Sunday, January 26, 2014

"The Sacrifice of the Serpent God" Chapter 5 of the Xanthus River Campaign

We picked up this week where we left off last week, the party, consisting of...

  • Valerius, 1st level fighter
  • Absalom, 1st level cleric
  • Gwen, 1st level elf
  • Ven, zero level elfish falconer
  • Nip, zero level turnip farmer
  • Another zero level character whose name I forget.
...had discovered a secret cult of the serpent god operating in a secret basement below the livestock barn in Wince. Absalom was paralyzed on the floor, struck down by the poisoned blowgun dart of the cult guard. The party discussed their next move, then interrogated their cult prisoner in the barn above. The prisoner revealed that the cult used the paralytic toxin to prepare sacrifices to the demon-snakes they are trying to summon. There are times when the cult must restore their victims, so they keep a supply of antidote in the next room. At this, the party resolved to storm the room, defeat their foes, and acquire the antidote. 

They burst through the doors to find the three "Empty Ones", cultists controlled by hideous two-headed snakes living inside their bodies, three acoltyes, and one high priest standing near a desk on a platform at the top of some stairs. There were two cages swinging from the ceiling containing paralyzed smugglers captured earlier that evening. Two magic sigils were drawn on the floor. Small piles of ash and dust occupied the center of each circle. Two of the acolytes were chanting a sibilant incantation near the circles. 

(The rules were thus: on each round, I would roll a d6 on the acolyte's initiative. If I rolled a 6, they succeeded in summoning a skeletal giant viper. If one acolyte was cut down, another could take their place, picking up where they left off. The high priest was, in fact, a serpent man in disguise. He possessed the spells of a 5th level cleric. In retrospect, the entire encounter was overpowered for my party, but more about that in a moment.)


Valerius instantly cut down one of the acolytes. The other magic circle immediately burst into a pillar of light in which the ash and dust swirled as it took the form of a skeletal snake of prodigious size. The third acolyte then moved in to continue the chant of the first dead acolyte. Valerius then entered into deadly combat with the diabolic foe while Gwen made several pathetic attempts to fire a bow at the high priest, then failed at summoning animal helpers. Eventually, Gwen was able to create an interposing wall of force to help shield Valerius from the skeletal snake's attack. 

Meanwhile, the three zero-level adventurers took on an acolyte and an "Empty One". The fight did not go well for the trio and they were eventually cut down, but not before killing the acolyte and Empty One, which only released the two-headed snake within.

At the top of the platform, the high priest failed many spell-casting attempts before finally delivering a curse against Valerius. At one point, the priest accidentally utters a curse against his serpent god, and is punished. At this point, the priest draws his poisoned dagger, slowly walks down the stairs, saunters up to Gwen, and inserts the curved blade into the elfish heart. Gwen immediately fell down dead!

Valerius eventually killed the demon-snake, but only in time for a second demon-snake to be summoned. All seemed lost at Valerius was bitten and fell! 

At this point, eight members of the town guard's night watch, at the direction of Shau, burst into the room and dragged Valerius and Gwen from danger. The high priest was attacked and immediately turned into green gaseous mist. Seconds later, a secret door on the wall behind the platform mysteriously opened, revealing a hidden passage, then closed. 

Valerius was turned over, and he survived! Gwen, however, was dead. 

The next morning, Valerius informed their merchant employer of the death of the crew of the boat. The merchant is saddened but sets about recruiting a new crew. Valerius then obtained an antidote from Bhau, the town apothecary, and gave it to Absalom, who in turned healed Valerius of all his injuries. 

The surviving party members decided to continue down river with the merchant. The rest of the journey was uneventful. They arrived in Thither a few hours after nightfall. 

Shau, impatient to return home, invited everyone to her family mansion, only a two hour hike away on the coast! They could stay the night and receive their reward in the morning! Her uncle is a wealthy alchemist. He will welcome them all! 

The group parts ways with the merchant, giving him the boat. The party, or what by now can only be more accurately described as a caravan, consisting of Shau, Valerius, Absalom, twelve hangers-on, two ponies, and a hen, set off down the trail with torches and lamps held high. 

They arrived at the gates to the compound of Shau's estate at around midnight. The wall is dilapidated and overgrown, the gate hanging limply and swinging loudly in the breeze. The silhouette of the decaying manor could be made out against the moonlit sky, the ocean glowing with the reflection of the moon in the distance. It appears as if no one has been in the manor house for years!

Shau said "This.. this can't be right!"

Valerius inquired, "How long since you were last here?"

To which Shau replied, "As far as I know, only six days ago. I.. I don't know what's happening."

TO BE CONTINUED

Afterthoughts

My original plan for this room was going to be one serpent man, three acolytes, and three "Empty Ones". I added the demon-snakes at the last minute, a decision I now regret. I turned a tough fight for 0/1st level characters into an impossible fight. 

That being said, several things went against the party this fight:
  1. Not having a cleric to provide healing.
  2. Gwen's inability to roll higher than a 5 all fight!
  3. My rolling a 6 to summon the demon-snake on the first round! I was expecting them to have more time to kill acolytes and prevent their being summoned. 
  4. Not killing all the acolytes to prevent a second demon-snake from being summoned.
  5. Their unwillingness to feed the smugglers to the giant snakes. This was set up as an option but either a) no one thought of it, or b) it was not an acceptable option.
  6. No one tried to parley! 
  7. Valerius not knowing when to retreat!
Other lessons learned from this fight: 

I had set up the minis and terrain before they decided to storm the room. They were VERY reticient about storming the room without a cleric. But by having the room all set up, I essentially pressured them into doing so, even thought I gave them every assurance they didn't have to go in there if they didn't want to, the implied guilt was probably still there.
I shouldn't have added the demon-snakes at all, or at most just have used one, and I DEFINITELY shouldn't have used the stats for the giant viper in the book. 3d8 HP were fine, but +8 to hit was just way too much! At most it should have been +1 or +2.
I didn't want a TPK and have everyone start over at zero level, so I saved them with some deus ex machina at the end. I feel guilty about that too. I'm okay with losing a PC here and there, but I hate TPKs. It tends to kill campaigns and any sense of continuity. 

Next week, I'm reskinning an old AD&D module: the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh!