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IRON DM 2013--Entries, Judgements, Commentary, & Trash-Talk

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Sure. First, I have to admit that I had the most problem with the Home. Each ingredient has to be integral to the story or adventure. A home is almost too easy, since I could just state that the adventure occurs in someone's house. But that doesn't work, either, because any building or dungeon is a house to someone, so such use is a bit week.

So then I thought about how to make a home integral to the adventure by having the home fortress of the party taken over and the party having to fight room by room reclaiming it. The High Holy Days and Out of Time elements could be added somehow to make the threat planar or alien. But I threw this idea out, because not every adventuring party owns a home. In fact, in later editions of the game homes are hardly considered at all.

I then started going through my mind about what houses were famous in history. Haunted houses are too cliche. Baba Yaga and her house is pretty awesome, but was done in D&D before. Still, the idea of a living, walking house I thought was pretty neat if I could only give it a new take.

I love Morrowind (much more than the other Elder Scroll games), and started thinking about the Silt Riders as an example of an alien creature in fantasy that walked around with insect-like legs and the idea for the house came together. Out of Time and High Holy Days also were worked in, making the house extra-planar and truly alien.

The secret was also tough to make integral, and I think it was my weakest ingredient. I decided that the secret was the nature of the house and how to gain entry. Because it was so important, however, the idea of the house becoming hijacked came into being.

Because time became so important at this point, I couldn't help but think of using a clock as an internal organ to the creature, making it both a mundane object, but something with wondrous power. Visually, I think of it as something that looks like it came from the set of The Naked Lunch or Beetlejuice.

For Unusual Currency, the only thing that seemed important as an element for this adventure was time. I hated the idea of magically aging characters as part of the currency to enter because it seemed unfair. Same for sacrificing experience points or some sort. After awhile, I decided that a day of someone's life worked well as a narrative device, but if left to abuse a character would always pick a bad day or a failure to sacrifice. I also thought of having Obbins sacrifice a day of his life each time, but remember it, becoming a sort of planar hedonist, but I tossed that idea out because it made quaint the idea of sacrificing important events and lacked appropriate gravity. Finally, I decided to make sacrificing a day really matter, which had the additional effect of making Obbins and K'Rikkt's friendship more important and Obbins a pretty decent guy. He's sacrificing for the friendship, just like K'Rikkt sacrificed by leaving home. These two guys truly respect one another's mind and are willing to go to great lengths to philosophize together.

Finally, I thought of a character sacrificing a day where he saved a life, meaning that his decision to do so created a negative person. A person who should exist, but doesn't. I decided it was too distracting to my overall submission and would add another thousand words unnecessarily, but I still like the thought of an adventure to restore a timeline for a negative person... a person that should have existed but, due to a character's bad mistake or the machinations of an evil entity, no longer exists and leaves an unsettling hole in reality and a constant nagging in the party's mind.

Examples of a negative man from literature and song:

Antigonish by Hugh Mearns:

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away...

When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door... (slam!)

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away

The Man Who Sold the World, by Davie Bowie and later covered by Nirvana:

We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when
Although I wasn't there, he said I was his friend
Which came as some surprise I spoke into his eyes
I thought you died alone, a long long time ago

Oh no, not me
I never lost control
You're face to face
With The Man Who Sold The World

I laughed and shook his hand, and made my way back home
I searched for form and land, for years and years I roamed

I gazed a gazely stare at all the millions here
We must have died alone, a long long time ago

Who knows? not me
We never lost control
You're face to face
With the Man who Sold the World
 

Wicht

Villager
The Haunting of Weeping Oak

Background
The small village of Weeping Oak, known primarily for its soft wool, cured lamb shanks, and quaint wood-carvings, lies three days journey from the larger community of Hillsfold. Hillsfold has, of recent year, risen in prominence and power due to a conflux of religious and political events. The promotion of the Bishop Alzarn, a native of Hillsfold, to Grand Celestial Clergy of the King's Own, the subsequent expansion of the Temple in Hillsfold, and the establishment of a Knight's Lodge have all worked to make the once sleepy backwater city into a true economic and political entity. And, as its power has grown, so has its reach and influence upon the surrounding countryside.

Hillsfold has, of late, in all good faith, been sending emissaries to neighboring towns and villages, offering protection and seeking to establish a union of sister communities, all under the leadership of Hillsfold. By and large other communities have readily agreed, in no small part due to their reverence for the priests of the Hillsfold Temple and theirespect for the protective power of the Knight's Lodge.

But Weeping Oak is quite content to be its own village and wants no part of Hillsfold's scheme. Their reasoning lies in the faith of the villagers. They are followers of a heretical sect of druidic priests which disdain the dogma of the King's Faith, and instead follow a more primitive nature worship. Their faith is largely benign, excepting the kidnapping and sacrifice of a virgin during the Summer Harvest moon, and the fact that the elite of the faith are all werewolves. Recognizing that the Priests of Hillsfold would condemn their heresy, and would send missionaries to try and convert them, or maybe even kill them, the villagers have agreed upon a plan to make their village, one of the furthest from Hillsfold within the region, unpalatable as a sister community. Their plan involves claiming that their village appear is cursed and haunted; and they are going to use an actual haunted bridge, north of the village, to aid them.

Synopsis
The PCs are approached by representatives of the powers of Hillsfold, who earnestly desire to help the plight of the village of Weeping Oak. Weeping Oak has begged off joining the collection of communities Hillsfold desires to lead, citing, as their reason for doing so, the fact that they are cursed and their fear of spreading this curse to others. Upset that Weeping Oak is apparently suffering so from some calamity or other, and thinking that solving the problem will demonstrate Hillsfold's good intentions, they want the PCs to investigate the problems of Weeping Oak and, if possible, settle them, exorcizing any demons or curses that might actually afflict the smaller community.

The PCs, traveling to Weeping Oak, find it a rather pleasant community, full of seemingly cheerful people; except when the subject of the curse is brought up. Then each villager has a dread story to tell about the ghastly haunts reported by their neighbors, the sickness and death visited upon this herd or that, and the problems they have had with the harvests in recent years. As the PCs further investigate, they do discover strange things afoot, especially north of town at the bridge called “Daemin's Stand” by the locals, which is haunted by a powerful ghost.

In the meantime, the PCs are also attacked by a spellcasting werewolf (a priest who disagrees with the plan), are led on several wild goose chases, including dealing with any local monsters the villagers can find, and find themselves suffering from apparent food poisoning.

The more the PCs investigate, both in Weeping Oak, and in Hillsfold, the more they realize the villagers must be lying. Eventually, they discover the true nature of Weeping Oak's secret, or at least a part of it, and must decide whether to confront the heretical cult, or else let it be.

The Village and Its Secrets
The villagers of Weeping Oak are, outwardly, a perfectly normal group of people. They are cheerful and friendly to strangers. However, the leaders of the community are actually druidic werewolves belonging to an old cult of blood-sacrifices and cannibalism. Little evidence of this cult shows in the mannerisms of the villagers, though there are signs here and there of the “old faith.” Likewise the King's Shrine in the middle of town is little used, except when the priest from Hillsfold visits. Then the villagers take turns pretending to pay their respects.

PCs investigating the village discover that the villagers are only too eager to share with them their problems and the problems caused by the “curse.” In truth, at the beginning of concocting this plan, the villagers gathered around their sacred oak and told a variety of spooky tales, implausible stories, and fabricated fictions to one another, so that they could truthfully pass on such tales as having “been heard.” Thus, while each villager has only a limited number of things they can report as having happened to them bad, they have a wealth of tales to tell about what their neighbors have reported happening. In particular, the villagers try to point the PCs towards Daemin's Stand, a bridge north of town, as the center of the curse.

The High Priest of Weeping Oak, and his acolytes, live as normal villagers most of the year, only donning their robes for ceremonies at night, or taking their alternate forms to hunt during the full moons. These druidic priests are all in full control of their wolf nature and are careful to commit their heinous acts of violence as werewolves in such a way as to not leave any signs pointing to Weeping Oak. Still and all, the regions around Weeping Oak are said to be full of werewolves but the village itself reports no such thing as plaguing them.

North of Hillsfold is an old bridge, called, “Daemin's Stand” by the locals, in honor of one of their priests of old who used the bridge as a choke point to single-handedly stop the advance of an orc horde. Though the powerful priest, Daemin, died in the fight, his effort weakened the horde and allowed the rest of the village time to prepare an effective defense. Since that time, the ghost of the lycanthropic priest has haunted the bridge, attacking those not of the faith, but healing and blessing the remains of his “flock,” when they bring him offerings. Though the wood of the bridge is failing, and the villagers no longer use it for travel, they do not knock it down, out of respect for their hero and benefactor, considering the bridge sacred. In fact, if the PCs are stealthy they can observe the villagers interacting with the ghost. However, the villagers all provide accounts other than the truth to the PCs about the nature of the ghost there. A few claim it is a vengeful demon. Some of them claim it is the spirit of a highwayman who died in the waters under the bridge. Others say that it is the collective spirits of murder victims and their deranged killer haunting the bridge. Still others claim that it is a sign of the gods' wrath and that the village must remain isolated from all others until it passes. The villagers also all suggest various ways of laying the spirit to rest, all of them futile, and some of them dangerous, such as sacrificing a live wyvern upon the bridge, defeating the ghost in unarmed combat, or spending 24 hours in prayer and silent meditation upon the bridge. Truthfully the villagers hope the ghost kills the PCs, thereby creating more evidence for the seriousness of their “curse.”

West of the village, in the woods, upon a blood-soaked hill, is an ancient, gnarled oak: the sacred tree of the village. This tree drinks in virgin blood once each year in a ceremony meant to bless the village. If the PCs should discover and try to desecrate the site, they bring the wrath of the village down upon them and find the whole village turns out to hunt them.

Investigating in the Great Library
There is, in Hillsfold, connected to the new Knight's Lodge, a grand library with records going back three hundred years on the communities around Hillsfold. If the PCs think to return there to investigate the bridge, or Weeping Oak, they can discover the story of Daemin's Stand, absent any mention of lycanthropy. Alternately, they can discover that the founders of the community were elsewhere accused of being werewolves, and that the community was once suspected of heresy but no charges were ever brought.

Events During the Adventure
It is likely that the PCs try to destroy the ghost of Daemin and fail; the only way to lay his spirit to rest is to utterly destroy the village he is sworn to protect (albeit he is limited in that protection by his being anchored to the bridge that bears his name). The villagers use such failure as prove of their cursed status and thus as further reason why Hillsfold should not want to associate too closely with them (though cany observers will note the village still wants to sell its wares).

If the PCs are around near to the Summer Equinox, they hear reports of a kidnapped girl in a neighboring village. The girl has been taken by the priests of Weeping Oak, and will be sacrificed if the plot is not uncovered (this is one way the adventure might climax).

The PCs are attacked one night by a spellcasting werewolf, one of the priests who thinks the whole plan is foolishness. He tries to kill them and if he fails, he flees to try again.

In an attempt to make the village appear cursed, the innkeeper poisons the food of the PCs, hoping to make them violently ill.

Concluding the Adventure
If the PCs give up the quest to save Weeping Oak, the village remains forever independent.

If the PCs uncover the true nature of Weeping Oak's heresy, there are two ways the adventure might end: in violence or acceptance. If the villagers suspect the PCs of suspecting their heresy, they will attempt to put a good light on it, begging the PCs to look the other way, allowing the village to continue following its “ancient ways.” This goes down better if the PCs don't know about the human sacrifices and cannibalism. When these things are discovered, the village attempts to murder the PCs as quickly as possible.

Poison Pill – the plan to make Weeping Oak appear to be cursed and haunted and therefore a poor candidate for Hillsfold's collection of communities.
Decrepit Bridge - the scene of a supposed mass suicide and murder. Its haunted, alright, but the ghost cannot be laid to rest by listening to the villagers of Weeping Oak
Hearsay – While there are some villagers in Weeping Oak who will claim to have seen a ghost or goblin around town, most of them report what they heard from their neighbor or friend, especially if they suspect the PCs are using magic to divine the truth.
Hallowed Ground – The bridge itself is a minor religious site for the villagers, who leave offerings for the ghost there. To the west of town is a great oak tree, the true “consecrated” ground, revered by the villagers and the site of their religious celebrations.
Heresy – the faith of the villagers of weeping oak: it not only reject's the king's faith, but also promotes human sacrifice, cannibalism, and lycanthropy.
Wealth of Information – The town of Weeping Oak is full of information concerning the town's plight: Too much information, some of it conflicting, almost all of it wrong. Of greater help is the Grand Library of Hillfold, connected to the newly established Knight's Lodge. The scribes of the library have amassed a wealth of information on the region, including troubling histories surrounding Weeping Oak.
 

Imhotepthewise

Explorer
Commentary on Time Out Of Time

None of the ingredients scared me. I zeroed in immediately on Unusual Currency. Reading many places that larvae are coin of the realm in the lower planes, I knew it was an unusual starting point.

Surprisingly, Mundane Wonder caught me next, and I was surprised I did not convey it better. I should NOT have given in on using the words in text, and left it up to the reader to get my meaning. Even Graz’zt is sophisticated enough to appreciate the world in detail when you can observe it closely and slowly enough to appreciate it. We appreciate closeup pictures of flowers and bugs. Many action films use slow motion to accentuate action scenes for effect. Two scenes that illustrate this are second Transformers where Bumblebee skins the panther transformer and the latest Conan movie where the final sword fight uses it to show Conan getting his butt kicked. I think if I hadn’t sinned by using the name of the ingredient, I would have not lost that one.

Using Graz’zt was inspired by Sepuchrave’s Tales of Wyre. Sep uses Graz’zt sparingly but consistently enough that you always feel he’s got a dog in every fight. I considered what Graz’zt would do to humiliate and crush mortals without killing them. I know I would not be able to play this one out, I would not be able to be that mean for that long.

Now, the High Holy (Unholy) Days were important, in my mind. Graz’zt is not a being I think would be fond of passing gifts around. It would have to be at some time where he would gain something for doing so. A time where he could show off at his “generosity” and cleverness at providing a memorable gift. A gift with gravity beyond its worth. He intends this gift to be part of his scheme to get out from under the thumb of whoever is the recipient.

Home was Graz’zt’s bittersweet carrot to twist the victims for his own pleasure. Sure, you can go home, but no one will know you are there. It will be home, but not. It was a further example of Graz’zt’s cruelty. I probably could have had him take the victims there to show this in person.

The Secret was not an ingredient the players could exploit, but it was a secret nonetheless. Twisted into this is the description of its origin which further enhanced Graz’zt’s credibility as a meany.

Out of Time developed out of my absolute refusal to use it as a deadline type thing. I looked at the differences in the spell descriptions of Haste and Time Stop, and considered the control of the flow of time between those two spells. Haste speeds you up enough that you can do slightly more than everybody else around you, Time Stop speeds you up so fast that everybody essentially freezes around you. If you were able to open and close the spigot, you could do some interesting stuff. If I were to incorporate something like this actually in the game, there would definitely be some “time cops” to make sure it was not going to be a game breaker.

In real life it was a hot and steamy evening here in Eastern Connecticut and another night where thunderstorms were in the forecast, where we often have power and internet blips. I did not want to get caught with a polished entry with no way to send it in.

I love building dialog and fleshing out NPCs. In my opinion, well developed NPCs are the hallmark of a good game. This is not to say they have to be meticulously statted out. They have to be recognizable by presentation whenever they pop up to interact with the player characters. The players like to see them, the good ones and the bad ones, when they show up.

I will continue to follow the contest and learn from the pros. I have been reading these since the first ones were run over ten years ago. I have saved many entries for plagerization. I am not ashamed.

Have fun, everybody, that is what this is all about.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Please folk! Hide your commentary on ongoing matches behind spoiler or sblock tags! I want to view the entries with fresh eyes!
 

MortalPlague

Adventurer
A Case Of Mistaken Identity

The Elements

[sblock]
Poison Pill - The jar of lightning Salander carries to slay the god is a poison pill. It is not a conventional weapon, but rather must administer the poison (the lightning) to Asceon's core.

Decrepit Bridge - The bridge of the crashed starship that serves as Asceon's home and lair serves as this element. The stat blocks for his defense systems would elaborate on the decrepitude by making many attacks unreliable or random.

Hearsay - The tome 'Hearsay' fulfills this requirement, both in name and in its operation by regurgitating information.

Hallowed Ground - Asceon's Sanctum is hallowed ground.

Heresy - The tome 'Heresy' partially fulfills this requirement, but the more interesting example is Asceon's deification. And, from a certain angle, Salander's quest to slay a god is also heresy.

Wealth of Information - The books created by Asceon are known as the 'Wealth Of Information'. They literally provided a wealth of information to an unprepared population, and the empire crumbled under the weight of it.
[/sblock]


Adventure Background

Five hundred years ago, a god fell from the sky.

Asceon was his name. His legs were shattered in the fall, but his mind was sharp as ever. And what a mind it was! His intellect became renowned, and devotees realized that surely, this was a divine student of the god of knowledge. A grand temple was built to house the god. While he could not move, he delighted in conversing with sages and priests, and learned people of every race and station. Worried that their god would become tired of all the visitations, the priests of Asceon began to restrict the numbers they admitted to see him. At first, they chose the most learned and wise, but as the years passed, they admitted those willing to pay the best price.

Though Asceon was disappointed at his priest's actions, he was not one to challenge his fledgeling church. But he was still resolved to spread knowledge to the world. He created a set of tomes, known as the Wealth Of Information, and he instructed his priests to distribute them to the people. It was a set of four tomes. Their volumes were Hearsay, Harmony, History, and Heresy. Somewhat concerned at the fourth volume's name, the priests hid it, and distributed the other three books to learned sages.

They marvelled at the books; Hearsay was quickly discarded as a useless novelty, but Harmony and History were both incredible tomes, teaching great feats of magic and science. As the knowledge was handed to them on a silver platter, the nation became complacent. They gained fantastic knowledge, but they had no respect for it. They hadn't had to work for it. And the empire began to rot from within.

There was a civil war, and it shattered the empire. The fragments of the great nation formed their own nations, and Asceon's Sanctum was forgotten. The books were lost.



Where Do The PCs Come In?

While looting a chest, the PCs have come upon one of the ancient tomes, Hearsay. The tome is an odd one; iron covers, and the pages are covered in scrawl from different hands in different languages. Every language is represented at least once. The scrawl is all nonsense; even with considerable effort, nothing can be gleaned from it.

Just as they are examining it, a voice whispers, "Forget about the stupid book. It's useless anyways. We need to get out of here before the Emperor's forces surround the place. The book is Asceon's joke. Wealth of information? Hah."

If the PCs linger in the area for a little longer, another whisper comes from the book. "What do you mean, you don't have the money? We had a deal, Brooks. And you don't break deals with Black Charlie."

After another couple of minutes, there is yet another whisper. "Do you think anyone saw us come down here? I'll get in so much trouble if my daddy knows who I'm... seeing."

The PCs may make knowledge or intelligence checks to discern that these three whispers are from three different time periods. Whatever the book is doing, it ought to intrigue the PCs enough that they seek out a sage or a library to figure out more about it.

The tome can hear whispers from the past, spoken in that area, and bring them forward. Hearsay doesn't filter the information; it just regurgitates what it finds at random. Throughout the adventure, Hearsay will often have random tidbits to share, and the DM is encouraged to invent other inconsequential things for the book to contribute.

Any amount of research can reveal the background information above. Clearly, the PCs hold one of the tomes. The whereabouts of the others are hinted at in records of the war; most scholars agree that Harmony and History were probably destroyed in the conflict. But as the PCs are researching, Hearsay picks up some pieces of information.

1 - "Take the books; Asceon was wrong to trust us with them. Return them to his Sanctum. Man is not worthy of his gifts."
2 - "One of these days, Zharich is going to fall on his face, and I can't wait to see it happen."
3 - "Consul Davos, I have read Heresy. I know the truth. Asceon must be destroyed."
4 - "But with proper application of enchantment, one can bind the spirit to the scepter, creating a totem staff."

Only pieces 1 and 3 are of any use, and 3 is actually recent. Gathering information, the PCs may determine that Consul Davos is a foreign dignitary from the land of Nalair, in service to a Cleric of Ioun named Salander Chayn. Recent reports indicate that Salander left town a week ago, in the company of two mercenaries, Tansley Griffon (a fierce warrior) and Carabelle Islington (a capable mage).

One way or another, the PCs will be headed for Asceon's Sanctum. Salander's pace is quick, but the PCs are seasoned travellers, and can narrow the distance between the groups. By the time they reach the Sanctum, only an hour or two seperate the quarry from the hunters.



The City And The Sanctum

The temple is a huge monastery built around Asceon himself. It sits at the top of a large hill, in the center of the ruins of a large city. There are carnivorous creatures and monstrous humanoids afoot here, picking through the ruins of what once was an empire's heartland. At the top of the hill, the massive stone structure still stands, proud and solemn. It is more like a grand tomb now than a place of learning and worship.

The first obstacle for our stalwart heroes will be these monsters and scavengers. Whether through stealth or combat, or other means, they will have to pick their way past the foes. However, Hearsay will offer a few tidbits of information that might allow them to pass unseen.

1 - "Tansley, have a look in that building's cellar, the secret passage should be there." The book is repeating what Salander told to his mercenary not long ago. Should the PCs follow up on the clue, they'll find a secret passage in the cellar, which winds between two buildings, saving the PCs a few hours of travel.

2 - "Men, look around you. We are brothers. We are soldiers. And we will defend our streets against these creatures. There are no others I would rather have at my back." The book is repeating the words of a guard captain from the days of the civil war, when a horde of magically-summoned creatures destroyed the city.

3 - "These are Asceon's gifts to us! Look! See the claws, sharp enough to rend stone? See the teeth? These creatures will win the war for us." The book is repeating what a powerful mage said while showing off the creatures she summoned with the knowledge gained from the books.

There are other lines which are of little consequence, but Hearsay does not filter. It will happily channel lines of little use to the PCs. Here are three other lines it may pluck from the annals of history, but the DM should feel free to be creative and invent others.

4 - "Why did you use the wood stain for that? You ruined it!"
5 - "Do you think Quinsley knows it's a fake? The way he carries on, protecting it and showing it off, it's like he doesn't know that everyone can see the chipped paint."
6 - "You fool, what have you done?! Don't you know they'll hang you?"


Picking their way through the ruins, the PCs will eventually reach Asceon's Sanctum. The massive stone door stands ajar. But as the PCs approach the door, Hearsay will whisper, "Carabelle, Tansley, make sure our interlopers do not interrupt me." The book foils the planned ambush, and if the PCs are clever, offers them the opportunity to turn it around on them!

Carabelle and Tansley are mercenaries of some skill, though they are still mercenaries; they could be bought out. They could be persuaded to stand down (although that's somewhat more challenging). If it comes to blows, neither one will fight to the death; they'll attempt to escape, or will surrender if necessary. If they must, to save their own lives, they will tell the PCs that Salander plans to use a tiny magical device to destroy the god. It is a tiny phial filled with lightning with a needle point at one end.



Asceon

As the PCs finish dealing with the mercenaries (or find another way in), strange sounds begin to echo from the inner sanctum of the temple. Strange, electronic sounds. Beeps and alarms, the likes of which the PCs have never heard before.

The truth is that Asceon is an AI on board a crashed starship. Most of the vessel burned up when it hit the atmosphere, and none of the crew survived. The starship's bridge and its emergency power source are all that remains, shattered on the rocky ground. When people first discovered the ship, Asceon appeared; a great holographic head of vaguely human appearance. It took two minutes and a mental scan to learn the local language, and then Asceon began to converse with his guests.

Not knowing what to make of it, the discovers named Asceon a god, and built the temple. And became his priests.

As the PCs pass through the temple, Hearsay will offer up plenty of information. There are still some scavengers who lurk on the dark places of Asceon's Sanctum, so the PCs may be busy fending them off.

1 - "A being of pure light? Who speaks all languages and knows all secrets? Surely he is a god. Who else can do such things?"
2 - "Your Excellency, there has been a terrible accident! Brother Gerard is... well, he's gone! He was cleaning near the altar and there was an awful wail and a flash of light, then..."
3 - "Your masquerade is at an end, Asceon."

The following messages are from the aliens who originally flew the ship. It is a language nobody has heard before, though someone with magical comprehension could decipher it. Though perhaps deciphering the messages would only further confuse a poor PC.

4 - (indecipherable) "The port fin is sheared off and we're venting plasma. We're going down, there's nothing I can do about it."
5 - (indecipherable) "What do the scanners say about their power level?"
6 - (indecipherable) "Captain, I can't put any more power to the shields! We're going to burn up in atmo!"

Soon, the PCs will find their way to the inner sanctum, where they will pass through the doors to find a dome-shaped room built around the shattered bridge of the crashed starship. In the center, a luminscent head floats above a console, tilted slightly with the angle of the projector beneath it. A series of small pedestals and stations lay all about, and there are many sparking wires and dangling cables. More sinister still, there are a number of panels that are closed, which a perceptive character might notice could swing open.

The head will turn to the players and smile, speaking in smooth, neutral tones. "Welcome. I am Asceon. What do you seek to know?"

"I thought you'd have given up by now," Salander says, fiddling with a tiny jar of lightning. He is a tall man with gaunt features, and a certain zeal in his eyes. He carries a black tome titled Heresy in his other hand. "In any case, you know the truth. Asceon is not a god."

"Your people called me such," Asceon replies. "The title fits."

At this point, Salander will plead his case. He seeks to end the heresy of Asceon's existence, where people proclaim him as a god when really he is just a construct. The jar of lightning must be jammed into a socket at the base of Asceon's projector, which will short-circuit the AI's core computer, putting an end to him for good. Asceon will proclaim his mission to share information, and protest that violence is the antithesis of his being. But self-defense is a core mandate for a god, and he will defend himself should need be.

If the players side with Salander, Asceon will bring his defenses to bear. Several unreliable laser cannons and short-range disintegration beams will try and vaporize the party. But should any manage to plant the device in the console, Asceon will perish.

If the players side with Asceon, Salander will attempt to defeat them with magic. He will try his best to get to the console and spike it with lightning. With the PCs defending him, Asceon feels no need to show his weapons; it goes against his better nature.

Whichever way the chips fall, the adventure is concluded.



Further Adventures

The tomes Harmony and History are still missing. Harmony is a potent aid for metamagic, offering both startling secrets in its pages and the magical ability to bolster spellcasting. History is more academic, but its magic allows one to sift through its pages by thought, finding what they seek instantly. Recovering them could be a lucrative enterprise.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
It's usually a good sign when I don't know the winner after the first read-through!


Also, folk, I do encourage commentary on ongoing matches! I'm definitely not trying to shut it down. Just please hide it
like this
or [sblock]like this[/sblock].
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Round 1, Match 2 Judgement: MortalPlague vs. Wicht

There's a lot to like in both of these entries, so I might dig a little deeper looking for flaws. Both contestants should take that as a compliment; both of these were good entries (well, one was a great entry).

I'll start with the ingredients.

For those of you who don't know, a Poison Pill can sometimes refer to a literal poison pill (used, for instance, to commit suicide instead of being captured), but also refers to a business practice by which a company averts hostile takeover by diluting the value of its shares. It also has come to refer to an amendment to a legal bill that is intended to prevent the bill from passing. MortalPlague's entry, henceforth referred to as “Mistaken Identity,” uses a literal interpretation of the ingredient—with a twist. It's neat, but, unfortunately, amounts to nothing more than a McGuffin—and not even one the PCs are likely to interact with much. On the other hand, Wicht's entry, which I will refer to as “Haunting,” uses the business interpretation, more or less. And, with it, creates an amazing scenario for the players to get caught up in.

The Decrepit Bridge in “Haunting” has great atmosphere and a really good connection to the town—and it's current situation. Yet, it really could have been any location and still worked. Sure, it would have felt a little less like Sleepy Hollow if it wasn't a bridge, but, fundamentally, it didn't need to be decrepit or a bridge to work in the adventure. It, therefore, was but window-dressing. “Mistaken Identity” uses the ingredient much better. It absolutely had to be the ancient and decrepit starship bridge that it was. Also, great twist! Some groups might not like it, but I know mine would!

Hearsay is used well by both entries. “Mistaken Identity” might better have called its book, “Eavesdropping” instead of “Hearsay,” but the language of the hints could easily be altered without changing the function. And what a function! The constant whispering of all kinds of—often completely banal—information makes a tedious McGuffin into a flavorful NPC. Nice. But hold on! “Haunting” steps it up with this ingredient—having the villagers intentionally create a web of hearsay as part of their plan is clever. Using it to drive the adventure is beautiful.

Unfortunately, the Hallowed Ground in “Haunting” was much like it's use of the Decrepit Bridge: it makes for good atmosphere, but it doesn't seem especially significant in the context of the whole. In “Mistaken Identity,” it is significant—it's the crux of the whole adventure!

Then there's Heresy. I would very much like to have known what was in the book, “Heresy,” in “Mistaken Identity.” As it is, I never got a sense of just how it fit in to the four volumes. I assume that it contained the truth about Asceon. But, that's an assumption on my part, because we're never actually told what's in the book. Which is a shame, because it turns an interesting bit of the game into yet another McGuffin. In its current state, it could hardly count as a fulfillment of the ingredient-requirement. Yet, it never really was meant to fulfill that purpose, as far as I can tell. Salander is the real heretic and his beliefs seem to be backed up with the book. But, even this could have been detailed better. We never really get inside his head at all. All we know is that he intends to kill a (false) god (which is more of a blasphemous act than a heretical one, by the way—heresy is fundamentally about belief). It feels like much effort was spent in developing this part of the adventure, and yet much potential was also squandered.

“Haunting” is more subtle with its use, but it is also more prevalent. The heretics drive the action, the heresy motivates them to maintain their independence (their very lives could depend on it), and the heresy is the unknown factor that will haunt the PCs has they unravel things. Subtle, but damned good.

As for the Wealth of Information: “Haunting” does a credible job with the final ingredient, simply overloading the PCs with rumors and rumors and rumors. Forcing the PCs to sort out what's true and what's not—especially with the total collusion within the village and the tricks being played upon them—that's fun. But, while the definition of the ingredient was technically met, I was hoping for a little more. Fortunately, I got it with “Mistaken Identity.” Sure, calling the set of books “Wealth of Information” was a little cumbersome, but it really was a lot of information—in various forms and, more importantly (to me), really felt like wealth. It was something that could (and was) used by a society and by individuals to alter their situations. It was something that had the potential to corrupt and decay a society. It was even something with value relative to the tome and to those possessing or seeking the tomes. And, oh, yeah, it was something to be shared—or collected and closely guarded. Yeah. That's what I was looking for.

So, the entries are pretty even as far as the ingredients go. That leaves the adventures themselves. They both look fun. I can see myself running them both. But one of them would require a lot more work for me to run, for a few reasons. “Mistaken Identity” has a lot of potential for fun stuff to happen, but is written very linearly. It's a great premise and has great elements in it. It has a great story, but, ultimately, it feels too much like a story to be run as-is. “Haunting” in contrast, is very open in the way it is designed to play, while, at the same time, being a very tight adventure. It is superb, even for one of Wicht's entries.

MortalPlague, I liked your piece. A lot. Based on your performance in this match, I am certain that you'll produce strong entries in future tournaments, if you enter. This time, however, Wicht advances to Round 2.
 

Wicht

Villager
Two go in, one comes out! On to round two!

Seriously though, very good entry, MortalPlague; that was an entry worthy of advancement and I hope to be able to face you again.
 

Deuce Traveler

Adventurer
Both were great entries. I liked the science fiction meets fantasy in one, and the creepy village with werewolves in the other. Bravo to you both!
 

Rune

Once A Fool
So, [MENTION=221]Wicht[/MENTION] and [MENTION=62721]MortalPlague[/MENTION], I'm sure we'd all be very interested to hear about your creative processes for these entries.
 

Wicht

Villager
As I read through the ingredients, the decrepit bridge was the first ingredient to grab hold of my imagination and I immediately thought of an old covered bridge in the country. And of course it had to be haunted. While I agree with the judge that the bridge reads like mere scenery in the write-up, it was actually the seed that germinated the rest of the scenario. Without that bridge, the scenario would have turned out very differently.

You can have a lot of things happen on or near a bridge: suicides, murders, drownings. There can be all sorts of stories surrounding it. My next step was poison pill. Hearsay and heresy were both percolating, but poison pill needed some thought and so I googled it, read the definitions and tried to think of the concept of a poison pill in a medieval or fantasy setting. The idea of one community trying to annex another was the logical thought, but it had to be being done in the context of a bid for control that could be thwarted. Marching armies was too direct and thus out. Perhaps one community trying to establish itself as the leader of surrounding communities... There was a thought...

Religion was a real possibility for a reason one community might have greater authority, a new prophet, spiritual leader or temple could cause the influence of a city to grow. And religion allowed for heresy... and if the heresy was on the part of the village that did not want to be controlled, then that village could craft a poison pill plan to keep the other community away... And they could use hearsay to create confusion and a mystery... They could provide a wealth of information, misleading information that could have the PCs chasing their tales... And maybe at the same time, there should be a really big library somewhere (the library was an ingredient that never fully developed, though I included it).

About this time, I decided to have the big city be entirely the good guys and the village be entirely the bad guys. The Wicker Man came to mind and I decided to go with a primitive druidic faith that ate people. Werewolves was a logical choice and I may have been partially swayed by some writing I have done about a similar village in Golarion .

Hallowed Ground, to me, initially was the bridge, though the new temple, and the villagers sacred tree were also in the mix. The list I turned in at the end was actually my first words on the screen. My second step was coming up with names and writing the backstory. I went from there to writing up the adventure itself. I meant to play up the mystery angle of the bridge a bit more, but time was short for me, and I did not get to fully flesh out this aspect of the story, but if I were going to write it up as an actual adventure, I would spend much time trying to fully develop the various stories the villagers told about the bridge to make the bridge more central to the adventure.
 
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Rune

Once A Fool
Round 1, Match 3: EP vs. Radiating Gnome

[MENTION=41744]EP[/MENTION] and [MENTION=150]Radiating Gnome[/MENTION], you have 24 hours to post your entries to this thread. Please include a list of ingredients at the beginning of the entry and please do not edit your post once it is submitted. Please refrain from reading your opponent's entry until after you have posted your own. You are on your honor to do so.

Your ingredients are:

Introverted Aboleth

Fork in the Road

Lonely City

Point of No Return

Inspirational Sermon

Changeling
 

EP

Villager
Hmm, I was hoping to save my idea for an introverted aboleth for another project, but I guess now's as good a time as ever.

See you all in less than 24.
 

Radiating Gnome

Registered User
The Sermon of Kingfish VII

The Sermon of Kingfish VII
by Radiating Gnome

Ingredients:
Introverted Aboleth
Fork in the Road
Lonely City
Point of No Return
Inspirational Sermon
Changeling

Backstory:

  • Freehaven was an independent citystate, on the tip of a peninsula, famous for seagoing trade, free markets, rumors of piracy, and for being ruled by a family of Aboleths.
  • 15 years ago, upon the death of its progenitor, Gremtilosse, aka Kingfish VII, took the throne. Unwilling to continue with the work of ruling the city, it called up a permanent hurricane/demiplane of storm to surround the city, cutting off seagoing and flying travel to the city, and making travel along the lone road to the city nearly impossible. The city itself is in the eye of that storm.
  • Gremtilosse hates dealing with any beings in person, except on it's own terms. It's obsession is to create the perfect Sermon of Assumption, to harness the faith-based power of thousands of souls and elevate itself to godhood.
  • Gremtilosse tweaks and revises the sermon each day, trying to perfect it, and has been experimenting with the harmonics of that faith energy by taking active control over which worshiper are in which temple, and where they are seated, to attempt the perfect divine harmonics and elevate itself, finally, to divinity.
  • Life in the city has become grim. Cut off from all sources of food, trade, and resources, the residents are entirely dependent upon the clergy for food, a bland fish stew served after services each day.
  • Gremtilosse never appears in public, sending it's changeling High Priest, Soldi Anter, as his mouthpiece. Anter's mind is a twisted place -- even for a changeling -- bent by years of mind control and the telepathic presence of the Aboleth King. Over the years Anter has built compartments within his mind where he can keep ideas away from Gremtilosse, and he planned escape.
  • About a month ago, Gremtilosse escaped. He learned over the years that Gremtilosse finds intoxication deeply disturbing, so to keep the beast out of his mind he has to keep himself powerfully drunk. So, staggering, he crawled out through the hurricane, used his ability to shapechange to get past the guards at the edge of the storm, and was free, so long has he remains drunk. His escape was short-lived, however. He told his story in a tavern, passed some drunken notes to the local lord, and then passed out. Unconscious, he sobered enough for the Aboleth to regain control and force Anter to return to the city.

Hook:

The PCs are approached by the lord who spoke to Drunk Anter. He gives them the packet of notes left by Anter, tells them what he can, and asks them to make their way to Freehaven, make contact with Anter, and see what they can do to save the city.

The packet of papers include most of the information given in the backstory, as well as more details about the Sermon of Assumption. Make this a big pile of handouts and allow the Pcs to work through it at their own pace. Details should include a little background on the two holy orders that serve the Aboleth (the Order of the Net, monks who handle the logistics and keep order in the city, and the Order of the Trident, clerics who deliver the sermons each day).


Approaching the City

Approaching by sea or air is impossible because of the hurricane-force storm. By land, they first encounter a guard post manned by a handful of monks armed with nets. These monks warn them away, letting them know that if they enter the storm, they will not be able to come back. This is true -- after Anter's escape, the barrier between the demiplane/storm was strengthened to only allow passage in, not out -- so once the PCs enter they will not be able to get back out unless Gremtilosse is killed or convinced to let them leave.

The approach will be an extended skill challenge --or series of skill challenges -- that test the resourcefulness end endurance of the PCs. They should be tapped out by the time they reach the city.

Freehaven

Freehaven is basically a city that has been under seige for 15 years. The people are stumbling shells, whose days consist of finding their neighborhood Warden, a Brother of the Net who gives them their daily temple and seat assignments; then they go to that temple, sit in their assigned seat, and listen to the sermon. After the service, the Brothers of the Net provide them the fish stew that is their only source of food (with the exception of rare stores of luxuries, which have been almost all depleted over the years).

Bearing weapons, obvious spellcasting tools, or armor in the city is forbidden. Most of the people wear well-worn rags (no way to get new clothes for the past 15 years). Since the city does not get visitors, though, there's not much need for a sign to tell visitors that those items are forbidden. So the PCs will stand out like a sore thumb if they don't take measures to look like they belong. If they don't, they will have repeated encounters with patrols of Order of the Net patrols (and alert the city to the presence of outsiders).

The people mostly stare, and are not helpful, but that will immediately turn around if they're offered food. Even trail rations would be a welcome break after 15 years of the same crappy stew. The people have not seen Gremtilosse, whom they call Kingfish VII, for many years. His predecessors were much more interested in public displays, but Gremtilosse only interacts with the people through his high priest and the two holy orders.

The Sermons

The PCs should experience one of the sermons early. The scene starts with bells tolling the call to prayer; people drop what they're doing and shuffle into temples. They take specific assigned seats (different daily, given to them on chits by the Order of the Net). Then a Brother of the Trident steps up to the altar and delivers a real fire-and-brimstone sermon. Harmonic divine energies build in the temples -- resonating between the people and the priest, driven to crescendo by the sermon, all channeling power to a power crystal (one for each temple) in the wall of the palace.

In the streets, strange magical effects are felt in the flux of that power -- magic is unpredictable, may fizzle completely, triple in strength, or do something entirely different than what was expected. Then, the sermon ends; the people, exhausted, take their bowl of stew and go home.

The PCs need to make contact with Anter.

  • If they're being sneaky, they can find moments when he's appearing in public to try to make contact with him. He'll try to shoo them away, then be taken over by Gremtilosse, and demand that they be killed (big fight scene, drive them out with tons of monks)
  • If they're not being sneaky, Anter will get word through the Brothers of the net that they're in town.
  • Either way, Anter will find an unattended moment to get himself drunk, shapeshift (to avoid the watchful eyes of the Brothers of the Net), and then go find the PCs so he can talk to them
  • Drunk Anter will be able to help them get into the Palace, where they can make their way into the caverns below the city and try to find and kill Gremtilosse



The Palace

The palace is a shell used by the two holy orders as a monastery -- so it's full of clerics and monks dedicated to the Aboleth and it's quest for godhood. The PCs can fight their way in -- with the help of drunk Anter, who is shapeshifting to disguise himself -- or take on his true form in some encounters to try to get the party past some encounters.

During one of those early encounters, though, one of the clerics the party faces casts remove poison on Anter -- removing the effects of the alcohol from his body, and allowing Gremtilosse to regain control. The PCs might be able to subdue him and get him drunk again, to retain his help, but otherwise he'll flee the party and return to the Aboleth's side.

If the PCs lose their guide (Anter) they will be forced to find their own way through the palace to the catacombs.

Once the alarm is raised in the palace, Gremtilosse commands that the call to prayer is rung again, and within 15 minutes power begins to grow in the palace as the Sermon generates divine power.

The Caverns Below

Once in the caverns, Anter (if he's still with them) must begin to drink more and more to keep the Aboleth out of his mind. In no time at all he can no longer stay on his feet, and must be left behind, too drunk to be of any help.

In the caverns, after a few minor encounters, the heroes come upon a choice of two passages.

One is clearly the passage that is used -- the way is clear, there's signs of recent traffic, and the hum of magical energy can be heard from the chamber ahead.

The other is clearly abandoned, and there's no sign of traffic through that passage for the past several years.

The abandoned passage leads to the true lair of the aboleth, who uses his agents and puppets from here. The well-traveled passage leads to a central power gathering room, where crystals in the ceiling -- one for each of the power rods above the palace -- shoot their divine power into a collection crystal at the center of the room. a team of clerics tend the energy, while one, clearly possessed by the Aboleth, stands at a podium above it all, observing and watching the power grow.

  • Destroying the central crystal in the ritual chamber -- or all of the crystals in the ceiling -- will break up the ritual and cut Gremtilosse off from the power generated by his sermon. When that happens, the Aboleth will escape through extra dimensional travel.
  • Facing the Aboleth in his true lair will allow the PCs to defeat him once and for all, but his powers are amplified by the power of the Sermon.
  • If the two battles can be fought at roughly the same time -- so that the aboleth is engaged with part of the party when the ritual is stopped -- it's possible to cut him off from his power and the defeat him much more easily.

Once the Aboleth is gone or dead, Freehaven is restored to the prime material plane, the permanent hurricane disappears, and the city is freed.

Ingredient Guide:
Introverted Aboleth
- Gremtilosse, who does not want direct contact with his subjects, just to be left alone to work on his sermon writing project.
Fork in the Road - the choice, in the caverns below the palace, which determines if the players face a nigh-unbeatable nearly divine empowered aboleth, or destroy his ritual but allow him to escape, or perhaps choose both options and manage to defeat him once and for all.
Lonely City - Freehaven, once a free city of seagoing trade, now hidden away by the magic of it's Aboleth lord.
Point of No Return - The point at the start of the adventure when the PCs are warned that if they enter the storm, they will not be able to exit.
Inspirational Sermon - The sermon of Gremtilosse the Aboleth, Kingfish VII of Freehaven, designed to inspire the faith of it's audience so perfectly that it elevates it's subject (Gremtilosse) to godhood.
Changeling - Soldi Anter, the changeling high priest of Gremtilosse, who uses drunkeness to temporarily escape the mental clutches of the Aboleth and bring help to the city.
 

EP

Villager
CURSE OF THE UNWANTED
Written by the Warden

The Ingredients
Introverted Aboleth: Decades ago, an aboleth was summoned by the royal wizards of the Faelien Court in an effort to rid their king of his madness. Whether it was due to arrogance or ignorance, the wizards assumed they could control the creature and harness its powers to cure King Jotar and it backfired horribly. During the fall of the Faelien Court, many brave adventurers entered the sewers to confront and eliminate the aboleth, but to no avail. The beast has, however, suffered many horrible wounds, including a severe gash to its brain, and now remains locked in isolation within the deepest levels of the Faelien sewers.

Fork in the Road: Despite its name to the outside world, there are many creatures calling this place home. Under the guidance of the Keeper (see the Changeling ingredient, below), they have reached a metaphorical point in their lives where they must decide if they will continue to be this world's monsters or turn over a new leaf and build a proper life for themselves and their families. Throughout the course of this adventure, it is a similar choice undertaken by the aboleth – to remain fearful and intimidated by the world away from its natural home or to confront its fears and challenge them directly in confrontation. One might also hope this is an awakening for the PCs and their understanding of the monsters of their world...

Lonely City: Before the arrival of the aboleth, the city of Faelien was a jewel of the northern coast and a beacon dividing the savage arctic wastelands from the civilized plains and valleys under King Jotar's rule. After that dark day when the people were driven from their homes by the aboleth's dominated minions and horrific visions, the city was abandoned and gained its new name, the Lonely City.

Point of No Return: King Jotar's son, Yan, has begun to show signs of his father's illness and is desperately seeking a solution before the insanity claims his mind. Without any proper understanding of this condition, Yan has ordered a new expedition into the Lonely City to claim some of the aboleth's blood and perform a ceremony to rid the confused prince of his inner demons.

Inspirational Sermon: When the PCs arrive in the Lonely City, they discover the Keeper (see the Changeling ingredient, below) preaching to the huddled masses who now call this place their home.

Changeling: Perhaps because she is a bit mad herself, the changeling known only as the Keeper has taken refuge within the Lonely City and seeks to offer shelter and dignity within these battered stone walls. Herself an outcast, the Keeper is the self-proclaimed protector of numerous creatures hindered by genocidal adventurers looking to kill solely based on their race or past deeds. She has spent many years trying to help the aboleth heal its wounds and regain its dignity... despite the possible consequences.

An Insane Offer
The PCs are approached by representatives of the Jotar family, now living in exile far from their original homeland. After the devastation in the Lonely City, King Jotar's insanity and the actions of his Court made them fugitives and so they have gone into hiding. While the King has long ago succumbed to his madness and ended his own life, his son, Yan, has begun to show signs of his father's illness and is desperate to rid his mind of the torturous visions and inane ramblings that wracked his father to his dying days. After initial discussions and negotiations, the PCs are taken to meet with the exiled prince in person.

As the prince meets with the adventurers, there are subtle nuances revealing the oncoming madness. At various times, Yan turns suddenly towards nearby windows that have been boarded up and continuously shushes people who are not present (at one point, it seems he is speaking to his deceased father). Regardless of the prince's current condition, the payment offered is real: a chest of jewels and family heirlooms salvaged from the Lonely City prior to the evacuation. If the PCs return with the aboleth's blood, the chest is theirs for the taking.

Maps, horses, and travelling supplies are provided upon request, but Prince Yan is insistent the PCs leave at dawn's first light.

The Keeper
The journey to the Lonely City is brief, yet harsh, for this landscape sits along the border with the arctic tundra and winter is fast approaching. It will take the PCs four days to reach the City by horse and there will be few encounters along the way.

As the PCs climb to the top of a crest overlooking the Lonely City, read the following out loud.

Past the jagged rocks marking the tip of this dangerous ascent, you can see a white spiral tower rising to greet weary travellers and designate this as the location of the Lonely City. Blasting snow has pelted the trio of towers marking the edges of the abandoned kingdom's once great domicile, their windows blown open long ago to create a wicked howl as the sharp winter winds whistle through these tiny openings and echo across the valley before you. A triangular wall that surrounded the regal sections of the city lay in ruins as something monstrous must have brought it crashing down, spewing its debris over and through the common homes once occupied by an unsuspecting people.

Past the howling cry of the snow-capped towers, the powerful boom of an orator's voice catches hold of the wind and finds its way to your ears. It is hard to tell what the words are saying, but there is no mistaking the clear connotations of someone charismatic giving a speech within the remains of what lies below.


If anyone attempts to spot the source of this speech from such a distance, the most they can make out is a gathering of humanoid creatures assembled around the crumbled gates of the City. When they complete their descent and get closer, they can see these creatures are a goblinoid tribe (goblins, hobgoblins, bugbear) standing around a lone speaker perched atop a large boulder that was once the main gate. The speaker looks like a female hobgoblin dressed in thick furs raising her spear in the air as she preaches to these refugees in their own tongue.

If anyone knows the goblin tongue and can get close enough to hear the speaker's words clearly, read the following out loud as a rough translation.

“You are only lost, my brothers and sisters, but are now found. The world has not turned its back on you, only those with pink skin who worship false kings and prophets. They have declared you their enemies and forced you to live within the crevasses of their lives, outcast and sentenced to a harsh death. There is no honour seeking out a life within their shadow, so we have claimed a home on the surface they dare not enter. The gods have made you struggle for a reason, brothers and sisters. To find this city and call it yours as we have called it ours. Find peace as your own people, not as the bastards of the pink skins who say their heart is as warm as the sun, for their actions are as cold as the snow on these mountains. All we ask is that you live in peace with your fellow brothers and sisters, no matter their breed or origins. Together, we will rise above the pink skins and make a home for ourselves!”

The goblinoid's attention is so fixated on her passionate speech that they will not notice any approaching intruders until they approach the back of the formation or interrupt the speech with any other action. When this happens, the goblinoids (there are approximately fifty of them) will turn and draw their weapons, eager to draw blood.

The speaker will seek to calm them down. If a fight should break out, she will race through the crowd and interject, suddenly assuming the form of the most common race within the party (or a human, if everyone is different) and plead with the PCs to lower their arms. She introduces herself as the Keeper, a changeling elementalist and guardian of the Lonely City. While she does not want bloodshed within these fallen walls, she cannot allow them passage inside, regardless of their reasons.

“You come from the southern lands of hospitality and respect. This is a place for the unwanted and the damned, therefore you in turn have no place here. Go back to your homes and tell them we seek only the isolation we deserve. If you do not, I cannot be held responsible for your fate.” As if on cue, the horde of goblinoids standing at her side raise their weapons to the ready and snarl their eager need to inflict generations of revenge against you and your comrades.

So long as the PCs demonstrate respect and compassion, the Keeper will return the favour and can offer them shelter from the elements within one of the remaining gatehouses, but they are not granted access any further than this point. If violence ensues, she will use her elemental mastery to summon two earth elementals from the rubble of the City's gates to crush these intruders.

If anyone enquires about the aboleth, the Keeper's answer is harsh and ominous. “She is not to be disturbed. Your kind has done more than enough harm and I will not allow anyone to shatter her fragile world, do you understand me?” If they mention Prince Yan's plight, she scoffs and cares even less for their mission now more than ever. “Your kind's ills are the result of your greed and avarice. It is penance for your actions and those of your ancestors, a lesson that invoking genocide brings consequences. And only someone inflicted with madness would believe an aboleth could cure them of their insanity.” Now that she is aware of their intention in her City, there is no chance or opportunity for the PCs to take refuge or even step past the crumpled gates.

If a peaceful solution is never placed on the table by the PCs, the Keeper, the earth elementals, and her wards (the goblinoids) will return the favour and fight to the death. If the Keeper's life is spared and efforts are made to force her co-operation, she will abide and escort them into the sewers to meet with the aboleth.

Entering Undetected
The PCs may wish to avoid a direct confrontation at the main gate of the Lonely City and find a more secretive way inside. That shouldn't be a problem as the only protection offered by the city is its isolation in this harsh terrain. There are random patrols of various residents calling this place home, including cambion, various giants, drow, and githzerai, though not all of them are armed and dangerous. There is plenty of evidence indicating these creatures are attempting to live peaceful lives in gatherings of their own kind, surviving off the refuse of this city that once was their enemy's.

Into The Sewers
There are numerous entrances to the sewers that is now home to the aboleth, each of them sealed over with heavy iron grates designed to keep curious residents out at all costs. If the PCs were able to “convince” the Keeper to lead the way, she will take them to a particular opening used to gain access to the beast during her therapy sessions. As they pass through the city, the Keeper will explain the fragile nature of the aboleth and why their intrusion is so dangerous for both them and the creature itself.

“She has been torn from her home realm and placed somewhere where nothing makes sense and everyone tries to kill you on sight. When the King's wizards summoned her here, she was immediately sentenced to death for her blood and organs, hacked at by eager mindless servants like yourselves. She may have been able to fight them off, but at a great cost. She has suffered a serious wound and can no longer control her powers with great accuracy, nor can she comprehend reality from illusion. When you enter her home, do not be surprised you become mad yourselves by what you see.”

Once the PCs enter the sewers, the aboleth senses their arrival and lashes out in a furious roar of fear and anger, causing the very walls to shake and dislodge loose stones into the fetid waters at their feet. The walls begin to drip blood and echoing voices bewilder the PCs at every turn, sometimes calling out to them by name or re-enacting horrific crimes from their past. The deeper they travel, the more these sewers begin to transform into a slimy natural cavern featuring quivering sacks of unborn larvae and the screams of the aboleth's victims when the Lonely City fell. If the PCs entered these sewers with the Keeper, she does not seem to recognize these horrors because her mind is not being inundated with them – the aboleth knows to trust her. To a point.

As everyone reaches a large opening to a central canal under the main castle, the Keeper suddenly convulses with such intensity that her spine snaps and her lower body goes limp without collapsing. Appearing to hover in the air, the changeling is suddenly possessed by the aboleth's uncontrollable power with such ferocity that every unnatural movement causes bones to break and her jaw widens beyond ordinary means, yet the voice seeping from her mouth shrieks out the words of an anxious aboleth.

“NO HUMANS!! NO MORTALS!! WE WANT PEACE!!!!”

The aboleth then uses the Keeper's possessed body to hold back the PCs in an effort to block them from going any further. If the Keeper did not come with them, it will instead target the PC with the weakest Intelligence score and cause 1d10 damage whenever they attempt to fight off the mental invasion. Only by making a successful opposed Intelligence check against the aboleth can a possessed character hope to free themselves of the creature's grip. When the Keeper's hit points are reduced to 20 or less, she is suddenly sucked into a vortex, unnaturally contorting and squeezing her body through the imaginary pinhole until she is no longer standing before the PCs.

To reach the aboleth's lair, the PCs must pass through three random challenges. At the start of each challenge, roll 1d6 to determine the danger they face. Each challenge is an illusion created by the incredible panic of a seriously ill chaotic creature and can be disbelieved using the standard rules of whichever edition you play, but the difficulty is increased by 3. Any PC who has successfully disbelieve can use their turn to aid another in their attempt. Anyone who “dies” in these illusions remains out of action for the remainder of the adventure until the aboleth has been defeated.

1: A tidal wave of rancid sewer water and humanoid skulls rushes towards the PCs, threatening to wash them out of the City or drown them. Everyone must make successful Strength checks for three rounds before the tidal wave passes or else become caught up in its powerful force and forced further away from the aboleth's lair (2d6 damage per failed roll).
2: The PCs are attacked by illusionary undead created by the aboleth's fearful rage. Able to pass through the sewer walls with ease, they attempt to drag a PC through with them and bury them within the walls.
3: The PCs are suddenly unable to breathe, as if an unseen weight was pressed against their chest. Only by successfully disbelieving the illusion can they begin to breathe again.
4: The PCs enter a large submerged chamber and discover the rotting hulk of the aboleth... or so they think. This is another desperate attempt by the panicked aboleth to be left alone. Once disbelieved, the PCs realize they are standing in simply another narrow tunnel under the City.
5: The tunnels suddenly tilt 90° on its side, causing the PCs to feel as if they're falling away from their objective. Until this illusion is disbelieved, they must try to climb their way further and will take falling damage equal to the length of any tunnel whenever they fail.
6: A high-pitched mental shriek threatens to deafen the PCs, forcing them to make Constitution rolls to avoid a cumulative -2 penalty to all actions until the illusion is disbelieved.

The Aboleth Itself
After enduring the psychic torture and torment of the aboleth's panicked efforts to stop them in their tracks, they finally arrive at the final scene. Read the following aloud to the players.

Walls of mossy stone are no more, instead morphing into a bulbous and throbbing organic tissue that glows a deep red with every pulse. A deep pit of swirling sewer water stretches out to 50' in all directions with sticky tentacles of dried slime creating a concealing canopy within this dim locale. Other than the deep throbbing of the inner walls, there is no other sign of life until a lone figure rises from the water. It is the mangled and bloody form of the Keeper. She does not speak, only weeps uncontrollably and pleads with you for peace and isolation.

There are two choices for the PCs at this moment: sympathy or aggression. If they want to try and sympathize with the aboleth, perhaps even offer to put her out of her misery, their offer will be met with hesitant curiosity. If anyone breaks their word at any point and time, the aboleth will respond with aggression. In either case, it will rise from the swirling waters to reveals its true form.

The sickly form of this hulking creature floats to the surface of the pool and what you notice at first is the large gash on the side of its head, exposing the sinewy strands of its massive brain. Puss and a black viscous liquid continuously seep from the wound and into the water. It is now you can see the Keeper – secured to the aboleth's head as if she was grown from its very body – caresses and kisses the sore wound affectionately before looking back up at you with pleading eyes.

If the PCs simply decide to charge in and kill the creature outright, she will respond in kind and become panicked, gaining +2 to all attack rolls and defences until either her attackers are killed (in reality) or she is removed from this life. If the aboleth is struck by a critical hit, roll 1d6 and apply one of the random effects from the previous section.

When the fight is over, the symbiotic form of the Keeper detaches from the aboleth's body and shrivels into a sack of dried flesh. Any surviving PCs can take a sample of the aboleth's blood and return to Prince Yan with his hopeful cure. Whether or not it works is up to you...

END
 

MortalPlague

Adventurer
...I'm sure we'd all be very interested to hear about your creative processes for these entries.
The elements were handed out towards the end of one of my gaming sessions with my regular group. I loaded up the page on my phone after the session, and found six excellent ingredients staring back at me. They were marvellous, delicious ingredients that could all play very nicely together. With one of my gaming buddies, I went home and we threw ideas around.

He suggested the idea that the Wealth of Information was a set of books. I jumped on the idea, immediately deciding that Hearsay and Heresy would be two of those books. We spun the story of the god of knowledge who created the books in his monastery, and went through the 'fall of civilization' back story. I knew from the start that I wanted the books to be magical, nearly artifacts, though with a very limited scope. In my rough hashing-out of ideas, the bridge was going to be an encounter in the Hallowed Library... I was thinking a Last Crusade-style bridge of faith. But I wasn't happy with that. The poison pill was going to be a literal pill with a god-slaying poison, which the villain would carry to feed to the god.

Hearsay developed over a few passes. Initially, the book would have read the minds of people around it, snagging random surface thoughts. But then I came upon the idea that it could provide background elements by stealing snippets of conversation from the past. The idea that they could also hear the orders of the man they were chasing really appealed to me, as did the fact that Hearsay has no filter. It doesn't know what's important or not, so it just samples random snippets. The potential for a DM to throw random amusing lines from completely hapless NPCs was too much fun to pass up.

Towards the end of that night, I realized that the bridge was really just a plug-in element, and I wanted to give it some more thought. I was still bouncing ideas off my buddy, and I was talking about some elements are really flexible and others are more nebulous. The decrepit bridge, I told him, could only be one thing. And then the idea hit me. It could be a starship bridge.

I ran a mental check through all the elements. I briefly considered switching the whole adventure to sci-fi. I noted the irony that I've never actually run or played Expedition To The Barrier Peaks. Then I decided to run with it. I figured that this sort of competition is the one to take risks in, and a fallen AI posing as a god was a nice final reveal for the adventure. It actually served as a third form of heresy, and it made Salander a crusader, not a villain. It offered the adventure a choice at the end, whether the PCs sided against Asceon or against Salander. It did, however, weaken the poison pill element (turning it to a jar of lightning).

The next day, I typed it all up, smoothing out bumps as I went along. I tried to throw player choice into a few places, since the adventure was a little linear (the choice whether to fight or sneak through the city, for instance). I found a few plot holes that I had to patch up. I went back and forth on the amount of back story to include. And then I submitted that huge block of text.


Last Notes:

  • The footnote about Further Adventures was put in so it didn't look like I had forgotten about Harmony and History. Also, the entry didn't feel complete without at least a brief look at the other books and their powers.
  • I must have changed the villain's name six times before I settled on Salander.
  • I named Asceon in a split second as I was typing, and it was the Right Name (tm). I felt very good about that name.
 
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