Sunday, 24 November 2019

AFF solo - Part VIII: The Thing from the Pit

"We've come this far, I guess," sighs Grebdal Themp, looking at the stair leading down into the yawning pit. But shifty rogue does not take a step towards it.

"Our fate awaits below," says Ksandajja. The sorceress looks to her companions, but they are as immobile as she.

Then all is silence and stillness. Mighty Orhhuta contemplates the limb-hewing blade of her sharp sword, and Fhenteskeer the flame-priest seems to sway in reverie, mumbling an ardent prayer to his fiery god.

Finally the sorceress loses her patience. "Don't tell me we've all lost our nerve!"

"She's right," says Orhhuta, striding towards the stair. "We can put an end to this vile cult of Decay, once and for all!"

"And relieve them of their gold," adds Grebdal Themp, going after her.

"A sentiment most worthy of coin-palming Ângu," adds the fire-priest as he and Ksandajja follow.

[Q: What guards the staircase? (1d6): 1-2 guards, 3-4 trick/trap, 5 both, 6 nothing
1d6=trick/trap: Magical, teleport trap; Awareness at -3 to notice]

The staircase narrows as it descends, finally becoming so cramped that Orhhuta's broad shoulders almost touch the rough, damp stone on both sides. The stair descends an impossibly long way, as if it were taking them down to the very centre of the world -- or perhaps down into the Pit itself.

[Orhhuta is in the lead, so must make an Awareness (7+1=8) roll at -3 (so, she needs 5-): 2d6=5!]

Orhhuta stops abruptly. "Look there, ahead!" she points with her sword. "The air shimmers!"

"That's just the flickering of your lamp," says Grebdal Themp.

"No, she's right," says Ksandajja. "I sense magic there." [She got a Second Sight (5+1) roll at -1 to find trigger (needs 5-): 2d6=4!]

The sorceress squeezes down past her companions to examine the shimmer, peering at it with her witch-sight.

"It's these three steps," she announces. "We'll have to jump them."

"How do the cultists get past?" asks a bewildered Orhhuta.

"There's probably a password, isn't there?" says Grebdal Themp.

[They must all make Jumping rolls to bypass the trapped steps. As no one has points in the Special Skill, they all default to SKILL. A normal failure results in 1d3 damage; a Fumble additionally means a roll down to the bottom -- 2d6 damage unless someone can stop them.]

Ksandajja leaps over the steps gracefully, but lands less so, and bashes her knee hard [failed; 1 damage drop her to 4 Stamina]. Fhenteskeer makes an ungainly vault, but the hand of his god sees him safely down [he Tests his LUCK instead of rolling SKILL, succeeding; his current Luck is down to 5]. Grebdal Themp's leap does him no credit [1 damage, down to 2 Stamina], but the muscular woman of the steppes swings herself down as if dismounting a horse, landing with aplomb [Orhhuta succeeds].

Grebdal Themp sits on a step for a moment to steady himself, and munches on some hard tack out of his pouch to fortify himself. Orhhuta's stomach is growling at the sight -- all that head-splitting has  worked up a warrior's appetite -- so she helps herself to a similar repast. The sorceress prefers to simply down the precious elixir she had discovered. the magic courses through her body, and all her wounds, bruises, and abrasions fade as if she'd ne'er suffered them.

[O&G each eat a PROVISION. Orhhuta regains the usual 2 Stamina, whilst Grebdal Themp gets 1 additional point for his Robust talent; they're back up to 4 & 10 respectively. K drank a Stamina Potion, healing her to full 10. Once again, I forgot to make First Aid rolls...

The 3rd level of the dungeon has 1d6=2 rooms. I (obviously) did not draw a map.

Penultimate room contents: other feature - magic fountain
Q: How does it appear? Fully / Scary]

Just when they thought they were doomed to descend the staircase forever, it ends in a dark, square  chamber. The ceiling goes up to a high vault, its height fully twice the length of the room. A single gloomy passage leads out of the chamber, and a fountain has been carved into the rock wall beside it, with the shape of a skeletal figure looming above the basin. The fountain gurgles and splashes and froths. The water within it is brackish and foul, the stone pitted from its corrosive touch.

[Ksandajja gets a Magic Lore test to know what it does, at +2 from the earlier Special Success on Religion Lore she rolled to understand the cult's workings (back in Part V).
5+1+2=8- needed: 2d6=3!

Q: What is the magical effect? d30 Adventure Generator Table Phenomena=disembodied voices]

"How horrid!" gasps Grebdal Themp. "And the stench! Look here; it once bore an inscription, but I can't make out what it says."

"No need," says Ksandajja. "These waters allow the cultists to communicate with demons, and receive their oracles."

Fhenteskeer visibly shudders.

"We'll do something about it later," says Orhhuta. "Come, there's no time to tarry."

[The final room of the dungeon was always going to be a cult wizard summoning a huge demon from the Pit, because that seemed like a fun encounter. So--

Q: Can the PCs hear ritual before they reach the room? 50/50: O6 C3 - Yes, but... only with Awareness rolls. Grebdal Themp makes his roll easily.]

They leave by the cramped passage, which twists and turns every few paces. Suddenly Grebdal Themp stops short. "Listen," he whispers. "It sounds like chanting."

"That's a lot of voices," says Orhhuta.

"No-- only one voice. It's a lot of echoes."

They leave the lanterns on the ground, and Fhenteskeer kindles a single candle to light their way. They creep carefully forward through the blackness as the reverberating chant grows ever louder.

[The candle was not actually on his character sheet, but I hate when the pictures don't match the text; plus the next room is well-lit.

The PCs need to make Sneaking rolls, resisted by the cult wizard's Awareness. He rolls 2d6=3, +5 for Skill (he lacks points in the Special Skill) makes 8; the PCs all roll (2d6+Skill+Sneaking) much higher than that.]

The chant grows louder still, and soon a light appears at the end of the twisting passage. Grebdal Themp slinks forward and peeks furtively out into the immense chamber beyond. After a moment, he motions for his companions to come forward and see. The great subterranean vault is lit with the fires of randomly scattered braziers of blazing coals, smoking with strange funereal spices. irregular columns -- some of brick, some cut from the living rock -- support the irregular ceiling and cast deep shadows which criss-cross the floor. Alcoves contain small altars and shrines piled high with all sorts of decomposing offerings.

The chanting does indeed come from a single cultist, screaming out a canticle in ancient Allansian alternating with barbarous words and the names of several dead and forgotten gods. The chant is punctuated with signs and gestures, addressed at a gaping hole in the dusty floor.

[Ksandajja gets to make a Magic Lore roll at +2 (9-) to realise it's a wizardly incantation, not priestly magic: 2d6=7, success]

"Wait a moment," says Ksandajja as a sudden realisation hits her. "That's no priestly rite, he's a conj--"

The word dies on her lips as a grotesque form erupts up from the hole. The thing's glistening worm-like body is bigger round than a wagon-wheel. The fleshy surface pulses and undulates as the thing sways in time to the chant. The worm-body is surmounted by a colossal staring eye, ringed round with countless writing tentacles. The heinous CULT WIZARD has called down into the vastness of the Pit to bring forth THE GRASPING EYE.

MAGIC 6  MP 18
Wizardry-3, Conjuring-5
sacrificial dagger (+1 on damage roll)

2 attacks, large 'bite', light armour

"It won't be long till it notices us," says Grebdal Themp.

"I'm going to cast a spell, then we move," says Ksandajja. "You three take care of the demon. I'll handle the wizard."

Her companions nod sagely as the sorceress traces an elegant pattern in the air with fingers and whispers a string of sibilant syllables. She seems to glimmer for the barest moment as the magic settles upon her skin, an invisible barrier of protection. For his part, Fhenteskeer speaks an orison to Filash, and is filled with the righteous Fire of his god.

[Ksandajja casts MAG (counterspell) on herself: Sorc-7; 2d6=7 success. The spell costs her 2 STA.
Fhenteskeer casts Bless on himself: +1 to all rolls for 8 rounds.]

Without another word, Ksandajja springs forward, charging the wizard with sword outstretched. Her companions follow moments later, rushing towards the summoned demon.

[Round 1]
The wizard wheels about, and hastily utters the words to a potent spell [Q: How potent? (1d6): 1-2 1pt, 3-4 2pts, 5-6 4pts]. As she closes within 5 paces, a bolt of lightning leaps from the wizard's outstretched hands. The white-hot flash of the discharge intensifies the wizard's evil grin, but his expression turns to sudden fear and surprise as the electricity plays harmlessly over Ksandajja's body. He barely has the presence of mind to sidestep her sword, and receives a nasty gash across his shoulder. [3 damage drops him to 7 Stamina. Ksandajja's MAG nullifies the Lightning Blast (2d6+2, no save!) entirely, but dissipates in so doing.]

The demon flails about with its tentacles. Orhhuta ducks in under them and stabs her blade into its glistening side, causing a spray of sickly-smelling ichor to jet form the wound [3 damage drops it to 9 Stamina]. Fhenteskeer is slapped backwards by another thick tentacle, and it takes him a moment to recover from the shock [3 damage drops him to 4 Stamina]. Grebdal Themp is reticent to close with the unholy beast, and hardly comes within striking distance [miss].

[Round 2]
The cult wizard speaks another charm, causing two illusory duplicates of himself to spring into being [cast Mirror Selves]. They surround the sorceress and confound her attack, but her blade strikes true in the end, dealing the wizard another nasty wound. [3 damage drops him to 4 Stamina. The wizard managed the casting despite the -2 for being in mêlée.]

The demon thrashes about again, and smashes Fhenteskeer with overwhelming force. The priest is nearly overcome by the heavy blow [3 damage leaves him with 1 Stamina]. Orhhuta makes a grave mistake, and leaves herself open to the thing, and feels her shoulder pop out of joint as a tentacle slams into her [fumble, +2 damage roll; 5 damage drops her to 4 Stamina]. Grebdal Themp is still too timid to approach [miss].

[Round 3]
The wizard attempts another spell, but Ksandajja is unsure as to his intention, for he is bathed in a pale light which seems to age him by almost a decade. The duplicates age similarly as they whirl round the sorceress. She slashes right through one with her sword, but the illusion is unfazed. [The wizard fumbled his casting roll, and aged 2d6 years. Unlike the sorcerous version of the spell, hitting duplicates does not dispel them.]

Orhhuta can't seem to get the upper hand, and another tentacle slams into her [3 damage drops her to 1 Stamina]. Fhenteskeer withdraws, clutching his aching sides. The demon thrashes ineffectually in his direction, giving Grebdal Themp the opening he needs. His sword sticks into the thing's fatty side, and pushes past the resistance to draw another spurt of ichor from the creature [4-1 (armour roll) damage puts it at 6 Stamina].

[Round 4]
The wizard draws a wicked sacrificial knife from his belt and stabs at the sorceress. She's not sure which blade is the real one, but wheels about, parrying all three [the duplicates count towards outnumbering an opponent]. Her own blade flashes harmlessly through another illusion.

Grebdal Themp receives a glancing blow, and counts himself fortunate [3 damage drops him to 2 Stamina]. Orhhuta doesn't even see the tentacle that ends her. One moment the canny warrior is closing in with her gleaming blade, the next a crushing strike has bent her spine double with an almighty crack. She slumps to the dusty floor, an ungainly and bleeding heap [critical hit. 4x2=8 damage, dropping her to -7 Stamina, instant death].

[Round 5]
As Grebdal Themp and Fhenteskeer run screaming from the room, the wizard begins subtly manoeuvring Ksandajja closer to the demon. But dance and feint as he might, the canny sorceress does not fall for his ploy. [I had her Test her LUCK to stay out of the demon's reach: 2d6=4, success. Their combat totals were tied this round, so neither scored a hit.]

[Round 6]
Standing back from her foes, Ksandajja begins to whisper the words of an incantation. The wizard responds with a counter-charm of his own. A ball of flame appears in Ksandajja's hand, and leaps forth from her palm, but it is arrested in mid-flight by a blue wave of crackling force. There is a slight wavering between them as conflicting magical energies collide, then the ball of flame bursts through the barrier and lands at the wizard's feet. A moment later it explodes in cloud of incandescent fury. Ksandajja takes a step back as she feels the rush of heat from the blast wash over her, and shuts her eyes against the sudden glare. She then hears the thud of a body hitting the floor, followed by the loud squelch of the collapsing demon. She is victorious.

[Ksandajja cast HOT, which cost her 4 Stamina, leaving her with 6. The wizard cast Counterspell, which takes a penalty to the casting roll equal to the level of the spell it is used against (-4 here); 9-4=5, 2d6=9, failed. Both opponents took 1d6+1 damage: Wizard 4 (to 0 Stamina), Demon 7 (to -1).]

Ksandajja wastes no time in examining the smouldering corpse of the wizard for choice treasure [rolled at +2 on the main treasure table at +2]. He has a cheap cloth purse containing 12 gold coins, and an silver and lapis pendant (worth 12GP) is hung round his neck on a now-singed cord, which snaps easily in the sorceress' hand. His sacrificial dagger is also worth a fair bit -- should a buyer be found for the awful-looking thing.

She adds the treasure to her own purse, and takes Orhhuta's money belt (20gp) and Luck potion besides -- she can't afford to be sentimental. Then she kindles a lantern and leaves by the dark, twisting passage.

[Q: Have the other PCs gone far? 50/50 (4+): O2 C1 - No, and... waiting just a little ways off.

Grebdal Themp has attempted first aid on both of them: fail on himself, but healed Fhenteskeer up to 3 Stamina.]

Ksandajja has only gone a little ways down the twisting passage when she spies lamplight shining from round the bend. She is soon face-to-face with her sheepish comrades.

"I thought you two were gone for good," says Ksandajja.

"Discretion mumblemumble valour..." says Grebdal Themp.

"At least it's over," says Fhenteskeer. "The God of the Pit is dead, and its high priest with it."

"No," says Ksandajja. "That wasn't a priest -- just a corrupted wizard."

"This is dire news," says Fhenteskeer.

"And we haven't much to show for it," moans Grebdal Themp.

"I mourn more for the loss of our comrade," says Fhenteskeer.

"I mourn for us, if we meet any more of these fiends on the way out of here," says Ksandajja. "But I took what little gold I could find, if it makes you feel any better."

It's a long trek up the stairs, which necessitates several stops to catch their breath. Then back through the catacombs, and up more stairs, until finally they reach the basement of the cult house.

[No encounters; I rolled 1d6 per room to check for random encounters on the way out... surprisingly no 1s came up.]

Fearing their LUCK must soon run out, Ksandajja and Grebdal Themp slink up the steps to make sure the way out lies clear. Fhenteskeer limps quietly a fair distance behind them.

[Q: Is the Priest waiting above in house? 50/50 (4+): O4 C6 - yes.
+ the 2 cultists from earlier.

The PCs must match their Sneaking against the cultists' Awareness:
K 6+1+5=12
G 7+2+7=16
Priest 6+1+4=11
cultist #1 5+0+2=7
cultist #2 5+0+6=11

The PCs have Surprise; an ambush grants +6 attack and +2 to the damage roll]

both armed with daggers

Devotion 6 (MAGIC + Magic - Priest)

Voices are heard in the house. A man and a woman are discussing the slaughtered cult guards; Ksandajja recognises the CULTISTS as the old man and old woman who once led her hence in the guise of charity. A third voice is joined to theirs, its low gurgling and slurred speech almost impossible to understand -- the leprous PRIEST OF DECAY!

Ksandajja and Grebdal Themp dart into the front room with swords raised, a battle cry on their lips. Grebdal Themp cuts down the old man with a single stroke of his sword [4 damage drops #1]. The priest is far hardier than one would expect, for though Ksandajja lays open his back with a sickly squelch, his eyes yet burn with lively malice, and he wheels about to face her [5 damage put him at 3 Stamina].

[Rounds 1-2]
The priest rasps out an imprecation, and Ksandajja feels all the strength drain from her limbs. The priest burbles and cackles with hideous glee at her plight [he cast Weakness, giving her -4 skill and -2 damage rolls]. But his triumph is short lived. Fhenteskeer stands in the doorway, shouting a prayer to Filash, imploring his god to smite the evil one with holy fire. Suddenly the leper priest is wreathed in burning flame, and falls to the floor defeated [he cast Flame for 1d3=3 damage].

Grebdal Themp squares off against the remaining cultist, who is at pains to fend off his sword with her dagger. The fight does not last long.

Ksandajja must steady herself against the wall to recover from the unholy magic. Whilst her strength slowly returns, Fhenteskeer is going joyfully about the room, throwing the cult's books and papers atop the burning corpse of the priest, breaking up the furniture for kindling, and setting the curtains alight.

"Let it burn!" he shouts. "Let the Sacred Fire cleanse this den of evil!"

"He's a bit mad sometimes," whispers Grebdal Themp to the sorceress.

"Agreed. Let's tell the watch before the whole quarter burns to the ground."

As the flames and smoke rise, they must all run into the street without stopping to check for treasure.

. . .

The next morning in the inn's common room, the three companions fall into conversation.

"We were thinking," says Grebdal Themp, "that, as pleasant as our time in Ângu of the Silken Kiosks has been, it is high time we were moving on. It is not all the populace of this fair city who will adjudge us heroes for last night's work."

"I, too, intend to move on." replies Ksandajja.

"Where are you headed, if I may ask?"

"South to Ulq. At least at first."

"And after that?"

"Further inland."

"You don't want to say yet; I will respect your privacy."

"It is well that you do."

"Of course, with the loss of poor, dear Orhhuta, we find ourselves without an accomplished swordswoman in our little band. I don't suppose...?" [UNE: scheming - plan - experience]

"I could use the company. But I can't afford a horse."

"We could, er, borrow some."

"That seems unwise. Besides, I think getting a ship there is a wiser course of action. Despite what happened on my last sea voyage..."

to be continued...

Experience Points
The survivors each earn 40xp for the adventure. I seem to have accidentally omitted discussing XP from Ksandajja's earlier travels & travails. Her character sheet attests that I awarded 25xp for her first adventure (probably too few) and 5xp for her initial wanderings to and within the merchant city. I ran Fhenteskeer and Grebdal Themp (and poor, deceased Orhhuta) through the sample dungeon in the rulebook before using them in this adventure, so they all had a few XP to start with as well.

Current totals are thus-
Ksandajja 70xp
Fhenteskeer & Grebdal Themp 55xp

Time to spend  few before the next adventure:
Ksandajja spends 55 for to increase Stamina to 11 (cost= new levelx5)
Grebdal Themp spends 20 for Trap Knowledge 2, and another 20 for Swords 2 (cost= new levelx10)
Fhenteskeer spends 20 for Axes 2, and 30 for Magic-Priestly 3

Their next adventure begins here.