Friday, 25 June 2021

AFF solo - Part XI: The maid in the ice


Day 4

The barbarian crashes through the jungle like one possessed, ever intent on his goal. His companions feel they are nearly running to keep up. As they near the ruins, a change comes over their surroundings. The oppressive heat seems to lighten, the air becoming fresh and crisp. As they progress, the temperature drops sharply The vegetation begins to glisten with frost, and their breath makes clouds before them. Ilog seems insensible to the cold but the others frantically pull cloaks and other bits of discarded clothing from their packs, throw them on hurriedly, then rush to rejoin the others in the wake of the speeding Ilog.

[I gave Ilog a roll to find the ruins: opting to test LUCK, 2d6=4, success.

Q: How do ruins appear? Delightfully / Cold -- frozen over from accidental release of magics (=the SS&SS complication rolled earlier: Magical Catastrophe)]

And then the barbarian stops short. For before him, rising out of the frozen forest, stands a solitary doorframe of massive stonework. The walls which once enclosed it have long crumbled away, and the twisted, verdigris-crusted fittings of bronze can only hint at the splendid wooden doors which once barred the entrance. The cyclopean lintel shews the barest of cracks between the vines frozen to its surface, but still defiantly bears the weight of countless millennia.

The barbarian produces a wineskin and passes it round. Each in turn takes a hearty pull for its dual promises of courage and proof against the cold. Even the sorceress feels it acutely -- her petty weather protection charm is no match against the eldritch chill.

So fortified, and weapons firmly in hand, they proceed silently into the ruins. Crumbling walls of stone rise around them out of the forest, describing a twisting path through the remains of the once-magnificent temple. The original floor plan is all but lost to time; mounds of rubble now block corridors and processional ways, whilst great holes allow egress through shattered masonry. A few of the old chambers have their roofs largely intact, some once-open spaces are now covered over by the neighbouring structures' collapse, the rest are open -- but only to the dim jungle canopy. Time has done its best to erase the Temple from memory, but here and there are still to be seen weathered carvings of unknown and unknowable figures, the meaning of which even Ksandajja's great learning is unable to fathom.
Scene 7

Out of Control (d8)

Setup: into the ruined temple

NPC List: unseemly adept, failed sorcerous experiment, forgotten god

Threads: Ksandajja's quest, Ilog's revenge

[I ran the ruins using the Location Crafter. The LC results for each Turn (beginning on turn 0 to make it easier to track Progress Points) will be abbreviated as
T# : Location - Encounter - Object.]

T0 : expected - falling pebbles - pottery

Proceeding through the frigid, vine-choked labyrinth, the explorers' movements often dislodge bits of stone and flecks of masonry from above, and potsherds crunch underfoot.

T1 : expected - falling débris - random (Meaningfully / Simple)

[PCs need Awareness rolls to avoid 1d3 damage (armour absorbs).]

But as they are hacking their way through the frozen vines covering a hole to the next chamber, the force of their blows pulls down fist-sized chunks of rock from the stonework. Ksandajja and Grebdal Themp look up just in time to see the danger [made their rolls] and dodge back out of harm's way. Fhenteskeer feels a stone thud off his back, but fortunately his thick leather jerkin cushions the blow. Ilog is caught in the midst of the collapse, and must cower beneath his shield until the collapse subsides. [Fhenteskeer's armour absorbs the single point of damage he would have taken. Ilog took 1d3=2 -1(shield) = 1 damage, putting him at 11 Stamina.]

Once they pass in to the chamber beyond, their attention is arrested by the pattern of the coloured flagstones. Set amongst the dull slabs of native stone, polished segments of black basalt were arranged to form a sinister hieroglyph, an indescribably ancient sigil of purest evil, staring up at the explorers through the rubble.

T2 : long gallery - falling dust - pile of bones

Not daring to tread on such a surface, they double back and find another route. A largely intact doorway opens into a long gallery which promises to take them further into the temple complex with a minimum of detours. About the mid-way point, they chance upon  pile of bones. Grebdal Themp prods them gingerly with his sword, but --against all expectations-- they do not  move.
T3 : special - falling dust - weapon
special: Add Element: Partially / Smooth

At the end of the gallery is a squat chapel of basalt, whose pyramidal roof forms a rudely stepped vault in the interior. In the midst of the chapel is a jagged column of stone, once graven in the likeness of the god or demon for whom this temple was builded, but which has been deliberately defaced so that now only the suggestion of a figure beneath flowing robes remains. An antiquated [d30=]mace of dented bronze lies discarded nearby, evidently the tool responsible for the violence against the image. Low reliefs on three walls accompany the defaced idol, but neither Ksandajja nor Fhenteskeer can elucidate their meaning.
[Ksandajja and Fhenteskeer made Religion Lore rolls at a -4 penalty to interpret the reliefs; unsurprisingly both failed.]

T4 : camp/bedroom - servitor - scrolls

Grebdal Themp spies a track to one side of the chapel, along the length of which the frozen vegetation seems to have been recently shunted aside. The path leads to a square chamber with four mostly-intact walls. A smouldering firepit has been dug near the centre and a canvas sheet nailed to the wall and supported with miscellaneous branches to make a sort of tent.

As the explorers enter through the ancient doorway, they find that a guardian has been left to watch the camp, an abomination made of human corpses stitched together into a shambling mockery of a [d6=]man. The FLESH GOLEM lurches toward the intruders, mismatched hands balled into meaty fists.

[I'd asked--
Q: Is the Servitor human? 50/50 (4+): O2 C2 - no, and... (1d6) 1 undead, 2 demonic, 3 created, 4 intelligent beast, 5 subterranean race, 6 wholly monstrous: 3]


Ilog was first inside, and the sorceress close behind. In the narrow confines of the walled campsite, only they are in a position to do battle with the horror.

[Round 1]
Ksandajja's sharp blade hews off gobbets of spoilt flesh from the golem's limbs as she deftly weaves round the swinging fists. Ilog relies on his shield for defence, but a solid smash against the boss sends the shock the impact up his arm and strains the tendons in his shoulder [2-0=2 damage, putting him at 9 Stamina].  

[Round 2]
But the stolid warrior recovers quickly, and as Ksandajja slices through one of the creature's legs at the knee, Ilog buries the head of his whirling morningstar in the top of its skull, destroying its purloined brain.

The sorcerous creation vanquished, the explorers make a quick search of the camp. Most of it is without interest, but the sorceress' eyes scintillate with delight as they chance upon an ancient, bucket-shaped container, still holding its fill of crumbling papyrus scrolls.

[Q: Scrolls in special container? Certain (2+): O1 C3 - no, but... in 'bucket'
K's Second Sight: 2d6=3, success
Q: Are the scrolls magical and/or protected by magic? 50/50 (4+): O2 C3 - no, but... (1d6) 1-2 on magical topic, 3-4 mundane trap, 5-6 both: 4
K's Awareness (Skill 6+2): 2d6=5 success]

Ksandajja masters her impulsive desire to reach out for the hoary books, and she examines them and their container closely. She notes with some disappointment that no magic appears to emanate from the lot, but does notice that the bronze rim of the bucket is deviously engineered sort of bear-trap -- a painful deterrent to would-be thieves.

This she turns over to Grebdal Themp, who after a few breathless moments [Trap Knowledge (Skill 7+2): 2d6=6, success] has safely disarmed the mechanism.

[Q: Are the scrolls valuable? Certain (2+): O1 C2 - no, and...]

Ksandajja carefully removes one of the scrolls, lays it down on a flat piece of stone and begins slowly unrolling it. Even with her caution, bits of the crumbling papyrus fall away.

"What does it say?" asks Ilog. "Can you read the old writings?"

"If this be an evil text," states Fhenteskeer flatly, "I must destroy it in Holy Flame."

"You needn't bother," sighs the sorceress. "See these columns, all the numbers, the red and black in alternation... these are the temple accounts."

T5 : expected - skeletons (u) - weapon

An intact doorway leads from the camp area to a rectangular courtyard. Rubble lines the walls, but there is a clear path down the centre. In about the middle of the room, [1d6=]a pair of [d30=]spears have been planted upright in the cracks between flagstones. Between them lie two rimed-over skeletons. The explorers are debating whose turn it is to prod the bones with a weapon when they slowly creak to life. The SKELETON WARRIORS snatch their spears from the frosty ground and advance to do battle with the living.

[Round 1]
One of the skeletal warriors rushes to skewer Grebdal Themp, but the canny rogue slips beneath its guard and slashes it across the ribs with his sword. The strike that would have felled a living opponent merely snaps off the lowest rib and glances off the top of its pelvis, barely slowing its counter strike [edged weapons only inflict 1 damage per hit]. Ilog's heavy morning star should fare better, but his ill-timed blow just grazes its scapula [a bad roll for 2 damage drops it to 3 Stamina].

Whilst Fhenteskeer is calling upon the fiery wrath of his god for aid [casting Smite vs. Undead], the other skeleton has engaged Ksandajja. She deftly evades the stabbing spear and her whirling strike neatly bisects her foe's left arm [natural 12, a critical hit for double damage (2 in this case) drops it to 4 Stamina and reduces its SKILL by 1].

[Round 2]
Ilog is off balance, and the undead warrior presses its advantage. The barbarian backpedals, trying in vain to interpose his shield between himself and the glistening spear-point. A momentary stumble over frozen vines is all the fiend needs to strike past the shield, and pierce Ilog's shoulder [3-1=2 damage, leaving him with 9 Stamina]. Grebdal Themp tries to surprise the skeleton warrior from the rear, but the unnaturally keen senses of the thing alert it to his attack, and it fends off each thrust of his sword with the butt of the spear [their attack totals equal, so neither hit].

As Ksandajja and her foe circle one another warily [equal attack totals], Fhenteskeer rushes forward, his axe wreathed in spiritual flames. Mighty Filash himself guides the priest's hand, and his devoted disciple shatters its sinister grinning skull [3x2=6 damage, destroyed]. The rest of the bones clatter noisily to the ground.

[Round 3]
Moments later the barbarian's morning star crashes through the sternum of his foe and shards of bone fly every which way as the skeleton warrior crumbles [critical hit: 4x2=8 damage, destroyed].

Ilog wastes no time in binding his injured shoulder. [healing roll succeeds, +2sta to 11]

T6 : expected - adept - sarcophagus

Near the end of the path through the rubble-strewn courtyard, the temperature drops sharply. Two doorways on opposite walls lead further into the complex. The one on the right hand side, leading towards the centre of the complex, has icicles hanging down from the massive stone lintel.

"This way!" says Ilog, repressing a shudder. "We'll tear the wizard's power out at the roots." He strides down the icy passage without so much as a glance at his companions behind him.

The passage leads to a chamber that shows signs of total collapse and very recent excavation. The jungle had never penetrated here; all the bits of frozen vines and leaves came only on the wind.
In the midst of the broken chamber lies an immense block of ice, pellucid as holy water in a sacred basin. Within is entombed a maiden of the most resplendent loveliness, lying in an attitude of gentle repose. She is a picture of serene pulchritude and the softest graciousness. Only her great stature, fully half again as tall as mighty Ilog, betrays her more-than-mortal nature.

It is hard for the onlookers to avert their gaze from the delightful beauty, but Ilog is conscious that she is not alone in this chamber, and his exclamation rouses his companions from their reverie.

"Ensevektu, you treacherous cur! Face me and know that it is I who shall spell your doom."

The adept is standing a few scant paces from the frozen maid. He is clad in ostentatious finery, and seems more a courtier than an occult scholar. Curling locks protrude from beneath his velour hood, slick with fragrant unguents. The barbarian's voice has startled him from deep contemplations as well. When he turns to pass his leering gaze over the intruders, they see the glint of mail beneath his costly garments.

NPC Relationship: hostile
Conversation Mood: neutral
scheming - negotiation - relics]

"Ilog, you've found me! I didn't think you capable of the initiative. Come to recover the promised treasures, have you? Your slavering over gold shews you for the ignorant savage I met back in Drammub. If you could only comprehend the real use to which I will put them. But forget your petty revenge and help me -- and all shall be forgiven!

"Not so fast," interjects Ksandajja. "Just what are you doing?"

"I shall open this sarcophagus of ice and release the dead goddess within. Then I shall make my offering as her high priest to earn her favours -- such unlimited power shall be mine."

"We'd probably ought to kill this maniac," mumbles Fhenteskeer.

"Be careful," says Ilog. "If I thought it were that easy to slay a wizard, I'd have come alone."

Ilog and Grebdal Themp advance with weapons bared as Fhenteskeer and Ksandajja begin working their spells. The unseemly adept shouts a guttural string of syllables. The ground between him and his foes begins to rumble, and a nightmare creature bursts forth...

next post: horrors revealed!


  1. They say the only things that are certain are death and taxes. This chapter's repeated "no" results in the scroll scene appear to have affirmed that assumption.