[Campaign Journal] Sword, Sorcery and Rayguns #08

by Kalman Farago
The Isle of Abenkhan

The Isle of Abenkhan

We sailed on to the second pair of islands, one covered by forests with some old ruins visible, the other barren and dominated by the remains of an ancient city; and made landfall on the second. Headed for the piers of the old ruins we spotted a small boat already docked, and a single tanned Northerner looking at us. Feeling gregarious, we quickly introduced ourselves to the fellow treasure-seeker (for what else could he have been), who was calling himself Banipal, and decided to join forces (in other words, a new player joined us).

Exploring among large piles of rubble and a few buildings still standing — the largest being a domed structure and an annexed tower — we spotted a white-clad figure rushing to cover behind some pillars. We called out to him while our new friend circled around. He saw a swarthy man in white robes and turban, carrying a flail and wearing a peculiar moon-and-star amulet, signaling to some eight others behind the rubble. Showing a great deal of initiative but perhaps not much diplomatic skill, he rushed and stabbed the man, cutting our way out for us with these people. The group advanced on us but they were unarmoured and poorly trained, and our blades and spells made short work of them, leaving a few alive as prisoners. Much to our chagrin, Licar came up with some hair-brained idea on making one of them speak. It involved Tyraxus’ charmed henchman Stanos pretending to be a captured outsider, Licar disguising himself with an illusion as a fellow turban-wearer who became brainwashed by our — that is, the “invaders’” — magic, then… ???… profit! The attempt ended up as a groan-worthy failure as the three of them engaged in fisticuffs while we were out of sight and thus unable to assist.

Zaxtaros, meanwhile, scouted around and found a deep cleft in the rubble and a doorway at the bottom. Some people – likely more of these cultist — spotted us from on top of another building, so we decided to get down there and disappear into the underground ruins. Zax and the new guy headed in first, suggesting that us heavy plodders stay behind a bit. The first room was a colonnaded hall with several exits, and the two scouts split up to examine too passages. Zaxtaros walked down a tunnel and found the life sized statue of a gryphon, exquisite workmanship, and having one very valuable gemstone eye (the other having been pried off sometime in the past).

The Dome and The Mark of Abenkhan


This was the point when back at the entrance Gwyddion had an unexplicable feeling. “Errmm…” — he said. “Has it occured to anyone that we have absolutely no reason to trust this new guy to share any loot with us? And that Zaxtaros… well, he’s worse?” We agreed to go inside — quickly — and see if they need any help. As it turned out, we entered not a moment too soon, as flames shot out of the gryphon statue’s beak and scorched Zax painfully. Well, yes, he was prying off the other eye. Duh. Managed to palm it before we arrived, too.

We continued exploring as a group. Found many caved-in alcoves which we figured must have been windows back when this structure was still topside. Also found two stairways to a lower level, two to a higher one, and several points of interest. The first was a round room past a dry pool, ending in a slab of green glass. Dark, shadowy smudges decorated it, as if the outlines of people were burned into it. Next to it stood two large braziers, seemingly unused for ages, and a brief examination revealed the glass slab and the room’s domed ceiling to be magical. Unnerved, we retreated from the place, deciding to come back once we find a clue to the mystery of this place. Next we came upon a large, round room extending far up, located — as we correctly guessed — directly below the large domed structure outside. Most of the room’s floor was dense metal grate, covering a wide and smooth-walled pit which a light spell determined to be inestimably deep. On a level above us where three man-sized gryphon statues emerging from the wall, each illuminating the room with a coloured beam of light — red, green and blue. We couldn’t help drawing some mental parallels to this bottomless well and the prison of the demigod-monster Uuaram whom we fought in a fierce battle in days past.

The Dome, Level I

We then moved on to the level above, partially still underground but with the northern parts higher than the rubble mounds and overlooking the ruins. Pried off some semi-precious stones from a brazier and found a higher walkway around and above the well room, then heard some voices. We retreated and listened in on the conversation of more cultists, apparently discussing our presence. The two thieves and an invisible Licar followed them down a corridor and to a room where the cult Elders — already mentioned by other members — were sitting by a small pool playing with some sand; probably some weird ritual. After a short deliberation and an introspective look into his alignment, Licar exclaimed “this!” and lobbed a fireball into the room before anyone could react. The rest of us rushed up, but Licar’s magic is as strong as his moral fibre is weak, and we only found scorched bodies and the ephemeral magical image of well-maintained castle playing on the pool’s surface then dissipating.

After the brief fight one-sided instant slaughter we resumed our exploration, and quickly came upon a stone throne and the moon-and-star seal of the cult engraved into the wall above it. We’ve already found a similar arrangement on the lower level, but couldn’t find anything of interest. This time, however, Gwyddion had a new idea. Examining the seal, he found it to be a stone plug which could be rotated to the side and removed. A narrow shaft was uncovered, with a tilted mirror at the end that reflected a beam of yellow light out at us. The plug’s inner side was covered by a mirror surface, and some quick experimentation revealed that when the seal was unplugged, the yellow beam from one of the gryphon statues in the central room grew weaker. As it was getting late afternoon, the party decided to retreat to the boats, handily defeating a group of cultists searching for us and Tyraxus leaving behind a note with them saying “We just want to look around and take what we like, if you don’t pester us we won’t kill any more of you.” An honest and straightspoken man, this Tyraxus, and I appreciate that.

The Dome, Level II

By now I already wanted to go back to the throne on the lower level and check its seal, but put it off until the others were ready to come back into the dungeon. And we turned out to be lucky for not tarrying down there, for we came upon a small group of cultist who’s just sunk the new guy’s boat and were preparing to apply their implements to our larger ship, too! A single lightning bolt took care of them, though. While half of us busied themselves raising the sunken boat from the water, Gwyddion took two people back to the lower throne room, and was satisfied to find another shaft and a blue beam of light behind the seal. When we rejoined them, the others were about to lie down to sleep right on the pier, in front of the the great dome, in plain sight of any cultist who might want to chuck a fireball at a close group of invaders! Gwyddion managed to convince the short-sighted party to take the ship, load the boat on it, and sail a few hundred yards down the coastline to some more secluded camp site. They’ve followed the advice, and the night passed without any disturbance.

Next morning Melkar stayed behind to fix the small boat, while we returned to the ruins. Exploring near the throne of the higher level, we found a staircase to an even higher level, one just below the great dome. Beyond the landing there were two alcoves secured by copper grating, and an old suit of armour in each. Again, it was Gwyddion who grew suspicious, thanks to his previous experience with animated statues and the like. Upon examination, the grates were found to be part of a mechanism which would slide them up into the ceiling when some unknown trigger activated, freeing the suits of armour — which were magical. Taking his crowbar and grappling hook, the warrior jammed the grates so they couldn’t open, and we moved on. We found another staircase leading back to the lower level but closed by a grate (we’ve seen this from the other side, but didn’t look for an opening mechanism) which couldn’t be opened fro this side; a way out to the roof of the cubical structure upon which the dome rests, a collapsed wall section where we could easily rappel down into the ruined city on a ramp of rubble; and a peculiar room. The last held four stone sarcophagi. Against all the advice of the party, our new guy pushed aside the lid on one, finding an ancient, grisly corpse which seemed to have its abdominal region dissolved or blasted into smithereens. Against more and rather emphatic advice, he started poking it. “Ahhhhh… stop my torment” — a breath-like voice sounded. “Who are you? What do you want?” — the startled thief blurted. “Please help me, return my remains to the waters” — and the voice went silent.

The Dome, Level III

Not knowing when to stop, someone from the party opened the second sarcophagus, finding the similarly ancient corpse of a woman. After pestering it, it spoke, too. “Who are you?” — one of us asked. “Ahh… I am Nilthene, who created Abenkhan, who did this to us…” Oops, we managed to land in the thick of it again. Abenkhan was the builder of this ancient city and the name revered by the local cultists. And Nilthene… remember the island I told you about last time, the one with the poor fisherfolk and the banker? That’s called The Island of Nilthene’s Dreams, for they claimed it was such a goddess or sorceress who once lived there and created the dragons whose bones could still be easily found in various spots. And now it turns out she was a real person, and her body was right in front of us.

An argument arose. Gwyddion warned the others of doing anything foolhardy when we don’t even have a clue about what really happened here, but the others were gripped by greed for imaginary rewards. “Let’s help these poor spirits! Build stretchers for them and dump them into the sea!” “But wait, we don’t even know who they really are! What if Abenkhan was the good guy, and these four are some demons who’ll express their gratitude by eating us?” “Na-na-na, I can’t hear you, doomsayer!”

There was no talking sense or caution into them, and the fact that events worked out for the better does not retroactively change the foolhardiness. They went back outside to make stretchers from driftwood — and while leaving, we saw that someone has stolen the new guy’s boat –, then came back with them. I carefully jammed the grates over the armour alcoves again. And a good thing I did — as soon as they started moving the first two out, the grates tried to slam open — but failed –, and the suits of armour animated and started punching at the weak copper grates to open them. Since the party needed to make two round for all four corpses, Gwyddion courageously stayed behind the watch the suits and hold them back if they managed to get loose. It almost came to blows, but the others were quick enough to come back for the rest, and we all evacuated via the collapsed wall, hightailing it out of there.

As soon as the stretchers and their grim cargo were pushed out to sea, a miraculous transformation began. The mortal remains disintegrated, their precious metal adornments sinking into the water, leaving behind the four spectral figures of Nilthene and her companions. They gave us their thanks for freeing them from eternal torment, and explained that it was Nilthene who created this island’s later lord, who turned jealous and evil, eventually slaying the four of them and imprisoning them here. They told us that the bottomless well was the first thing Abenkhan found on the island, and when pure sunlight shone into it — presumably to happen by someone removing all three seals –, it would reveal the answer to any question. They also warned that the ancient unseen guardians of the city were now roaming free and furious that we’ve freed the imprisoned souls.

Epilogue:

A note concerning the fate of Melkar: when he had finished fixing Banipal’s small boat, he cast off and set sail towards the northwest. Leaving behind the Isle of Abenkhan and its ruined palace, he sailed for two days and one night. Finally arriving at the Isle of the Two Springs, he took his vessel to the sea and sunk it, leaving no trace of his arrival. Then, he sought the cave of hallucinative gasses, where he scaled the vertical precipice. Finally, among the bones of the dead, he sat on the stone throne, looked forward — and waited.

(Originally posted October 10, 2009.)

Referee’s notes (2009/2011): In many ways, this was another unsatisfactory adventure. Much of the context — and as much of the adventuring potential — was missing and impossible to recover after the players rushed the dervishes among the ruins. Combat was easy against the low-level opponents (much easier than the confrontation with the cavemen on the Isle of Diaphane), neither the players nor me found a means to refocus the scenario into something exciting. While a conclusion of sorts was reached, it did not represent genuine, earned success, and much of the mysteries of the isle and its palace complexes remained untouched. It could be said that futility and disappointment are not alien to the mood of Fomalhaut (the undiscovered parts of this particular scenario concern fallen dreams and the futility of their reconstruction), and therefore, ending on a downbeat note was right and proper: but that should be a conclusion achieved with an actually good adventure…

So, how did things get derailed? First, the already mentioned tiredness of this phase of the campaign played a role. Second, Banipal’s player, who was used to a different (more action-heavy) approach, did not integrate so well into the group. Third, I was underprepared: I didn’t write down the adventure, relying only on the ideas in my head. Although improvisation is my bread and butter, in this particular instance, I failed to react properly to player actions and salvage the remains of the adventure. Things went downhill from there.

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