[Campaign Journal] Sword, Sorcery and Rayguns #06

by Kalman Farago
‘When did Uthummaos’ champion become a goody-two-shoes?’

This will be the story of two sessions.

We fled the island of the Tragos with the aid of Fly spells, the wizards carrying the rest, heading towards an unknown island off the horizon, hoping the spells would last long enough. On the way, we passed a rickety raft with a single man chained to its planks. After we helped him out of his predicament, he introduced himself as Melkar, the Tiger of the Seas, a famous pirate captain we’ve never heard of, abandoned by his treacherous crew (it was the return of a player to the campaign after a year spent in China).

We made it to the island, and Tyraxus Targ, his player being absent, decided to stay behind on the shore and guard the three planks we glorified as a ‘raft’. The island had to promontories, with a buidling visible on top of the northeastern one, and a valley between the two (at least this was all we could see from the east). We split up for a short while, combing the immediate area for freshwater and food. While most people were looking for water in a nearby small ravine, one of us — Zaxtaros, as I recall –, headed up the northern promontory, and found some curious stone pillars standing around in long lines. Well, “finding” meaning “almost got crushed by, as one fell down from a higher ledge with uncanny timing”. To his terror, familiar shapes emerged from the shattered debris: the outlines of human limbs and a broken spine; and just when he veered closer to another one, he felt a strange pressure on his mind. Unnerved, he turned around and ran after the rest of us. We went to investigate the statues as well, Gwyddion deliberately stepping closer to a pillar to establish telepathic contact with it. A brief exchange ensued, during which we learned that this place was “the prison of Diaphane, goddess of the island”; but then the mental attacks started anew, and we retreated.

Wary of our surroundings, we explored on, approaching a long-collapsed guard tower at the end of some wall remains. The entrance was agape, but as we entered the derelict building, we heard some movement on the partially collapsed upstairs floor, along with some goatlike bleating. “You hear many hooves” — came the description on a prompt by me. Melkar crept on towards a spot where the collapsed rubble formed a ramp to upstairs, and poked his head up to look around.

Bleat!!! — came the ambush bounding towards him, as he was rushed by a group of Mutant Future’s token monster, the dread Spidergoat! A short but furious battle disposed the abominations — “What do you mean save versus poison?” Gwyddion set fire to the cobwebbed upper floor, burning what was probably there egg cluster; then we moved on inland.

We came upon a huge, petrified tree that seemed to warp space around it so its true size was impossible to determine; and as the first few of us got close, they were subjected to a mental attack similar to the one Zaxtaros felt near the pillars. Quickly backing up, we decided the best thing for now would be to just walk around the tree at a safe distance and move on.

The Isle of Diaphane

Soon after we came to a valley between the two areas of high ground, leading southwards; but the trail wound its way past some more pillars. Seeing a small stream emerge from the rock below, we decided to take our chances and descend as quickly as we could, but we weren’t fast enough: the recently goatified Licar was attacked by a mental blast, and some entity took over his body while (unknown to us) his own consciousness found itself imprisoned in one of the pillars. After a few words, the sudden personality swap became obvious, so Gwyddion quickly knocked out Licar — or rather, his body –, tied him up and dragged him to a safe distance while some of the others had a heated and somewhat panicky argument on how to proceed. Someone suggested knocking down the pillars one by one, but thankfully the others had more sense — one of those pillars now contained our friend’s soul. Knocking some life back into his body, we interrogated the soul now animating him. We learned that the pillars imprisoned those who violated Diaphane’s law by taking up weapons — worrying news for a heavily armed band of adventurers. Gwyddion managed to convince the spirit to return to his prison and return Licar’s body, partly by a personal oath to do everything he can to free these poor wretches from their predicament, and partly by flat-out stating he’ll slay Licar’s body — and permanently kill the escaped spirit in it — if the possession is not reversed. We also learned that a heavily overgrown complex we’ve seen on high ground towards the northwest section of the island was the goddess’ private garden, where she would be probably found.

It was evening by the time we — Licar back in his body — reached the stream and refilled our canteens, but we spotted a cluster of buildings up ahead, and decided to investigate before resting. What we found was a collection of ruins, evidently destroyed in battle — it looks like the pacifist natives of this island met someone with less lofty morals. At the far end of the settlement, there was a line of poles in the ground with curious bulbs on them. Gwyddion went to have a closer look, and indeed, they turned out to be skulls impaled on spears — and one of them was shaking and trembling, moved by some witchcraft! Approaching the possessed skull fearlessly, Gwyddion called out. While apparently mad, the skull was coherent enough to reply. The skulls belonged to “the people of Ong”, who, acting on dreams sent by the gods, sailed to this island some time ago and wiped out its inhabitants; but somehow they too met their ends here. Before the morbid conversation could have ended, the skull’s madness reached its peak. “Death, death!” — it shouted as all the other pikes around it started shaking and extracting themselves from the ground. A hail of magically animated spears flew at Gwyddion in a black cloud, piercing the warrior with grievous wounds while the other adventurers were still a bit of a way away, rushing towards the commotion. A battle of magic ensued, Fireballs against the cloud of piercing pikes, while a seriously wounded Gwyddion tried to retreat to a safe distance.

The pikes were getting decimated by the party’s formidable magic, and several spells were lobbed at the unholy skull itself, but a new threat appeared: a horde of low-foreheaded primitives rushing at us from across the ruins. Heavily outnumbered, we took refuge in two building, the warriors blocking the doorway against the tide. The battle was turning against us, especially when we learned that some of the cavemen could lash out with psionic powers at us; but just as our despair rose to its summit, the savages disappeared into thin air. Illusions! Probably conjured up by the skull, which must have finally succumbed to the damage of our spells, even as we were retreating into the ruins. Thoroughly bloodied, we went back to the spring and made camp there.

The guard was alerted in the middle of the night — by bleating coming from a ledge above our camp. “More spidergoats?!” — we groaned, absolutely not in a shape to fight any. Utilising their last reserves of magic, one of our wizards lobbed a Fireball towards the unseen source of the noise while the other floated high into the air. At least one creature was roasted, and the others fled — but to our great relief, we found that the carcass was that of a completely ordinary, four-legged goat. As we prepared to rest again, the floating wizard ascended a bit more towards some artificial construction in the cliff face that we’ve noticed earlier, and found it to be some sort of goat-themed shrine with a few blocks of white crystal as offering. Plundering the crystals, he took them back to us, but they turned out to be ordinary salt. Well, at least our partially transmogrified Licar liked licking them.

Morning came, and we marched on southward in the valley. We encountered some more ruined huts, an uncompleted defensive wall, a heavily vandalised statue of Diaphane, and as the south end of the valley opened up to a view of the ocean, another, similarly ruined settlement. This one had a small lake in the middle, and a large stone sphere standing close to it. The imprisoned spirit warned us of this — those who weren’t locked into the pillars were inside the sphere. We gave it a wide berth (“This goddess looks more like a demented, dangerous tyrant to me”, remarked Licar), then headed west and then north, walking between the western shore and the western side of the west promontory. We found to adjacent shrines here to Diaphane, both heavily damaged. One still held a largely intact statue, but with the head broken and lying on the floor. Working on his plan to get in the goddess’ good graces, Gwyddion entered and tried to replace the stone head on the neck, but the others refused to as much as enter. As the stone head was hafted up and moved closer to the statue, a strange transformation took place: the light entering the shrine from the door became broken up, as if seen through crystals, and shadowy figures started to fade into existence; but the others neither heard nor saw any of it. It seemed as if replacing the head could have opened a passageway to the past when the island was still inhabited, but Gwyddion didn’t want to risk going there alone, and his companions were too stubborn to try. Putting the head back on the floor but making a mental note of what happened, they moved on north and reached the northern end of the island.

The goddess’ garden was the next destination. It was a large greenhouse-like dome surrounded by an even wider circle of lush, wild, untended vegetation. By this point, Gwyddion has a reasonably clear plan of action: find the goddess, explain to her that her people were wiped out, and convince her to show mercy and release the enchanted prisoners from their columns, since they were the last of her worshippers. But that would mean not offending the goddess in the process, and could this be reasonably expected from this group of greedy misfits amongst whom the champion of a dark and cruel god seemed to be the most trustworthy and honest?

The Abandoned Garden

While one of the mages went ahead on some aerial reconnaisance — rather useless, since the outer garden was too overgrown to see any paths or dangers from the air –, the others started making their way towards the centre on foot. The group was quickly broken up in the overhwelming vegetation. Something flitted past — and someone was convinced for quite a while that it was a female shape –, and a few people broke off to track it, while the others tarried a few seconds before following warily and reluctantly. From path to path and clearing to clearing the thing led the party, until the men in the front entered a small open area and were immediately set upon by… something. A large bird with the flashy, colourful tail of a peacock, but different. As it later turned out, it was, in fact, one of Melan’s nasty creations: a peacokcatrice! Turns you to stone like a cockatrice, but only after hypnotising you with a swirling display of its tail feathers! Thank you, Melan. It was a furious and deadly fight, which the wiser party members watched from the cover of vegetation; but the party prevailed. The slain peacockatrice’s blood spilled on the grass, crystallizing into a strange golden solid substance immediately. Curious, we gathered up some of it.

We proceeded towards the inner dome, but had to go around as the entrance was on the eastern side. It was a large gate, easily opened. Hoping the find the goddess inside and remembering her law against violence, Gwyddion took a leap… well, more of a moderate step of faith and left his dagger and magic sword on the ground, loudly declaring his peaceful intentions to anyone who might here — much to the disbelief of his companions.

Inside was a small hedge maze with a number of interesting spots. A cluster of statues was glimpsed but not investigated. We found a font where five small pipes spouted water into a single basin. And of course you always have characters who just have to drink from it, trying the pipes randomly. The specific who-was-who eludes me now, but someone was overcome with crushing depression and despair, someone got dead drunk, and someone broke into a happy, uncontrollable and unstoppable wild dance which caused him quite a few strained muscles and torn tendons before he was administered some of the depressive water. “Now hang on, which one was the sad water? Damn, did anyone pay attention?” Realizing that sometimes the only way to win is not to play, Gwyddion watched on, shaking his head in resignation. We don’t need no stinking monsters to lose. Eventually we moved on to the main structure in the greenhouse, a sort of shrine with three large bronze amphorae and some ash underneath them. They contained some crystalline substance, and were marked “yellow dream”, “blue dream” and “purple dream”. Remembering the yellow crystalline powder the peacockatrice’s blood turned into, Gwyddion put some of the stuff into the “yellow dream” amphora and lit a fire under it; but nothing happened. Whatever may happen here apparently requires a sacrifice in each of the three vessels.

Leaving the shrine, we came upon a smaller, single-room structure, and this was where we called it a day.

Deciding to check on his sword — apparently the goddess either wasn’t here or that “no taking arms” law was relaxed recently, Gwyddion walked away towards the gates, accompanied by Melkar the pirate. Meanwhile, the others investigated the building. Inside was a chest and a lamp. Scrying determined that neither was magical, but that some sort of poison was located directly above, in the ceiling — probably a spider, Zaxtaros concluded. He entered and tried opening the chest while Licar looked on from the doorway, but somehow he just couldn’t manage to lay a hand on it, as if it was not really there. Eventually he managed to throw the lid open, and a huge pile of colourful worms spilled forth from the container, straight at Zaxtaros, who fell on the ground trying to shake them off. Licar, however, only saw Zax opening the chest, then falling on his back while struggling against an invisible enemy. “It’s an illusion!” — he shouted. “Grab this rope!” — he threw in a rope to pull Zaxtaros out, just as a — completely real and ordinary — poisonous snake fell out of some gap in the rafters. Zax felt the vines around him animating and tugging him out of the small shack, and then they just diappeared and it was only good ol’ goatheaded Licar.

Meanwhile, Gwyddion and Melkar reached the gates, and the former picked up his weaponry. The next we did both did was roll a ’1′ on an attempt to hear something move in the vicinity; and the next after that was reeling out of the way as another peacockatrice attacked us from behind in a flurry of hypnotising feathers. We yelled for help, but there was no need for it after all. Gwyddion holding his shield before his eyes and Melkar spinning and twisting to avoid eye contact with the bird, we quickly slew it… and behold, the blood from its neck wound turned into blue crystals just as the others were arriving with a rather worthless pewter jug they got from somewhere, probably from the chest, I think. This confirmed the earlier idea: we need to hunt down a third peacockatrice which will presumably have purple crystalline blood, and then some sort of hopefully beneficial ceremony can be performed in the inner garden. But first we should go back to the beach and check up on Tyraxus, because his player was in attendance… or this time we suddenly felt worried about him (take your pick).

The trip went without a hitch, we were reunited, and decided to rest for the night, but it seems like this island conspired against uninterrupted sleep. Next morning we decided to check out the small building on the closer, eastern promontory we have seen during our approach. The path up the hill’s crest was lined with pillars, but it turned out that the prisoners must have some way of communicating with each other, as they didn’t try to attack us — I assume because of our (well, Gwyddion’s) oath to try and help them. Brief telepathic contact was made, and we learned that the captives in the pillars were those who had opposed Diaphane (“The failure of the goddess vindicates us… the people of Ong have triumphed.”), and that the building was called “the Sanctuary”. It turned out to be a single-room affair with a caved-in domed ceiling, decorated in green and gold and radiating slight magic — possibly protection? There were skeletons in there among the rubble, probably killed when the ceiling collapsed, or when Ong’s people hunted them down here; and one particular bone seemed to show some strange crystallisation. A brief search of the rubble bagged us a few trinkets and a rather valuable emerald which Zaxtaros, his player true to himself and his previous characters, furtively pocketed. And then came a growling sound from the outside.

We rushed out, Tyraxus casting Mirror Image on himself and Licar flying up into the air to scout around. Cavemen were climbing up the steep walls of the promontory from several directions. Sure, the previous bunch was all illusions, but these here didn’t have any mad evil animated skulls leading them, so they were probably real. Gwyddion quickly threw the first savage off the cliff, and Tyraxus’ Ice Storm cleared off the rest along the same stretch, but more were arriving from other directions. Zaxtaros hid in the Sanctuary building with laser pistol at the ready, while Melkar climbed up to the collapsed roof to throw debris at the enemies from a safe distance.

The Battle at the Sanctuary

A mighty fight ensued. More than a dozen came at us from various directions, some trying to climb up the Sanctuary to get at Melkar, while Tyraxus and Gwyddion were almost stuck outside, partially surrounded by the horde, some of whom have already begun to run into the building. Three hits — two in imediate sucession hit Tyraxus, luckily avoiding the shifting Mirror Images and striking at the real man, while Gwyddion was dealt a crushing mental blow by a psionic caveman. The two of us retreated into the Sanctuary. While we engaged the three cavemen inside in a desperate fight, Tyraxus set off a Flaming Sphere in the entrance to block the rest from entering while Licar rained death from the air on the throng outside. As they gradually lost their numbers, never wavering, Tyraxus dropped down to 2 HP and Gwyddion to some 14 out of his 62, while Melkar was too much of a damn coward to come down from the roof give help where we really needed it.

In the end we prevailed, but we were really at our extreme limits. And guess what? The bodies just disappeared. Illusions again. Bitter, we left the Sanctuary behind, made our way past the guard tower where some more spidergoats have taken residence — but didn’t come out to attack us –, and went back to camp to rest, this time for several days, as we still don’t have a cleric, and Gwyddion’s completely non-magical healing skills hardly improved the party’s condition.

We spent two days fishing, shooting down a pelican and diving for pearls — with minimal results for the last, finding only a single one and even that was too small to allow us a magical identification of some loot we got from the Tomb of the Bull King. There was a memorable moment of tension, though. We were woken up by the guard at night to the heavy beat of great wings above. Throwing sand on the fire we scrambled for the cover of nearby rocks. “Having heard both in the past, would you say these are more of a dragon’s wingbeats, or a Roc’s?” “Let’s just say your’re Roc-ing, guys.” “*Groan*.” The mighty Roc landed in our camp and let out a shrill cry. There was no way were were going to fight this, not with me down to the teens of my hit points and the wizards low on spells after spending some on pearl-diving attempts. Luckily it didn’t notice us and took to the wing after. “I show my contempt towards the hostile wildlife of this island by going back to sleep.” “Allright, you fall contemptuously asleep.”

The third day we felt well enough to attempt some careful exploration. Earlier on, we’ve seen a building nearby from another vantage point, similar to the two shrines in the west, and we decided to check it out as it wasn’t too far. Sure enough, it was another shrine, this one all intact. Guarded by a locked grate, inside we could see a lifesize statue of Diaphane standing on a pedetal holding some magical rod, a strange misty pool in front of the pedestal, and a small ornate box. So, keeping in mind we’re trying to get on Diaphane’s good side — at least ostensibly that’s the plan –, what happens? Zax and Melkar decide to loot the place. Well, I know I won’t have anything to do with this. The grate is locked in place by some mechanism, and is also guarded by a blade trap that would swing out from the rock when triggered. A bit of jury-rigging and Tyraxus’s helpful Knockspell raised the grate, and off Zax and Melkar go, bound for riches. “I stand right by the grate” — I say. “Yeah, me too” — adds Licar, while Tyraxus loudly announces, “I stand ready with spells to strike these blasphemists!” “Well,” — I say, — “it would get quite crowded, so you know what? I just step outside completely clear of the grate and you’ll have more space to yourselves.”

The Shrine of Diaphane

Not wanting to step into the misty pool — which feels rather cold, by the way –, Melkar throws a rope at the statue, fastens the other end to the floor, and starts to climb on it up to the pedestal, over the pool. The cold mist suddenly seems to grow in size and lashes out at the interloper, causing some horrible damage with its chilling touch. Melkar drops down and run outside. Zaxtaros thinks for a moment. “I… shoot my crossbow at the statue.” “*collective groan*” “It’s just an experiment, I’m curious what happens.” What happens is that Melan opens the Referee’s Guidelines at the random tables for the effects of magical structures. I furtively kick away a rock which I’ve previously placed under the gate to catch it from falling down and snapping the mechanism locked. Either Zaxtaros will run out and want to have the grate shut close behind him really, really quick; or he’ll be caught inside and we’ll be forced to lock the grate to make sure we don’t suffer the same fate. Either way, some danger would be averted from the party. I entertain the notion of shutting the grate in front of his nose as he flees “because otherwise tate thing would have come out as well” and then shouting “I dedicate his death to the Dark Lord Uthummaos”, but eventually decide against it. It wouldn’t go down well with the rest of the party.

Right. So, the crossbow bolt hits the statue, and suddenly the pleasant ringing of bells is heard while Zax, still inside, levitates into the air seemingly in a trance. Melkar already outside, the mist lashes out at the thief, chilling most of the life out of him; but even the pain can’t snap the trance. Oh, well… I get to play the samaritan again. “I tie a loop at the end of my rope…” Hang on, let’s do this is a manner befitting a dark champion of Uthummaos. Plus, it was him and Melkar who were caused this mess, they deserve a lesson. “I put the grappling hook on the rope and throw it at him to pull him out.” It’s a hit. “You hit…” — says Melan — “for 1d3 points of damage.” I roll maximum. “Well, you snag him by the head…” “Wait, if it counts as a ranged attack, shouldn’t I add my Strength bonus to the damage? Could I add my Strength bonus?” “Let’s not go overboard, here. “Aah…”

Long story short, we pull floating Zax out of the shrine, I slam the grate shut, and we beat it. Luckily, the cold mist doesn’t give chase, maybe it can’t leave the confines of the building. Back at the beach, we decide to leave these two losers behind and go out on one more trip for the day, back to the western shrines. Licar and Tyraxus agree to try and place the statue’s head back in its place, see what that time warp ends up doing.

We go there and we do so. Again, the sight of the outdoors becomes fragmented, and distorted shapes appear, apparently aware of us. Gwyddion raises his hand. “Well met, peaceful people of Diaphane. I am Gwyddion, the Entomaar.” “*cough*” “…and my two stalwart followers…” “What!?” “…who are great and accomplished heroes themselves, too.” “Right.”
One of the outside shapes replies. “Who are you spectral creatures who appear in our holy shrine, where no lie may be uttered?” I expected something similar to happen, and already have a plan. “We come from beyond to deliver warning of a terrible danger!” In short, I explain that at some point in the future, a savage race called the people of Ong people will lay waste to the land. All will be slaughtered, the goddess disappears, and only those imprisoned in the pillars will be left behind to suffer eternal torment. It all sounds rather incredible to the people outside, since Diaphane is all-powerful; but they know that no falsehood can be uttered inside the shrine, and they agree to deliver our warning to the goddess. As the exchange closes, Licar (or was it Tyraxus?) interjects: “And maybe you could give some sacrifices to the messengers from beyond.” “Oh, and two idiots will try to loot your northeast shrine in the future, why don’t you build a magical freezing mist pool trap there?” — I add as final words. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Maybe I’ll become retroactively responsible for the pain and troubles of those two grubby pilferers who can’t keep their restless thieving hands to themselves for even a few minutes; and that would be sweet.

As it were, they were just about to bring in some sacrifices, and chuck three items at us before the strange kaleidoscope of the temporal rift disappears and we find ourselves in our own time again (or do we?) The three sacrificial items — a cup, a pair of earrings and a round metal box — are checked for value and found to be worth almost 500 gp in total. Nice, even if not quite as good as the emerald Zaxtaros embezzled. Well, we’ll see about that gem later.

We exit the shrine, but see nothing. Still, some of the trees seem to be in different spots; maybe we did manage to alter the course of history? Did we save these rather kind, if naively pacifistic people? We head south-southeast towards the more heavily populated end of the valley. What we find are ruins, but they’re different. No battle damage in sight, it looks more like the place was abandoned intact in a hurry a long time ago — everyday items still lie dusty in the houses. We walk past the small lake, and some glint catches our eyes. We walk over to the gently rippling water. We’re alone among the ruins, but in the crystal clear reflection we see people, children and women, happy and healthy, standing around the inverted images of the goat-headed man, the slightly fat wizard and the black-clad warrior. Some notice us, wave and form words we can’t read off their lips. We reply by writing words on a piece of parchment, but the waves render the fine details illegible for them. After a few minutes one woman talks to another, the people leave, and we see no more of them.

We head north up the valley and find the rest of the settlements similarly abandoned. On the way back to shore, we visit the northeast shrine. No box or rod in the statue’s hand, nor cold mist, but there’s a pool of clear water. The grate is unlocked and the blade trap protecting it is not there, never having been built. We enter and offer some somber sacrifices. Gwyddions wounds all close and heal, and he feels a new strength, become slightly more resilient to damage int the future (+1 to max. Hp). Tyraxus suddenly finds the knowledge of a new spell in his mind, one that removes curses. Licar looks into the pool, roars out in joy and dances around the statue in a wild dance as he sees the goat head gone and his normal, ugly purple Imperial head back. With a sense of fulfillment we head back to the shore, where Zax and Melkar are busy securing a small but intact boat which just drifted to the shore with no crew.

We decide to spend one last night on the island. The next day we visit the Sanctuary. The magic aura is no longer there, but the place is whole and undamaged. As we pass the pillars, they remain completely silent, as if there were no imprisoned souls in them. Then we walk the goddess’ garden one last time. The bronze gates to the greenhouse are closed, but in front of them is a stone pedestal with carved words:

The garden of Diaphane the peaceful,
Who brought her people to a new life of peace
Where no evil could touch them;
Stay a moment and remember the benevolence
Of the Messengers.

And then the Messengers of the distant past walked away and set sail to another island in the great ocean on their newfound magical boat. As the island shrunk behind them, Gwyddion, the Entomaar, champion of the dark god Uthummaos mused on the events of the past days. At the risk of being prideful — not that he was ever really above it –, he felt that without him things would have likely played out differently; and he thought he preferred this ending. Mercenary champion of an evil god or not, he felt good about helping bring these people and this goddess a better present and future than was originally fated. And deep down, he felt that his actions in the past days may yet bring him some tiny solace and redemption in his future eternal servitude to his dark lord after his death.

Or maybe some leverage against Him before that…

(Originally posted Aug 01, 2009.)

Referee’s Notes (2011): In the appendix of Referee’s Guidelines, the third volume of Sword and Magic, there is a set of tables for generating random tables, and one of them is a random chart for utopias. The options range from anarchy through libertarianism to ecologism and post-modernism, and an additional remark reads:
“* 01-40 with significant drawbacks, 41-80 collapsed or nearing collapse”
The Isle of Diaphane is an utopia in a game world where you have to roll that 1d100. After the collapse of its starfaring techno-Hellene civilisation, Fomalhaut entered a long period where every deity, philosopher, insane tyrant and sometimes even the plain well-meaning could take a stab at creating The Perfect Society. Most of them turned out just like as you would expect. Varieties of fallen utopianism had been an important theme in our campaign, and of course, even when you find an intact one, it will most likely be just a little bit too creepy (but we will return to that in later posts). The pacifist utopia of Diaphane is both — failed due to being thoroughly impractical, and creepy due to being good-willing but ultimately very-very misguided in its methods.

Through the session, there is a lot of environmental interaction, combat and exploration. Although a module with hard physical boundaries (the seas, which to a shipwrecked party are mostly non-permeable), The Isle of Diaphane is an example of a very freeform scenario: there are no pre-defined goals, nor pre-defined methods to reach them. By piecing together the puzzle of the island, the players can form their own image of it, and attempt to upset the natural order. From a static state, the situation shifts, becomes dynamic; introducing new complications and new possibilities of interaction. Although as a player and Referee, I like a mixture of different adventure types (another Fomalhaut word: “eclecticism”), this style may be my favourite from both perspectives. There was no outright objective to save the island. There were no explicit methods to save the island (there was a very different, and much more sombre resolution in my mind, but it did not come to pass). The players, by examining their environment and interpreting it, created that possibility for themselves through an encounter that was simply intended for colour.

I love it when that happens.

Finally, this adventure marks the first notable introduction of psionics to the campaign. The phenomena Gwyddion refers to as “illusions” are psychic emanations, as are the “memories” of the people of Ong and the horror and destruction they have brought to Diaphane’s realm. Halfway between “empty world” (another common Fomalhaut motif) and “tortured landscape”, it is a place of deceitful mirages and pent-up hatred, where thoughts become reality and reality dissolves into uncertainty.


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