Not until the big finale would we have all the players present again, so Session 9 was kind of the last big hurrah. This was fitting, since it was the final exploration of the Ziggurat.
From the safe haven of Demeterius’ old apartments, the Party rests and touches base with the friendly cultists above. Auriga Sirkinos visits, bringing a new liaison to replace the traumatized Souvlacus:
Nhadialeah. Lvl 2 MU, AC9, HP8. Str8, Int13, Wis12, Dex10, Con10, Cha10. Charm Person, Sleep. Silver dagger and not much else. (played by Charlotte).
Charlotte joined the campaign late into it. She’d played in a couple RPGs years prior, but never D&D. She agreed to play a Cynidicean. I supplied background info and the following guidance:
“The more you can inhabit the mind of a Cynidicean the better. I’m hopeful that you can reinforce the strangeness of their culture. Your character’s motives and methods need not make sense to the party.”
She decided to play Nhadia as a drug-addicted Magi of Usamigaras, which was totally in keeping with my vision of the Magi as the most hedonistic of the Old God cults. The other players had not met Charlotte yet. She pretty much stayed in character, acting stoned and speaking in a kind of overly calm, trancelike manner. A few times, in-character dialog would go like this—
Nhadia: “Does anyone hear that?”
Another PC: “Hear what?”
Nhadia: “That distant screaming.”
PC: (looks to the GM for guidance) “um…”
GM: (rolls dice, looks down at dice, looks up) “You don’t hear anything.”
I don’t think they knew for sure whether she was in character or just really weird.
Around this time, Auriga pulled Guruff aside for a talk about his responsibilities as a Magi. After some coercion and bargaining, Guruff handed over much of his share of coin, as well as the Sceptre of Zenobia. In exchange, he was elevated from acolyte to full member among the Magi, despite his lack of magical prowess or occult knowledge.
All Six PCs and the twins then set out to finish exploring Tier 5. At the door to Room 42 they hear what sounds like the bustling of quite a few Goblins and some humans. [42 is the barracks of those assigned to guard the entrance to the caverns of Zardoz and deliver sacrifices.] They wisely move on.
At 41 (Storage Room), they note with interest that the door is barred from outside. They hear voices of two oversized Slave Caste sub-humans. A conversation through the door reveals that the slaves are up here on maintenance and construction duty; that they’re locked up when not working; and they’re disgruntled about it. They jump at the opportunity to be released. Abraxo names them Sugie and Carl II.
The group then slides over to Room 51 (Chapel). It is a huge vaulted temple that once contained massive statues of the Old Gods, now toppled and smashed. Zardozian graffiti abounds. They hear gurgling of a water fountain from the south (neither dark-sight nor torches have range to illuminate the entire hall). This is the room where, a few hours ago, Darius delivered a rousing speech to his minions. Now six (HD2) Goblins stand guard in the hallway that serves as choke point between the tunnels leading from the Ziggurat down to the city.
Now equipped with Priestly robes and masks, the taller PCs approach the Goblins, while the diminutive Guruff, Guia and Abraxo prepare missile weapons in a flanking maneuver. The approach of the disguised PCs is awkward and the Goblins do not suffer total surprise. When the ensuing melee looks to be turning against the party, Nhadia demonstrates the awesome power of Sleep.
As they slit the sleeping Goblins’ throats and drag them to the northwest hall, Nhadia explains that this was a Troop of the Horn (noting the horn symbol painted onto their shields). The Goblins are divided into four Watches, each composed of about a dozen Troops each of seven Goblins (six and a troop leader). The Horn is the most fearsome and elite Watch.
The party scans over the enormous Rooms 51 and 50 (Main Entry Chamber), briefly taking in mosaics depicting the history of Cynidicea. Giant rats furtively stalk the party from the darkness, but do not attack.
Mengelev and Dongalev stand guard at the edge of the Chapel while the PCs explore the final hallway of Tier 5. In Room 52 (Trap Room) they are initially puzzled by a pool of bubbling liquid surrounding a padlocked stone box on a pedestal. A wooden pole dipped into the liquid dissolves with an acrid smell.
Igollad (whose player was a little reckless and campy this game) invokes the fact that they freed him and goads Carl II into making a running leap onto the pedestal. He lands the jump, but melts in screaming agony when the pedestal sinks under his weight.
Wilfer then makes good his first use of Floating Disc, transporting himself harmlessly to the pedestal to loot the silver in the box and two ancient scrolls.
Meanwhile, the twins are making use of an unsettling discovery. Mengelev now has dark sight. He sits guard in the Chapel alone, with Dongelev in the hall on the other side of the door. They don’t know what the hell is wrong with Mengelev. They certainly aren’t going to share it with the PCs. But they do make use of his enhanced stealth to ambush and kill the troop leader of the Goblins they had killed earlier. They suggest to the PCs that perhaps they make haste.
At the final door (54 (Storage Room)), they hear the angry drunken ranting of another giant Slave-Caste, who meets their greeting with anger. The party is ready to leave, but Igollad peeks inside. He identifies the room as a storehouse for the Goblins and Priests, so he lobs in a torch and sets it alight over the howling of the quarrelsome Slave.
At the end of Session 9, 2220 xp is divided among six PCs and the twins. This is the final noteworthy XP haul of the game. Guruff reaches level 3, but with the bump in HP from Demetrius’ possession, it doesn’t much matter.
I was both relieved and disappointed that the party did not find the secret door to the caverns leading to Zardoz. It might have distracted from going down to the underground city—a phase of the game I was eager to get to.
On the other hand, the first monster they would have encountered (after the Were-Rat guards) would have been the half-man/half-snake monstrosity they released from Room 13 on Tier 3. That would have been a particularly fun encounter, as that monster had sort of upgraded to a NPC with back-story in my mind. Also, Dickie had composed a song “Making Snakeman Babies”, commemorating that and other Zardozian horrors, which would have made the second meeting rather poignant.
Thanks again to my long time Car Wars opponent Earlburt for putting this campaign together and writing it up like this.