Three players showed up for Session 6—Matt (Wilfer the Elf), Hailey (Abraxo the Halfling), Sebastian (Igollad the Cleric).
Following their last Tier 4 rampage, the party rests in the safe quarters of Tier 3.
They are informed by Auriga Sirkinos that, during their absence, Guia developed a terrible fever and was close to death. He said that he approached the Brothers of Gor’m for a draught of their healing honey, but they insisted on an exchange for nothing less than Honey Boo-Boo. Auriga was distraught to trade away the wondrous beast, but that there was no other way to save Guia’s life. Post-honey Guia is on the mend, but still recovering.
[The players did not question this explanation. From the get-go I played up Auriga as covetous and overly-fawning. His rivalry with the Maidens and Brothers was often apparent. But the players never seemed to suspect that he was anything other than trustworthy, despite my (evidently too subtle) efforts to plant suspicion.
I had in mind a whole sub-plot, wherein the PCs would eventually learn that Auriga had stolen the terrier for himself, and they would have to decide whether and how to respond to that. But it never manifested.
I love this kind of thing when it works. One of my favorite activities as a GM is to play against player assumptions (the more naïve the better) and let them stumble into trouble or trap or nuisance as a result. I just waited too long to create an opportunity for them to get in on my joke.]
I had secretly been rolling saving throws for any character injured by a magically warped monster, and any character that had performed magic in a warped environment (most of the Ziggurat). [see this post for a gist of the background notions].
Injury and use of magic in Zardoz’s domain exposes characters to the chaos and madness of a warped environment. Results of failing a save could manifest in several ways. It could cause madness, draw one into a sort of mental union with Zardoz, increase susceptibility to magical influence, etc. Failing such a save also imparted dark sight and light sensitivity to a character. At one point or another, Guruff and Wilfer both failed a save. Had they ever returned Topside during daylight, they would have felt partially blinded and be at -2 (like Goblins). But they didn’t return Topside, so it was another overly clever tidbit of mine that never developed into anything.
Igollad, having reached 2nd level, now had access to clerical magic. He was a priest of Alodie, the Boar (perseverance, fortitude, luck), one of a pantheon of six gods called the Hessaplos. I sort of felt like having access to deity-channeled magic should be a big deal, so I gave Sebastian the note that follows to commemorate the life-changing transition. It was also an opportunity to convey some hints about Zardoz.
As you rest in the pyramid, you sink into sleep and dream. You walk through stone passages, slickened with the effluvium of unsavory horrors. Indistinct screaming bounces off the walls. You turn a corner into a bare, cold room. Thick blood spatter coats the walls. Sand pours in from holes in the ceiling. You look to escape, but there is no exit. Sand quickly buries your legs… then torso. Darkness overtakes you.
Bright yellow light bursts forth, causing you to squint. A stiff, fresh breeze caresses your face. The stone walls tumble down around you, allowing the sand to spill harmlessly away. You hear loud chuffing behind you and feel warm, moist breath on your neck. A huge boar looms a full head over you. Her back and tusks are coated in dust, its breath steams from the effort of battering down the walls that trapped you.
From amidst the stone debris, inky blackness pours out. The cloud envelopes the boar, raking her hide, drawing streams of blood. They do battle, the boar fruitlessly lunging at the shapeless mask with its tusks. She tires, weary from her efforts, and all seems lost.
The inky mass takes shape. Razor sharp tentacles lash out and single red eye comes into focus. It moves in for the kill. In a final defiant lunge, the boar’s tusks find purchase and she lifts the foul creature on high, hurling it into a cauldron of fire. It lets out a deafening howl, reverberating painfully to the heavens, and it vanishes back into the Void.
Wilfer, having failed his secret saving throw, becomes susceptible to the Breath of Zardoz, and receives the following note during his recuperative meditation:
Though you haven’t seen sun or sky in some time, you know it is high noon of the autumnal equinox. Wherever you are now, it is certainly that most holy day in your home of Tindomende.
You have a vision. You fly high over a fertile land. A belt of bright green growth blooms along the course of a river teeming with life. You sense traces of the Powers of Erd (the old gods revered by your people) imprinted from their acts of creation. They have forgotten this place… though the land itself remembers them.
A rift opens in the sky, with the yawning blackness of the Void beyond. An undulating inky darkness manifests. It is pure evil. As it descends to earth, it poisons the land. The river runs dry, fields brown, sand consumes all.
The evil thing, now buried deep in the sand, has hungered ferociously for centuries. It has consumed thousands of spirits, drawing strength from each. But it could not be slaked by a hundred thousand more.
Its moan, dripping with hate and fury, is a cry home to the Void. You feel its yearning, both to feed and to know peace. Its echoing cry of anguish seeks a Creator to call it home.
This was my attempt to deliver a, albeit vague, history lesson about what befell Cynidicea. To his credit, Matt took it seriously. He knew the entity was Zardoz, and he had empathy for its pain. Remember, this was the player who questioned the rightness of killing the Stirges.
During the rest period, a loud moan is heard all throughout the Ziggurat. I don’t offer any explanation. The players rightly chalk it up to Zardozian weirdness and the “Harvest” that the Cynidiceans keep fearfully talking about.
When they are recovered enough to keep exploring a reconstituted Party of seven moves out:
Wilfer, Abraxo and Igollad (PCs). Mengelev and Dongalev, the not yet full-HP lvl 3 fighters. Souvlakus of the Magi. And Cheyenne (lvl 1 Maiden fighter) replacing the deceased Sativa.
The first stop is the northeastern-most Room 25 (Nobleman’s Burial Room). They hear voices reminiscent of the mentally retarded (not PC, but damn it’s fun) chitchatting. Their knock is answered first by silence, then a trepidatious “Who is it?”
The PCs offer assurances that they harbor no ill will and do not work for the Priests, so the two giant Slave Caste (white ape stats) Cynidiceans open the door and a fun conversation ensues. Without Guruff’s charisma bonus, they are unable to persuade these HD4 creatures to join forces. But they do get permission to scour the room, and they snatch some nice plate mail and a +1 sword (lawful) which Wilfer uses.
As they creep back, a wandering monster roll draws a spitting cobra. Abraxo drives it away with her sling. Weathering the save vs. fear of the Ghostly Haunts, they wind around and find a secret door to 26 (Tomb Annex). They navigate and survive multiple traps and penetrate all the way to Room 33 (False Tomb). Much careful examination exposes the ruse. Poking and prodding the walls reveals the thin slabs covering the path to the real tombs.
Preparing carefully, they start south to Room 34 (King Alexander’s Burial Chamber). As soon as they cross the threshold, the translucent figure of the King rises from the sarcophagus. This ghostly haunt is not harmless. Its wail causes D4 damage to all in the room or hall outside. They slice at it to no avail (only harmed by magic). Wilfer, the only one with a magic weapon does not connect, and (with lvl1 hit points) has to flee immediately.
They have no idea what to do or how to prevail. Some continue hacking and taking damage. Some flee. Abraxo snatches the crown and Mengelev snatches Alexander’s sword “Pyrsoglos” (neutral, +3 vs. undead, +1 otherwise), and they are the last to flee.
In pretty rough shape by now, they retreat to the safety of Tier 3, jubilant about their discoveries and successes (this is a very nice crown).
Secretly, Auriga is now deeply troubled by the Party. These Topsiders have retrieved two of the most valuable artifacts of his civilization’s history. They may have the power to tip the political balance and be a rallying point for overthrowing the Priests… or the other factions. More troubling, the other factions might turn the Party to their own purposes.
5510 XP is divided among three PCs and four NPCs. Igollad reaches level 3 (becoming the beefiest PC for a short while).
Thanks to my long time Car Wars opponent Earlburt for putting this campaign together and writing it up like this. This is really instructive on so many levels!