Monday, March 10, 2014

"The Golden Alchemist" Chapter 8 of the Xanthus River Campaign

Our party consists of:
Valerius (Level 2 Warrior)
Absalom (Level 1 Cleric)
Gwen (Level 1 Elf)
Sausage (Level 1 Dwarf)
Babu (Level 1 Thief)
Jack (Level 0 Man-at-Arms)
Edmund (NPC)

Meanwhile, back in Thither:
Nip (Level 1 Cleric)
Shau (NPC)

This week we were joined by a special guest star and a VERY special guest star. First, Sausage was played this week by his creator, Jeff, who is only able to join us on a sporadic basis. Secondly, the role of Babu was this week played by Lucinda, a friend of mine from work who hasn't played an RPG since 1986, but after reading my blog asked if she could join us. Of course I said yes! Nip's player, Matt, was unable to join us. So Nip sat this week out back in Thither with Shau the NPC.

Last week, our intrepid party had returned to the abandoned mansion of Saltmarsh to rid it of slavers who had taken up residence in the secret cellar, but more importantly to discover what happened to Shau's uncle, the alchemist.

Having accounted for the entire above-ground area of the house, and rescuing Edmund the butler who was bound and gagged in an abandoned bedroom, they decide to return to the secret cellar where the slavers were living.

Carefully entering the secret room, they found it abandoned! The slavers, aware that their hiding place and secret base had been compromised, decided to take their stuff and leave before any authorities decided to descend en masse on the house. 

The group moved to the chained door marked DANGER! Carefully entering, they found an empty room supported by two marble pillars. A magic voice came from the closer pillar: "This area is forbidden! Who are you and what is your business here?"

Absalom at first tried the truth. The voice responded, "You are not known to me! You must leave now or face the consequences! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!"

At that, Absalom asked Gwen to attempt guile, claiming to be Shau. The voice was not impressed, "Shau, your uncle is very busy! You know you are not allowed to disturb him! State your business and I can relay your message."

Gwen, still pretending to be Shau, said she needed to speak with her uncle immediately. The voice responded, "I cannot help you. Now leave this place or face the consequences! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!"

Valerius tried the direct approach and entered the room, the pillar immediately shouted, "NOW YOU FACE THE CONSEQUENCES! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!" The pillar transformed into a humanoid shape composed of marble columnar pieces. The pillar-golem attacked Valerius and battle ensued.


The DANGER room!



It is NOT a robot! It's a column golem!

The golem is defeated.
After a brief battle, the pillar-golem was destroyed. Babu was mortally injured but later rolled over and survived. Gwen found a stuck secret door she was unable to open. Assuming it could only be opened by a family member, they asked Edmund the butler to open it. Although he doubted it, the door did open for him as predicted.

At this point, I stopped the game and asked the players for their input: Did they want a happy ending or a bitter-sweet ending? They voted for happy ending. I continued.
The Alchemist's laboratory!
Inside they discovered the secret laboratory of Shau's uncle, Yithother the Alchemist, Lord of Saltmarsh Manor. The room was filled with alchemical apparatuses, workbenches, vials of chemicals, pickled specimens, shrunken human heads, etc. In the northwest corner was a hemispherical table. On the table was drawn a pentagram marked with five stones at each angle. Trapped within was a small fat demon who awoke with a start. 

The trapped demon called out, "Oh FINALLY! Hey, HEY! Do me a favor, will ya? Would you remove one of these stones? I've been trapped here for twenty years! TWENTY YEARS! It's like an ETERNITY here! Let me out will ya? C'mon!!"

At that, Valerius and Absalom taunted the entrapped demon while Gwen investigated the rest of the room. 

Seated slumped over a work bench on the east wall of the room was an elderly man made entirely of gold. The golden man was wearing chain mail gauntlets made of gold. Under his hands was a sheaf of gold. Nearby was  a golden writing stylus and a golden inkwell, a golden candlestick and candle, a golden human skull, and various other mundane items made of gold. Curiouser was a fresh apple, not gold, covered in dust, and other items that could not have possibly have remained fresh for twenty years.

Nearby was an open book. Gwen investigated and saw a formula for what appeared to be the Philosopher's Stone, an alchemical formula for turning anything into gold! 

Suddenly, the golden skull slowly turned back into a real skull in front of Gwen's eyes. Soon afterwards, other items began to return to normal. The party was perplexed! 

Eventually, the gold leaf turned back into a sheet of paper with writing on it!

The paper was a suicide note:
I, Yithother of Saltmarsh Manor, have decided to end my life. At the peak of my powers I have achieved the ultimate goal of all alchemists - All that I touch becomes gold! Alas, in my rush to inform my family of my accomplishment, I accidentally transformed my niece, nephew, and butler into golden statues! My jubilation turned immediately to horror and remorse. I have spent the past week trying to find a way to undo the curse and change them back. Alas, I fear the effect is permanent. My dearest loved ones are gone!
I can no longer live with my shame. I have decided to end my life. As I have decided to turn myself into gold. Soon I will join my loved ones. I only hope that they can forgive me in the afterlife. May the gods have mercy on my soul.
Yithother, Lord of Saltmarsh Manor 
The party soon deduced that the effect was not permanent, and that Shau had been turned to gold for twenty years, that she had somehow wound up in the bilge of a river boat, and, six days ago, turned back to normal. They concluded that the same happened to Edmund and presumably the nephew, wherever he was. They deduced that if they waited around, soon Yithother would return to normal and they could be reunited.

Sure enough, in less than an hour, Yithother returned to normal, disoriented and confused with some memory loss. They calmed him and informed him what had happened, bringing him up to speed on the slavers and the state of the house.

Yithother was concerned about the fate of his nephew, who was still missing. The party assured him that the odds were that he most likely definitely probably wasn't melted down into bullion or broken into smaller pieces and distributed, and to put either of those possibilities out of his mind. These reassurances failed to rest Yithother's mind, who was concerned that his nephew was the captive of slavers at sea!

Soon afterwards, Yithother was reunited with his niece Shau, who had been in Thither recruiting workers to restore the house. Shau and Yithother were both most thankful to their party members for their help and pledged their eternal gratitude. 

After that, the group parted ways with Saltmarsh manor and returned to Thither to take care of business. 

Gwen left he party to camp on the plain and commune with nature. For one week, she sat in a toadstool circle and called upon the King of Elfland to grant her a familiar. An albino rat entered the toadstool circle. She named it "Cake". She immediately began a second ritual and called upon the King of Elfland to accept her as a servant, which he accepted. Afterwards, she returned to Thither to rejoin the others.
Gwen and her new familiar, Cake
The rest of the group meanwhile, weighed their options and planned their next move. Recalling that their original purpose in coming to Thither was to recruit hirelings to help penetrate further into the lost dwarven city of Duirnhall, they decided to continue with that plan. Over the next six weeks, they interviewed twenty-four potential candidates, all that Thither had to offer, and found NONE of them worthy! 

During that time:

Week 1
  • Absalom helped Bo-Mont Oacha and Archon Kepha with a matter pertaining to the patricians of Thither. As a reward, Absalom was made a representative to the court of Thither and a member of the aristocracy.
  • Sausage offended a rumormonger who, in turn, spread lies about the robust dwarf.
  • One of Babu's friends in Thither, a fellow thief, asked for help in resolving a matter. It seemed the friend had offended another thief, a red elf named Alfred. Babu rendered assistance but made an enemy of Alfred.
Week 2
  • Absalom invested 25 gold in a mercantile venture.
  • Valerius was offered a private mission that would pay 1900 gold! Wary, Valerius turned down the mission. As it happened, everyone on the mission was later killed when their boat sank at sea.
  • Babu was mugged by members of Alfred's gang and lost all his gold!
Week 3
  • Sausage offended one of the patricians of Thither and was forced to pay restitution in the form of 25% of his personal wealth.
  • Babu was mugged again by members of Alfred's gang and lost all the gold he had gained since last week!
Week 4
  • Absalom's investment tanked. He lost all 25 Gold.
Week 5
  • Valerius offended a fellow warrior named Rlolot. In retribution, Rlolot coined the nickname "Swordbreaker" for Valerius, which quickly spread through the training dojo.
  • Gwen befriended Leno-Bhakith, another servant of the King of Elfland and master of the Fraternity of Thaumaturges of Thither. Leno awarded Gwen with 190 gold pieces. 
  • Babu was robbed, presumably by members of Alfred's gang, and was relieved of all belongings.
Week 6
  • Valerius fell ill for one week. 
On the seventh week, the group decided to pay for passage on a riverboat headed back to Wince and then Swallow. The journey to Wince entailed a grueling 14-hour boat ride up-river. They pulled into the small town after dark and sought rest in the inn. 

That evening in the inn, they engaged other guests in conversation, recruiting possible followers. They succeeded in adding Knot the rope-maker, Wheezy the halfling gypsy, and Can the tax collector. The true catch, however, was Tim Burr, the woodcutter! 

Tim Burr was a mountain of a man, with long golden locks, perfect teeth, and piercing grey eyes! Upon first seeing him, Gwen immediately vowed to one day marry him! Tim was a god amongst mortals, a hero, a legend! Everyone loved Tim! Tim had never known fear! Tim's sweat smelled like roses and tasted like honey! Tim had never fought a monster, they had always surrendered and asked to join him! Tim once had an entire order of clerics renounce their vows and abandon their god in order to worship him instead! 

During the night, Valerius woke everyone and gathered them outside. He planned to investigate the secret cult they encountered when they were here last. They returned to the barn and found the trap door. Downstairs they found a common root cellar with hanging sides of beef, pork, and mutton, barrels and casks full of beverages, and other items in cool storage with no trace of cult activity. However, they found a secret door in the corner.

The secret door led to an underground passage shored up with wooden beams. 

The Tunnels of Wince
The passage led away from the river for about one hundred feet and ended in a ladder going up. Another passage led to the left for several hundred feet and with two doors, one towards the river and one away. Exploring that passage, they found stone stairs leading up and opening into a small closet-like cubicle. A closed door contained a peep-hole. Through the hole Valerius could see a richly appointed room covered in rugs and tapestries, lit by braziers, candelabras, lamps, and a large fireplace. Concluding this led to the archon's keep, they decided to hold off and explore the ladder.

Valerius led the way. The ladder led to a closed trap door. He opened it and looked around. He was in a back room of the  Bilious Froth inn (#8 in Wince). The room was lit by a single candle, the innkeeper and another man, dressed in the robes of serpent-cultists, were reviewing a map. They noticed Valerius peeking up through the trapped door. After a moment of confusion and hesitation on all sides, the two men grabbed two sinuous blades and attacked. 
Valerius and Sausage fight Cultists while Babu sneaks around!
Valerius burst forth and engaged in battle, followed by the others. The room was too small to permit a full battle, so the others poured out of the back door into the alley (between 8 and 22) while Valerius and Sausage remained in the room. Outside, Absalom smashed a window and attacked the cultists. Babu sneaked around to find another door to flank the cultists and attack with surprise.

Ah... Tim the great. telling stories of his greatness.
Meanwhile, everyone else gathered around Tim to hear a story of one his adventures:
Tim was once cutting down a large tree. Unfortunately, it was about to fall onto a nearby orphanage. Thinking quickly, Tim milled and planned the tree into lumber as it fell. Before the tree could even hit the ground, Tim had used the lumber to build a new wing onto the orphanage! What a guy! True story!
Having dispatched the cultists, the group found the map they were reading. The map led to what appeared to be a secret cult base located about twelve miles southwest of town in the Blackwood Forest. 
The Route to the Cult's Base
Wasting no time, the group gathered their gear and set off under the cover of darkness. Luckily, the way was lit by the light of the full moon and the group followed the trail indicated. They arrived at the edge of the forest by dawn and stopped to eat some rations. They continued into the forest, descending towards the Unnameable River to a shallow swamp formed by a pond where the river had been dammed in ancient times. 

In the middle of the swampy pond was an island formed by a recently built earthen dike that kept the swampy water at bay. At the center of the island was a deep sinkhole, inside of which was a long set of wet mossy stairs.
Where do these stairs go?... They do down.
The group descended the stairs. Despite treading cautiously, two of the group slipped and tumbled down the stairs, taking those who proceeded them. Valerius, Can, Tim, and Knot were deposited in a heap at the bottom where they were immediately set upon by guards dressed as serpent cultists!

At the Bottom of the Stairs
Tim was immediately killed! The game was stopped to observe a brief moment of silence to remember Tim.

Also somebody else was killed, I think it was Can or whatever.

A battle ensued. The rest of the party hurried as fast as they could down the stairs to render aid. The four guards were eventually killed.

The party now faces a decision, three subterranean passages: left, right, or straight.

TO BE CONTINUED!

Afterthoughts
It was great to have Lucinda join us. I hope she had a good time. She is invited back to join us whenever she wants, even as a regular player if she so decides.

The group decided to abandon part two of the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, which I re-skinned as "rescue the nephew from slavers". I'm running a sandbox and its totally up to the players where they want to go, and they opted to ignore the distraction and return to their original mission, with an exception to investigate the serpent cult of Wince.

I used the random "City Catch-Up" rules from the "Midkemia Press Second Edition of Cities" book to determine what happened to the party during the down time. I had been wanting to use those tables for years! I skipped the jobs section. I'll offer that next time. If there is a next time. Some of the players weren't too happy with those tables, especially the ones that were repeatedly mugged! I thought they were neat and led to new enmities in the town.

Finally, I am adapting an old TSR module, "Against the Cult of the Reptile God". Or at least part of it anyway. I had originally ad-libbed the serpent god encounter in Wince. Later, after I re-read this module, I decided to replace Orlane with Wince. I skipped ahead of all the Orlane stuff, they've done enough of that previously, and went straight for the dungeon at the end. 

Also, starting this week, I am allowing players to spend their character's GP on Experience Points, following the guidelines here, which are remarkably just like what I already thinking of on my own, except already written down and playtested.

Essentially, for every 100 GP they waste, the PC gets +1 XP.

There are two reasons for this:
1) I want to bring back the OD&D rule of spending Gold = XP
2) I want to give them an outlet for spending their accumulated gold.

The Tim thing was fun. The players had just recruited four hirelings and had divvied them up with the warning, "Do not name them or become attached to them!"

Bill replied, "Too late! His name is Tim. I like Tim."
Tim the magnificent, Tim the fantastic.
Thus began the epic saga of Tim. Dodd, especially, took the ball and ran with it, inventing one hyperbolic story of Tim after another. We all joined in, singing Tim's praises. Scott and Woobee kind of got annoyed by Tim hogging the spotlight and were kind of happy to see him die in the first round of combat. Nevertheless, we all loved Tim, almost as much as we love Babu.

Speaking of Babu. Technically, Babu died. He was zero-level when he was killed. However, we all loved Babu so much as a shared character, I ruled that he had actually earned enough XP to reach 1st level and therefore deserved a death save. I'm a sucker for Babu and thought he deserved a nobler death. Especially since Lucinda had been given him to play and it was early in the night. Since Babu graduated to 1st level, I decided he needed a new mini. His old mini was of a jovial rotund middle-eastern fellow with a beard and a turban. The mini made him likable and contributed to his  personality. However, it wasn't intimidating enough to be taken seriously, so I allowed Lucinda to choose a cooler looking mini. She chose the one pictured below. Still exotic but much more menacing, heroic, and mysterious.
Original Babu
New Babu

I shall now leave you with a picture of Woobee (player of Absalom and Knot) wearing a Norman helmet.


Next week: "Against the Cult of the Reptile God!"