Episode 3 Recap: Doom in the Desert (some GM mistakes were made, but fun was had).
Steve: Rash (Steve was absent due to hectic convention travel)
GM: Me, Storn.
We decided to keep Rash in the background, because I knew that this expedition outside of the city might take more than one night. I turned out to be right. So, we sorta just stuck Rash in the narrative background, but he was along for the ride.
Having been charged with finding the Lost Song of Change (see episode 2) that went missing in a large caravan meant for far lands of Khaladel. Having a couple of days to fill before the expedition could pull itself together, Roh and Zehara pursued separate lines of inquiry. Roh turned to his best friend in the Golden Cloaks, Lt. Aurius, to get some intel. Fortune’s Road leading to Khaladel had been seeing an uptick in bandit attacks by an orc/dwarf alliance out of the Gryphon mountains. A note of introduction was made for Roh, to the commander of Fort Gryphon, but this would later prove to be inconsequential.
Meanwhile, Zehara was pouring over old caravan ledgers and scout reports, looking for clues. She did find a journal of a Golden Cloak who was investigating the lost caravan from 50 years ago. Turns out that there was some tension within the caravan and when the scout had gotten new information, his expedition was blocked from higher ups for political reasons. (This came about from Spout Lore roll)
Then Roh tried to see if any of the caravan’s goods made it back to Parsantium, focusing on 12 erotic statuettes supposedly in the manifest. This would point to foul play. Roh, unfortunately, hit a brick wall. Felt like actual forces, money, leverage, were working against him in the street. (Pete started his spectacularly bad night of die rolling with snake eyes. The other shoe dropping would be revealed later. )
Later that night, Zehara has strange dreams, filled with divine music and a tune she can’t quite work out when she wakes. On the way to the expedition, she runs into Roh, who sees that the symbol of Cetheria is softly glowing on her forehead.
Then it is off to the Temple of Cetheria, goddess of music and probably Zehara’s favorite divinity. To figure out what is going on. The head priestess, Nennentke, assures Zehara that she has Cetheria’s favor. This is a good thing. Nennetke also reveals that the most prolific mage in Parsantium, Anaxamander (stealing that name from a PC from distant campaign, having to make it up on the spot, this is the shoe falling from Roh’s bad roll) has inquired about the Song of Change. Hoping to buy it, he has heard of the Temple’s backing of the expedition to recover it.
This worries Roh and Zehara, but they must be off. The Song of Change must be recovered swiftly if it is to be played and cure the lycanthropy of the street rats before the next full moon. They meet up with Rash, Kith Banu, an acolyte of Chetheria and Taeffala, an acolyte of Vanama, goddess of Justice. And a whole lot of horses and supplies.
The trip is fairly safe, but on the fourth day, Kith reports seeing a sea hawk that keeps popping up, far away from the sea. Zehara remembers hearing a pirate ditty about Anaxamander’s days as the Sea Hawk (Another Spout Lore roll). Zehara, correctly surmising that it might be a familiar, uses her magic to coax it down (boxcars!). The sea hawk, while not physically hostile, is wary, frustrated and definitely mystically linked to someone….most likely Anaxamandar. Roh and Zehara decide to leave the Sea Hawk alone.
Meanwhile, the song from Cetheria, in Zehara’s head, keeps getting more complete and stronger. Hoping to make Fort Gryphon mid morning, the party is suddenly startled to realize that they passed it by several hours ago and are south of Fortune’s Road, deep into the badlands of the Dreaming Sands. Zehara has been playing the most bewitching tune and they all have been ensorcelled. But they are going in the right direction, the song of Cetheria is stronger.
Coming to a canyon, feeling the song’s pull, the small party was suddenly confronted by the armored terror of a giant scorpion bursting from the ground. The size of a small house, it moved with alarming speed. Horses screamed, one was killed. Arrows fly from Kith and Roh, but they all shatter. Retreat is in order and the party races out of the canyon to find another way.
Luckily, Kith scouts and finds another way into the canyon. One with a more rocky floor, not the soft sands that the scorpion prefers. About 2 in the afternoon, the canyon gets wider and they discover the lost caravan. Or the skeletal remains of the lost caravan. Obviously, a giant scorpion was involved, but many smaller wounds on the remains showed up too. Claw marks, like from a tiger or lion, multiple ones.
Zehara still hears the siren call and they push past the battleground. Eventually coming to a box canyon with an ancient fort crumbling around a still viable oasis. After determining that the fort is indeed empty and devoid of anything useful besides shelter and water, the song pulls Zehara to a solid wall. It is not an illusion, but Zehara plays the song that Cetheria has sent to her. And indeed, the wall cracks and breaks into a man sized entrance to a natural cave.
Now the chained ghouls on either wall certainly grabbed the attention of the onlookers, pillars containing a strange sigil, 6 curved arrows radiating out, and these words chiselled into the sandstone;
“Know this and realize that what awaits you in cave will cost you your life. Do not take it out of the cave. Do not speak of this location. What is lost should stay lost. If our directives are disobeyed, know that your very lives are forfeit as your family. We are the power in the Light and Shadow. We are the Velvet Tongue. We are the Hidden Claw. We are Rending Teeth. We are the wearers of EverChanging Skin. We are your True rulers and we command your loyalty. “
In the far back of the natural cavern is Song of Change, a guitar, propped up against the back wall carelessly. Obviously, the runes on the chains of the 20 ghouls indicate a trap. Entering would certainly be risky. (I stated that ghouls are fast, strong and really tough. This was a lot of them. Then I looked at their stats… they are nasty, nasty, nasty).
Using arrows and magic, they manage to kill 13 of them, before running completely out of arrows. Then forming up with Taefalla and Roh in the lead, they gingerly enter. Sure enough, runes glow, chains release and the ghouls swarm onto our foursome (Rash having been relegated to watching the horses.)
The battle gets off to a horrible start as ghouls pull Roh out of place, knocking him down. Zehara’s charming magic manages to get a couple of them to fight each other, but Roh and Taefalla are wounded in short order. Roh scrambles up, opening for the ghouls to rush Zehara and Kith in the backrow. Kith goes down under the onslaught. Roh breaks through the melee and rushes for the Song of Change, pursued by several ghouls. The Song of Change is knocked across the floor as the ghouls converge on Roh again, wounding him in the process. Taefalla goes down and it is just Zehara blocking the exit of the cavern. Roh runs as Zehara manages to heal Taefalla with bardic magic and the two women stand firm, slowly taking out the ghouls. Roh realizes that no one followed him outside, girds himself and returns to the fray, where now his preferred method of attacking from surprise (ie backstabbing) pays fierce dividends in destroyed ghouls.
Finally, Zehara succumbs to her wounds and falls. But by this time, the ghouls had been whittled down enough that Roh and Taefalla finished the last one off.
The Song of Change is recovered. Kith is paralyzed from the waist down. Zehara has broken ribs and faces a long journey on horseback back to Parsantium. It was the grimmest of battles and it was on a knife’s edge whether it could be survived.
So. I made some mistakes in my GMing. I thought on a 7-9 result in Hack n Slash, PC does their damage, monster replies with their damage. A lot of 7-9 results came up, resulting in a lot of damage dice to our heroes. I re-read the rule after the battle, the rule is actually; “monster makes an attack”. An attack COULD be damage dice, but it could also be grappling, taking away resources, etc. So I didn’t HAVE to go so hard with the damage dice. Also, earlier, we had determined that Cetheria’s favor was giving a +1 to Zehara’s bardic magic. Mike must have rolled 3 9s. A +1 would have made those 10s. One 9 resulted in Kith getting hit by Zehara’s magic as well as the ghoul, killing Kith. Once I realized my mistake, I retro conned that Kith was just serious ‘effed’ up.
And 7 ghouls vs. 2 PCs and 2 followers is a pretty insane challenge. Ghouls have 10 hitpoints, 1 piercing and do 1d8 in damage. However, it made for a really exciting, nail biting battle. Zehara went to 0 and Roh was at 4 or 6 left. Taefalla was taken down to 0, but the perfectly timed heal spell by Zehara brought her back to her feet, she was knicked once and came out at around 5 hp. The battle could have been lost with one more rotten roll and really it was saved by getting Taefall up and in the mix again. Having Rash/Steve in play would have seriously helped as well.
Having resolved a bond last session, Roh and Zehara want to have new ones concerning Kith and helping him recover. Kith will probably be left at Fort Gryphon. I think a new Bond around Kith is cool and can lead to more plot lines later down the pike. So, while I made mistakes as a GM, I was really quite happy with the session overall.