Monday, 12 March 2012

The original Tomb

The Dog Leg gang make a hasty exit from Royal Forge, just as the smelly stuff hits the fan. The King dies, the Queen rules as regent, and Jervis is "on a quest". Prince Nicos becomes persona non grata, but fortunately both sides just can't be bothered to fight another war. All that is in the news, however is the huge Melee scandal: the Port Blacksand Buccaneers have been suspended from the league, the coaches and Captain Quintus Thunderhammer all arrested for embezzlement of league funds - a trail leading back to a theft of 75000gp from the Courts of Justice evidence hold. Oh, how they wished that the celebrated jurist Lord Talmir "Chops" Deathblow were on hand to preside over matters - sadly he had just that morning left town.

The journey is more about "getting out of the Capital" rather than any pressing need to visit Skull City, but Chops does express a desire to have his Drow statue repaired. Crow is behind in her deadlines (again), Squid is appalled that she is married to a thief, and needs her own space, and Thelonius is apparently convinced that the Grandmaster's Office is bugged.

Skull City is in ruins, but not quite as bad as it sounds. The areas controlled by the Faithmarked are as pleasant as they can be for a shadow-touched metropolis. Certainly, the undead seem to experience an enormous sense of well-being there. The suburban areas are quite like Putney for dark mages, where the overriding concern is where middle-class necromancers can find a decent state necromancy school for their children. There are rumours that the schism between the Faithmarked and the Black Disciples actually has its roots in a quarrel over cheating on a private school entrance exam*, rather than any ideological dispute over the fate of arch-lich Acererak.

A fight with some of the less amenable Black Disciples turns nasty with the intervention of a Black Heart, although the party do capture a certain Hazon Skullcaterpillar, and trade him with a group of human "survivors" known as the Skullbreakers.

The Skullbreakers give the gang some insight into the Original Tomb, and after a civilised dinner party, they set off.

It's actually quite sad. The old tomb has seen better days, and years of neglect has led to the secret doors falling off, the mosaic discolouring, the Stone Juggernaut has been traded in under the scrappage scheme, and damp has gotten into the Spheres of Annihilation. None of the old traps work - but something new is a planar crossover, and deadly manifestations of souls inhabit the old chapel. Although there is the potential for great harm, Crow pulls out the move of the day knocking one out stone cold, whilst the rest of the party develop a new tactical manoeuvre known as the "Dog Leg Special", which consists mainly of one character laying a debilitating effect on an enemy, the others surrounding it and beating it to death.

Hilarity ensues as the party display their absolute ineptitude at anything other than violence. Trapped in a mummification lab, with extremely dangerous undead rising around them, their best chance is to complete a number of rituals on the corpses, whilst some party members hold the tide back. Red and blue powder, bandages and myrrh fill the air, as well as another Dog Leg Special on the final mummy.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Meet....Drachor Flameblood

Just who is the powerful and intense young man that has been stalking the Dog Leg Gang, once saving them from assassins, at other times keeping watch from afar?

Late at night, he sits under a tree in the University Gardens and with the gentle strumming of a late-night minstrel's lute in the background, he laments to a young female student of evocation, who listens intently, in awe of his raw magical power....

"I hail from Westsea, my mother was the daughter of a poor dairy farmer. The farmer, my grandfather died when marine dragons plagued the town, swooping in to raid for cattle and human flesh. He was one of the victims of their terrible breath weapons of lightning and ice that ravaged the town. My mother was left to fend for herself and my grandmother, with only a few beasts left, she barely scraped a living as a milkmaid.

"The dragons were vanquished soon enough by great heroes mounted upon griffons and pegasi, and this brought some stability to Westsea, which in time would become the home of Prince Cal. There were still problems with raiding wolf pirates and aquatic beastmen from the depths. The heroes had long since gone, and without the challenge of mighty dragons to face, there were none to help the town from these perils. Soon the people would surely be slain or enslaved.

"One such terrible raid took place on a hot summer eve. Pirates landed on the beach and set about pillaging. For hours they carried on, with none able to stand up to them. Westsea was a lamb to the slaughter.... until the sorcerer appeared. My mother said he was tall and handsome. My grandmother said his eyes flashed with the fire of the gods. The sorcerer let forth the power of flame and storm, and destroyed the pirates utterly, their boats burning in the summer night.

"The sorcerer took up home in the village, and although more a deity than a man, he found comfort in the arms of a humble milkmaid. A year later, the kuo-toa attacked, and the sorcerer drove back into the sea, my mother told how their scales burned with acid and white-hot fire as they fled from him.

"A few months later, my mother knew that she was with child, but the sorcerer was troubled. What vexed such a mighty Arcanist? My mother begged him to tell her, but the sorcerer did not want to burden her with his wisdom that went beyond the stars. He told her only that there was a evil beyond evil that had awoken, and that the greatest warriors of the land had set out to vanquish it, but without a master of elemental magicks and sorcery, their quest was a doomed one. The sorcerer told her not to worry, and that he would soon return. And he left.

"I was born the next Spring, and my grandmother told how a mighty storm appeared from nowhere the night I was born, lightning and fire split many trees in the village. It was clear I was the true son of the sorcerer, and the midwife said that truly the blood of the dragon had been passed into my veins.

"Years later, the sorcerer returned to see me. Although overjoyed to see his young son, he was a changed man. His quest had been brutal and deadly. He had seen things that even such a magus would be haunted by. He told my mother a little of what he had seen, and where he had been. He stayed a few weeks, and then told my mother that he was due to leave for the magical city of Klef, with new powerful warrior friends with whom he had faced deviltry and shadow, but who would not be welcome in Klef (athough the sorcerer would be feted like a king). Again the sorcerer left. He never returned.

"I remember only a giant man whose eyes burned like dragonfire, and whose fingers rippled with lightning. A year later, I felt the power of the sorcery for the first time, and knew him truly to be my father.

"Afraid that I would leave her to seek him out, although my mother told me many stories of him, she never spoke of his companions. Finally, on my 15th birthday she told me that they were heroes of great renown, and they were Lords and Sages that had vanquished some of the Legendary Evils of the land. As bards had sung no songs of the sorcerer, and there were no tales of him at the Royal Court with the others, she feared that he had perished, no doubt in some deed of inhuman courage and sacrifice. She told me the names of his companions, and knew that I would leave to seek them out.

"I am Drachor Flameblood, son of the sorcerer of Westsea. My father was made of ancient inferno and the winter storm. His gift to me was his immortal and unearthly power. I watch over his companions as he once did, and soon I shall ask to take his place among them, such is my destiny...."

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Seaside Brawl

A cinematic montage of fast horse travel cross-country takes Chops, Crow and Thelonius to Westsea, the home of the insane Prince Cal. Just in time for a melee tournament between the Port Blacksand Buccaneers (Squid's husband's team) and the much unfavoured Westsea Pirates. Prince Cal is clearly heavily sedated as he sits in a rudimentary Royal Box. Crow takes a position on the bench with the Buccaneers, Chops stays close to the Prince, and Thelonius hovers outside the box. They have been told that the Enchantress will be present to witness the murder she has paid for - they just need to locate her.

The melee tournament is over very quickly as an easy victory for the Buccaneers. Prince Cal's nurses help him over to the Buccaneers' tent for some meeting and greeting. A diversion behind the tent distracts Crow, and the Buccaneers' medical team turn out to be a hit squad made up of an extremely competent mage assassin and two not-so-competent assistants.

Chops and Crow aren't faring well, and Thelonius hangs back as he tries to locate the Enchantress through the crowds. As they think they have the mage surrounded, he teleports away, adjacent to the prone Prince. Certain to deliver a coup de grace, he is only saved by a moment of inspiration from Crow, who teleports next to the prince, and then away to safety. The assassin, having clearly failed makes good his escape.

Thelonius identifies the fleeing Enchantress and gives swift chase. Chops grabs a horse from the Buccaneers, and between the two of them, she is very swiftly cornered.

Another NPC with no loyalty, the Enchantress is quick to bargain all she knows in exchange for a one-way ticket to Tahiti. Confiscating a teleportation device, the party learns that the Princess of the East and now the wife of Prince Nicos (King Leric's other brother, presumed KIA in the war) is behind the conspiracy. With the King dying and Cal and Jervis out of the picture, Nicos could succeed to the throne.

Burdened with much information, the group return to Royal Forge and are informed that their apartments have been burgled by Mungo - who has "gone rogue". Chops's flat is ransacked and his prize possession (a statue of a nude elf woman carved out of obsidian) has had the head broken off. More disturbingly, Crow's notes from the Tomb of Horrors are all missing.

In the days that follow, a lot of information surfaces regarding news from the Badlands about the original Tomb of Horrors causing something of a Californian Gold Rush - large numbers of adventurers are suddenly being drawn to the old site. After Acererak was vanquished by 1st edition adventurers some 30 years ago, a large community of necromancers grew up around the original Tomb, which remained deadly dangerous. Called Skull City, many of the worshipped the demi-lich and never gave up the faith. Others simply hoped to learn his dark arts in the proximity of the Tomb. A steady stream of adventurers over the years ended their days in the old Tomb, whose traps remained active.

In the last year or so, reports emerged that there had been an earthquake in Skull City and Eldritch storms and vents rocked the city. Most of the undead and necromancers were apparently killed. Not long after the adventurer's foray into the city of Moil and their destruction of the Shadow Engine, something happened in the old Tomb. Many adventurers are being drawn back to the old site. Apparently Mungo believes there is something important in Crow's notes that he can benefit from. One of the manufactured parties 4*Eva have reportedly gone with him....

What does Mungo know that Crow doesn't?
Why have 4*Eva gone with him?
Will Squid kick her drug habit?
Will Chops get his statue repaired?
Who is the mysterious young man that saved them from the Spice Market assassins?
Where is Prince Jervis and Real Emily?

Find out as the Dog Leg saga draws to an earth shattering climax.

Meanwhile, Back at the Forge....

Squid is too badly injured to do much of anything except convalescence. Thelonius's plotting has taken on a life of it's own, and the former Grandmaster has been arrested for embezzlement, a chest of 75,000gp mysteriously appearing in his private quarters. By pure chance (a little serendipity that cost Thelonius 6000gp), the judge for Tober's arraignment is none other than Lord Talmir "Chops" Deathblow of Dog County. Chops impounds the chest of gold to the evidence cell, where they spends several hours puzzling over how to remove it.

There is more distraction from all the toadies looking for the nobles in their absence. Chops has to pass judgement over some old crones accused of witchcraft and a clemency plea from a halfling sentenced to death. Crow has her warhammer turned into her official seal and processes several documents including an expedition to the Underdark.

The matter of a Royal Summons comes next, with the party invited to a Queen's Banquet, where they fear they will be asked about the whereabouts of Jervis. A nine-course banquet, the group blag their way through it by Chops getting the Duke next to him roaring drunk as a diversion and Crow engaging the mob side of the Queen's family in stories of the Underdark, whilst Thelonius keeps a watchful eye on the Queen and her bodyguard Mungo.

The Dog Leg gang excel in two things - violence and revelry. Their approach goes down a storm with the King, the Duke and the Gambarinis - one of whom, Louie seems intent on sending his son off to the Underdark to become an adventurer rather than a mobster. The Duke and King have far too much to drink, and Chops learns that the King is terminally ill - making sense of the attempts on Jervis's life. The Queen is exceptionally unamused, even though prompted by Mungo to question the adventurers on their fortune - were it not for the infamous Tomb of Horrors, surely they would be mediocre bandits?

The banquet breaks up for the hostess, but Chops and Crow aren't done. They hastily arrange for an extended private drinking session for the King and Duke at Barry's Opus Bar, where they learn more tales of treachery and intrigue. Putting this aside, they opt for a dawn raid on Muraf, the assassination broker.

Muraf lives on Ladies' Row - a bridge covered in high-end shops. As they arrive, Muraf is hastily packing up to leave town. Making to escape, he finds the other end of the bridge blocked by Mungo. Muraf sends his henchmen to fight Mungo, and calls on a pair of DynoRat franchisees - Elvis and JT to deal with the party. Chops charges forward, but is quickly flanked by demons summoned by DynoRat. The Demons prove too tough to deal with, although Thelonius has the mobility to tie them up in melee. Crow switches tactics and uses psionic power to hurl the Rat Demonomancer through a shop and out into the river. The tag line for this part of the battle was, of course "Elvis has left the building,".

Without their summoner, the demons are recalled. Mungo finishes with the minions, and demands the party hand over the broker. Muraf is a business man and prefers to take his chances with Chops & Co, rather than the Queen's executioner. The party dive out of the hole in the back of Tiffany (made by Elvis) into a boat previously arranged by Thelonius. In a mid-river interview, Muraf reveals that he has also arranged a hit on the King's younger brother - Prince Cal, and that his paymaster is a mysterious eastern woman known as "The Enchantress".

A Tale of Two Emilys

Hunting a prince whilst nursing a mammoth hangover is no easy task. An early tactic of knocking on doors and asking if "anyone has seen a boy that looks like the prince" is quickly abandoned for discretion's sake. By the docks, the party are accosted by some mean-looking gangsters that turn out to be henchmen of Vitor Gambarini - the Queen's cousin and notorious gangland boss. Vitor has heard that his nephew is in town, and is keen to have him over for dinner. The party make some excuses about security and melt away into the evening rain.

Thelonius tries getting help from Mr. Noriega, who for some reason considers him persona non grata. Squid find her missing stiletto embedded in the head of a corpse lying the gutter in the Temple District.

After hours of fruitless searching, Chops declares that their task is futile and decides that their time would be best spent in contemplation and trying to use intelligence-led techniques to track down the missing royal. To this end, he herds the whole party into a nearby curry house and settles down for a four-hour meal in the warm embrace of comfortable cushions and the aroma of spices and vindaloo.

The party decide that rather than tread the streets themselves, they cajoule, bribe and menace a group of street-food hawkers into doing their leg work for them. This soon pays dividends when one reports that someone matching the prince's description was seen in the Temple of Pel last night. Reluctantly leaving the bosom of the Port Blacksand Karahi Hut, they make their way to the Temple.

Guess what? There's a huge queue because it's alms giving. The poor and wretched form a long line into the temple to receive a few pennies. The PCs have trouble getting the attention of the duty priests, but throwing a cauldron of coins into the street disperses the crowd from inside the temple (although this has the effect of starting a riot in the street). Having the full attention of the priests, it appears that a young man was sitting in a pew for several hours late last night talking to a teenage girl believed to be a barmaid named Emily. The priests name two local drunks that may know her - a one-legged sailor and his friend.

Venturing outside once more, Chops halts the riot long enough to locate the sailor, before allowing it to continue. Promised huge bounty, the sailor quickly gives up that Emily is a barmaid and the daughter of the innkeeper of The Star & Anchor in Spice Market Square. The two wretches are quickly off to spend their riches, although Squid rather unsportingly ambushes them in the bar and takes back their fee.

It is almost early morning when they arrive at the Spice Market - the cobblestones a rainbow of colours from centuries of exotic spices being ground underfoot. All the stalls are closed up, including the Inn. A young woman - presumably Emily is seen in at the far end of the square.

Yet again, it's a trap - but a deadly one. Crossbowmen from all sides fire bolts on the party, whilst heavies jump out of an empty lot to engage in hand to hand fighting. A wizard atop a small building pours deadly lightning bolts down. Even "Emily" pulls out a crossbow to join in. Squid is struck by an very well-aimed shot and badly wounded. Her early contribution is to crawl under a cart to hide. She's exposed when Crow and Chops upend the cart to crush two thugs hiding behind it. Several crossbowmen all aim at Mr. Shambles, who goes down.

The party are having a hard time of things, especially them wizard, but they are assisted by a mysterious figure who flings acid and flame on the assassins from behind. They mage makes his escape, and their mystery benefactor - an intense-looking young man nods to them before disappearing off into the alleyways.

Sadly, Mr. Shambles was killed. Fake Emily was captured alive, and when interrogated it appears they had been contracted to kill the Prince - and they had presumed that Mr. Shambles (with bucket on head) was the he. They also learn that the mercenaries had been retained by an assassination broker in Royal Forge - Muraf Arshad. The party try a new tactic, and recruit the mercenary Fake Emily to their cause. Ransacking the pub, there is evidence that the innkeeper and his family left town in an awful hurry, and apparently on the road back to Royal Forge.

Walking down the mainstreet, Lady Amelia TwoGood, the chief paladin has arrived to take charge of The Great Food & Penny Riot of 1534. The party decide to make good their escape and hitch a ride on a cart headed back to Royal Forge.

Sleeping off the labours of the last two nights is welcome, but on the road, they are attacked yet again - this time by a hit squad looking very much like a traditional adventuring party - fighter, ranger, thief, cleric and mage. Initially things go badly, but Fake Emily turns out to be a deadly shot, killing the mage outright. Squid remembers what it was like to be upstaged and 4th Rogue, so uses her turn to kill Fake Emily. We've seen this before with Errol Flynn, so there is general shock, but no surprise.

The rest of the attackers are seen off without too much difficulty, but the party limp into Royal Forge, having survived two attacks.

Social Climbing

Crow awakens in the Royal Suite of the best hotel in the city, the Millenium Blacksand. She uses all the facilities, abuses the mini-bar and then strolls down to one of the five restaurants, being acknowledged and greeted by a number of the super-rich of the Wretched Earth.

Is Crow having a hallucination, whilst actually being tortured by mind-flayers? No. It’s actually happening. Normal service is resumed when her early tiffins is interrupted by two messenger boys. One bears an invoice from a sleazy bar by the docks called “Lady Palm” for repairs, the second is from the Sheriff’s office requiring the posting of bail for Squid. Both of these events are fairly commonplace to Crow, who with some annoyance gathers her purse and makes her way downtown.

First stop is the sheriff’s office. Squid is unconscious in a cell with three corpses, covered in blood and vomit and missing a shoe. When roused, she is also incapable of speech. Crow posts her bail and carries her out of the jail, looking for Lady Palm.

Which is not hard to find. It’s the only bar in the tavern district that is missing the doors. Looking inside, there are bodies scattered all over, Chops is lying face-down in large puddle of urine, whilst Thelonius is sleeping happily in an iron chandelier, twenty feet up. Crow rudely awakens them, drops Squid down with them and has only one question:

“Ok, where’s the Prince?”


A year down the line from the foray into the Shadow Tomb in Moil, and the party are back into a rut in Dog Leg. Chops has spent fortunes on his stronghold, the entire project has turning Dog Leg into a building site. Insistence upon making all decisions on the basis of cost has led to an influx of cheap labour. Dog Leg is a huge muddy puddle swamped with goblins wearing hi-vis vests, the farms have taken to more intensive production methods and large industries have popped up to support the new workforce and project. The denizens of Dog Leg are rich, but miserable.

Squid has re-married a big time sports star – the melee player Quintus Thunderhammer. Let’s not say there’s already trouble in paradise, but they don’t spend a huge amount of time together. When not training, Quintus does a lot of shopping. Squid doesn’t get on well with the other WAGs being a woman of her own means, after all.

Crow has a big-time book deal for a series of travel guides and is doing well financially. Her big sellers are Lonely Planet – Underdark, and Bayve Crow’s Budget Crypts and Towers.

Thelonius- you can’t say much more about a man that has constructed a small hovel on the outskirts of Dog Leg, and encased it in a steel mesh cage and dozens of arcane wards, to keep out scrying from both clairvoyant hags, and NSA spy satellites. Worryingly, Thelonius has began to surround himself with people even less grounded than himself. Associates that he describes only as “Mr. Shambles” and “Mr.Noriega” have come on to the radar. The former walks around with a bucket on his head, the latter appears to be a dealer in all things illegal.

Chops is invited to the Capital – Royal Forge, as the guest of the Lord of Dog County. Sir Renston is an old warhorse due a promotion, and he wants his supporters near him. The Dog Leg gang are also included on the invitation.

Royal Forge gets its name from something in the past that is to do with dwarves. The small bearded people installed hot running water into the city, and it became the natural choice for kings and queens due to this. With the departure of the dwarves, this system broke down within a few years and had never been repaired, but the capital remained.

Welcomed to Royal Forge, the party attend Sir Renston’s reception. Surprisingly, there are actually a fair few people they recognise – Mother Bedana, the Regional Director of Healing (and their first sponsor), Drum’s old mate Simon Ironleaf (who has become Chief Ranger), and even Chop’s cousin Barry the Fist – having opened his flagship bar “Opus” in the capital.

King “Bob” Leric, Queen Isabella and their son Jervis hold court and duly present Sir Renston with his retirement gift – he is appointed as Lord of the sunny holiday island of Nymeris in the south west – a favoured destination for hen parties and young student girls. Whilst technically a demotion, Sir Renston is overjoyed and trades in his plate mail and lance for a pony-tail and Bermuda shorts.

Surprisingly, the honours do not end there. Unbelievably, the King calls Chops forward to be knighted and declared Lord Talmir Deathblow, new Lord of Dog County. Squid becomes Lady Jennifer Bryce, gains the dubious title of Royal Scout, but is more importantly granted a pardon for all outstanding felonies.

Crow is given the title Royal Geographer, but most surprising of all is the replacement of the current head of the Holy Orders of Monks and Sages – the learned and wise Grandmaster Tober, with the paranoid and unstable Grandmaster Thelonius.

Recovering from the shock, the new aristocrats are invited to dine with the King and Queen. It is at this function that the King expresses his admiration for them all, and how they came to his attention from their forays into the far east, and of course their worldwide fame for defeating the construct of Acererak in the demi-lich’s Fey and Shadow Tombs. As the Queen’s executioner and bodyguard, Mungo looks on in envy, King Leric begs a favour of the party – that they take his 15 year old son, Jervis in their charge and “make a man of him” for a few months until his 16th birthday. The king believes his son to be idle and soft – and surely accompanying such powerful and renowned adventurers would turn him around.

Unable to refuse, the PCs settle into their new roles with aplomb. Squid takes to social climbing, Thelonius begins a number of plots and surrounds himself with cunning toadies. Chops is appointed to the bench on rotation to pass judgement on commoners – whilst Crow is invited on a number of junkets to five-star hotels.

Chops and Squid make a half-hearted attempt to “train” Jervis, involving a foray into the sewers and a lackey dressed as a werewolf, which bear more resemblance to early LARPing than any serious attempt to toughen the prince up. Jervis does express his desire to experience life and meet girls other than those chosen by his parents (usually uncomfortably closely related cousins). Given that the exciting city of Port Blacksand is only 30 miles down the road, an educational field trip is hastily arranged…

Details of that excursion are still sketchy. Crow took advantage of a free stay at an exclusive hotel, whilst the others made their own arrangements. It’s not clear exactly who suggested what, but somehow the idea of taking the Prince to a number of brothels and dives seemed good. There is to this day argument over exactly how drinking a liqueur distilled from Drider venom came up, but Squid and Chops blame one another. Thelonius pointed out that Vrzzt (or Lolth’s Tears as it is known) is exceptionally dangerous, and not intended for human consumption – commonly causing memory loss, brain damage and in 3/10 cases – instant death. This didn’t stop him snorting half a bottle from the belly of a Halfling hooker, though.

The recollection of the night’s events have never come back, but what did become clear is that Jervis was nowhere to be found.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Non-spoiler ToH

So as not to be the ruiner of games, we shall not dwell too much on what happened within the Tomb of Horrors, suffice to say that a Shadow Engine was wrecked, some frozen undead thwarted and most importantly a demi-lich defeated.

Note - a demi-lich, not the demi-lich.

We think.

Also - and with a heavy heart - I have to report the demise of Fat Harold. Harold fought bravely to the end, but ultimately had his corpse unceremoniously dumped in a sea of undead. As his spectre floated up, his last words were reported to be : "You bastards!"

The shadow of Acererak still looms large. Will he re-emerge? Where and when?

In the meantime, the adventurers have found enormous fame and fortune. They are veteran survivors of two of the most famous dungeons in history - Rappan Athuk and now the neo-Tomb of Horrors. They just need Ravenloft and the Vault of the Drow to complete the set.

The gang return to Dog Leg with untold wealth and are feted as superheroes. They are in a manner of speaking the first celebrity adventurers that the Wretched Earth has seen. It is not long before manufactured celebrity parties start to appear - noticeably "Dream Boys", to appeal to the teenage girl market, and girl-group 4*EVA. The only serious competition coming from "The Company of the Grey Wolf" a very straight high-fantasy D&D party that no-one likes very much. The players are reputed to be a Quality Assurance Team from Northampton.