[Campaign Journal] Sword, Sorcery and Rayguns #10

by Kalman Farago
Cloak and Dagger in Khonón

So, we last left our characters („heroes” not really the right word) in Khonón, pondering the strange goings-on. Before returning to our ship for the night, we looked around in the inns of the Outer City, asking if anyone’s seen Licar’s „double”. Nobody did, but Gwyddion learned that one of the warships of the city had left harbour on an unknown errand, and he also met two merchants from the distant southern lands ruled by the god Ishab-Lambar, who seemed interested in the giant amphibious octopus amber-gris Gwyddion collected on their journey; and agreed to check it out the next day. However, the next day brought some surprises.

In the darkness before dawn, our sentry on duty suddenly heard the slow, quiet „splosh splosh” of oars in the waters, immediately followed by the whistle of something flying through the air and then the huge detonation of two Fireballs as one of the northern areas of the dockside bloomed into flames. In moments, the whole town was up and abuzz, but a heavy detachment of guards showed up, locking down the harbour — with us in it. Licar turned invisible, flew over to the area and saw one of Khonón’s war galleys closing with the burning Medeia, the pirate ship formerly captained by our departed friend Melkar. (Brief reminder: it was Gwyddion who had tipped off the local authorities the day before, without his companions’ knowledge. I figured this would either put pressure on the pirates to skip town and join us on our dragonhunt, or it might get us some reward from the city. Either way, we’d come out ahead.) Once most of the fighting was over, Licar ventured inside the ship, seeing dead and bleeding people everywhere, and returned to us with a fancy robe for himself and a large box of money taken from the captain’s room before the city guard could search it.

Shortly afterwards, a dark-skinned, muscular arm emerged from the water right by our boat, followed by one bull of a man wearing nothing but a loincloth and quite a few barbaric tattoos. He introduced himself as Devadatta from the southern jungles and asked for our shelter, confirming our assumption that he had just escaped from the Medeia. He claimed he was an innocent passenger, a pilgrim who took passage on that ship following some vision; and later he explained that the vision told him he was destined to go to Khonón and meet some companions there — those people obviously being us. We agreed to let him join our posse, but there was trouble approaching: the city guard started combing through the piers, looking for escapees from the Medeia. Licar’s Invisibility spell allowed Devadatta to easily escape the dragnet.

The morning hours crawled by, the crowded piers still under lockdown. At one point, some liveried guards approached our company, bringing us breakfast, courtesy of the city — much to the envy and puzzlement of the other ship crews stuck on the docks -; and a few more hours later the lockdown was lifted. Criers announced the capture of a pirate crew and an official celebration later in the day, while other guards brought us a special invitation to attend.

Now, it seemed clear (first to me, then also to the others) that we’ll be special guests because it was us who tipped them off about the Medeia. However, we were all a bit queasy. One, drifting troublemakers like us don’t like to be well-recognised local celebrities, it can bite you in the ass sometimes. Two, the proceedings were full of bland rhetoric about the Isle of Yaram (where we’ve never been before), which was at a state of cold war with Khonón. With the city’s government happy to blame anything from piracy to evil magic on those people, some of us were privately worried we might be accused of being their spies as well, and captured in a grand public spectacle. However, we weren’t in a situation to refuse. Gwyddion quickly went and sold his amber-gris to his merchant contacts for a pretty sum, then we walked over to the square at the border of the Outer and Inner Towns (the latter closed to foreigners), where the celebration was to take place. We had a look at some of the captured pirates merrily swinging from a gibbet, then were ushered onto a scaffold where the city’s nobility was gathering, including the members of the Archosynod, its ruling body consisting of nondescript bureaucrats. I figured if they really wanted to use us as scapegoats they probably wouldn’t have us stand right next to their most important people, but nevertheless, we were all a bit paranoid at this point:
- Are we separated from them in any way, like a chain mesh fence?
- No.
- I look around, are the people closest to us armed?
- No, they’re not.

(Two players simultaneously) - Trapdoor at our feet?
- No, there isn’t one.

The City State of Khonón


The ceremony started, and a number of speeches full of grandstanding was made, all revolving around how it’s all Yaram’s fault. At one point we were publically lauded — „And here are the people who helped us capture these vile marauders: Master Gwyddion ap Cwllych, Master Licar, and… erm… their brave companions!” –, and given a box as present which later turned out to contain a nice pile of gold. We were also asked to say a few words to the crowd, and Gwyddion quickly adapted some lines from Lenin but added more kittens to it, and it was received rather well. Following him, Licar addressed the crowd, emphasising the importance of friendship between the Empire of Mung and Khonón, as well as the issues of human progress. This drew a much less enthusiastic, more strained response.

While all this was happening, Zaxtaros was scanning the crowd and whom did he spot? Licar, standing at the far edge of the square. While Licar was also standing right next to him and speaking. Finally, we spotted the mysterious impersonator! Zax discreetely whispered a few words to an attendant close to him about an enemy spy on the crowd. That pulled the right levers: he was quickly conducted off the scaffold and given the escort of two guards. They pushed their way through the crowd and subdued the Licar-lookalike, who didn’t offer much of a resistance, then hauled him away — obviously a trick of the confounded Yaramites!

The official speeches ended, and the nobility (and us) started milling around as a feast was served. Licar, aching to get into the city’s library and do some research on the entity called „The Morreion” (he’s in the possession of an undecyphered book about this entity, and has been trying to uncover more information ever since the beginning of the campaign), managed to get himself introduced to the Head Librarian. The latter said that while he cannot allow Licar into the Inner Town and the library, he can arrange for books to be brought out for Licar to read. The two made some arrangement, but then we were all summoned to the guard room where Zax and the two guards stowed Licar’s doppelganger. On close inspection, his similarity to our friend was striking. Though not quite perfect, it could have easily fooled anyone not closely familiar with Licar. Also, he refused to speak. Our wizards determined that there wasn’t any sort of magic affecting him, but attempts to probe his thoughts with ESP were strangely unsuccesful — he seemed to have no thoughts whatsoever. Some highly trained self-hypnotist, or maybe a strange idiot-savant? Finally, he smiled and spoke: „I’m willing to speak with Devadatta, and him only.” We withdrew and discussed the proposition, and quickly came up with a plan. Devadatta, more than able to protect himself with his bare hands, went back in, while Licar polymorphed himself into a fly, flew out into the streets, then flew unnoticed back into the room through the tiny window.

Referring himself in the plural, Licar’s double was a puzzle: he rambled in confused sentences that didn’t make sense – phrases about “homeostasis”, “the necessity of self-preservation” and the like. He offered our new companion a deal: they could help each other escape from Khonon. After all, Devadatta was a fugitive from the Medeia: it was in his best interests to leave as soon as possible. The hulking pilgrim steadfastly refused, and after a few attempts the doppelganger (not necessarily in the D&D sense of the word) flashed a broad grin. Which grew wider and wider… and wider, displaying his countless needle-like teeth. A tentacle (or stinger?) grew out of his back as he lunged at Devadatta, the two grasping each other in a deadly wrestle. The monster stung Devadatta several times, but before the rest of us could react to the sounds of a scuffle and rush in, the pilgrim literally tore the beast apart with his mighty sinews, and the thing rapidly decomposed into some pale grey goo. Was it a magical creature like we had seen in the dream-world of the half-man sorceror Yong? Someone who would only transform into a beast under pain? Using our new-found prestige as celebrities and a few coins, we convinced the witnesses not to say anything of this to anyone, and sent a brief report to the higher-ups of Khonón’s military informing them we’ll continue investigating this on their behalf; then we left and regrouped to discuss our next move.

With the death of the creature, the trail almost petered out. Our only option was to speak to the collector Megamarkhos Periptekhos again, maybe he’ll remember some crucial detail of his past meeting with the creature, or maybe he already examined the artifacts sold him by the creature, and found something. However, Megamarkhos was nowhere to be found, and we were taken for a ride by one of the local messenger boys. For future reference: the information „Oh, I’ve seen him in the seraglio recently” does NOT deserve a coin. Not if you have no way way of finding the rascal again after you visited the place and found out he’s never been there in the first place. We spent the rest of the day and part of the next pursuing a number of ideas:

- Zax met up with Mulficar the Venefice, a local smuggler specialising in poisons, and I understand he bought something useful. He also stocked up on something called “Minotaur Balm”, and spent his night in the company of several attractive women of loose morals.
- Licar got some books from the library after specifying several topics he was interested in. There was nothing about „The Morreion”, but there WAS something about Tragos Megalos, the goat-headed goat on the isle of Immah Wel with whom we had an axe to grind. According to the Tragomachia, a book of tales about this strange deity, he has an inordinate fondness for salted fermented goat milk, and once in the past has consumed enough of it in one go to lie sick for several days. Planning to eventually go back there and taking our revenge on him, Gwyddion quickly bought several barrels of salted goat milk.
- We had the suspicion that the librarians were lying about the Morreion, and after a long argument decided to break into the library and see what we can find. Turning into a hawk, Licar scouted the Inner City and eventually found the library inside the palace complex. Through a window, he also overheard some conversation confirming that they WERE deliberately withholding some relevant information from him, and he also learned where exactly the library’s master index was being kept.

Since we meant to leave soon, we decided to visit another old contact, a magic item merchant called Artothrokus — the man who wanted us to bring him the head of the three sages of Immah Wel, and who we knew was the former student of a great and evil master wizard called Dodekabyros. We visited him early in the morning, and he sounded annoyed and gruff when answering the door, but — surprisingly — became friendly and fawning as soon as he saw us in the doorway. He escorted us upstairs to his living quarters, and reverently retrieved a mysterious artifact from a cupboard. It was a large box with a pair of thin, dull metal spikes on top; one side had a few knobs and was largely covered by a crystal pane. He started fiddling with the knobs, and soon, transmitted by a mysterious force he had called “Tarsis”, an image appeared in the pane, a wavy, static-filled face which began to move its lips and his voice came out of the box: „Ah, Gwyddion, Licar, and their friends. A pleasure to finally see you.”

Through this magic box called a „telecaster”, we were talking with Artothrokus’s dark master himself! And he was strangely friendly towards us… We learned that it was him who created Licar’s doppelganger out of something called Polymorphic Base — „too bad I didn’t have very good images of Licar, the resemblance could have been so much closer!” –, and he sent it to pay off Licar’s debt at the temple of Fedafuce. He claimed he helped because his goals and ours were highly compatible. He wanted Licar to find the Morreion (whatever it was), since its recovery would usher in a new, better era for the entire world. He also knew of Gwyddion’s previous attempts to acquire great power through ancient and divine artifacts and weapons (in Gwyddion’s opinion always somehow foiled by the ineptitude of his party members), and he said the way to the Morreion would also bring the party to something of the sort. He instructed Artothrokus to give us whatever items he had that could aid us on our journeys then terminated the connection. The old merchant started happily going through his inventory… then as Melan started rolling randomly for the items, gradually became less and less enthusiastic, and once we were done and out of his shop, he slammed the door behind us, fuming.

The rolls were lovely and really, really lucky. We got a few potions and a scroll — small fry, as it turned out. There was a Gauntlet of Giant Power, which went to Gwyddion — he was one of the two fighters in the party, and Devadatta’s strength was already as high as the gauntlet would have raised it. Gwyddion, however, has a rather average strength, so he could really benefit from this. But the best item was the last: the Book of Demons. After studying this sinister book for about a week or two, Licar would be able to summon and bind to his service a demon from the netherworld!

It was growing evening as we were discussing plans, and whom should we stumble into on the street but Megamarkhos! Like once before, he wore simple, dark-coloured clothes unbefitting a noble, and he was obviously waiting for us. He had an interesting offer: somehow he knew about Licar’s request to have the library searched for books on the Morreion, and he knew they had some material they were withholding. He showed us a very interesting excerpt from the library’s master index — confirming without doubt the staff was withholding valuable documents –, and offered to team up with us. He knew a way into the library, and there were plenty of valuable books in there; but the offer stood for this night only. We had a look at this list, and it was interesting indeed. All the books were categorised into three classes: Restricted, Restricted Under Pain of Death, and Top Secret. And guess what one title was in the last category? „Demons, the Morreion as”. Bingo. There were also other interesting titles, several dealing with specific demon types, and one or two that looked more theoretical works on demonology — „Demons, Miscellaneous Declinations” –, and some other obscure topics, too.

We accepted the offer, and the nobleman with the secret vice of theft took us to the docks area, where he lead us through a secret tunnel to the palace compound courtyard. It was already dark, so we avoid the guards easily and approached a statue by the far wall. Megamarkhos removed a plaque from it and used some internal mechanism to open another secret door. We were inside, but even Megamarkhos wasn’t entirely sure how to proceed. He seemed to have some direction that would lead us on a bit longer, but then we’d need to make some guesses. Traversing some dusty, abandoned corridors, we came to a staircase leading up and down, and our the nobleman recalled some muddled information on how the Top Secret library was „both above and below”. We decided to head upstairs for now. We came up against a door with a mark on it — a mark in the shape of Khonon’s sacred monument on the Forbidden Isle, which was also the mark used in the master index to indicate restricted titles. The mark was magical, and at first we were reluctant about disturbing it, but eventually Zaxtaros picked the door open without any obvious harmful effects. We made our way through some more passageways and came to a similar door, and beyond it a dead end. A square-shaped room with rectangular pillars in each corner, which formed a vaulted arch below (but not touching) the ceiling and holding up a great stone ring. „This is as far as I know the way” — Megamarkhos said. — „You’ll need to figure out how to proceed.”

Searching the room uncovered four hidden compartments, one in each pillar, each holding a lever. We started flipping them randomly, and it did achieve something. First we heard some mechanism move above the ceiling, then four metal poles descended to touch the great ring, powering it up. Once all levers were flipped, a bright blue light was filling the room while we could hear the sound of pulsing power. However, nothing happened. A further search in the now significantly brighter light revealed a fifth compartment in the wall, with a fifth lever. With nothing else to do, we flipped it.

„Goodbye, fools!” — came a shout from behind, and we turned around just in time to see Megamarkhos jump out of the room and slam the door shut. Then the light became blinding, there was a crash, and…

… we were elsewhere. Standing on a rocky mound that was blackened by heat, we were in a dry, mediterranean landscape, overlooking an archaic town of towers and spires surrounded by cliffs. People milled about the buildings, dressed in togas. And beyond the town, a giant, bright, colourful forcefield blocking our sight, keeping us captive… wherever we were.

(Originally posted January 17, 2010.)

Anadyomai

Referee’s notes (2010): City intrigue as a game of player agendas clashing with NPCs, their environment, and independent events. The scene before Khonón’s Archosynod (a ruling body of bureaucrats suspiciously similar to the European Commission) was a classic; a clash of empty rhetorical grandstanding and carefully cultivated player paranoia. Also, several good examples of the overall sociopathic behaviour that’s typical for the people of Fomalhaut, including Megamarkhos Periptekhos, who, I can say with a measure of pride, outwitted four extremely suspicious players. This is easy to do if the NPC “cheats”, and has access to abilities and knowledge he or she wouldn’t regularly have access to. In this case (like elsewhere in the campaign), it was all by the rules, and had the players become suspicious, things could have turned out differently — but they didn’t, and here, the campaign took a definitely weird turn.

Hozzászól

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