Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pahvelorn Session 38 - Two Citadels of Death

"I have no outward ambitions, look around my kingdom, I could destroy the lands to the East. That vulture who calls himself the Griffon Lord, the misguided priest king, or the foolish merchants of Gazemoral, all would fall before my armies, and I will not bind myself to peace with them.  You must trust I am sated with the lands I hold, find me the artifact and then we can talk of your price." - Efulziton the Unseen, The Necromancer of Trollmun

Emerging into the blue arctic light Beni Profane, Lama Karna, Pron the Giant Child, and Eariyara the Sorceress beam with relief and scuttle down the wind warped mountain towards the ancient petrified logging town where they've made their camp deep in the Cobramurk mountains.  Below them broods an ancient temple to the necromancer queen Orcus, where the petrified screams of untold sacrificial victims hang in the air. The ominous nature of the tomb and the obvious barely constrained power of the place convinced the party that further blind exploration was inadvisable, and the adventurers resolved to head to Trollmun, the citadel of the Necromancer Efulziton the Unseen and his sorcerous court.

Rather than trek along the road back to Zorptah and then South to Trollmun, the adventurers elect to cut quickly across the mossy peaks of the Corbamurk, hopefully reaching Trollmun within a day.  Setting out in the morning, the valleys and passes between the tower of Orcus and Trollmun are shrouded in fog.  It's a natural fog, and other than slowing the adventurer's travel it causes no difficulties.  The fog does prevent the party from reaching Trollmun by dusk, and rather then push on through the wilderness the band camps amongst ancient ruins with a banked fire, confident that they can reach the Necromantic capital before noon the next day.

Towards dawn, while Karna and his followers take watch, he hears a whimpering, like a dog in pain from just beyond the light.  Upon waking Eariyara, the sorceress quickly orders her new apprentice to cast light and the entire ruin is illuminated, revealing a pair of giant war dogs, both wounded, whimpering outside the fire light.  The dogs do not seem hostile, only wary, and startled by the sudden magical light.  Karna flings them a ration of food, and the lead dog tears hungrily into it, while the more wounded of the two remains cautious.  Karna is unable to find divine favor for speaking to the beast, his deity perhaps unwilling to intercede with creatures of the Necromancer.  Pron sneaks behind the dogs and discovers that they trail a leash, still attached to the much battered corpse of a man in the arms of Trollmun, including it's symbol - a silvered skeletal hand.  Cutting free the corpse Pron pickets the dogs, and the party returns to their rest.

The dogs again interrupt the party's sleep, howling with fright, and Beni dashes off amongst the trees to scout (and perhaps to hide from any dread fate).  The dogs' warning proves beneficial, as a pack of five huge crab-like monsters stalks through the woods with jerky, unreal movements. Each of the beasts has a featureless shelled body about the size of a lion, but the monsters' five legs stretch ten feet in every direction, and end with a razor edged chitin blades.  Without eyes, the crab things still seem to sense the party's camp and turn towards it.  Beni rushes back and the adventurers ready their defenses, cutting free the howling hounds, which flee off into the dawn light.

Three crab creatures charge into the clearing and are met by a huge ball of orange red fire, flowing from Eariyara's fingertips.  The lead beast takes the brunt of the fires and crumbles into a twitching black ball, with its innards sizzling and steaming inside its shell.  The other two extra-worldly crabs draw themselves short and only catch the edge of the blast, but are still singed, their shells mottled and melting with opalescent patches. Two other crab beasts rush from the side of the campsite, trying to flank the defenders, and are met by an arrow from Beni, which penetrates a thick shell, but fails to poison the creature.  Lau Taxan calls forth a pair of Dire Rats, the fanged, filthy furred things bursting forth, propelled by dark magic from the depth of a ruinous cistern.  The hissing hell beasts pause for only a second before attacking the nearest crab.  Karna also summons divine aid, and his god answers his call for chastising snakes by transforming a huge fallen tree trunk into a 20' long serpent, which lumbers forward to attack.

The battle rages and the crabs are soon crushed, hacked, constricted, electrocuted and gnawed to pieces.  The only injury amongst the defenders is caused when one of the crabs spits a gout of orange acidic slime at Eariyara, burning the young witch's arm and and destroying several scrolls. After the battle, Eariyara's henchman, Uri the Guthook (a one handed manic) finds the body of a Trollmun solider, still attached to one of the crab's spiked limbs.  As the strange monsters' flesh melts into an orange goo, Uri loots the dead solider's pack and finds 450 neatly rolled gold coins. Hacking off the crab creature's heavy back plates, each likely to form an excellent shield with proper working, and some of the razor sharp limbs, the party quickly heads South again, and soon finds themselves overlooking Trollmun.

The city is an astonishing sight, an enormous tower of black, glassy cubes, piled and crushed together in strange geometries.  Around the towering central spire, itself the city, many giant quarries yawn, crossed by carved stone bridges and rickety scaffolds, several now fallen or smoldering - destroyed by war.  Conventional stone buildings, uniform and minimally decorated, crouch around and in the cracks of the gleaming black mountain of a city, appearing tiny, like a moss or lichen on the titanic edifice.  Before the gates of Trollmun waits the demon army, legions of men and armored extra-dimensional creatures stand guard, as work crews raise strange towers, festooned with cables.  Karna recognizes the towers, and the siege, from his prophetic dreams - and can tell the fall of Trollmun will be soon, to be followed by the destruction of all the other city states.

Trollmun is so huge that despite the demon army's size, it has not be able to invest the citadel completely, and bridges remain relatively unscarred, above quarries still smoking and ringing with industry.  With little time to waste, the party circumvents the besieging army and comes to one of Efulziton the Unseen's rear gates.  The gate is guarded by a squad of tall, straight-backed soldiers, oddly flat in their affect, with vacant eyes behind their chain-mail veils.  These dead men agree to admit the adventurers all the same, and to take them to a member of the necromancer aristocracy - one Torva of the 1st circle.   The city beyond the gates is clean, precise and ordered, as if untouched by war.  It is also almost devoid of life, without birds or civilians, and despite the obvious technological and magical prowess of its inhabitants displayed in its paved streets, well formed buildings and bubbling fountains, the air itself feels oppressive and doomed.

Torva steps free from a gauzy palanquin, a tall handsome woman with stoic features and a look of calculating intelligence.  She recognizes the party's map and believes their story, but ignores most of Beni's argot ridden bluster, and focuses on Eariyara, asking what circle she child maleficar stands in.  The young sorceress - much grown in her arcane power, though without any formal study beyond the mad rantings of her slaughtered master Lorvitour the Bleak Eyed, and the short lived, half-hearted tutoring of two hedge mages that proceeded her as the party's cunning men, proudly declares herself of "the grey circle".  Torva takes this in stride, and does not question the sorceresses' knowledge or circle.  Soon the party is led to meet with Efulziton the Unseen by a rag shrouded undead thing that limps and shuffles along random seeming paths, until the group stands before a great pair of double doors leading into the black heart of the spire.

The chamber beyond is ornate, with fresh breezes blowing from cunning vents, amongst fluttering silks and tapestries of rich brocade.  Lit by both skylights and magical lamps, the hall would be a decedent pleasure, except for the ominous robed figures that stand on plinths along its walls.  Clad in simple black shrouds, these entities reveal themselves, speaking with a single voice, to be Efulziton the Unseen.  Beni makes the party's case, trying to sound unafraid and tough, reminding the ancient power of Trollmun that the adventurers have already aided his fight, enlisting a great dragon to harry the enemy, and telling the other nearby city-states of the seriousness of Trollmun's war.

Efulziton the Unseen is unmoved, bemused and seems friendly enough, but wishes the party to return with the weapon hidden beneath Orcus' tower. he isn't willing to offer much more than cryptic clues, andThe party leaves Efulziton's chamber with two items of advice:

1) That an army sleeps beneath Orcus' tower.

2) That the item the Necromancer needs to control this army is a flute, and the flute is likely source of the whistling noise heard in the graveyard outside the tower.

After a short stay overnight in Trollmun, in an empty inn, the party heads South again into the Cobramurk.

Arriving at the tower without incident, Beni leads the band into the graveyard to check on the mysterious whistle.  Probing a cleft in the snow, the adventurers discover an ancient metal grate over a masonry tunnel and held only by age powdered cement.  Pron quickly pries loose the grate and the party descends once more into the evil temple beneath Orcus's tower.  Leaving their ropes dangling the adventurers find themselves in interchange of familiar stone corridors, and follow the whistling noise North.  At the end of the hall is a metal barred wall, inset with a barred door, and with a shrine clearly visible beyond.  While the shrine is intriguing, obviously the same shrine depicted in a painting found in Orcus' tower, more interesting still is the chained, tattoo covered piper, furiously playing a strange flute, with eyes closed and a look of slack concentration.

The party tries to hail the man, but gets no response, and Beni proposes stealing in to search for the secret door depicted in the painting.  To further test the piper's reactions, the rat catcher tugs on of the chains gently, and suddenly the flute clatters to the ground.  In a second, the man's eyes open, and he gasps once before his body melts into dust, leaving only a skeleton standing in the center of the chamber, surrounded by lashing chains.  Beni dashes in snatching the flute from the floor, but before he can retreat, the animated shackles attack Pron.  The armored brute manages to fend off one of the steel whips but is buffeted by the other two, with one wrapping his neck in a strangling grasp.  Eariyara blasts the chains with a torrent of extra-planar purple acid, summoned into existence, while the rest of the party smashes at the chains.  Beni sweeps the contents of the altar, including a black blade, and several filth encrusted chalices, into his stachel.  The chains are soon destroyed, but the party wishes only to flee - as the complex comes alive with scraping and clattering noises.

Lau Taxan summons the spirit of his rat god and dashes up the sides of the well, while Beni scales the side almost as fast, followed soon by Eariyara, her apprentice and finally the armored fighters and cleric.  As they lurch into the snow shrouded graveyard a skeletal hand scrabbles up from the ground, as all around the earth heaves and the dead rise.

That's where we ended - yes that's the climax of a re-skinned death frost doom.  I will say I enjoyed the slow build of the adventure, though I figured out what it was when we found the tooth door.  I haven't read the original, but read a play report once and remembered the tooth door and the snowy graveyard - also the undead army, but don't see how that could be avoided without seriously breaking character. NOTE: If you reskin death frost doom don't make it in a snowy graveyard. A desert Necropolis would work greatAlso redo the tooth door - as these are early indicators of the adventure to people only nominally versed in it.  It's a great adventure though, and Brendan certainly reskinned it a fair bit (I think?).  That the Pahvelorn party is very mission focused right now - end the demon invasion and less intent on collecting money undoubtedly made the adventure a bit less dangerous - a first level party could neither check for curses, or ignore valuable cursed items.  Still the play report above does not over reach when it says that the creepy necropolis actually disconcerted the players.  It really did - the module has some absolutely disturbing touches.  For example - I now wonder if Efulziton the Unseen is the dread queen Orcus, as both necromancers appear to use a skeleton hand as their symbol...still the necromancer seems to be a better more reasonable ruler than either the Griffon Lord or the Priest King.


  1. On the subject of re-skinning the adventure and the actually disconcerting creepiness of the necropolis: for me it was the presence of unmodified details from Death Frost Doom that made the game so good -- things like the tooth door and the whistling sound in the snowy graveyard. At the same time, there were enough differences that I always mistrusted myself, even doing things against my better judgement. (Throwing a coin in the cursed wish fountain for example.) It was like Chuang-Tzu's butterfly dream, but nightmarish and made out of skulls. Or put differently, my metagame knowledge contributed mightily to my feelings of claustrophobia and my sense of impending doom. I think it would have been less affecting if I hadn't known the adventure.

    It gives me a lot to think about re. using player knowledge in games. Not so much re-skinning as switching the organs around.

    But I wonder if there's something about the essential malice of Death Frost Doom, and maybe LofTP offerings in general, that makes them function in this kind of way.

    1. I think I am lucky in that my player knowledge consisted of "tooth door", "frozen graveyard" and "it's full of dead people - they all get up at once".