Thursday, 4 July 2019

THE CRYSTAL SEAS... EPISODE 10: More Than They Could Chew

The following content borrows heavily from the 5e update for The Sunless Citadel, available in Tales from the Yawning Portal. There will be spoilers, although the module has been adapted for our Crystal Seas Sandbox. If you intend to play The Sunless Citadel, please look away now!


After raiding the Sunken Citadel, falling foul of one or two traps and finally defeating an ancient elf-troll, the party decided to spend the night in the abandoned tomb of the dragon priest, only to have their sleep troubled by dreams of a quaist-demon.

13th Sositi

As soon as the party had begun to stir from their slumber Analicia was excitedly informing them all about the "dream" she had experienced. The party were mildly interested but not entirely convinced of its value, although Ursula did seem a little perturbed that she had not been granted the opportunity to strike a deal with the devil. Sadly, Analicia's inability to recall the name of the demon she had spoken to meant neither Horace nor Ursula could shed any more light on it. Kuriakos shivered: he had had his fill of devils and demons.

The party made their way back through the hallowed halls of the dragon priests towards the crumbled turret, trying their luck with an unopened northwestern door. After examining an uninspiring cistern (in spite of the very sophisticated plumbing, they elected not to investigate it any further), they burst into a large, slightly smelly hall. The room contained a small shrine, and crude graffiti in the draconic language. A large metal cage sat on the southern wall, empty. A whimpering sound emanated from a pile of rags against the far wall...


"Hello?"

A large, gecko-like biped emerged from the rags, nearly one metre in height on its hind legs. It seemed to utter some strange sounds, almost like language,before returning to its sobbing. Only Horace knew the nature of this creature: it was a kavald: a sentient, lizard-like creature that has partnered the dwarven people for sentries. They are considered part pet, part servant, but do not usually exhibit the intelligence beyond their capacity to do repetitive, small scale manual labour. The dwarf was surprised when it looked upon him and, almost as shocked, uttered the word kizagu.





"It speaks?" Ursula's curiosity was piqued.

"Yes, said Horace, "apparently it speaks dwarven..."

It took a great deal of effort, but once it emerged that the creature was also able to converse in draconic Horace and Ursula were able to extract some valuable information. Analicia, all the while, grew increasingly frustrated that the creature was unable to converse with her, and seemed surprisingly afraid. Horace was unwilling to divulge that the kavald was frequently referring to her as a tall goblin, and remarking upon her apparent ugliness. Of more use to the party was the fact that this pitiful creature - Meepo - was distraught at having lost his clan's dragon.

Dragons, of course, do not exist.

Ursula's eyes widened.

"But now, great kizagu here to save Meepo! Find dragon! Kill goblins!" He shot an angry glance at Analicia with that final phrase.

The party debated about what to do: the creature was very keen for them to help him, but he insisted that they first seek the approval of his Queen, Yusdrayl. Ursula was not so keen on this idea, especially when it was revealed that there were as many as forty of the creature's clansman beyond the far door. The party agreed that Horace would have to convince Meepo to lead them to the dragon, so that they could take it for themselves.

In the end, it was Horace's status as a dwarf and a cleric that won over poor Meepo, and sealed his doom.

Motherfuckinggoblinbastards

Led by their newfound kavald guide, Meepo, the party were soon investigating an ancient fountain looming over a pool of stagnant water. An inscription upon the font read let there be fire, which when red aloud, caused a stream of red liquid to pour from the fountain. Ursula collected it in a glass bottle.

"Where now, Meepo?"

Meepo shook his head. It transpired that he had not been this far into the citadel before. HE indicated that the goblins were more likely to lie to the west than the north, but he didn't know.

They went through the second door to the north-west, arriving in a dusty, twenty-foot square room. A cursory search revealed nothing. They advanced upon the door in the north wall. Kuriakos swung it open.

A bell rang. An arrow flew through the air, embedding itself in the doorjamb by his head. It had been fired from behind a low wall at the end of the short passageway.

"Get the fuck outtavit!" said a voice from behind the wall. Some arrows were exchanged: Kuriakos believes he killed one of the goblins with his crossbow. The party slammed the door shut.

Meepo nodded sagely before saying:

"Goblins."

Kuriakos drew and loaded his crossbow; Analicia did the same with her shortbow. They took up position either side of the door, before slamming it open wide...

...to reveal nothing but a hallway strewn with caltrops.

As soon as they made their presence obvious, the goblins emerged from behind the balustrade, launched a volley of arrows, and retreated. As they party pressed forward, they found no sign of any goblin remains, but a trail of blood suggested the body had been taken with them.

They rounded a corner, their gaze falling upon three targets: crude, vaguely human-shaped  mannequins used for archery practice. This time Analicia took point, and all went well until she reached within twenty feet of the next stockade. This time, three goblin archers emerged, and although Horace and Ursula had attempted to use the target dummies as cover, the party came under heavy fire. Analicia had prepared to ignite one of Kuriakos' crossbow bolts with her elven magic, ansd succeeded: sadly, his bolt sailed far over the retreating goblins, who were making a solid go of  their hit-and-run tactics. Their assailants split up, retreating through the two furthest exits.

Not immediately wishing to pursue their quarries, the party sought first to lick their wounds, and have them cured courtesy of some clerical spells. Horace warned that he would only be able to heal them so many times, and as they began to discuss their plan of action,a cry came from behind a wooden door more or less adjacent to them.

"Hallo?", came a slightly high-pitched male voice from afar, "is anybody there?"

Like the goblins, it spoke the vulgate, but had an accent familiar to Freeport citizens Ursula and Analicia.

"Can you help me? Please, I beg you... help me!"

Erky Timbers

Analicia was suspicious, and subjected the disembodied voice to a lengthy grilling before finally relenting and agreeing to help. It had been the revelation that the voice belonged to one of Horace's kin that swayed her, and she set to picking the lock on the door. After a few false starts the party were greeted by a dimly-lit dungeon cell. Immediately in front of them, a gang of four miserable kavalds were tethered to stake, while the origin of the voice turned out to be a diminutive dwarf locked in a cage.

"Wow, he's even shorter than you, Horace."

"He's an ipotch... a dwarf with dwarfism..."

"Isn't that just a gnome?" said Ursula.

"My name is Erky, I'm a person and I'm desperate to get out of this cage! Please, I'm so hungry."

Once again, Analicia subjected the poor man to another round of interrogation before agreeing to free him. She learned that he had been sent to the south by the same church as Horace, and had travelled to the village of Romani to proselytise. About a month ago, a group of foreigners arrived in the village, including yellow-robed scholars from Ursula's college. Most of them moved on, but one of the scholars and his henchman remained. Apparently they were planning an expedition to the Sunken Citadel, and acquired a pair of local siblings to act as their guide. Keen for some adventure, Erky asked to join them, claiming that he possessed miraculous healing powers thanks to his faith.

"Worst decision I ever made."

Erky went on to explain that the expedition began without incident, until the northerner's henchmen was slain by a huge, diseased rat. The party overcame it, but they were badly wounded and Erky had used up his healing powers. The scholar had persuaded them to press on-

"What was the scholar's name?" said Ursula.

"Ulf. As I was saying..."

The yellow woman seemed to sink back into herself as Erky continued. He explained that they encountered some goblins, and in their weakened state were overpowered. His mind was still hazy as to what had happened next, but when he awoke, he was locked in a cage in the dungeon, as he had been ever since.

"But how do you know it's been a month?"

"What's the date?"

"13th Sositi."

"Right, well I came here on the 11th of Huleti, so that's more than a month!"

Erky begged the party to take him with them. They were reluctant, but realised he was probably more safe with them than traipsing back to camp alone, so they agreed.

Tactics

Keeping their party together, Kuriakos and Analicia took point, cautiously opening the nearest door to reveal a storeroom chock full of crates and barrels. They found no sign of the goblins, but did find a few barrels of elf pudding, which immediately set Analicia on edge. A door at the far end of the pantry beckoned, and they noticed small footprints leading towards it. They heard nothing from the far side, and opened the door onto a grand hallway, lined with twin rows of columns. There were two doors on the northern wall, and one exit at the far end. There was no sign of any goblins, and the party snuck in, weapons at the ready.

Once they had all stepped inside, the goblins emerged from behind their columns, took a few shots, and darted deeper into the hall. Kuriakos felt an arrow glance of his mail, but returned fire equally woefully. Quick as a flash, Analicia released an arrow across the hall, darting behind one f the columns. She made her mark but failed to slay it. Horace advanced down the right flank, providing shield cover for Ursula as she prepared a spell.

As soon s one of the goblins emerged to launch his attack, Ursula launched three bolts of magical force, each smashing into the unfortunate soul simultaneously. There was a sickening crack of bone breaking as the creature collapsed to the floor. More arrows were fired from the remaining goblins, as they once more beat their retreat, with two assuming defensive positions while a fourth slipped out of the hallway through the furthest exit.

As the remaining goblins tried their hit-and-run tactic one last time, they each came a cropper to a fire bolt from Analicia and Ursula respectively, collapsing into a smouldering mess of blackened bone. The party checked the body of the goblin that had not been incinerated, to find he was still alive, but unconscious. Horace reset its broken leg and bound it to an arrow as an impromptu splint. The pain seemed to jolt him awake:

"Ah! What yer doin'?"

Through a combination of coercion and persuasion the party convinced the goblin to lead them to the stolen dragon. The goblin was cooperative and obviously frightened, but beneath its words lurked the thinly veiled threat of consequences for their actions. Not only was Durnn  (his leader) liable to be angry at them for meddling in the affairs of his tribe, but also Belak.

"Who?"

"The hoo-man, magic one. Looks a bit like that one."

The goblin was pointing at Kuriakos.

"He's the one we took the last lot of hoo-mans to."

The kavald, Meepo, loomed over the goblin menacingly. Meepo was unable to converse with it, but it uttered one word the goblin understood:

"Calcryx."

The goblin turned and spat.

"Yeah, makin' friends wiv them filthy geckos? Not a good move. But yeah, I can show yer the dragon. It's behind that door."

"It's locked."

"Yeah, Gobbo had the key."

"Who?"

The goblin gestured behind him towards the smouldering remains of his comrade. Horace retrieved it, passing it on to "door lady" Analicia...

Calcryx
There was no mistake: it was maybe a little smaller than the beasts of legend (actually, a lot smaller, being only a little larger than Kuriakos), but the blue-scaled, winged reptile was definitely a dragon. Analicia had already crept into the room before it revealed itself, emerging on its hind legs from a large wooden desk at the far side of the chamber. Meepo pushed past her, evidently overjoyed at the prospect of reunification. Ursula remained hidden behind the door, gently singing what she imagined were draconian lullabies.

Kuriakos, Erky and Horace were dumbstruck. No-one noticed the crippled goblin slowly hobbling away. Meanwhile Meepo the kavald was heading straight for his "pet".

"Calcryx!"

There was the the fainest luminescence about the arching neck of the beast, as the unnatural stench of ozone filled the air.

"Calcryx?"

The dragon unleashed an immense bolt of blue-white lightning from its maw, forking and zig-zagging in an unrelenting stream straight through its former master and towards Analicia. The kavald was instantly incinerated, his scaly hide reduced to a blackened heap in seconds. Analicia deftly leapt aside, but the immense power of the assault would mean she did not escape unharmed. The Varanesi maiden fell to the floor, crying in agony. Her flesh smoked and crackled as she desperately tore at her burning clothing and armour.

As Analicia made her way towards the door, Ursula skipped out to launch a volley of magic missiles at the dragon. It continued bounding toward her angrily, shrugging off two deep wounds caused by Kuriakos' scimitars and emerging from its chamber. Once again, the same faint luminescence glowed about its neck as it prepared to deliver another terrible stream of electrostatic destruction. This time its target was the yellow woman, although the Ipotch, Erky, was also caught within the blast.

Just Analicia had been able to react in time to avoid the brunt of the blast, so would Ursula later come to be thankful for her own reflexes. Yet though she too was spared the full force of the dragon's electrical breath, it was of such intensity that her injuries were even more severe than those of her comrade. The mage likewise fell prone, horribly burned, and clutching her face.

Horace was already tending to Analicia as Kuriakos move in for another lethal strike against the dragon. Yet deep as his blows were, they were insufficient against a creature of such hardiness. Analicia moved into position, trying to draw a bead on the creature as it tussled with Kuriakos. For the third time, the Calcryx began to emanate crackling sparks of electrical force. The agile fighter dodged successfully, though stray sparks snapped at his suit of iron mail and singed his skin. He was still standing, and ready to deal the fatal blow, when Calcryx sunk its jaws deep into his shoulder.

There was a horrible moment where the wyrmling dragon had just enough strength to hoist Kuriakos from the ground, his mouth agape and arms hanging limply at his sides. The battle master dropped his scimitars to the ground, before the dragon released him, and he collapsed into a heap of his own blood and gore.

Horace panicked. Around him his party were dropping like flies. He looked around for his recently liberated countrymen, as though somehow one of his own kin might be able to show him what to do next, but Erky was nowhere to be seen. Slowly, Calcryx turned toward the prone Analicia, ignorant of her wounds, bravely notching an arrow... Horace summoned what power he had left, bellowing in a commanding voice:

"SLEEP!"

A look of befuddlement crossed the dragon's face, and for  a terrifying moment it looked as though it was going to laugh. Then, without warning, the dragon turned and trotted gracefully back to its chamber like a prize pony, and curled up in its favourite sleeping position under the desk, much to the surprise of the wheezing Analicia:

"You... you c- can do that?"

Horace shook his head.

"No, it's a command spell: I can give it one simple instruction and, if my will is stronger than its-"

Already the dragon had raised its head and was scanning its surroundings in confusion.

"SHUT THE DOOR!"

Between them, the two adventurers slammed the door in the face of Calcryx, and began to survey the wreckage. Horace hurriedly tended to Ursula, who was already bleeding out. With a few improvised bandages, Horace was able to stem the flow from her cracked skin. Satisfied she was at least stable, the dwarf turned his attention to Kuriakos. But before he could reach him, the room was full of goblins, arrows trained on the remaining party members.

"Drop your weapons," said a hooded goblin woman, swathed in bandages, "drop them and I help your friend."

For a moment the pair were motionless, unaware to fully process what was going on. Two immense goblins, heavily armoured and with crimson skin, loomed over the pair menacingly. It was at that moment Horace recognised the remains of Erky. Fear gripped him.

"Why should we-" began Analicia.

"Your friend is already dying. You are both wounded, and your sorceress lies useless at my feet."

"How can we trust-"

"You cannot. You are my prisoners. You have trespassed upon the territory of my people and murdered my brethren-"

She indicated the smoking remains of the goblins Ursula and Analicia had firebolted earlier.

"-yet I am willing to show you mercy. Now drop your weapons before your friend dies."

They did as instructed. It was at that precise moment that the dishonoured soldier of Jehemen's Royal Guard breathed his last. Goblins gathered around Horace and Analicia, stripping them of their valuables, as the goblin woman performed a healing ritual over the burned body of Ursula. The mage remained unconscious, yet her wounds appeared somewhat less horrific.

"She was badly wounded, but I ten days' rest ought to heal the worst of it," without breaking stride she bore down on Analicia, and delivered a similar healing rite, "likewise, sister-goblin. Whether you'll get the rest you require is not my decision."

In spite of her healed wounds, Analicia was too exhausted to hold on to consciousness, and passed out on the floor. Horace was grappled by one of the large, red goblins, and forced back in the direction they had come. Were they to be cast back out to the wilderness?

No. They were to be locked up in the very oubliette from which they had liberated Erky less than an hour before. Chained to the floor

TO BE CONTINUED...

View the updated Crystal Seas Campaign Kill Chart!

MECHANICS (IN MEMORIUM: KURIAKOS)

Another one bites the dust, ay? Probably a good point to talk (briefly) about the death and dismemberment rules we use in the game. First, here is the avatar we've been using for Kuriakos throughout:


It's actually a flipped image of David Gyasi as Achilles in a recent BBC production of Troy.

Perhaps of greater interest is the fact that we use an adapted version of GLOG's death and dismemberment rules, which can be found here. Like GLOG, we allow characters to go on hacking, even at 0 HP. However, any wounds they receive at this point are potentially fatal, and players still track HP (instadeath is at negative max, which sort of correlates with 5e's death from massive damage rules).

Unlike the GLOG, we work in 5E's exhaustion rules so that:

-characters gain a level of exhaustion at 0 HP
-characters gain a level of exhaustion at every failed death save

Death saves are made for EVERY fatal wound that a character possesses. Poor Kuriakos was already at 2 HP when he received a massive 20 HP of damage, dropping him to -18. A roll on the lethal damage table dealt him a) a disable arm for 19 days, 5 lethal wounds, a saving throw to save his arm (PASSED) and one level of exhaustion.

We also house rule that characters are unconscious at 3 fatal wounds. Kuriakos was unconscious.

He succeeded on four out of five of his saves in the first round. Saves are made each round until the fatal wounds are treated (they cannot stabilise themselves with a successful save). However, this led to one further level of exhaustion (3 so far), leaving him was just two more between him and death.

He held on four a surprising number of rounds, but ultimately failed three further saves.

Death comes at the sixth level of exhaustion.

It is  a little complex, but the idea is to work in long term injuries with what is actually a statistically more lethal system than RAW (for 5e at least).  I'll put a post up soon of the crib sheet aI've made for my players.



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