Saturday, July 15, 2017

Rappan Athuk Week – Part Six

After dinner, two of the players had to leave – specifically, both of the Thief characters (who have been key to successfully navigating the areas where rappelling was necessary). There was a question of whether further adventuring would even be justified or unproductively frustrating or not. It was decided that the remaining 4 players would take one more go at it.

Iparaguire hired posters for two new hires; one, another fighter-women to take the place of Maxine (hiring Hilda the spearwoman), and two, a dextrous and stealthy treasure-hunter named Klaus (who for affirmative-action purposes Iparaguire had wished to be a woman, and so took to calling him Klaudia, to his recurrent displeasure). Desperate for additional help (or at least a good time), Gardy herself tried the dungeon-procured mushrooms -- and found that they gave her infravision! When they were next in the dungeon, everyone would take one. Another jug of healing was procured, and the PCs were off again.

The group regained their magical candelabra, went down the Well and the Rat’s Cliff, through the labyrinth without harm, to the minotaur’s cave. Where to go now? They chose the unexplored passage on the side by the entryway, leading south – into another section of maze. Monster rolls went their way, and they came out the other side.

PCs found themselves in a 40’ round hemisphere of a room, apparently a dead end. They checked the walls and floor carefully. What about the roof? Errosali jumped and tapped the roof with a pole, and it seemed to sound differently than the walls. The group made a 3-high human pyramid with the elf at the top to search for secret doors. i Indeed, he found a cleverly-concealed catch! The opening slid aside and he went to climb up into the space. Just in time, he spotted a hidden gelatinous cube sliding out to engulf him, and he jumped back down into the arms of his comrades.

The thing slid over the opening and Raimund cast his spear, hitting it for a point of damage, at which point the thing retreated out of sight. The party decided to send this worthy up to contend with the thing. As soon as he peered over the edge, the cube hit him in the head with a pseudopod – a natural “20” for a critical hit, at which point he lost 2d6 Intelligence permanently! He was also paralyzed and fell back down to his anxious friends. But this made the cube visible to be struck by two magic missile spells, which tore holes through the evil jelly and destroyed it.

Clambering up, the PCs found themselves in a smaller hemispherical chamber above the first, with a tunnel south. This led into yet another labyrinth which they persisted through, coming to a long flight of stairs farther down into the bowels of the earth. They took these, descending some hundreds of feet. ii

The stairs deposit them in a circular stone chamber. Three doors on the perimeter are stoutly locked. Melchior (who has a giant strength of 20 thanks to Gardy’s magical spell of strength) goes around and kicks down all of the doors. Two lead to more sets of precipitous stairs, while one stays level. They take this corridor.

A hundred feet or so later, the PCs come to a 4-way intersection. Coming from the north, passages branch east and west; while a double-width corridor runs south. They take this for 60’ and come to a large set of brass doors. The doors are covered with terrifying bas-relief images of demons, devils, undead, the fires of hell, torn apart victims. The PCs listen and hear a pandemonium of noises: A chanting of many voices. Shrieking. Burbling. An unearthly whirring, spinning sound. Inhuman bestial grunting. Crushing footsteps. Should they investigate? The players are too excited to avoid it. They are unanimous that they must see what’s on the other side of the door. Melchior shouts, “Oh, yeah!!” and swings open the door. iii

So, this is the Lower Temple of Orcus. It’s as big as the entirety of our battlemap surface, so I push the marching-order PCs to one side. There’s a 70' diameter pentacle inscribed in silver, glowing eldritch runes, two 20’-wide vats of boiling blood of the innocents, a black stone altar, and a spinning golden orb in the air above the altar, showering the room with protection from good and blur effects. To the sides are a hideous toad-demon and a Frankensteinian monster. A half-dozen cloaked cultists are 6th level each. The evil high priest, garbed in magical plate, shield, helmet, and mace stands behind the altar (12th level). Melchior cries, “Oh, no!!” and tries to shut the door, but he is spotted. iv

Priests of the Lower Temple of Orcus

Should the party flee or fight? In real-time it’s pretty late at night, and it seems like the game is coming to a closure either way. At least half the party decides to go out in a blaze of glory. The priest gets initiative and casts an insect swarm at the PCs; the immense cloud/carpet of flying, crawling, biting insects terrifies the henchmen and they all run insanely into the darkness, most never to be seen again. The demons and cultists approach with weapons. Gardy heroically charges them, triggering her wand; one is paralyzed. Iparaguire invisibly sneaks past the line of cultists and the approaching flesh golem. The EHP casts finger of death at Gardy; she saves, but then succumbs to a lesser priest’s hold person spell; the cultists and demon leap upon her motionless body, stab and bite her horribly; dead, her blood pools out on the ground and her wand is lost. What else is there to do?

The only attack spell anyone has left is Iparaguire’s 1st-level charm person. In fact, he has maneuvered himself just barely in range to make one final attempt at the EHP, and he casts it now, becoming visible, alone and cut off in the middle of the temple area. The EHP has so many bonuses to his save that it takes me a while to add them all up. In total, the save is going to be this: roll a d20, add +15, and get a 20 or better. I announce this and roll the die. Everyone leans forward to see this final, last-gasp result.

Goddamn it.

No one can believe it. The players all start laughing and cheering. Momentarily I have no idea how I’m going to handle this. And neither does Paul, who cast the spell. Attacking now may possibly break the spell. So now what do the PCs do?

Iparaguire demands that the evil high priest bid his underlings to gather all the temple’s treasures and deposit them in the hall. And so they do. Piles and piles of treasure. Three huge chests of coins and valuables. A life-sized, solid platinum statue. Finely-crafted ornamental swords with many valuable gems. A magical silver swan fountain that perpetually gushes water. A solid-gold flute with gems. A magical horn. The high priest happily hands Iparaguire the massive, golden Sphere of Souls. Enormous fine tapestries. And on and on and on. All the treasures taken from decades of prior sacrificed adventurers.

The high priest is then invited to enter the hallway alone and strip off his magic armor, shield, mace, potion, etc., which he eagerly does. His belief is that Iparaguire the Evening Wizard is about to induct him into a new series of evil rites so hideous, so mind-numbingly horrifying, that none of his minions could withstand viewing them. He literally cackles with glee and delight. Then they show him the ruby-hilted dagger and he starts shrieking in stark terror. The Key! The Key of Three! If joined with the others, we are all doomed!! He screams unintelligibly. “Yeah, that’s, like, kind of a lot to process right now,” says Melchior. Iparaguire tells the EHP to wait right where he is, and they’ll be back in just a moment. v

Of course, the amount of treasure heaped up is comically beyond the remaining 3 PCs’ ability to carry away, but they try their best. They pick out the most bejeweled items and pack them away. The swords, flute, horn, armor, shield, mace, potion, scroll, wand, etc. are all taken. Iparaguire has the golden orb. Errosali takes the magic swan-fountain which sloshes water wherever he walks from now on. Melchior has one of the tapestries tucked under his arm. Each PC walks off dragging a huge chest. They do not go quickly into that good night. 

To get out, the PCs will need to navigate 3 labyrinth zones, the upper round chamber, the minotaur’s cave, rat’s cliff, black pudding, tunnels of terror, the Well, etc. Halfway through the first maze a wandering monster encounter occurs; but it’s only 5 goblins. That’s not so bad.

A goblin stabs Errosali with a spear – a natural “20” for a critical hit. Christian needs to roll percentile dice for the effect on his character. This comes up “98” – “throat cut, immediate death”. So now the group is down to 2 PCs.

The Veteran Raimund runs out of the darkness, terrified and panting. Iparaguire and Melchior load him up with the fallen Errosali’s pile of treasure and they proceed.

In the next maze, a half-dozen giant rats are encountered, but these are more easily defeated.

The Rat’s Cliff is reached. Melchior takes off his armor and climbs. He pulls up a sack with his armor and treasure. Then Raimund does the same, with Melchior belaying. But he rolls a “1” to climb – he slips, the backup rope swinging him safely (?) into the cliff side. At this point a whole pack of rats clinging to the cliff slash and jump at him, and he takes several hits. When Melchior pulls him up he is covered with a dozen bleeding rat bites – he, too, is dead. vi

Melchior and Iparaguire avoid other wandering checks, get up the well, pack up their horses as quickly as possible, and head back to town.

Most of the fabulous pile of treasure is sold off. But what to do with the golden orb? A suspicious buyer comes around, offering to pay 10,000 silver for the item. Iparaguire argues this may well put it back in the hands of evil cultists, and it would be better to melt the thing down. Melchior argues for the Neutral stance – that it’s not his concern either way; it's just good business to maximize the sale. This is an impasse with only two characters surviving.

Paul asks, “Want to dice for it?” Max says, “Yes”. They roll, and the result is 13 to 3. However: Paul has rolled a d20 and Max a d6 – they never said aloud what type of die. Sometime past midnight, this is approximately the funniest thing ever. We’re all laughing, tears streaming down our faces, for about 10 minutes. Amazingly good-natured, Max actually agrees to accept this result. vii

Enough treasure has been looted that both PCs easily go up a level, and they also split up the various treasures, between Fighter and Wizard. They go to bed and the game is over. viii

Wait, no, it’s not. Melchior awakes screaming, naked, attacked by a Gargoyle in his very bed while he sleeps at night! Bloody chunks get torn out by the thing’s claws, but the Dwarf Melchior is now made of stronger stuff. He rolls over and picks up the evil priest’s magic shield to defend himself. Iparaguire wakens and rushes to help. Melchior then picks up the magic axe and rapid attacks – one-two, the thing seems scrawny and only partly formed, and it shatters into rubble. Melchior picks up the black eye-orbs and goes to add them to his collection – but the prior ones seem to be missing.

“Do I have any enemies in town?” asks Max. Um, yes, I’m pretty sure you do at this point. “So, late at night I go to their house – and throw the eyes through the window. Then we get on our horses and skip town.” Thus Iparaguire and Melchior escape elsewhere into the wide world. They are not bothered by gargoyles again. Do they ever return to Rappan Athuk? If so, that is a tale for another time. ix

i We were starting to get a little punchy at this point as the evening wore on. There was some debate, compared to the 90’ climbing scenes, about how risky such a move would be. If necessary, could we pull it off ourselves? I actually offered that if the players could just form a single-high pyramid on hands and knees, then I’d give them the move in-game at no risk. They didn’t take me up on that, but a d6 roll came up in their favor.

ii The PCs are now entering Dungeon Level 9, with a listed Difficulty Level of 9. Now this is getting friggin’ ridiculous. I am stone-cold sure that they either need to leave immediately or the game is going to end in a complete bloodbath. Fortunately, many of the players are fond of horror RPGs like Call of Cthulhu, so my expectation is that they will appreciate their upcoming gruesome fate.

iii See also here.

iv A question can be posed here about how the evil priests are coherent, when officially in my OED rules no clerics are permitted. Now, if I were creating an adventure locale myself, I'd generally make cultists like this wizards, or possibly fighter/wizards. While I’ve done a conversion like that on clerics in pre-published adventures in the past (e.g., all the drow priestesses throughout GDQ), it’s a bit tedious. Nowadays if there are evil clerics in a module I leave them as-is, using only powers found in OD&D Vol-1. That is: While there are no clerics, there can be anti-clerics (as per last page of Vol-1), given power from pacts with dark entities, in my campaign world. Compare to classic D&D articles where clerics are very few (e.g., Sup-IV, p. 47, where Conan’s nemesis the Priest-King of Set is primarily a 30th-level wizard [and secondarily a 15th level anti-cleric]).

v Okay, so we can reasonably debate if the other evil priests or demon would object or obstruct this in some way. Honestly, my instinct is that an evil high priest is probably a psychopath, and associates of psychopaths learn not to question them when they go hot/cold on them at random (in this case, on point of bloody sacrifice). In addition, my feeling is that the natural “1” that came up indicates that things have gone as bad for the villains as can possibly be imagined. This result was simply my favorite possible way for this scene to work out. Role-playing the suddenly “flipped” crazy EHP was a joy, and the players noticed (most of the rest of the game was mindless undead and oozes). Presumably when he snapped out of it the next day, hideous revenge was plotted.

vi He’d also contracted contagious Black Plague from the rat bites (another natural “1” behind the screen). But that turned out to be unnecessary overkill.

vii Never bring a d6 to a d20 fight. Paul actually gifted Max a game card saying this afterward for his graceful play. Good show!

viii On this last foray, 13 HD of monsters were slain, and some 20,780 sp worth of treasure. Total XP: 22,080 ÷ 2 = 11,040 for each of the two PCs. Not only did they achieve 5th level, but they’re well on their way to the next level after that.

ix Happy Birthday, Paul!


  1. Replies
    1. It was such a crazy game! Thank you for reading & commenting!

    2. My literal pleasure! I may have to start compiling play reports of my own to post somewhere!

    3. I would read the hell out of that. Make sure you have the time, I'm on summer break at the moment. :-)

  2. I am sad this series is over! It has been a great play report. I have looked forward to it every day this week.

  3. Great stuff, and what a wonderful ending!

  4. Amazing. Thanks so much for sharing this, Delta.