Saturday, November 2, 2013

Return to the Black City - Game 26

After a 6-7 month break, the Black City campaign is back on.  Overcoming the 'bumps in the road', we fielded a near complete group last weekend (6 out of 7 regulars) and the party made their first foray into the "Warrens of Decay".

It literally took me most of the week last week just to recompile my notes, reestablish where we left off, and build some refresher notes.  I'll put a super-brief campaign recap here to help orient any new readers that enjoy game reports.

The Black City is a ruined, alien city on the frozen shore of the island of Thule, north of Norway (technically, the ruins are on the shore along a fjord, but you get the idea).  A viking raider, Bergfinn the Bold, discovered the ruins several years ago, and progressively larger raiding parties have returned with him each year.  Now the island hosts a temporary trading camp on the shores of the fjord, where dozens of longships and knarrs get hauled onto the beach each season.  The ship crews head south again before the weather turns too poor.

The sprawling remains of the city are divided by a glacier; the ruins north of the glacier are more dangerous and mostly unexplored (the party's only excursion beyond the glacier ended in screaming and many deaths).  Explorers roam the southern ruins, excavating tumbled cyclopean buildings to dig out alien crystals, gemstones, and strange artifacts that command a premium in southern markets.  People that die in the ruins return to life as gjengangers - flesh eating ghouls - and the ruins are also littered with traps, like the giant stone heads (Watchers) that incinerate trespassers, or skewer them with projectiles.  Explorers that spend too much time in the city frequently develop "dungeon madness" and devolve into berserkers, never returning to camp.  But the most dangerous opponent out there is definitely the other crews, since their loyalty is only to their captain and they're all seeking treasure.  The campaign has involved that 'every man for himself' gold rush ethos.

For the first couple dozen sessions, the players primarily explored the vast tunnels under the city, a vast series of arteries I called "the Transit Tunnels", clearing most of the mini dungeons discovered along the way.  At this point of the campaign, a few of the original characters are level 4, and they're ready to delve deeper  than the Transit Tunnels.  All they know about the next level down is that it's cavern-like, dank, humid, and moist.  Their only glimpse below revealed a vast forest of giant toadstools in an endless cavern.

I had considered writing a recap on the political situation back in Trade Town - the party's allies, rivals, current events.  But the thought of relaying all that additional background bored me, so  I can only imagine how it would be to read.  We'll skip that stuff unless it becomes relevant for the narrative.  (You're welcome.)

Long ago, the party had discovered a set of clamshell doors in the ground that concealed a shaft that went right down to the caverns, stopping at level 1 below the city (in a place they called The Mist Dungeon).  They chose to marshal various allies to fortify the area around the doors and set up a secure outpost there - both to block rival adventurers from using the same elevator, and to also ensure they could return (since the elevator needed to be operated from the surface).  There were other ladders and access tunnels throughout the first level dungeons that led to the caverns, but after weighing the options, they decided that establishing firm control of the elevator was the best approach.

The cast of characters that went on the excursion is listed below (at the end).  They took a week's worth of food, and only two days worth of water (due to the weight), so they'd have to find a water source if they were going to spend more than a few days exploring.   The "elevator" is basically an open platform that descends due to an unseen mechanism below the platform; as they dropped the 80 feet into the dark cavern, the characters were completely exposed, and gigantic insects occasionally flittered near the shaft of light up above.

The elevator placed them right in the middle of the fungal forest.  During the descent, they saw lights far to the north and south, indicating structures, and perhaps intelligence.  Lighted windows hinted at a vast mound or tower north of a ravine in the upper half of the cavern.  They estimate the cavern is at least a mile across, with a vaulted roof that seemed to be held up by columns.

Their first destination was a dimly lit clearing east of where they descended - they saw a dim glow and a structure only a few hundred yards away.  Once they knew the landing was secure, they formed a marching order, and sent the halfling up front to lead.  His knowledge of "bushcraft" would help identify dangerous giant fungi and avoid spores and giant molds.  They tromped off through the muck and filth.

(DM's Note:  I have the Warrens of Decay mapped and structured like a hex crawl - I'm essentially treating it like a small scale wilderness adventure).

Before reaching the clearing, the party ran into a war-band of primitive humans (neanderthals) wearing piecemeal armor made from gigantic insect parts.  The neanderthals turned out to be friendly, almost worshipful, and after pantomime and non-verbal communication,  the party allowed the cave men to guide them away from the clearing towards the south side.  The neanderthals had described a large, stomping monster back in the clearing that guarded a place of death; the group's halfling and a thief scouted it out, corroborated the giant 6-legged stone horror was real, and so they decided to follow the cave men.

Along the way, they encountered another group of cave men, gatherers out collecting foodstuff from the edge of the fungal forest.  A swarm of giant flies attacked, and Timur the elf impressed all the primitives by putting the giant bugs to Sleep.  The cave men took special care to point out a Christian burial cairn (complete with grave marker and cross) atop a hill, indicating that someone like them was buried up there from long ago.  They weren't the first people to visit the caverns!

Side note:  early on in the campaign, the party discovered some Latin graffiti in one of the Transit Tunnel dungeons;  they've discovered archaic Roman gear in the dungeons; they even thought they saw living legionnaires through a scrying device that revealed glimpses of the deeper levels.   They fully expect to find living Roman descendants somewhere in the dungeons.

The cave men guided the party to a large palisade fortress made of gigantic lashings, complete with guard towers, gates, and other defensive measures.  The cave men had a remarkable settlement beyond the walls, with crude gardens, animal pens, and a stone palace carved into the cavern wall.  The tribesmen themselves lived in a large series of caves spread across the rock face at different elevations.

The party was brought to the palace to meet "the Blue Lady".

The rest of the night was a roleplaying exercise as the group made contact with the Blue Lady.  She wasn't a neanderthal; she looked nearly human, but with bluish skin and silvery hair.  Tall and lithe, she was draped in gossamer that kept no secrets about her (attractive) figure.  She addressed the players from the balcony, in perfect Latin, and then had her worshipful cave men bring them into the audience hall, to the accompaniment of drums and ceremony.

The palace was filled with wonders and treasures and displays of decadence.  The Lady indicated that she hadn't had surface visitors in hundreds of years, and was pleased to entertain; the players were taken by a cave man chamberlain to a watery grotto in order to wash up and make themselves presentable for dinner.

Over dinner, the Blue Lady plied the players with questions about the surface world, the Vikings, and what brought men back to the city; they asked her lots of questions about the cave men, the caverns, and what she knew about the city.  So far what they've learned is that she's very old, if not immortal; when she came to the caverns, the cave men were barely surviving the depredations of the various predators and parasites out in the caverns.  She guided the early cave men to this spot where her palace was built, and has shepherded them ever since.  They treat her like their goddess.

The Blue Lady has a number of specific projects she's pursuing, which keeps her rooted to the area, and the players didn't get access to the labs or private areas deeper in the palace.  Timur the Elf presented himself as a fellow scientist and wizard, and later that evening learned that she carefully breeds the cave men, arranging births and marriages, keeping meticulous records around their heredity.  It seemed like she had creepy intentions for the characters, and was on the prowl for a consort, someone willing to give up the surface world and the adventuring life and stay as her pet in the palace.

The main thing is that the players negotiated the privilege to use the cave man fortress as a sort of home base - it offered protection, fresh water, and the Blue Lady was knowledgeable about the larger cavern.  The players made inquiries about the forest clearing and the huge "stone walker" that patrolled it, and began to draw up plans on how to assault it for the next game.  Meanwhile, they're fairly aware they're playing into the Blue Lady's clutches, whatever may be her secret agenda and motives.


Current Player Characters:
Mustafa of Arabia, a scimitar wielding desert warrior (L4)
Brutok Bearslayer, a dwarf (L4)
Borghild, a Norse cleric of Odin (L4)
Timur, Russian Elf (L3)
Vitaly the Lucky, Russian Elf (L3)
Ben Underfoot, Halfling Scout (L2)

Retainers or NPCs with the party:
Agnar Beigarth, a Northman fighter (L4)
Tribunas, Byzantine magic user (L2)
Visin Thorsteinson, Norse Fighter (L3)
Hunlaf the Saxon, Thief (L2)
Bottvild (cleric L3)