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A Red & Pleasant Land, Part 3: Tower of the Stargazer

Wrap-up of this Thursday's hijinx in Voivodja. Will try to get a post of actual gameable content up again soon.

Prep Time

Not much this time. Mostly reorganizing my table notes. Did one small thing that made a big difference. Pulled all of the sheet protectors out of my 3-ring binder and, instead, joined them together with loose-leaf rings. Like these:

https://www.staples.com/Staples-Loose-Leaf-Rings-1-Size-Silver/product_481326

Can fold my notes flat, and it takes up way less space on my already crowded table.

My notes are usually populated with hexcrawl procedures, random tables and drop tables I most frequently use, and any tables from A Red & Pleasant Land I'd want to roll on while looking at a different page in that book.

Players

  • Wolfram Veta - Cleric of Vorn, Grim Gaunt God of Iron, Rust and Rain
  • Gor Orben - Amazon, "She is Gor"
  • Jasmine the Other Seer - Frequently caught on her own while foraging
  • Jhovan the Wanderer - Alistair, seeker of cake recipes
  • Orv Gaster - Alistair, wearer of the checkered pants

and newly joined

  • Seskia "Pip" The Egregious - 11-year-old boy with big dreams
I run an open table, and it's always nice to have new people join.

Events


Note: The following contains spoilers for The Tower of the Stargazer
  • Given how close they were to their destination (the eastern tower) last time, I agree to let them start where they left off (the sheep's mysterious general store). But this means that they will not have regained any ability score loss. The players agree.
  • About 45 minutes of shopping. Not my favorite part of RPGs, but this logistical stuff has gotta happen. Important results: the PCs purchase some vials of poison, a map of the nearby area (with a few landmarks marked), and a completely untrained blind mole rat. The players also learn that the shopkeeper will purchase valuable items they've stolen from the Voivodjan interior.
  • The PCs go to exit the shop and find themselves once again standing on a canal bank, watching a sheep in a canoe slowly row away into the distance.
  • The party strikes out due east towards Skira Corvus Tower, which is roughly a day's journey away.
  • Along the way, they once again get separated while foraging for food. Gor finds herself near a statue of a vulture and looking at some more pig-like footprints in the ground. Before following the tracks, Gor yells out to her friends in her bellowing Amazon voice.
  • Which was probably a bad idea, as it woke up a Tiger Lily Nageire that was asleep behind the statue. The thornchild asks Gor to quiet down, as she's scaring away the sunbeams. And if there are no sunbeams, it will have to feast on blood instead. Gor replies by throwing a flask of fire oil, burning the Nageire to a crisp.
  • The rest of the party finally arrives and begins looting corpses. Gor takes a thorn off of the burned remains of the Nageire. The party finds a pile of desiccated corpses that the Nageire has drunk from, one of which was holding a book -- A Guide to Nephilidian Vampire Anatomy.
  • The PCs continue east. At the edge of the current square, the find a 30' high wall, running north-south as far as the eye can see. They climb the wall easily enough. The other side of the wall is a 100' drop to a water canal below. They attach ropes and start the climb down.
  • As they near the water canal, the moisture in the air has made their ropes quick slick. Everyone except for Jhovan fails a DEX save. No damage from the short remainder of the fall, but they do find themselves ambushed by a bask of 6 Little Crocodiles.
  • 3 crocodiles snap at Gor, 2 at Pip, 1 at Orv. Gor and Orv come out with minor scratches, but Pip is now floating unconscious and about to become a meal.
  • Players' turn. Jhovan is still up above on the ropes and can't do much -- only weapon is a two-handed musket. Wolfram makes a clutch play and throws out a flask of animal repellant. All of the crocodiles scatter at the scent. The party climbs ashore and gets Pip back on his feet.
  • Determined to no longer get side-tracked, the players stop all searching and foraging and simply head straight on to the tower. Finally, after 2+ sessions of travel, they make it.
  • The party finds itself standing in front of an 80' tower made of black stone. The sky is unnaturally dark above, and lightning strikes all around -- mostly being caught by the 4 metal spikes surrounding the tower. A staircase leads up to the front door.
  • Orv leads them across the lightning blasted hellscape and up the stairs. They approach a pair of double doors, a giant door knocker and a door handle shaped like the head of a fanged serpent on each.
  • Orv (rightfully) does not trust evil looking fanged serpent heads on the front doors of spooky towers. He puts his axe in front of the door handle. The serpent head comes to life and tries to bite down on the axe, venom clearly dripping from its fangs.
  • The PCs give the door a simple push -- it opens.
  • Players make their way through the entry foyer and into the sitting room. Finding a cabinet containing 4 bottles of wine, the take 3 of the bottles, throw the fourth against the wall, then force the blind mole rat to drink the spilled wine off the ground. Nothing happens to the mole rat aside from cutting its mouth slightly on the shards of glass and getting quite drunk.
  • In the same room, the party finds a statue of two figures embracing: a king and a medusa. Jhovan shoots the head of the medusa statue. Nothing happens aside from the loud noise and the statue visibly moving backwards slightly.
  • The part pushes the statue. It rolls backwards revealing a trap door and ladder to a room below.
  • They climb down the ladder and find themselves in a short hallway. A portcullis stands between them and the room beyond.
  • The players get the (great?) idea that if they grease up the 11-year-old Pip, he is probably small enough to fit between the bars. The PCs proceed to spit all over Pip and then squeeze him into the next room.
  • In the room, Pip finds a wide crevice in the floor and a bucket caked in dried blood against the wall. He puts the bucket on his head as a comically oversized, makeshift helmet.
  • The helmet, unfortunately, does no good against the stone spider that suddenly descends from the ceiling and strikes at the unaware Pip. Fangs and poison make quick work of the young boy and he is killed utterly.
  • While this was happening, the remaining PCs were busy searching for a mechanism to open the portcullis. Finding nothing, they try simply lifting the bars, which works quite well. The party runs in and enacts quick revenge on the spider.
  • Searching through the spider's webs, they find somebody bound in a cocoon. It's Pip's replacement -- Gorn the Mad! (Always get dead players back into the game asap.)
  • Two doors lead out of this room: one labeled "Workshop", one labeled "Treasure Room". Both have door handles shaped like clawed hands.
  • Orv no longer trusts any door handles shaped like anything other than door handles and hacks both claws off with his axe.
  • The PCs force the workshop door open. Inside they find a desk, upon which rests a rack of many vials containing different colored liquids.
  • For unknown reasons, Wolfram volunteers to be the potion-tester. They pour half of each vile into the blood-caked bucket, and Wolfram drinks the whole things down.
  • Bad news: Wolfram shrunk to half his height, became incontinent, lost half his body hair (the left half), lost all his teeth and nails, and developed awful body odor.
  • Good news: He grew a nice pair of boobs.
  • The PCs force the treasure room door open. Inside are about a dozen treasure chests. It looks like all of them but one are open.
  • Jasmine immediately declares that she is running to the closed chest and opening it. Trapped with a poison needle. Jasmine takes quite a bit of damage, is a little woozy, but otherwise fine. Inside the chest, she finds a glass jug.
  • Referee: "The glass jug contains an idol shaped lik..." Jasmine: "I smash it open!" Referee: "Sure you don't want to hear the rest of the description?" Jasmine: "Already smashed!"
  • The demon-shaped idol grows into an actual demon. The poison-damaged Jasmine doesn't last long. The demon's claws spill her intestines to the ground. The demon picks her up and begins to devour her neck.
  • The combined arms of the remaining 5 PCs is just enough to finish off the demon.
  • Continuing with their plan to eat and drink everything, they feed some demon blood to the sickly looking mole rat. Gorn feasts on the demon's heart and brain. All it gains him is a new madness -- he seeks the destruction of this world -- and d6 damage to his WIL from the unholy meats.
  • Inside the other, open chests are tens of thousands of copper coins, which the party chooses to leave behind. In the final chest, they find a figure bound in a burlap sack. It's Jasmine's replacement -- Rolf Unwern!
  • The party makes their way back upstairs. Up the ladder, up the stairs to the second floor, past a small kitchen, up more stairs dripping with blood, and finally to a large room with a figure standing in the middle. The Wizard of the Order of Diamonds -- Uravulon Calcidius.
  • The Diamond kindly welcomes the party and explains that he's been accidentally trapped behind his own enchanted salt circle of protection for the last century. Will they please let him out? He'd give them 100 shillings for their help.
  • The party weighs their options. They decide to carefully push the salt circle in even tighter while negotiating for more money.
  • Uravulon drops the kind facade. "I will turn your souls to ashes and scatter them across the fiery winds if you do not free me now!! I will drink the fluid from your mothers' spines!!"
  • It being a very delicate act to push the salt of a protection circle, I ask every player to make a DEX save. 2 players fail. Their characters were a little careless and the circle breaks.
  • Uravulon thanks the PCs for freeing him and screams at them that he is granting them one opportunity to immediately leave this tower before he unleashes his wrath.
  • My players really don't appreciate NPCs being dicks to them. They decide to fight.
  • The PCs win initiative. After 5 attacks, one flashbang, and a bad roll on a STR save, Uravulon is defeated in a single turn. His body is reduced to a playing card: a ten of diamonds.
  • After some debate of what to do with the playing card (Put it in a bottle and take it with them? Bury it beneath a pile of salt?), we wrap up the session here.

Questions before next session

  • How angry is Uravulon about all of this? Murderously angry? Or just torturously angry?
  • Now that they've "scouted" the tower, what will the party report back to the Queen? How will she take the news?
  • The mole rat has been looking increasingly sickly? Is he alright?

What worked well?

  • ItO's quick character creation worked as well as it should. Being able to roll up a new character and get a player back into the game within 5 minutes of his previous character's death really frees the referee to create a more difficult, more tense game.
  • Only being able to recover ability score loss on a week-long rest someplace safe made for an interesting choice right at the start: start back at the castle with an assumed rest and full ability recover, or start right where you left off with no chance to recover abilities.

What didn't?

  • Traps like the poison needle on the treasure chest aren't really in the spirit of Into the Odd, which advises that traps should not be surprises. Although I guess Jasmine declaring they were immediately running in and opening the chest would count as "not noticing the trap because you were in a hurry"??
  • As written in the adventure, low-level parties aren't expected to have any way of defeating the wizard. It's written as a "Why in the hell would you ever let a mad, violent wizard out of the cell he is safely trapped behind!?" teaching scenario. My players wiped out the 15 HP wizard in a single round. 6 characters attacking in a single round was just too much for him to take.
  • While I'm not upset that they defeated him -- I don't believe in "Oh no, they've ruined my planned story!" -- it does make me wonder how to make an ItO monster that is threatening enough for a party of 6. Maybe adopt some of the changes from the Electric Bastionland playtest docs: everyone who is attacking the same target that turn rolls and you keep the highest result? I don't want a game where combat is non-threatening and therefore the first-and-only choice in every situation.
  • Drawing in the contents of the map the players purchased brought the game to a halt for several minutes. Probably worth prepping some player handouts ahead of time.

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