Monday, June 2, 2014

"Are You Sewer?" Chapter 18 of the Xanthus River Campaign

This week, the party returns to Swallow, consults with an arch-mage, and explore the sewers to fight some rat-men!

Our party:

Player characters
  • Ser Valerius, Protector of Justica (Level 3 Human Paladin)
  • Absolom, Priest of Justica (Level 3 Human Cleric)
  • Jalani, Priestess of Amun-Tor (Level 3 Human Cleric)
  • Gwen, Warrior (Level 2 Elf Fighter)
  • Babu the Evoker (Level 2 Human Magic User)
  • Knott the Warrior (Level 2 Human Fighter)
  • Brown Tom the Veteran (Level 1 Human Fighter, Squire of Valerius)
  • Clench (Human Mercenary Heavy Infantryman)
  • Squat (Human Mercenary Heavy Infantryman)
  • Push (Human Mercenary Heavy Infantryman)
  • Favreau (Human Cook, Paula's spouse)
  • Paula (Human Cook, Favreau's spouse)
  • "War Dog" (Valerius' War Dog)
  • Donkey and Cart for Favreau and Paula's supplies
When we last left our party, they had cleared the first level of Duirnhold of its infestation by kobolds. They returned to the surface village of Duirndown to discuss their options. 

Wizards Only, Fools!
Wanting to know more about the mysterious Ogremoch and the protective spells placed upon Duirnhold by the Mages of Baakhru, they decide to go to Swallow to inquire about the mages at the wizard's guild there, an institution that operates within the only magic shop, "Wizards Only, Fools!".

The entourage travels to Swallow, a eight hour hike down river from Duirndown. They stop for lunch in Choke and Gwen catches up on the latest gossip from her friend Donnan of the town guard.

They arrived in Choke late that afternoon and split up for the evening. Valerius, Babu, Absalom, and Gwen head to Wizards Only, Fools! and ask about the Mages of Baakhru. The proprietor of the establishment, a thin wiry fellow, shrieked his objection, "Can't you people read? What does the sign outside say? WIZARDS ONLY, FOOLS!" Urso, the ghost of the dead wizard that haunts Babu, was visible to the proprietor, who recognized him. Urso managed to talk the proprietor into allowing the outsiders entry and asked him to hook up a meeting with Gaitex the Sporn, Disciple of the Roving Gortleflexiyon, and member of the Mages of Baakhru.

The proprietor led them into a back room containing three concentric silver circles inlaid into the stone floor. He motioned the party to stand in the center circle. Powder was poured into each of the four corners. They were then consumed by a flash of light and the strong smell of the color red. 

The Roving Gortleflexion of Emeril Lagasse
They found themselves standing on a similar circle on a stone platform outside a castle built atop a comet hurtling through space. The castle was built partly out of the comet and party inside the comet. A long fiery red coma trailed off into space as meteors, debris, and coruscating auroras whizzed by. 

An elf with long white hair, glowing green eyes, and blue and yellow robes manned an anachronistic steering wheel, one with rubber grips and chrome spokes like those on an old muscle car, on a platform jutting off the comet like the bowsprit of a ship. A small wooden marionette, a minute copy of the elf himself, clung to the elf's left shoulder, gently suckling green blood out of a wound on the elf's neck. 

They approached the elf, calling out the name "Gaitex". The elf spun around, startled! After calming down, he introduced himself. His name was Emeril Lagasse, Archmage of Nerath and Septarch of the Roving Gortleflexiyon. With a swoosh of his hand, he indicated that the comet was the roving Gotleflexiyon. He explained that Gaitex was a student of his and that this was his school of wizardry. Gaitex was unavailable but he would help him if he could.

They explained their quest, asking for information on the enchantments placed upon Duirnhold and about Ogremoch.

Emeril explained that Ogremoch was one of the Elemental Princes of Evil, confined to the Elemental Plane of Earth. He said that two thousand years ago, the dwarf Duirn had dug so deeply beneath his mountain that he opened a passage into the elemental plane of earth. Ogremoch utilized the breach to come forth into our world, corrupting the dwarfs of Duirnhold, turning them into evil Derros. The subterrene realm of Duirnhold fell to civil war. The derros called upon the help of the evil wizard Ezekiel and his army of orcs and goblins. The alliance of the derros and Ezekiel defeated the good dwarfs, who were forced to flee their land. 

The Mages of Baakhru were unable to defeat Ezekiel and his army and the derros, which they would need to do in order to seal the breach to the elemental plane of earth. So they cast a temporal enchantment on the entire mountain. Nothing within it would experience the passage of time. It was hoped that one day, a force powerful enough would return and defeat the armies of Ezekiel and the derro. But there was nothing to worry about, they had all the time in the world.

Absolom, Priest of Justica
Absolom explained that they had recently used the key to enter the mountain, and that time had, indeed, advanced, though at a slower rate than outside. Emeril expressed his disbelief and asked Absolom to allow him to touch the key so that he could inspect the mountain. Absolom presented the key and Emeril grabbed the other end. Suddenly, the two were zooming through space at the speed of thought. They approached the planet Earth and fell towards the continent of Agartha. They landed outside the entrance to Duirnhold with Absolom wretching and heaving from motion sickness. Emeril inspected the gate, commenting, "What? That's not possible!" Soon afterwards, they zoomed back through space, back towards the Gotleflexiyon. To the rest, the pair never left the platform.

Emeril explained that the spell was weakening and that time was accelerating. He estimated that Ogremoch will be free in roughly fifty years. At that time, Ogremoch will spread across the surface of the earth, covering Agartha under thousands of feet of rock. 

The party asked what they could do to stop Ogremoch. Emeril replied, "Get tougher." He explained that no army on Agartha would be enough to defeat the combined forces of Ezekiel and the derros. "However...", he pondered, "One might be able to take them on a little bit at a time, maybe."

Emeril explained that Duirnhold was constructed in such a way as to be easily compartmentalized. There were twenty-four checkpoints located throughout Duirnhold, and that as part of their enchantment, the twenty-four Mages of Baakhru had sealed each section with a separate key, and entrusted all twenty-four keys with the dwarf-lords of Duirnhold after their diaspora.  One could, conceivably, re-take the city one section at a time. 

The party thanked Emeril for the information and asked how they were to return home. Emeril said, "go inside and ask for a guy named Feldspar. He's the guy made of large ruby crystals. He's got a blue crystal dog named Component. Tell him where you'd like to go and he can send you there. As long as they have a dimensional gate." They did so and were soon back in Swallow.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party was looking for things to do in Swallow. They spied a flyer on the notice board posting a reward for those who could rid Swallow of the pestilence of Rat-Men. A reward was offered of 1500 gold pieces for eliminating the rat-men, plus 10 gold pieces per rat-man body. Interested parties were told to inquire with Black Tom Rittle in Worker's Row.

Black Tom Rittle
Reuniting with the rest, the entourage went to Worker's Row, a poor section of tenements and hovels guarded by thugs and ne'er-do-wells. Inquiring about the bounty, Valerius, Babu, Absolom, and Gwen were shown into the basement of one of the tenements where a shady fellow wearing all black held a sort of make-shift court of goons and bodyguards. He was Black Tom Rittle, leader of the crime syndicate known as the Path of Fear and Thunder. Black Tom explained that the Path would like to rid the town of the filthy vermin what have been stealing from the good fair folk of Swallow.

When asked why he cared, he replied, "They're the competition! They're unregulated! They keep going the way they're going, they're going ta' bring the law down on all of us! They has to be eliminated! We searched all over the sewer for them, but we ain't never found their lair, and I lost plenty of guys down there looking for it! Ain't none of my guys willing to go down there no more. So I has to hire you idiots!" 

Absolom took umbrage at the man's tone, calling him rude. "Of course I'm rude! I'm a fuckin' crime boss! Idiot!"

Absolom, offended, said that they wouldn't take the job until he was polite. Black Tom replied, "Okay. Pretty please. With sugar on top!" 

Absolom said that he tought Black Tom was being "Saccharinistic." 

"He's being what?" Everyone else replied.

"You know, Saccharinistic. When you say something sweet, but it's really fake!"

Black Tom, taken aback, said, "Okay, whatever. I'm sorry."

The party asked if any of Black Tom's men could at least guide them into the sewer. Black Tom called forward two fellows, a gnome thief/illusionist name Biscuit and a human ranger named Thaddeus.

At that, the team took the job. Biscuit and Thaddeus showed them the entrance into the sewer from the basement.

As the entourage filed past, Black Tom recognized his daughter, "Tomasina?!" She, caught off guard, replied, "Daddy?" He came forward but Brown Tom said "Gotta go!" and rushed forward down the stairs into the sewer. The gate was closed behind them.
Babu and Jilani
The party spent several hours exploring the sewers beneath Swallow, finding little. Thaddeus was able to locate spoor that indicated the path of the rat-men, but it led to a dead end. Jilani, however, located a secret door, a section of false wall that slid aside, revealing another section of sewer.

Sewer Rats!
Beyond the secret door was a patrol of eight rat-men with six large rats. The party entered into battle with the rat-men. The rat-men let out a loud piercing squeak that echoed throughout the dark sewers. The squeaks multiplied until there was a cacophony of rat-like squeals, accompanied by several deep gravelly "SQUONKS!"

Jilani looked at the Absolom, "What was THAT?"

Absolom grinned with cool anticipation, "Rat-Ogres!"

A second wave of rat-men, these riding massive dire-rat mounts, rode forth to engage each flank. These were followed by a third wave of rat-men.

The sewers ran red with the blood of rat-men! Valerius, his war-dog, and his hirelings Clench and Squat protected the left flank. Knott, Babu, and Jilani held the right flank. Gwen, Thaddeus, and Brown Tom provided cover fire. Knott soon fell to the carnage of the rat-men and Absolom rushed forward to provide aid. Babu cast a spell that put the entire right flank, save a few at the edge, to sleep. Absolom, Push, and Buscuit advanced around the corner to take out those that were not sleeping.

The First Battle of Swallow's Sewers

Eventually, all the rat-men were killed, though the sound of enraged squeaking echoed through the dark sewer passages, presaging the battles yet to come.


After-Action Report
The sewer battle was because my players wanted a break from Duirnhold. This being a sand-box game, they are free to pursue any story they wish. They could have tracked down the pirate's treasure, or freed the Defile of Castagon from marauding ogres, but they chose rat-men infesting the sewers of Swallow.

They were a little intimidated by the concept of fighting hordes of orcs and saving the world from Ogremoch so I gave them the staged approach with 25 challenging but winnable levels. This is what I sort-of had in mind anyway, but one of my players strongly suggested it, so I verified it for him to assuage his concerns. 

The rat-men fight was tough but fun, I thought. It was challenging. I only have like eight to ten skaven and were-rat minis (not counting plague-seers and rat-ogres). We're taking next week off so I'll use that time to paint more of my skaven miniatures so I'll have plenty next time.

Rat-men, by the way, have the same statistics as goblins in AD&D, but with the 5% per bite chance of infection. However, since rat-men usually use weapons, it is less a danger.

Rat-men leaders, like goblins, will be orcs and hobgoblins and will have better armor and weapons.

The rat-mounts were treated as dire-wolves. Rat-ogres, when encountered, will be treated as ogres.