Dungeon Crawl Classics - Vornheim

Sammael99

Visitor
So I'm starting this Vornheim campaign motorized by Dungeon Crawl Classics. I'll be posting my Actual Play here with a bit of design resources here and there.

For those who don't know Vornheim, it's a city toolkit with a heavy mix of Vance and Leiber feel. The whole idea is to make your own Vornheim with it which I did, so you will find differences between this and the book, but hopefully I got the spirit right.

I chose DCC to power our campaign because I like the inherent unpredictability of it. The players seem to like it so far as well, so all's good.

I'll start by posting something about my version of Vornheim, then the characters, then the first session.

Edit Note: I have edited the previous installments to add NPC portraits.
 
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Sammael99

Visitor


Eight Things Everyone Knows About Vornheim

Vast is Vornheim amidst the plains of the Upper North. The City now extends beyond its Walls. Its buildings are very tall, like houses built on top of one another which confers an improbable silhouette to Vornheim’s towers. One travels between towers through elevated bridges and narrow arches or pathways. It is not a good thing to be afflicted with Vertigo in Vornheim.

One does not enjoy living in Vornheim if one does not suffer Snow. Some call the city “the grey maze” for this very reason. A good part of its trade comes from the underground River of Unfathomable Despair. The docks are situated under the city and operate day and night. The rest of the trade comes through the southern Narrow Gate. The Great Gate collapsed a few years ago along with a portion of the City Walls.

Ruled by the Carnifex, Vornheim has recently experienced some political turmoil. The wise Lord Thrawl is the official Carnifex but has not been seen in over two years. Several regents have ruled from the Palace Massive in his stead but their rule is generally short lived. The current regent is Duke Vosculous Eeeben. He wears the Carnifex’s Three-Beaked Mask.

No religion other than the Church of Vorn is tolerated in Vornheim. Vorn is the somber god of iron, rust and rain and his holy place is the Eminent Cathedral. Other cults may survive in silence, but those who offend the Rectors of the Psychopomp rarely live to tell the tale. The Cult of Vorn is experienced differently by various Orders who may as well be different religions as far as outsiders are concerned.

High are the palaces of Vorheim’s nobility. Nobles flaunt their fortune, their idleness and especially their family colours on all occasions and live in contempt of commoners. Showing that you have all the time in the world is the utter sign of the noble mindset. Titles are hereditary but unrelated to land ownership. Nobles play the games of politics and other, more perverse games besides.

Exclusive to Militia men, Guards and Rectors, weapons are not to be openly carried in Vornheim. Daggers are tolerated and nobles’ rapiers rarely remarked upon. These rules apply unevenly, depending on the district and the whim of the local militia. It is different with attire restrictions: the pleb may not wear ostentatious clothing such as pointed shoes or plumed hats. Vivid colours are right out.

In between the Palace Massive and the Eminent Cathedral - at the center of the Great Square - stands a well where the Wyvern lives. Every citizen of Vornheim no matter what his station has the right once in his life to go down the well and donate 700 crowns to the Wyvern in exchange for the answer to one question. In turn, the Wyvern asks one question to the supplicant who must answer truthfully or be devoured.

Maroon is Vorn’s colour: he uses it for rust. Whoever walks the streets of Vornheim wearing maroon clothes will be pelted with snowballs thrown by street urchins and other nearby children. In an instant, clothes will turn to white (or more likely dirty grey). Strangers with brown skin are considered blessed and treated with much respect.
 
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Sammael99

Visitor
We did not run a funnel to design characters for this campaign. The players didn't really feel like it, and since we don't have a lot of playing time, neither did I. These were rolled as Level 1 characters following the rules by the book. In order to spice things up I added a roll on a table called One Item You Care About, and went through a quick Q&A process in the style of Everway where players ask each other questions about their characters that can be prescriptive (asking about your character's wife means you have a wife).

Wistul the Northern Elf (M)
Wistul has the pale-white complexion of all Northern Elves. An artisan by trade, he has been banned from his clan for meddling in politics. He was accused of attempting to murder one of the clan leaders, although he denies this and never mentions it. He came to Vornheim a few months ago and has been surviving by doing odd jobs for soldiers in the District of the Desperate. He sleeps in underground tunnels or sewers where he can find them and most of his sustenance comes from a magical bottle of Elven wine that refills every morning. He is more than a little paranoid, wondering if his Elven brothers are out to get him. As a consequence, he latched onto Sabrina and Valya when he met them: after all, they are wizards and speak constantly of achieving more power, so he naïvely assumes that they are powerful enough to protect him and thinks that if he helps them, they will help him. His Patron is the King of Elfland, but he has not dared to invoke him since he was banned, worried that he would no longer be in favour.

Sabrina the peasant wizardess (F)
Sabrina was born a peasant, but one of her uncles was a wizard and over the years he taught her enough to make her aspire for more than tilling the soil. Some time ago, her uncle died in the explosion of his laboratory and Sabrina is convinced that a more powerful mage destroyed him. She wants to find that mage, or any other mentor who might help her become more powerful. Recently she has studied the supernatural entities collectively known as Patrons and is keen to find one for herself. Sabrina is a rather small and bland looking woman who no one would suspect of being a wizard. She always carries with her a hen in which the soul of her brother Sven is imprisoned. She intends to sacrifice this soul to a Patron if she can find one.

Valya the masterless wizard (M)
Valya started life as a barber, and still lives in the tiny space that used to be his barbershop in the district of the Great Clock. Valya has a club foot which hinders both his speed and the accuracy of his movement. Valya's master used to live not far from the city until he blew himself up in an unfortunate accident. The fact that Valya had tampered with the wizard's medallion previously may or may not be related. Valya thought the medallion gone with the master, but a beggar recently approached him to sell it to him for a goodly number of crowns. Valya intends to find himself a Patron in order to become a powerful wizard and not risk blowing himself up. He recently came into possession of a map of the home of a rich wizard who calls himself the Pattern Juggler. The map was drawn by a known burglar who has met an unfortunate demise.

Zeera the androgynous cleric (M/F)
Zeera is a cleric of the Lascivious Order of Vorn. No one can really tell what Zeera's gender is, and he/she likes it that way. He/she wears tight leathers and carried a flail designed to look like a whip. Zeera has attracted the attention of the Rectors of Vorn in the past, and although it was not proven that he/she had done anything heretical, they have been onto him/her ever since. Zeera has a phobia of carnal relationships which puts him/her in a complicated situation with his/her own Order. As a consequence, while he/she attends the regular gatherings at the Bleak Beaver that often end up in orgies, he/she slips out before things get really intimate. This is how he/she has met Valya, Sabrina and Wistul who take advantage of the happy hour that the Bleak Beaver's owner has instituted during said orgies in order to maintain business while things go on upstairs.

Elan the unambitious thief (M) RIP
Elan is a small time pickpocket and dilettante burglar who has been content with the occasional money earning scheme as long as it keeps him in drinking funds. He knows many drinking holes in Vornheim intimately. While not entirely immoral, he has recently swindled one of his closest friends, although said friend doesn't know, which (in Elan's mind) makes it alright. A few weeks ago, alongside a wizard friend and a dwarf acquaintance, Elan burgled the underground abode of a witch named Frost. A few days later, both the wizard and the dwarf disappeared without trace from the attic they were sharing, and Elan has been concerned for his safety ever since. When he encountered the rest of the group at the Bleak Beaver he decided to tag along for protection.

Aventine Jack the pragmatic warrior (M) RIP
Short and scrawny, Jack is an ex-army man who deserted a conflict in the South when butchery and months without pay became more than he could bear. He still wears an old army coat that belonged to his dead brother, its blue faded to the point of greyness. Jack lives mostly from bouncing in various bars and taverns. Recently he has been doing that regularly at the Bleak Beaver and that is how he met the rest of the band. Jack is married, but doesn't tell this to anyone for fear of his wife being made a target by his enemies. He's up for any adventure provided there's a chance of making a bit of money.

Makabee the confused Northern Elf (M)
Makabee is a Northern Elf and Wistul's cousin. He has been sent over from the Elven lands to meet with Wistul and convince him to come home. Makabee enjoys his magics, perhaps a little too much. One of his spells in particular has the secondary effect of forcing a gender change onto him each time it is cast. Makabee has been enjoying casting that particular spell not because of its primary effect but because of the gender change. That's in fact the real reason (although he doesn't know it) he has been sent to Vornheim: he's entirely too bizarre for the Elven society and they hope he never comes back.

Humboldt Barley the cretinous Halfling (M)
Humboldt Barley is an incredibly lucky Halfling, and that's probably what has kept him alive all these years: he is also probably the stupidest Halfling in the history of Halflings. He is convinced that he's really good at whatever he does, and that everyone admires him despite evidence to the contrary. He lives as a vagrant in the streets of Vornheim but that doesn't strike him as odd. He often says that he once met a long dead Carnifex of Vornheim in the sewers near the Palace Immense, but it's probably just drunken talk. He admires Makabee and usually sticks with him.
 
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Sammael99

Visitor
Session 1: A Thorny Adbuction

Zeera, Valya, Wistul, Sabrina and Jack are waiting for Elan at the Bleak Beaver. Valya has recently shared with the rest of the band his map of the Pattern Juggler's home and Elan offered to get some information about him and the security of his home before they decide to burgle it.

But Elan is late. Very late. Despite his known proclivities for alcohol and women, this isn't like him. They decide to go looking for him, and where better to start than the Mighty Claw where he is a well known figure?


Illustration by John Grumph, used with authorization

Jack knows Sajade (1), a fellow bouncer who has been enjoying steady employment at the Mighty Claw. Despite their scruffy appearance and the rather more upmarket atmosphere than is usual for them, the group walks in without being challenged. There aren't many patrons around at this time of day, and Jack walks straight to Sajade to enquire about Elan. Sajade tells him that Elan was in earlier that day when a stunning looking woman walked in and went straight to him. But as they were talking, the Inn suddenly erupted in smoke and Sajade clearly heard a pig squeal. When the smoke cleared, neither Elan nor the woman were anywhere to be seen. Sajade also shows Jack the table Elan was sitting at: the table has grown thorns all over its wooden parts. Zeera shaves one of the thorns off and secures it in his/her pocket.

Sajade also mentions that Elan has been worried lately. His friends Majax and Tyrion have disappeared after the three of them pulled off a burglary that Elan couldn't help bragging about. Jack asks him if he knows where Elan lives, but Sajade says that as far as he's aware it's nowhere fixed. However he believes that Majax used to live nearby in an elevated attic or something to that effect.

After asking around the group manages to find out where Majax lived. They find the old wooden shed in which she is said to reside. It's cold around, and Wistul attempts to identify if magic is in use around the place using Allaskobe's Wonder Identification Spell(2). Unfortunately he can't get it right and nothing happens.

Jack breaks the door down but the room behind is completely empty. The floor, walls, ceiling and beams are covered in frost and it's deathly cold there. They search the room, but find nothing. They ask a few of the neighbors about Majax, and find out that she had recently been hosting a grumpy dwarf and also that she was recently seen bringing in a lot of books into her house. She hasn't been seen since the recent night when it was so deathly cold and the wind was howling. Except the weather has been rather mild these last couple of weeks...


Illustration by John Grumph, used with authorization

Suspecting sorcery is afoot, Sabrina suggests that they should go meet Magisterus Putin, a vain scholar who dabbles in magic and often spends time at the Red Library pouring over genealogies. Sabrina and Valya enter the library and engage in conversation with the Magisterus. Sabrina pretends she and Valya have been arguing about the ability of women to perform Ice Magic and some old theory suggesting the hotness of their wombs prevented them from doing so. Sabrina asks if he has heard of any such Ice Sorceress. The Magisterus' answer is as pretentious as it is unhelpful, but Valya perceives that he is toying with Sabrina and will not give her the satisfaction of a clear answer. He tells Sabrina to head off since she was clearly on the wrong side of the (pretend) argument and asks the Magisterus more directly about the existence of a female sorceress whose practice would be associated with thorns.

"There is an old but persistant rumor that three sisters of the Magical Arts have been living in Vornheim since time immemorial. Their work aims at nothing less, it is said, than to destroy the world. But they hate each other and fail to collaborate in effectively bringing their goals forward, which is a blessing for the rest of us, I suppose... Anyway, their names are Thorn, Frost and Dread. I imagine that since you asked about both Ice and Thorn magic, this fits the bill..."

"Absolutely. You wouldn't happen to know where either of these sisters reside ?"

"No, but I imagine that if they exist, and my research suggests they do, their names are significant. I suspect Frost might live in some really cold place, underground maybe? Thorn could live in one of the upper gardens, possibly? Dread I do not know. The scariest place in the City is the Rector's Headquarters as far as I'm concerned, but that seems like an unlikely place..."


Illustration by John Grumph, used with authorization

Valya thanks the Magisterus Putin for his help and briefs the rest of the band on his findings. Zeera knows a reputed gardener who tends many of the nobles' Upper Gardens, a man called Spade. He/she doesn't know where to find him, but suspects he might know where a Rosebush garden (or other thorny garden) might exist.

Zeera heads out towards Eden, a showroom in the Pajandra district where numerous miniature gardens are on display. This is where nobles go to choose what they want in their private gardens. Zeera walks to the poshly dressed salesperson, and invents a story about the Lascivious Order of Vorn intending to organise a garden themed party. They want to procure the services of the gardener Spade, would the salesperson be able to point to him ?

The salesman from Eden explains that while he doesn't know where Spade lives, he knows that he is currently working on the Sky Garden at the Palace of the Whitefish family. Zeera thanks him and says she will be back once Spade has advised on plant selections.

The next morning, Zeera waits not too far from the entrance to the Whitefish Palace. She sees Spade coming towards the palace and intercepts him. Jack and Sabrina are with him/her.

Spade recognizes Zeera and greets him/her politely. Zeera knows him from before he/she joined the Order about a year ago, but they haven't met since. After a bit of polite conversation, Zeera asks if he would know of a rosebush garden in Vornheim. Spade explains that roses don't grow too well in the cold of the Northern Plains, and even the white winter roses are few and far between in the city's gardens. He's certainly never seen a full garden of them. Zeera then shows him the thorn he/she shaved off the table at the Mighty Claw and Spade says that's a hawthorn, and a mighty one at that. It reminds him of a hawthorn and bramble garden on the heights of the Bronze House. He never managed to find access to it, but saw it from the nearby and higher up Sliver House. Zeera thanks him for his help. Throughout the conversation, Sabrina keeps staring at Spade, convinced she has already seen his face but incapable of figuring out where or when.

The group decides to head to the Bronze house that evening under the cover of night so that the more martially inclined can hide their weapons. As the snow starts to fall an hour after dusk, they decide to climb the outside wooden stairs to the Bronze House in the hope of seeing the garden. After the third landing, the stairs no longer have rails, and the vertiginous ascent continues with a bit more caution. Around the fifth floor, Jack looks up and thinks he can distinguish a massive hedge higher up on one side of the building. They continue until the Eighth floor, and there the stairs stop. There's a wooden platform all around the building, but no way to go further up. Jack believes he can see the hedge starting on the top of a wall about four meters above them. That's when they realize no one is really any good at climbing.

Wistul mentions that he can perform Ixam-Orko's Mighty Embiggenment formula to make himself taller. If someone is on his shoulders, they should be able to reach the ledge that the hedge grows on. Jack thinks that's a good plan and climbs above Wistul's shoulders. Wistul starts to chant while cutting up his forearm. The spell takes effect and Wistul grows to three times his size! Jack is catapulted above the hedge. The wooden platform starts to creak dangerously under Wistul's enormous weight and he quickly climbs up the ledge to avoid the whole thing collapsing. He dives headfirst in the hedge but gets only a few scratches.

Jack had a good look at the garden from high up in the air, and he spots not only that the garden is a maze but that the center of the maze looks like a little cottage made of hawthorn and bramble. Next to the cottage he thinks he spotted an enclosure with what could be a pig inside. On the way down he manages to tumble artfully and avoid taking too much damage beyond a few scrapes.

Jack and the giant Wistul are now in the garden. Wistul just swings his arm down to get Valya, Sabrina and Zeera up with them. They start walking through the maze with Wistul at the front, towering over the maze hedges. Both the hawthorn and the brambles have berries, which Sabrina collects dutifully.

Wistul quickly realizes that the maze is reorganizing itself around them and that it's therefore pointless to follow the corridors in between the hedges. He starts hacking in the direction of the center of the maze as pointed by Jack. They progress a little towards the thorn cottage, but after a while they hear a rustling sound and suddenly a face made of thorns appears in the hedge, followed by arms that emerges from the hedge and attack Wistul(3). The giant elf's skin has grown thick with the magical enlargement however, and the thorns scratch him but don't hurt him. He and Jack start hacking successfully at the creature.

Zeera whips out his/her flail and swings it at the creature very effectively, virtually detaching it from the hedge. The creature seems to crumble partially on the ground. Meanwhile Zalya attempts to burn it with Ludurafet's Igneous Eruption, but does not manage to get the formula right. Sabrina on the other hand uses Eskim's Mystical Mask very successfully: her face erupts in thorns and brambles and soon reflects the creature's own face.

The creature seems to recover slightly, and while Wistul's massive swordblows are clearly doing a lot of damage, it doesn't seem to ever be quite enough. But the creature itself has failed to do any harm to the band, and suddenly it disappears back into the hedge. Sabrina's face turns back to normal.

Wistul prepares to hack at the hedge again, but it opens up before him, and soon the whole group stands in front of the thorn cottage, just as Jack had described it. And indeed, in an enclosure by the side of the cottage a pig lies trembling in the cold.

A woman of unearthly beauty stands in front of the cottage. Her skin is as brown as the hawthorn's bark, but with a strange polish to it. And of course, she has thorns protruding from her arms and her hair is made of brambles. She's staring straight at the immense Wistul, as if the others simply didn't exist.

"So you barge into my garden, hack at my labyrinth and defeat my Thorn Golem. I'm warning you, pale giant, I am not to be taken lightly and will not go down without a fight!"

"Erm... We're not here to... fight you, Lady Thorn", Wistul says in a loud, booming yet uncertain voice. "We're here for the pig..."

"The pig? This thing here ?" Thorn answers, pointing at the pen by the house. "It gravely offended my sister Frost. She will pay me dearly for it. Also, she will hate me for having found it before she did. That is just my extra little pleasure... Why would you want it?"

"Because he's our friend" Zeera answers, not entirely convincingly.

"Friend is a concept I have never quite understood. But anyway, you can't just ask me to give it over to you. I can get much from my sister for this puny creature, not to mention increase her displeasure..."

"Mighty Lady", Sabrina says obsequiously, "isn't there some service we could render in exchange for our... friend... In his original form if at all possible?"

Thorn seems to think for a while and then a smile slowly creeps on her face.

"Yes, there is something. Something I have been trying to procure for a while, that could be worth giving you this piglet back. Find me an ophidoscope. But you must swear a blood oath."

"I will", Sabrina answers. She walks forward and extends her hand to Thorn. Thorn takes the hand as if to shake it, and a large thorn suddenly pierces Sabrina's hand. She squints from the pain, but does not scream.

"Swear to bring me back an ophidoscope within the next moon cycle in exchange for your friend here, changed back into his original form? If you fail to do so, may the thorns eat out your heart..."

"I swear", Sabrina says, suppressing a gulp (4).

Thorn waves at the enclosure, and the hedges part. The pig runs towards the rest of group, but is visibly frightened by the giant elf. As he runs closer, his body starts to shift from the pink of a pig to the pink of a naked man. As he collapses from exhaustion, terror and cold in front of the group, Jack uses the sack he took to hide his sword in as a makeshift coat to shield him from the cold.

The group then retreats back the way they came, timing their descent so that Wistul changes back to his normal size before hitting the platform on the eighth floor.

***
(1) Characters in bold are recurring NPCs. I have printed sheets of portraits and when the PCs want a character to be recurring in the story, they choose a portrait and either they or I name the NPC. Thus the network of contacts grows.
(2) I have decided to go for Vancian style names. For the most part, you'll be able to figure out the spells used just based on the description. Sometimes the name helps too...
(3) See below for the Thorn Golem's stats. It was probably well dimensioned for the party in its normal state, but with Wistul at +6 AC, +6 ATK and +6 DMG, they made minced thorns of it.
(4) Sabrina lost 1 hp from the oath ritual, and she can't recover it until the oath has been fulfilled.
 
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Sammael99

Visitor
In case anyone is interested, this is the stats for the Thorn Golem:

Thorn Golem
Init +2; Atk thorny embrace +2 (1d8); AC 12; HD 4d8; MV 30′; Act 1d20; SP embrace, regenerate, fire vulnerability; SV Fort +2, Ref -1, Will 0; AL N.
Regeneration: recover 1d8 HP at the end of each round.
Vulnerable to Fire: Damage from fire does not regenerate. If a fire attack brings total HP below zero, Thorn Golem dies.
Embrace: Each successful attack entangles the victim. Ref save DC 15 to be able to act again.
It would have been a serious opponent to the group had Wistul not been in giant form. As it stands he just hacked it down to 0 hp with Jack and Zeera's help in a matter of 2-3 rounds. It would have regenerated, but also would have made for a dissatisfying end to the combat. I decided that Thorn would rather not see her golem damaged anymore and instead face the intruders.
 

resscane

Explorer
Nice. I own Vornheim (and Red and Pleasant and Maze of Blue Medusa). Amazing books. Look forward to reading the rest of your story hour.
 

Sammael99

Visitor
Thanks resscane! I also own RaPL and MotBM. The latter has been an inspiration for what I've (loosely) planned in this campaign. We're playing the second session tomorrow night (HKT) so expect another write-up soon.

Later on I'll share some of the resources I designed for this.
 

Sammael99

Visitor
Session 2: A Buried Mystery

Following the band's encounter with Thorn, Sabrina is understandably anxious about locating an ophidoscope. After a few days of research, she hears of a strange shop in the upper reaches of the Tower of the Starred Ribbon. The owner is an old Dwarf called Dwimberg who specializes in unique items. He insists all of them are of a mysterious nature, and he has an ophidoscope for sale, recently acquired. He is asking for a thousand crowns in order to part with it, and amount that is nowhere near within the current means of Sabrina and her acolytes put together.

Valya spends his time researching the nature of ophidoscopes rather than finding one. Early in his apprenticeship, his master forced him to learn the sinuous script of the Ophidians, and ever since this long-lost race has been a fascination of his. Spending long days in various libraries around Vornheim, he manages to trace rumours that suggest that books were a human invention: the Ophidians who reigned upon the world in eons past had no use for books for they encoded information in the skin of snakes. Ophidoscopes were designed to decode that information. Valya does not manage to understand if the information would be on the skins of live snakes or dead snakeskins.

Understanding that a significant amount of money will be needed if Dwimberg's ophidoscope is to be acquired, Jack and Wistul start looking around for opportunities. Jack learns that the Count of Versheim is seeking aspiring adventurers to clean up the catacombs under his out of town manor. The pay offered is rumored to be ridiculously low however, and the manor is four days walk away, so Jack isn't convinced it's the right opportunity for them given that Sabrina needs to have given the ophidoscope to Thorn in about two weeks time.


Illustration by John Grumph, used with authorization

Wistul hears something from Blind Grunsten, a beggar that he frequently meets in the sewers where he sleeps. Another beggar has recently been found dead in the sewers under the Panjandra District. His face and body were raked as if by some claws. The interesting thing though is that the guy who found him found a golden bracelet next to the body. The beggars are worried that something unnatural light roam the sewers. Since Wistul is a mighty warrior (he owns a sword!) they would like him to investigate and eliminate the threat.

Wistul tells his companions about this, and they decide to pursue that lead hoping that the bracelet will lead back to more riches, hopefully enough to pay for the ophidoscope. Early one morning they meet near one of the entrances of the Viscera district (entering the sewers from the Panjandra district is tough because the militia tends to monitor those) and enter the sewers.

After an hour of navigating the sewer hallways, the party reaches the spot where the raked beggars body was found. This part of the sewer network could be described as luxurious: large canals and narrow but walkable sidewalks. Wistul examines the floor where the beggar was found, and there is an unmistakable trace of dried blood, not more than a few days old. Valya also spots something shiny in a crack between two cobblestones. He manages to extract it; it's a tiny translucent gemstone.

Excited by the prospect of cold hard cash, the party searches the area nearby and notices on a wall not too far from where the beggar was killed an engraving in fancy lettering that says "Long and slender, fast and silver". No one knows what that may mean, but Wistul is instinctively convinced that there is a secret passage under or next to that engraving. They start poking the wall and area nearby, but to no avail. Valya asks them to stand back, and points to one of the larger stones in the wall where the passage should be, muttering under his breath. Suddenly the stone grows in an awful screeching sound and knocks over a large portion of the wall. Once the dust has settled, there's clearly an opening visible on the other side. Sabrina shines her lantern, and can see a rough corridor carved in rock.

Jack theorizes that perhaps some deranged nobleman gets his rocks off by killing beggars and uses the passageway to access the sewers. "If we can prove it", he says, "we may be able to blackmail him and earn our keep for the night..."

The group quickly pulls out some of the stones in the wall and a passage into the corridor is thus created. Jack enters first followed by Sabrina, Wistul and Valya. The wizard looks back briefly as he passes the now destroyed secret door and notices, on the other side of the sewer canal, a fat granary cat looking at him fixedly.

The corridor leads to a larger cave like structure. The floor is covered in old skulls and bones. On the right there's a masoned corridor exiting the room, straight on the carved passageway continues. They decide to enter the masoned area, but as they exit the cave Valya and Wilbur see a flash of movement behind them.

Valya moves forward so that Wilbur now stands between him and whatever moved. Wilbur turns around to face two animated skeletons that have just formed from the bones strewn on the floor. More Skeletons are animating behind the first two. He manages to avoid their first rakes and takes his sword out. Valya starts chanting in a loud voice and a diffused red light appears in his hand. He points it at one of the skeletons and a red flash darts from his hands onto the skeleton which is burned to a crisp and falls to ashes. At the same moment a loud thunderclap is heard and a flash of lightning emanates from the wizard's body(1). Wistul is temporarily blinded, and the second skeleton attacking him manages to injure his arm.

Valya is jubilant: "Haha!" he says, "First time that this Mighty Luminescent Assault works so well!" Jack moves forward to come in front of Valya and protect him from the Skeletons. In the light of Sabrina's lantern, now pointing in the right direction, they can see that there are four skeletons attacking them.

Sabrina slams her staff (at the top of which the lantern is attached) on the floor and starts intoning in an authoritative voice: "The Black Mists of Drojafin I search for assistance. Hear my call, denizens of the astral realm. Take shadows and flesh. Take will and word. I bind you, creatures, to my call and my need!" She drops some cat fur as she speaks, and a black mist forms in front of Wistul and Jack. Two felines looking a lot like lynxes appear from the mist and screech at the skeletons. With adequate light and the assistance of the supernatural felines, the warrior and the elf do short work of the remaining skeletons. "So much for the deranged nobleman theory..." Jack muses.

The group swiftly leaves the cave now littered with charred and broken bones and skulls. Through a long masoned corridor they enter a high ceilinged and ornate room. On their right, a flight of stairs going up. On their left, a door decorated with a coat of arms representing a silver fish on a field of white.

- "Haven't we encountered this recently ? A fish rings a bell..." Sabrina asks.
- "Well, it certainly explains 'Long and slender, fast and silver'" says Jack.
- "Wasn't Spade designing a garden for the Whitefish family ?" Valya asks.
- "Yes, but this is a silver fish", counters Sabrina.
- "In heraldry, silver is called white, isn't it ? Or is it the other way around ?" asks Jack.
- "Good point. So we're in the Whitefish family mausoleum... Do we go up and rob the living or left and pillage the dead ?"

They finally decide to investigate the door first. It doesn't seem to be locked. Sabrina blinds her lantern, and Jack manages to open the door in absolute silence. It opens onto a vast space with a central sarcophagus and several side alcoves. Torches light the central area of the room. Behind the sarcophagus, against the far wall, stands a large iron statue of a warrior with many details in his armor or shield reminiscent of the Whitefish emblems. In the open sarcophagus, a man is seated, reading a thick piece of paper. His clothes are faded and rotten but clearly used to be rich. His skin is flaked and bits of it are falling.

- "Finally I received it!" he says in an excited yet grating voice, looking longingly at whatever it is he's reading.

Jack quietly recedes, and the group discusses next steps in hushed tones. Sabrina suggests they could hide at the top of the flight of stairs and let the astral lynxes attack the suspected necromancer in the mausoleum. For lack of a better plan, everyone agrees.

At Sabrina's murmured order, the two felines rush inside the mausoleum. Cries, screeches, kerfuffle. After a few moments, things quieten down. Then the group hears the voice of the man they have dubbed 'the necromancer': "Someone must have intruded! You and you, investigate! Check every corner! And close the door, I need some quiet to ponder dressing arrangements!"

From the door below the hidden group emerge two shambling cadavers (2). One leaves towards the passageway they arrived from, and the other starts checking every corner, literally. Wistul and Sabrina are somewhat horrified by the undead monstrosity, but Jack and Valya act all blasé about it. Wistul tries to open the door at the top of the stairs but realizes that not only is it locked, it seems to be barred from the other side.

An unspoken exchange of looks and Jack and Wistul position themselves to jump the undead creature from above. As Jack prepares for his jump, he hears Valya murmur behind him and a hand touches his shoulder. As he jumps, his size increases to about twice the usual. Thankfully, the ceiling of the room is high. "Why did you do that?" Jack murmurs in an angry rasp. "I find Ixam-Orko's Aggrandizement to be a most versatile formula", Valya says to Sabrina matter of factly.

Jack and Wistul hack repeatedly at the undead, even chopping bits off, but it takes a long while before all the dark sorcery that animated the creature fades and the various hacked limbs stop moving. Jack suffers from a leg injury where an independent undead hand squeezed his calf muscle to the blood, and Wistul suffered a bite on his chest. Jack is now quite riled up and the group decides to rush the necromancer and take him by surprise.

Wistul kicks the door in, and runs towards the startled man in the sarcophagus. He barely has time to register the apparently paralyzed lynx standing immobile by the tomb. Both Valya and Sabrina intone at the same time. From Valya's fingertips spring forth red flashes of light accompanied by the usual lightning flash and thunderclap. Meanwhile, Sabrina's hands seem to project green blobs of acid. All hit the necromancer straight in the chest.

Wistul and Jack both swing their swords at the flaky skinned creature. The ceiling is just tall enough for Jack to stand, and hampers his style so that he misses. So does Wistul. The creature turns around, dropping its piece of paper and yelling "Protect me!" It runs away through a narrow passage at the end of the large room. Simultaneously, other shambling cadavers emerge from the alcoves and attack the party.

The confrontation, which had started so gloriously well, turns sour. Sabrina attempts the same sorcery that burned the decaying skin of the alleged necromancer on the shambling cadavers, but fails miserably. Instead of erupting from her fingers, the acid blobs seem to melt with her skin, and her hands and forearms turn sickly green. Valya manages to damage one of the undead with his own magical projectiles, but a blow from another one of the creatures takes him down.

Sabrina is not far behind, and when two of the shambling cadavers slam her with their claws, she falls unconscious as well. Jack and Wistul now face the remaining creatures and slowly grind them back to oblivion. By the time the last undead falls in a rotten heap of cadaver flesh and bone, Wistul is barely standing.

Wistul and Jack revive their companions who, as luck (3) would have it haven't sustained any fatal injuries. The group then proceeds to check the various alcoves, tombs and (of course) the sarcophagus. They collect coins, bracelets, necklaces and various small gems. They also pick up the piece of cardboard paper that the necromancer was reading. Written in golden letters, it reads:

"To Lord Reginald Whitefish. You are cordially invited to the Undertaker's Ball on the 7th day of the Serpent's Moon. It will take place at the Grand Mortuary alongside the St Hildebord Cemetery. Reminder: this is a costume party, plus one welcome."

Amidst the bits of jewelry and other valuables, Valya also finds a strange looking crystal phial containing a purplish gas (4). He shows it to the rest of the band but no one has any idea what it might be. They decide to take it and exit the mausoleum.

The minute Jack crosses the threshold of the door, they hear a massive wrenching sound from behind them. They turn round and see that the iron statue seems to have activated. It is now brandishing its sword and marching heavily towards the party.

Valya slams the door shut and utters the formula for the Agency of the Rigid Condemnation. The door shimmers for an instant and magical sigils appear on its surface. "Run, you fools!", Valya says to the rest of the group. Heavy pounding and hacking can be heard from the other side of the door as they exit the entrance to the Mausoleum.

As they run into the cave that leads to the sewers, two of the walking cadavers await. They lunge out at Jack and Valya, but the warrior pushes the wizard out of the way and takes the blow that was meant for him instead. Jack is now severely injured as well, but the group continues to run and soon exits into the sewers. The cadavers are too slow to catch up.

Without wasting any time in case the Iron Statue follows them outside, the group rushes as fast as Valya's stunted leg will allow to a sewer exit in the Viscera district that Wistul knows is rarely under militia surveillance. As they climb up the rungs leading back to the surface and fresh air, Sabrina looks down and sees, two granary cats staring at her from the bottom of the ladder. She mentions this as they exit the manhole into the frozen street, and Valya mentions his own feline sighting. "What does it mean?" asks Wistul. Everyone shrugs and they decide to convene instead at the Bleak Beaver to discuss their adventures.

***

(1) Each spell may have different manifestations in DCC. This is rolled once and for all when the wizard or elf learns the spell. Valya has a less than discrete version of Magic Missile at his disposal.
(2) The players had clearly understood these were zombies, but we decided not to call them that since the term didn't seem adequate for the vibe we're after. Shambling cadavers they are for now.
(3) Normally in DCC you roll luck when you reach 0 hp to see if you're dead or not. I houseruled that you could burn a point of luck to avoid death. It's a scarce resource though...
(4) All magic items in this campaign will be unique. Just feels better that way.
 
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Sammael99

Visitor
Session 2: Epilogue

In the days following the exploration of the Whitefish mausoleum, the four explorers rest and recuperate. All except Valya notice that the cadaver wounds heal faster, but the scars and the skin around them turn a nasty taint of brown.


Illustration by John Grumph, used with authorization

Jack contacts a fence he knows, a woman going by the name of Ariana Vertdegris. He brings the jewels and coins to her and she asks him if he wants maximum value out of them, which would imply leaving recognizable medals and pieces of jewelry as they are, or if he'd rather be less traceable and melt what could be identified. He goes for the second option. Ariana tells him that she believes the loot will be worth upwards of a thousand crowns, an amount of cash she doesn't have with her. She tells him to come back two days later.

Meanwhile Sabrina visits Dwimberg in his Cabinet of Curiosities shop, to ensure that the ophidoscope is still available. The dwarf gently informs her that it is but that he will have to auction it off: several influential have asked him for it. He cannot simply turn them down, so an auction is the most elegant way to go: the winner gets the ophidoscope fair and square and the losers don't blame Dwimberg. Sabrina enquires as to the identity of these interested parties, but Dwimberg apologises, saying that he can't divulge them.

As the discussion goes on, Valya examines the ophidoscope. The contraption is formed of a long brass tube on a stand with clamps at both ends, presumably to immobilize the snake or snakeskin. The upper part of the tube is made of a translucent material that doesn't look like glass. About half a meter above the tube is a lens fixed to tense metal string. The lens can slide up and down the length of the tube. There is also a crank that Valya supposes is used to rotate the tube, but he dares not try it. Valya notices that the stand is engraved with ophidian religious prayers, but he's convinced these were not written down by ophidians, but rather by someone who was copying some holy text without necessarily understanding it.

Sabrina also asks Dwimberg if he knows anything about the phial containing purple gas that they retrieved from the Mausoleum. Wilbur for the last two days has been trying unsuccessfully to ascertain it's magic (or non-magic) nature, but to no avail. Dwimberg offers to answer these questions for a fee or in exchange of a favour. When told the fee, the group decides on the favour.

After a couple of days, Ariana comes back to Jack and offers twelve hundred crowns for the valuables they are trying to fence. Jack manages to negotiate up to fourteen hundred and the deal is struck.

Finally, Wistul meets again with Blind Grunsten to inform him that while some of the dangers in the area the first beggar was murdered may have been thwarted, the area is still dangerous and should be avoided. Grunsten suggests that, should the problem be dealt with in a more definitive manor, the Beggar King would be indebted to the group...

In our next installment, some of the following questions may be answered:

  • What happened to the alleged necromancer that fled from the Whitefish mausoleum?
  • Why are granary cats to be found in the sewers?
  • What exactly is this Undertaker's Ball and will our heroes want to venture there?
  • Who are the other auctioneers interested in the ophidoscope and can the party counter their financial means?
  • Are the Versheim catacombs worth exploring and why is the Count paying so little to get it done?
  • What are these strange cadaver scars and should Wistul, Jack and Sabrina be worried about them?
  • And finally, perhaps most urgently, will Sabrina be able to deliver an ophidoscope to the witch Thorn before the moon cycle is out?
 
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Sammael99

Visitor
Session 3: Against the Taxidermists

Sabrina, Wistul and Valya decide that if they want to win the auction for the ophidoscope due to happen in five days, they need to know more about the other potential purchasers.

Wistul heads out towards the District of the Desperate. He knows that Blind Grunsten tends to beg near the Cathedral of the Rusted Lady and indeed, despite the snow that has been falling heavily since the day they explored the Whitefish Mausoleum, Grunsten is seated on the steps of the rusty building with an iron bowl in his hands. His skin is flaked and he looks truly miserable.

- "Have pity on a poor man..." Grunsten says as Wistul approaches.
- "Hey Grunsten, how are things ?" the elf enquires.
- "Who is this?" Grunsten asks.
- "Aww, come on, I know you're no more blind than I am..."
- "Shhh! Will you shut it? Are you trying to destroy my livelihood?"
- "Alright, alright... It's me, Wistul."
- "I know it's you dammit. Let's move out of the way to talk in peace..."

Grunsten heads out hesitantly towards a side alley. Wistul follows.

- "So, how are things?"
- "Good, I guess, although I am concerned that you didn't really make the sewers safer for us. You told me that things in the Panjandra district were still dangerous..."
- "Yes, I'll have to address that soon..."
- "As I think I have hinted at already, the Beggar King will give you an audience if you do secure the area, and he can be a good ally to have on your side..."
- "Yes, that's true. Meanwhile though, I have an urgent need of services you might be able to provide. We'd like some of your inconspicuous brethren to stake out the Cabinet of Curiosites and follow people who visit the shop. There's an object in there called an ophidoscope that I'll describe in a minute. We are particularly interested in people inquiring about that object."
- "How many of my friends do you need ?"
- "Not sure... How about 10 ?"
- "I can provide that, for a price of course..."
- "How about two copper bits a day ?"
- "Two a day? You are trying to destroy my livelihood! I thought you were a friend! No less than ten".
- "Three"
- "Seven"
- "Five is my last price."
- "Let's go with five. Ten beggars, inconspicuous, and I want to meet with you every evening at sunset."
- "Deal".

Meanwhile, Sabrina goes to talk to... a cat. Intrigued by the presence of granary cats in the sewers, and since she conveniently speaks their language, she spots a large tomcat lounging under a ledge to protect itself from the snow and engages in conversation: "Hello, Master Tom. How are you today?" The cat stretches and meows softly. It opens its eyes and looks at Sabrina.
- "Do you have fish?" it asks.
- "I do have fish! Do you want fish?"
- "I want fish!"

Sabrina takes a small fish from her bag and gives it to the cat who proceeds to munch on it.

- "So, Master Tom, what can you tell me about your brethren in the city?"
- "Nice fish!"
- "As above, so below they say. Why are your brothers walking the sewers?"
- "Do you have more fish?"

As Sabrina takes a second fish from her bag, she notices a little blond girl looking at her with her eyes wide.

- "Are you talking to the cat?"
- "I am. I happen to know their language. What's your name?"
- "I'm Lydia."
- "Well, Lydia, would you and you little friends like to learn how to speak to cats? I can show you the rudiments now, and the we could meet perhaps once every five days for lessons?"
- "That would be fantastic!" the little girl says excitedly.

The next half hour is spent with Sabrina teaching Lydia the fundamentals of the feline language. She explains the hierarchies in Cat society and the necessary respect towards all cats. She also explains that lowlier cats aren't very smart, as demonstrated by the one they are practicing on. Throughout the lesson, Sabrina's chicken repeatedly tries to peck the little girl as if to drive her off.

***

The next day, the beggars are in place. At the end of the day, they come to meet Wistul at the appointed hour and place. They have spotted one person showing a distinct interest in the ophidoscope. They followed said person, "a nobleman, for sure!" back to what they believe to be his home in the Eastern part of the Panjandra district.


Illustration by John Grumph, used with authorization

Sabrina and Wistul go there, and ask questions around. They learn that said house is the palace of the Brittleshins family. Viscount Edgar Brittleshins has a rather better reputation than most nobles in Vornheim: no one knows of any particular cruelty he would have inflicted on servants or lowly neighbours.

Valya decides to pay a visit to Magisterus Putin who is as usual to be found at the Red Library. Putin is pleased to see Valya and particularly pleased to see that he is not in Sabrina's presence. Valya asks him about the Brittleshins family and in particular about any connections between the family and arcane arts. Putin says that the Brittleshins are very respectable, probably too much so: they lack the necessary cruelty and ruthlessness to rise within the ranks of the Vornheim nobility. Nonetheless, they are of ancient stock and amply rich. He doesn't know of any interest they may have in magical matters.

Valya then asks the Magisterus about the Whitefish family, and particularly, about the last patriarch of the family and his passing away. After consulting a few of his genealogies, the Magisterus tells Valya that Reginald Whitefish was the head of the family when he passed away three years ago. Hercule Whitefish, his son then took over the Whitefish mantle. Valya asks if Putin has heard anything about the mausoleum under the Whitefish mansion. "They no longer use it" the scholar responds. "They have brought in a foreign thanatopractor who performs aerial burial rites on a platform at the top of the Whitefish Palace. The family dead are cut to bits and left to the carrion birds."

"And do you know anything about the Undertaker's Ball?" Valya asks. The Magisterus doesn't know anything particular about it. Undertakers have notorious difficulties to find spouses, he explains, and the Undertaker's Ball is a lavish affair designed to attract "marriage material".

Around the middle of the day, one of the beggars assigned to the surveillance of the Cabinet of Curiosities comes to find Wistul. He is visibly agitated, and tells him that a man they recognized entered the shop and yelled at Dwimberg while showing the ophidoscope. The man is Three-Knuckled Porlo, the enforcer of the Taxidermists' Guild.

On the basis of this revelation and suspecting the guild to be the second interested party that Dwimberg mentioned to Sabrina, the three decide to visit a nearby taxidermist and ask for a preserved snake. They find a pleasant shop not too far, and see weasels, pheasants, even a badger, but no snakes. They talk to the shop owner, explaining that they saw a beautifully preserved snake at the house of sir Edgar Brittleshins and would dearly like the same kind of decoration for their home. The owner explains apologetically that no such work can be performed by him, all requests for serpents are to be directed at the Taxidermists' Guild itself. He gives them the address of the head office of the guild.

Sabrina, Wistul and Valya head out there. The office is a small dingy place with a desk and few bits of paper lying around. Sabrina serves the grumpy clerk the same story. The man asks them if they have the serpent, live or dead, in their possession. They answer that they don't, and he tells them very abruptly that the guild does not provide preserved snakes to their customers. He literally pushes them out of the office and slams the door in their face.

Puzzled, the three come down the tower where the headquarters were, and buy some drinks to try and interpret what just happened. This is when they spot the clerk leaving the tower precipitously. They decide to follow him, all the way to the North of the District of the Forked Tongue. There, the clerk starts climbing the stairs up a tower. Sabrina manages to follow, but Wilbur is winded by the quick ascent. Valya doesn't even try. The man takes a footbridge to another tower, and then again another. He doesn't seem to have spotted Sabrina following him, and she manages to see that he enters an apartment high up on a tower she doesn't know. The wizardess commits the place to memory and meets up with Wistul and Valya who have finally caught up.

They then go back to see Grunsten and ask him to stake out the place the clerk just went to and follow whoever comes out of it. They part with a little more cash.

***

The next day, Sabrina, Wistul and Valya decide to find out more about Viscount Brittleshins. They seek high and low in his neigbourhood for a digruntled servant and finally hear about a man called Mop who was sacked from the household a few months back. They manage to track him down in a grotty pub and offer him liquor to get him talking. It doesn't take much: Mop was fired because he inadvertently left a bar of soap on the floor of one of the washrooms, and the lord of the house slipped and fell on the soap. He didn't injure himself, but it was enough to lead to Mop's expulsion.

Mop is torn between resentment and a lingering admiration for Edgar Brittleshins. When asked to share scandalous gossip about the nobleman, he finally confesses that their was a rumour he'd heard about during his employment, but that he simply could not accept was true: it was murmured that Lord Brittleshins had an unnatural fondness for the intimacy of goats. A few weeks ago, he saw some scribblings on the wall of the gents at the Pickled Gibbon to that effect, but he still can't believe it's true. "I do remember seeing one morning some hoof tracks in the kitchens after some flour'd been spilt", he adds in a slur, "but that was probably just a goat..."

After Mop collapses in a drunken stupor, the two wizards and the elf make their way to the Pickled Gibbon. They have been careful not to drink too much, but they are tipsy. Valya heads out straight to the gents, and amongst multiple scribbles and graffitis, he finally locates the piece of slander that Mop mentioned:

'Lord Brittleshins Shags Goats!' it says. 'And if you want proof, go check the children's footprints at Mrs Dandyspleen's Finishing School where his daughter is taught.'

It's the middle of the afternoon, when children who are lucky enough to attend school generally go home. The band walks out in the snow again, and stakes out the entrance of Mrs. Dandyspleen's Finishing School on the eastern edge of the Panjandra district. Once the little girls and their governesses have left, they examine the footprints left in the snow, and indeed spot a set that looks distinctly like hooves.

They follow the governess and the little girl that seems to create those prints. The little girl looks perfectly normal. "Do you know much about Illusions?" Valya asks Sabrina. "Not really my area, I'm afraid", the wizardess responds. "You?" Valya shrugs.

They decide to distract the governess so that one of them can have a chat with the girl. Wistul overtakes the girl and the woman and, running back in the opposite direction bumps into the governess who falls into the snow with a squeal. Sabrina rushes to help her up. Meanwhile, Valya goes towards the little girl and speaks to her:

- "Are you OK ?"
- "Yeeeees", she answers. Her voice is nasal and furiously reminds him of a bleat.
- "Is this your governess?" Valya asks gently.
- "Yeeeees"; the bleat again.
- "Are you coming back from school?"
- "Yeeeees".
- "Do you like school? What did you learn today?"
- "I like it a loooot. Today we learned our humanities. Aaaaand we had a greeeeeat big laugh in Manners claaaaass."
- "What was so funny?"
- "Mrs Dandyspleeeeeen had to bow down to pick up a piece of chaaaaalk, and her corset ripped open! It's to smaaaaaal for her!"
- "That is funny!!!"

The governess is finally back on her feet, and after thanking Sabrina for her help and cursing these damned foreigners with no manners, she turns back to the little girl. She thanks Valya as well, and the two of them walk home towards the Brittleshins Palace.

Once Sabrina, Valya and Sabrina are back together, Valya simply says: "The girl bleats."

- "Don't you think", Sabrina muses as they secure themselves in the warmth of yet another tavern, "that Lord Brittleshins might only require the ophidoscope for a one-off operation? What if he's trying to cure his daughter of some affliction?"
- "Or finalise her transformation..." Valya objects.
- "Well, not that we'd care. Either way, he might only need the ophidoscope to decipher one snake skin. Once he's done with that, we could buy it off him on the cheap..."
- "But how do we know he'll be the one to win the auction?"
- "How about we pit him against the Taxidermists before the auction?"

That evening, Sabrina finds a taxidermist and buys a stuffed crow. In the middle of the night, the group heads towards the Brittleshins Palace, with the intent of nailing the crow to the door, as a "warning" from the Taxidermist's Guild. The idea is that hopefully this will generate animosity between the two other bidders for the ophidoscope and maybe cause one to pre-emptively eliminate the other.

As they arrive in front of the palace, though, they spot several militia men in front of the main door. One of the side windows is broken. Valya walks to one of the guards and casually asks what is going on. The guard says that masked men have broken into the Palace, but they were gone before the militia arrived. At this moment, a man with a prominent nose and deep black hair walks out of the Palace and starts examining the ground in front of the broken window.


Illustration by John Grumph, used with authorization

- "Who's that?" Wistul asks.
- "Oh, he's the big guy at the militia right now. It's a new role, although he's the only one who has it. Calls himself a 'de-tective' or something like that. Name is Rulius. He thinks he can find the culprit of a crime by looking at where it happened or something..."
- "Ha!" laughs a nearby militia man. "Everyone knows that you find the culprit by cracking heads together until someone tells you they did it..."

Meanwhile, Wistul is approached by a begger from Grunsten's team who tells him that four men left the place in the Forked Tongue that the beggars were staking out and came here, broke in and left a few minutes later apparently empty handed. Porlo was not amongst them.

Later that night, once the militia has gone, Sabrina slips a letter under the Viscount's door. This is how it reads:

'Dear Sir,

We do not know each other, but for the sake of transparency, let me just state that I represent one of the parties interested in the ophidoscope that the dwarf Dwimberg will offer at auction in two days.

I have information on the third party. It was this party that broke into your home last night. If you want to know more about this and discuss a mutually beneficial arrangement concerning the ophidoscope, we will be at the Cup and Moon tomorrow evening. Look for a small and pretty woman, a tall, pale elf and a club-footed man.
'

***

The next evening, Sabrina, Wistul and Valya arrive at the Cup and Moon early. They settle on a table that is away from prying ears but still visible from the entrance. As they look around the place, Valya notices a customer whose face looks familiar, but he can't quite place him. He points the guy to Wistul, who immediately says: "that's Rulius, the detector guy. He's badly disguised..." Valya and Sabrina think he's rather cleverly disguised, but do not comment.

A little while later, Lord Brittleshins walks in, escorted by two bodyguards. He walks to the table and sits down, looking a little puzzled and a little apprehensive. They wait for food and drinks to be served, and then Lord Brittleshins says:

- "What if you told me what this is all about?"
- "Well", Sabrina responds, "let us be transparent with you. We need the ophidoscope, and are willing to put a lot of money and effort into obtaining it. But we do not believe we can outbid you. However, we were wondering if you needed it for the long run or just to solve an immediate problem."
- "Go on..."
- "If you need it for good, then fair play to all, we will bid tomorrow and may the best man (or woman) win. If however you only need it to decipher one particular skin, we could come to an arrangement and share the costs..."
- "Let's say I agree to that, how can you guarantee that the third party you mentioned in your note doesn't outbid both of us?"
- "The third party is the Taxidermist's Guild. They are well known for their criminal activities even though there is a legitimate front. I don't know what they want it for, but they broke into your house, maybe to discourage you from participating. I'm thinking that we should be able to convince Dwimberg not to let them bid considering they attacked your property to try and rig the game..."
- "That may work..."
- "So you agree?"
- "Let me see if I have it right: we go to see Dwimberg together first thing tomorrow morning. We explain to him that the Guild has been trying to intimidate me into not participating in the auction and argue they should be barred from it. I believe he will trust me on this, and as a reliable dwarf he may even agree to it. But then if we associate to purchase the device, he loses potential revenues. Would you agree to a higher price of say fourteen hundred crowns, split halfways?"
- "Yes, that would be agreeable, I believe. There is one last thing. We need the ophidoscope in 6 days and not one more. Can whatever you wish to perform be done in that timeframe?"
- "I... hoped to have more time... I don't have all the elements necessary at hand to interpret the..."
- "I read ophidian fluently", Valya interjects. "I will happily assist you in your endeavours for the sake of expediency, and also to satisfy my own curiosity about the device and its workings."
- "That would be... extremely useful" the viscount says, looking greatly relieved.
- "So it's agreed then", Sabrina concludes. "See you tomorrow morning at the Cabinet of Curiosities."

Edgar Brittleshins stands up and puts his coat on.

- "By the way", Valya adds at the last minute. "Will you please pass on our salutations to the good detective?"
 
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Sammael99

Visitor
Session 3 Epilogue

In our next installment, some of the following questions may be answered:

  • What happened to the alleged necromancer that fled from the Whitefish mausoleum?
  • Why are granary cats to be found in the sewers?
  • What exactly is this Undertaker's Ball and will our heroes want to venture there?
  • Will the plan hatched by Sabrina to collaborate with Edgar Brittleshins work?
  • What mysterious activities is the Taxidermists' Guild a cover for, and will they accept their defeat should Sabrina's plan work?
  • What is Edgar Brittleshins' secret and is his daughter really part girl, part goat?
  • Will Valya be able to read the skin that Brittleshins needs him to read, and what will he find there?
  • Are the Versheim catacombs worth exploring and why is the Count paying so little to get it done?
  • What are these strange cadaver scars and should Wistul, Jack and Sabrina be worried about them?
  • Will Sabrina deliver the ophidoscope to Thorn in time, and how will her relationship with the witch evolve?
 

Sammael99

Visitor
Session 4: Auction and Reaction

On the morning of the auction, Dwimberg sends an invitation to Sabrina. The auction is to take place in a rented salon on the 10th level of the Tower of the Starred Ribbon. Sabrina, Jack, Wistul, Valya and Zeera will attend. Zeera decides to come in separately: neither Dwimberg nor the parties interested in the ophidoscope have seen him/her, so it seems like a wise course of action in case something happens (which is likely).

Sabrina also gets a message from Lord Brittleshins stating that the militia has advised him not to inform Dwimberg ahead of time of the wrongdoings of the Taxidermist guild. Instead, everything should proceed as normal, so as not to alert the criminal organisation that their game may be up.

At the appointed time, people flock into the auction room. The ophidoscope is not the only item on offer that morning, so there are about forty people seated in front of the low stage. Looking around, Valya notices several uneasy customers, and an old lady dressed in conservative attire which he realizes quickly is actually Rulius, the detective from the militia. The disguise is rather good, but he's seen through it (again). At the last minute, just before the auction is about to start, a man walks in escorted by the largest bodyguard anyone's ever seen. This giant of a man (he has to bow under the doorframe to get in) has two missing fingers on his left hand and so the group guesses this is Three-Knuckled Porlo. The gentleman he is escorting is well-dressed (but with muted colors) and sports an elaborate gray moustache. Our heroes assume that he is the head of the Taxidermist Guild.

The strategy devised ahead of time by Sabrina is for them not to bid and let Lord Brittleshins and the Taxidermists fight it out. The first few items go up for auction: an old artefact thought to be of Selenian origin, a statue of the Rusted Lady excavated from a dig site not far from Vornheim, a silvery sword said to originate from the now defunct Marbelle noble family. Then the time comes for the ophidoscope to be carried to the center of the stage. The velvet drape is taken off, and Dwimberg describes the item:

"One of the fabled Ophidoscopes, an item of great scholarly import to those who study the ancient Ophidian civilization. It is said to allow peering into the troves of knowledge inherited by these long dissappeared beings, although how that is achieved exactly, I cannot tell you. The asking price is Five Hundred crowns."

The crowd oohs and aahs. A hand goes up from the back, an old gentleman who Sabrina thinks may well be Head-Librarian in one of the city's libraries.

- "Six Hundred", Dwimberg intones.
- "One Thousand", the man from the Taxidermist Guild says sharply.
- "Fifteen Hundred", Lord Brittleshins responds.

The librarian at the back sits down dejectedly.

A hand shoots up from the left. It's Veera.

- "Two Thousand", Dwimberg yells excitedly.

Sabrina's eyes shoot darts at the priest/ess who smiles slyly in his/her corner of the room. But the auction keeps going.

- "Twenty Five Hundred", Lord Brittleshins attacks, more slowly than before.

The man from the Taxidermist guild shoots a dark glance at the nobleman, and after a quick hesitation, speaks up again:

- "Three Thousand!" he snaps with an air of finality.

Lord Brittleshins seems to hesitate, but backs down in the end. Dwimberg, looking very satisfied, points to the man from the Taxidermist Guild saying: "This fine item goes to the gentleman here."

Just at that moment, a portly woman dressed in faded crimson and black stands from the back of the room and, in a very deep voice says: "Not so fast! Gendall Tso, head of the Taxidermist Guild, you are hereby accused of wrongdoing, burglary and other assorted crimes. Men, arrest the accused!"

Four militia men dressed in various disguises take their hidden blackjacks out and run towards Gendall Tso. Three Knuckled Porlo stands up and grabs one of the men, throwing him swiftly against the wall.

Jack runs towards Porlo and stands between him and Gendall, allowing the militia men to chain Gendall's hands. Porlo swings at Jack but misses. Jack swings at Porlo and hits him square in the belly... doing not very much at all except hurting his own fist. Sabrina and Valya are weary of using their magic too blatently in public. Valya stands behind Jack and touches his shoulder, making him grow a little, but in front the immense Porlo it's hardly a noticeable change.

Veera stands and starts praying under his/her breath to the Lascivious Vorn, asking for Porlo to be paralysed by the divine will. Unfortunately, with all the excitement around him/her, he/she gets his/her prayer wrong and inadvertently insults his/her deity. Sensing the divine displeasure, he/she immediately falls to his/her knees and starts whipping his/her own back in contrition (1).

Porlo swings again at Jack and this time his fist connects with the warrior's face. Jack's nose cracks and he is catapulted to the other side of the room, smashes into one of the windows and falls outside unconscious. Thankfully, he lands on a ledge and not ten stories below.

Sabrina decides that things are getting out of hand and magic is now the only solution. She intones the formula for Ekim's Mystical Mask. She covers her face with a mask of terror and looks straight at Porlo who blanches and immediately runs to the window, climbing out onto the roof.

Most of the attendees have now fled the room. The disguised Rulius walks towards his men to congratulate them on having arrested Gendall Tso. On his way, he slides by Sabrina and in a low voice, says:

- "I saw what you did there. Don't go using such tricks willy nilly in my City..."
- "Of course", Sabrina responds. "But please pardon me for a minute, my companion seems to have taken a short trip out the window."

Valya hobbles to the window but Sabrina gets there before him and both of them drag Jack's unconscious body back inside before he slips off the ledge. The wizard slaps the warrior gently to bring him back to consciousness.

- "Ugh!" Jack grunts in a nasal whine. "That was some uppercut... Thank Vorn he was only using his fists..."

A few minutes later, Zeera having finished his/her acts of contrition, kneels in front of Jack and, laying his/her hands on his face, asks for the grace of Vorn in healing Jack's wounds. Sure enough, when he/she takes his/her hands off, Jacks's shattered nose is whole again.

Meanwhile, Lord Brittleshins and Sabrina walk to a devastated Dwimberg and propose to pay to him the last bid that Brittleshins proposed, ie. Twenty-Five Hundred crowns. Dwimberg reluctantly agrees, not wanting to lose the opportunity to sell the ophidoscope (and also perhaps, secretly not wanting to be in possession of it if and when Gendall Tso leaves jail).

Sabrina hands 500 crowns to Lord Brittleshins, and she confirms the promise of Valya's collaboration that evening in deciphering the snake skin that the nobleman wants deciphered.

***

That night Jack goes on a bar crawl, getting drunker and drunker, telling everyone the story of how he fought off Three-Knuckled Porlo and made him flee out of the window. He also learns that Signor Rallentando's Halfling circus is soon coming to town! It will apparently feature the famous fortune teller Mme Sosostris.

Zeera, still disturbed about having angered the Lascivious Vorn decides to overcome, at least in part, one of his/her greatest fears. He/she heads out to the Bleak Beaver and goes to the top floor where the orgies are regularly held. Instead of fleeing the scene once things get serious, he/she forces him/herself to stay and watch, if not participate just yet.

Sabrina and Wistul spend some time with Dwimberg who has tried to understand the use of the phial filled with gas that they asked him to expertise. He tells them that the phial is undeniably magical, and that he has been able to ascertain that what appears to be a gas is a materialization of a human soul, or a fragment thereof. Unfortunately, he doesn't know how the phial is used and didn't dare open it. The wizardess and the elf spend the rest of the evening sorting through the remaining funds from the expedition in the Whitefish Catacombs and allocating it according to who participated. Sabrina, Wistul, Valya and Jack will each earn two hundred crowns from the operation, which will leave about one hundred to finance the group's needs for gear.

Back in his underground hovel, Wistul focuses his will on understanding the multiple brown scars he has that are starting to concern him. He casts Allaskobe's Wonder Identification formula to identify if the scars are magical. He sees that not only are they magical, but they seem to radiate magic into his blood stream. He goes to sleep deeply concerned.

Valya heads out to Lord Brittleshin's mansion. He is led to the nobleman's vast private library which has dozens of leatherbound books on display. The ophidoscope has been installed in the middle of the room.

Lord Brittleshins carefully closes the door of the library, then turns around to speak to Valya.

- "Before you start deciphering the skin that I have secured, I need to explain what I am after, and why. I trust that whatever I share will you will not leave this room, and should that happen, I'm sure you understand that I would have to retaliate. Let us make sure we remain friends."
- "Of course."
- "Excellent. I will proceed then. Nineteen years ago, I met the woman who was to become my wife. She was at the time a Vestal of the Rusted Lady. Our love was strong, and we were young. I suppose also that my upbringing led me to arrogance and the mistaken belief that nothing could stand in the way of what I wanted. That led us to consummate our love despite the vows of abstinence my wife had sworn. The Rusted Lady punished her for breaking those vows by changing her appearance. She gave her the head and lower limbs of a she-goat."
- "Ah..."
- "Now I pride myself in being a man of honor. Vorn knows it has cost me enough political capital in this city where corruption reigns, but that's besides the point. I had promised my eternal love to Cabrella, and despite the curse that afflicted her, I married her. It was complicated to live together, I had to secure charms from some of your colleagues to conceal her appearance from the staff. She dared not set foot out of the house and has not done so ever since we married. For a long time we dared not consummate our love again for fear of further divine retribution. But in the end, we wanted to start a family and I foolishly thought that having a child would cheer Cabrella up. Sadly for us, the curse was carried over through my wife's womb, or blood, I do not know. Our daughter was born with the head and legs of a goat as well. That is when I decided to find a solution. It has taken me all these years to finally trace down solid leads, and I have it on reliable authority that the snake skin that I procured at great cost from the ruins of an ancient Ophidian temple high in the Northern mountains holds clues to solving our predicament."
- "Let's see, shall we?" Valya answers with a cheerful tone.

The two men stretch the snakeskin carefully so as not to rip it apart, and clamp it down on the lower portion of the ophidoscope. Valya then scans through the lens at the top of the contraption, and sees that the scales form tiny interlaced sentences in written ophidian. Curbing his excitement, he starts to read:

"Of late I have concerned myself with matters of divine retribution. The Gods are of a fickle nature and prompt to righteous anger when they feel they have been slighted. Of particular interest to me have been occurrences of Divine pardon and how they came about. Amongst the arcanally inclined, the legend of Vendel Re'Yune is well known, and his story, which I deem to be true, shows the extent at which the Gods will lash out against those who would offend them. But the Wrath of the Gods can also be unleashed on less puissant characters. I unearthed and confirmed (as far as historical and arcane means allowed me to) the story of Ssusson of Ch'ssoossch. Lord Ssusson was a notable of the third ring of our Second Empire. He became famous by affirming the preeminence of the people over the will of the Gods, arguing that while the existence of the Gods could not be denied, that did not in itself mean that mortals should follow their commands. He rose to prominence and was cast down by a Divine Curse. His body was bent out of shape and warped into an unnatural comingling of Ophidian and Hairless Ape. Over the next decades, he climbed the five Pillars of the Sky and on each of them sacrificed a hairless ape to show both his contrition and refusal of his adopted form. It is said that this act of humility combined with a genuine detestation of his hairless ape side led the gods to forgive him in his old age."

Once Valya has written the whole thing down and verified the translation, he reads it out to Lord Brittleshins who immediately gets very excited. He starts taking out atlases and ancient maps from the library, trying to locate the Five Pillars.

Valya returns to examining the snakeskin and notices an additional piece of information in the form of a magical formula to bind oneself to Vendel Re'Yune the Cursed Immortal. A Patron Bond spell that he promptly commits to memory.

At the end of the night, Valya takes his leave while Lord Brittleshins is still looking for information on where the Five Pillars of the Sky are located exactly.
 
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Sammael99

Visitor
Session 4 Epilogue

The next evening, our merry band of adventurers climbs up the stairs of the Bronze House on the Street of the Severed Hand, carrying what might look to the outsider as a heavy musical instrument; a glockenspiel maybe? It makes no sound however, other than Sabrina's constant nagging: "Be careful! Don't let it fall down! Mind your step!"

Jack and Wistul take it up the first three flights of stairs, but the warrior gets to the third landing with barely a breath left in him, all muscles aching. Zeera takes over and he/she and the elf carry it to the fifth landing, just under Thorn's secret garden. There they both collapse in exhaustion. Sabrina wonders how they will get the ophidoscope into the garden when suddenly the hedge five meters above them opens up and a flight of hawthorn stairs appears. From the stairs themselves, the Thorn Golem that Wistul fought off so successfully a few weeks before appears, grabs the ophidoscope and slides back up, followed by Valya and Sabrina.

The two wizards reach the garden, and Thorn herself walks to them.

- "So, you have done your part. I am surprised. Impressed even. You may not be as sheepish and useless as I first assumed."
- "We promised you the ophidoscope, it is now yours."
- "Good. Give me your hand, woman, and I will relieve you of our bargain."
- "Before you do that, a question if you will."
- "Go on..."
- "I would offer my services to you in exchange for knowledge."
- "Your services? You would be willing to obey my orders and assist me in my needs, no matter what my ultimate goals may be?"
- "Yes, I would."
- "You don't even question those goals before hand?"
- "No. You have knowledge, and I crave it. That is enough for me..."
- "Fine then. In that case, I will simply alter the nature of our bargain. Give me your hand."

Sabrina extends her hand and Thorn grabs it with hers. A long thorn penetrates the hole made during the previous oath, and Thorn says:

- "In exchange for your services when I require them, I will provide you with the knowledge you seek if it is in my possession. This I swear."
- "In exchange for the knowledge I seek, I will serve you faithfully and unquestioningly should it be within my abilities. This I swear." Sabrina answers.

Thorn takes her hand away and says:

- "By the way, your blood is affected by necromantic pollution. Get that fixed. You are of no use to me if you turn undead."
- "Is it those strange brown scars?" Sabrina asks, concerned.
- "Of course it is. Get it sorted before you come to me again."

***

In our next installment, some of the following questions may be answered:

  • What happened to the alleged necromancer that fled from the Whitefish mausoleum?
  • Why are granary cats to be found in the sewers?
  • What exactly is this Undertaker's Ball and will our heroes want to venture there?
  • What mysterious activities is the Taxidermists' Guild a cover for, and will they accept their defeat?
  • Are the Versheim catacombs worth exploring and why is the Count paying so little to get it done?
  • How will Wistul, Jack and Sabrina get rid of their brown scars before they turn them into undead?
  • What will Dwimberg ask in exchange for his information regarding the strange phial found in the Whitefish catacombs?
 

Sammael99

Visitor
Session 5: A Sudden Reversal Part One

Sabrina and Wistul have recently spent time together and decide to find a solution to their necromantic corruption. Jack is corrupted as well, but drinking keeps him busy.

After putting their heads together and deciding that the solution to the issue would be either magical or religious they decide to experiment this second angle. Sabrina recalls that the Cult of the Underground Vault worships a subterranean facet of Vorn, and that their holy symbol is a coffin. She remembers that some of their priestly rituals involve being locked in a coffin underground for long periods of time to be reminded that death is very much a part of life. (1) The two decide to head to the District of Under the Mountain where the Cathedral of the Underground Vault lies.

There is no city wall in Under the Mountain because Vornheim buildings there directly touch the cliff face. The Cathedral stands in the middle of a square where beggars, peddlers and street merchants abound. It's a low stone building, not unlike a very big longfarm. There are no visible windows and the stone it's built from is pitch black and offers no reflection.

The only ornament atop the low arch at the entrance is a representation of a coffin. There are two urns on either side of the entrance that are filled with earth. Sabrina and Wistul notice that some (but not all) of those who enter put their hands in one of the urns and rub a handful of soil on their faces. As they walk in, Wistul decides to do so, and Sabrina doesn't.

Inside, it's very dark except for small shafts of bright light probably originating from slits in the roof or walls. There is no altar, nor, in fact, any particular feature or ornament inside the vast low chamber. Petitioners seem to wander aimlessly in contemplation. As Wistul and Sabrina move further down inside, they notice a woman standing next to the ledge of a well, about two-thirds in the room. She teeters on the edge, seemingly hesitating, and suddenly jumps in. Wistul runs, expecting to see her crushed down below, but in fact he sees only pitch darkness which, considering how well he can see in the dark is decidedly uncanny.

Sabrina comes to stand on the ledge and waits for a while, hesitating. Finally, she hands her backpack to Wistul and jumps. Her fall quickly turns into a floating sensation. She is surrounded by darkness, it feels warm around her (a welcome sensation in Vornheim). After what seems like a long moment of silence and contemplation in darkness, a male voice speaks next to Sabrina. She does not see anything, nor can she pinpoint a direction the voice comes from.

-" You have taken the leap of faith. Vorn welcomes you in this place of peace and darkness where the warmth of His embrace makes us all secure...
- Vorn sounds a lot like my aunt Gertrude...
- Are you here just to pay homage to Him or do you seek his blessing?
- Well, of course I pay homage to Him with all my soul... but I would indeed like his blessing on something... I have these wounds... They have healed badly. I am told they are necromantic in nature and could turn me into an undead which, I'm sure you'll agree, is not desirable.
- That is not for me to judge... But indeed, you are corrupted with necromantic infection, even I can see that.
- Can Vorn do something about it?
- Vorn's Will is unlimited. And I am told that he will indeed help you, provided you pass the challenge he will lay before you.
- And what will this challenge be?
- You will see. Know this: once Vorn has healed you, you will owe a favor to him. Once, and only once in your life, he will express His will directly to you. On that day, you will follow his wishes or incur the Wrath of Vorn and, through Him of the entire Church of the Underground Vault.
- I would definitely not want that. I heed your warning, and accept the God's challenge.
- So be it.

Meanwhile, Wistul waits by the well. He expected Sabrina to come back quickly and now he's hesitating himself. Finally, he puts the backpack she gave him down on the floor and hesitantly walks over the ledge into the darkness below. He also feels the weightlessness in the darkness, and here's a female voice:

-" You have taken the leap of faith. Vorn welcomes you in this place of peace and darkness where the warmth of His embrace makes us all secure...
- Err... Sure. Thanks, I guess.
- Are you here just to pay homage to Him or do you seek his blessing?
- I, errr, have a friend, who jumped earlier. She's, I mean, we're infected with some undead thingy, and she thought...
- Yes, your friend has accepted the Challenge of Vorn. She now faces that challenge, and if she succeeds, she will be cured. Do you wish to face your challenge?
- What's the challenge?
- You will see...
- Well, in that case, I mean, thanks, but I'd rather not.

As he utters these words, Wistul finds himself standing again by the well, as if he'd never left. Next to him, Sven the Hen clucks in the backpack.

The darkness around Sabrina seems to shift, to take on a more tangible quality. She gradually realizes that while she still is in pitch black darkness, she can feel a hard plane behind her back. She stretches her fingers and touches something above her head. She starts to suspect where she may be, and a close examination with her fingers confirms her fear: she's in a coffin. Tapping the lid suggests there is earth above the box as well.

Sabrina starts pondering how she may get out. She has no doubt that this is Vorn's challenge. After a while, she feels inside one of her belt pouches and, with a few strands of rat hair in her fingers, she starts intoning the worlds to Drojafin's Faunal Assistance. There is a flash of lightning and a thunderclap, during which she sees a skeletal giant rat appear and quickly acquire flesh and muscles. As the darkness falls again, she feels the rat scuffling around. She crouches in one corner, not at all at ease with the giant animal she now has to share a coffin with. But she forces herself to calm down and orders the rat to gnaw at the coffin lid. After a few minutes, the rat breaches the wooden plank, and soft earth starts falling inside the coffin. The rat enlarges the hole, and soon Sabrina's torso can get through, but she is getting smothered by falling earth. She tells the rat to dig a passage ahead of her, but that only causes more soil collapsing. Sabrina starts to choke and realizes this is not the solution.

She fights mounting panic and tries to think about how her powers could help her more effectively. Finally, as an earthworm wriggles next to her eye, she grabs it and intones the words to Djorfin's Assistance again. This time a gigantic earthworm appears in the flash of lightning. She orders it to swallow the earth liberated by the rat above. Slowly, the three creatures progress towards the top: rat first, then earthworm, then Sabrina. Finally, the rat emerges and Sabrina quickly burrows her way to the surface, where she lies down for an instant. Then she realizes there is faint sound and light around her. She's lying next to the well in the Cathedral, with Wistul above her saying: "Wow, I was starting to worry!"

Sabrina stands up and passes a hand under her tunic to check the wound on her abdomen. The scar seems to have disappeared.

- "It worked", she says cheerfully.

***

The next day, Sabrina receives a message from Dwimberg the dwarven antiquarian to come and visit him. Once in the shop, Dwimberg takes Sabrina to his private office and reminds her that she owes him a favor:

- "You may have heard that the Halfling Circus of Signor Rallentando has recently come into town. Rallentando is a previous associate of mine. He is also a rascal. When we parted ways, he stole something from me that I would very much like to retrieve. I want you to find this object for me. It is a bracelet made of the finest gold with delicate ornaments. I do not know where he keeps it, only that it is undoubtedly very precious to him."
- "Do you have a sketching of the bracelet that I could use as reference ?"
- "I have better than that: its exact copy."

Dwimberg takes a golden bracelet out of a jewel box. It is indeed of exquisite make. The ornaments seems to replicate the links of a very delicate chain all around the bracelet. Once Sabrina has looked at it Dwimberg quickly puts it back in the box and then inside one of his jacket pockets.

- "So that is what I want in exchange for the favor you owe me. Take a burglar with you, I doubt it will be easy..."

Sabrina rounds up Wistul and Elan and explains what she is after. They decide to go and reconnoiter the circus first.

The circus has settled in the District of the Little Moon in the middle of one of the frost parks. There's a high circular palisade which blocks the entry except where the ticket booths are. At the center of the palisade is a high circus tent where the show takes place. All around the tent, alongside the palisade are many wagons with various attractions, animals on display, the abode of Madame Sosotris the fortune teller, etc.

Sabrina, Wistul and Elan pay a few coppers each to get inside the circus. It's midday, and there isn't a crowd inside yet, although they are far from being the only ones there. Sabrina heads towards the animal wagons and finds what she is looking for: two green tigers lazying behind bars. She crouches and speaks to one of the tigers.

- "Greetings, oh mighty one. It is not often one can bask in the glory of the sight of a green tiger so far from the Jungles of the South."
- "Oh! The tigers responds, visibly startled. A hairless ape that speaks. That is unusual."
- "I spent many an hour practicing the language of the most intelligent of the creatures of the Earth..."
- "Are you trying to flatter me?"
- "Errr..."
- "Because it's working!"

The tiger grins.

- "Are you treated well here?"
- "We are well fed, and the tamer dares not actually lay the whip on us for fear of ending in our bellies. So yes, I would say, although it is damnably cold."
- "That is Vornheim, I'm afraid..."
- "Is it always this freezing?"
- "This is mild actually. It can get a lot worse than this in the winter..."
- "Cursed place..."
- "Are you unhappy that Rallentando took you here?"
- "Well, it's part of the job... We can be lazy and not do very much at all while the crowds gawp at us, and in exchange we go where he takes us. Occasionally he feeds us the meat of his enemies. It's a mostly beneficial arrangement."
- "You don't long to return to your native jungles?"
- "Not really. Although a powerful male to scratch our hides and our itches wouldn't go amiss once in a while..."

Sabrina blushes.

- "On another topic, do you happen to know where Rallentando's wagon is?"
- "It's the one at the back of the tent from the entrance. Red shutters, and round door, it looks like a halfling hole on wheels. You can't miss it."
- "Thank you so much."
- "You're welcome, most pleasant talking to a talking hairless ape!"

Meanwhile Wistul spends a fair amount of time looking at the three bearded ladies who perform songs and tricks. Not only is the elf fascinated by the barely concealed femininity of the women, but he's never seen such beards on elfs, let alone elvin maidens.

Elan wanders around, checking for guards, identifying places where he could hide and assessing potential escape routes (his conclusion being that there are none apart from the main entrance...)

The three of them then assist to the afternoon show in order to time it and get some auditory cues as to how the show progresses. Signor Rallentando is the circus Ringmaster, which suggests that while the show is on they may have some freedom to wander around near his wagon.

During the evening show, they do just that. Sabrina stays inside to check on Rallentando's presence, while Elan and Wistul head out towards the wagon that the tigers described to Sabrina as being Rallentando's.

Wistul hides near the wagon while Elan creeps towards the round door as quietly as possible. He notices that there is some light coming from the inside but no movement or noise. He knocks lightly on the door, but there is no response. He quickly manages to pick the lock and enters the wagon, pushing the door close behind him. The wagon is lushly decorated by empty. On the left is what looks like a sleeping area, and on the right a tiny kitchen with a table and some stools. On the table is a lit candle which Elan looks at with fascination.

Ten minutes laster, Wistul is starting to get concerned. He creeps towards the wagon and, checking that nobody is around, pushed the door open. He stoops to get inside, and seeing Elan says "What on earth are you do..." Wistul has seen the candle and is now starting at it in fascination too.

Inside the circus, Sabrina is getting worried. Only half an hour of the show to go and Elan and Wistul aren't back. Annoyed at the ineffectiveness of males, she exits the circus tent and quietly makes her way towards Rallentando's wagon. She sees the light inside and the door ajar, but nothing seems to be moving. Sabrina walks briskly towards the wagon and swings the door open.

She sees Wistul and Elan motionless, staring at the candle. Shaking her head in disbelief, she snuffs the candle's flame (2) and grabs the candle. She then lights her lantern while Elan and Wistul rub their eyes.

- "What happened?" asks Elan.
- "You two louts were staring at the magic candle like infants at a box of sweets. Now let's get a move on and find the damned bracelet."

The three of them quickly search the little wagon, and they do find a jewelry box; it contains a medallion and some earrings, but no bracelet. In desperation and conscious that the show is ending in only a few minutes, they exit the wagon.

The start circling the tent towards the left, but Wistul stops Sabrina and Elan with his arms: he has just spotted a large silhouette in the shadows. Inhumanly large in fact. The creature walks forward ponderously. It looks like an impossibly tall and fat humanoid wearing an animal pelt. It has an enormous club in its hands and is flashing its half rotted teeth in a hungry grin.

Wistul mutters the formula of the Mighty Embiggenment while the creature approaches slowly, but the tension makes him fumble the complicated words and the spell fizzles. Sabrina and Elan have already turned around to circle the tent from the other side, but they find themselves face to face with Signor Rallentando himself in his ringmaster costume. He has the two tigers on a leash and a lady wearing a black veil is standing behind him.

- "Well, well, well... It looks like your divinations were right once again, Madame Sosostris. We were going to be burgled. I recommend you drop your weapons, interlopers, or I'll let the tigers have their ways with you. Unless Gorm gets to you before them."

The tigers growl, but only Sabrina understands what they are saying:

- "I'll leave the little female ape to you, sister. She and I had a nice conversation, I wouldn't be able to truly appreciate the taste of her."
- "How do you know the males from the females?"
- "Never you mind. The smallest one I leave to you."
- "Good! It looks plump and tasty!"

Sabrina puts her hands up in the air to show she is unarmed:

- "Look, let us be reasonable here. We were sent to rob you, we failed. There is no need to get violent: we will find a way of making it up to you."
- "Who sent you to rob me?" the halfling asks.
- "A dwarf by the name of Dwimberg, says you were an old associate of his."
- "The old fox. I should have guessed. And did he point you to an item in particular?"
- "Yes, a golden bracelet."
- "Indeed. Well, you failed."
- "Look, I can give you this very previous phial if you let us go." Sabrina slowly takes the glass phial with the green gas inside from her pocket.
- "I don't think so..."
- "Then keep these two fools, feed them to the tigers for all I care, but let me go!"

Wistul and Elan both stare at Sabrina in shock. Rallentando laughs and says:

- "Well, thank you for being so candid. I was going to make a counter proposition that involved you leaving and they staying as hostages, but I can now see that's pointless. I think I will feed you all to my tigers instead. It's been a while since they've had fresh human meat, and they've developed a taste for it. As for elven meat, I don't think they've ever had it, but elfs are delicate or so I'm told. I'm sure the cats'll appreciate it."

He turns to the difformed giant and says "Gorm, knock them senseless, we'll dump them in the cage tonight."

- "Wait! Elan shouts. Sabrina may not care about us, but I care about her. She saved my life and I have a debt of honour towards her. So tell me what it is you want and I'll do it. I won't abandon her and Wistul here, I swear it! (3)"

- "Interesting", Rallentando says. "I think I'm going to trust you on this, you seem sincere. I pity you of course, but then what do I care. It's simple: bring me the other bracelet, the one that is currently in Dwimberg's possession, and I'll let your friends go. You have until the end of the show tomorrow night. After that, the tigers will have their meal."

***

(1) This was a player contribution that I liked and adopted.
(2) Elan and Wistul failed their Will saving throws.
(3) Elan's player rolled a 20 on what I had deemed would be a very hard roll...
 

Richards

Adventurer
Yep, I've been reading it from the start. I'm not at all familiar with Vornheim or the magic system involved, but the evocative spell names remind me of Jack Vance, and that's never a bad thing. It's been a very interesting read thus far, and I've been really enjoying your write-ups.

Johnathan
 

Sammael99

Visitor
Yep, I've been reading it from the start. I'm not at all familiar with Vornheim or the magic system involved, but the evocative spell names remind me of Jack Vance, and that's never a bad thing. It's been a very interesting read thus far, and I've been really enjoying your write-ups.

Johnathan
Thanks Johnatthan ! It's good to know I'm being read.

DCC is well suited to Vancian magic. The spell names in the book are actually classic, but the magic system makes spells very unpredictable which works really well with Vancian style magic. The names I cooked up with some of the online lists.

Need to write up last night's game which was quite something!
 

GB Steve

Visitor
Not previously but I followed your link. It sounds like great fun. To what extent is this like the play, and to what extent do the rules interrupt the game, and do the players say these things?
 

Imaro

Adventurer
I've also been reading this as well and it's inspired me to finally run my own DCC rpg game using the Vornheim book to create the main city. Great job!
 

Sammael99

Visitor
Not previously but I followed your link. It sounds like great fun. To what extent is this like the play, and to what extent do the rules interrupt the game, and do the players say these things?
The story is very faithful to what happens around the table, Steve. I occasionally skip over insignificant failures on certain rolls or spell attempts, but otherwise things happen as described. DCC is a fairly light system, and the rules rarely get in the way. Even with spellcasting (which requires some table referencing) things are now pretty smooth, especially since the DCC app The Crawler allows for all spell rolls to be made on the app and it feeds out the results.

As for dialog, it's obviously rewritten and embellished, but I try to stay faithful to things actually said around the table. Occasionally when a piece of dialog in game makes me laugh or when I find it really cool I'll jot it down and integrate it in the write-up dialog.

So all in all pretty faithful and about as fun as it sounds here.

It's also turned out to be more Vancian (or rather Cugelian) than expected in that most of our collective adventures are unplanned and occur as the consequence of failures or errors in judgement. The last session and the upcoming one are particularly true to that aspect of the game...
 

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