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A Red & Pleasant Land, Part 4: Treasures of the Stargazer

Prep Time

Got busy with life, so not much time to prep new materials. Reviewed The Tower of the Stargazer module again. And embedded the following in my mind:
  • Remember to Enhance attacks if players put themselves in an advantageous combat position
  • Try out the "roll all attacks against a target, keep the highest result" rule from Electric Bastionland
  • Introduce some new resource management ideas, in particular, the Luck Roll after creative use of expedition resources
Perhaps I should have prepared more

Players

  • Wolfram Veta - Cleric of Vorn, Grim Gaunt God of Iron, Rust and Rain
  • Orv Gaster - Alistair, wearer of the checkered pants

Events

More spoilers for The Tower of the Stargazer. You have been warned. Also, this one gets long.
  • Picked up where we left off. Players had defeated the wizard of the Order of Diamonds. His body turned into a 10 of diamonds playing card, which the players decided to stick in a bottle and carry with them. They also pocketed an egg-shaped jewel off of a pedestal, and a book -- bound in human skin -- on the topic of communicating with the stars and beyond.
  • They open the western door and find a vertical shaft extending upwards and downwards. Hung all along the inner wall of the shaft is a long, red, velvet cloth. Like a red carpet -- but hung vertically up and down the shaft.
  • They take the (now very sickly looking) mole rat and toss it through the doorway and into the shaft. It arcs outwards, downwards, and inwards, and lands on the vertically running carpet. The mole is now walking along the vertical carpet.
  • Tying a safety rope around their waists, Orv and Wolfram lower themselves out into the shaft. The gravity re-orients, and, form their new perspective, they are standing on a red carpet running along the floor of a long hallway.
  • They walk the hall in the direction that leads up the tower and come to a pair of doors: one on the floor and one on the ceiling.
  • They open the door on the floor and look down. From their perspective, they see a room with a long table and chairs, all oriented sideways.
  • The lower themselves into the room. The gravity again re-orients, and they find themselves standing on the floor next to the table. On the table lies another book related to the stars.
  • There are three doors in this room: the eastern door they entered, a northern door, and a western door. They exit through the western door.
  • Inside the next room, they find a small table with two chairs facing each other. As they enter, an incorporeal figure forms in the far chair and points a bony finger in their direction. "Who will gamble their soul in a game of chance and skill for the opportunity to pass through the door?" It's hand motions towards a southern door in the room.
  • The players offer up the poor mole rat's soul. The ghost seems unimpressed and vanishes away.
  • The players try to open the southern door, but find some force prevents them from even touching it.
  • Back to the room with the long table, the players test the northern door. The door has a locking wheel and rubber seals along the frame. As they turn the wheel, the seals give and musty air begins gushing out from the next room as pressures equalize. They enter the room.
  • Inside they find an ancient looking library. Several shelves of old books, a desk along the southern wall, and another door next to the desk. The players browse the titles of the many books. They all seem to be related to glassblowing, light, and metalworks.
  • The players check the other door next to the desk. They find it is chillingly cold to the touch. Another wheel lock and rubber seals around the door frame. Orv wraps some cloth around his hands to shield them from the cold as he works the wheel lock open.
  • The next room appears like a kind of walk-in freezer. Inside lies a metal box. The players open the box and find it contains several dozen stoppered vials filled with frozen blood.
  • Science time! The players take one of the vials and remove the stopper. Nothing happens. They take a smell. All scent is frozen away. They decide to try unthawing the vial. They go back to the previous room, grab a book to use as kindling (it disintegrates to pulpy dust as soon as they touch it).
  • After a couple minutes of heating in a frying pan over their little book burning, the blood suddenly leaps out of the vial and attacks! A quick brawl ensues. The worm-like strand of blood does some minor damage as it leaps at their faces, but they quickly knock it away and Orv tosses a lantern at it. The oil spills, lights, and the bloodworm loses form and evaporates in the flame. (Luck Roll for creative use of a light resource. Came up a 2, so one use left for Orv's lantern.)
  • There is another door in the walk-in freezer. They open its wheel lock and find it leads back to the gravity flipped hallway/vertical shaft. Back into the hallway and further up the tower.
  • The players walk further down the hallway and arrive at the top of the tower -- another door on the floor of the hallway. They open it and enter.
  • Inside is a circular room that fills the entire circumference of the tower. There is a large dome sitting along the northern floor, a podium and control panel next to it. To the west are some storage bins, and to the south is a round pool of liquid.
  • The players take a look at the storage bins. One contains what appears to be coal; the other black gunpowder.
  • They check out the pool of liquid. Looking closely, they can see figures swimming through the water. Perhaps learning their lesson from interacting with the blood, they no longer trust anything in this tower. They grab some pieces of coal and toss them in. The coal sizzles, dissolves, and sinks into the acid-like liquid.
  • They decide to keep shoveling coal in and see what happens. I judge that eventually the pH balance (or whatever) of the liquid is so disturbed by this that the creatures swimming in it suddenly float belly-up to the surface, dead. They appear somewhat fishlike, but like no fish the players have ever observed on this world.
  • Using the empty blood vial and some other glassware they've accumulated, the players take some of the acid from the pool.
  • The players take a look at the podium. On it lies another open book, "Flora and Fauna of Necropoli Centauri". Consists mostly of descriptions and sketches of creatures they've never seen before. With the exception of the fish-creatures they just killed. The "Acid Lung Fish of Outer Necropoli".
  • The players take a quick tour around the metal dome. They discover what appears to be a large telescope, currently receded into the dome, its lense closed shut. In front of the lens is a holder for some (missing) egg-shaped object. Back towards the podium, there's a small circular hatch.
  • They take a look at the control panel: a button and four switches labeled I through IV. They press the button. Nothing seems to happen. They flip the switches from left to right. The ceiling of the tower extends open, the telescope extends from the dome, the lens opens, and, finally, some faint clicking sounds emit from inside the dome. But nothing further seems to happen.
  • They take a look through the viewing lens of the telescope. They can see a group of mossy plant-like creatures (that they recognize from the book on the podium) dancing on the surface of an alien environment.
  • The players decide to leave this room and try taking the vertical hallway further down the tower.
  • The head back down the hallway until they come to an unexplored floor door further down the tower. The open it. Inside they find (again oriented sideways) some kind of workroom with several tables and stone slabs. The room has three doors: the eastern door they entered from, an iron door to the west, and a wooden door to the south. In the northeastern corner of the room is some kind of alcove.
  • The players examine the work tables. Dead animals lay all over them, dissected, vivisected, and stitched back up. On the large stone slab is a dead human figure, likewise vivisected and stitched back together up its torso. But this stitching was done with a thread of pure gold.
  • Orv gets greedy and starts pulling the fine gold thread from the cadaver. After he has pulled 70% of it free, the torso of the cadaver bursts open. The intestines leap from the torso, wrap themselves around Orv's neck, and squeeze tight. Orv loses HP and STR, fails his STR save, and is knocked unconscious. Wolfram takes one of the vials of acid and pours it carefully on the living intestine. It dissolves away and dies. He gets Orv awake and back on his feet.
  • They take a look at the western door. Locked shut. They pour another vial of acid into the lock. It melts away and the door opens freely. They find a storage room filled to bursting with crates.
  • Examining the crates, they see that they are all labeled with their contents. "The pelvis of a laborer who destroyed happiness". "The thighbone of a merchant who destroyed art."
  • They also find a trapdoor up in the ceiling. Lifting it, they find it leads back to the room with the statue of a king embracing his medusa.
  • Back to the workroom and to the southern door. This door opens easily, and they find a prison of eight cells arranged in a row. As they enter, four ghostly, ghoulish figures rise from the cells and begin screaming "FREE US!" A successful WIL save gets the players a good reaction, so, for now, the ghouls do nothing but continue screaming "FREE US!". The players take a look at the rest of the room. Down past all the cells, they see what looks like an object hanging on a peg on the wall. They make a run towards it.
  • Good reaction be damned, the ghouls will not be ignored like this. They float through the bars of their cells, begin closing on the players, and continue screaming "FREE US!"
  • Wolfram makes it to the end of the room and grabs a set of keys off of the wall. Orv takes an attack from ghoulish claws but shrugs it off.
  • Another vial of acid thrown (and a great damage roll) and the players vanquish one ghoul and make their way past the others and back out of the prison. The ghouls continue their pursuit no further.
  • To the north-eastern alcove! Where the players find a tall looking glass. Wolfram takes a look in. He sees his reflection. He begins doing the Vaudeville "I'm going to do a tricky dance and see if my reflection matches all of my movements" routine. At the very end, his reflection slips up. His mirror "twin" was a little delayed in catching Wolfram's movement.
  • Wolfram touches the looking glass. His finger passes through. He decides to walk into it. He vanishes into the other side of the glass.
  • Wolfram finds himself standing in an identical looking alcove. But he is confronted by a world of complete silence. Utter "crush your brain under the weight of it" silence. He ventures down the alcove and takes a peek into the workroom.
  • He sees several cleanly dressed people, sitting at worktables, looking into (exquisite, expensive-looking) microscopes, smiling, and seemingly going about the happy business of science. He recognizes one of them as the dead cadaver from the slab back on the other side of the mirror.
  • Wolfram comes back through the mirror. He and Orv formulate a plan. They grab the cadaver off the slab, drag it with them through the mirror, and throw it into the workroom full of scientists. The scientists begin running around and silently screaming in silent horror. The one scientist recognizes his dead self and collapses to his knees in shock.
  • While this is happening, the players grab the expensive microscopes and make their way back through the mirror.
  • Back to the vertical hallway and down to the final room!
  • In this final room, the players enter from the eastern door. Along the western wall are several treasure chests. Along the southern wall (right near the eastern wall) is a panel with four levers. They've found the wizard's treasure room! But it turns out, there are several forces fields running across the room that are preventing them from reaching those treasure chests.
  • Let's cut this short and say, the puzzle didn't go well. They begin flipping switches from left to right and find themselves activating additional force fields, locking themselves into the room, shocking themselves on the levers until they passed out, and waking 10 minutes later to find that the levers automatically reset themselves to their starting position. They then try shorting out the lever mechanism with a bottle of wine. Which just leaves the levers non-functional and the force field permanently in their original state.
  • Then they get the idea the there might still be functional levers (or no force fields) on the "other side of the mirror". They backtrack through the tower and drag the looking glass noisily to the treasure room. They place the looking glass along the eastern wall, facing the force fields, and take a look inside. Unfortunately, they can still see the blue glow of the force fields in their lantern light on the "other side" as well.
  • They step through. And turn to look at the panel of levers. It's all intact! Time to try solving the puzzle on this side.
  • Which goes about as well as before. They start flipping levers from left to right. More locking themselves behind new force fields, more electrically shocking themselves to unconsciousness (which, fortunately, keeps them sane from the silence of the mirror world).
  • After the levers reset themselves, they exit back to their side of the mirror, and we call the session to a close.
  • The players declare this puzzle bullshit, but I'm pretty sure they're still determined to solve it.

Questions before next session


  • How, exactly, do reflections and the mirror world work. It's clear from A Red & Pleasant Land that things usually look like an exact reflection when you're looking into the mirror, but things aren't at all identical on the other side. But under what conditions are things exactly the same and when can they be different. I need to think on my own consistent ruling for this as I'm sure my players will be science'ing with mirrors a lot now.

What worked well?


  • Into the Odd continues to be speedy as hell. This was maybe a 2~3 hour session, but look at how much happened!
  • Looking glass and "The Quiet Side" from AR&PL. I've been waiting for a chance to use these, and I lucked into Tower of the Stargazer having some mirrors written into it. The players seemed to be simultaneously freaked out and excited by this part.
  • A lot of really good "use your environment, not your character sheet" play from the players. I think they're getting used to OSR play.

What didn't?


  • Mainly the treasure room puzzle. It came across to the players more as a guessing game than something with logic to it. But I think I see the trick James Edward Raggi IV was going for with it. If you have a line of things arranged horizontally, most people are going to interact with them going left-to-right. It's almost instinctual if you've spent a lifetime reading text left-to-right. The trick with this puzzle is that the levers need to be approached right-to-left. Effects that you can apply logic to begin happening quicker if approached from that direction.

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