Saturday, November 11, 2023

AD&D Session 5: His Cohorts Were Gleaming

In the last session, the Order of the Perfect Circle escaped the quiet halls of Stonehell, partied and leveled up, traveled to Clifton, defended a sage from attack and got stuck in a cave during a supernatural hurricane. They now have more clues towards the lost treasure of the Clifton family, but also new problems to face. Will they succeed in their search? What shall come of Ingvar's strange ring-box and
Agatha's ancestry? Join them in this week's journey to find out...

The Party

Norbeth Yelfiel, elf mage/thief with a periwinkle wide-brimmed floppy hat, played by Finn
Akiva ben Moshe, beetlefolk fighter with a short ponytail, played by Ali
Agatha, human paladin with a smiling-masked samurai helm, played by Anne
Innus Entus, goblin cleric/fighter with a bishop's mitre, played by Cao Linh
Ingvar Duram, human cleric with an extravagant tricorn hat, played by Jackson
Dra'kon Deznitsz, beetlefolk cleric with a spiked, tasseled helmet, played by Felix
Precious, domesticated rat


8000gp in fine metal ingots
2500gp in fine fabrics
Ring of warmth 
Trollbane, broadsword+1, +3 vs regenerating creatures 
Uzakear, scimitar of speed+2
Trident of fish command+1
Potion of ESP
Potion of Flying
Potion of Invisibility
Potion of Speed 
Potion of Water Breathing
Mine of pseudo-ambergris (value unknown)
Commendation from the Clifton Sheriff
High-class tavern
A very minor enemy
A birthday

The Game

12 Low Summer 1113
  • The Order of the Perfect Circle stepped out of their cave into the rainy, miserable, but non-hurricane weather. They soon ran into a relief effort, sent from Clifton to search for Eramay after the Order left to warn her and didn't come back.
"Wait, who are you guys?"
"We're the pre-lief effort"
  • They were overjoyed to see everyone alive, and while most of the relievers went to greet Eramay, a beetlefolk cleric came to speak with the Order. He was getting on in years, but still quite stout, and was a member of Akiva's sect. After a short discussion, he resolved to join the Order in their adventures.
  • His name... was Dra'kon Desnitsz. 
  • They all returned to Clifton to briefly resupply, and from there traveled the muddy road down to the coast. By evening, they arrived at the high, rocky cliffs. Though much of the forest along their path had been blown down by the hurricane, the area the map indicated was long since bare of trees. 
  • As they admired the setting sun, they soon found themselves on the wrong end of several spears. Lightly armored warriors, their faces and the exposed skin of their arms covered in a grey, clay-like paint, blocked their path. Selkies. 
  • The Order tried to spin a half-truth about the last Clifton lord and how they were his inheritors, but the selkies soon got the truth out of them. 
  • At the same time, Dra'kon's long life experience came in handy: he had spent a short time among selkie many years ago, and recognized the grey paint as a mourning rite.  
  • The selkie led them down a treacherous path, to the hidden village cut from the cliffside. It looked all but abandoned. The selkie led them to a waterfall, and instructed them to step through. Beyond was a high cavern run through with rivers and pools of seawater, and an iron bridge led to a two-story hall of painted wood carved with shamanic imagery. 
From Tintin: Prisoners of the Sun
Fucking loved that book as a kid
  • The bulk of the selkie villagers were there, wailing and keening before the body of an elderly woman on a slab. The guards pulled one of the mourners out and introduced her to the Order: she was Khunney, daughter of the late matriarch, and one of the leading elders of the tribe. 
  • She confirmed that the last Clifton lord, Haemedelian Clifton, had left a key with the tribe decades ago before his disappearance, stating that it would open the way to his treasure, and that the selkie would one day share in his inheritance. 
  • If only the party had come earlier, they might not be mourning today. 
  • Some time ago, the selkie were approached by Maylorites, strange eel-like creatures from the deep sea descended from a human tribe of this region, transformed by their dark god to flee their destruction. They were searching for a treasure on the nearby sea floor, and wanted the selkie to cooperate, if not by helping the search, at least by concealing their presence from the humans, with whom the Maylorites have a long enmity. 
  • The selkie sent a delegation to meet with them and discuss terms, but received a ransom note and a delegate's finger. When the matriarch saw this, she fell into shock and passed away some days later. 
  • One of those delegates, Khunney's aunt Ogdo, was the distant cousin of Haemedelian Clifton who inherited the key and kept it on her person. 
  • The Order and the selkie negotiated: for the Order's help in ransoming Ogdo, the selkie would help access the treasure, and would receive at least a portion equal to double the ransom. The Order agreed. 
  • Khunney's brother Ergey and his faction among the warriors advocated a night raid upon the island where the Maylorites and their pirate allies were holding the hostages. Khunney advocated sending an armed escort with the ransom, with a secondary force hidden behind to fight if they were betrayed.
  • The party went with Khunney's plan, and got put into the secondary force along with Ergey and his warriors, to keep them in line. They equip themselves, and that very night set out under reddish moonlight. The main force goes out on a conspicuous ship, while the secondary force follows behind in broad-keeled boats low to the water, both guided by selkies swimming below to avoid the fossilized reefs. The Order talks philosophy with Ergey and discuss the merits of circles and triangles. 
13 Low Summer 1113
  • They soon arrive at the island, and the hidden boats beach silently on the sand. The island was covered with patches of trees, which should have been knocked over by the recent hurricane, but somehow remained standing. A great dhow is anchored on the opposite side of the island, doubtless belonging to the pirates. A human crew came out and escorted the ransom delegation beyond the treeline at the island's high point. A roar like that of a big cat was heard, then nothing. The secondary force had been instructed to wait twenty minutes, and if they heard nothing else, to fight their way in. Ergey wanted to head in immediately, but the party held him back. 
  • Still, they weren't idle. Norbeth's ultravision became very useful, and he snuck up to the treeline. He observed three pirates standing guard, lightly armored, several fire pits dug into the earth to hide their glow, a starved leopard in a cage, and a cave entrance leading down into the island.
We don't want no trouble, do we?

  • After the dwindling of their candles marked twenty minutes, the Order and Ergey's soldiers fell on the lookouts and slew them without a sound. Ingvar noticed the leopard had two small cubs, so he opened the cage, threw in the corpse of one of the pirates, and left it open. 
  • Down into the caves beyond they went, and they captured another group of pirate lookouts. These ones they interrogated, and learned a bit about the situation. 
  • These pirates, the crew of the Black Parrot, had been hired by the Maylorites from the City of Vultures. They knew the eel-creatures were looking for something on the sea bottom around Cascabel, and originally planned to bribe the selkies and get their help. However, one of the selkies was too smart for her own good, and figured out what the eels were looking for. They captured the delegates and sent for a ransom instead, with the plan to capture the rest and kill them too. 
  • The pirates agreed to drop hostilities and leave the island, as anyone capable of killing the lookouts without a sound wasn't someone they wanted to mess with. 
  • Further down in the caverns, in a cave flooded with seawater, they found the remainder of the pirate crew. In a shallow island in the center of the cavern the captives sat, both the original delegates to be ransomed and Khunney's disarmed rescue party. A shimmering dome hung in the air around them: a spell of silence. 
  • There were three tall, lanky figures in long robes, with slick and oily skin: the eel-like Maylorites. One of the eels held aloft a trident, the point to the head of a middle-aged selkie, Elder Ogdo!
  • The Order and their accompanying warriors launched an assault without hesitation. Agatha yelled a warning to the pirates, telling them to leave and they would not be harmed and that their ship would sail away soon. Struck by the paladin's words, the pirates turned tail and fled out of the cavern. 
  • However, the Maylorites stood fast, and the one with the trident raised it high and called forth a school of sharks! The predators attacked both the party and the fleeing pirates, and the eel-people proved formidable opponents in close quarters. 
  • Yet, in the face of dire odds, they prevailed. Akiva managed to cut the bonds on some captives, and Norbeth's swift arrow caught the trident-wielding eel in the side. It turned to flee, and would have escaped through the underwater tunnels, but Agatha picked up a pirate's discarded dagger, threw it with all her might, and struck the eel in the back of the head. 
  • After that, the sharks fled as well, and the remaining Maylorites were cut down. The selkie were freed, still mostly unharmed, and they recovered some treasure from a hidden chest, including some coinage and potions. In addition, Norbeth determined that the trident was a trident of fish control. It didn't have many charges left, but even when they were depleted it would still act as a magical +1 weapon, the party's first!
Innus Entus: Fish want me, women fear me!
Akiva: What about fish women?
Innus Entus: It's a wash. 

  • By the time they surfaced, dawn lightened the sky through the rainclouds. The pirate ship was gone, but the leopard was still chewing on the bodies of the dead. Agatha felt bad about leaving the leopard and its cubs on the island, which surely would not have enough to feed it after it finished with the pirates, so she resolved to tell Occam (who spoke Feline) have him take care of it. 
15 Low Summer 1113
  • They returned to the selkie cove and alternated mourning and celebration as everyone recovered for a couple of days. During that time, Norbeth took the holy herbs he had purchased in Clifton and burned them in front of the sea. Shortly thereafter, a black cat appeared on the rocks, and Norbeth sealed his familiar contract with a name: Heathcliff.
Norbeth: It's a reference. You wouldn't get it. 

  • On the 15th, elder Ogdo and a band of selkie soldiers accompanied the party away from the selkie cove, toward the old Clifton Manor. 
  • Since the Potentate's soldiers torched it, the manor and the land around it lay abandoned, because of a persistent sense of dread that emanates from it. Despite that, the land is filled with life: varicolored flowers bloom everywhere, high mountain chocolate brush sprouts with many pods, beartooth hedges cover everything; but the hedges on the side of the dirt road have only started to encroach: someone has cleared it recently. 
  • The manor lay in ruins, with most of it totally fallen down, and only the west wing, which abutted a dome-like hill, still stood, though slowly collapsing. The great doors leaned ajar on broken hinges, inviting them in. 
  • Norbeth scouted within. Down one path, he found some inhabitants: a group of armed mercenaries, some robed worshipers kneeling before a plaque on the wall, and the sound of porcine grunting. Though he snuck forward, a hidden guard placed a blade to his neck, and the two had a little chat. 
  • Norbeth told him he hadn't come looking for anyone, and was just examining the ruin. He promised not to interrupt the 'clients' worship and was allowed to leave. He noticed that a bony, preserved index finger hung on the plaque, and the grunting came from a chained-up boar, huge and bloody-eyed, that the guard promised would 'fuck him up' if he caused trouble.
  • Down the other way, the party found what they were looking for, mercifully free of weird cultists. On a wall adjacent to the stony hill where the ruined mural of sheep cavorting amid golden fields of grain stood, Ogdo found a tiny hole, just a pit in the wall. It was a perfect match for the Clifton key, which had a shaft and no head, but was carved with runes. 
  • She placed the key within, turned it, and a doorframe outlined in light appeared, and swung open. Beyond, the thick scent of perfume emanated. 
  • The tunnel spiraled down, and came to a well-dug cave room. It was an armory. Hundreds of pieces of armor, weapons, and ammunition, enough to outfit a small army. The value of the mundane arms alone far exceeded the amount the Order had promised to the selkies. 
Hell yeah!
  • But there was more: a chest filled with valuable metal ingots, mostly gold but even a pair of adamantine bars, and piles of linen, satin, and rarest spidersilk. Add to that several potions and an enchanted ring!
  • But best was the suit of shining plate armor, sitting on its rack, with a broadsword and scimitar at each hip. 
  • The Order and selkies eyed one another, and came to a new arrangement: they split the fine metals and fabrics cleanly, and while the selkies claimed the immense quantity of mundane weapons and armor, the Order took the handful of magical items. 
  • But this was not the end: the tunnel spiraled yet deeper. They trudged down into the earth, and the scent of perfume grew yet stronger. At the bottom, the caverns opened up once more, with porous, spongelike structures of stone. At first it seemed empty, and then they found the wall. 
  • A wall of greyish-amber, semi-opaque matter stood before them. It was soft enough that a fingernail could leave a dent and steel tools cut through it like butter, and most certainly organic in nature. And it was very fragrant, reminiscent of ambergris, though it was far more diluted. The Order recalled how the Clifton family made a fortune selling ambergris-based perfumes,  and managed to scavenge much more of the rare substance than anyone else in the region. Now it was clear how: they weren't hunting or scavenging it, they were mining it. 
  • The Order and the selkies floundered at the possible value of the find. Even the portion visible here was worth thousands of gold pieces once it could be processed and rendered down, whether as a base for perfumes or fine oils. There might well be tens of thousands of gold pieces worth here. The two groups once again came to a decision: the Order would ensure the safety of a future mining operation, and the selkies would lend the manpower. That way, nobody else needed to get involved in the business. 
  • Many obstacles stand in the way of profiting from this find: the order needs to kick out any strange cultists in the area so they don't get too suspicious, get rid of the strange, ominous feeling emanating from the ruins, and find an alchemist willing to work quietly. All the same, they were optimistic, and left behind the forboding mansion with high spirits. 
22 Low Summer 1113
  • They returned that night to nearby Clifton, and got down to partying even as they offloaded their haul. It turned out that Dra'kon's birthday had passed during their adventures, and they celebrated his 270th together! In the course of their first week of carousing, Norbeth wound of swiftly befriending the proprietor of a high class tavern who, in an emotional and drunken state, signed away his tavern to the adventurer and retired from a life of business. Thus did Norbeth become the proprietor of Clifton's own Cracked Flagon tavern. That same night, a swiftly-intoxicated Ingvar insisted on firing the Flagon's veteran bartender, and when a row broke out between them, Innus Entus stepped in to brawl for his compatriot's honor. Thereafter, Ingvar and that bartender were bitter enemies. 
  • With Akiva's help, Norbeth sent for Eliezer to come and work as the tavern's manager. By the day of the 22nd, the tavern was closed for renovation and all the papers were signed and sealed. They also got a visit from the Sheriff, who thanked the Order for their help in ensuring Eramay's safety. Since the sage's house was blown to matchsticks by the hurricane, she took up residence in Clifton, which in no way hurt the town's prestige and promised to bring in a great deal of business. In gratitude, he gave the Order a Commendation: with this letter, they could go up to the capital, Cascabel, and apply to become a Free Company, allowed to carry all weapons and armor within the walled cities, though they could be called upon to join the kingdom in warfare. 
  • All seemed to settle down, until that morning the Cracked Flagon received a new patron. He had a sword at each hip, wore a gambeson (illegal within city walls), and had a face like a naked mole rat: not so much as a single hair anywhere on his body, as though he had been born without them. 
  • At the same time, a squadron of soldiers carrying steam rifles (also illegal within town walls) lined up in front, just visible through the window. He introduced himself:
"Captain Fen, of the Zangaran Third Mounted Dragoons. You are the Order of the Perfect Circle, yes?"
No, you heard me right
  • And that's where the session concluded. What does this strange visitor want from them, and what is his relation to the Order of the Ultraviolet Flame, which also hails from Zangara, domain of the Undying Witch King? How will all this business with the inn go? What shall come of the pseudo-ambergris mine hidden under the Clifton manor? Join us for next week's session of Cascabel!

Hot on the heels of last week's session, I came into this one rather antsy, but left much more confident.

I did feel that the treasure reward here (though split halfway with an NPC party and with most of the value locked up in the yet-inaccessible ambergris) was getting into Monty Haul territory in comparison with the challenges faced to acquire it. When I wrote up these locations, I also expected the possibility of combat with the cultists in Clifton Manor, but this was coming right at the end of the session and I didn't want to have another big combat and was also unsure that the challenges I had written down would challenge the party, so I toned down their aggression. 

That said, my impression might be wrong. My thinking as a DM was 'clearly, that fight with the Maylorites didn't threaten the party, none of them even went to 0hp!', while Agatha's player told me after the session, 'I almost got eaten by sharks!'

This is, perhaps, a weakness of spending so much time on the DM side of the screen and not so much on the player side. I do recall, when I sit down to play, a real terror and suspense that I obviously don't experience as a DM, and I have difficulty telling what the internal experience of my players is like on that front. This makes it a little bit more difficult to calibrate challenges, methinks. 

In either case, I shall use today's victory as a springboard for future woes to shower upon the party!

In other news, around the same time this game was running, a Cauldron was overflowing across the deep blue sea. It's really inspiring to read about that con (Melan's account of it here). Is AD&D 1e experiencing a renaissance, or is this a blip on the radar? I suppose time will tell. 

Speaking of Melan, I just picked up Echoes #10 and the Nocturnal Table, which will really bring my urban adventures together. Not going to do a full review, but I have to say I'm consistently impressed by the quality coming out of EMDT, right down to the physical paper. 

This session is also a victory for my Mundane Treasures, which... I now realize I have never mentioned on this blog. A while back I got inspired by DMG p.92 and figured that converting monetary hoards into items of similar value and weight was the way to go wrt stocking treasure. So I buckled down and tried to convert every piece of equipment, armor, and weapon in the PHB, plus every type of trade/grave good I could think of into a gp/# ratio and group those into approximate categories, 'copper', 'silver', 'electrum', etc. It was really nice being able to turn a big electrum hoard (boring!) into spears, ammunition, armor, and the like, and to do so pretty quickly. Unfortunately, that piecer of work is in a sweet spot where it's developed enough I don't have to do more work to use it, but undeveloped enough I can't share it outside of a small circle. Whether I ever get around to completing and professionalizing it is up in the air. 

That's all I have for you today. If you enjoyed the post, do comment below, follow the blog, and share it around. Until next time, have an excellent week. 

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