The Abyssal Leap

Adventure Log 4
The Infernal Bargain

You and the Elders wait for a few moments as Kaiil exits the chamber to retrieve the stone. It’s an awkward, uncomfortable sort of silence until she returns, bursting in through the door. It’s apparent right away that something is wrong. “The stone…it’s gone!” She says, staring wide-eyed at the Elders. As a one, they gasp, then start chattering amongst themselves. It’s a moment before Erden rises from his seat.

A full month since the last session, but it was necessary! After the party split and caught me off guard last time, it took me a bit of time to figure out how I was going to proceed. I spent some time considering the backstory of each character, plus the details of the adventure so far, and worked out some common themes. Once I did that, putting together the next phase of the adventure was much easier.

The session started with the party recovering in the home of their new acquaintance, Kaiil, in the city of Bane. Shortly after, Kaiil brought them before the Council of Bane, a half-dozen strong group of Elders led by a man named Erden. Erden explained some of the history of the town to them, and how they came to be there, before revealing that the town council held another Demon Stone, similar to the one that had brought them here. He had a great deal more information to share with them, but once the party heard about the Stone, they had little care for anything else.

Unfortunately, as they soon found out, the Demon Stone held by the council is gone. They were able to locate it magically, but it was not quite so easy—the Stone was no longer within Bane, but on the far end of a series of underground tunnels. While planning this next session, the dungeon itself, I wasn’t sure how to map it out, so…I didn’t. Instead, I built some random tables:

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I designed a few significant encounters for the encounter table, went through some books and chose some fun monsters for the combat table, and that was it. I’ll note one major change—prior to play I swapped the number ranges for the Scrying Chamber and the Roll Combat Table entries, as on test rolls I discovered that the Scrying Chamber came up absurdly often.

In play, I just kept a d8 and percentile dice on hand, and rolled them for each new chamber—including if the party went back. The idea is that the tunnels, being on the plane of Abbadon, twist back and forth on themselves constantly, the better to torment whatever creatures may wander within them. It was interesting to watch the party tackle it—they understood the basic concept from the start that the dungeon was unknowable, but treated it more as a standard maze than a completely randomly generated dungeon.

Kaiil caught up with the party at some point, and they encountered the Contract Devil in the Scrying Chamber. I knew that that, had Yodelhim been present (instead of being whisked back with the stone last session), he’d have certainly taken the deal, but I wasn’t entirely sure about the rest. As it turns out, Delanna barely hesitated, trading her soul for three wishes. She spent the first immediately on restoring some of her former glory (to be later detailed as her backstory unfolds), then pocketed the other two for later. After that, the party moved on, battling a few other creatures, before finally encountering the last chamber, where the stolen Demon Stone had been used as the centerpiece to a large iron gate, transforming it into a permanently-open portal back to Otharion.

Here too, Kaiil found her mentor, Elder Erden, conspiring with the demons. As she surged forward and distracted them, she bought the party an opening to steal the stone and dive through the portal before it collapsed. They found themselves back on Otharion, in the deserted ruins of a palace courtyard, rather than the temple where they’d first made the journey. It took only a moment for Titanus to recognize the place as his long-fallen homeland.

There, we broke for the evening. Next time around I’ll run a solo session with Yodelhim, then we’ll return to see what surprises await the rest of the party!

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Adventure Log 3
The Infinite Bridge

Just as you begin to get your bearings, the ground begins shuddering beneath you. Loud cracks echo in the air around you as the earth splits in several places, large stone spires rocketing from the fissures to loom against the blackness, that same faint luminescence highlighting their twisted, craggy shapes. The spires continue to burst forth on either side of your party, from a pair of rows that arc slightly towards each other at each end, methodically forming a circle around you. When the rumbling ceases, there’s only one small opening left—your only means of escape.

As you move towards it, the rumbling resumes, and the crack of the earth in that last open spot echos off of the twisted stone spires forming your prison. This fissure is larger than the others, and you soon see why—it’s not a spire rising from it, but a great, twisted throne, a thousand faces carved into its face, each in apparent agony. Something rests on the throne, but it’s difficult to make out the nature of the occupant; something about him—or her—seems to be hard to look at almost. Every time you try, you find yourself looking elsewhere instead, unable to remember what you saw.

The first part of our third session had the party still clearing goblins out of the temple ruins; they were able to surprise a large group of them in the central chamber, and took solid advantage of that surprise by nearly eliminating the goblin chief in a vicious opening attack. From there, it was essentially cleanup; once the rest of those creatures were mopped up, they had time to apply their first gained level (hooray!), and take stock of their surroundings. The room was dominated by a large dais framed by an archway; in the center of that dais was a notch perfectly sized for the staff they’d found. Stone in staff, staff in notch, and with that, the party took their first steps into the overarching story of the campaign.

They found themselves in the area described above; a sort of twisted arena overseen by a shadowy creature. That creature began attacking the party with minions, but they held their own better than most sacrifices. At some point during the combat, the staff, stuck in the ground in this new place, began flashing once more; only one member of the party took hold of it. The rest focused on the creatures they were fighting. The staff gave a final pulse of light, then vanished taking that party member with it—and stranding the rest in this new realm.

This is where things will get hairy. I’d designed the encounter under the assumption that the party as a whole would either move toward or away from the staff when it began blinking again; silly me, I hadn’t considered that only some (or one) of them might. As it stands, there’s no way for that party member to reunite with his company under current conditions; I’ll be operating with a split party for some time now. Still, since I had two complete adventure paths planned, it’ll be fine; I can just run them both.

At any rate, the rest of the party was saved from a series of ever-escalating encounters by the arrival of a new NPC—a tiefling sorceress by the name of Kaiil. She whisked them away from the arena via a teleportation spell, safely delivering them to the new city of Bane. Bane will be their new base of operations for this leg of their adventure; they’ll have to work on finding a new way home without the staff.

Yodelhim, our half-orc wizard, was the one who made it home; however, upon his arrival back in the temple, his head was hit with searing pain, and the shadowy creature whom the party had faced had an offer for him…time will tell if he accepts it.

Today was the first session where I got to use the new set of Pathfinder Pawns I’d ordered, and they really, really helped a lot. I’m extremely pleased with the purchase, and I’ll definitely be picking up more—especially since the party used a few monster pawns to denote themselves, lacking any other form of representation. I also plan on ordering more map tiles for future dungeons. For the map of Bane, I reached out to someone on Twitter and commissioned a map, giving him a basic description of the locale—and OH MAN, did he deliver. Because I didn’t need a copyright or anything, he posted it on his personal store at DriveThruRPG.com. It’s listed as “The Infernal City.” Check it out, kick a buck or two his way!

PARTY STATUS:

Healthy and rested.

CURRENT THREADS:

Stuck in the demon realm—find a way home!
The Mysterious Tome – Found!
Yodelhim Goes Solo!

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Adventure Log 2
The Ruined Temple

As you approach the site of the warren, you can tell why the goblins chose to roost here—the trees give way to a clearing dotted with the ruins of what must’ve once been some sort of temple. Stone walls jut up from the ground, and the remnants of what must have been a grand entrance stairway are lined with crumbling pillars. The sounds of the woods give way as you near it as well—there’s only the slight whisper of a breeze echoing through the empty stone.

The roof of the temple has long since given in, letting the flora and fauna in to reclaim the area. The stone of the floor is cracked and broken—in some cases, missing entirely—and near the center of the room, you can see what must be the goblins’ customary entrance—a hole in the ground about four feet in diameter and disappearing into blackness. You can tell that the ground slopes—you’ll be able to move down it, but the size of the entrance means you won’t be standing upright.

Truth told this session didn’t hold a whole lot worth discussing; it was spent entirely inside of a dungeon (the above-named Ruined Temple). The players have not yet finished it at this point, so I can’t spoil the big secret of the place, but it’s essentially the jumping point for the party to begin the larger narrative. At this point, they have found the tome sought after by the stranger in Hammersgaard. They’ve also found a palm-sized blue stone that appears to be a sapphire; both were inside of a trapped room. The trap in question was not a terribly complex one, but it’s always fun to spring on new players: when they entered the room, both exits slammed shut, and they were simply stuck there until they figured out how to escape. Their weapons would not harm the doors, nor would any form of magic enable them. It took about fifteen minutes for them to figure it out, but finally the party’s cleric tried knocking on the door, and voila: Door opens, entire party slaps their foreheads for not thinking of it sooner.

That one never gets old. It’s the dad joke of traps.

Most of the dungeon has been fairly standard fare for a level one party; enter rooms, kill goblins. I’m lucky to have a fairly competent group of players despite their inexperience–they move slowly and carefully, and they’ve thus far been able to neutralize several potential cascading situations (IE taking out goblin sentries first, so that they can ambush the rest in smaller groups rather than wading through large melees). As it stands, they’ve cleared about two thirds of the dungeon, and have acquired just about all of the major items they’ll need moving forward–in a room very near their current position, they found an old wooden staff with a carved indent that’s the exact size of the blue stone from earlier. Being the curious adventurers they are, they naturally slapped that stone right into the staff without a moment’s hesitation. Nothing has happened with it–yet.

What the party doesn’t know, and what I can spoil without revealing too much, is that the staff and the stone both are relics of the long dead Cult of the Infinite Bridge, which once had its hooks in the vast majority of the continent. More on that in future sessions–in fact, I may make a few posts just on lore of the world as I reveal it to the players–since I’ve built the entire campaign world from scratch, it’d probably be a good idea to expand it. At any rate, the party is just about ready to breach the central chamber of the temple, and we chose to break there. Next session we’ll be leading off with that–boss fight, then next chapter, essentially.

On the mechanics side, the whiteboard solution is working pretty well, but I’ve decided I’d like to have some miniatures to work with, anyway. That search has been remarkably fruitless: It is apparently impossible to just buy a large set of miniatures. They’re either small blind packs or sold individually at absurd markups. Fortunately, I’ve discovered that Paizo sells Pathfinder pawns, which are basically just flat cardboard pieces with monsters printed on either side of them. Those come in packs of 300 for like 40 bucks, so SOLD.

PARTY STATUS:

Healthy, light wounds.

CURRENT THREADS:

  • Exterminate the Goblins – 2/3rds done
  • The Mysterious Tome – Found!
  • Rivalry with the Dames
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Adventure Log 1
Job Faire

Hammersgaard is a bustling city on the outskirts of Coralym, its eastward walls standing against the Ruined Frontier, its southern along the banks of the Orga River. Due to its rural location, Hammersgaard is a chaotic, unruly town, full of thieves, murderers, and all sorts of sinners and criminals alike. Thanks to its river proximity, Hammersgaard does a fair bit of business as a port town, but that’s nothing compared to its bustling economy of adventuring companies exploring the Ruined Frontier.

These companies and the business they practice is highly organized (if certainly corrupt) by a system enforced by the High Justices of the town. Prospective jobs are reported, catalogued, and divided by type, then dispersed according to a bidding system—companies will make competing bids for labor/materials/timeframe, and the High Justices will award each job accordingly.

Today, as it happens, the auction is almost over. There is only one job remaining, and four parties left still bidding–first, yourselves, then: a trio of nearly silent elves dressed in black leather armor, their chests stamped with red handprints; a group of noblewomen to one side, dressed in their finest and sniffing haughtily at the others, and finally, perhaps the oddest group of all; a foursome of monstrous humanoids led by a bespectacled owlbear who seems more at home in an accounting office than where his type might normally look.

As the High Justice overseeing the auction finishes his notations for the last auction and returns to the podium, the other groups perk up. You’re able to recognize this man–High Justice Reknar. His irritability and disdain for the adventuring line of work is notable, but so is his fairness. He looks out over the remaining groups, then speaks.

“The last contract is thus: A tribe of goblins has set up a base in the Frontier. Scouts pinpoint their location as a ruined temple, but their numbers are above average, as is their level of aggression. They’ve been raiding farms just outside the city walls. For extermination, the bidding will start at one thousand gold.”

The owlbear immediately lifts a clawed appendage. “Hrmhrm…Nine hundred and fifty.”

In starting this campaign, it was important to me to find a way to get things going that I’d never done before. I’d tried multiple methods of “getting the party together,” and I’ve also tried skipping that and saying, “You’re all together. The how or why don’t matter, this is where you are.” For this game, though, with a new group, I wanted to focus on building a narrative in a way that I’d never done before. Part of the reason is that my abilities to actually construct a narrative have grown, and another part is that with this group, since they don’t have the level of experience or predispositions that my last groups have had, I felt an opportunity to show them how exciting narrative in tabletop gaming could be, as opposed to a barebones plot and an obsessive focus on combat mechanics.

(Fun fact: I hate combat in D&D–especially 3.5. It’s long and dry, it’s not fun at all. It’s an absolute chore to run.)

So, with this game, coming fresh off of a reading of Rat Queens and blatantly stealing the idea of professional adventuring parties from that book, I concocted a massive city bordering a large expanse of land that was once civilized. This expanse of land is now known as the Ruined Frontier, and is littered with the ruins of a civilization long fallen. The city bordering this land is Hammersgaard. I’m not sure how much the game will delve into Hammersgaard’s history directly, but I’ll likely build on the details I’ve crafted as I write these posts.

At any rate, Hammersgaard, because of its proximity, is a town wherein adventuring parties ply their trade, venturing out to fight monsters, discover lost treasures, and map a forgotten expanse. The game group is one of these parties, and they’ve even chosen a name for themselves: The Space Dandies.

(Which is apparently the name of a show, I don’t know, we’re dealing with teenaged boys here.)

I opened the first session by reading the above text out loud, and dropping them directly into a bidding war for a job. It sounds a bit Star Wars Episode One to talk about out of the moment (trade negotiations…ugh), but in the moment, I was providing bidding requests on the part of three NPC parties in real time, plus the auctioneer’s voice, and letting the party discuss their bids amongst themselves. The object was to calculate their expected costs for the job and their need to make a profit against what the city was willing to pay them, and attempt to underbid the other parties there.

In the interest of full disclosure, because I believe in letting the players define their circumstances, they could have lost that auction, in which case I had another story lined up. They did not, however, and so their preparations for the job began. First, though, I introduced another story thread as they were leaving the auction house–a mysterious robed figure asked them to retrieve a tome from the same temple where they’d be clearing out the goblins. I anticipated that they might as well attack him as talk to him, so I planned for both of those eventualities. They chose the latter.

Before they left the confines of the city, they did as any party would do–got some shopping for supplies done, then hit the tavern to check in on any rumors. They never got that far, though–in the tavern was one of the parties from the auction; the group of noblewomen (Incidentally, their party is called The Untamed Dames). Those noblewomen, still smarting from their loss at the auction, approached our group and attempted to muscle the job out of them, which resulted, as these things do, in a bar brawl.

Now, as stated above, I’m not a big fan of 3.5’s combat, and Pathfinder is not terribly different in that regard, so I streamlined the process some. I eliminated the battle grid and miniatures of days past, and with a dry erase marker on a whiteboard, drew a simple diagram detailing their relative positions. Once that was established, and once initiative was rolled, I did everything from that point by simple way of description; they’d roll their attacks, I kept my rolls behind a screen, and after comparing results, I talked them through each action. It was still a messy and complicated fight, but because the focus was on the action itself, rather than attacks of opportunity or threat squares, the party stayed engaged throughout.

Eventually, the fight was won, though not without cost. Delanna, the group’s cleric, ended up rather soundly beaten; she had some history with one of the Untamed Dames which the rest of the party is not yet aware of. So, the party took a night in to recover, before heading out the next morning.

The journey to the temple cost them a half day, which put the sun high in the sky when they got there. This was by design on my part; the final room of the dungeon is a setpiece that relies on the daylight heavily. This time, however, they made it only a few rooms in before we called the session. Those few rooms, though, were handled with a level of competence that’s surprising for new players; they effectively located and neutralized almost every surprise I built into the dungeon up to the point they reached. Some of those were easy, others weren’t; either way, there’s a cohesiveness to the party early on that’s reassuring. I’ve rewarded them for the work, and I’m taking the lessons of this first session, using them to tweak what’s ahead.

PARTY STATUS:

Healthy, light wounds.

CURRENT THREADS:

  • Exterminate the Goblins
  • The Mysterious Tome
  • Rivalry with the Dames
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