[Campaign Journal] Sword, Sorcery and Rayguns #02

by Kalman Farago
Oh, who wouldn’t be a sailor lad and sailing down the main?

With this post I’m going to jump back to the point when we entered the Sea of Emerald Idols, and recount events linearly from there.
Cast: as previous post, with the following differences.
- Zaxtaros has not joined yet.
- Instead, the player runs Beristo, a tall, bald, not too handsome cleric of Mereskan, the bat god of thieves. The second most senior member of the party, he’s been around ever since the (IIRC) third session. A conniving, thieving, embezzling bastard, his eventual death was not a particularly painful blow to the party. The simultaneous destruction of all valuables on his person, however, was.

A small desert island in the middle of the the Sea of Emerald Idols. Suddenly a loud POP is heard, and a somewhat battle-weary adventuring group appears out of thin air, followed by grumbles and accusations over the misphrasing of a certain wish spell uttered by Beristo. The loudest complainer is Gwyddion, for reasons that will be made clear in a much later posting about the events that led up to this point.

The Isle of Birds

Taking in the surroundings, we see that the small island has two great rock outcroppings, one on each side. There’s precious little in the way of vegetation, but on top of the southern hill there’s what looks suspiciously like a bird’s nest of giant proportions. We traipse around the immediate area until the nest’s occupant arrives, an eagle-like bird holding between its talons its lunch – a helpless lion dwarved by the Roc’s bulk. We rapidly adopt the strategy of hiding and staying very, very quiet for whole half-days on end whenever the Roc is around. Luckily, it turns out to spend about half the time away, hunting, and we’re free to roam the island. The order of events is somewhat fuzzy in my memory, but our explorations led to the following events:

While down on the beach, we venture into the vicinity of some large rocks. Suddenly, some of them start to move, revealing them to be the Damn Giant Crabs. As for that name, it turns out that Melan, besides giving them a pretty hefty To Hit bonus, also combined the concepts of “one attack per round, 2d6 damage” and “two attacks per round, 1d6 damage each” into “two attacks per round, 2d6 damage each”, which was more than sufficient to send a party of about 7th level characters running after 2 or 3 rounds of combat. To Melan’s credit, he weakened their damage after this session.

Near the Damn Giant Crabs’ sunbathing spot, we find an old, huge and formerly ornate cage half buried in the sand. We figure the Roc must have transported in it as a check, then got free after its ship got wrecked somewhere nearby. Either that, or the Roc was being used to transport some passenger in the cage. At another spot, we find some flotsam in the water. Not enough to fashion a raft, but some of the planks look like they could be used as the beginnings of one. Further search reveals a chest half sunk into the sand underwater. Gwyddion doffs his armour and, secured by a rope, wades in to retrieve it. After an unpleasant run-in with a smaller shark, the chest is finally liberated, and it turns out to be full of large chunks of amber. If we ever get out of here, we can sell it to get back on our feet. Cut into the north face of the northern rock, away from the roosting Roc’s gaze, is a narrow, steep staircase leading up. At its top sits an ugly, hunched humanoid statue. We never figured out anything about it,

The Cavern Beyond the Stairs

When the Roc was away, we explored the rocky outcropping it built its nest to, and found some entrances in its side, leading into a small complex. In one chamber we found a pedestal adorned by the stone statue of some, IIRC, vaguely feminine form. On its base (or if not there, then either by the statue mentioned earlier, or near some smaller ancient stone monument located outside), stood some words: “True goddesses and false gods will show you the way.” Those who’ve read the previous post already know that this riddle continues to haunt the party to this day. Anyway, back to the cave complex. We’re examining the primitive statue on the pedestal, when it suddenly bursts open and two slimy tentacles appear from the cavity! Most of us quickly retreat to the entrance of the room, but we still fight with sword and spells, and after a few rounds the abomination falls still. We examine it from close up again, and see that the pedestal was hollow, and there’s still some fleshy cavity in there wherein we see the glint of what might be gold or gems. Luckily, we’re too cautious to reach in just like that, and careful observation reveals some sort of crushing or digesting movement going on – good thing nobody stuck his hand there without thinking! We apply some fire and magic to make sure the thing is destroyed. For an encore, Licar polymorphs the remains into a slug which we destroy with full and thorough prejudice.

In another chamber, we find a strange well and a long-dead body next to it, probably some sort of sacrifice. Talking to some disembodied whispers coming from the well, we learn that it can supposedly transport us somewhere far away, but the whole thing smells extremely fishy and evil. We are also warned to beware of “Osori the Crawling One”, who would cause our doom. We decide to leave this sinister place, and come back once Beristo’s memorised Speak with the Dead to talk to the old corpse. We do so the next day, and after much deliberation on what question to phrase exactly how, the cleric casts the spell. Most of our questions have to do with various things we’ve seen on the island, but the answer are generally rather unhelpful, as the dead soul doesn’t seem to know much. We have two questions left, and acting on a bit of a lark, we ask the following:
“And where is your spirit located, Dead One?”
“Hhhhh… it is in the well beside me.”

Hmm, that doesn’t sound too encouraging.
“And what is your name?”
“Hhhh… I am Osori the Crawling One.”

Moment of silence, looks going around; we’re NOT going to climb into THAT. Find some other way out of here.

At this point, we’ve sort of explored everything on the island while evading the Roc; but we’re out of food and getting rather hungry by now. We come up with a plan: we’ll build a raft, using the sturdier pieces of the flotsam we’ve found; but we’ll also need to scavenge branches from the Roc’s nest. The problem is, the Roc’s never far away for long enough to let us build the raft and sail away, so we’ll need to defeat it first. We’ll wait until nightfall, when it sleeps. The wizards will stand on the ledge leading to the cave complex, located just close enough to the hilltop to lob some fireballs up there along a ballistic arc; while everyone else stands down on the shore with rayguns ready to shoot the Roc once its spooked by the fireballs.

We take up positions and the spells are cast. The great bird, wounded by the explosions, takes to the air in screeching fury and dives for the gun-toting warriors down below, giving us one round to fire off a salvo. After that it gets into melee range, and we can certainly expect at least one fatality once that happens. Beristo’s player not being present for this session, Melan rolls his laser shot for him: a 20. An automatic hit, let’s see if it becomes a double damage critical. Another roll, another 20. This might even be a one-shot kill… A third roll, not a 20, but a hit against the Roc’s armour class, and the party roars around the table: the mighty beast felled by one single attack, thanks to the gods of dice. “Now that his player is away, Beristo actually proves useful!”

We spend the rest of the session wrapping up. We construct a raft and install Tyraxus’s fancy tent as a makeshift sail (and first thing we’ll do next session is lose it as we struggle against the winds and currents), while gorging ourselves on roast Roc meat and Fireball-cooked giant crab. Some of us pick off a large bunch of the Roc’s feathers as trophies and further barter goods to supplement the chest of amber. While we’re thus busy, a sail appears on the western horizon, probably drawn by the tall pillar of fire coming from the still-smouldering nest; but it turns around before spotting us and heads back towards a nearby island. Figuring that any sort of inhabited island is better than an uninhabited one, we push our raft into the water and set sail in that direction.

(Originally posted Mar 01, 2009.)

Referee’s notes (2011): What do you do if you find yourself in a limited, dangerous and barren environment? After Beristo, hoping to help the party escape from a nasty confrontation in an alternate dimension (the lifeless lands of Dzahn, to which we will come back many entries later), used his newly acquired ring of spirits and uttered the command, “Take us to the Isle of Birds!” (somehow mixing up The Tower of Birds with The Isle of the Water Sprites in the process – ending up Somewhere Else and setting an entirely new course for the campaign), he and his companions would soon have to answer that dilemma.

The Isle of Emerald Idols: Referee's Map

The Isle of Birds contained both hidden and less obvious ways out, but probably also enough resources to think up something entirely unexpected. The battle with the roc was this unexpected event, and embarrassingly, I killed it myself while running Beristo instead of his absent player — rolling an insta-kill with his laser. It did not feel anticlimactic, since it happened near the end of the session, although it may have reduced the initial impact of Gwyddion’s “Oh fuck! We are in a huge nest!”

This part of the campaign dealt with the consequences of Beristo’s mistaken command, and while the characters didn’t lose their equipment, it took them multiple adventures to gradually gain back their freedom: first, freedom from the barren island where they were stranded; then, freedom from captivity at the hands of The Isle of Barzon and its leader, Trademaster Svanth Lord; finally, freedom from the islands to let them return to their campaign goals (these adventures weren’t documented by Premier, so there is a gap of four sessions here; a pity since they all turned out very well). They also gained a cryptic clue in the form of the strange inscription, “True goddesses and false gods will show you the way”, whose mystery kept perplexing them over the entire campaign. It was suggested that the clue had a broader, symbolic meaning, perhaps related to the mystery of the great primordial idols jutting from the sea; perhaps to the Morreion, the elusive object/creature/concept they kept trying to track down. Thus, a lot of effort was dedicated to finding out the global meaning of a clue that had mostly local relevance — creating a red herring without any GM intervention. I must say, I like that when it happens.

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