Session 3 of Jason Lutes Freebooters on the Frontier last night and it was quite a doozy, though maybe not as fighty as it should have been, since I ran out of time to read-up on the rules for dungeons beforehand, due to managing family stuff. Oh well.
When we left off last time, while making an effort to cross the desert to the sand-buried ruins of the First City, Ariel Cayce’s Holt (chaotic human thief) had just been bitten by a dog-sized white poisonous spider swarm, but he and Johnstone Metzger’s Garsian (evil dark elf cleric) managed to abandon their NPC followers to their deaths, find their spooked horse, and ride the heck out of there.
First thing, I asked Holt to roll Luck for how bad the poison was. Failed it, so I read the description that Vandel J. Arden had whipped up, which was that the spider venom renders you immobile and slows down your heart, essentially rendering you in a kind of hibernation. So that’s exactly what happened to poor Holt.
Then Garsian, wanting some way to press on, beseeched his deity (the dark elf multi-formed god/ess of darkness) to intervene on Holt’s behalf, rolling an amazing result on a Bless move. So the deity replaced the spider venom in Holt’s veins with invigorating darkness (filling a countdown clock to 3), which I said would gradually dissipate whenever Holt did anything strenuous.
Next came the Perilous Journeys roll to finish their travel to the necropolis of the First City, which earned them a success on Scouting Ahead (to they got the drop on what they found) and a mixed result on Navigation (which meant they encountered a random Discovery). I won’t give the results I rolled up here, because it could still matter in the game, but Garsian discovered an outpost a ways out from the ancient city walls where a huge magical bird stopped to rest (they noticed the bird and its landing place when it crossed in front of the moon) before vanishing into the air by turning sideways and becoming 2-dimensional. Garsian decided not to report this to Holt and they avoided the outpost on their way to the city.
Arriving in the city around morning, they found a couple of other adventurers hauling a rope through some pulleys, dangling down into the worn-away opening that now gaped in the top of what was once a towering spire, now mostly buried beneath the desert sands. Garsian walked up to charm these guys (nailing the roll) while Holt snuck around behind them (also nailing the roll), so once they got a bit chummy they straight up took these guys out, dealing 6 damage a piece. Then Garsian started pulling up their rope, while Holt peeked over the edge to see what they were hauling up. Turned out that it was a large cow-sized golden statue of a dog and the other member of the adventurer’s team who was holding on to the side of the statue. Once the statue was most of the way up, Garsian couldn’t pull it any further (mixed result on strength save) so they just let it drop, complete with the other guy still hanging on. I rolled a d12 “fate die”-style (from World of Dungeons) to see how things worked out for the poor adventurer. He got a 1, so somehow he ended up underneath the statue and was completely crushed.
Garsian and Holt tied off the line at the top and slid down the rope, since it was anchored at the bottom by the statue. They got mixed results on Dex checks, so I ruled they had bad rope burn and got -1 forward on their next hands-based action. They found a couple of candles that the other team had left down here, and followed the drag marks from where the other folks had moved the dog statue down the western corridor (the building was shaped like a cross). I rolled up a random dungeon on the online generators that Steve Christensen was nice enough to point out last time, getting “small, stronghold/sanctuary, overrun by monsters, themes of corruption, survival, and chaos.” I rolled up the monster that it was overrun with and got “jellyfishes, returning home.” Remembering the small floating luminescent creatures last session (the ones Garsian snuffed out with a darkness curse), who were also returning home, I decided that it was them. Maybe they’re native to these ancient ruins, like they were to the abandoned lighthouse on the coast?
In any case, as they went down the corridor, I described them reaching the place that the other team had hauled the gold dog statue from, an alcove formed by a stone sculpture coming out of the wall that took the form of eight giant hands that formed a kind of halo around where the dog statue had been. Looking at the wall frescos above it, which depicted these abstract eyes-and-hands ancient gods creating the animals, it seemed like the statue + hands was a depiction of the creation of the first dog. Right next to the hands-alcove, however, was the dead body of one of the other adventurers, with half of his neck dissolved by one of the floating jellies, which also lay dead next to the adventurer’s corpse with the adventurer’s knife stuck into it and the guy’s hand partially dissolved. Pretty gruesome.
As they moved further down the western corridor, they noticed that the adventurer’s blood was pooling in this strange, unnatural way, forming a perfect circle on the floor in front of another alcove formed by sculpted stone hands that encircled a golden statue of an animal that Garsian and Holt didn’t recognize, a fish-like creature with legs and horns. The corridor dead-ended here, right in front of a fresco that showed an ancient god ripping this animal apart (perhaps explaining why they’d never seen it).
Curious about the blood puddle, Holt checked around and noticed that he could hear the blood dripping down into a room below this area, so he dug his knife into the puddle and opened up an even larger hole, causing the blood to drain completely down into the darkened room below them. Rather than trying to fit down this tiny hole or rip up the floor some more, Garsian suggested they check the other corridors for another way down.
Heading to the eastern part of the cross-shaped sanctuary, they found two more alcoves made of giant sculpted stone hands, the first containing the statue of a large eagle-like bird. As they approached the second alcove, though, they saw that it was surrounded by a swarm of the luminescent jellies, so they kept their distance and quickly backed away as the jellies began slowly drifting toward the candlelight they were carrying. They could see, however, that this corridor was symmetrical with the other one, deadending in a fresco showing an ancient god ripping another unfamiliar animal apart, presumably the animal depicted in the alcove that they weren’t able to approach.
Frustrated that their only loot had been off the bodies of the dead adventurers, they headed down the north corridor to find a giant set of scales that formed a kind of archway across the corridor. The left/west scale was on the ground while the right/east scale was hanging up about neck-high. Passing through without touching it, they came to an alter standing before a depiction of some of the ancient gods partially merged together into a single tri-part entity. There were some offerings before this alter: a creepy stack of silver-plated finger-bones and then some gold “bars” in the shape of little boats (inspired by the shapes used traditionally in China to mint valuable metals).
Garsian was still looking for a secret way to the rooms below, so he first tried pulling down the scale that was neck high, but, in response, the scale on the opposite side started filling with blood, weighing it down in equal measure to however much Garsian pulled. So then he tried emptying that blood out, but it just ran endlessly back down the corridor in the direction that they’d come. When I asked Johnstone if Garsian wanted to check to see where the blood was flowing, he said: “I know where it’s flowing.” He was probably right!
In any event, Garsian finally nailed a Perceive roll (by spending some Luck to turn a 9 into a 10) and used three questions to discover a loose stone panel on the floor, which he smashed open, semi-accidentally, when trying to pry it up with his warhammer. Garsian also found some pictographic depictions on the wall that indicated that this was a sanctuary honoring the creation of the first animals, including some animals that were later unmade by the gods and entombed beneath the temple. Holt and Garsian then descended into another mini-dungeon below, which I rolled up as “made by elves, tomb/crypt, depleted resources, themes of growth/expansion, factions of war, and creation.” Hard to think of a result that would have been more appropriate!
So I describe the first room as containing this massive fountain still filled with a few inches of water, but the fountain part in the middle is in the form of this massive, immaculately-sculpted jellyfish creature that forms a kind of umbrella over the entire room. In general, the craftsmanship in this lower dungeon looks completely different and much more higher quality than the human-built rooms upstairs, indicating that the sanctuary above was built later, on top of these tombs below. Also, they could see where blood was running from one of the two side corridors (the one beneath where they’d already created that opening above, in the puddle of blood) and beginning to flower across the surface of one side of the fountain, dripping into one edge of it.
They chose to go down the other corridor, the one beneath the statue of the animal that they hadn’t been able to see because of the jellies. As they walked down, they passed by these incredibly elaborate multi-layer stone sculptures of this unfamiliar animal leading the other animals in a war against the creator gods (like it was some kind of animal version of Lucifer) while a crowd of elves stood passively in the background, watching this unfold. Eventually they got to the sarcophagus of this animal, which was built kind of like a huge stone butter dish, with a massive heavy lid of stone encasing whatever was beneath it, thought the mysterious animal’s features were carved on the lid.
Holt looted the tomb goods around the outside of the sarcophagus and then, on Garsian’s suggestion, used his knife to create a small opening into the inside of the sarcophagus. Garsian then prayed to his god again, asking if the dark elf god/ess (in her form as the queen mother of vampires) was interested in resurrecting this beast in some kind of unlife. He rolled a 14, so she was very much interested in this idea! The newly undead beast first sucked all the remaining invigorating darkness out of Holt, replacing it with some of its own primordial vigor (the significance of which we’ll figure out next time) and then exploded forth from the sarcophagus and down the tomb corridor to confront another creature emerging from the opposite corridor making bloody, wet, crunching noises.
And that’s where we stopped.
I feel like I probably didn’t do the best job of presenting the dungeon as being “overrun with monsters” but with the setup I started with, it seemed weird to have jellies everywhere if the other team had been able to operate a bit and pull the dog statue out before being attacked. Maybe it I had rolled up the mini-dungeon before they descended into it, I could have had the place swarming with jellies when they landed. Oh well.
In the end, though, I really liked how I was able to use the two-layer dungeon to tell a kind of impromptu and totally unexpected story about the ancient past, including this rebellion against the gods led by two animals who were then ripped apart and essentially uncreated as punishment, meaning that those animals didn’t end up being a part of the world. Not sure where things are going to go now, with both of these animals brought back in monstrous ways, but I guess we’ll find out next session.