CRYPTS OF THE BARROWMAZE AFTER ACTION REPORT – Session 1, April 23rd 2017
In attendance: Kathy (Silas), Ryan (Mynes), Brett (Klondia the Pale), Julian (Vidar).
Tinday, Week of the Salamander, MY 268
Silas the Elementalist, Vidar the Fighter, Mynes the Thief, and Klondia the Pale, a Sorceress have responded to the invitation of Acanthus Rho to come to Castle Blackmoss in the depths of the Helmire and assist in plundering the riches of the ancient necropolis known as the Barrowmaze.
They are summoned to his salon where he explains the difficulties the project has been having with sabotage of the campsites along the only known safe route into the Barrow Fields – some local malcontents calling themselves the “Sons of the Swamp” seek to prevent Duke Rana and Acanthus Rho from laying claim to the riches of the tombs and disrupting the locals’ ability to loot would-be tomb explorers. Rho has prepared – at great expense – a dozen Warding Totems that will allow the camps (and any future ones deeper into the tomb complex) to be more secure. He wants the adventurers to secure a usable route to the Barrow Fields using these devices.
Rho warns that the “Sons of the Swamp” might have informants among the local people, so the party should be circumspect if they want to recruit hirelings in Slowbrook or Helix. A small number of the castle’s slaves can be spared as bearers and general labor, but they are not to be armed and must be returned to their work restoring the castle and the old viaduct as soon as possible.
The adventurers discuss the terms of their employment. Castle Blackmoss expects a flat monthly fee of 75 gp per person for their support services – provisioning, lodging, security of personal belongings, and so forth. Acanthus Rho expects that artifacts found within the Barrowmaze should be brought to him for examination, and that he have the option to purchase any that he finds of interest. Beyond that, anything the adventurers find in Barrowmaze they can keep – at least for now. Rho does hint that Lord Rana intends on a more organized exploitation of the tombs once the viaduct leading to them is rebuilt, so the adventurers probably only have a limited time in which to maximize their own returns. However, it does seem like a pretty good deal. Wonder what the creepy sorcerer and his boss have up their sleeves?
After examining a map of the area, the group decide that their best bet is probably to bypass the first leg of the path across Frog’s Heaven Marsh entirely, taking skiffs from the end of the viaduct directly to Camp #2 – but they want more intelligence and maybe a guide before they depart. They head into Slowbrook to have a look around.
In Slowbrook, a colorful Selling Barge from the City of Water is tied up at the docks, and vendors are hawking trinkets and exotic foods from its decks and a number of small carts they have set up on the docks. An extravagantly mustached man sits in front of the local watering hole glaring at the foreign merchants, who are doing a brisk trade. The party decide he looks worth talking to, over the objections of Silas whose taste buds are tingling at the mere possibility of food like what he got used to when he was a scribe in the Great Library of the Four Cities.
As they arrive at the establishment – apparently called “The Bristlenose” – Vidar notices a small letter “Z” daubed in red paint at the top of one of the lintel posts. Later on, they’ll note similar marks on a number of other buildings around town. Mynes thinks they indicate who’s paying protection to some local gang – maybe these “Sons of the Swamp.” The proprietor of The Bristlenose – Olak Frake – is happy to see the customers and cheerfully serves them roast meat, mudbug soup, and local wine “from the Folly Vineyards.” He tries to warn them away from the Barrowmaze with tales of other adventurers before them who disappeared into the swamp never to return, or returned maimed or mad from the horrors of the place. Other than that, he’s not too helpful – he says he doesn’t know anyone who’d be crazy enough to be their guide, though there used to be some fellows in Helix who’d do it “but I wouldn’t say I know that any of them could be trusted.”
Pressed for suggestions, Frake does remember one of those former adventurers he mentioned – a man named Mygdo Keelish. He stuck around Slowbrook and lives in a shack down by the river at the nearby bridge. Maybe he could be convinced to help the party?
They depart to seek out this Keelish fellow. He is reluctant at first, and warns them that anyone heading into the swamp risks the ire of the Sons of the Swamp – notably, his shack lacks the “Z” mark that Keelish tells them indicates the Sons’ protection. But after the party explain their plan to bypass the usual route into the swamp – and offer him gold plus a promise he will not have to go all the way to the Barrow Fields – he agrees to meet them at the end of the viaduct the next morning. He takes his advance payment and sends his son off into town with it to stay with his mother, and sets about preparing for the expedition.
The party return to Castle Blackmoss to make their own preparations.
Bronzeday, Week of the Salamander
Meeting Keelish in his canoe at the end of the viaduct along with their detachment of 8 slaves and a pair of large skiffs, the party sets out at first light across the misty waters of Frog’s Heaven Marsh, accompanied by the croaking of its eponymous inhabitants. As they pole across the marsh, it almost seems the frogs are speaking to one another in some secret language, laughing at the futility of man’s efforts to conquer the swamp. One of the slaves speaks of stories other slaves have told of seeing giant frogs – “the size of a dog!” in the marsh at night.
Before long, the ruins of the old viaduct waystation that mark the edge of the marsh loom out of the mist. A tall pair of stone pillars are all that stand, although rotted timbers below demonstrate that a superstructure once hung from the pillars here as a watch-point and toll station – many years ago, in the time of Gaxx when the necropolis was still occasionally used to inter some Gaxxian noble. Debarking their boats, the group begin the portage to Camp #2, some ¾ mile away across the swamp.
At Camp #2, they find a wooden palisade surrounding a square graveled area a little raised above the rest of the soil, with a covered well in the center. It appears the camp has been visited recently by booted men – probably locals. The well is clean and good – in fact, Silas sense that a strong Water Node lies within, and the Dragon Lines that meet here are healthy and easy to sense.
Checking the perimeter, Mynes notes some kind of gooey substance smeared on the walls and a powerful reek – he can’t identify it, but Keelish recognizes frog musk – used as bait when trapping frogs, it attracts them and excites them. Someone has deliberately placed this substance here to draw frogs at night. They do the best they can to cleanse the palisades, using lamp oil to scrub it off and then igniting it to cover the lingering scent.
They set up 8 of the Warding Totems – enough to completely enclose the camp site – with Klondia making a big show of it to ensure that the slaves will not tamper with the wards.
At night, a maddening chorus of frogs ensures restless nights for everyone – particularly Mynes, who can nearly understand what they are saying to one another and is sure it bodes no good – and the slaves are huddled together in fear all night, but no danger appears. Late at night Vidar thinks he sees signs that the camp is watched by someone in a boat, but he can’t be sure.
Ironday, Week of the Salamander
In the morning, the party resolves to continue on toward the Barrow Fields – they will inspect Camp #3 on the way, but they intend to reach the ruined chapel at the edge of the Barrow Fields and use that as their staging area. At first Keelish refuses to go any further – he feels he has done what he agreed to by getting them this far – but is eventually convinced.
The route is relatively easy going, and they are making good time. Keelish warns them of a few minor dangers which are easily avoided, but near mid-day they find tracks on the path. It seems three different sorts – a single pair of smaller bare feet, perhaps a woman’s; several sets of heavy boots (soldiers?); and others that are hard to make out, seemingly shuffling or dragging their feet. They decide to hide in the trees alongside the path and see who comes along.
Before long, footsteps are heard. A group of people come walking down the path – perhaps a patrol. A well-armed man wearing a snake-shaped circlet leads the group, followed by 3 shuffling monks in voluminous robes of sackcloth daubed with white snake symbols. Klondia recognizes the iconography as that of the Cult of the Writhing Serpent, a degenerate venom-cult once prevalent among the people of Gaxx who worship a demon-god named Set, who offers sensual ecstasy and eternal life to his debased followers. But the worship of the Writhing Serpent died out with the Lords of Gaxx, more than 3 centuries ago….
The cultists move on, not noticing the party. An ambush is prepared for when they return.
The ambush is quite successful – Vidar takes a bit of roughing up at the hands of the robed cultists, who are revealed to be some kind of venomous undead things, but it’s nothing he can’t shake off. Klondia recovers the serpent circlet from the human leader, and despite sensing its evil power puts it on her head. It whispers into her mind in the dark language of the Serpent Kings, unlocking forbidden knowledge there – but she is not yet strong enough in her magic to make use of this ability. The zombies dissolve into vile pools of poisonous goo, while the body of the leader must be decapitated before the venom in its veins works a foul resurrection on the corpse.
Several hours have been lost in the ambush, and unsure what might await at Camp #3 now that they have encountered the cultists, the party considers whether it would be best to press on, or retreat to Camp #2 for now.
[If I have exactly the same group next time, we can pick up immediately where we left off. Otherwise, we’ll pick up on Jewelday, Week of the Salamander back at Camp #2.]
SESSION REWARD SUMMARY
— 12 sp, 6 gp
— longbow, 12 arrows
— chain shirt
— 3 foul and stained cultist robes
— serpent circlet (worn by Klondia)
— small vial of golden hell-venom (claimed by Silas)
— COMBAT: 170 XP
— TREASURE: 12.6 XP
— INTERACTION: 250 XP
— ward Camp #2 – 200 XP
— identify Cult of the Writhing Serpent 50 XP
— discover Sons of the Swamp influence in Slowbrook 25 XP
— befriend Olak Frake 15 XP
— hire Mygdo Keelish 15 XP
— EVADED ENCOUNTERS (half XP): 165 XP
— TOTAL XP
— 902.6 XP
— divided 4 ways = 225 XP per PC
UNCOMMON SPELL: command undead (Klondia)
Spell Level 2 (Sorcerer, Black Magic)
Duration 1 day per caster level
The caster can speak to undead, and they will cease what they are currently doing and listen to him for at least 1 minute. Intelligent undead must be convinced to do what the caster asks, but they will treat the caster as friendly and be inclined to negotiate rather than attack. Unintelligent undead must obey the caster's commands, but they can only understand very simple one or two word commands and take them extremely literally.
While this spell is in effect, if the caster attempts the Banishment of Evil, any undead that would normally be turned or destroyed are instead controlled utterly (as if under a charm effect) for 1 hour. However, if any undead targeted are not affected by the Banishment, they will attack the caster in a rage, gaining +1 To Hit and +1 Damage.
MAGIC ITEM: serpent circlet (Klondia)
This bronze circlet is in the shape of a snake coiled around the wearer’s brow, with a fanged viper head rearing at the front. When placed on the head, any person not pledged to the service of Set or who does not have golden venom in their system is poisoned and dies immediately, rising 5 minutes later as a venomous zombie. Characters with Luck may Test Their Luck to avoid this effect – if they are Lucky, they are warned of the danger by the sibilant whispering of the circlet before they put it on. If they are not lucky, they are poisoned by the golden venom (1d6/1 Lethal). If a character who has been warned or one who is safely envenomed dons the circlet, it whispers secrets of the Writhing Serpent into their mind. If they are a sorcerer, they immediately learn the spell command undead. Sorcerers and non-sorcerers alike gain 1 Corruption on donning the circlet as it whispers blasphemy.
Once a character has put on the circlet, they desire to keep it with them at all times. Letting it out of their sight requires a Sanity test (1d3). They are not forced to wear it, but they must know where it is.
In addition to teaching the spell, the circlet has two other beneficial effects. The wearer is resistant to all poisons (+3 to tests to resist poison), and venomous zombies obey his commands.
SPECIAL ITEM: golden hell-venom (Silas)
This small bronze vial with a wax seal contains a few drops of golden liquid. This is golden hell-venom, harvested from the sacred vipers of Set. It is an incredibly dangerous poison (Injected, 1d6/1 Lethal), but its true value to the cult is twofold. First, those slain by the venom rise shortly thereafter as venomous zombies. Secondly, those who are initiates of the cult develop a tolerance for the venom, and repeated envenoments gradually transform them and grant them magical powers and inhuman pleasures.
SPECIAL ITEM: warding totems
A skull, inlaid with strange geometric patterns in copper. When it is placed and a command word given, it activates. An active Warding Totem forms a barrier with any other Warding Totem within 30+d20’, a dimly shimmering haze of magic. Nonsentient Others and various supernatural creatures are repelled by the barrier and cannot cross it at all. Sentient creatures tend to avoid it and find it unpleasant to approach – they can penetrate the barrier with a successful Sanity test, but otherwise are filled with dread and fear, refusing to approach.
All Warding Totems have a password set when they are created, which can deactivate the ward. Someone who knows the password can “key” the ward to others by having them touch it for a few seconds – this allows them to pass the barrier.
Creating a Warding Totem requires the skull of a sentient creature, a sorcerer capable of casting 3rd-level Black Magic, and 300 gp of materials. Acanthus Rho has related that skulls from those slain by the user are the most effective wards, and that more powerful creatures will have more powerful skulls.
You currently have a box of 12 – all that Acanthus Rho has been able to create thus far. Of these, 8 have been deployed to ward Camp #2.