Monday, July 16, 2018

The Wolf and the Lion


A nearby fire crackles, the only disturbance of an otherwise quiet night.  Though it has been several days since the encounter with Carcerus and Zeb's ultimate retribution of Korvich, Zeb's sleep has been elusive, fitful when managed, and many late nights have been spent sitting, starting at the flame.

This night, arranged before Zeb are the grim trophies of the last few weeks.  Crude tokens, symbols of Malar carved from bone worn by the cultists Ignish and Tesk, made impure by Korvich's corruption of the faith.

Korvich's own fetish, this one decorated with the priest's trophies of notable kills, an assortment of teeth and talons.  Within the tangled mess is a beaten piece of metal, onto which is engraved the Claw of Malar, almost an afterthought to the other trophies.  Korvich clearly had a warped sense of priorities.

Next to the fetish is a shriveled, hard piece of dried flesh, which still reeks of the smoke and fire used to cure the meat.  Now unrecognizable, it nevertheless makes Zeb grin when he sees it--the tongue of Korvich, cut out by Zeb's own hand in retribution for the priest's foolish pride and false vorishnaad.

There is one last trophy, of a sort.  The carved, wooden symbol of Nobanion, the self-proclaimed "King of Beasts".  It's not really a trophy--Zeb didn't kill Maglarosh, after all, nor did he necessarily desire the man's death--but it has caused Zeb consternation since he first set his eyes upon it, and he didn't know what else to do with it.

The dislike between the two cults is long-established, distilled--at its simplest--to a difference in perspective, and perhaps in execution.  Both faiths venerate the beast, but it's Nobanion's naive notions of community, compassion, and dignity that highlight his weakness.  When missionaries of Nobanion brave the wastes in search of converts among the beast cults, they are confronted by the harsh realities of that cold, barren land, and of the singular mindset--survival at all costs--that it takes to avoid becoming prey.


A branch snaps in the woods behind Zeb, and in one, fluid motion, Zeb rolls to the side while drawing one of his knives, crouched and ready to pounce.  Zeb's helm and mantle--the skull of Carcerus--casts a frightful shadow, playing tricks with the firelight.  A pale, ghostly face, clearly terrified, confronts Zeb--Selben.  The young man stutters apologetically, stepping out of the shadow.  "S-s-sorry, Zeb.  I couldn't sleep, and saw the fire.  I f-figured it was yours.  Y-y-you...for a moment, you looked more like a wolf than a man.  Sorry to interrupt you."

Zeb stands, sheathing the knife, then returns to his place by the fire, gesturing for Selben to join him.  They had spent the last few days cloistered together in Ethelenda's workroom beneath the Tower of Carrock, and Zeb found that Selben's company--as well as the young man's eagerness to relearn his lost arcane talents--was comforting.

"What's that?" asks Selben, bending over to pick up the talisman to Nobanion.  Zeb loops the other trophies back onto his belt, then steps forward, taking the crude wooden symbol from Selben.  "This?" Zeb says, holding the token in his palm.  "Nothing.  Nothing important, in any case."  Zeb tosses it into the nearby fire, pauses for a moment to watch it ignite, then turns to look at Selben, seemingly satisfied.

"This, however," Zeb says, withdrawing something from one of his numerous pouches, "is for you.  I meant to give it to you earlier."  Zeb gestures for Selben to step forward, and Zeb hangs a leather thong around the young man's neck.  From it dangles an hourglass-shaped piece of bone, harvested from the tail of Carcerus' slain form.  Both men take seats near the fire.  "What's it for?" Selben asks.

"Protection, Selben," replies Zeb quietly.  Silence lingers for several heartbeats, only disturbed by the pop of the fire.  "For protection," he mutters again, more to himself than anyone else.  Selben seems satisfied by that, holding the bone between his thumb and forefinger, and the remainder of the night passes with the two men sitting together in silence.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Malaran aftermath

This is not to imply that a dual-class human forgets everything he knew before; he still has, at his fingertips, all the knowledge, abilities, and proficiencies of his old class. But if he uses any of his previous class's abilities during an encounter, he earns no experience for that encounter and only half experience for the adventure.
(From the 2e PH, p. 45.)

That was really an incredible culmination of this adventure arc. I'd been waiting for an encounter between these parties for some time, unsure of how or when it would manifest, and hoping that Zeb and Audric didn't elect to leave Carrock before it transpired. Depending on the circumstances, they may or may not have been pursued.


Again, I advise the players to revisit Kezia's reading, in order to review it with updated context based on advances in the campaign. At the very least, I think there's musing, if not enlightenment, to be found within.

As for the Malarans, there was certainly a divide within the sect that sought its aclupar in Zeb. Korvich and Carcerus each believed themselves superior to the other; had they reached a point of severance as the power of the cult dwindled, it would likely have come down to whether the magic of Korvich could subdue the "Black Devil" before he and his wolves slaughtered the priest. Carcerus was undoubtedly the more powerful enemy; as he gained sway over the wolves and cultists fell both in Shadfeld and at West Tower, so did control over the alliance escape the Malarans' clutches. Carcerus bore no fealty toward any god; his grand design was to establish dominance over everything he could.


There still are many details to share about these events, but it's probably best to let them emerge gradually, through comments on the blog or as part of future sessions. The PCs did well in securing their victory; Zeb and Audric made sound decisions and used the available resources to great advantage. If the final encounter seemed easy, that's to their credit. The situation could easily have been reversed had the circumstances differed. As I'm particularly fond of saying, success or failure in AD&D is often determined before any dice are rolled.

XP

As this isn't a traditional dungeon-crawl campaign, neither has it made sense to award XP based strictly on treasure found and monsters defeated. While I still want to keep things relatively simple, I'm weighting more heavily the details of the party's accomplishments, in addition to accounting for the dual-class ruling quoted at the top of this post. The critical points to consider are that Zeb should receive no experience for the final encounter, and only half experience for the past two "adventures" (sessions), where he called upon his priestly powers for assistance.
  • For "story awards," this means that Zeb only receives 3,000 XP, compared to 4,000 XP for Audric.
  • An additional 1,500 XP goes to Audric for miscellaneous recovery of items. Zeb only receives half this share (750 XP).
  • A final 1,000 XP is given to Audric for the Malarans and their spoils. Regrettably, this constitutes an "encounter," so Zeb doesn't share in the award at all. (Also keep in mind that there were five participants on the side of the PCs, and total experience has been divided accordingly.)
The values above are rounded for simplicity. Adding them up, and incorporating Zeb's 10% bonus, the total awards are:
  • Audric - 6,500
  • Zeb - 4,125
The penalty for prematurely employing dual-class powers is very real, and I thought it unfair to not enforce it. Audric has his own XP hurdles in terms of the steep advancement table drawn up for Crusader; nevertheless, this allotment crests him over the threshold for 5th level, which requires five dedicated days of training before he can raise his abilities. Updated party totals:
  • Audric - 18,500
  • Zeb - 3,000/14,325
Recovered Items

I'm assuming the passage of time sufficient for both characters to train (five days). During this period, castings of detect magic and read magic can be completed (note that these castings are still being made at Audric's and Zeb's "old" levels):
  • The hook-bladed axe wielded by Carcerus emits a faint magical aura. This weapon deals damage as a bastard sword and can be used one- or two-handed.
  • The wooden spoon carried by Maglarosh (but not the bowl) emits a faint magical aura. When placed inside the bowl, a pasty and unappetizing (but ultimately edible) gruel forms within.
  • The ruby charm worn by Maglarosh upon a silver chain emits a moderate aura of abjuration magic.
  • The necklace recovered from the troll's nest at Oldkeep is valuable, but non-magical. It may have once belonged to a noble or some person of importance. Erathmar appraises this piece at 500 gold pieces.
  • The oakwood medallion bearing the symbol of Nobanion is non-magical.
  • None of the other plundered wares present as magical.
  • Same as previously, Audric's pewter ring radiates an overwhelming magical aura. Its school cannot be discerned.
The spellbook found in the basement of the tower in Carrock contains the following spells:
  • 1st level
    • Cantrip
    • Detect magic
    • Enlarge
    • Identify
    • Light
    • Mount
    • Read magic
    • Spider climb
    • Spook
  • 2nd level
    • Bind
    • Deeppockets
    • Detect invisibility
    • Locate object
    • Melf’s acid arrow
    • Whispering wind
  • 3rd level
    • Delude
    • Dispel magic
    • Secret page
    • Protection from normal missiles
Happenings in Carrock

The party's victorious return brings revelry and accolades. In the ensuing days, Larimo the gnome begins to recover from his injuries, Rould is appointed head-huntsman following the loss of Arkhen, and Tussugar Grim is named Carrock's official captain-at-arms, with all martial training and the entire defense of the village under his charge. Moreover, the dwarf agrees to make his permanent residence within the tower, taking ownership of the structure once commissioned by his longtime friend, Reginald the Stoutheart.


For Zeb's part, the requested pauldron and helm are fabricated by village craftsmen at no cost. Neither is coin accepted from Zeb or Audric for meals, ale, or accommodations for the remainder of their stay. They are truly looked upon as heroes.


When approached about the upcoming journey, Bonie is taken aback, and Larimo even more so, knowing little of the PCs at all. Like Tussugar, the gnome is slow to heal naturally, a generation (in gnome years) more aged than the others. Following her initial surprise, Bonie expresses a need to return to West Tower with news that the valley is once again safe for travel. She pledges to consider the offer, though much will depend on the health of Larimo.

Rould is grateful for the desire of his accompaniment but respectfully declines, hopeful that he might aid Tussugar in fortifying their new home. There is much work ahead in Carrock to prepare for the coming winter. Erathmar, however, is ready cut his losses and agrees to the proposal instantly, along with the rest of his company.

Selben's progress in magery is slow, but not fruitless. By Zeb's estimation, a month of additional study is required for Selben to learn read magic sufficiently to begin scribing a new spellbook from the existing tomes. Neither are the necessary materials available in Carrock; the resources of a larger settlement will be needed. (Such is the danger of losing one's spellbook.)

Moving Forward

I think that's all I have for Zeb and Audric right now. Feel free to post comments to advance things forward. If you choose to pass additional time in Carrock, let me know how much, and for what purpose. If you'd like to open dialogues with specific NPCs, you're free to do that as well. The time of year is early fall, several days before the autumn equinox.

Session #11, Zeb's Notes

7/3/2018, Session #11


We decide again to stay at Erathmar’s camp in order to minimize the risks of Selben encountering, by chance or design, Aibreann—the young man’s inability to control himself, whatever the reason, is a liability.  Fortunately, the men and women of Erathmar’s camp have taken to Selben, and seem willing to assist in sharing our watches.  The air is chill, result of yesterday’s rain, which suits our mood—still at a crux, we are unsure exactly how to proceed or how to confront our various obstacles and foes.

The night passes uneventfully, dawn breaks.  We make our usual rounds of Carrock, hoping to investigate the tower as well as the inn, and to see if any news comes in from nearby farms that may not have heeded our call.  We see a small gathering of people at the north edge of the village beyond the inn.  Bonie is among those gathered, as well as a few villagers.  She is calming a wet, muddy pony.  Bonie sees us, apparently recognizing us, and appears happy.  It’s apparently returned to her after bolting during the wolf attack.  It doesn’t appear injured—lucky indeed!

The pony, however, seems unwilling to be coaxed into Carrock.  It plants its feet, stubborn, and refuses to be led.  When Bonie tries again, it actually bucks a little and backs up a few steps.  Bonie tells us that the behavior is uncharacteristic of Elseba, her mount, and after a while it even turns to leave, almost as if trying to lead her somewhere.  Audric gives voice to that suspicion, and we make to follow.  Before we can, Rould joins the group, reporting that there was no ill news the last night, and we recruit him to accompany us to see if the pony is indeed trying to tell us something.

Elseba takes us on walk of a fair distance, almost a mile from Carrock, north into the woods.  It seems to know where it’s going, and suddenly we recognize that the sounds of the forest have stilled, as if something is amiss.  At the edge of our sight, we see a heap upon the ground.  Rould and I split from the group to investigate—there are no immediate signs of danger, but it does appear as if it’s a body, bloodied and covered in coarse gray hair.  

We recognize it as Maglarosh, and he appears dead, having suffered many wounds from claws and bites.  His eyes are closed, strangely peaceful amid his various wounds.  Maglarosh is dead, having been ravaged by wolves.  Rould confirms this, spotting many tracks, both of wolves and hoof.

Bonie is not averse to Elseba carrying the druid back to Carrock.  In examining his wounds, we see many tattoos upon his skin—scenes from nature and glyphs that seem to point to him being a follower of Silvanus.  In Maglarosh’s hand is a medallion made of crudely carved oak wood, freshly hewn, and upon it is etched the silhouette of a maned lion’s head.  I recognize it as the symbol of Nobanion, an exarch of Silvanus, also known as Lord Firemane, a god of good beasts—a deity strictly opposed to Malar.  I take the medallion, unsure what to make of it for the moment.  Audric also notices a second medallion, worn by Maglarosh, a large ruby upon a tarnished silver chain.  Audric takes it—as Maglarosh is not the sort to wear it for cosmetic reasons, it may serve some greater purpose.

With the ground being damp from the rain, the tracks are clear.  He identifies the hoof prints as Elseba’s, but also confirms that there were multiple wolves, likely a sizable pack that seems to have dispersed in several directions, mostly north, deeper into the forest.  Maglarosh had several small items on his person: a small wooden bowl and spoon, a waterskin, as well as several pouches of nuts & herbs.  I take these, seeing no reason that they should go to waste.

With Rould’s assistance, we find our way back to Carrock, and are met by Tussugar and Drachus as we transport our grim burden.  Drachus is stricken by the loss, having regarded Maglarosh as a mentor of some sorts, and for Tussugar’s part, he seems to examine the situation more logically—Drachus makes arrangements for the body, and I suggest that we convene at the inn to discuss how our situation may have changed.

Once around a table, I share my general confusion and lack of direction regarding the matter—the threat of Korvich, Carcerus and the wolves; the “goddess of the hunt”; the loss of Maglarosh.  Is our continued presence in Carrock helpful in deterring a direct attack, or do the attacks continue precisely because we are still there?  Do we return to Mirabar, as discussed the other night?  Tussugar, always one to speak plainly, replies “Perhaps it’s time to stand and hunt your enemy.”

Much discussion follows, both privately with Audric and with those gathered.  As for Audric, it seems that three paths are apparent—continue with preparations to leave Carrock, as we had discussed the previous night; stay in Carrock, executing our continued defense of the town to the best of our ability, as we are the best equipped to do so; or to indeed take our fight to the enemy, and test the strength of our arms against Korvich & Carcerus’ conviction to hunt me.  At the end, we decide turn the tables on our hunters, on those who would prey upon the villagers of Carrock, and to take the fight to them.

Tussugar looks at us all grimly, asking if we are indeed committed to this course of action, sparing a glance to Audric.  We all speak assent, at which point Tussugar pulls out the ring, slams it on the table, announcing that if we are to go, “let’s go prepared.”  He leaves the ring, turning to walk away.  Audric quietly takes it, secreting it away.

Final preparations are made.  I let Selben know that he’s not to enter Carrock except under the supervision of Erathmar, but otherwise Zeb is ready to go.  Audric spares some time to meditate in the tower, hopefully coming to terms with Mystra over the ring.  Tussugar, Rould and Bonie meet us north of the town; based on indications from the hunters, it would seem that a northwesterly direction seems the most reasonable place for a small force to take refuge in the wood, as the northeastern forest is more heavily scouted.  It’s a question we had not thought to ask before and having thought of it may have changed the course of the last couple days.

Rould leads, and I split the difference between the hunter and the rest of the group.  Tussugar is in full armor, and Bonie is arrayed as a warrior.  We travel without speaking, and after some time we encounter wolf tracks, though it’s unclear if they were headed to or from Carrock; perhaps neither.  We note their presence, but continue on to the northwest, hoping for more recent or more meaningful discoveries.

After another hour or so, we discover a stream that leads from northeast to southwest.  We take some time to examine the stream bed in both directions, hopeful that if there were scouts or foes nearby, that they would also have to cross and might leave some sign.  We hear something in the brush.  Rould, Bonie and Audric draw their bows and cover me as I approach to investigate.  I hear the rustling again, and then immediately hear footsteps receding.  I rush to the top of the nearby ridge on the other side of the river, and catch a quick glimpse of a bipedal creature disappear into the woods.  I’m sure I can’t catch the figure, so I wave the others across.  We investigate, and quickly ascertain boot prints—perhaps a sentry?

Still fortunate for the recent rain, we follow the tracks for some time, perhaps another hour, into a dense copse of trees.  There are many shadows, and we see the figure of a lithe female ahead.  The shadows seem to cling unnaturally, stifling the afternoon sun, which seems to be struggling to win against the dark.  Tussugar and I march forward, with Rould, Bonie and Audric moving to flank the group.

The woman wears a plain, dark dress or shawl.  Her hair is dark, almost black, and as we draw near she speaks, her voice tantalizing.  “Welcome, I’ve been waiting for you.”  Her description matches the “goddess of the hunt.”  I step forward, and announce that she has my attention.
Some curse, however, seems to affect me, and for a moment everything slows, becomes sluggish.  My mind, however, is unaffected.  I smile, mutter “Tricks…” and summon forth my own power to counter the woman’s spell, breaking her enchantment.  “I’m here to dispel your delusion.  You are no god, and you are certainly not the Beastlord.”

Audric is assaulted by magic as well, and fires his bow at whoever cast it, arrow sailing into the wood.  She laughs… “No, I am not the Beastlord.  But I am a beast, and you are my prey.”  Her flesh begins to spasm, and she rushes forward, beginning to change.  The woman’s hands and feet turn into claws, her mouth opens in a great maw of fangs, and from behind her pulls a hook-bladed axe, turning into the bestial form of Carcerus!  Tussugar steps forward to thwart the charge, blocking Carcerus’ path, but his axe misses, shaving a patch of hair from the beast.

Meanwhile, Rould spots more foes—not an unexpected ambush—and fires into the forest, drawing blood from his enemy.  It appears to be a cultist, swinging a flail wildly at Rould, devastating the archer.  Bonie fires and misses her target, but Audric connects on yet another foe.  We are beset by enemies.  Audric’s target is revealed as Korvich who, despite his wound from Audric’s arrow, commands me to bow as he did before.  This time, I am unable to resist the compulsion, but I am not without my own form of revenge—a command of my own takes hold of Carcerus, forcing the creature to its knees before Tussugar.  Tussugar raises his axe high and brings it down heavily onto Carcurus’ back, tearing a large gash into the foe.

The dwarf rips it from Carcerus and brings his axe down again, chopping into the creature again who squeals in pain, blood flowing everywhere.  Carcerus claws to his feet, swinging awkwardly at Tussugar and missing, but not before three wolves attack Tussugar from the flanks. Concentrating on Korvich, I bring the magic bestowed upon me by Malar to bear again, using the cult leader’s own tactics against him.  He is compelled to stillness, forced to watch helplessly as events unfold around him.  I snarl, eager to put an end to Korvich’s false vorishnaad and his reckless aclupar.

Tussugar’s wounds are beginning to add up, and both Bonie and Rould are both bitten by wolves as well.  Tussugar misses Carcerus, Bonie misses her own foe, but Rould manages to fell the cultist Tesk, skewering him on his scimitar.  Our foes remain numerous, and Tussugar nearly buried beneath a wall of attacking fur, teeth and claws.

Desperate, I throw one of the magical beads at Carcerus, striking the beast.  There is an explosion of magical force that expels from the point of impact; Carcerus is torn asunder by the magical force of the bead, her wolves are flung from the melee, Tussugar is thrown back from the wave of force—injured, but alive.  The dwarf steps forward, standing over the dead form of Carcerus, and with a single sweep of his axe, severs the beast’s head.


With Carcerus slain, the wolves disperse and the cultists either scatter or lay dead before our strength of arms.  The melee wanes, and I stalk towards Korvich, still paralyzed by the power granted me by Malar.  “You are not the only priest of the Beastlord that has asked for vorishnaad, Korvich.  I have petitioned for my own, and it has been granted.  Your aclupar is over.”  With that, I reach into his mouth, cut out his tongue, and push him to the ground so that he drowns in his own blood; with his death, my own aclupar is fulfilled.  I tear Korvich’s symbol of Malar from his neck and add it to my belt.  For a few moments, all is silent...but within, my soul howls with triumph.