Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"The Evil of Anuran" - Chapter 1 of Dwellers of the Forbidden City

Aline becomes the new leader. A new member joins. The group decides to head north to aid Lodar on his quest for vengeance. Pirates are repulsed. The group confronts Anuran, the ranine demon-toad of the Crying Swamp.


The Group:
  • Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan* parentage
  • Gravy, Human Priest of Thumina
  • Lodar, Prairiefolk** Barbarian
  • Inza, aka "The Shadow", Human Shadow-Warrior
*Elf
**Halfling

A New Leader is Chosen
It had been five weeks since the adventure through the portal to the realm of ice. The blizzard was gone and the snow had quickly melted. Spring was coming to the highlands of Xanthus. Soon the summer rains would set in.

Arrn and Dornan took the remains of the Ice King back to the wizard city of Yon to collect the bounty. They promised to deposit everyone else's share in the money changer in Thither. The group agreed.

Aline the Evoker
With the death of Joroon, Aline was chosen to lead the group. Technically, Gravy had seniority, but the absent-minded holy man demurred to the capability of the thaumaturge.

During this time, Inza was nowhere to be found. He spent the five weeks coming to grips with a strange new affliction. His skin began to take on the appearance and texture of silver dragon scales, and he found he could master simple magics. 

Meanwhile, Aline and Gravy listened to the story of Lodar. Lodar was a young warrior of a tribe of prairie folk on the Maidanalu plains. One day he returned from his ritual test of manhood to find that his entire tribe had been killed. He learned that they had died at the hands of a pack of mutated gnolls serving an evil wizard who lived in a strange dark tower in a tall thin mountain that grew mysteriously from the Madanalu plain. He tried to infiltrate the tower to get his revenge. Instead, he became the victim of a magical trap that teleported him into the the frigid blizzard. He found refuge in the house at the center of the blizzard, which was where he met the rest. He hoped to one day get his revenge on the wizard that killed his tribe, but he knew not where he was.
Lodar the Barbarian
Aline informed him that he was in the Xanthus River valley, 400 leagues from the Maidalanu plain. 

Lodar vowed that he would return to the tower of wizard and get his revenge. Aline and Gravy vowed to help him. 

Recruiting a New Member
Aline, Gravy, Lodar, and Inza sat at a table in the inn called the Argentum Funicular in Swallow. They were recruiting a new member and specifically advertised for a spell-caster. The group was joined by a strange creature, an imp. The imp was Aline's new familiar. She had summoned a familiar and the creature crawled out of the crystal ball she carried, proclaiming, "You called?"

The first respondent to the advertisement was a young man, barely seventeen. His wore the clean new robes of a prestidigitator, right out of the wizard academy in Yon. He was politely dismissed.

The second respondent was a grizzled veteran, covered in mud, blood, and stubble. He said he was a bard who had recently escaped from the clutches of a local farmer where he'd been kept chained in a pit for two years, forced to play music once a year to increase the farmer's crop yield. But he got his revenge! He killed the farmer and his entire family! AND HE'D KILL ANYONE ELSE WHO EVER TOLD HIM WHAT TO DO!!!

The group was intrigued and put a pin in his name.

The third respondent was an older man with long white hair and beard. He wore a long blue robe and a tall pointed hat with a wide brim. He introduced himself as Randalf Flynn O'Shea. He presented a folio with his resume' and credentials.
Randalf Flynn O'Shea
Randalf possessed a WMD (Wizard Master’s Degree) attaining the 3rd Circle of Warding from the White Tower of al'Thanon, with a focus on Abjuration magicks and counter-spells.  He spent several years as a Sage of the White Tower with a focus on History, Arcane Lore and Religions. He spoke, read, and wrote modern Agarthan, Elioud, Daro, and Primordial. 

Aline was skeptical. Gravy called for a test and asked Randalf what he would do if Aline cast a fireball at him. He calmly replied that he would dis-spell it. Gravy asked Aline to cast Fireball at Randalf. She did. He dis-spelled it. The group was impressed and offered Randalf the position. 

They asked Randalf if he had ever heard of a wizard who controlled mutant gnolls from a mysterious tower in the Maidanalu plain. In fact he had. The wizard's name was Xenix. He was an alchemist and transmuter who specialized in takwin, the shaping of flesh. He had heard of him. Xenix was a dangerous adversary and very evil. His creations wrought havoc across northeast Agartha.

They asked Randalf if he would accompany them on a journey to Maidanalu to kill this Xenix. Randalf agreed. In fact, Randalf was from the northeastern city of al'Thanon, the only port near the Maidanalu plains. He knew many people there and could be their guide.
To seal their alliance, Aline gave Randalf a case of scrolls that the coterie have gathered over time.

Down River Pirates!
The rest of that day was spent preparing for their journey. Inza took Lodar to the gnome money changer in Swallow. He deposited the large bags of coin and jewels and opened an account, instructing the diminutive barbarian in the use of scrips. They were assured that the money changer in al'Thanon would accept the scrip from Swallow. Each scrip is imprinted with a magic seal, like a scroll, which verifies its authenticity, and all the gnome bankers of Agartha are able to decipher the seal.

The next day, they took the silver funicular down to the boat landing below the Argent falls. There they bought passage on a river boat going to Thither. 

That morning, as they passed the high rock where the black waters of the Atrous river join the golden waters of the Xanthus, Randalf noticed a lookout on top of the rock waving to someone in the other river. That could mean only one thing: river pirates!

A longboat dashed from behind the rock and gained on the bulky river boat. Aline and Gravy harried them with spells until the longboat came alongside and threw grapples. Lodar leaped from the quarter-deck of the barge to the stern of pirate ship where he momentarily lost his footing while Inza jumped from the forecastle to the bow and engaged the pirate captain. 

Aline ordered her imp to become invisible and hide, then climbed onto her flying staff and flew up and astern of the pirate ship. There was suddenly a bright flash and a loud clap of thunder as a lightning bolt flew from her fingers up the line of the ship, eliminating many of the pirates in one stroke.

Randalf, for his part, cast a gust of wind, impeding the movement of two of the pirates until they scattered. Two pirates managed to climb aboard the river-boat, threatening Randalf and Gravy. Gravy harried one with sacred flames while Randalf directed his gust of wind against the other, knocking him off the river boat. 
Inza the Shadow
Inza did battle with the pirate captain while Lodar made his way up the length of the boat, dispatching the two pirates once blasted by Randalf's wind. 

When there were but few pirates left, the bosun appealed to the captain to flee. The captain shouted, "No! We are behind quota! The master would never allow us to return empty-handed!" The captain and his bosun were then incapacitated by Aline's thunderwave spell, cast from directly above them. The captain and the bosun then surrendered. 

The pirate that was blown off the deck was swimming to shore when he was suddenly engulfed in roiling water and multiple serpentine heads! Moments later, a winged hydra burst out of the water and took flight, ridden by the pirate. The bizarre creature and its equally surprising rider flew off to the west, up the Atrous river to the pirate lands. 

The pirate captain looked on in awe, "It's the master! He was with us the entire time!"

He informed the group that the pirate king is a powerful shape-shifter. 

That evening, the team stopped in Wince. There they sold the pirate longboat, which they had taken in tow, and collected the bounty on the pirates, all of which they shared with the boat captain. 

They continued to Thither the next morning.

Festival of Anuran
Signal Tower of Anuran
As the river boat floated down the Xanthus river, it passed into the sluggish waters of the Crying Swamp. Lizard men and bullywugs watched them from the shore. More so than normal, it seemed.

They arrived in Thither late that afternoon to see many boats crossing the channel from the city to the far shore. The sun was setting and the tall signal tower on the northern shore was emitting a strange opalescent smoke, accompanied by queer alien music and dozens of voices chanting.

Curious, they inquired with the boat captain. The captain told them they had arrived on the day of Anuran. On this day, each year, a virgin daughter is selected by lottery to serve as a human sacrifice to Anuran, the god of the swamp upon his awakening from hibernation. It is an ancient pact dating back to antiquity. As long as a sacrifice is given once a year, great Anuran and his swamp-dwelling servants will not lay waste to the city. The annual ritual had become an institution overseen by the archon. It was a day of celebration and revelry. Festivals and bacchanals would last through the night.

The captain docked his river-boat at the waterfront in the city. The group, meanwhile, joined a boat full of pilgrims crossing the river to witness the event.

Across the river from Thither was a mangrove forest, a maze of clumps of trees and small islands. The signal tower of Anuran occupied a small island with the river to the south and the marshy forests to the north. The only structures on the island other than the tall signal tower were located within a walled compound. Stairs led from the river to a colonnade that served as a river-side gate. The group joined the throngs of revelers that climbed the stairs and entered the courtyard.

The courtyard was filled with hundreds of people, all dressed in their finest apparel. The group, still wearing their dirty traveling clothes, stood out, drawing the condescension of many in the throng.

Sitting in a place of honor atop a podium was Archon Kepha, his family, and a dozen of his personal guards. He was joined by the bald high priest of Anuran and several high ranking acolytes of the cult. A retinue of armed soldiers stood guard near the gatehouse on the far side of the courtyard that led to the swamp. A column of robed acolytes wearing pointed hats faced the gatehouse, chanting and swinging censers of incense.

A young woman was chained to two pylons atop the gate house. She swooned in a drug-induced stupor.

The entire tableaux had the air of a civic festival. Vendors were selling grilled frogs on sticks, lizard haunches, candies, and other theme-appropriate foods. The red smoke billowed to the north overhead.

Suddenly, a lookouts in the towers blew horns and cried out, "Behold! Anuran approaches!" The sound of great splashing, cracking vegetation, and uprooted trees came from beyond the gatehouse. The great bulk of a giant demon toad rose from the swamp and emerged through the dark thicket of trees.

Anuran was over fifty feet tall and covered in giant horns, warts, pustules, and open weeping sores. A massive forked tongue dangled from his slack mouth in a most unwholesome fashion. His massive yellow eyes were sleepy slits. The demon-toad was accompanied by hundreds of lizard men and bullywugs, striding, capering, and swimming all about the loathsome entity.

With great effort, Anuran heaved his mighty bulk onto land and crawled toward the wall and his prize atop the gatehouse.

Suddenly, Randalf appeared on the steps in front of the gate house, having magically teleported there. Randalf waved his magic staff at Anuran and shouted a spell of banishment!

The surprised Anuran was returned to his home plane with an audible "PLOP!"
Randalf banishes Anuran!

TO BE CONTINUED!

I'm curious to see how the group gets out of this one. Randalf must maintain the banishment spell for one minute (ten rounds) for it to stick. He'll get one round of surprise as everyone wonders what the hell just happened. He might get a round or two of orders and movement. Then it will be up to Inza, Aline, Gravy, and MAYBE Lodar, who's player has a habit of not showing up, to hold the gatehouse.

Even if he sticks the banishment spell, what then? They'll need to either escape with their lives or convince the authorities that what they did was the right thing to do. Was the pact broken? Was there ever really a pact to begin with? Do the lizard men and bullywugs of the Crying Swamp have a means to re-summon Anuran in order to wreak havoc on the city? Is Thither Doomed? Will the group even hang around long enough to find out if Thither is doomed? 

Find out next week! 

UPDATE: Instead of seeking vengeance in Maidalanu, it's looking increasingly like the party is going to explore the lost city of Sinopia in the Crying Swamp, so I have changed the title of this sequence.