Session 7 ended with the party having burst into the east wing (Rooms 55-58) of Tier 5. These four rooms are used by the Priests as a holding area for human sacrifices– normally just a few at a time. Tier 5 is the only part of the Ziggurat where the Priests need to maintain a foothold, because the entrance to the lair of Zardoz is on this level. The demon demands regular sacrifices and captives are delivered to the front door. Due to the Harvest and a mass sacrifice planned in about 48 hours, it is now a busy place.
When they burst in, their initial concern was to prevent Goblin guards from raising the alarm. One made it through a door to the south, pursued hotly. The more fleet-footed PCs kept up and took down the last Goblin just as he was about to pound on a secret door (Abraxo the Halfling is handy with her sling).
With a moment to breath, the party takes in a surreal scene. A dozen Cynidiceans sit cross-legged in a circle around what is obviously a space of ritual magic. Inlaid in the stone slab floor is a circle of silver, with arcane symbols inside and out. An orb of blue flame flickers in the middle of the circle, seemingly without a source of fuel. The Cynidiceans are completely oblivious of the commotion and slaughter that just transpired around them.
The room to the south seems to be living quarters for Priests, currently empty. There are supplies of food and water, and a small cache of weapons. In Room 55 to the north, they find another dozen or so captives manacled to walls and floor. The scene is grisly, with implements of torture. A few are cult members. A few are ordinary Cynidiceans now in their right minds because they’ve been off the shrooms for a few days.
Guruff and Wilfer look for the secret door they suspect the Goblin was reaching for. The others free prisoners and try to mobilize them for flight. As Guruff and Wilfer search for the door, an Acolyte opens it from the other side (Room 58, Darius’ Chamber). They plunge blades into his chest and shove him back in, then frantically push furniture to block the door over the curses of Priests and Acolytes trying to break out.
About half the prisoners make it to safety. Some are too wounded or addled to get far. A few break away and go for the tunnels that return to the city below, surely to be recaptured. Most go to Tier 3, where the cultists take them in.
The party does not accompany the freed captives though. Instead, they push their luck and return to Room 53 (the south Priests’ barracks). They surprise two Acolytes cleaning up and bitching about the mess left by the Gelatinous Cube. The Acolytes get sassy when questioned and the party kills them.
The twins had been keeping watch on the hallway, listening for the pitter pat of Goblins and Priests on the hunt for intruders. They ambush and capture a Priest, and report back that the party needs to get off the Tier or go to ground, because a serious hunt for them seems to be in the works.
Previously the PCs tried the door to Room 49 (Consultation Room) and moved on when they found it locked. The door has warnings inscribed on it, waving off not only Priests but Old-God cultists. The captured Priest claims no knowledge of what lies beyond the door, saying only that death awaits any who cross the threshold. Undeterred, they put their shoulders to it and the door gives.
They pour into a long-abandoned but plush waiting room. Thick dust covers a desk in one corner and a cozy sitting area off to the side with Roman style chaise longue. Two extremely lifelike and large stone statues of herons stand on either side of the doorway they just passed through.
Disembodied voices speak in harmony. It seems to each member of the party that the voices boom from inside their skulls: “Child of Alodie, does the Boar take these trespassers to her bosom?”
The cleric Igollad answers in the affirmative. A blinding light flashes. They hear the flapping of wings and a sharp cry of pain. When eyes readjust, the Priest lies dead on the floor, multiple stab wounds in his chest. The two heron statues remain (or are back) in place.
The remaining players and NPCs (all lawful or neutral (they were optional, but the priest was going to die anyway)) wait for the other shoe to drop but everything remains silent. When they scour the room they find a stack of silver ingots, a +1 mace (Igollad’s first magic weapon), and a stoppered glass vial of an unsavory brown liquid (poison). Dickie seems to realize that they might now have an independent base of operation.
Proceeding out the only door to Room 47 (Living Room) they awaken two iron living statues which immediately attack. The players were spooked by my describing the clatter of metal and heavy footsteps, so they mostly fled towards the north door. From that end of the room, they whittle down the statues with missile weapons, so that by melee range the job is partway done.
Next is Room 45 (Bedroom). The point of this room is the cloak, cursed by Demetrius generations ago, draped across a chair. Guruff is the first to grab it and become possessed, which pleases me. It’s apt because he is the most “infected” member of the party.
I take Dickie aside and explain the deal—Guruff’s personality still exists, but it is now sharing space with the shadow of Demetrius, bent on revenge. Guruff now knows much of what Demetrius knew (spells, history, people, layout of the city, etc.), but all from a reference point of about 80 years ago. He can also sense, in a general way, Darius’ proximity and direction.
Demetrius, after years of research, thought he had discovered a living lineal descendant of King Alexander, named Zaxarus. Already a high priest with a significant power base, he intended to use Zaxarus to take over the Priest Council. Darius was then the young, brilliant and cunning right hand man to Demetrius. Rather than aid his mentor, Darius betrayed Demetrius to the Council, which eventually led to Demetrius’ assassination by the High Priest Duturus.
Anticipating his doom, Demetrius made certain preparations. Through ritual magic he sealed off this part of the ziggurat from hostile Cynidiceans. He also coordinated the eventual escape of Zaxarus Topside. Finally, he cursed the robe with his dying breaths.
I rolled to see if any other characters notice anything, resulting in my hand scribbling a note for Wilfer: When he grabs the robe, you see Guruff pause weirdly and kind of zone out for half a second. That is all.
This sort of started a flurry of notes over the next few sessions. I love using notes in game and had done so here and there. Notes make players suspicious and worried, which usually enhances game play. Around this session I used them more extensively, which led to players passing notes to each other, which I find great.
The party locates both secret doors to the north. After a long slug-fest they dispatch the Polymar in Room 43 (Treasure Room), and come into possession of a chest of silver pennies, a +1 dagger (Abraxo’s first magic weapon), +1 chain (goes to Mengelev), and an oiled leather scroll case containing a thick transparent ointment (ointment of invisibility).
The secret door to Room 44 is one-way, opening only from this side. It leads to the ladder up to Tier 4. The apartment is cleared and they take a well-deserved rest. 3570 XP are divided among four full-share PCs and half shares to the Twins and Guia (played in absentia).
Please bear with me as I use changes to the module to get into a certain aspect of my world-creation process.
The entire southwest wing (Rooms 43-47 and 49) varies considerably from the module. In B4 as written, these rooms must be traversed to get from Tier 4 to anywhere below. Yet they contain treasure and sport seven monsters. It just doesn’t make sense. I preferred to have these rooms be a potential safe haven, not too dangerous to clear. I also wanted to make it both a non-cultist and non-Zardozian space, while retaining its original purpose as the chambers of the former renegade priest Demetrius.
The module has Room 49 containing Gargoyles, which I find kind of trite and boring. I changed it to giant herons, for an Egyptian feel more suiting to the module. When I decided upon herons, I had not yet created a pantheon for the Amranin, which was still on my to-do list.
In the first campaign, Ryan, who played the cleric Otto, chose to worship a god he named Osric. At the time I didn’t care for that, because Osric as a name is sort of Saxon and not fitting to the Amranin. But I try not to dampen player creativity and initiative, so I went with it.
Sebastian’s choice to play a cleric motivated me to hammer out the Amranin pantheon once and for all. As I always do, I used pre-existing names/ideas/decisions as my starting point. Once I’ve committed to something—naming a town, tavern or NPC, writing down some point of history, fleshing out the flora and fauna of a part of the map, etc.— I tend to stick with those decisions and build from them. So, I had… the name Osric… and herons… and a general desire for the pantheon to be Egyptianish with animal god-representations.
I picked out four animals (vulture, serpent, crocodile, lioness) with egyptianish names to represent four central gods of the Amranin. And two more (boar, heron) to represent lesser gods incorporated from a formerly conquered people (of a different linguistic origin).
Sebastian, as it turns out, cherishes a wooden carving of a boar he got from a family member. So he chose boar from the list, making Igollad a cleric of Alodie. I didn’t push him that way. He could have picked any of the six. It was just lucky that he chose the god partnered with Osric the Heron. I would have made the southwest wing of Tier 5 friendly territory regardless. I was just pleased that his choice made it a more natural fit.
Thanks again to my long time Car Wars opponent Earlburt for putting this campaign together and writing it up like this.