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.

AFTERMATH
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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