Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Iron Principalities: Session 5

Dramatis Personae:

Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 2
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 2 (NPC'd for this session)
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 2
Mivahl Shimov, Human Fighter 2
Mara, Human Cleric 2
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 2
Lasair Lightfoot, Wood Elf Rogue 2
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 2

Yes, we've added an eighth player to the group, as Zerin's player's girlfriend decided to play.  This is now the largest campaign group I've run for in a decade, but it's going to be (I hope) easier to run D&D for eight players than it was to try and run Call of Cthulhu for eight players.

Setting out from Craghold to retrace their path into the Maw, the party stopped off at Anoroc's cabin, with Kholark announcing his conversion to Bormoism.  The party purchased two more kegs of Anoroc's fiery moonshine, one for Cor's new inn and one as a gift for Borgai, Great Khan of the Hobgoblins.

Moving on, as they were about to make camp for the night, they heard the trumpeting of a furious elephant and a woman scream for help.  Racing to the scene, they found an overturned wagon being systematically crushed by an enraged bull elephant, his hide peppered with crossbow bolts; surrounding the scene were the crushed and mangled bodies of three men.  Underneath the wagon, they could see a woman crouching in terror.

Assessing the situation, Sylvus approached the elephant, hands high and wide, speaking softly, trying to draw the pachyderm's attention and calm it; internally, he was ruing not preparing "Speak with Animals" that morning.  He managed to sooth the great beast, casting a healing spell to ease the pain as he removed the bolts.

While he was doing this, Kholark, Mivahl and Zerin flipped the wagon over, recognizing that it was now mostly scrap wood.  The woman beneath, however, was unharmed, identifying herself as Mara, a seeker of knowledge.  Seeing that her initial plans were scrapped with the wagon and her hired guides, one of whom had thought it smart to try and shoot the elephant for its tusks, she agreed to join the party.

Their first day of travel through the Maw was uneventful, until the party was set upon by a trio of giant vultures towards nightfall, though the party made short work of these.

Their second day proved more eventful, as a Purple Worm surfaced beneath them - A few members
of the party felt a rumbling beneath the ground and alerted the rest, allowing them to dive for higher/more solid ground as the Worm erupted, its mouth slamming into the rear of the wagon.  Zerin slipped and fell back into the wagon precisely as the Worm was lifting it sixty feet in the air.  Managing to dodge falling into the Worm's mouth, he pulled his dagger from its sheath and dug it into the worm's chitin, using that to slow his fall as he slid down the worm's back.

Having destroyed the wagon and eaten one of the oxen that had been tethered to it (the other exploded when the harness snapped and it plunged 60 feet to its death), the Worm departed.

Moving carefully, Lasair sifted through the wreckage of the wagon, managing to salvage enough rations to last the group for six days and the keg for Borgai Khan; Cor was holding on to his keg in his Handy Haversack.

Fortunately, the party was soon met by Erdo the Hobgoblin and eight other hobgoblins, all mounted.  Surveying the situation, Erdo commented that the great worms rarely venture out of the deeper desert, but that rarely is not never.  The party are encouraged to climb onto the backs of the worgs, as their camp is nearby.

Arriving in camp, the party is treated to dinner - scorpion-meat chili, a slice of hard, black bread and a mug of bitter ale, and afterwards, Vekra, one of the female hobgoblins of the group, leans towards Mivahl:

"I like a man who can eat," she grunts appreciatively, "If the night is cold for you, my bedroll is easy to find."

The party also, over dinner, ran afoul of Kargan, Erdo's second in command.  Citing the well-known deceitfulness of the "soft races," Kargan accuses the party of being assassins sent to kill the Great Khan, and calls for their immediate execution.  Erdo silences Kargan, asking if he wants to challenge Erdo for command.  Kargan demurs, losing significant face in the process.  Erdo explains to Zerin that part of Kargan's duties include killing him and taking his position if he ever becomes demonstrably weak.

After two days' uneventful riding (with Vekra giving Mivahl an almost constant dagger-look for turning down her advances), the party arrives at Molekh, capital city of the hobgoblins, entering through the "Gate of Kur, the Head-Taker," a famous ancestor of Erdo's.  Amidst staring guards and civilians, the party are led to a large tenement-style building, where they will be quartered for the night, with slaves assigned to cook and tend to their needs.  Erdo explains that while the party has been granted permission to stand before the Khan, they still need to earn the privilege of doing so, and for that, in the morning they are to fight a monster in the Arena of Molekh.

Before Erdo leaves, Zerin asks about any family crests the "House of Kur" might have, and is told it's three narrow triangles in a row.

Zerin sends a slave out for red fabric and green ink, intent on honoring the House of Kur, and Erdo specifically, for sponsoring their presence in Molekh.  He crafts a set of surcoats bearing a modified version of the House of Kur's crest, meant to show the party's subservience to the House of Kur.

In the morning, the party is brought to the Arena - a 100-foot by 50-foot area, sunken 20 feet into the ground, surrounded by stadium seating.  At one end, a massive hobgoblin sits in a private box under silken tents, surrounded by wives and guardsmen.  The stands are starting to fill with spectators, and the front row all the way around is filled with hobgoblin archers, ready to respond should anything escape from the Arena, or any competitors try anything "funny."

Seated within a waiting area for contestants, the party is offered refreshments - water, ale, battle mushrooms - while they wait their turn.  Everyone but Cor and Kholark, curious, takes a battle mushroom (though I think Mara just took one to study later for possible medicinal properties; she can correct me if I'm wrong though).  Finally, the drums begin to pound and the gate separating them from the sands of the Arena rises.

The party steps out, blinking in the sunlight.  The stands are packed to capacity.  A second gate, on the far side of the arena, below the Khan's seat, begins to rise.  From within emerges an enormous, bull-like creature, half again as large as the largest auroch any of the party have ever seen.  Its skin ripples with dense, iron plates, its horns are two huge sweeping arcs of jagged steel.  From its nostrils pour gouts of yellow-green gas.

The party curses in trepidation.  They're about to fight a Gorgon.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Iron Principalities: Session 4

This session saw a little bit of travel, and a whole lot of wheeling, dealing, and drinking.

 Dramatis Personae:

Kholark Sunderstone, Half-Orc Barbarian 2
Dormammu, Half-Elf Warlock 2 (played for this session by guest player Cerenity, as Dormammu's usual player could not make it)
Zerin of Birdsall, Half-Elf Paladin 2
Mivahl Shimov, Human Fighter 2
Cor, Rock Gnome Wizard 2
Lasair Lightfoot, Wood Elf Rogue 2
Sylvus Treeshroud, Wood Elf Druid 2

Setting out from Anoroc's cabin, the party had a half-day's trek through the southern peaks of the Dragonspine Mountains to reach Craghold.  After a brief but ultimately peaceful encounter with a nesting pair of Dragon-Hawks, the party arrived in Craghold - like most of the smaller settlements in the Principalities, Craghold consisted of a labyrinth of buildings clustered tightly around the central castle, and surrounded by a thick defensive wall.

Entering through the single gatehouse, Mivahl was surprised to see, mixed among the regular militia guardsmen, members of the Red Brotherhood - a famed and feared mercenary company, known to turn to piracy and brigandage during times of peace rather than stoop so low as to perform honest labor.  Their presence here as guards was truly startling.

Asking around, they readily found directions to the Whore's Arse tavern, and the party split - Kholark, Dormammu, Zerin and Mivahl went to the Whore's Arse, while Cor, Lasair and Sylvus looked for a place they could rent rooms for the night.

They found the Broken Blade Inn, a place that had recently gained a reputation as having a "bad atmosphere" and thus business was low.  The owner, Tetra, was eager to sell, but not so eager to sell at the prices Cor was offering - five gold to own an entire inn was a bit insulting, even for a woman as desperate to leave as her! She explained that the inn was haunted, and the elves detected a faint, acidic odor emanating from the basement.  Investigating, they found a narrow passageway, barely more than a crack, just wide enough to crawl through, hidden behind a wine butt.  Exploring, they discovered an ancient, brick-built room, encrusted with nitre and cobwebs, apparently abandoned for centuries.  An age-blacked, bronze-bound door on the far side of the room seemed to beckon, and Sylvus opened it, revealing another room beyond.

"We've found a dungeon," Sylvus said.  Wracking his memories, Cor identified the acidic odor - it's the smell of the Abyss.  A demon had been conjured here, possibly recently.  Closing the door and getting out of the basement, Cor sent his hawk familiar to summon the rest of the party.

Meanwhile, at the Whore's Arse... we're switching to a bullet-pointed list because a lot happened here.

  • Dormammu buys a hit of black lotus powder off a cloaked dealer, tucking it between his cheek and gum and letting the low-grade euphoria and hallucinations wash over him.  He gets to chatting up a woman he believes to be Lord Vesper's wife, eventually joining her in a curtained-off alcove.  
  • Zerin, Mivahl and Kholark watch a game of "Sting" in progress in the back corner - a completely nude dwarf is spread over a table with a large, green scorpion (a breed known as "Screamers" because their venom is so potent that it "shuts down your ability to do anything except scream.") scuttling over him.  Bets are placed on where he'll be stung and if he'll call for it to be removed before it decides to sting.  
  • Once the dwarf is stung and rolled off the table, Zerin uses his Lay on Hands ability to relieve the dwarf's pain, and then buys a round of drinks for the four of them - intrigued by what he sees on the blackboard menu, he pays out the necessary gold for each of them to have a shot of "Father Jack's Ultimate Pissup." The bartender retrieves a leaded glass bottle with a pair of tongs and carefully measures out four shots of syrupy purple-red liquid.
  • The Ultimate Pissup doesn't actually taste like anything that the party can tell; this may be due to it killing tastebuds the second it touches the inside of their mouths.  Similar in content to a blend of codeine cough syrup and 190-proof Everclear from our world, Kholark and Mivahl experience tunnel vision and think they hear dead relatives calling to them as they swallow their shots; the dwarf immediately begins projectile vomiting so hard it's coming out his nose, while Zerin loses all bowel control and instantly soils his armor.  
  • Mivahl strips down and goes in for a round of Sting, with Zerin and Kholark betting that he'll get stung on the hand - as happens when Mivahl slaps the scorpion to ensure their victory.  The group is toasted for their ingenuity, but encouraged not to try that kind of thing again.  
  • Feeling pretty good, Kholark stands up and challenges anyone in the bar to a greased wrestling match, finding a challenger in local champion Jagga, a big, shaven-headed bruiser with an eyepatch and a Fu Manchu mustache.  Though Jagga fights dirty (including kicking Kholark in the balls), Kholark not only beats him unconscious and drop-kicks him into a table, but manages to put a dent in the bar itself with Jagga's forehead.  
  • The party soon draws the attention of Borut, the castle bailiff and man they were looking to meet.  Borut is a half-orc, more than a foot taller than Kholark, and dressed in fur and leather.  They quickly befriend him, especially once Mivahl nearly dies competing against him in a "doubles match" of Sting.  Borut declares them "Alright" and encourages them to come by the castle in the morning and he'll introduce them to Lord Vesper if they're looking for work.  
With Dormammu in a narcotic haze and Mivahl half-dead from scorpion venom, the group emerges into the night in time for Cor's hawk to land on Zerin's shoulder.  

At the Broken Blade, Tetra has had enough of Cor's sarcastic comments about her competency and intelligence, and spits on the floor, seizing the pouch of gold coins out of his hand and storming away.  With the remainder of the group arriving and two members out of commission, the group decides that investigating the dungeon under the tavern would be a task best left for another day.

The night passes uneventfully and in the morning, after breakfast and a conversation with a traveling peddler named Oxnard Gorguts (especially regarding his experiments with a substance he calls "dragonpowder," and how it's the reason his hands are bandaged and his eyebrows singed off), the group sets off for the castle.

Lord Vesper is initially unimpressed with the statuette of Gilgamesh von Hohenzollern brought as tribute, but changes his mind when Dormammu and Zerin spin an epic tale of bypassing traps and a terrifying giant spider to retrieve the statuette.  When Zerin proposes an expedition to more accurately map the Maw, and gain military intelligence regarding the hobgoblin encampments therein, Vesper agrees to grant them the use of a wagon and 20 days' iron rations for the expedition, expecting a new map and valuable data in return.  

Realizing that if he wants the Broken Blade to make money for him in his absence he will need a staff, Cor visits another local tavern, the Running Boar, and offers one of the serving girls there money in exchange for her services.  Misunderstanding his offer and believing him to be a pimp, she refuses, but the other serving girl agrees.  "Great.  Go to the Broken Blade Inn and run the place until I get back.  Bye." Cor explains over his shoulder as he walks away.  

With business taken care of in Craghold, the party sets off to make their date with Borgai the Great, Khan of Khans and ruler of all the Hobgoblins.