Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"A Vitch You Can't Scratch" Chapter 17 of the Xanthus River Campaign

This week, the party fights some more kobolds, almost gets their butts kicked, spends some down-time healing and leveling, then find and murder execute a disgruntled and bitter kobold wizard named "Vitch". It's Racially-Motivated Home Invasions, the RPG!

Our party:

Player characters
  • Ser Valerius (Level 3 Human Paladin)
  • Absalom (Level 2 Human Cleric of Justica)
  • Gwen (Level 2 Elf Fighter)
  • Jalani (Level 2 Human Cleric of Amun-Tor)
  • Stefan (Level 1 Elf Fighter/Thief, special guest star)
  • Babu (Level 2 Human Magic User)
  • Knott (Level 1 Human Fighter)
  • Brown Tom (Level 1 Human Fighter, Squire of Valerius)
  • Clench (Human Mercenary Heavy Infantryman)
  • Squat (Human Mercenary  Heavy Infantryman)
  • Push (Human Mercenary  Heavy Infantryman)
  • War Dog
Old Gnuder
When we left our party, they had just defeated the kobold chieftain and his bodyguards and freed the poor old dwarf prisoner, Old Gnuder. Old Gnuder had no legs and only a left arm. He was chained by a collar to the wall like a dog and fed scraps.

The party took Old Gnuder out of the mountain and into safety in the village of Duirndown.

As they emerged, they spied two figures standing on the bridge connecting the entrance to Duirnhold to the village of Duirndown. It was Gwen and another elf, her cousin Stefan. Gwen re-joined the party joined by Stefan, who had only recently arrived from the Otherworld.

In Duirndown, an attendant was hired to see to Old Gnuder's needs and a scribe was hired to record his tale and anything else he knew about the fate of Duirnhold.

Old Gnuder recounted the story of Duirnhold as he knew it. He said that many of the dwarfs of Duirnhold had at first become passive and lethargic, eventually turning evil, their eyes black and their skin ashen. The evil dwarfs, the so-called Derro, began to enslave the remaining good dwarfs. A civil war resulted, killing thousands. With the war came an invasion, led by whom he knew not. He only knew that an army of evil humanoids, orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, orgres, and trolls, had swarmed through the hidden cracks in the earth, and attacked the weakened city. The dwarfs were forced to flee. Old Gnuder was tasked to hold the checkpoint during the evacuation. He was eventually overrun by the orcs and left to die. He was later found by the kobolds and taken prisoner. He has been the "pet" of the kobolds for the past few years.

The party informed Old Gnuder that fifty years had passed since the fall of Duirnhold. Old Gnuder could not accept that. It had been no more then ten years at the most! Of this he was certain!

Back Into the Mountain
The party left Old Gnuder in caring hands and returned to the mountain. They retraced their steps and followed various unexplored passages, noticing and avoiding passages covered in alchemical powders.

Eventually, they reached a long L-shaped room, a temple, protected by twelve kobolds, four guards, and a shaman.
That's a lot of kobolds!

A fierce battle ensued as a forward force of kobolds kept the party pinned in the door while another force of kobolds formed a line, backed by the guards, to protect the shaman. The party finally broke through and advanced to do battle with the defensive line. As the kobolds began to fall, the surviving kobolds turned to flee. The guards began killing deserters and the shaman case Remove Fear to reestablish morale. Eventually, however, all the kobolds were wiped out.

Form up! Defend the Shaman!

The room was searched. Two stone-giant skulls flanked a pair of ever-burning fires in braziers on top of the raised altar platform. Piles of skulls from orcs, goblins, and even ogres, flanked the altar platform. A well in the center of the room was filled with black oily liquid. Valerius prayed over the well and the oil retreated into cracks at the bottom, revealing 4900 copper pennies.

 The party continued on, discovering another guard room with one guard and eight kobolds. The fight was ferocious and Knott and Jilani found themselves at death's door, only to be saved by Absolom. The fight was so fierce, in fact, that Brown Tom and the mercenaries were called up off the bench and got to kill their first opponents!
These guards were surprisingly tough!

After the fight, three of the party members were unconscious and unable to continue so the party retreated to Duirndown to rest and heal.

Down Time
Everyone spent a week in Duirndown. During that week, Stefan took a job as captain of the village guard and Gwen found herself robbed of 10% of her total wealth. Absolom was offered a business opportunity to fund a traveling merchant but refused.

The next week, once everyone had recovered, Absolom, Babu, and Jalani traveled to Swallow, a day's hike away, to study for a week. Absolom studied under the tutelage of the priest of Justica in the Hall of Justice. Babu, with the help of his imaginary friend Urso, found the secret wizard shop ("Wizards Only, Fools!") and was instructed in how to meet and learn from a more experienced mage. Jalani, however, followed a series of clues and secret messages concealed in various landmarks around Swallow to lead her to the place of secrets, where priests of Amon-Tor learn the mysteries of the God of Secrets.

During that same week, Valerius was offered a dangerous mission that involved a cave high up on the mountains. He refused, but Stefan took the mission. A week passed and Stefan did not return. Everyone feared him dead. That same week, Gwen made a friend of an assassin from Swallow. The assassin was grateful to Gwen and gave her the choice of awards: the nullification of any assassination order at some point in the future or a reward of 1900 gold coins. Gwen took the gold coins.

Once More Into the Mountain
After two weeks, the party once more ventured into the mountain. They retraced their steps, encountering no dangers along the way, until they reached another guard room. This time, the guards backed away cautiously. One of the guards tossed a capped metal cylinder into the room. Jalani moved away from the rest of the group and cautiously opened it. A puff of powder exploded and Jalani fell unconscious. The kobolds, chagrined that their plan failed, tossed another capped metal tube into the room and waited for a response. The party ignored the tube and rushed the kobolds, slaying each and every one of them.

Later, after Jalani was restored to consciousness, the tube was inspected and opened, revealing a note. The note contained a notice of surrender and an invitation to discuss terms, eloquently written in excellent handwriting, signed Vitch.

The party moved forward and found a kobold alchemist and wizard, wearing dirty robes and along pointy hat that curved forward, sitting in his study. The kobold surrendered himself saying, in the common tongue, "I give up! I give up! I'm the last one!"

Poor doomed Vitch.

The Story of Vitch the Doomed
The kobold introduced himself as Vitch, kobold alchemist and wizard. Vitched seemed erudite and well-educated, but bitter and angry. Vitch asked how the party came to be here. When told about the key, he exclaimed, "You have a key? You can leave this place! Take me with you! I'll tell you anything you want to know, just get me out of here! I was once a promising wizard! I studied at the best colleges across Agartha! I've been trapped in this fucking place for almost ten years! TEN YEARS with these damn disgusting rat-dogs!"

When it was explained that fifty years had passed on the outside, he became enraged, "Those FUCKING Mages of Bhakru! DAMN IT!"

He explained that he was a human that came here to study alchemy from the dwarves of Duirndown. While he was here, the city had fallen to an evil influence called Ogremoch, and that this evil corruption led to a civil war. When the wizard Ezekiel attacked with his army of evil humanoids, he tried to escape. He was captured. He eventually fell into the company of an infestation of kobolds here.

GM Note - Vitch was a human who was polymorphed into a kobold by Ezekiel, a detail Vitch failed to mention that could have saved his life. Indeed, I didn't think of it until just now and I wish I had at the time.

The Mages of Bhakru came to re-take the city and send Ogremoch back to the elemental plane of Earth. They failed. Ogremoch could not be stopped. He would continue to grow and expand until one day he would destroy all of Agartha. However, although he could not be stopped, he could be contained. The Mages cast a powerful spell on the mountain. Nothing that entered the mountain could escape. Thus would Ogremoch and the armies of Ezekiel be trapped within.

Vitch described what the party might expect below, with tribes of orcs, hobgoblins, goblins, and ogres trapped in the abandoned dwarfish city. He also said that the protective spell allowed things to enter, but would not allow them to leave, so other monsters and even explorers have found their way through the secret cracks and passages of the mountain into the city. He said that Ezekiel had taken over Duirn's palace as his own and that different forces have taken control of different areas of the city.

However, it seemed the Mages not only sealed everything within, they froze time as well, probably hoping to deal with the problem at some point in the future. Well, its obvious the spell wasn't perfect. Several years have passed, so time has been leaking, possibly even accelerating. Ogremoch was slowed but not stopped. And one day, the spell will fail, time will catch up, and Ogremoch will escape his prison!

"In the meantime, get me out of here!"

While the party was distracted, Knott approached Vitch, brandishing his battle axe. Vitch tried to cast Invisibility on himself but failed. Knott hacked Vitch down in cold blood. Ending any debate before it could begin.

With the murder of Vitch, the party searched the room. An arch opened into an adjoining empty room. In the other room, the arch disappeared behind an illusory wall. Vitch's quarters contained a laboratory, within which was discovered:
  • A fine magic axe of dwarfish manufacture, with inlaid knot-work on the blade and runes caved along the haft. The axe was later identified by Old Gnuder as being his axe, which he donated to the party due to his current infirmity.
  • A two-hundred pound magic anvil, later revealed by Old Gnuder to be the Anvil of Hrind the Fabricator. The anvil is of great use and importance to the dwarves, but is useless without the hammer and tongs of Hrind which must still be in the mountain somewhere.
  • Two potions of Stone Giant Strength.
  • One vials of Sleeping Powder (As MU Spell of same name, can be thrown by anyone, subject to grenade-like missile rules).
  • Two vials of Stinking Cloud Powder (as MU spell of same name, can be thrown by anyone, subject to grenade-like missile rules).
  • Two vials of Scare Powder (as MU spell of same name, can be thrown by anyone, subject to grenade-like missile rules).
  • One potion of Stone Giant Control.
  • 300 gold coins stashed in clay jars.
  • Two golden statuettes worth 100 GP each.
  • Alchemy tools and laboratory worth 500 GP.
  • Various alchemical ingredients and magic user spell components.
The party once more made their way back to the surface to stash their gains, consult Old Gnuder, and make plans for future forays.
After Action Report
Knott's murder of Vitch brought Knott's neutrality into question. At the time, I ignored it. The players do not like having to deal with issues of morality and philosophy in the game. However, after the fact, I raised the question with Knott's player: At best it could be interpreted as an execution of a kobold - an irredeemable enemy of humanity. At worst, it could be interpreted as the cold-blooded murder of an individual who has surrendered, had, in fact, done you no direct harm (discounting the fabrication of alchemical traps), and seemed to be held there as an unwilling prisoner!
That's the second surrendered prisoner Knott has executed. It definitely displays a certain amount of wrath on Knott's part, and I associate wrath with evil and its opposite compassion with good. Definitely not the act of a disinterested neutral party. I think a neutral character would only execute someone if they were personally wronged, injured, or in some way personally put at risk. Or if they logically came to the conclusion that the offender was irredeemable and a threat to others.
Knott's first execution was a cultist who was a mass-murderer and probably a cannibal and definitely irredeemably evil. Totally logically justified. However, Vitch the kobold was another story. Assuming Vitch was just a kobold (and not a polymorphed human), and that kobolds are irredeemably and indisputably evil (which is only possible in a game like D&D), is it neutrally logical to exterminate them to eliminate their threat?
Knott's player is basing Knott on Jayne from Firefly. His alignment is "Jayne". His philosophy is "What would Jayne do?"
And that's a fair question. What alignment is Jayne? I've seen various alignment charts on the web, and they vary from Neutral Evil to Chaotic Neutral to Chaotic Evil.

Personally, I think Knott is 60% Neutral Neutral, 20% Neutral Evil, and 20% Chaotic Neutral.
What do you think?