Wednesday, 19 June 2019

THE LOST CITY, PART 1

Actual play narration + account  adapted from module B4: The Lost City. Will contain spoilers.

Ser Luke and his cohorts were heading south to the Holy City when the sandstorm struck. Only their local guide, Mahaba, had experienced one before, and by the time the dust cleared he was nowhere to be seen. Their party of seventeen was reduced to eleven, and some of the mounts were missing, too. Feeling as though his faith was being tested, Luke bid his party press on: the Holy City would not be far.

They continued south, through the featureless desert wastes. One by one, pilgrims and followers succumbed to heat and exhaustion, until only four remained. Beside Ser Luke stood his faithful acolyte, Xavi; the boorish but capable man-at-arms, Kostas; and the poorly educated foot soldier, Romulus. Those mounts that had not already collapsed had been slaughtered for food, and they soon ran out of water.

There was no end to the desert but, two days after running out of water, they happened upon the half-buried remains of a stone city. In depseration they searched for a spring, but to no avail. After a thorough search, they reasoned their chances of survival hinged on their being a reliable supply of water in the huge stone pyramid towering over the city. IT was a step pyramid of five tiers, each one nearly twenty feet in height, with a broad staircase ascending its southern face. Atop the pyramid stood three statues, thirty feet in height, seemingly depicting a holy family.

Luke kept his eyes fixed on them as he ascended the stairs. The statue on the left depicted a bearded man holding the scales of justice in his left hand, and a lightning bolt in his right. On the far right, a beautiful woman cradled a sheaf of wheat in her arms, but on closer inspection also held a wicked sword. Between the two, a mischevous, winged child held a wand in one hand, and coins in the other. Two serpents entwined his body. These old gods were unfamiliar to Luke, but he thought of his own expulsion from the church and religious experiences as he slowly ascended the stairs, followed by his men.

It was Kostas who caught sight of the corpse, propping open a door in the side of the stairs. They had nearly reached the penultimate tier when he pointed it out. Approaching cautiously, Kostas confirmed the desiccated remains of an exceptionally ugly man: hairless, with cat-like eyes all but rotten away,  and a mouth of fanged teeth. It was clothed in leather armour, and had a crossbow bolt protruding from its chest. Xavi was sent in to investigate, stepping into the cool, dark interior of the passage beneath the stairs. He heard a "click" as he stepped on a pressure-plate in the stone floor, and looked up to see an unloaded crossbow pointing at him, just visible in the light creeping inthrough the doorway.

They were tired and hungry, and the corpse's waterskin was bereft. Luke bid them onward. The cool stone offered them respite from the mid-morning sun,but did nothing to abate their thirst. They lit a torch and pressed on.

The corridor made a sharp turn before terminating in a stone door nearly five feet across. There was nothing audible on theother side. Xavi pushed against the door, feeling a slight pressure pushing it back, but nothing more. The door opened into a forty foot square chamber, the centre of which housed three brass pillars extending fifteen feet from floor to ceiline. Each was at least five feet in diameter, and housed a small door with a handle.

As they began to take in their surroundings by torchlight, the door to the chamber swung back on its hinges. Luke and his comrades began to  feel nauseated. In each corner of the room a small hole was venting poisonous gas! Reacting quickly, the men wedged the door open with Kostas' lance and threw their packs over the vents. It seemed to do the trick. Clearly the pyramid had been built to deter intruders, but they had no choice but to proceed: they needed water desperately.

Luke noted that the location of the columns seemed to correspond to the statues atop the pyramid. Curious, he tried the handle of the door, and recoiled as threee darts sprung from the furthest wall, one of which penetrated his mail and left a nasty wound. Forewarned, the party attempted to open the remaining doors a little more cautiously, positioning themselves behind th epillars and using spear shafts to raise the handles. Nothing happened upon the opening of the central pillar, but the furthermost column triggered a pit trap leading to a chamber below.

Pressing onward the party entered the first column, finding a ladder leading open and down. Deciding to asend, Luke found himself inside the head of a statue, looking out over the halkf-buried ruins of a city. he scanned the horizon for the smallest sign of water or civilisation, but to no avail, even after discovering a lever that allowed the statue's head to rotate. He signalled for his men to descend.

The foot soldier, Romulus, was nearest to the bottom of the ladder, which descended into a gloomy chamber. Romulus spied an eerie glow emanating from a large beetle at the foot of the ladder, and gingerly skipped down so as to avoid awakening it, clumsily sending his spear clattering to the ground in the process. The beetle awakened, and it attempted to take a chunk out of the young footsoldier's forearm, latching on to him as his comrades quickly descended to give aid. In the ensuing melee, the young acolyte Xavi managed to smash the beetle's jaw apart with his mace, and the rest of the party made short work of the creature, before scouring the chamber for water. All they found were dirty jars of ancient oil. Though Romulus was not wounded, he was starting to panic, and the rest of his men were nearly ehausted from dehydration. They threw caution to the wind, and split the party in a desperate effort to find something to drink.

Luke found himself face to face with a Giant Gecko, munching on a recently dead corpse. He slammed the quickly, reuniting with Xavi in the opposite room. It was empty aside from an old holy symbol upon an ancient stone desk. The signs were pointing in the same direction: whatever this pyramid had been, it was no longer occupied. There only hope lay in uncovering a source of freshwater, perhaps an underground spring. The foot soldier, Romulus, appeared at the end of the corridor:

"I found a gold statue!"

As the footsoldier led the way, Luke caught sight of two further doors. He signalled for Romulus to halt, and waited for the man-at-arms, Kostas, to catch up with them. The two soldiers took the southernmost door, while the two holy man took that which was closest to them.

Listening cautiously, the two teams burst into their respective rooms. Luke was shocked to witness five men armoured in mail, each wearing a golden mask of the father-god atop the pyramid. They lept to their feet, drawing bronze swords. Luke attempted to signal his benign intent with open hands, when one of the men spoke with a commanding voice from behind his mask:



"In the name of Gorm, declare yourself, stranger!"

It took a second for Luke to understand: the man spoke not the vulgate, but the holy language of the ancients! It strained his ears and the vowels were unusually long, but the man was speaking to him in a dead language. He prepared his response as best he could:

"Please, we are travellers-"

A side door opened, and four more men entered, accompanied by a disarmed and distraught Kostas and Romulus. The apparent leader, masked in gold, stepped forward.

"Stranger, what business have you in our lands? What is the meaning of your tresspass?"

Luke beseeched him, explaining that they had become separated from the rest of their party while crossing the desert, that they were desperate for food and, most importantly, water. He emphasised his faith and trust with a higher power, appealling to what he hoped was a noble heart.

"I have listened closeley to your words, foreigner, and I can tell that you are a man of law, honest and true. Yet you are not a follower of the One True God, Gorm: we must be wary of outsiders, and our trust extends only so far. Take your fill of food and water, rest a while, but know this: if you are to remain here, you must make a decision. Either you are allies of the Brotherhood of Gorm... or you are our enemies."

MECHANICS:

This game was played using an item based character interface: the players have no character sheet, instead they are given cards to represent the items and spells they are carrying. The DM tracks everything else, including HP: a player is only alerted when their character is wounded, rather than informed of a running hp total.

HP are tracked, but PCs only receive lethal damage at 0 HP. Until then, HP damage represents a loss of stamina, rather than physical wounds. PCs die when they 0 - max HP OR when they have received more than five fatal wounds OR when they fail more than three death saves.

The system itself is a mash-up of OD&D, fifth edition, and B/X. More details will be published as the campaign progresses!

Read Part 2

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