Posts made in May, 2014

Pcon 39 Postscript: Distant Emergence

The new world is at peace.  The credits have rolled.  We fade to black.

The sun dawns over the horizon onto a lush field of wildflowers.  A light breeze blows slightly and causes the wild colors of the flowers to dance.   A long twisted ceramic box juts from the earth at an odd angle.  It is laced profusely with white threads.  A large black tree protrudes from one side of the box and odd plants sprout from its surface as if stone is as good a medium as earth.

All is calm.  The wind stirs lazily on the spring morning.  Suddenly a faint sound can be heard coming from within the box.  It grows steadily louder until its eerie song can be recognized as flute music.

The music seems to coalesce into the spirit forms of two warriors.  Each ghost bears the mark of two mountains with a key between them, the symbol of the Idyllican Valley.   The primordial energies of the field seem to latch onto the spirits and flesh seems to form about the lost souls.  One warrior is clothed in the flesh of a great bear possessing long claws.  The other man is transformed into a large black bull with long pointed horns.  Using claw and horn, they pry the lid off easily.  The original locking mechanisms had turned to ash under the influence of the wild magic of The Shroud.

A young elf sits up slowly and the two creatures help him stand.  His wrinkles were washed away along with the old dead world.  He blinks at the light of the new dawn and sets the odd flute to his lips once again.  Through the wood, bone, and glass of his flute a soft melody rises as he exhales into the mouthpiece next to the image of the golden bough, the symbol of Samedhi.  More spirits emerge, such as a young dwarven child, a hobbit beggar, a human blacksmith, an elven wizard woman and too many more to count.  They were the ones caught in the collapse of the Idyllican Valley.  As each emerges their spirits are wrapped in flesh of one kind or another.  They wore bodies of uncorrupted animals such as snakes, birds, and insects, and other stranger things.  Those odd ones were legendary things described as living more than a thousand years before even the Age of Wonder.  They all wore their new bodies like a favorite set of clothes.

They gathered in the emerging dawn light and in the shadow of the single twisted tree and talked with each other until they saw the radiant elf standing alone on the sarcophagus.  They all quieted and Magistrate Nicholai Zed spoke.  His young voice was strong and powerful yet oddly melodious as he spoke to the menagerie assembled before him.

“Thank you all for bearing with me.  First let me say you are all look…wondrous.  We have all seen our share of destruction and death and for that I must apologize.  But the time for destruction is over.  We are all reborn to go forth into this virgin land and shape it into a true paradise.  Let the gods see they have spared us for a grand purpose. Come here to this stone ‘ship’ of salvation.  Let us all embrace as brothers and sisters.  Let us all hear each others’ voices, for this is not my world nor is it yours.  It is ours.  Let this box be our council table and this tree be our roof, for this is a dawn of the greatest age yet.”

The talk began.  The voice of the mole was no less heard than that of the elephant or the even the fiery drake.  The sun grew high and then started to descend in the sky and none of them hungered.  The elf added his voice and they all listened.  With their discussions nearly over, the sun set over the first council in the reborn world.  Their silhouettes mingled and moved in front of the red glow over the western horizon.

Fade to black again.

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Recap: Pcon 39 Wrap-up

In the long time gone before times, a great and terrible empire rose up that cast all under its shadow.  Those that were deemed unworthy by the rulers of the empire were hunted and ruthlessly exterminated. Just as the final dominion of the empire was assured, a desperate band of mystics, shamans, clerics, wizards, magi and scientists gathered together and called forth a power from the beginning of the world, a force to change the world and reshape the darkness into a place where people could start fresh, a new world free of the rules of the empire.

Whether they did not understand what they unleashed, if something went wrong, or if the empire found them as they completed their work, we will never know, for what came next was the Night of No Stars. It is impossible to say how long this lasted, some say one night, some say forty, all that is certain is that afterwards the world was changed beyond recognition and nothing and no place was safe.

Since the time of our grandfather’s grandfathers we sheltered in Idyllican Valley, trusting in the Laws of Salvation to protect us from the terrors of the wastelands. We learned to deal with each other, to celebrate the differences between human, dwarf, elf and hobbit, bound together in survival. But then disaster came upon us and we were driven forth. More than forty thousand people lived in the Valley, but when the mountains erupted in fire, we were decimated and only a remnant of a remnant escaped alive. Four thousand refugees left our home, wandering in the wastelands chasing the dream of safety to the west.

Many died of starvation, many more from the monsters we met in our travels. Our heroes, the strong, the wise and the clever, led us in fighting off the terrible creatures sent by Sitriph, helping us learn to accept the horrific changes we endured as the magic of the wastes washed through us. Some found ancient temples of knowledge to give us understanding; others found strange allies that once we would have feared.

We thought we had reached our final end when the Shroud Wall, that enigmatic white mist that had come over the land during the Night of No Stars, was about to sweep us before it as we huddled in the enigmatic structure of the ancients. Most of our heroes were away breaking the power of the villainous Army of Salvation and clearing the sanctuary of Sitriph for us, but we could not reach those walls we had struggled so to find.

But at the last moment, the strange machines were deciphered and we were able to be magically transported into the catacombs of Sitriph! Even as the Shroud fell over us, our heroes put forth an ultimate effort, several of them falling as they did so, to reinforce the walls and keep us safe. Almost half of the refugees had died on the march, but between the survivors, the allies that joined us, and a collection of animals saved by the Gaians, we packed Sitriph to the very brim.

And well for us all that we did so, for when the Shroud had passed on, all that had been was gone. The world was clean and new, our walls had turned into mountains surrounding us like a mothers arms, what was once endless sea now plains and forests ready to be repopulated. It may be that some others survived in other shelters; we must reach out and find a way for us to shape this fresh world into the world we wish our children to live in.

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Recap: York’s Pcon 39 scenario

First, Backstory: About a thousand years ago (long after the Night of No Stars, long before the invention of Aphar Clay) a largish group of refugees got booted out of Sitriph for being dissidents. (This was during the germination of the oppressive society encountered in the Con.) The dissidents had some clue that large groups of people could withstand the corruption of the Shroud remnants contaminating the wilderness, and they developed a fairly horrifying practice of human sacrifice to amplify and exploit this effect — imbuing the essence of humanity into the walls around them, through the blood of the sacrifices. It worked, but not well enough; one way or another each of their refuges failed and they would pack up and try to find a better location, each time going farther from Sitriph and heading for the legendary Shroud-free haven of Idyllicon Valley.

Along their way they discovered, but were refused entrance to, the Great Temple of Knowledge that had been built in the earliest years after the Night Of  No Stars, by clerics who wielded the burgeoning powers of the new Gods but still had access to the secrets of the old world as well. The Great Temple had been founded in the certainty that the Shroud would come again and all possible knowledge must be preserved against that dire day.

The Refugees (sometimes styled the Refugees of Blood) lost knowledge and numbers both in their string of forced migrations, and ultimately only a tiny remnant made the trek from their final refuge to Idyllicon (some records indicate only one Shroud-wracked individual.) The guards turned them away and the Refugees met their final doom in the wilderness.

Run 1: “Not a Ruin”
Premise was very simple – outriders scouting for the Horde spot a building that hasn’t been eroded to nothing, so maybe it has stuff. A looting^H^H^H^H^H^H^H foraging party is sent. They find a fairly complete walled keep, and also discover an out-wall suggesting that the keep had kept a couple of square miles under cultivation in its heyday. Attempting to enter, they are briefly delayed by the trapdoor grizzly bear that had set up shop in front of the entrance. Scrutinizing the structure, the detect a residue of some kind of unwholesome magic in the mortar, and come to the conclusion that it was made with blood. Skeletal remains of an apparent suicide — he had to dive headfirst down the narrow clear shaft at the core of the spiral stair — turn up in one of the corner towers, but nothing of interest otherwise. At the Great Hall, on the other hand, several mummified corpses are found, with an interesting variety of deathwounds. Further investigation is delayed when the mummies animate and attack the party. The mummies are eventually overcome; the party is horrified at the speed of progression of the variant mummy rot they inflict, but mollified when they discover that any kind of magical healing stops it in its tracks. Scraps of a journal are found and provide some clarification despite extensive smudging (the journal-writer knocked his ink bottle over onto it in his death-throes). The players can read enough to infer the basics: human sacrifice as a way to fend off Shroud-corruption, dwindling numbers, a grim certainty of encroaching doom. The last entry in the journal ends with “The burrowers beneath are …..”
Exploring the rest of the keep, the party resists the enticements of the ghost haunting the favored chambermaid’s bedroom (she projects a very alluring illusion to try to coax someone into her bed, but luckily for the party her haunting binds her to the bed and she can’t actually harm anyone she can’t reach). A large and detailed map is found in one of the master bedrooms and brought back to Hireling Hall. The party scouts the basements, notes that the mysterious “burrowers beneath” (who can drill through solid rock) seem to be returning now that there’s life in the keep again, and delay them by burning most of the combustibles left in the basement while making their own getaway. One of the items brought back restored knowledge of 4th-level Prayers to PCs.

Run 2: Shadows of Princecon Past
With all the clay running around I couldn’t resist throwing in a shout-out to Princecon 33: Ghost and Clay. Specifically, Terra Cotta Warriors. The next-oldest refuge of the  Refugees had been built with the bright idea of intensifying the protective “humanity” of the walls by making them look like humans; hence, the warriors made of fired clay, made to guard the walls. Unfortunately, the ritual of creating the warriors was too close to the (not-yet-discovered) Sitriph ritual for creating Aphar Clay, which *attracts* Shroud thread instead of repelling it. The clay statues became suffused with Shroud Thread, which animated them — and the ghosts of the people sacrificed to make them filled their nascent minds with horror. One night the guardian statues climbed down from the wall and started slaughtering the Refugees, who fled with scarcely more than the nightshirts on their backs. Once the murderers had been punished, the Terra Cotta warriors had a couple of centuries to calm down and get over their PTSD before the Players encountered them.
The party en route to the next refuge didn’t know any of this, of course. They did have an edifying encounter with a long-range patrol from Sitriph, a pair of two-pilot golems. (I treasure the look on Tim DeCapio’s face when his Gaia cleric used Lifesense to find out whether these odd monsters were alive or constructs and learned that each of them was alive twice.) After the golems were broken the pilots resisted too vigorously to be taken alive, except for the one who had succumbed to a Sleep spell while the golem was still functional. Interrogation of the pilot revealed some useful information about the Army of Salvation, Aphar Clay and the nature of its protection in the wilderness, but ultimately the pilot’s fanaticism and extremism grew so frustrating that the party put him out of their misery. (In fairness, it could be said this summary execution was what the prisoner wanted — he tried to commit suicide twice during the interrogation.)
The party proceeded to the keep marked on their map and discovered one much like the first-run keep, but obviously in better repair. In fact, they saw, it was obviously being repaired, with stone and metalwork of recent vintage patching decayed portions of the ancient structure. They also discovered that somebody inside was volleying arrows at anyone who came too close. Party withdrew to a dell out of LOS from the keep to rest for the night and plan. Winter’s Whisper, hobbit Gaia cleric, decided to make a lone scouting attempt to see if the cover of darkness would make it possible to approach the keep. He narrowly avoided being captured by a thrown net and hightailed it back to the campsite.
Shortly thereafter, the party discovered themselves surrounded by Terra Cotta Warriors with drawn bows, who had come up silently enough that no one noticed them until they broke the 60′ range limit of Darkvision. The party begged to talk with them, rather than fighting or trying to escape. This sufficiently intrigued the TCW that their leader got out a slate and a piece of chalk. (The TCW cannot speak–their faces are immobile carvings–and routinely communicate in writing.) In the ensuing conversation the TCW learned that the PCs were not descended from the Refugees (whom the TCW still hated) but instead from the people who turned the last Refugees away to die in the wilderness, which earned them a claim to at least minimal hospitality. (“YOU ARE WELCOME TO REST IN SAFETY WITHIN OUR WALLS. WE CANNOT OFFER YOU FOOD. WE DO NOT EAT.”) Subsequent negotiations provided the PCs with some useful items, the restoration of the Piety and Paladin feats, and some Terra Cotta Warriors accompanying them back to the Horde to teach the arts of steelworking and longbow manufacture (it turned out that these lost arts, however, had already been rediscovered by an earlier-returning party).

Run 3: Great Temple of Knowledge
The existence and location of the Great Temple were learned from contact with the Terra Cotta Warriors. An expedition went to see if they could loot^H^H^H^H retrieve the knowledge therein. Clever use of Gaia powers allowed the party to avoid all Army of Salvation patrols (the Great Temple is uncomfortably close to Sitriph) and make a quick approach to the Temple. Detect Traps revealed that the four pillars in front of the entrance would do Something Bad to anyone trying to force the door. After puzzling over the door for a while the party simply explained their plight and the need for knowledge, and the door opened. The party entered the antechamber within and were closely scrutinized by an entity who appeared to be an animated metal statue wearing a white cloak. They were then waved down a corridor which was filled with darkness impenetrable even to Gaia cleric Alist’s Continual Light devices. They emerged, after a time, to find that they were in a small chamber with a door at the end, and that the darkness behind them had become a solid barrier, forbidding return. Having little choice, they found themselves in a pitched battle between an attacking force of warriors in black coats and helmets, wielding powerful if strange weapons, and a defending force of civilians with improvised weapons behind an improvised barricade. Since the black-coats immediately attacked the PCs for being “subhumans” the party decided to throw in with the defenders. They learned that the defenders were led by Michael Theogenes, a human prophet of the Gods that had emerged since the descent of the Shroud had destroyed the evil Empire that was in the process of conquering the world. Michael and his volunteers were defending the last unblocked approach to a refuge that would be able to resist the encroaching Shroud (much reduced by the work it had already done), and they needed to hold off this remnant of the Empire’s armies long enough for the refuge to be sealed well enough to withstand the last surviving war machines.
The PCs enthusiastically committed their resources to the defense, in the process labeling the Empire’s hand weapons Great Unknown Noisemakers (G.U.N.s) and coming up with another phrase, which I sadly didn’t note, that gave the oncoming war machines the acronym T.A.N.K. The heroic sacrifice of Tristan Draelig, flinging himself atop Michael as four grenades exploded around them, saved Michael’s life; and the interposition of a Wall of Force at just the right moment caused the charging Imperials to be shattered by their own artillery. After the air elemental got into the last tank it was a matter of mopping up. As Michael expressed his gratitude the party saw the world around them fading and becoming translucent. They found themselves within a great hall of the Temple of Knowledge, filled with bookshelves and display cases — and still talking to Michael Theogenes, now manifesting as a translucent image of an ancient white-haired man. He confirmed that they had really been in the past, and had met and talked to him there, in consequence of which he knew that the Shroud would come again and destroy even that which had survived before. He had led the worshipers of the new Gods before they separated into individual churches, founded the Great Temple, and after dying at an advanced age was permitted by the Gods to linger as a spirit-guardian of the Temple. He pointed the party to the most immediately useful items and offered them help for securing Sitriph against the Shroud. He also promised that the Temple could ride out the Second Shroud but its capacity was severely limited.

Run 4: Relief Expedition
The party raced ahead of the Horde to the Temple of Knowledge, where they were provided with a self-propelled amphibious vehicle carrying 30 Ectoplasm Generators, devices that turned the Shroud’s own power against itself to create a barrier against its approach. They would not be enough to secure an enclave of useful size but could extend the walls that other parties hoped to form around Sitriph Fortress using Aphar Clay. After some discussion the party decided to use their vehicle’s amphibious capability not just to circumvent Army of Salvation patrols and checkpoints, but to cross the bay to Sitriph Fortress itself and mount an amphibious assault. Message via Stone and Message via Trees were used to alert the other expedition, aiming to rouse the disaffected population of Sitriph into an attack on the Fortress, about the timing of their attack.
A magical item in the party’s possession allowed them to conjure a ramp which allowed their vehicle to climb from the bay directly onto the first terrace of the Fortress. Furious combat ensued in which the party attacked with overwhelming force whenever possible. They were preparing for a potentially deadly confrontation with enemies who had concentrated multiple three-pilot Golems, backed up by infantry, spellcasters, and archer/snipers armed with Arrows of Human Slaying and Arrows of Dwarf Slaying, when the party in the “General Electric” expedition removed the power source from the Aphar Golems. At this point, resistance effectively ended for this party — while the other parties storming the Fortress had to deal with forted-up die-hards, the Army members who had seen that nothing short of a Golem could even slow down this deadly war machine were completely demoralized and either fled or surrendered. The party quickly pressed the surrendered into helping with cargo hauling as they deployed the Ectoplasm Generators around the north side of the island and then started hauling deactivated golems to continue the Aphar Clay wall. Cargo hauling was greatly facilitated when the mages spent most of their points conjuring Temporary Bags of Holding and set up bucket-brigades to collect golems in the interior (as well as the 5-ton blocks someone was teleporting in from somewhere.) (Reference note: 10 hobbits equipped with one Temp Bag of Holding apiece and one large cutting tool can collect 5 tons of clay in less than 5 melee rounds.) Although many others contributed to clay-hauling and wall-building, the efforts of the Relief Expedition were a vital part of the whole.

The Aphar Clay grew into mountains while the Shroud encompassed the world. The arc of Ectoplasm Generators to the north is the reason your new valley home opens out to fertile plains on that side. (With no more Shroud threads to spin into Ectoplasm, the Generators themselves are useless though intriguingly complicated devices.)  The Temple of Knowledge rode out the new Shroud as well, protecting a population of a few dozen Terra Cotta Warriors and some actual organic NPCs; its libraries and supernatural instructors are at the disposal of all who seek to rebuild a better world.

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