Saturday, April 27, 2019

Play Report: Return to Land's End - Sessions 8 & 9

This almost brings me up to date. Still a few random encounters to go. We'll see what happens this friday...



Vuk Thuul - half-elf serpent oracle 2
Leliana Vess - sylph witch 2
Nahash - lizardman barbarian 2


This time, the party explored the abandoned white towers of the snake-men. They scooped up buckets of treasure and sweet items, uncovered strange secrets and had some tense fights. Let's review the highlights:

-At the bottom of the first tower was a complex relief carving circling the room depicting the various orders of life: at the bottom layer, the lower animals (dogs, crabs, monkeys). Standing above them were the humanoid races - humans, dwarves, elves (although they didn't look much like the wild elves of Vuk Thuul's tribe), orcs, gnolls, ogres, crabmen, etc. [In fact each of the species carved here has a preserved member in a tank in the room above. The PCs didn't quite notice that.] Above and behind these were seven hooded, long-necked figures [the snake-men of course]. Behind these, three strange tentacled monstrosities with gaping mouths. Above and behind them all, reaching to the ceiling, arose a great swirling pillar of eyes with two enfolding wings and a long outstretched neck, terminating in a shapeless, faceless head.

-In a room lit in sickly green and pink by a luminescent jelly cube, they were ambushed by a CENARACH! Poised to strike from the ceiling, Leliana beat it on initiative and used her slumber hex, knocking it out but leaving it stuck above them. Nahash managed to poke it with his spear, but the real money move was Vuk Thuul Command-ing it to "drop!" On the ground, its corrosive bite and claws made the oracle's life difficult, but he managed to avoid the worst of it with some lucky rolls (no CON damage), breaking its neck with his lethal constriction ability.

[Vuk Thuul's wrestling skills are absurdly good. But as we'll see, any PF character with exceptional abilities in a certain domain will inevitably run into situations that render their "build" useless.]

-In the buried passages underneath the towers was a storeroom. Somewhere, a thumping sound was detected. It turned out to be a TROLL CABINET! Chop a troll up and put the pieces in various drawers. Open them up and the pieces will try to reassemble themselves. There were some frantic moments, but once Nahash got a torch lit they put that old troll in its place and ransacked the storeroom for strange items and curiosities to sell back in town.

-They crossed the narrow bridge to the second tower and entered a strange ritual chamber. A seven-sided altar carved with a network of channels led into the floor. On the wall above, a carving of a skull-headed snake-man with a gigantic forked sword, poised to strike. A little experimentation proved the channels were for carrying sacrificial blood into the floor and down to the room below.

Descending the stairs from the ritual chamber brought an odd sight: the party was looking DOWNWARDS into the open sky, from an observatory at the top of the tower! After parsing this strange vista they decided to take the stairs in the other direction.

-Upstairs was a room with seven grand sarcophagi, six of them carved with strange scenes and symbols. One depicted an underwater cave, another a field of mushrooms under a strange sphere, one more a giant sword wreathed in flames. The first one the group tried to open was carved to resemble a snake-man skeleton, the ribcage spreading and reaching outwards as if to grapple.

Inside lay the loose bones of a snake-man champion of chaos. As it had served its demonic master in life, so its carcass did in death. The bones animated in the shape of a long skeletal serpent and attacked as a necrophidius! [and this is where things got dangerous.]

Nahash was dazzled by the necrophidius' hypnotic dance. Leliana grabbed him and everyone began running away as fast as they could. Vuk Thuul cast Monster Summoning I, calling a pony to assist him in his fight. Very quickly it became apparent that summoning ponies was good only to distract the bloodthirsty monster for a round or two, but since the oracle had plenty of spells left, this became a viable strategy!

Beating a desperate retreat, the party turned to face the onrushing monster on the narrow bridge. Using the last of her spells, Leliana Enlarged Nahash, and with a strength born of barbaric rage, the lizardman body-checked the construct right over the side!

Unfortunately it fell sixty feet and didn't die. Still Enlarged, Nahash sprinted back across the bridge, dragged the sarcophagous lid out of the burial chamber and dropped it down on the skeletal snake. Narrowly making his fortitude save to avoid a hernia, he collapsed on the bridge from exhaustion - the party was safe.

Plenty of other secrets were unveiled, and the towers aren't fully explored but the party couldn't carry any more loot and decided to get out while the gettin' was good.


-an untarnished silver snake-skull mask, sized for a large creature
-two giant metal spearheads
-bone sickle
-whip made from the vertebrae of an unknown creature
-a ton of stuff I swiped from the Submerged Spire of Sarpedon the Shaper
-ornate two-handed sword sized for a snake-man [far too big for anyone to use]
-an alien orchid, preserved in a jar of vivimantic slime


Now for a slightly different kind of jam:

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Tomb of Abysthor - pt 2 - The Pit of Bones

Part one here. [Status: not playtested. My group isn't too far off - I hope - but this is as much as I'm posting before player contact.]

I have been picking up more game-able ideas from this book Necropolis - London and its Dead, which I bought last year. Did you know: when they dug up St. Paul's cathedral (after it burned in the great fire I think?), under the contemporary English buried in the floor they found Saxon graves. Beneath those were Roman burial urns. Deeper, maybe 20 feet (I forget) were the shrouded bodies of pre-Roman Britons.

The holy sites have been so for a long time.


The sheer cliff a thousand feet high runs north to south, cutting the world in half. The lands below are covered in clouds. Nobody knows what lives there. The Barrier separates civilization from wilderness, known from unknown, law from chaos, restriction from freedom.

The Empire of man covers the whole world except what's past the Barrier. On the Empire's fringes, in the badlands and desolate places by the cliffs, the wild elves live their lives of barbarism. Endlessly the generations churn onwards, violent and brief.

Each tribe has a god or demon that it follows and claims as its totem. These gods might be idols & statues or invisible sky-lords like those of the civilized folk. One such tribe had a powerful idol - a man with a jaguar's head. They lived right at the edge of the Barrier, the final limit of the Empire. As the city-folk spread ever outwards, the tribe feared one day they would have nowhere to go. With no magic and no great pantheon of civilized gods, all they could do is pray & sacrifice to their jaguar idol.

So they threw their own people over the Barrier, and augured the tribe's future from the screams echoing back up the cliff. (Once they threw over a man who didn't scream - who didn't die - but his story is not yet told).

Always in the same place they conduct their sacrifices. Tradition dictates it but nobody now living understands why this particular spot, and not another. Hundreds of wild elves, half-elves and human captives have gone over the edge but they were not the first dead to rest in that holy place. They won't be the last.

At the bottom of that cliff, at the edge of a misty jungle lies the Tomb of Abysthor.

*PSA: Buy it yourself if you want to see the original, you can get the old one for CHEAP or the new shit HERE*

The Pit of Bones

The jungle around is sickly thin and dying, with no underbrush in the entire hex (~3 mile radius) although the constant mist obscures vision. Nothing grows within 500' of the pit, splinters of bone poke out of the ground everywhere instead of grass. It's impossible to avoid crunching them under your feet.

The pit is a great half-bowl about 150' wide and 40' deep at the centre, focused on the dungeon entrance. The priests of Orcus have been unearthing ancient skeletons for their ever-growing army of the dead. A narrow ramp of earth cuts the pit in half and slopes up to an opening in the cliff face 10' above ground level (50' above the bottom of the pit). This is the entrance to the Tomb.

-At night, make two random encounter rolls. At least one encounter will be a group of Orcus cultists excavating, accompanied by some skeletons. They won't be on guard for trouble unless the PCs are returning to the Tomb after a few delves. During the day, just roll on the undead table below.

Dig Progress [d*]

The cult of Orcus is constantly excavating new recruits. Higher numbers on the table are generally older and buried deeper. The weak corpses on the lower entries normally get chucked into the Font of Bones in L1-6, but they can be fielded in a pinch when the cult is traveling the wilderness (ie. random encounters).

After the PCs' first visit the clock starts. Roll 1d4 to determine the initial undead troops available to the cult. As long as the digging operation persists, increase the die size every week or so (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20). Basically the time it takes the PCs to crawl back to town, heal up and return to the dungeon should bring new challenges.

1-3 - 1d6 Font of Bones skeletons, as normal [2 HD, turn resistance +2].

4 - 1d8 sacrifices made by the wild half-elf tribes above. Bones are shattered after falling 1000 feet. [1 HD skeletons, very fragile, no resistances]

5 - 1d6 neanderthal oldsters of the local tribes who wander here to die when they can't fight or contribute anymore. Recalcitrant and difficult for the cultists to command, their dead dreams are alien to humans. [2 HD skeletons - stone axes 1d6]

6 - 1d6 witches and medicine men of the local neanderthals, died on failed vision-quests or slain by a rival magic-user. [2 HD skeletons - stone daggers 1d4, each can cast a random 1st-level spell]

7 - 1d8 imperial soldiers killed in one of many uprisings at the end of colonial adventures in the area. Speak Skeletongue or Imperial Common, highly disciplined. [Dead Legion: 1 HD skeletons - rusted shortswords 1d6-1, shields and armour 50/50 of chain or breastplates. -2 AC penalty for rusting]

8 - 1d4 imperial missionaries of the 137 gods. Mutilated & tortured terribly for their troubles. They serve Orcus in Hell now. [3 HD huecuvas, rotted robes, tarnished holy symbols]

9 - An animal killed by the neanderthals and buried in the pit as a sacrifice. Hungry! [50/50 - jungle bear or gorilla skeleton]

10 - 1d8 Charau-ka pilgrims thrown into the pit, their souls sent to the underworld as tribute to the demon lords. Happy to work with fellow infernalists! [3 HD ape-men skeletons - thrown rocks 1d4, stone clubs 1d6]

11 - 2d4 warriors of the first "civilized" barbarian kings who ruled the area over a millennium ago. Speak a dialect similar to Old High Imperial. Love a jolly good scrap. [2 HD skeletons with rusting grave goods - hand axe, shield and chain]

12 - 1d12 victims of the Duvan'ku death cult. Not so much "dug up" as unleashed on the world when their bones are disturbed. Can't communicate - souls trapped in a perpetual black void. Come join them! [1 HD lesser shadows - wandering alone, killed the cultists who dug them up]

13 - 1d6 barbarian warlords who died with dishonor and didn't get their own barrow-mounds. Prideful lovers of battle, difficult to control. [4 HD skeletons - rusted greatswords, piecemeal barbarian armour (as splint), great torcs and wristbands of corroded gold]

14 - 3d6 ancient sacrifices. Their bodies long gone, only the severed heads were cast into the pit. Now they fly about in a hungry swarm like airborne pirahnas. [Swarm: HD equal to half no. appearing, anyone inside 10' area takes 1d6/round]

15 - 1d6 Duvan'ku stranglers. The earliest humans who fell to Orcus worship, preying on each other and sacrificing to the Goatlord to escape the iron fist of the High Elves. [4 HD wights, rotted black robes]

16 - 1d6 Chthonic Elf corpse-fathers, awakened from slumber. These semi-mythical patriarchs were the first to devour their own dead millennia ago. Now grown massive and corpulent on carrion, spreading terror - and an unbearable stench - wherever they go. Their progeny will hear of their return eventually and take them to the lost city. [4 HD fat ghasts]

17 - 2d12 servitors of the High Elves. A mass grave of these now-extinct humanoids. Bred to the whip, easily controlled. [Skeletons of (d4) - 1 Pig-men (1 HD), 2 Gnolls (2 HD), 3 Hobgoblins (1 HD), 4 Bugbears (3 HD)]

18 - 1d6 High Elves, freed once more to crush the globe in their mailed fists! These apostates are distant kin to the sin-knights in the lost city. Their long, thin bones radiate Jack Kirby x-ray light through glowing armour. Wouldn't serve a human, least of all grimy cave-dwellers venerating a giant goat! [6 HD skeletons - two-handed swords and plate mail of lambent red which fade away when they're destroyed, each can cast 1 random wizard spell of 1st-3rd level at maximum effect]

19 - Unique Result. Once rolled, cross it off and write your own. Here are two:

(1) Forvalaka. The dread beast arises, bloodthirsty and insane after long ages of sleep. It goes its own way to hunt prey through the jungle as it used to in the ancient days. [A vampire were-jaguar. I'll probably have to use a few templates. In your system, it's a maximum-HD vampire with a tropical theme: transforms into a jaguar instead of a bat, summons local animals (jackals, hyenas) instead of wolves, etc]

(2) Lich. The sorceror-king of an empire lost to time. His reign ended when he was bound and thrown into the pit, but now the cult has dug him up and you're fucked!! Scintillating crystal manacles cause his spells to fail 33% of the time. If the cult can remove them, he is at full power. Defeat him beforehand and recover them intact, they're worth 12,000 gp. [8th level wizard - remember this is E6! - knows spells of a lost age. Dig out that supplement you've been meaning to use, open up a different gamebook, whatever you gotta do]

20 - 1d10 Snake-Men skeletons! So old they're almost fossilized. Woken from their serpentine dreams of sex, death & black sorcery to terrorize the mammalian races again. They'd never serve some idiot humans, but strike out on their own to cause trouble elsewhere in the campaign world. [10 HD large skeletons - 50/50 warriors w/ silver swords, sickles and bronze breastplates or sorcerors with 1d6 spells your players have never seen before]

Once a 20 is rolled, the great pit is exhausted. No more useful bodies can be dug up, just parts & pieces for the Font of Bones.


Once again the Tome of Horrors delivers the goods! I love the Font of Bones in the original adventure, but after Vuk Thuul's player had the idea of cliffside human sacrifices, everything fell into place and I had to frame the Tomb this way. Player-directed worldbuilding!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Play Report: Return to Land's End - Sessions 6 & 7

Well, it's 8:30 PM in Edmonton and the sun is just about to set. Seasonal Affective Disorder (or "half the year" as we say around here) has wound down, it was +14 C and sunny this afternoon, Zakgate seems like a distant memory and the Oilers' season ended in ignominious defeat - just the way I like it. The calendar's nigredo is over, and as the heat increases we climb toward the red of summer.

The home games have been thin on the ground for a minute with the boys taking vacations, getting sick, visiting family, etc. We had some short sessions so far this year and I want to blog about how it's been going and what I'm doing right or wrong in my game. I hate to make promises but I'll have two more sessions' worth coming up soon. Work was quite slow for the last two weeks, leaving me plenty of time to brainstorm cool new shit which will also pop up here this year!



Vuk Thuul - 2nd level half-elf serpent oracle
Nahash - 2nd level lizardman barbarian
Leliana Vess - 2nd level witch

Newly minted to second level, egos boosted by doubling their hit points, the party returned to the jungles. Opting never again to visit the fungus-infested goblin cave and not as interested in the eastern swamplands as previously suggested, they instead bore east towards the "stone forest" on their map.

[Finally they failed a navigation check and veered off track, while I rolled a few hex encounters. The party doesn't get lost much because normally they stick to known landmarks, like the river. Smart move boys, but now you're in my house.]

[My tables still result in really infrequent encounters! I am rolling once per hex. Rereading the "Hexcrawling" series in the Alexandrian, I realize Justin rolls an encounter check once per four-hour 'watch.' That will spice things up! During these sessions, it was crowded if I rolled a single encounter on a three-day journey.]

The first odd location was a small clearing where the driving tropical rain slackened to a mild drizzle. At the center stood an ancient stone carved with mysterious letters. Boldly using Read Magic to interpret the runes, both Leliana's and Vuk Thuul's eyes rolled back and they collapsed into fits...

In the dream, I walk through a great darkened hall. Long-necked beings in voluminous robes work on strange constructions of metal and glass. Their purposes are known to me, but I don't have the words to explain them. The robed beings recognize me as one of them. One turns, and I see it's a green-skinned man with the head of a snake...

This bizarre dream or vision was ended by Nahash slapping the two awake, splashing them with rainwater. After a short rest the party moved on, wondering at this strange portent.

[Lots of significance, as we'll see shortly.]

Further to the southeast, the party ran straight into an encampment of wildmen, different from the last. Instead of wearing wolf pelts, they had inscrutable masks of alligator skin. Lucky for the group they were friendly and open to talking. Leliana was able to translate and along with a few gifts of metal weapons they were able to pump the warleader for information.

[Reaction rolls are one element I'm happy with. I gave the PCs a bonus because the Caiman tribe believes in helping out strangers (I rolled for this). My language rules are tricky but again it worked well. Leliana knows the Wild Speech, which shares a common root with the primitive tongues of the neanderthals, giving her +5 to communicate with them. Adding to her high INT bonus, it was a slam dunk. If she had failed hard we could have played charades I guess!]

The PCs spoke with the Caimans' leader Jeregosh long into the night and learned much about the jungles to the south. Stories of the black-robed men, skeletons, a giant castle, some barrow-mounds, a cursed pit, the forbidding white towers, the stone forest. His people were even aware of the ancient demons known as forvalaka. He said the Caimans were menaced by them generations ago, and almost nobody believes in them anymore.

In return, the party agreed to head west and find one of the Caiman womenfolk who went missing while looking for edible plants. She had been gone several days and things didn't look good.

Hunting for the missing Caiman woman took the team to the west, back towards the Barrier. They found her (with the help of Leliana's fox familiar) barely staving off starvation by stealing honey from the hive of some giant jungle bees! Unfortunately for her the honey also had hallucinogenic properties and she was rendered insensible. While rescuing her, they noticed a few giant bees floating around what looked like a large flower with humanlike plant-arms and -legs. What the heck?

[No encounters here, I wonder if the guys will ever come back and try to steal honey from the giant beehive? The hive itself is from d4 caltrops' 100 wilderness hexes, which fits perfectly because I already had giant bees on my encounter table. I took the orchidmen from False Machine, they're too good not to use in a jungle. They've never seen one before, random encounters have been so rare.]

With the party's successful return, Jeregosh declared a great feast! There were games, contests and feats of strength. Vuk Thuul competed in the wrestling event, and almost had the win but was pinned. Leliana (hopelessly) attempted the footrace, but was quickly outdistanced by the hunters. Nahash on the other hand dominated in the strength contest, lost at the javelin throw, and then put everyone under the table in the eating contest. The Caimans flavour their food with painfully hot jungle spices, making that part no picnic!

[I wanted to create some fun downtime events that might affect the tribe's views of the PCs. I feel that mechanically they weren't interesting and needed some more tactical elements. For all the annoying complexity of Pathfinder's grappling rules (I have to use flowcharts), they are terribly boring in isolation because there are no choices to be made. All the contests were basically I-roll-you-roll type affairs except for the feats of strength - highest STR wins. This wasn't very exciting. Next time I'd either gloss over it faster with one or two rolls, or spend a bit of time beforehand expanding the rules of the contests. Make the wrestling match more of a full combat and the like.]

For his victories in the contests, Nahash was presented with several of the silver finger rings that all the Caimans wear. Their significance wasn't exactly clear, but he accepted them graciously.

The team was interested in Jeregosh's tale of the forbidden white towers to the southwest. Apparently they were covered in strange carvings and runes as well. Could they be related to the standing stone that granted visions of snake-men? Vuk Thuul especially was determined to find out, in case they held clues to the unexplained origins of the brand on his face and the snake-powers he had been granted.

[Whadda YOU think?]

The next day with full stomachs and warm hearts despite the rain, they bid the Caimans farewell. A few hours' march brought them to a great clearing in the jungle with the white towers rising up ahead. Wonder of wonders: there wasn't a cloud in the sky here! The party relished the chance to get out of the rain and see the sun for the first time in almost two weeks.

Climbing over the ruined walls, they approached the towers. To Vuk Thuul's satisfaction, they were covered in the same runes and scribbles as the standing stone! Strangely, the taller tower was surrounded by dense plants and undergrowth while not a blade of grass grew around the shorter one. No doors presented themselves, but Nahash managed to get his rope up to an open window in the taller tower.

They climbed into a room crowded with dusty glass tanks. Eighteen in all (plus the shattered remains of a nineteenth), they each contained a creature preserved in cloudy, foul-smelling fluid. Human, dwarf, gnome, goblin, pig-man, gnoll, tsathar, lizardman and stranger creatures too - a massive humanoid pressing against the walls of its tank, an ape with green skin like a plant, a merman, an elf with cartoonishly exaggerated features, etc.

From upstairs a sickly mottled light shone, changing from green to purple to pink and back again. Downstairs led only into darkness. Hoisting his torch, Nahash led the group into the depths...

[I am really excited about this dungeon. Built by the snake-men millennia ago, the towers are filled with secrets, dangers and treasure from a long-lost culture. If he's lucky, Vuk Thuul might even find a clue about himself!!]


PS: Wow! 21 followers! 20 was my goal for last year, and now I can confidently declare that I've 'made it' in D&D blogland. Next stop kickstarter!

[I would never do that to you guys.]

PPS: Apologies, I am posting this from an unbelievable shit-box of a macbook at my girlfriend's house. No pictures and definitely no youtube videos. I'll link to some smokin hot tracks on my next post, don't worry.