[Campaign Journal] Sword, Sorcery and Rayguns #07

by Kalman Farago
Serious in-character asshattery

We set sail from the island of Diaphane on the small boat that miraculously appeared. After a brief debate, we decided to head back to Khonón and hoped Licar can negotiate a rescheduling of payments to Temple of Fedafuce, who sponsored our ill-fated expedition to Immah Wel; but only after checking out the last two unexplored islands in the immediate vicinity.

We made for the western one, a narrow, long, jungle-covered island with white cliffs at the northern end near our landing site. Zaxtaros stayed behind to guard the boat (his player absent), while the rest of us set to climb the cliff and get a good overview of the land. We quickly noticed that the jungle was teeming with life, but there were no carnivores at all. Some rustling alerted us; Gwyddion raised a pilum and his aim was true, eliciting a painful “EEEEEK” scream. The wild pig was quickly butchered, and we took the better parts for roasting later.

From atop the cliffs, we saw a grey obelisk, clearly man-made, at the far end of the island, and two barren depressions (their bottoms unseen from this angle) in the ground, wafts of some gas rising from the closer one, located along the spine of the hills. We decided to make for the obelisk and look for some clue as to what humans might be here, and only explore the barren spots later. We made our way back down to the beach and spotted some movement in our boat — and it certainly wasn’t Zax. We approached carefully, and eight giant crabs poured forth, unhindered by the Sleep and Web spells cast on the boat from a distance. The wizards courageously took to the air while Gwyddion and Melkar drew blades. The first few rounds went smoothly, but then one of the crabs slashed at Melkar… a 20! Then another 20 for critical confirmation… and a third roll that was also a clean hit. His chest sliced into two, Melkar fell on the sand dead, leaving Gwyddion within range for another six crabs or so. The wizards have been holding back so far, but now they unleashed their full magical arsenal, cooking almost all the crabs in a matter of seconds, and the few survivors immediately scuttled back to the sea.

Melkar was dead… but then Licar pulled out the same powerful dweomer he used on Xulunder Kham, Oolar’s Time. The pirate rose again, alive but doomed to die in 9 days, when the spell would need to be recast. As for Zax the thief, we found no mutilated body — him being an incorrigible kleptomaniac, some of us were probably secretly hoping for it –, so we assumed he ran away and will be back. We headed south, following the beach.

The obelisk was old and twice a man’s height. In it were carved the words (approximately): “The warning of Mezomakhos: those who would hunt will bring certain doom on his brothers; yet those who come wild as beasts will carry away their prey.” “Those who would hunt will bring certain doom”? Gwyddion. Pig. Oops. Also, the name Mezomakhos rang familiar, but it took as quite a while to remember that one of Khonón’s political factions bore that name — as we later learned, he was the original founder of the city.

We weren’t particularly keen on staying here long at this point, but decided to check out the two depressions. The first one was a clear lake, radiating magic. Gwyddion, was reluctant to drink from it, but Melkar scooped up some of it, then event went for a quick swim which healed him for a few Hit Points.

The second depression was a volcanic chute, wider, steeper, deeper than the lake, and there were smelly clouds of gas emerging from it. We tied a rope around Melkar and he crawled closer to the edge to get a view of the bottom. Down there was another lake, this one heated by volcanic activity; and he also saw a ledge below him. Though he felt light-headed from the gases, he climbed down and found a small cave decorated with primitive paintings, and a dead body sitting on a throne surrounded by piles of animal and human bones. The body was wearing a peculiar outfit: a black, hairy cloak, a horned mask, a pair of gloves with long claws, and boots. Greed won over curiousity, and Melkar grabbed the stuff before yanking on the rope for us to pull him back. Once at a safe distance from the pit, we laid out the garments and he put them on. He found in himself a peculiar ability, that of harnessing the powers of his mind and attacking other with them; and he also found the suit to give him a goat-like ability to leap from rock to rock without failure. We were just discussing his outlandish looks and suggested that he take the outfit off in civilised places, he suddenly found himself unable to do so, the cloak’s curse taking hold of him. A brief trip back to the lake revealed that its water burned and ate at the cursed clothing, but he quickly climbed out of the water, deciding to hang on to the items for a while, curse or no curse.

As we were returning to the beach and our ship, Melkar spotted a set of sails in the distance, headed for Khonón. Not only that; he actually recognised the vessel as the Medeia, his very own pirate ship! — or at least what was his own pirate ship before the crew mutinied. He was determined to get it back, but a brief discussion of our options quickly convinced him that just we didn’t have the resources for that. Gwyddion, for one, flat out refused to be flown by the wizards over to the ship and face its two ballistae and 60 crewmen with no way back (since the flight spell would only last so long); and of course Melkar only had some 6 Hit Points or so at this time. Nevertheless, we learned that the ship was in these waters, and we might capture it yet — even though I have some doubts about how five of us could sail a ship designed for dozens.

Isle-hopping: Three Sessions

Anyway, we set sail again to visit the other island, within sight of this one. Its outline was dominated by some large, artifical contruction in the middle, and that was where we headed. This island was sparser then the other, with coppices strewn around the hills. In the middle we found a shallow crater. Its centre was dominated by a great monument, three curved monolithic slabs, each some 10 meters tall, arranged in a sort of triangular manner; while a bit off to the side stood a small tower with three archers at its top.

We decided that the group should hang back just beyond the crater’s edge, while Gwyddion went to parlay. The talk didn’t go very well. As soon as he was spotted, the guards yelled at him to stop. They revealed themselves to be guarding the monument of Mezomakhos — the same name, again! –, which was so sacred even they themselves weren’t allowed to go near it. A request to trade for supplies was curtly refused, directing Gwyddion towards the local shepherds. The black-clad warrior retreated to the others. It was quickly agreed that someone should approach the three monoliths under the cover of invisibility and check out what this whole hullabaloo is all about; and Melkar volunteered.

Obviously, he wasn’t seen; but as soon as he stepped between the three rocks he hear a loud “PING”, and the invisibility spell was torn off of him. Luckily, the rocks were wide enough to give him cover from the tower guards, at least for the moment, and he quickly tried to scan the writings on the monoliths. The player was given two minutes to read through the handwritten page of text, but then Melkar was disrupted by the “plonk” of an arrow landing near him. He got on fours — the cursed suit somehow made it move quicker this way –, and ran away, zigging and zagging to avoid more shots. “Some animal, shoot it!” — rang out the guards’ cry, and a few moments later the tower’s gate opened, disgorging half a dozen archers; while a black-bearded, robed young man joined the archers on top of the tower.

The game was up, it’s a fight. Melkar ran past us, leading the pursuit away so could get them in the side. Gwyddion maneuver to intercept the chase, while one of the wizards cast a Fireball at the tower’s battlements, eager to take out the spellcaster-looking man. The explosion crowned the tower momentarily, killing all but one archer who escaped below through a hatch, while a second Fireball wiped out the pursuit party, except for two men. One was taken down by a spell while Gwyddion gave chase to the fleeing survivor, tackling and disarming him a minute or two later. Meanwhile, the wizards flew up at to the tower top. The few remaining men below ran down to ground level and tried to run, but surrendered after one of the comrades was brought down by Magic Missiles. We took four prisoners including Gwyddion’s and locked them up while we examined the tower. It was rather spartan but yielded us some food and water supplies. We also read the writing on the monoliths, a most puzzling text. Written by the very first Mezomakhos, it rambled about the distance between Mistake and Correction (it was so-and-so many “octads”. What’s an octad?), and how he could have become king of the Future, but instead looked into the Past and settled for the Present. Or somesuch. We have written it down and will ponder the meaning.

The directives of Mesomakhos:

I. 324 OCTADS SEPARATE THE ERROR AND ITS RESTORATION: I, MESOMACHOS, COMMAND THAT ONE SHOULD BE BUT A CONTRAST BEFORE THE CONTENTEDNESS OF THE OTHER. LIFE WITHOUT BOUNDARIES, UNKNOWING ITS OWN MEASURE IN THE WORLD, EMERGES AS HORROR WHEN IT RESHAPES IT IN ITS IMAGE. THE BOUNDARY: THE SELF-JUSTIFYING WISDOM OF DIVINITY AND LINEAGE.
ΜΕΖΟΜΑΚΗΟΣ

II. THE EMBODIMENT OF THE ANALOGY: HE WHO WALKS THE WORLD AS A HUNTER, AND LIKEWISE DESIRES THE PEACE OF COMFORT, SHALL DELINEATE THE WORLD INTO SPHERES OF PRECISION AND THE INDEFINITE. LO, BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES, I LOOKED INTO THE STARS, INTO THE UNDERWORLD AND THE SPACES IN-BETWEEN, BUT IN MY WISDOM, WAS CONTENT TO CHOOSE MY GARDEN, AND MY CITY-SON.
ΜΕΖΟΜΑΚΗΟΣ

III. AS BACKWARDS REFLECTION IS AN INDIVISIBLE INTERPRETATION, SO IS THE FUTURE A DOZEN VARIETIES. ONE’S SHAPES STAND HERE LOST IN THE SEA OVER THE ONCE STONY WATERS, WHILE THE OTHER’S DICTATES ARE HAUGHTY OUTLINES. I, MESOMACHOS, WHO COULD HAVE BECOME MASTER OF THE FUTURE, SAW THE PAST AND SO CHOSE THE ETERNAL PRESENT.
ΜΕΖΟΜΑΚΗΟΣ

But now we had a problem. It turned out these guards were the soldiers of the city of Khonón, charged with guarding this monument. Some supply shipment was bound to come soon, and that would take news of the sacreligous attack back to the city — bad for us, since it’s the centre of civilisation around these parts. Well, we dumped our four prisoners into the boat and sailed them over to the other island — which turned out to be another one considered forbidden in Khonón — with plans to maroon them there. But of course we had to get ideas.

Melkar still wounded, we spent two nights and a day there, discussing our next moves. Licar, being a narrow minded Imperial, refused to head north back to Barzon and investigate the clues hidden there about the prophecy of Goddesses and Gods (see way back) and insisted on the wholly irrealistic goal of finding some library on these islands. Melkar wanted to sail into Khonón and get his ship back, but was eventually dissuaded by the numerous arguments against the plan. In the end, we decided to sail south past Khonón and investigate two small islands there, then head east towards another two, then see if we can go back to Khonón or its separate fortress port for supplies and equipment that might allow us to take on Tragos Megalos, the goat-headed god who gave us a divine kick in the crotch in Immah Wel. But before we did all that, what about our prisoners?

Acting, I think, on the power of illogic, our wizards cast Charm on all of them, and were probably a bit disappointed to see that instead of becoming mindless slaves, they were still reluctant to follow us. “Friendly towards the caster” won’t override their rather distinct memories of us trampling their holiest ground. Something — the real-life weather, perhaps — instilled some players with a peculiar essence of cruel-stupid. Largely on the wizards’ initiative, the party kept one charmed prisoner as a retainer (and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him jump ship at some point), mentally breaking down two of the already shaken people, and polymorphing the last one into a cat and marooning it here. Just to twist the knife, Melkar (or was it Licar?) said to it: “climb up the cliffs every day, we’ll come back for you eventually”. Yes, as if. He knew we won’t, the jackass.

We headed to the pair of islands to the south, and found a rather underwhelming land of drabness. The western one, called The Isle of Nilthene’s Dreams, was inhabited by some fishermen and dirt farmers cultivating edible bulbs. They were also digging up great, strangely crystallized animal bones from the ground, which they sold to the occasional Khonónian merchant. Also, Imbran Gwooth, a smart local financier was running a clever little scheme. In order to keep the gold and silver coinage safe from pirate raiders, he has erected a tower and placed an absolutely secure vault inside it, one, that — according to a story we’ve heard — could and did repel piratical intrusion even after the guards fled once. That’s where he hoarded the islands noble coins, issuing clay coinage instead for the islanders’ private use — taking a “modest” administrative fee for every exchange, of course. We talked to this man briefly, and traded a pearl for a foul-looking potion he claimed could cure the trickier sort of diseases and infections.

Slipping away from the party in the evening, Gwyddion returned to this financier, asking him to pass in a letter to the next Khonónian merchant, expected sometime next week. The letter was addressed to the Khonónian authorities (and do remember that they’re the rabid cat-venerating people), and warned them of the cruel plight of the helpless kitty marooned on the forbidden island. Hopefully the folks will pick it up. Even if it’s a polymorphed human, you don’t harm a kitten by marooning it on a dangerous island with a false promise of hope. Melkar (or was it Licar) will pay for this, oh yes he will. (Well, either that, or I’m not discussing the real deal here as I don’t quite trust my fellow players not to read this.)

We explored the neighbouring island the next day. It was connected to this one via an ancient, 300 meter long stone bridge, but we decided to take the boat in case of a hasty forced departure. Tales on the other island told of some ruined castle and poisonous fumes, and indeed, we found both rather easily. The ‘castle’ was of a strange construction: made of white rock, single-storey and circular, with rooms and corridors arranged in two concentric circles around an inner garden, and devoid of any furniture. All we found were some two dozen slightly rusted metal barrels, clearly the products of the technologically superiour distant past. We determined that they were the source of the poisonous fumes wafting about in the building. Rolling one outside, we pried it open and found some greaselike substance which was slowly evaporating — at least until we managed to set it on fire with our experimentation. But other than the barrels, there was nothing, and I’m puzzled by that. If the highly developed ancient only used this building as a toxic waste disposal site, then why wasn’t there any sort of gate? The main entrance as well the entrances to the inner garden were just wide open passageways without any sort of door, gate or airlock. A mystery that will remain unsolved for the time being. The burning barrel of poison quickly created a tall column of ugly black smoke, easily visible by the locals. We decided to get back to our ship and move out.

(Originally posted September 01, 2009.)

Referee’s notes (2011): I did not realise it yet, but this was the first of three sessions that marked the nadir of the campaign. On the surface, everything went on as previously — nonlinear exploration, clues to the greater puzzles of the campaign, swashbuckling. But we lost a sense of direction. There is a turning point in level advancement where previous challenges start to lose their bite and become rote exercises; we were starting to hit that limit. Also, with so much time spent island-hopping, the potential in this arc was getting thin (we encountered the same stumbling block in the Undercity of Khosura a year earlier), and it was time to mix things up a bit. Except, again, it was not so clear after Immah Wel and The Isle of Diaphane which, after all, had turned out very well.

The encounter with the guardians of the Archaion (and The Directives of Mesomakhos) was symptomatic of the process; where the encounter with the tragoi and their god ended in a very satisfying way, this one left me with a vague distaste. As a friend of my had once written, “as for Cugel, he is genuinely amoral in the sense of being entirely self-centered; but the only reason we see him in a sympathetic light is because, in the long term, he always flubs it. (Or to be more precise, he fails at behaving responsibly.) If his petty tricks were continuously successful, he would become a thoroughly repellent character.” Indeed: there is a line, and it has been crossed.

Hozzászól

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