Session 15b – Serpent-Skinned Monks

The PCs could not afford to take another long rest if they wished to be away from Tamaochan before the arrival of the Pick & Axe co. 

Characters:

  • Shin (level 4>>5), Tabaxi Fighter (Arcane Archer), Outlander; big-game hunter, has no patience for weakness
  • Flyzus (level 5>>6), Wood Elf Ranger (hunter), Outlander; sole survivor of his tribe after an orc invasion
  • Rufb (level 5>>6), Half-Orc Barbarian (berserker), Mercenary Veteran; captured by pterafolks, his fellow mercenaries killed, seeks riches and glory
  • Vorn, Shield Guardian, found masterless beside a gaping hole in the ground

Stay Still Forever

In a part of the dungeon yet unexplored – the PCs had successfully avoided a sand-filling trap – a few turns later they got almost in the middle of two rows of skeletons, a sort of honor guard by the look of it, standing on a ledge each side of a passage. The 15 skeletons jumped down and attacked (1)…

The adventurers kept their calm, even after seeing a skeleton still fighting after receiving a killing blow, what should have been a killing blow anyway. It helped that they could  now count on the powerful Vorn to back them up. An exploding magic arrow from Shin did a lot to soften the undead warriors. It took some time but they managed to prevail with only a few light wounds in return (2).

You don’t see any traps

At the end of another passage they could see a golden bat statuette. Rufb took it from its pedestal and got shot in the back by several crossbow bolts. Wounded and angry, Rufb smashed the statuette under his foot. Thic, released a creature made of light, a will o’ wisp they knew from previous experience,  that quickly got away along another passage.

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Shed Skin

Now, for some reason, having a will o’ wisp on the loose didn’t sit well with the PCs (3) so they tried to find it, backtracking a little doing so. Flyzus ordered his pseudodragon pet to follow the evil light but the poor creature got zapped and… died (4). Next, the PCs got into an room they had opened but had chose to ignore earlier, a room with two slabs of stone with shed serpent skins… wait a minute… weren’t there bodies the first time around? Darn! More things roaming free…

Stuck in the Middle with You

To go further in this area, the PCs had to move a heavy block of stone on some rail mechanism up a ramp, the Shield Guardian was put to the task. They were halfway when things got complicated… First, there was sudden resistance against the block, something was pushing back… Second, bats. Lots of bats. Third, the will o’ wisp chose this moment to reappear…

Vorn proved more than strong enough to keep the block from crushing them. The Ranger got rid of the bats around him quickly and then attacked the will o’ wisp. He was joined soon after by Rufb (Shin was still swarmed by bats) and the two successfully avenged the pseudodragon.

No Escape

Finally out of this passage, the PCs saw two nimble figures sprint away from them. The Barbarian, the fastest runner, caught up with them in the central room of the ziggurat’s lower tier. Attempting to communicate  proved fruitless, as Rufb could not understand a word they said. Resigned, the two mysterious sleepers-no-longer assumed fighting stances (5).

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Rufb wasn’t in full combat shape at all, so facing these two adversaries with unknown abilities was daunting. He chose to use one charge of his gem of mud elemental summoning, a reward he had received from the Three Cascades’ frogmen. This proved a wise move as the mud elemental pummeled and mired in mud one serpent-skinned monk. Rufb then finished her with one massive blow of his greataxe. The surviving monk shrieked in anguish and attacked Rufb, sweeping his legs from under him.

Flyzus and Shin now got at the scene too. The outnumbered monk turned his back and fled once more. Shin shot an arrow at him but amazingly, he catched it middair without even looking!

Try to dodge that

He then started to cross the passage to the north, the one with spikes at the bottom, swinging from bar to bar. Rufb got back to his feet and jumped right beside his foe and started grappling him. He easily outmuscled the monk and sent him crashing through the spikes. Flyzus put an end to his life with precise sword thrusts (6).

The PCs finally felt comfortable enough to get down below, to the Hidden Shrine.

DM’s notes

  1. I had described them as skeletons but they were statted as zombies, with the undead fortitude that do a lot for their durability.
  2. Too easy! Would have been better if they had to be smart about it…
  3. Players paranoia!
  4. Félix kept forgetting that it existed, so… no big deal, I guess?
  5. The monks tried their best to escape, the PCs, the barbarian in particular, just wouldn’t let them.
  6. This proved to be a really good fight, with a lot of cool, cinematic manoeuvers.

 

 

 

Session 15a – No Stone Unturned

Third session inside the Hidden Shrine of Tamaochan. I had kept it relatively faithful to the module (70% maybe?). But now? Less so…

Characters:

  • Shin (level 4), Tabaxi Fighter (Arcane Archer), Outlander; big-game hunter, has no patience for weakness
  • Flyzus (level 5), Wood Elf Ranger (hunter), Outlander; sole survivor of his tribe after an orc invasion
  • Rufb (level 5), Half-Orc Barbarian (berserker), Mercenary Veteran; captured by pterafolks, his fellow mercenaries killed, seeks riches and glory
  • Vorn, Shield Guardian, found masterless beside a gaping hole in the ground

Psychic Cyclop

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After a well-earned rest outside the PCs got right back to exploring the ancient ziggurat. They went  to a room they had passed the first time, in the second tier (1). The bronze door had a strange engraving on it, a couatl and a cyclop locked in a fierce struggle. Rufb pushed the heavy door and, to his surprise, found himself in the middle of the jungle in front of the very same cyclop warrior, now coming wildly at him with a greataxe! That was all in his head, of course, but the imaginary combat was taking a very real toll on him. Shin ignored his companion’s plight and went straight into the room and got into troubles of his own as a set of giant antique armor assaulted him. Meanwhile, Flyzus was at a loss as to what he could do to save Rufb, as smacking the Half-Orc behind the head did not look like it helped that much… Finally, with scrambled brains and bleeding nose, Rufb managed to overcome the psychic invasion by himself and the three defeated the helmed horror together. This activated some kind of magic from the (avenged) crystal couatl statue that was in the middle of the dais, as they were rewarded a Tray of the Ages (2).

Terror from Above

Nrak, the Firefinger’s ertswhile pterafolk leader, had apparently found a way to track down Flyzus in a vain attempt to avenge himself for the attack on his lair. One of his underling let drop something in the middle of the ruined temple where the PCs were  resting. The package, wrapped in leaves, exploded as it touched the floor, releasing some kind of poisonous pollen. Other pterafolks then dived and hurled javelins at the PCs, some blocked by the Shield Guardian. Mostly unfazed by the surprise attack,  the adventurers responded with projectiles of their own. The Tabaxi Arcane Archer, as always, was utterly deadly with his bow, but the decisive blow was delivered by Flyzus as he hurled back a javelin, powered with an ensnaring strike, that sent Nrak crashing to the ground to his death (3). The few surviving pterafolks had had enough and flew away.

A Sticky Situation (4)

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A few hours after the doomed pterafolk attack, the Ranger could see a giant spider coming their way. Using his hat of the spider the Tabaxi had a quick conversation with it, he learned that the giant spider was upset about being followed and, uh, aggressively courted… Said courter arrived a moment later, it was Mister Sticky the ettercap, who had lost his precious Darling at the hand of the party a while ago. Mister Sticky pleaded to give crucial information if only the PCs stopped besmirching him in front of this “magnificient specimen” of a spider. And so the party learned that members of the Pick & Axe co were on their way towards Tamaochan. The PCs accepted to pay the Ettercap to learn more:

  • P&A group is made up of  seasoned, armored and very sweaty dwarves
  • they have an ankylosaurus
  • the leader have a flying monkey (the PCs had spotted it flying around their camp earlier)
  • they are armed to the teeth, all have crossbows
  • they are half a day’s walk from Tamaochan

Another Way In

As the previous foray in the shrine had proved almost fatal for Rufb, the PCs sought a way to get the mighty (and large) Vorn in the lower tiers with them. They resolved the matter using a scroll of shape stone on a part of the cliff that connected to a room below the ziggurat. The magic scroll enlarged a small hole already there, but getting inside, the party disturbed a family of stone-skinned zorbos. The PCs dispatched the cute but ferocious beasts and had another go at exploring the ancient ruins.

DM’s notes:

  1. I’ve kept the couatl, phantasmal force and helmed horror but changed about everything else in this room
  2. The original treasure is a Balance of Harmony but an item to detect good and evil is rather useless in my game. The Tray of Ages (homebrewed) is me being generous, as the PCs can cast identify as a ritual with it, so they don’t have to wait to be in town (like in 3 sessions) to know what their items do.
  3. Being a large creature, Nrak had advantage on his str save to resist the ensnaring strike and still failed!
  4. That part was, hmm, maybe a little too much on the silly side…

 

16) Decaying Crypt

Chronicles of Borborygm the Brute

The thing with dead people is that there’s so, soooo many of them. You just can’t take a wrong turn without stumbling upon a crypt. I mean, could they not just disappear or something? If at least they could stay dead dead but then, do they ever? They don’t! The stinking wretches just keep going on… Living Bones, Living Corpses, even Living Spirits. Living Spirit… What the hell does that even mean? Oh well, as long as I can hit them with my axe…

Scenario 6

Goal: Reveal M tile, Kill all revealed monsters

Team: Brute (lvl 4), Elementalist (lvl 5), Soothsinger (lvl 4)

Set difficulty: 3

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The soothsinger’s melody is so angst-filled that even the dead feel depressed…

The soothsinger’s immediate crippling chorus gives us time to prepare. I push the lone living corpse to get it in a perfect cluster for the elementalist’ next attack:

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Soothsinger: “I’ve got first kill! I’ve got first kill!”

We mostly ignore the zombies living corpses that are oozing disgusting fluids everywhere since the elementalist’s ice-spiked them.

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Three more living bones and three living spririts behind in the next room.

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I jump in the middle of the living spirits to slash them with a devastating hack while the elementalist attacks the living bones with a (successful, yay!) chain-lightning.

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Elementalist: “Could you help us finish those, please?” Brute: “I can’t hear ya! There’s too much moanin’ and singin’!”
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Brute: “For the Blood God!”

As I open the next door, a living spirit, a particularly dreadful one, blasts me with a necrotic ray that stuns me. That’s bad. Every damn monster in the room wants a piece of me. When I regain my senses, bleeding from many wounds, I lift my axe one last time and slay a living corpse before falling down on my knees. At least, the Blood God is pleased.

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Elementalist: “Noisy, you’re still here?” Soothsinger: *Hit living bones with his lute* “Yes!”

With so many monsters left, the situation looks dire. But then the elementalist quickly kills 2 living spirits with a spell and then turns his attention to  the stronger one:

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And make it explode!

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soothsinger, 5 rounds later: “I swear, this thing won’t f**cking die!”
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soothsinger: “Unless…”
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(bottom) “Get into this trap will you!”

Frantic lute-playing Victory Tune!

  • We did not reveal the other part of the crypt as there was no need
  • I burned through my cards waaaay too fast this time
  • the lvl 5 elementalist has been very, very efficient and saved the day
  • the soothsinger swamped the monsters in curses, we felt almost invicible, no kidding

In the Maw of the Earth Monster

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Some caves are truly awe inspiring and it’s no wonder people have so often associated them with the sacred. Needless to say, one can exploit such a rich domain to extract gameable/storytelling content…

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Inspiring tidbits:

  • Cave of the 4 Winds
  • Caves of the Earth Lord/ Earth Owner
  • associated with rain and thunder spirits
  • Caves of the Inner Maze
  • Lair of  soul-stealing sorcerer
  • the cave opens its mouth at midnight
  • sacred stalagmites (guardians)
  • stone idols
  • Land of the Dead
  • body preserved by fire and then mummified
  • the Mazatec fear the Masters of the Earth who live underground
  • it is said that thunders are controlled by little old men
  • access to the cave-tunnel is difficult as it lies in a deep, steep canyon filled with enormous boulders; its size dwarfs the human visitor
  • representation of a skeletonized figure whose heart is still in place
  • shell trumpet, incense burner
  • cenotes are sources of evil winds; plants and animals that inhabit them , especially tortoise, are sacred

 

On the matter of Ambivalent Entities

or how to say no to D&D alignment:

From the Nahua perspective, nature is not always beneficient, and absolute good or evil does not characterize the major entities. A benevolent manifestation of the earth mother, tonantsij, may kill if she feels neglected, while even the feared spirit of death, miquilistli, can be entreated to spare a patient’s life. In the Nahua view, nothing happens without a cause.

Extract from Chapter 2, Rites of Passage and Other Ceremonies in Caves, Doris Heyden.

15) Ruinous Rift

Chronicles of Borborygm the Brute

We must close the rift says Ghost-lady.

-Yeah?

-It’s a hole in the fabric of the universe.

-…

-Evil creatures could cross to this world through it.

-Will I get paid?

-I.. I’ll find a way to make it worthwhile to you…

-Well, why didn’t you say so!

Scenario 27

Goal: Protect Hail for 10 turns

Team: Brute (lvl 4), Elementalist (lvl 5), Soothsinger (lvl 4)

Set difficulty: 3

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(turn 2) Lets stir up the hornet’s nest…
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(turn 3) Is that it?
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(turn 4) ahh now we’re talking
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(turn 5) sun demon 2x damage OUCH!
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(turn 6) arent’ we a bit crowded now?
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(turn 7) dumbass flame demon puts a trap
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(turn 8) Brute: piercing battle-axe (huh?)
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(turn 9) Brute: “the Blood God is pleased, last round for me!”
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(turn 10) soothsinger: “crippling chorus for the win!

 

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Elementalist: “I’ll jump head first into the spike trap and see what happens…”
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Soothsinger: *singing*” The demons are sucked in! Everyone’s dyin’. But me, I’m still standin’!”

Frantic lute-playing victory tune!

  • should not have put gold coins, the demons are spawns
  • the soothsinger’s crowd control did a lot for the last few rounds
  • the elementalist was unlucky again with his chain-lightning, needs eagle-eye goggle?
  • the elementalist commited suicide (sort-of) to help the soothsinger’s Life Goal
  • we did a good job to protect Hail, she was attacked one time (or two?) and did not took any damage with the help of the soothsinger’s disorienting dirge

 

A note on dinosaurs

I gotta say, all this nonsense of Lost World-style D&D I’ve been doing for a year now has rekindled my childhood’s interest. Not too surprisingly, the D&D Monster Manual (where fungi is classified as plant!) isn’t very accurate when it comes to dinosaurs, at the very least the section should have been called “prehistoric creatures”.

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  • Pterosaur, plesiosaur and dimetrodon are not dinosaurs at all, they belong in other clades. The latter in particular became extinct 40 millions years before the first dinosaurs and is, in fact, closer to the mammals in the evolution tree.
  • Crocodiles (crocodilians) are contemporary of the dinosaurs. Some, as the deinosuchus, a 36′ long crocodilian, easily justify the use of a giant crocodile template without any stretch of imagination.
  • Many dinosaurs lived in big herds and as such, would have lived in vast plains with big meat-eaters trailing them.
  • There’s a paleontology bias for recovering bigger fossils as big bones are more likely to be preserved than smaller ones. In all likelihood, dinosaurs occupied every possible ecological niches and diminutive (gliding, tree-climbing, insect-eating, etc.) dinosaurs were abundant.
  • Birds are non-extinct dinosaurs.

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Dinosaurs in a fantasy world

It’s all about what we accept as tropes of the genre. Dinosaurs in a vanilla fantasy setting will readily seem awkward. Dinosaurs in a Lost World-themed setting à la Isle of Dread or Chult, now, that’s far more easy to swallow. In such a place, dinosaurs should be seen as nothing more than exotic animals (or just plain animals for the locals).

I would go further, if there is dinosaurs, lets give them (most of) the place. I mean, would there be still jaguars, elephants or whatever,  if packs of deinonychus roamed the jungles?

What about monsters? In fact, one option would be to monsterize dinosaurs from time to time, to spice things up. Here’s some basic reskinning:

  • spike-throwing stegosaur (manticore tail)
  • multi-headed plesiosaur (hydra)
  • gorgoceratop (gorgon-triceratop)
  • fire-breathing T-rex (a classic)
  • displacer raptor (deinonychus-displacer beast)

 

 

Isaac’s adventures V

For the last few weeks the main theme  (that my son came up with), has been Ninja & Robots. I mean… that’s pretty cool, right? So, recently, we’ve defeated the Evil Ninja Boss, in his lair, which was basically a skyscraper full of his minions and,  after beating him, we’ve discovered that he was only one of 6 Big Bad Evil Bosses… Of course!

The next in line (the second weakest, ’cause that’s how it goes) is hidden in a castle.

Isaac: His special power is invisiblity.

Me: Does he have minions?

Isaac: Yes, 800 of them!

Me: That’s a lot!

Isaac: And all of them can turn invisible. Except one…

Me: *sputters coffee* Except one?! How’s that?

Isaac: Because he’s the weakest of the 800. He wasn’t always the weakest but his whole team (of wimpy dudes) got killed  except him. Now, he stands guard for the rare treasures.

Me: He’s alone to guard the rare treasures?

Isaac: Yes. He would like to be the strongest but he’s the weakest…

Me: My son, that’s what we call the weakest link!