Thursday, July 9, 2015

"Caught Monologuing!" - Chapter 8 of Dwellers of the Forbidden City

The team infiltrates the house of Horan and dispatch him in the middle of his villainous monologue. Then they must battle their way out against a horde of reptile-men mercenaries. As they escape, they find a mysterious object at the bottom of a pond and must defend themselves against its invisible defender.

The Group (in order of seniority):
  • Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan* parentage (Wizard 8)
  • Inza, aka "The Shadow", Human Shadow-Warrior (Monk 7/Sorcerer 1)
  • Lodar, Prairiefolk** Barbarian (Barbarian 7)
  • Randalf Azul, Human Abjurer (Wizard 8)
  • Sorjin, Human Adventurer, Bounty Hunter, ...Ladies Man (Fighter 5/Something Else 2)
Not Present this week:
  • Gravy, Human Priest of Thumina (Cleric 8)
* Elf
** Halfling
*** Half-Orc

Last week, the party learned that Indigo the blue imp was somehow connected to the Aline's crystal ball, and that the crystal ball was somehow opening a gate to hell and allowing devils to escape. Later, the team performed some reconnaissance of the House of Horan prior to planning their infiltration.
DM Note: I was really off my game this week. I was guilty of one major screw-up after another. I beat myself quite a bit after the session and regretted a lot of rulings I made and details I overlooked. I will try to identify them wherever possible. Luckily, I was able to salvage my screw-ups and the end battle I improvised turned out pretty entertaining, but it wasn't what I was hoping for.
The Infiltration
Under the cover of Aline's Major Illusion spell, the team stealthily move from their hiding place to the southeast corner of the wall surrounding Horan's compound. Thus magically hidden from view, they climbed over the wall and into a wooded garden of small cherry trees, bamboo, and reeds around a small pond covered in lily-pads.

Sticking together under the umbrella of the illusion, they made their way around the right of the house, stopping when they realized they would travel too near a guard barracks. They turned around and went to the left of the house where they saw an entrance.

Corridors of Confusion
The door was made of wooden slats and slid open sideways. The large room beyond contained a square sunken area in the center of the room which contained a small cooking fire. Tatami mats lined the raised floor around the fire pit. The walls were made of sliding shoji screens, rice paper framed in bamboo panels. Two of the panels, one to the left and one to the right of the corridor on the other side of the room, were illuminated from the rooms within. Various statues of fat gods were placed on pedestals around the otherwise empty room. They paused before entering. Nothing happened.
DM Note: The room was protected by magic mouth spells cast upon the statues. If any intruders entered the room, the statues were programmed to shout, "Help! Help! We're under attack!" but I ruled that the major illusion spell prevented their activation. 
 Screw-Up #1: I forgot to mention the shoji screen walls to the players. This will become important later.
They entered with caution and invisibly made their way to the far corridor. As soon as they stepped onto the brown lacquered wood of the corridor, the hallway filled with dense fog. No one could see beyond a few feet. Anyone walking into the corridor became dizzy and confused. The effect was illusory, all within the minds of the observer, so they made their way forward as best they could.

They went to what they hoped was the room to the left. They tried to open the sliding shoji screen door, but it was magically stuck. It took the magic users TWO dispel magic spells to deactivate the arcane lock spell placed upon the door. Luckily, the major image spell masked the sounds of the spell-casting.
DM Note: the house is protected by a spell called Guards and Wards. This causes anyone passing through an intersection to roll randomly to see which direction they actually go. Unbeknownst to the players, they rolled lucky and went in the desired direction.
Once through the door, they encountered another fog-filled hallway. They made their way forward and found another sliding door to the left. The room beyond was illuminated through the rice paper.
DM Note: Remember, I forgot to mention this detail to the players at the time, but I include it here as part of a more coherent narrative.
Inza tried to open the door but it wouldn't budge. Lodar was brought forth and he violently ripped it out of its track. The woman meditating in the room beyond was Kwairno, the female wizard they captured from the caravan two days previous! She leaped to her feet in confusion for the room beyond was empty. The door just silently and mysteriously ripped itself open!
DM Note: Aline's player wanted to make her major image spell preserve the illusion of the closed door. I ruled that since she couldn't see the other side of the door, she couldn't do that. 
The party used her confusion to rush in. Inza hit her with a few nerve strikes and caught her as she fell unconscious, gently lowering her back onto her bed.
DM Note: Yeah, that was pretty awesome.
They tied her up and gagged her and left her on her bed while they moved to the next room. The room was dark but once again Lodar was forced to rip the magically held door off its track. Inside they found the chamber of a wizard of advanced ability. A large spell-book rested on a silver pedestal carved to resemble a silver oriental dragon. This was surely the chamber of the wizard Horan, but he was nowhere to be found.

Randalf cast a Detect Magic spell. Besides everything in the room, he could detect something just beyond the wall in one corner of the room. He was momentarily confused, then he smacked his forehead when he realized it was Kwairno on her bed in her room. He ran over and found a magic ring on her finger, which he took.
DM Note: Dammit! He found her Ring of Free Movement which she was going to use to free herself when she woke up!
The party had barely started tearing the two rooms apart looking for loot when the front entrance erupted into several shrill voices screaming "Help! Help! We're being repressed!"
DM Note: Sorjin's player had just showed up, about an hour late. He walked in the front door and triggered the magic mouths.
Inza ran back to the hearth room see what was the matter.
DM Note: Luckily rolling the correct directions again.
There he saw Sorjin. The two quickly destroyed the statues when Sorjin was set upon by an invisible assailant! The invisible attack was like some kind of beast! It could not be attacked in return, yet its bite tore into Sorjin's flesh to cause grievous injury! Inza shouted for Randalf to come and dispel or banish the magical creature. Randalf, concerned about the dizzying fog, shouted back that he would try.

Randalf, who can see invisible creatures, ran into the room and quickly dispelled the invisible attacker.

Randalf, Inza, and Sorjin made their way back into the foggy corridor. Their plan was to turn right to explore the other corridor, but they became dizzy and took a wrong turn. Only Randalf took the correct corridor, and he was quickly set upon by another invisible dog-beast! The rest found their way back to Horan's chamber and were confused.

Inza and Sorjin, reunited with Lodar and Aline, but separated from Randalf, thought about how they might avoid the foggy corridor.

Then Sorjin said, "Wait, aren't the walls just made of like paper or something?"

Inza replied, "WHAT?"
DM Note: Remember when I said I forgot to mention this? This is where it came back to bite me. Sorjin's player had played the module before way way back in high school.
Although he didn't remember a lot about the NPC or encounters or challenges, he did remember the detail about the walls being shoji screens. 
Inza's player looked at me, "REALLY?" 
I admitted, "Uh, yeah. I may not have mentioned that."
Inza's player was pretty annoyed, "That would have been an important detail!"
Me, "Yeah. Sorry."
Inza and Lodar easily cut and burst through the shoji screen in Kwairno's room and the lot of them moved across the hearth room and cut through the wall into the room on the other side.

They were in a small room, some kind of secret study. On one of the walls was a silk painting depicting figures in positions of authority. No one paid much attention to it. No one but Aline.

Aline became overwhelmed with delusional feelings of paranoia. She began shouting at her friends, accusing them of betrayal and treason, of trying to usurp her authority. Sorjin tried to cover her mouth, telling her to shut up, but she only shouted, "I will NOT SHUT UP!"

Inza threw open a sliding panel to reveal a room covered with tatami mats and low futon cushions. Ot the other end of the room was an older man from the faraway land of Konoshima wearing the green and white silk robes of a wizard of those realms. He was the wizard Horan!

Horan was already on his feet, alerted to the intruders by his magical statues. He glared at Inza and saw Sorjin holding the furious Aline in the far room. He began laughing!

"I should have known! Such a failure! Such a worthless student! A waste of..."

Inza and Lodar ran across the room, interrupting Horan in the middle of his monologue. Inza incapacitated the wizard with a few nerve strikes, rendering Horan unconscious..
Screw-Up #2: I rolled initiative for Horan and rolled a 1. He went last. He went down like a chump. Less than two actions. I was so disappointed! I had been preparing for this fight all week. For TWO weeks really. I had his spells all written up. I knew what he wanted to do. I was all set to go!
My mistake was two-fold. One Horan should have prepared his action for when anyone came into his room. The second Inza opened that door, the spell should have gone off! 
My second mistake was not having any fighter protection. I ran the Horan encounter right out of the module. However, Horan was alerted to the presence of the party in the city, he even knew who they were. I increased the lizard-man guards on the outer wall. I should have had guards with him at all times to run interference. 
As it was, it was pretty funny. I really was in mid-monologue when they came in, and I really did roll a 1 on initiative. So it was at least genre appropriate. 
Afterwards, Sorjin set fire to the tapestry which ended its effect on Aline. Randalf magically extinguished the flames to prevent the entire house from evaporating into fire.

The Crazy-88
Suddenly,  the main entrance is thrown open and nearly two dozen reptile-men, two holding lithe cat-like reptiles, like komodo dragons with the bodies of greyhounds, on leashes. One red reptile-man with a dinosaur skull helmet led the pack and came to the front of the group.

DM Note: I described their entrance as being like when the Crazy-88's ran into the restaurant and formed up around Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.

Inza held Horan up in front of the assembled reptile-men and addressed their leader, "We have your leader. There is no need to fight. We will kill him if you attack us. Simply let us leave with him and you may have what you will from this house."

The reptile-man leader translated Inza's offer to the rest of the group in their own hissing language, they laughed in response. "He says he will kill the wizard. He wants us to let them go. He say we can have everything in house. I say if we're not going to be paid anyway, we let him kill wizard, then kill then, then take all their stuff, then take everything in the house!"

Unbeknownst to the reptile-man leader, Inza was able to understand the language of the reptile-men. Inza backed up slowly and dropped Horan to the ground.

The reptile-man leader responded in common, "We are mercenaries. We care not for him. Kill them all and take all the gold!"

The reptile-men attacked!

What followed was a grand melee in the hearth room as Inza, Sorjin, and Lodar fought off  a dozen reptile-men while Aline and Randalf destroyed another dozen with area effect spells. After a terrific battle, the remaining reptile-men fled into the night.
DM Note: This was an impromptu battle but it turned out to be pretty fun. Everyone got to do something, there were some actual moments of real concern on the part of the players, and the action was enjoyable. 
After the battle, the party found Horan's body lying in a puddle of his own blood. No one had attacked Horan during the battle. His throat was cleanly cut open and his arteries drained. Aline looked at Inza, who simply shrugged and said, "What? You didn't see nothing!"
DM Note: It's true. Inza's player passed me a note and made a very high sleight-of-hand skill check. Nobody saw nothing.
The Invisible Stalker
The party grabbed Kwairno and retraced their steps as they left the compound, leaving through the grove the way they came in. Sorjin saw the paving stones leading into the pond and stopped.

"There's treasure in that pond."

Everyone else said, "It's a trap, leave it. Let's just go."

Sorjin stared into the pond, "There's treasure in that pond. Or something. He's hiding something in that lake."

Lodar and Aline were already on top of the wall. They paused and waited. Inza and Randalf walked up to Sorjin. Sorjin met their eyes, then looked back into the pond, then waded in.

The center of the pond was about hip deep. At the bottom, he found a large rubbery mass about the shape, size, and consistency of a beach ball filled with meat. He looked back at Inza, confused.

Sorjin was suddenly attacked by an invisible force! It was like the wind itself was striking at him! Sorjin took a defensive stance while Inza rushed in and swung his magic spear wildly at the air. Randalf, who could see the invisible force attacking them, targeted the assailant with attack spells.

Between Inza's wild flailing and Randalf's spells, the invisible stalking force was eventually defeated.

Sorjin hauled the pliant mass up onto shore. It was a massive translucent egg containing a giant tadpole the size of a toddler.

Randalf knew immediately, it was an evil spawn of Anuran, perhaps a nascent demigod in its own right. It was obviously important to Horan and needed to be hidden from his allies. It was an aberration and needed to be destroyed. Inza pierced it with his magical spear and the god-egg died with a hideous ghostly scream.

The exhausted party climbed back over the wall with Kwairno in tow and returned to their hiding place.

Plots Made Plain
It was a few hours before dawn. The party planned to sleep during the next day. Before retiring, Aline donned her helm of telepathy and interrogated Kwairno. With her master dead, Kwairno offered no resistance and voluntarily divulged Horan's schemes.

Horan had been hired by the Yuan Ti to resurrect the long-lost naga race. They paid for his work with golden taels from their secret hoard. To accomplish his work, he needed two things: human test subjects and the "Seed of Anuran".

He obtained human test subjects by purchasing slaves from the slavers on the coast. He used to meet the slavers in the abandoned house near Saltmarsh, but has recently had to change their meeting location. He keeps his slaves in a building guarded by the Yuan-Ti.

He obtained the Seed of Anuran from the Bullywugs in exchange for artificially creating more bullywugs from slaves not used for the Yuan-Ti experiments. Thus the bullywugs could increase their number all year long without the need for Anuran to mate with a human offering from Thither at the spring equinox.

Horan had hired the reptile-men as mercenaries to serve as guards and protect him from both the Yuan-Ti and the Bullywugs.

Thus Horan's work provided benefit for everyone: for Horan, for the Yuan-Ti, for the Bullywugs, and even for the Reptile-Men mercenaries.

She said that Horan had succeeded in creating a hybrid naga egg, a creature that was part naga and part Anuran. The resulting off-spring would have been the most powerful naga that ever existed. Horan kept his result a secret in the koi pond, hoping to create another for the Yuan-Ti and keep this one for himself. That was what Sorjin had found in the pond and killed.

She also said that when they attacked her caravan the other day, she was leaving Sinopia to purchase more slaves.

Sorjin asked Kwairno about the slaves, was there an elven princess among them? He was looking for an elven princess.

Kwairno answered, "There was a female elf. I don't know about princess. I try not to talk to them. So, probably."

Sorjin looked determined, "Then we must rescue them!"

Aline looked doubtful. "I don't know."

Kwairno added, "The Yuan-Ti also have a stockpile of gold from which they've been buying the slaves."

Aline suddenly looked determined, "Then we must rescue them!"