[Campaign Journal] Sword, Sorcery and Rayguns #05

by Gabor Lux

Since Premier was sadly not able to participate in this session (and although he sent me his character sheet via e-mail, I forgot to print it, so his character was also absent), I took his place for the journal. Therefore…


The Minotaur defeated and the sages reunited, the remaining thing to do in Immah Wel was to plunder it of its remaining riches. Gwyddion, who had to pay obeisance to his harsh god, retreated into the Temple of Uthummaos (ordering his companions to keep the Minotaur’s head safe), while the others weighed their options. Plans regarding the bronze colossus and the dragon were shortly rejected, and the characters turned their attention on the villa of the now departed Red Sage. The building appeared deserted: the bone-filled antechamber, then a bare atrium, two side-rooms (a long-abandoned sleeping chamber and a small kitchen), a storage room with mundane supplies and finally a workroom. Here, in addition to discarded tools resting on a long table, the characters found two upright crates, both boarded shut. Taking one of the crowbars laying on the table, Zaxtaros quickly broke off the front, revealing yellowish, hard-packed earth inside, and Licar, who has had some proficiency in alchemy, immediately noticed it was unlike the island’s soils. Removing clods of the matter, Zaxtaros found himself face to face with the empty eye sockets of a mummified corpse; body turned into a tough, leathery blackness. The curious memento exhibited no signs of unlife, but it bore a small, crude iron talisman around its neck. More examination revealed that the talisman was magical, and, according to the glyphs, served some protective function.

Zaxtaros at once reached for the magical treasure, easily tearing the old cord. Yet barely did he turn when, with a monstrous growl and unseeing eyesockets, the mummy attacked, only to be cut down by spells and laser bolts. More carefuly now, the party proceeded upstairs (but not before Licar carefully collected the valuable mummy dust that remained — a potent alchemical and magical material on Fomalhaut!). Here was the Red Sage’s lab, where a thorough search first found various alchemical writings and a small, forked metal wand among the mortars, jars and other equipment, and then a floor niche revealing a more unusual treasure: a preserved human head with flowing hair and miniature goat horns, as well as brass arrowheads. As neither were magical, and as the villa had no more secrets (or so they thought), it was time to finally rest off the wounds of the titannic battle.

The main objective now was to identify the various new magical treasures in the party’s hands; however, the Identify spell would need a valuable pearl, which no one in the group had. Thus, they journeyed to the seashore, where, with a Water Breathing and a Locate Object spell, Tyraxus Tharg spent the next few hours diving, while the others, bringing an amphora of the Red Sage’s wine with them, watched from the beach. Alas, only one pearl was found, and of insufficient value for the magic. Retreating for a night of rest, the evening brought ominous news: the villa was discovered, and forms of goat-headed tragoi were amassing in the forest-garden, slowly converging on the silent building. Licar and Tyraxus, joining their efforts, threw a Fireball and an Ice Storm spell at the horde, reducing the invaders into hairy bits and sending the few survivors bleating into the night. This conundrum gave the company pause. Did the tragoi find them by chance? Or was it the Minotaur’s sinister head that was attracting them?

Immah Wel, Southwestern Section

The dilemma was answered on the next morning: through the heavy mists that enveloped the garden, new ranks of the goat-men were approaching — but one at the fore, an older tragos with golden bracers, was flying a white flag! The emissary was followed by two others bearing a heavy iron coffer, and the three promptly fell to their knees in supplication, talking in their indecipherable bleating language. Next, the elder rose and indicated that the chest would be theirs — but he also made hand signs suggesting a horned head. When Tyraxus showed them the minotaur’s head, they nodded in assent, opening their chest to reveal a hoard of glittering treasures — thousands of silver and electrum coins, the hilt of a sword and even a shield. At this, Licar beckoned the emissaries to come up to the house and make the exchange: also using his Tongues spell, he interrogated the curious visitors. It was soon revealed that the tragos were sent by their god, **TRAGOS MEGALOS**; that they had inhabited these ruin for a long while, and also that to placate the terrible goat-slayers, they would offer these valuable gifts to gain peace, as well as the head of the terrible minotaur that has been raiding them for long. Avarice and doubt rose among the party members. Tyraxus suggested that giving over the head for unknown purposes — to a god no less — could prove dangerous; Zaxtaros added that it might be best to hand it over, but ambush the goat-men on their way back… Since the tragoi did not know the purpose of their desire or would not tell, Licar told them that the party would confiscate their hoard and only relinquish the head once Tragos Megalos would personally tell them his reasons. Finally, before the shocked emissaries were sent back, he ordered the elder tragos to remove his valuable golden bracers and jewelry and hand them over. Visibly shaken, the tragoi departed.

It was clear that this response would signal the beginning of hostilities. At once, the party set to the work of fortifying their position: blocking the lower entrance with tables, amphoras and other heavy items and building protective ramparts from the furniture on the terrace. The work was barely finished when there were signs of massed movement in the garden-forest; the bleating of horns, the rattle of drums and the sound of marching hooves approaching in a loose, fireball-resistant formation. Soon, the elder tragos returned; but behind him, rising to almost 15 feet, was a huge black beast with glowing golden eyes, and carrying a huge flail. **TRAGOS MEGALOS**, approaching the terrace, exclaimed: “MAN-WORMS! YOU HAVE KILLED, ROBBED AND HUMILIATED MY PEOPLE! PLACE BEFORE ME THE TREASURES YOU HAVE TAKEN AND THE BULL-HEAD, AND I MAY MAKE YOUR PUNISHMENT A LESSER ONE!” There was a flash of light as Zaxtaros discharged his laser into the goat-god, searing his side. The battle was on. Tyraxus threw a Lightning Bolt at the towering form, only to be deflected by a golden aura on four hapless tragoi, who were all burned to death by the stream of electricity. Then, **TRAGOS MEGALOS** raised his hand in the air and, saying magical words, collected a ball of golden fire; then he threw it among the party’s ranks. There was a formidable detonation as 13 dice of Fireball exploded for 47 points of damage, demolishing the feeble fortifications, knocking out Tyraxus (saved but went to -4 points, one shy of death) and Xulunder (failed his save and went to -3), and almost killing Zaxtaros and Licar (who quickly feigned death). The only character left standing, Zaxtaros, immediately turned and fled into the safety of the villa, while Licar, unable to concentrate on a spell, crawled to the body of Tyraxus, giving him a quaff of healing potion and swallowing one himself.

There were now goat-men everywhere; climbing up on the sides of the villa on ladders, trying to force the lower door, and so on. Tyraxus, realising that all was lost, cast an Invisibility spell on himself; slipping the sword and the pair of boots from the treasure chest under his cloak, he used his remaining Fly spell and sped unseen towards the sea. Only Licar and the unconscious Xulunder remained in broad view of the approaching god. With glowering eyes, the monstrosity again spoke: “MAN-WORM, RECEIVE NOW THE CURSE OF TRAGOS MEGALOS!” And Licar felt that he was twisting and changing, until in place of his head was the horned visage of a goat, and his arms likewise mutated into goatlike limbs (although with fingers). In horror, he spoke, but only bleating escaped his mouth. Still, the luck of the gods (and perhaps Ishtar) was with him, because he was able to use a spell — Polymorphisation, with which he turned into a fly and departed the Red Sage’s villa, careful to avoid stray birds and the ground where there may be frogs. There was now only Zaxtaros, who huddled in fear among the crates of the storage room. Bands of tragoi were looting the villa, but also — they were throwing clay jars here and there. Then, finding no one, they departed — but at the same time, there was a great flapping sound from way up, and something massive landed on the terrace — the dragon of the ruins has arrived! Peering out from his shelter, Zaxtaros saw to his horror that the tragoi had thrown jars of oil on the floor, and he would soon find himself burned to death. Fleeing as fast as he could, he ran towards the makeshift barricade before the entrance, and frantically began to remove objects to clear his way. Once more, the gods were merciful (although knowing Zaxtaros, they might have reconsidered); jumping through the doorway just in time, he heard an intake of air, and a loud WOOSH of flame as the looted interior of the villa was turned into a fiery inferno. In the confusion, the thief bolted outside and fled in the tall grass, finally making his way to the shore and the party’s ship. Only Xulunder remained in place, and he was dragged away by the tragos into their dark ruins.

The party, beaten and dispirited, assembled next to their ship. Licar was still goated, and could only speak in bleating staccato (a condition that also impaired his spellcasting). Tyraxus lost a henchmen, while Gwyddion was still somewhere in Immah Wel, unknowing about the day’s developments. There was little to do: only Gwyddion could sail the ship, and he would be needed for protection as well. The only hideout the party could find was an unpleasant watery grotto; here they rested, while the tragoi, their god and the dragon were scouring the island for signs of their presence. The next day, tragedy struck: huddled in their small lair, the characters heard the approaching sound of massive wings, and the ship, for which they had fought so hard, was at once turned into flaming wreckage. Gwyddion arrived some time later, bloody and bruised, swearing terribly about the goat-men and the loss of the minotaur’s battleaxe.

Standing by the now smouldering ship, the company looked towards the sea, and the next island.

(Originally posted June 21, 2009.)

Referee’s Notes (2011): If important NPCs do not have plot protection, neither do player characters, and especially not player characters who tempt fate. Having triumphed over a seemingly invincible opponent, the players got careless and greedy, and when they easily defeated an incursion of tragoi trying to wrest the Minotaur’s head from their hands, they thought nothing could stop them, even as they upped the stakes by taking on the tragos god. This action was not as suicidal as it seems up front: the gods of Fomalhaut are a petty and self-obsessed bunch, prone to enormous character errors and probably defeatable for a determined, lucky and smart group. This group had already killed **UUARAM**, a hairy amoeboid demi-god, and thought the god of the goat-men would not be that much tougher. In a sense, they were right, since **TRAGOS MEGALOS** had stats like this:

**TRAGOS MEGALOS**: HD 13+3 MAX; Hp 143; AC 22; Atk +16/+11/+6 flail +3 1d8+6; Spec damage reduction 10/+2, spell resistance 16, fireball 3/day, The Curse of **TRAGOS MEGALOS**; +11/+11/+11.

In the context of Sword&Magic, these are are pretty impressive numbers (high AC, high DR in a world where magical weapons are around but +2 and +3 ones are very rare, spell resistance, good saving throws in all three categories, three attacks per round with a magical flail), and the 13 HD fireballs are really nasty, but in a carefully planned assault, **TRAGOS MEGALOS** would have been vulnerable (if to nothing else, then lasers), and once down, the tragoi would have fled or been mopped up by a high-level party.

On the other hand, sometimes it is not wise to take those chances. The reason the party survived in the end came down to two factors. The first was simple luck: I didn’t roll too high on those fireball dice, and some of the characters even succeeded at their saving throws. The second was the “saving graces” principle I live by: I would not fudge dice if the players got their characters in their way, but as long as play continued, any character could seize an opportunity, however minor or desperate. I believe this is a fair way to adjudicate in-game situations: I never guarantee success, but I will always let them try.

And of course: the characters had it coming. Chalk one up for the good guys! :D


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