'd previously learned from contacts that there were two cults operating in Pamuk, one offering forbidden pleasures to the rich and powerful in exchange for influence -- and the other a coven of witches offering fertility, safety, and rich crops to the poorest of the city in return for sacrifices and obedience.

Knowing the lore of the Two Hells of Xen, the PCs guessed the coven served the demon, Mirdon, to whom they had been indebted early in the campaign, and who they have been planning to double-cross in order to save their souls 

In order to seek out the cult, the PCs headed to the poorest district in Pamuk, the Temple Ruins District, and headed to the local casbah, The Old Temple, to gather information. There they encountered two influential NPCs, Ugar, the innkeeper - also a local pimp and drug dealer - and through him Ma'afa, a gangster and infobroker.

Both of these NPCs were courteous and informative... but my NPC reaction rolls told me in both cases that they wanted the PCs dead, and knew their reputation. Ma'afa was very careful what information he fed the PCs, and used it to direct their movements, and to give them enough rope to hang themselves by.

The PCs also visited a local sorcereress, Nyra, who accepts coin for fortunes and simple magical aid to the locals. This character, too, knew who the PCs were, and didn't like them one bit. (The dice have decided that Pamuk is a decidedly suspicious and inhospitable town.)

With Nyra, however, money talks, and the bribe the PCs gave her was enough for her to tell them where the Hot Hell cult that serves the rich and powerful holds its revels.

The PCs purchased disguises, surveyed the area by day, and decided to pose as a wealthy libertine and his two mistresses. Reine whose Kooet race made her stand out too much took up the role of sniper and determined when the cult met she would go ahead of time to pick them off them if needed.

May 1st: The Cult of Excess

As the PCs made last minute plans for the infiltration, Ma'afa made his move, attacking the PCs en masse with a group of his gangsters. As he threatened them, Reine vanished using the power of her leather armor to become invisible once per day, then attacked a gangster from behind using her signature weaponized grappling hooh, hanging him from a tree by his punctured throat.

Meanwhile the one gangster who had laid hands on Zee lost an arm to her clockwork horror minion. Finch killed every man in reach with a fullry of swoed strikes. The first round was so ghastly that every enemy but Ma'afa fled in terror. They then left Ma'afa impaled in the ruins where he ambushed them by his own sword. The one survivng gangster with one arm was offered a chance to join the crew so that Zee could experiment with Echthroi cybernetic technology on him to replace the arm.

Finch, Zee, and Linna intruded on the cult's location, using Finch's brazen bluffs and willingness to throw gold around tob luff their way in. Finch's mannerisms managed to get him mistaken for a riverboat captain who occasionally serves the cult, which helped him out immensely.

As they mingled, the Patriarch, the master of the cult made some pre-orgy announcements, including congratulating one of their brothers, who had raised 40,000gp for the cult's causes, and in return was to be given the daughter of one of his rivals as a pleasure slave... including bringing the hapless girl on stage for display.

Unwilling to stand by and do nothing, Finch took an opportune moment to approach the Patriarch. Using his magic sword that lets him see the invisible and penetrate illusions, Finch learned that the Patron himself was a Frog Demon (from Chris Kutalik's  Hill Cantons), a type of demon that the party has slaughtered en masse in the past. This allowed Finch to make effective threats to persuade the Frog Demon that attacking him, even with an army of cultists would lead to a pointless slaughter.

He also claimed that he wasn't after the demon, anyway. What he wanted was information on Mirdon's operations so that he could find a way to ruin his works, humiliate them in the eyes of the Hierarchs of the Cold Hells, and deprive him od his minions before banishing him from Xen forever. This suited the Patriarch just fine. He offered Finch valuable insights and invited him to stay for the ceremony.

This made Finch bold enough to ask if the Patriarch cared what happened to the man who was being awarded the slave-girl. After rolling a modified Morale Check, I decided that the Patriarch would wave it off - the young man had served his purpose.

Finch broke off from the Patriarch and approached the young aristocrat, and, after some banter, convinced him to take Finch, his "girls" and the new slave to be broken in in a way only  pirate can teach him. As soon as they reached the aristocrat's home, they allowed Zee to beat him senseless (Zee really hates slavers). They took the girl home to her father with their new captive in hand. The father had plans for the captive that involved the words "eunuch", "branding iron", and "asbestos mine" and gratitude for the rescue of his daughter that was boundless.

As it turned out the family they had helped had a familial connections to the Sultan of Pamuk. They took the opportunity to pass along the information they had gathered about the Patriarch's cult to the Sultan, and advice on how to deal with the demon. In return they were given free use the lands and holdings of the aristocrat they had captured until the Sultan could take proper stock.

Obviously, the PCs grabbed anything valuable as soon as they could manage, down to silk pyjamas and silverware.

May 15th: Witch Hunting

With the Patriarch's cult turned in to the Sultan, who will happily use it to remove disloyal aristocrats and rivals, the PCs turned to hunting Mirdon's cult.

Posing as poor and desperate refugees, the PCs managed to find a witch who holds court with supplicants. Not be trifled with, this witch was a brutal combatant, and managed to inflict some pretty intense injuries before she was disarmed by Finch and (with a little help from another PC's hidden talents ) the PCs broke her will.

In fact, she was so demoralized, she handed over knowledge of the rites to conjure Mirdon and the recipe for a ritual drug her cult uses. The PCs had her lead them to the mire of sewage in which the dangerous Obliviax (memory-eating moss) grew so that they would have what they needed to summon and bind Mirdon.

Leaving the witch disheartened and contemplating how to repent, the PCs set to work using the incantations and rites to reverse-engineer Mirdon's true name (a trick they learned earlier in the campaign.)

May 29th: the Frozen Mirror

With Mirdon's true name captured and a rite to summon him specifically on hand, the PCs made their anti-demon poisons, collected quality summoning ingredients, and returned to the Pit of Despair beneath Old Tarvaan.

It had been weeks since they last visited the dungeon, and found that a trio of Ogre Magi had taken up residence in the dungeon  and taken over Root's business of making magic items for the Forces of Chaos. While the Ogre Magi recognized the magic blindfold Zee was wearing as belonging to another of their kind, they wished the PCs no harm, and in fact thanked them for killing a family black sheep.

Deeper into the dungeon they had a strange encounter with an aspect of Feloren, the minor god of the Lost (from Petty Gods) who gave them a strange cosmic map before using the hellish gate they found in one of the chambers to roam into the plane of Abysm.

The PCs were shortly thereafter ambushed by cannibal mutants living in the dungeon, which nearly cost them some NPC henchmen, and caused Finch some pretty severe injuries before the monsters fled deeper into the dungeon.

The PCs proceeded to the Mirror of Atum, an artifact that lets you address any denizen of either of the Hells if you address them by name, hosted by an entrapped adventurer who has served as a living manual for centuries. They had established that the adventurer  could only be freed if another being volunteered to take her place.

The PCs performed a ritual to summon Mirdon.

Enraged, the demon threatened, cajoled, and tempted, but the circle was made correctly and the ritual was properly performed. When it was clear the fiend was trapped, they used his true name; which can be used only once to compel the fiend (if it does otherwise save.) With it, they forced Mirdon to trade places with the woman trapped in the mirror. 

Once imprisoned, Mirdon snarled and raged, unleashing the fury of the Cold Hells impotently against the mirror causing it only to frost over from the "inside.".

Not content to leave Mirdon trapped in limbo for centuries, they took the 800lb. mirror with them out of the Dungeon to be secured in the vaults of the Satrap of New Tarvaan.

Finally, the PCs were free of the debt owed to the Cold Hells and can move on to greater things.

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