Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"The Temple of Pain and Suffering" Chapter 21 of the Xanthus River Campaign

This week, Thaddeus and Babu delve into the Ruins of the Monastery of Leggach to take on the cult of Adhinatta, the god of pain and suffering, in order to rescue Blue Tom, son of the local crime lord.

Our party this week:
  • Thaddeus, Strider (Level 2 Human Ranger) 
  • Babu, Conjurer (Level 3 Human Magic User)
Thaddeus, spent the previous week learning what he could about the disappearance of Blue Tom, the son of Black Tom, infamous leader of the Path of Fear and Thunder criminal gang in Swallow.

The Cult of Adhinatta
He learned that Blue Tom had joined the cult of Adhinatta, the god of pain and suffering from the wastelands northwest of the Great Wall Mountains.

Thaddeus consulted with Princess Murti and Babu, both natives of the "Exotic Lands Beyond the Wastes", regarding the cult. The princess described the cult as secretive and decadent. They profess a philosophy that sins are absolved through penitent suffering. Through pain, self-mutilation, and flagellation, one will be forgiven for all sins, and for the sins of all mankind.

They recruit devotees through a kind of magic that is not magic: a charm built on pretty words. Publically, they appeal to the poor and hopeless with promises of absolution of sins. Privately, and secretly, they appeal to the wealthy and the nobility with promises of forbidden decadence and pleasures of the flesh.

She knows not why they travelled to Swallow or why they purchased the ruins atop the bald knob of Leggach.

Thaddeus knew, however, that since the arrival in Swallow of the eighty or so pilgrims about two months ago, the cult had secured over two hundred recruits. All who joined were taken within the rubble walls of the ruins atop the bald knob. Only a handful have been seen since.

The monastery ruins that they purchased once belonged to the Monks of Leggach. Little is known of this ancient order other than they ceased to exist when the Empire of Agartha fell over a thousand years ago. Their monastery, like most of the architecture in and around Swallow and the upper Xanthus river valley, was designed and constructed the squat race known as the Daro (dwarves).

In the past month, it was clear that construction was happening atop the bald knob. The cult was rebuilding the monastery with the labor of the new recruits.

Brown Tom
Late one night, well past midnight, Thaddeus and Babu spied Brown Tom sneaking away from the boarding house. They followed her down to the draw-bridge, which she bribed a guard to lower so she might cross. They followed her across and caught up to her in the woods.

She was planning to sneak into the ruined monastery and rescue her brother. Thaddeus and Babu stopped her and told her to wait here in the woods. They would reconnoiter the monastery and find her brother. Thaddeus knew Blue Tom and would recognize him on sight. They asked Brown Tom for a token, something that would show Blue Tom that they came at his sister's behest. She gave them a small object that would serve the purpose.

They pair told Brown Tom they would return with her brother if they could, or come back and summon the rest of the party for further action. If they did not return to this spot by dawn, Brown Tom was to return to town and consult the rest of the party. Brown Tom agreed to the plan.

Babu then cast invisibility on himself and on Thaddeus. Each then held onto the end of a long thread so they could would not be separated. The pair then crawled over the partially-reconstructed ruined wall and entered the monastery grounds.

The Ruins of Leggach
Within were some small living structures for a handful of guards and a stable for the draft animals. About twenty guards patrolled the grounds or stood watch in the newly re-built flanking towers or stood watch atop scaffolding inside the shell of the ruined keep tower.
The Ruins of Leggach

 They entered the ruins of the monastery itself. The ruins primarily consisted of foundation walls and lacked a roof or upper floors. The pair trod cautiously, noting the neat piles of stones and construction scaffolding, and also that many of the stones were freshly quarried. They reached the center of the tower without incident and found a large shaft descending into the old bald knob. From cranes built of stout timbers hung chains attached to winches and large buckets. Iron ladder rungs were hammered
into the sides of the shaft. Thaddeus and Babu descended into the darkness.

The pair found a ledge that led into a cavern while the shaft continued to descend. There they found a wooden boardwalk path leading through a cave. Unable to discern the depth of the cave in the darkness, and unwilling to light a torch, they returned to the shaft and continued down the ladder.

They eventually found bottom of the shaft. Confident that they were unobserved and in a relatively confined space, they lit torches. Though still invisible, the torches would be seen by others, so they explored slowly and carefully. The platform turned into winding stairs that descended into the earth.

They were in a multi-level subterranean complex, constructed for human habitation by the Daro in a lost age. They explored softly and gently, preferring a quiet reconnaissance. They noted the utilitarian wooden door to their right, the ornate brass doors with bas relief depicting scenes of pain and torture leading to exaltation and salvation.

They explored a corridor that led to a mysterious pit filled with spikes, over which hung two dangling chains. Unwilling to swing by the chains, they chose another passage. It led to ascending stairs that ended in a collapsed ceiling.

Down another passage they found a ladder that ascended into a shaft. At the top of the shaft was an unworked cave with a wooden boardwalk path. They followed the boardwalk path to a stone platform. Cranes lifted stones from a deep shaft. They climbed down a ladder into the shaft and found another platform.

The Quarry
This platform overlooked a deep crevice, a cleft in the earth forty to fifty feet across, over a hundred feet wide, and several hundred feet deep. Chains hung from pulleys attached to the roof of the crevice. Winches at the bottom of the crevice raised and lowered massive buckets filled with stone. Stone ledges were caved into the wall at several levels. Wooden scaffolding and ladders clung to the walls of the crevice. Far below, dozens of people were quarrying rock and loading it into the buckets. Masked overseers cracked whips and scourges at any laborer who paused in their work. Each of the laborers wore ankle chains that inhibited their movement and were chained together. They were enslaved!

The pair clung to a length of chain and descended to one of the lower ledges where they disembarked and explored another passage, which they soon discovered to be the other end of the spiked pit. Voices approached and they clung cautiously to the wall and placed their torch in a nearby wall sconce. Guards came forth carrying some kind of gang-plank. The gang-plank was attached via hooks to the dangling chains, allowing the guards to safely cross the spiked pit.

The guards looked over the precipice to examine above and below. Finding nothing, they retreated the direction they came, taking the gang-plank with them, to the chagrin of Thaddeus who realized too late they could have used it to cross the pit while the guards were looking the other way.

Soon afterwards, Thaddeus and Babu spied a small group of robed initiates carrying candles exiting through a secret door just past the pit trap and cross to the passage with the ladder. Curious.

The pair returned to the quarry and descended the network of ladders and scaffolding to the lower ledge. They paused and looked to see if any of the workers was Blue Tom. None were.

Slave Quarters
The quarry itself reached further into the bowels of the earth, its true extent unknown. At the lower ledge, they took a passage that led to a large room filled with over a hundred slaves, all sleeping in a common room bound to each other by chains and manacles. A raised platform was set aside for the overseers, all of whom seemed to be sleeping or dozing at the moment. A small lantern provided dim illumination.

They gingerly crept through the sleeping throng checking for Blue Tom. Not finding him, they explored a passage that led down some twisting stairs. Once out of view, they cautiously lit another torch  and descended, only to find a dead end. The pair spent forty minutes trying to find a secret door but to no avail. They doused their torch and returned to the sleeping room.

Thaddeus carefully removed the keys from the belt of the drowsy overseer and one of the unlit lanterns and opened the locked door at the rear of the overseers' platform. Once beyond the door, they found themselves in complete darkness. Confident they were alone, they lit the lantern. They were in a small room with a ladder leading up and another door. Behind the door was a room filled with over a dozen sleeping cultists, none of whom appeared to be slaves or bound against their will.

At the rear of the room was a small natural passage. The pair explored the passage which led to a false wall. Moving the wall aside, they found themselves inside a barred prison cell. Beyond the bars was a shaft filled with five levels of dark but occupied prison cells.

They retreated the way they came and climbed the ladder. The ladder led to a secret room with a false door through which they saw the initiates exit earlier. Outside they heard guards, speaking the incomprehensible language from beyond the wastes.

Luckily, Babu is of those people and knew what they were saying.

"We have searched all levels and found no intruders, sir."

"The mistress has sensed them. They are here! Search again! Find them!"

"As you command!"

The guards then split up once more.

Babu waited for the guards to leave and told Thaddeus what he heard. They doused the lantern and carefully exited through the secret door. Every torch in every sconce was now lit. They crept invisibly past the brass doors, and used their stolen keys to open the utilitarian door.

The Chamber of Penitent Excruciation
Within they found a chamber filled with instruments of pain and torture. A fat priest wearing nothing but a leather apron was busy mutilating a bound subject, cutting them, removing strips of skin, inserting long needles into muscles, etc.

A winch was connected to a platform suspended by a chain through a pulley in the ceiling. The platform could descend into a large shaft in the floor. The shaft contained the five levels of prison cells observed earlier. The torturer was absorbed by his work and failed to notice the door open and close as the invisible intruders continued into another room.

One of the half-dozen guards in the next room, however, did notice the door open and close. He immediately called out, "The door! The intruders, they must be invisible! Search every corner! Prod with your weapons!"

The pair quickly moved through into an adjoining room and managed to avoid detection. They were in the guard barracks, which were now empty as every guard had been awakened for the search. In the next room, they found several warriors, some sleeping, one awake at a desk, studying a scroll. They retreated to the abandoned guard room to quietly discuss their options.

After a quick conference, they executed their plan.

The Soft Probe Goes Hard
They waited for the guards, satisfied that no invisible intruders were in the torture chamber, to leave. They then rushed in and killed the torturer, cancelling their invisibility. After hurling his corpse down the shaft, Babu manned the winch while Thaddeus descended the shaft on the platform. Thaddeus found Blue Tom huddling the back of one of the cells.

Blue Tom had been mutilated nearly beyond recognition. His lips had been cut away, his face and body scarred, and his right hand had been removed. Blue Tom recognized Thaddeus and begged for help. He said he had made a horrible mistake, that the wealthy initiates were rewarded and made acolytes while the poor ones were enslaved and forced to work in the quarry. The slaves that resisted were punished, imprisoned here and tortured for the pleasure of the priests and the wealthy acolytes.

Thaddeus called Babu to climb down the chain and the trio escaped through the secret door in one of the cells. They snuck into the room of the acolytes and killed every one of them in their sleep. They then crossed over to the platform of the overseers. The drowsing overseer was now fully awake. He was killed before he could rouse the other overseers, all of whom soon joined him in death.

Freeing the Slaves
Thaddeus then ran into the quarry room in order to get the attention of the overseers. Having done so, he led them back to the corridor and to the slave room. Thaddeus slew each in turn as they rounded the corner and Babu felled the remainder with arrows as they ran down the corridor.

The commotion of battle woke the slaves and Thaddeus and Babu began unlocking their manacles, distributing the multiple sets of keys they now possessed among the slaves. They slaves, now armed with mining implements, were beginning to become unruly. Thaddeus called for one among their number to act as leader and spokesperson. He asked the spokesperson to organize the slaves and prepare for an escape. While that was being done, Thaddeus quickly returned to the crevice and climbed a ladder down to a lower level, where he found a store-room and stairs leading into the darkness and heard the lapping of water. He promptly returned to the slave room.

The Great Escape
The slaves were now somewhat organized. Thaddeus told the spokesperson to lead the slaves up the ladder, across the corridor, and up the other ladder to the cave, then follow the boardwalk path to the final ladder and up to the surface. Thaddeus and Babu would lead the way and hold off the guards. With that, everyone started up the ladder in a huge line.

At the top of the ladder, Thaddeus and Babu encountered a half-dozen guards led by the officer they saw reading before, now fully clad in armor and carrying an ornately carved spear. Thaddeus and Babu held off the guards while the slaves filed across the hall and up the second ladder.

Babu cast a spell that put the guards to sleep while Thaddeus took on the officer who was unaffected. After a fierce battle, the officer was slain and Thaddeus took the spear. Thaddeus and Babu then hurried up the stairs to the third ladder and slew some more guards. They then climbed to the surface ahead of the escaping slaves. Babu fired his crossbow at the crossbowmen on the scaffolding while Thaddeus engaged guards on the ground.

During the ensuing melee, Thaddeus was felled by a lucky shot. Babu cast a spell to put the remaining guards to sleep then rushed to Thaddeus' aid. Babu had one of the escaping slaves take Blue Tom while Babu threw Thaddeus over his shoulder. The mass of people scurried over the debris of the half-reconstructed wall and fled down the hill to the safety of the trees. Many of the escaping slaves were cut down by guards or were slain by archers on the towers, but the mass of them successfully escaped.


After Thoughts
I originally cancelled this week's game for lack of quorum. I had the quest up river to fight the Red Orcs in Flinch. However, Trevor and Lucinda talked me into running a side-quest for just them: they wanted to rescue Blue Tom! So at the last minute, I turned to the Ultimate Dungeon Delve at Wizardawn to create a random dungeon for the secret temple of the Cult of Adhinatta. The very first one I created is pictured above. I loved it. It was perfect. I created a few more just to see if I could get something better, but I didn't so I stuck with the first.

Temple Side-View (spoilers redacted)

I ignored the randomly generated dungeon denizens and filled the above with my own list. Here's my original notes.

(note - at the request of one my players, I have removed all spoilers)

1.       Ladder descends down shaft. Tunnel leads to caves.
2.       Caves with stirges (I changed this to being empty when I realized the slaves needed a safe way to carry the rock out of the quarry.
3.       Room with shaft. 
4.       Stairs to room with collapsed floor. Save vs. Paralysis or fall through floor. (again, I changed this so that the slaves had a route to the surface). SPOILERS REDACTED
5-10. Prison cells lined along vertical shaft, accessible only by elevator mechanism.
5.      Penitents
6.      Penitents
7.      Blue Tom
8.      Decadent penitents who can leave any time they wish through secret door
14.    Platforms suspended by chains over deep chasm. Used in ancient days for quarry.
20.    Stairs and ladder lead down to river access

Temple of Pain and Suffering with spoilers redacted

 During the dungeon, as they were mapping, Lucinda noted "this dungeon seems very two-dimensional, like an ant-colony". I blushed because, event though I tried to give the dungeon a Z-dimension on each level, they were right. The dungeon was pretty vertical.

I made some changes on the fly to accommodate their actions and some better ideas I had. For example, I realized during the game that the slaves had no way to move their stone up to the surface, so I changed the stirge cave to an empty cave and changed the collapsed floor room to a platform for lifting the stone out of the quarry. Suddenly, the dungeon made much more logical sense. There are still huge areas unexplored or undiscovered. There's an entire lower level they haven't been to yet, and the entire priest's quarters. I'm glad they didn't go in there because I didn't have any higher level NPCs statted out. I also just realized that I put the torturer in the same room as the winch. Oops. I totally forgot there was a separate torture chamber in SPOILER REDACTED.

Another nifty thing I did this week was the use of random encounters to ratchet up the tension. I keep close track of time, not only for torch life but also for random encounters. Every turns (10 minutes), I would make a d6 roll. On a 1, they would encounter a guard or a slave or something wilder in the untraveled parts of the dungeon. Every time they got the guards, I would ratchet it up. Now they guards were suspicious. Their mysterious mistress sensed the presence of intruders. Now I would have guards show up on a 2-in-6 every ten minutes. The second or third time they showed up, the guards actually witnessed the door opening, confirming that some invisible intruder was present. Now I was rolling 3-in-6 and the guards were actively searching for invisible intruders.

My goal was to maintain the soft probe as long as possible. So many of our soft probes go hard almost immediately that it has become a joke. This time, I let the player characters explore as much of the dungeon as they could, but eventually they were going to be seen. I just did my best to postpone that as feasibly as possible to preserve that fun. Plus, I wanted to play up the search. It worked out fantastically.

When the players finally cancelled their invisibility, it was because they CHOSE to, not because I took it away from them (although one can argue they HAD to to continue, but it was still their choice). It was a good feeling all around.

The plan of the players is to return to town and tell the magistrate and the archon what was happening in the ruins of Leggach, raise a small army, and storm the place. Of course, the remaining cultists, most of whom are high level clerics and fighters (and others) will have retreated into the dungeon and sealed the entrance. They have an agenda that is as yet undiscovered and they will not be stopped! If only there were some secret entrance from the river or something.

Unfortunately, we aren't gaming next Friday for Independence Day, so I'll have to wait a few weeks to see what the players do.

Anyway, this impromptu dungeon turned out to be a LOT of fun given I came up with it in like 30 minutes on the day of the game.