Previously, on Shadows of Keron… The party is on its way south across the Brown Sea, heading back to their homes in the Independent Cities.
GM’s Notes: This was the second improvised scenario from our annual gaming weekend, stolen from one of the comics in my Savage Sword of Conan collection, played in between White Box D&D sessions as a palate cleanser and change of pace. The premise, of which the party are initially unaware, is that long ago, a sorceror made a pact with a demon granting him immortality, but didn’t read the small print. He is immortal, and can only die by the blade of a hero, but he does not have eternal youth, and cannot leave his tower. Over the centuries he has become bored beyond belief, and increasingly decrepit, and now wishes only to die. Since the nature of the pact precludes suicide, he attempts to lure parties of adventurers to his home in the hopes that one will eventually breach his defences and kill him. Meanwhile, since the only pleasures left to him are eating, reading and writing, he has by means of letters left on the beach established trade with nearby islands. He can’t actually starve to death, but he can get hungry beyond belief…
Arriving at the next island on their route, the party trade in their stolen fishing boat, and while wondering what to do next, come across a poster nailed to a building near the docks:
Bring the Blessing of Hulian to an old man in dire need, and you will be well rewarded.
Beware, there will be trials of water, earth, fire and air.
Seek out Captain Rimpoche at the sign of the Jade Idol for more details.
Peter Perfect the Paladin of Hulian cannot resist the chance to further his god’s aims. Abishag, Alihulk Jr and Borg cannot resist the chance to spend what gold they have in a pub. The Warforged tags along, grumbling about wanting to get home, and why is there always someone who needs help, and why does it have to be the party that does it… Everyone ignores him.
As they enter the bar, everything falls silent and all eyes turn to the PCs. (Every so often I like to remind the players how bizarre they are as a group, although it doesn’t do to derail the adventure in the way their freakishness really should.) A native of the Dread Sea Dominions would consider Alihulk and Peter (humans) normal enough, Borg (originally a half-orc) some kind of Nandal, Abishag (hobbit thief) a fat albino pygmy, and The Warforged “By the Divine Couple, what is that thing? Run!”
However, when the party first refrains from violence (a less likely occurrence than you might think) and orders a round of drinks for the house, the few locals present decide that their odd appearance is tolerable. The barkeep agrees to rent them rooms for the night, and points out Captain Rimpoche, a fat, jolly Jademan sailor in a black shirt embroidered with flaming skulls. The party is ready to kill him for this poor dress sense, but fortunately Peter makes a Knowledge: Religion roll and remembers that Jademen sometimes wear these emblems and nothing should be inferred about their personalities from it. Passage is arranged for the morning.
Now, at this point I was expecting them to gather information on the mission, and use that to make a plan. However, Peter is Clueless with d4 Smarts and roleplays that to the hilt, so simply went to bed. The rest of them decided the best use of their time would be an arm-wrestling contest with the local fishermen, which went on into the small hours.
The following morning, they make their way to the docks where they discover the good Captain supervising the loading of provisions and cargo onto the ship. The Captain explains that he is taking food to the next island, and that nearly triggers a brawl, as The Warforged and Peter decide the party must be the “food” to which he refers. However, the Captain explains that as part of his regular route, he drops off a cargo of food on the island the old man lives on, and picks up a bag of gold coins for his troubles. He leaves the cargo in a clearing overnight, and in the morning recovers his gold and moves on to the next port. The party also discover during the voyage that Rimpoche inherited this route from his father, which should have been a warning to them, and that Rimpoche has never actually seen the old man. So long as the gold keeps coming, he sees no reason to rock the boat, as it were.
Rimpoche also mentions that from time to time, groups of scurrilous ne’er-do-wells decide that there must be more gold wherever the payments come from, and venture inland to visit the old man. These do not return.
As usual, the characters of those players not present help the crew set up camp for the night and turn in, as do most of the party. However, The Warforged and Abishag sneak out to the clearing where the cargo has been left. They discover it is carried off by Headless Zombies during the night, but amazingly don’t steal the gold. For reasons not entirely clear to me, neither drops any hints about what they have seen to the others.
In the morning, they pay Rimpoche to wait for them, and follow the zombie trail inland, eventually coming upon a four-storey tower which points a tube at them as they approach. (The players correctly divine this is a telescope.) The tower’s floors are painted in different colours; first brown, then orange, then blue, then finally white at the top, which is where the tube is.
The Trial of Water consists of an economy-sized water elemental in the tower’s moat. Alihulk is sent to swim over to the drawbridge and lower it, at which point the elemental grabs him and starts playfully smacking him into the walls. To my delight, The Warforged dives in to help… and being made of metal and weighing nearly half a ton, sinks straight to the bottom of the moat. Alas, The Warforged dominates the elemental with Puppet and instructs it to return both he and Alihulk to dry land, and break the drawbridge chains. The drawbridge falls, and the party enters the lowest floor of the tower.
The Trial of Earth is a trio of stone golems (I just made those up on the fly, which is easy to do with Savage Worlds). Abishag kills one outright with a slingstone, to the awe of the rest of the party – a series of exploding d4 can take anything down with enough luck. The rest are disposed of by more conventional means. Peter talks to the severed heads around the walls (these are the missing parts of the Headless Zombies), which warn him about the necromancer at the top of the tower. The party then advances up the spiral staircase to…
The Trial of Fire, which consists of two dozen Headless Zombies and six fire elementals which on a whim I decide are immune to normal damage (by now I’m running the adventure entirely without the aid of the rulebook, making up challenges and monsters as I go). Wholesale use of Blast and Bolt powers dispose of most of them, wreaking havoc on the structural integrity of the building, but the most entertaining episode is Alihulk shield-bashing a small group of zombies and doing so much damage thanks to aces that he goes straight through the tower wall. The rest of the party leave him dangling in the wind and tramp upstairs while he hauls himself back in.
The Trial of Air is on the third floor, which consists of six passages radiating from the central staircase and leading to a balcony which encircles the tower. Wind can be heard howling outside, which is puzzling since the air was calm at ground level. There are no stairs upwards, but the party correctly decides that there will be stairs outside on the balcony. Peter strides forward confidently, overcomes the attempts of the circling air elementals to blow him off the tower, and locates the staircase. Abishag follows him, and is blown off the tower, saving himself by grabbing Peter’s belt. Peter is dragged back towards the edge, Borg leaps forwards to grab them both and haul them back in… and goes over, saving himself by grabbing Abishag’s feet. The combined weight is too much for Peter, who starts sliding off, but due to his Loyalty Hindrance he can’t bring himself to let the other two fall, and neither of them wants to take one for the team by letting go.
Alihulk reaches the balcony, takes in the scene, and saunters past them on his way up to the top. I am still not entirely sure why.
The Warforged, however, runs up behind Alihulk and, firing blind, makes a lucky Puppet roll to dominate an air elemental and uses it to push his comrades back onto the balcony.
An Unusual Boss Fight now plays out. Grinning evilly, I produce a stack of GM bennies, and ask for their moves. Alihulk enters the top story, which is your typical mad wizard’s laboratory, to find an aged and decrepit man before him, making no attempt to defend himself, with a disturbing smile on his face. Not even Alihulk can bring himself to strike down the old codger in cold blood, so he settles for slapping him. Peter Perfect barges into the room, and demands to Detect Evil on the victim (remember, we’ve been playing D&D most of the weekend). Now, there’s no such spell in SW, but we agree that if he can roll high enough on Notice, he can get the same info. Peter Boosts his Notice, makes a corking roll, and is convinced the old guy is indeed a necromancer of surpassing evil. The party falls upon him with gusto, and the old man just stands there smiling, taking the blows. I am grinning an evil grin at the players and toying with my pile of GM bennies, but not using any of them. At length the necromancer dies, whispering through blood and broken teeth, “Ye lose, ye hated Elder Gods… ye lose…”
I have never seen the party so unsettled, as they tried to work out by what hideous means the necromancer would return from the grave to wreak his unholy revenge, and what on earth I was saving the bennies for. They decided that the Big Bad must have transferred his consciousness into Abishag, largely on the strength of Abishag purloining a small chest of gold coins during the fight. However, before they could lynch him, The Warforged (always on the lookout for arcane lore) found the necromancer’s journal while rummaging through the pile of papers Peter was using to make an impromptu funeral pyre, and discovered what was going on.
They retired to a safe distance and demolished the now-tottering tower with Blast spells, then marched back to the beach in triumph. Here, Captain Rimpoche was about to remonstrate with them about their impact on his livelihood (no more cargo runs to this island for him!) when he realised that the group appeared to have demolished a four-storey tower in short order, and as far as he could tell, using only hand weapons. Discretion is the better part of valour, he thinks.
This one worked well, better than the earlier improvised session in episode 27; I consider myself back on form.
Next time, on Shadows of Keron… The party is back on dry land once more, and homeward bound through southern Kyros, hoping to avoid any entanglement with the Kyrosian Army, which does not count itself among their greatest fans. But wait… Look, on the horizon… can that be the dust of many, many hooves?