Friday, 3 July 2015

Campaign Journal: AS&SH The Anthropophagi of Xamboola (Session 9)

SPOILER ALERT: This journal is extracted from an unpublished and upcoming Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea adventure I am currently completing. This account eventuates from the playtest. You have been warned!

Visitors to the desert-city of Xamboola beware! Demoniacal cachinnations and dull totemic drumbeats sound nocturnal from the outskirts of the city. Too, vile shrieks echo in response to the nightmarish noises, making even those of heroic aspect shudder in repulsion. Residents do not tarry to lock themselves in their homes at night, for something sinister lingers in the fringes of the black of night. Whisperings and warnings intimate that foreign guests residing at the inn of one Aramis D’athak oft disappear at night, never to be seen or heard from again. Where they disappear is not known, nor do the people of Xamboola speak of the hellish noises that darken their oasis city in the gloom of night.

Session 9: Death By Spore

The Party

Sint the Pict Ranger (Level 3)
Heron the Kimmerian Druid (Level 3)
Xechies the Kimmerian Warlock (Level 2)
Grimnir Hothgar the Viking Berserker (Level 3)
Xjelko the Ixian Thief (Level 3; Hireling)

Part I: Beware of the Cloaks

Morning dawned and exploration resumed. Noticing Heron had adorned one of the black cloaks overnight Grimnir queried him:

"Why are you wearing that cloak?"
"Because I was cold."
"Hmph. Why don't you take it off?"
"I don't want to."
"Just take it off so I know it's not cursed."
"No. Why don't you take your armour off Viking?"

...and so the discussion continued. Sint grew bored of this banter. He noticed nothing unusual in Heron's disposition, and began exploring the chamber more thoroughly.

"Come over here Xjelko and help me see if we can find anything."

Within the chamber a concealed passageway was discovered. In the back of the auditorium (where the slithering slime had attacked Grimir) two additional passageways were located. The smaller doorway was opened first; Heron and Grimnir in the lead. As the small circular chamber was entered, two oozing slimes lunged at Grimnir and Heron. Both Grimnir and Heron were paralysed by the ghoulish creatures. Xjelko screamed in terror and ran from the room, despite curses and shouts of annoyance from his companions. Finally the loathsome creatures were destroyed, though not without injury - Heron appeared to be on death's door. 

Stooping to offer Heron restorative berries, Xechies and Sint noticed something strange: small, claw-like marks dug into Heron's neck from the cloak! Tearing the cloak from Heron's neck, Sint was suddenly engulfed by a hideous black creature, wrapping itself around him. Without the druid or the viking to help, and with the cowardly thief fleeing from the room it was up to Xechies and Sint to destroy this foul creature. Sint dropped his bow and attempted to wrest the underworld creature away from him. The creature let out a repulsive moan and tightened its grip on Sint, sinking a barbed tail into him, and smothering him with its wings. Sint began to suffocate.

Xechies hacked the creature from behind, injuring Sint in the process. Realising his blunder he sheathed his weapon and managed to pry the creature from Sint's body. Between the two they finally managed to destroy the stygian nightmare. 

Part II: Wormy Grubs of Human Essence

After recovering from their various wounds, the delvers decided to explore the recesses of the second doorway. Walking some 40 feet, noises could be discerned down the hallway.

"Shhhhhhthakkkk oooothhh yeeeeiiithhhaarrrrnnnaayyy!!"

The voices (if they could be called such) were a hybrid of snake and man. Xjelko (who had rejoined the party after being discovered whimpering and cowering in an adjacent room after the battle) was commanded to investigate. He refused.

"Who's there?" Grimnir angrily called.

The hissing voices stopped. Finally a lone silhouette emerged. Robed and tailed, this figure resembled a nightmarish amalgam of snake and man. It walked upright.

It spoke in a stilted common tongue:

"Interlopers, why have you come?" it asked.

Seeing no reason to enter a discourse, Sint let a nocked arrow fly. Its aim was true, and the creature hissed in pain. Grimnir plunged down the corridor towards what other creatures lay within. But the creatures were ready, rushing towards him: five other such "men" and two cobras. All hell broke loose, a cacophony of shrieks, hisses, steel and incantations. Again, the horror of warfare was too much for Xjelko who snuck to the back of the chamber, cowering in the corner. When the bloodletting was complete the room was searched. A few strange utensils were discovered whose purpose was completely foreign.

"You coward!" Grimnir bellowed at Xjelko. "How dare you run away? You're not even worthy to call yourself a man. Even the women and children in Erikssgard have more courage than you."
"What's wrong with you?!" Sint agreed, "This is what we hired you for. What did you expect -  a pleasant hole in the ground filled with treasure waiting to be plundered? We need someone who can pull their weight, not someone who runs when things get tough."
Preening his clothing and gazing sternly at the floor Xjelko retorted. 
"When I signed on, you told me you needed someone to find hidden doors and break into things. I've done that. You never mentioned I had to fight anything."
He also added "You only pay me 30 gold pieces a month, I've seen the hoards you capture. I think if my rewards were commensurate with the earnings..."
"Fool!" Grimnir thundered, "Leave us and begone!"
"Wait, you can't leave me down here! I'd never find my way back. You've seen what's down here."
Grimnir finally relented. 
"C'mon then you coward..."

Creeping further down the corridor, lest there be other snake-men, the delvers continued (though Xjelko filled with trepidation). The long corridor finally expired into a cavernous pit. The pit had an acerbic foetor, and an unwholesome miasmic quality. Inside the pit squirmed the most horrid things imaginable. Small worms secreting oozing white juices whined and moaned within the pit. Xjelko vomited violently as he comprehended what they were - human faces with maggot bodies! The faces were pinched and withered, as though animated in a semi-living space. Noticing the delvers standing above them the maggot-men began worming towards them, squabbling with each other and groaning. They were entirely incapable of scaling the sheer walls of the pit.

"Heeelllpppp us!"
"Please, release us!"
"That morsel is mine!"
"You up there, give me your liver"
"Urghhh! I'm in so much pain"
"What time is it?"

Their voices merged in a repulsive clamour. They were entirely repugnant to behold. Discussion was held. Do we destroy them, or to somehow help them? But all present were too repulsed to remain. Discussion continued further down the tunnel, out of eyesight and earshot of the pit. Finally the consensus was to return at a later time, once the entire complex had been mapped.

Part III: Death and Rebirth

An adjacent corridor was explored in the original room where the delvers had slept. This corridor revealed another hallway. Down the hallway were two snake-men and another larger pit of men-maggots. Xechies recalled some forbidden lore he had once stumbled upon in a darkened sorcerer's lodge. He suspected these creatures were once human, now transformed for daemonic majick purposes - possibly for trade or sale in unholy ritual. The snake-men appeared to be to blame, and it was gleaned they were probably responsible for the brainwashing of the human cannibal slaves.

A northern corridor was thereafter pursued. The corridor forked into three directions. Unlocking one of the three doors, five creatures assailed Xjelko as he pushed the unlocked portal open. The creatures were covered in mouldering skin and breathed suffocating spores. The battle was ferocious. Xechies became infected by one of the creatures and began to act against the party's interests, attacking them instead. Grimnir entered an untameable fury. He hacked at the creatures - shrieking and invoking prayers and battle cries. He destroyed two spore-men, but the berserker suffered hit after hit. As the creatures pummelled him to death, he lay bleeding on the ground, each attempt to fight becoming increasingly futile. Finally he was welcomed into the gates of Valhalla. Comprehending his certain demise, Xjelko tried fleeing. One of the spore-men caught up with him, and stood over him. Xjelko loosed a few crossbow bolts from his shaking hands, and managed to disable one spore-men. Unfortunately his pursuer tore open Xjelko's back with its claws, raking him. Xjelko's body stiffened. His eyes remained open and staring, as death claimed him. Heron was surrounded, and although he killed one, he was torn to pieces by an ochre horror. His blood pooled on the ground, covering the spore-man's feet.

Cognisant of inevitable doom, Sint began retreating. All but one of the spore-men had been destroyed, but Sint was injured. He loosed two arrows, one striking true. It seemed to injure the spore-man. The spore-man and Xechies surrounded him wickedly, and darkness closed upon Sint.

[Referee's note: At this point it was a total party kill! To maintain campaign momentum it was decided that Sint, Grimnir and Xechies could be "revived". The penalty for death was suffering one permanent effect from the madness table. The following outcomes were determined:

Sint - Schizophrenia
Xechies - Homocidal 
Grimnir - Kleptomania (Grimnir also suffers the permanent effect of Hallucinations from a previous misadventure).]

Waking in the chamber of the seemingly-dead magus, Sint, Xechies and Grimnir awoke. They remembered the battle and mourned the loss of their friend Heron. Xechies pondered the philosophy of death:

"It really is a beautiful thing isn't it? The fact that I can offer this gift to people is surely ordained from the gods. When I return to Xamboola I feel like I should help someone on their journey"

He smiled at the thought.

Stealthily, the delvers returned to the previous corridor. Ensuring no spore-man remained, they reclaimed Heron's body before returning to town. Back in Xamboola the remaining party spent the night at Saturn's luck. Grimnir had the unshakeable desire to steal from the coffers while everyone slept and did so, pleased with his surreptitious endeavours. He also pocketed a handful of Sint's arrows. 

Xechies climbed out a window, and entered an alleyway. Hiding, he waited until someone entered. An older women hobbled home. Feelings of compassion overtook Xechies - he must help this lady towards the next step in her destiny. As she passed his hiding spot he grabbed her, putting his hand over her mouth to stop any screams. Xechies smiled at the delight she must be feeling - chosen to ascend to the next plane of existence - all at his hand!

The knife sheared her throat easily. Blood streamed down her front, and over Xechies' hands. He peered into her eyes as the spark of life faded. He saw gratitude in her eyes and knew he had done a good thing.

"You're so very welcome" he crooned. Laying her gently to the ground. He licked the blade in ecstasy. Xechies wandered into the wilderness, spending the remainder of the night listening to the whispering approval of the gods...

Adventure Rewards

460xp for defeating cloaker 
600xp for defeating 2x Slithering Slimes
749xp for defeating 7x Snake-men
86xp for defeating 2x Cobras
660xp for defeating 4x Spore-men
1600xp for treasure
1800xp for attendance and role-playing

1191xp each

Previous Post - Session #8 Corridors Of Unnerving

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