Sunday 24 February 2019

THE CRYSTAL SEAS... Episode 3: Well, well, well...

It's not been an easy first foray into the unknown for our plucky band of heroes. Analicia has already come close to death on two occasions, and after the bruising encounter with the Giant Inferno Spider Horace , too had his own brush with death. Burzum's DEAD for chrissakes, and our previous installment concluded with our heroes awakening to the weeping of the Turquoise woman. So-

4th Sositi, continued...

WAIT. Before we jump straight back into the action. Let us rewind a little. Because Horace had a dream...

Before he was stabilised by Analicia, the dwarven cleric experienced a vision. At death's door, his spirit travelled into the ether, until he found himself alone in the void, but for an enormous, iridescent dragon. Horace knew that this was god: a gargantuan rainbow serpent, dancing across the void, dreaming reality into existence. It did not acknowledge him, yet he felt embraced - comforted, almost - by this awesome presence. Somewhere, on the very periphery of his conscious, he heard the voice of an elven maiden, and once again, all was black. 
When later Horace awoke he found himself back in the musty, burned-out cellar, listening to a woman weeping. Analicia watched the turquoise woman closely, who explained that she felt responsible for the loss of life. She proffered a limp hand in friendship, before finally introducing herself as Ursula. The elf was unimpressed, instead ordering Ursula to remove Burzum's body. Ursula complied with the instruction, apparently in some kind of post-traumatic delirium... of course, she was unable to move the 220 lbs dead barbarian. 

While the two ladies struggled with the hulking mass of Burzum's corpse, Horace had a look around the laboratory. The room had clearly been turned upside down by the giant spider. The ancient, mouldering remains of various codices were either rotten beyond use or had been burned more recently. However, amidst the ancient mess Horace was able to retrieve a thick papyrus codex, bound in leather or hide, surprisingly untainted by the passing years. Within its pages, a beautiful copperplate script had been printed by hand, in a language and alphabet unknown to the dwarf.

Horace ventured gingerly towards an unopened door on the far side of the room. He could hear a gentle scratching: either a giant rat, incredibly far away, or a normal-sized rat, adjacent to the door. Ursuala and Analicia re-appeared, propping Burzum up by the old alchemist's bench. Quizzing Horace as to whether he'd found anything, Horace's equivocations were interrupted by a terrifyingly loud pounding from the other side of the door. They decided it was best to recuperate before exploring further. 

After disabling the trap using some iron petons, Analicia and Urusula were able to hall Burzum down the corridor, and out of the cellar. The brewery's proprietor was distraught to see that one of his exterminators had been slain, and fetched his staff to tend to the body, which was taken out of sight. The remaining three adventurers tended to their wounds, drinking warm beer and eating black bread.

And then it was time to go back...
The party avoided the alchemist'slab on this occasion, instead opening the door onto a small room dimly lit by a crack in the ceiling, adorned with a dilapidated stone well in the centre of the room. Horace clanked over in his glistening scale mail, peering inside...


Momentarily shocked at the sight of not one but two giant centipedes, Horace decided not to warn his compatriots, although Analicia detected that something was up and readied her bow. The first centipede came into view, she sent an arrow sailing over its head. The ensuing melee was a little confusing, with Ursula launching a fire bolt, and Horace receiving a nasty bite and narrowly avoiding being poisoned, but the highlight was certainly Analicia's bold attempt to send one centipede back down the well. Though she attempted to leap on top of it, the giant arthropod managed to sidestep the elf, sending her plummeting fifty feet into the darkness of the well's shaft.

Fortunately, the wellspring had not yet run dry, and the ten feet or so of water at the bottom softened her landing, although she was now out of action.... she'd also dropped her shortsword!

Actual footage of Alicia at the bottom of a well
After slaying one of the centipedes, Horace and Ursula seemed to dance around a little bit, with the mage trying to pierce it with her dagger unsuccessfully. Horace landing a mighty blow with his warhammer, cracking the carapace about its head, yet still the creature fought on It delivered another stinging bite, this time to Ursula, who likewise shrugged off the effects of the poison. Analicia continued to splash around at the bottom of the well, unsuccessfully attempting to clamber out the steep shaft.

Finally, the centipede was dealt with and its corpse hurtled back whence it came, narrowly missing the elven rogue. Horace and Ursula were able to extricate her with their ropes, and a soggy Analicia thanked them before stealing a set of silver plates from the table. The room yielded little more.

Disheartened and demoralised, the group returned to the site of Burzum's death one final time. The strange sounds from beyond the far door had fallen silent, but as a precaution Analicia stealthily snuck across the room, and pressed her ear against the door. She heard that same scrabbling noise again, which erupted into a violent pounding after she called for her colleagues to join her. They opened the door on yet another giant rat, which was pierced by Analicia's rapier. As the giant rat quivered its last death rattle, they observed the room around them: it appeared the creature had imbibed liquid from a shattered glass vial on the floor. The torn label was in dwarven, the roughly translated fragment reading: "-tion of enlargement". Nearby, a similar shattered vial read: "Essence of fire elem-"

Indeed, it appeared that the whole room had once been a store for alchemical potions. As Ursula salvaged whatever glassware she could find, she happened upon two potions of healing, which she handed to her friends. Horace noticed her pocket two other potions as well, though he had no idea what they were.

The proprietor was delighted with the party and rewarded them each with 25 gold coins. He was clearly guilty about Burzum, and indicated that a share of the reward be provided for his family, too. A young boy capable of speaking the common tongue explained that they had wrapped the corpse, and that they could provide transportation to the next village via mule cart, but that they wouldn't be returning to Jehemen for at least a week, and that they should get back there before then. The adventurers gratefully acquiesced.

The return to Khuth was low key, and not how the villagers had expected. During their brief absence, the headman had acquired four fine horses for the party, and was proudly presenting them. His pride turned to sadness when he realised that he need only have acquired three.

Possibly Burzum.

The party had a lot to consider. they had gained some experience, picked up a few coins and been given noble horses upon which to ride, but a man was dead. The so-called "tower of the red mage" was little more than a basement lab, and whatever secrets it had held appeared to have bee lost to time or the flames of the spider. But the time had come to rest: after all the day's exertions the remaining party members were utterly drained. They ate solemnly with the villagers and then, a few hours after sun fall, all but Analicia fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Friday 22 February 2019

THE CRYSTAL SEAS... Episode 2: The 'Wizard's' (ahem) 'Tower' (ahem)


Ahhh... ummm... awkward.... guess we weren't quick enough, huh? Yes, that's right, this week a friendly NPC died. Not the pistachio nut salesman, you may be pleased to hear. If you have more than two working brain cells the above image may have tipped you off... if not, then... well, we'll get to that won't we? For now, let's pick up where we left off...

Previously on "Crystal Seas"....

As the party caught their breath, Burzum shot a (n almost) respectful glance at his non-human colleagues. The green woman, scrambling to her feet, received a look of disdain. Unfazed, the green woman stared blankly at the dead giant falcon for a moment or two, pluck a few of its flight feathers and placed them in her backpack, before stating confidently:

"Right. Shall we get back on track then?"   

Our hero, Horace, unimpressed by the green woman's apparent cowardice, suggested that she put a feather in her hair to celebrate a great victory. She was, as ever, confused by Horace's facetiousness, but nonetheless complied, leading to a discussion about Analicia's age, which she did her best to avoid.

The winner of the chicken battle.
Burzum erected an impromptu tent to shelter the party from the noon sun while they attempted a short rest. It had been more than a grazing encounter with the giant falcon: Analicia had almost died, and perhaps would have done so were it not for Horace's timely (and divine intervention). The rest gave them a chance to lick their wounds, but it set them back somewhat, and night fell before they were anywhere close to the ruins of the red mage's tower.

Fortunately, a tiny village of fewer than one hundred souls - Kuth - was situated at the junction of the coastal path and the trail to the Tower of the Red Mage. The locals were friendly and welcoming, but utterly unintelligible. They presented a sumptuous feast of stewed meats and bread, of which neither Analicia nor the woman in green partook. They both seemed bothered by the locals apparent lack of interest in the feast, instead they seemed content to merely watch. Burzum seemed to chow down heartily, which persauded Horace to follow suit. Mutton, goat... maybe camel... it was fine but maybe a little spicier than his dwarven palate would usually enjoy.

Horace felt differently in the morning, but for a few hours at least the part were able to enjoy some festivities with the hospitable villagers and spent the night in the barn.

4th Sositi :(Sositi is the third month of the local calendar)

Horace slept badly, the peculiar local food having wrought havoc with his usually strong stomach. Not needing sleep and not having indulged in the previous evening's food, Analicia is feeling refreshed and revitalised and ready for breakfast. She catches sight of the woman in green reading through a particularly thick, leather-bound book... and then notices yet another costume change, as the woman in green becomes the woman in turquoise...

Wait, didn't she have a feather in her hair yesterday?

Fixed it! Meanwhile, in her hunt for a decent breakfast, Analicia was caught up in an exchange with a pair of locals who seemed to accurately interpret her need for breakfast, and provided her with a boiled lizard's egg (without any salt or pepper). Refreshed and recharged, and after Horace muttered his daily prayers, the party continued their journey to the Tower of the Red Mage.

The trail continued out of the village of Kuth and into the desert. As the woman in turquoise had predicted, a large man-made hill soon loomed in the distance across the dunes, although as they drew closer, it appeared not to be the grand tower she had anticipated. Burzum allowed himself a laugh, which as they drew closer and saw a mule cart and a few young local boys busying themselves with work, turned into a guffaw. The turquoise lady failed to see the funny sun, especially when she saw the sign hanging from the unassuming, recently constructed stone building on the site of her "tower".

They don't do possessive apostrophes in these parts.
The party found themselves on the first floor of the Wizard's Tower brewery, attempting to discuss just why the proprietor (a middle-aged Kyran man, unable to speak the common tongue) seems to have been expecting them. Burzum was able to understand one word: exterminator.

With the woman in yellow green turquoise anxious to inspect the tower, the party allowed themselves to be led down to the cellars of the brewery... with Burzum leading, followed by Analicia, then the woman in turquoise... the wooden stairs creaked as they descended into the cool, dry air of the cellar , which was infused with the smell of beer and damp fur . Somewhere in the darkness they heard the scrabbling sound of claws on floorboards and a faint squeaking noise.

They soon realised they were surrounded by at least eight giant rats. With not a moment to spare, Burzum leaps into action, charging at a cluster of three rats, dropped his flaming torch to the ground and swung his great, two-handed sword into one of the rats. The sword cut deep into its flesh, but the creature seemed undeterred in its desire to feed on his flesh. Horace muttered some incantations before opening his mouth and releasing a bellowing cry akin to an enormous house cat. Shocked by the terrifying sound, two of the rats immediately scuttled through a dark hole at the far side of the room.

Almost immediately, the turquoise woman charged forward, raised a curious object from her pocket, muttered some curious words and pointed her finger at one of the rats between her and Burzum, before launching a mote of fire towards, it engulfing it in flame, but again, not killing it. Two of the rats ran towards her and attacked, not harming her but inflicting a wound on Analicia in the process. Burzum found himself subject to the gnashing teeth and scratching claws of not one, not two, but three one metre long rats, and was wounded by their filthy teeth. Not to be outdone by the turquoise woman's surprise, Analicia launched a fire bolt of her own hurtling through the air, though it did not strike its intended target.

A peculiar malady befell Burzum, who seemed to be consumed by an incredible rage. His eyes reddened, even in the flickering torchlight, and he struck out at his foes with renewed vigour. His greatsword cleaved his primary assailant in twain, and the arcing sword even tore into the neighbouring rat. Turquoise woman, surrounded now by rats, attempted to parry their strikes as she withdrew to the far corner of the room, cowering. Horace placed his hands on the shoulder of his wounded elven colleague, and Analicia's wounds were magically healed.   

After a series of hits and misses (including some wild swings from Horace's warhammer), the party had dispatched five of the giant rats. Analicia had dealt the killing blow to two, and Burzum had slain three. Lots of questions were raised. It appeared that the turquoise woman had some magical ability... and so too did the elven maiden, Analicia...

Turquoise Lady: You can do what I do... how? Can all elves do that?

Analicia: Uhhh... I wouldn't know... I just... practised!

Turquoise Lady: Hmm... what do you do when you die?

Analicia: Excuse me?

Turquoise: I mean, when your... uh... parents die. What do you do with the bodies? Bury them? Burn them?

Analicia: Uhhh...

Burzum led the party through the gap in the far wall through which the rats had escaped, coming into a passage that was blocked at one end. The other end contained a curious mosaic, and a riddle:

"Dawn breaks with stirring air , As sun shines down on new day fair
"Midday blaze bakes earth and grass, The farmer waits for heat to pass
"Evening cool brings water , wine, Drink and laughter passing time
"Night sees shining, roaring f ire, as wood and coals burn on the pyre"

The riddle, in elvish, was crudely translated by the Turquoise Lady, with corrections by Analicia... yet the party were none the wiser. They were aware that this was some kind of trap, as there were three dead rats lying prone over the tiles, each one bisected by by a blade, their entrails splayed across the decorative tiles. Unable to decipher the riddle, Burzum was big and strong enough to make a standing jump across the trap. Horace, after casting a light spell to make sure everything was clear, caught the attention of Turquoise Lady, who noticed for the first time that Horace was able to use magic, too....

Turquoise Lady: How did you do that? Can all dwarves do that?

Horace: Uhhh

Turquoise Lady: Hmm... what do you do when you die?

Horace: Excuse me?

Turquoise: I mean, when your... uh... parents die. What do you do with the bodies? Dwarf bodies?Bury them? Burn them?

Despite this, Horace continued undeterred. first, he attempted trial and error, receiving a blade to the foot, causing grievous harm. Nonetheless, he tries again, this time placing his foot on the area of the tiles representing the sky. Gingerly, he took a diagonal step on to the next tile, then across from there to the deep blue tiles on the third panel... then on to the fire glyph on the fourth tile... 

With Analicia following in his footsteps, Horace made it across, much to the amusement and disbelief of Burzum, who was waiting for the trap to trigger at any moment. For the duration of this incident, the Turquoise Lady had never looked up from the engravings on the wall. Only when everyone had safely made it across did she triumphantly announce that she had solved the riddle...

The party were now confronted by two doors at the end of the corridor: one on the wall on the left, the other at passageway's terminus. The group elected to take the door on the left, revealing...

...the burned remnants of some kind of alchemical laboratory. But just as they began to investigate the area, a scuttling sound was heard... this time, however, it wasn't a giant rat... it was...

...a giant spider! Oh my god! Wait, did I mention it was on fire?

The flaming spider caught everyone by surprise, launching a stream of burning webbing around Burzum. Screaming with agony, Burzum fell to the floor. Analicia responded with her bow, piercing the spider's abdomen, but it was not felled. It scuttled over the charred, prone body of Burzum towards its nearest opponent, Horace, and dealt him a deadly blow with its hideous jaws. Burning pain seared through the dwarven cleric's chest as he fell to the floor, unconscious. Muttering an incantation, the turquoise woman summoned three white-coloured lights, which shot forth and pummelled the huge spider, though still it remained intact.

Seeing Horace collapse from his wounds, Analicia rushed to his side and attempted to stabilise the mortally wounded dwarf. The creature scuttled forward, over the body of Horace now, and bit the Analicia, wounding her. The Turquoise Lady responded with another barage of magic missiles, yet still the creature was determined to slaughter its prey. This time taking a swipe with her shortsword, Analicia once again wounded the beast, but it was undeterred, and closed its ugly, flaming mandibles upon the elf's shoulder. Owing to the loss of blood and incredible pain, she fell to the floor, also unconscious.

Things were not looking good for the Turquoise Lady. Not only had all her muscle now been floored, but she had used her most powerful magic. The flaming spider bearing down on her would easily withstand anything she could do with the tiny dagger by her side... what else could she do? She launched a bolt of flame, knowing full well it would probably do very little, but her options were running out... it missed, regardless, the flame spluttering out harmlessly in some dark corner of the burned-out lab. There was a pause, before the spider charged at her. She turned and ran.

The woman almost stumbled directly into the trap, and it was only at that exact moment that she remembered the correct sequence in which to step. She silently thanked Horace for casting his light spell earlier, as she had not the time to light the torch. Skipping across the mosaic, she heard a shrieking sound, the spider was almost upon her. Thence came the noise of melt scraping against stone, followed by a brief, ear-piercing shriek. Then, there was silence. 

After catching her breath, the woman in turquoise turned around, slowly. The spider lay in several pieces across the mosaic, the flames that had engulfed it slowly spluttering out.

Analicia came to with a gasp, her wounds apparently magically healed. She was lying on the floor of the burned-out laboratory, beside her Horace was stirring. They had survived the ordeal, somehow. Well, not all of them... Analicia heard the sounds of a woman weeping.

A woman in turquoise, cradling the charred remains of the warrior Burzum....


NB. This installment of the Crystal Seas features an adaptation of the adventure A Most Potent Brew, available from the Dungeon Masters' Guild

Friday 8 February 2019

THE CRYSTAL SEAS... Episode 1: The City of Jehemen

And so it came to pass that a thwarted artisan elf named Analicia and a beardless dwarf cleric going by Horace (but we're not really sure about his real name) found themselves thrust together once again (though Analicia can't remember having met in the first instance)... anyway, introductory pleasantries aside (and each with a curious trinket by way of a parting gift from their respective mentors), the pair were packed onto a ship headed to the city of Jehemen, jewel of the Indigo River.

The journey was uneventful, with fine weather making the cramped conditions a little more bearable. Analicia's social standing as a Varanesi elf meant she was offered the captain's cabin, who graciously slept on the deck. Horace slept below deck amidst the bilge water, rats and smelly but friendly sailors. Together they made sure that none of the precious cheese and cured meats fell prey to the wily rodents, and they all became... vaguely acquainted by the end of the voyage.

The city of Jehemen seemed quite interesting, with white marble and dusky sandstone, gold-plated domes and lush palms... but also a strong smell of leather and an incredibly busy dock. Given that there only instructions were to rendezvous with a pale woman in yellow, the pair did their level best to stuff this up, and soon Horace found himself haggling over the price of pistachios while Analicia was carried off in a litter by her new accomplice, the somewhat socially awkward... yellow woman?

Horace was unable to persuade a local that he was an important archbishop, but he was offered 15 silver pieces for his jar of griffin grease and he did find out that the richest man in the city is its ruler, Prince Atembe. Furthermore, this "yellow woman" was a newcomer to town, about whom little was known.

Analicia's research/ flirting with her porters revealed similar information, but came to an abrupt end when they arrived at the lighthouse inn, with Horace loitering some fifty yards behind. Horace then decided to drop the act and stroll in with Analicia. The yellow woman, unperturbed, led them to a spot on the floor of the dingy, sawdust covered opium pit and began to explain what they had been hired to do. Badly.

All they really know is that their respective employers expect them to follow the yellow woman around on her quest to uncover "sensitive historic information" and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. The right hands, apparently, are her master (a senior lecturer at the Old college in Freeport) and the Varanesi crime family. And they are to be accompanied by a 220 lbs, 6'4", great-sword-wielding, minimally-clothed "toxic male" by the name of Burzum... He's had an elf lover before, but Horace wasn't given an answer to his question about dwarves (Burzum: "Are you supposed to be a dwarf?" Horace: "Why, did you have a dwarf lover before, too?"). An insight check by Horace revealed that Burzum's gruff demeanor is a mask for his horrible lack of self-esteem and inability to trust others.

So plans were made to travel at first light to retrieve some sensitive "historical information". Apparently the yellow woman's extensive research has located the site of a legendary tower, belonging to a near-mythical figure known as Thamiel. Analicia recalled from her history class that this was some kind of dark-lord-slash-evil-wizard type, around one thousand years ago ("Y'know, kinda like Voldemort..."). Time wore on, and it was suggested they catch up on their sleep on the beer-saturated, vomit-and-pee strewn floor. Not needing sleep, Analicia decided to find out where the party folk in Jehemen be at.

After bluffing her way past the guards at the entrance to the aristocratic district in her common traveller's clothes (ANALICIA: "I'm meeting a man... this is like... my cosplay outfit" GUARD: "Uhhh... say no more..."), Analicia located the sounds of some debauchery coming from a large villa. This time the guards were less convinced by her persuasive skills, so she attempted to sneak off and scale the wall.... only to be foiled by a stray cat, caught under her foot. What did she do in this situation? Why, attempt to lasso the guards, of course!

This resulted in a brief skirmish, a spear to the guts and a short chase through the city. Slightly ashamed of herself, Analicia made her way to the docks to clean herself up, grab some street food (pistachios?) and meditate to heal her wounds. Later, she managed to sneak back to the Lighthouse Inn before her comrades awoke.

HORACE: "How was your night?"
ANALICIA: "--------------------."

Leaving the city through the quieter east gate, the newly formed party - Burzum, Analicia, Horace and the woman in yellow (now, annoyingly, clothed in green) - made their way along the coastal trail which, according to the de jure party-leader, would take them to the ruins of Thamiel's tower. She reminded the party that not only would they be doing a noble deed (by retrieving valuable artifacts from the ruins, they would be preventing them from falling into the wrong hands), they were also to be allotted a share of any non-historically sensitive treasure. This was of perhaps some comfort to Horace and Analicia, who were both a little confused as to why their respective mentors (Sister Agnes and Donna Serafina) had sent them on this mission.

Costume change!
The coastal path revealed a harsh, desert landscape unfamiliar to the two northerners, but fortunately Burzum seemed prepared, having brought a large (if slightly effeminate) parasol to shield them from the sun. The very fair-skinned lady-in-green was suffering a great deal, while the equally fair-skinned Analicia seemed untroubled by the harsh glare, perhaps due to her elven nature. If Horace was uncomfortable, he didn't mention it. Howver, by noon the heat had grown uncomfortable, and they elected to stop, when suddenly they heard an incredible shriek from the sky, like a terrible bird of prey.

Burzum, almost instantaneously, threw himself on the ground, his giant parasol skipping across the desert, and attempted to bury himself in the hot sand. Not wanting to appear rude, his three comrades did likewise. Ironically, it was his rogue-ish colleague, Analicia (hired exclusively for her skills in matters requiring stealth and guile), who failed to conceal herself from the avian predator... and within a moment, a GIANT FALCON had swooped down and was attempting to cart her off.

The beast tore into her with its razor-sharp talons, before rending her prone with a horrific assault from its huge beak. Almost immediately, Horace and Burzum leapt to their feet and joined the melee, though the lady-in-green remained hidden in the sand. Burzum dealt a horrifying blow to the creature with his great-sword, causing it to release a shrill cry of pain. It released a flurry of attacks at the mighty warrior, all of which he was able to evade.

Horace realised that Analicia was in a bad way... she had been seriously hurt, and in fact was dying. He summoned the holy power invested in him by his unnamed deity, and cured his fallen comrades wounds. With a gasp, Analicia sprang back to her feet. Burzum glanced sideways at her before delivering another mighty blow to the fiendish raptor which, realising it was not going to win this fight, attempted to flee in a flurry of blood and feathers. Sensing an opportunity, Horace swung wildly at the bird, but his warhammer made contact with air only. Analicia was more fortunate, and delivered a killer blow to the beast, which collapsed to the floor after she ran it through with her shortsword.

As the party caught their breath, Burzum shot a (n almost) respectful glance at his non-human colleagues. The green woman, scrambling to her feet, received a look of disdain. Unfazed, the green woman stared blankly at the dead giant falcon for a moment or two, pluck a few of its flight feathers and placed them in her backpack, before stating confidently:

"Right. Shall we get back on track then?"  

To be continued...