Cursed Myth 1.1.2

[The session picked up from where we left off last time. It started with a montage: the party moving a hunk of the obelisk crystal from the harpy’s lair to the circle of obelisks where they first woke in this valley. Duncan and Oramir’s players were absent. Again, the post title designates 1st level, 1 full heal up and 2 incremental advances.]

Rill’s plea

Rill stepped into view, as Aso brought the hunk of crystal to a stop. There was at least another hour or hour-and-a-half of daylight left.

[“What is distinctive about Rill’s look, compared to the other lizardpeople in the village?” I asked the players. Revan’s player said, “He’s big and muscular.” Aso’s player said, “He has a large birthmark covering his face and neck. He’s self conscious about it, and it’s part of what set him on the path to become strong and fight.” I said yes to both and, inspired by the latter, I said, “Lizardpeople are scaly, so I imagine this birthmark is like missing scales and soft flesh is exposed.” “More gruesome,” Aso’s player said, “But yes.”]

Rill approached nervously. He opened his mouth to speak, hesitated, then said quickly to Stink, ”Where did you learn to fight like that?”

“In the horde,” Stink said.

“What’s a horde?” Rill asked.

“You know, a goblin horde. Lots of goblins. Fighting.”

“Like an army?”

Stink shrugged.

“Will you take me there?”

Stink, Aso, and Revan shared a glance. “You don’t want to go to a horde,” Stink said.

“Well,” Rill said, “you’re not going to stay here very long. Take me with you.”

Revan didn’t like that idea. “Why?” he challenged.

Rill looked away. “The people I traded the corpses with… They’re coming tonight to trade for more. I promised the village today I wouldn’t do that anymore. They’re going to kill me.”

“Why’s that our problem?” Revan asked.

Rill looked at his feet. “I know. I know. You’re right. It’s just… I thought you could help.”

“We’ve already helped a lot,” Revan said.

“If you just left, would the village be in danger?” Aso asked.

“You’re right,” Rill said, taking  a half-step away, turning toward the mausoleum in the distance. “I…” He slumped. “It’s my fault. I’ll face them alone, and tell them I’m done.”

“We can help,” Stink said, less to Rill than to his companions.

“Why should we care about this village?” Revan asked. “We’re going to Valor.”

“Helping villages is a good thing,” Stink said. Then to Rill: “Who are these people you trade with?”

Rill brightened. “Well, at first, it was just one Merchant.” [I reminded the players their characters know this means a Merchant serving Daevos the Cursed Merchant.] “But then, the Merchant introduced me to some other people, and I made all the trades with them.”

“Who were they?” Stink asked.

“I don’t know who they were. I just called them the ‘Eyes.’ They have eyes painted onto their eyelids. They’re coming tonight at midnight, and they always meet me near the mausoleum.”

[Revan’s player said, “Revan ran a corpse smuggling ring. Can I roll to see if I know who these people are?” Aso’s player asked much the same thing, citing Aso’s background as a cemetery caretaker. I told them, “You’re a long way from where you’d know much, based on those backgrounds.” The other reason was, these two had no icon relationship with Daevos the Cursed Merchant. I asked Stink’s player for an intelligence-based background check. It was low…]

Stink remembered an eye symbol from his days in Daevos the Cursed Merchant’s goblin horde. He knew there was more to it, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

[Then I said, “Revan knows a lot about corpse  smuggling rings. How would he go about finding out if he knew this one?” Revan’s player looked at his character sheet and suggested a background for a roll. I clarified, “I mean, knowing what Revan knows in general, what would Revan do or ask to learn more about this corpse smuggling ring?”]

Revan asked Rill, “How many corpses a week did you trade with them?”

Rill said, “Six or so. They always wanted more, but we spent as little time in the mausoleum as possible.”

[I asked Revan’s player, “Knowing what Revan knows, what would he deduce about these corpse smugglers from that number?” He answered… I asked, “Does Revan share this with his companions?” He hesitated but decided Revan would.]

Revan told Stink and Aso, “This is a major operation. They’re probably working with several others like Rill, so they’re pulling in like 50 corpses a month.” Then he bragged, “But that’s nothing next to the Defilement”--the ring he ran, back in the day.

“Well, I’m sure we can help you out, Rill, but maybe let’s check out this mausoleum first,” Stink said. Aso and Revan agreed, and Rill agreed to lead them there.

Mausoleum

They went a couple miles upriver and inland. They’d gone around a riverbend, and a foothill blocked their view of the obelisks, but they weren’t far from there. They found a hill much like  the hill at the center of the obelisks. Except this hill wasn’t small and round but long. It was about 15 feet across and at least 100 feet long. “A burial mound,” someone said. The same tall grass surrounded and covered the burial mound. There was a stone door on the end nearest to them.

After some investigating outside, they went in. Rill pushed the stone door open, then stopped, to let the others  go first. But Revan pushed him from behind, and Rill went stumbling in. After lighting torches and casting darklight, they found themselves in an antechamber to the mausoleum itself. It was covered in ancient dust and cobwebs. The room was mostly filled with what looked like a small amphitheater. Curved rows of stone benches faced a stage. Beyond that, a closed stone door.

Rill warned that beyond that door was the tomb itself. He and his crew spent as little time as possible in their. And whenever they stole corpses, they had to fight off at least one or two skeletons.

Stink brushed off a section of wall and found a huge mural of a battle, involving a huge elven army. [“Is this like the battle we fought in the mythquest?” Stink’s player asked. “Yes and no,” I said…] When the party fought Gûlrymsúl, they fought under a great tree. But there was no tree in this mural. This battle was fought by a seaside. And Gûlrymsúl came with an army of spiders. There were no spiders in the mural. Instead, the elves were defending against sea invaders. [“Are there goblins in the mural?” Stink’s player asked.] Stink found a group of humanoid creatures fighting alongside the elves. It was hard to make out, but they were small creatures that could’ve been goblins.

Aso investigated the amphitheater stage area. [“I was a cemetery caretaker,” Aso’s player said. “What do I notice?”] Aso realized this was a war memorial, a mausoleum for dead soldiers.

[Revan’s player said, “I’ve been in hundreds of cemeteries. What do I know about who is buried here?” I suggested he open the door and enter the tomb itself, so he could see for himself.]

into the tombs

Stink pushed the heavy door open. Beyond it was a long, narrow room. Alcoves in the walls, floor to ceiling, held mummified remains. Another stone door was closed at the far end. Two more closed doors stood opposite each other, dividing in equal parts the long side walls. In the half of the room nearest the party, most of the alcoves were empty of all but stray bones and tattered grave cloth.

Rill watched with a mix of horror and awe as Revan walked to the far end of the room. Rill warned again that they always had to fight skeletons. Revan pulled back strips of cloth to reveal a particularly well-preserved mummy. Pointed ears. Tall. It was clearly an elf. But on the neck were three slits. They weren’t wounds. “Gills?!” Aso marveled. Revan checked others: more gilled elves. Then he went about listening at the doors. He heard nothing at first.

Then, at the door opposite the one they entered, scritching. Rill backed out, into the antechamber. The scritching became a louder scratching. Aso and Stink followed Rill. But Revan stayed long enough to behead a gilled elf mummy. At that moment, a scream sounded and the far door opened. Revan ran to join his companions, a mob of decrepit skeletons charging after him. Stink, Aso, and Revan pulled the stone door closed as the skeletons clawed to keep it open. A skeleton stabbed Aso with its arm: it had no hand, and its arm bones were sharpened as if filed to a point. And against the best efforts of the living, the skeletons started forcing the door open…

skeletons!

[Initiative!]

Out of the dark at the far end of the tomb, two skeleton archers [CRB 246] stepped forward and let fly their bone arrows. One missed Stink; the other hit Revan. Revan fired back at the archer, slamming it with a blast of ice, but he could not pull away from the skeletons mobbing him at the door. A tall, crowned skeleton [Skeletal Legionnaire, CRB 246] stepped forward between the archers, letting fly a javelin, that pierced frail Revan. Stink swung his sword at the decrepit skeleton mob [5 mooks, CRB 246], to no effect. Those skeletons counterattacked fiercely, wounding Stink, Aso, and Revan. Aso and Rill missed the decrepit skeletons. Finally weaker mob members lashed out, weakly.

[I represented dozens more much weaker skeletons mechanically as a terrain effect, an idea I got from Eyes of the Stone Thief. At Escalation Die 0-2, their attacks were +5 v PD--1d2 damage.]

By now, Revan was desperately wounded. Then the archers again took aim at him and Stink. But missed! And Revan let loose an unholy blast. He wiped out all but one of the decrepit skeletons and dropped the last with deathknell. The whole mob was now a pile of charred bones. Then he moved behind Aso. Sword drawn, the crowned skeleton charged at Aso, badly wounding him. Stink and Aso both attacked and barely missed the crowned skeleton. Rill also missed.

[Unholy blast reduced the escalation die from 1 to 0. Revan’s player consulted with his companions before casting it. But both Stink and Aso’s attacks against the crowned skeleton missed by 1!]

Revan was still desperately wounded, and now Aso was hurt badly too. Then the archers notched new arrows. A moment later, Stink was grievously wounded [crit!] and Revan was on the ground. The crowned skeleton stabbed Aso and dropped him. Stink, unafraid, swung and missed the crowned skeleton…

[It was a natural odd miss, so Stink’s player was unable to use his second melee attack. The situation was dire. So I offered a choice. In hindsight, I wish I’d been more creative. But as it was, Stink could take 1d2 damage as if from the minor skeleton mob to change his miss to a natural even miss. He took the deal and promptly rolled a crit! Stink’s player described the hit...]

Stink jumped onto the crowned skeletons shoulders and hung onto its skull. Almost by accident, while falling and flailing, Stink critically wounded the skeleton. It was now badly injured--[very staggered]--but not dead. Rill steadied himself and pressed the attack but missed.

Undaunted, the archers took aim at Stink. They dropped him.

[In a total of 15 levels of 13th Age play, players had never fled and taken a campaign loss. Now I suggested they consider doing so: Rill could drag them to safety. They all agreed.

This was a double-strength battle for three 1st level characters. Plus the terrain effect skeletons. I’ve seen players handle double-strength battles before. Of course, in previous battles, they were equipped with healing potions, magic items, and--players would add--had a cleric in the party. Even so, this battle was a near thing. If a couple dice rolls and decisions went the other way... If I had let Stink’s crit simply drop the big bad… And then, as soon as the battle was over, two of the three players realized they hadn’t taken the incremental advance they were due!

It was the toughest fight of the campaign so far. It was a battle they could have won. It was a battle they didn’t have to fight. Revan taking a mummy’s head triggered it and guaranteed Revan would be the enemies’ primary target. Even then, they would have avoided it, but for a poor group-effort skill check to shut the tomb door. The dice told a great deal of the story.

What is this tomb that held such powerful undead? Why were these powerful ones awakened on this night and not when Rill and his crew robbed the grave? What will be the consequences for the heroes of this campaign loss?]

Rill asked Aso, Revan, and Stink to save his life. But in the end, he saved theirs. He dragged them to safety and roused them. The four limped back to the village. Revan had almost paid for it with his life (if you can call it “life”), but still he carried the mummy’s head.

Nani Raan’s grandfather

As the group approached Herk and Sung’s hut, they heard arguing inside. Though reconciled by Oramir, village leaders were still at odds about what to do next. But when they entered, Herk declared, “We’re not going to solve this tonight. We all want the best for the village, and we all need to eat.” They sat down for dinner, and Aso, Revan, Stink, and Rill ate too. They kept silent about where they’d been.

Dinner ended, and Herk and Sung--clinging to JeeJee--said  goodbyes to the village leaders. Rill hesitated, but left too, all the while trying to catch Aso, Revan, and Stink’s eyes and mouthing, “Midnight! Deal’s on, right?”

When the hut quietted, Herk and Sung went into Nani Raan’s bedroom. Sung took her hand and stroked, addressing Nani Raan in a soothing voice. “It’s your daughter and granddaughter, Nani.” She did not acknowledge them but stared with an unfocused gaze out the window onto the valley below.

Stink remembered that the night before, he’d been eager to speak with Nani Raan. But for the life of him, he couldn’t remember why. But that didn’t stop him creeped into her room and around Herk and Sung. From below the window, Stink slowly raised his head into Nani Raan’s view. Her face lit in recognition.

“Grandfather! You came!” she said to Stink. Herk and Sung looked at each other with confused surprise.

Stink grinned. “Of course, I came, granddaughter.”

“I made this for you,” Nani Raan said, bowing her head and removing necklace. She held it out to Stink, a fish carved from wood hanging between them. Many others in the village wore similar necklaces. Stink stepped forward and let her put it over his head. She said, “It will protect you while you protect the tomb.”

“Right, protect the tomb…” Stink echoed. “Do you remember whose tomb it is, granddaughter?” Nani Raan laughed. Stink continued, “Why are we protecting it?”

“Oh grandfather,” she  giggled, “you’re so silly!” And as quickly as it came, the light of cognition left her.

Herk and Sung looked at her, Stink, and each other, agog. “The rest of the village settled on the other side of the ridge, but Nani Raan insisted we build our hut here,” Sung marveled. “I never knew anything about a tomb.” After a pause, she continued, “Now that I think about it, settling in this valley was her idea. She was lucid then.”

Herk and Sung knew nothing more about the tomb or Nani Raan’s grandfather. And as it had been an amazing and exhausting and grief-filled day, they went to sleep. The heroes did the same. Or at least pretended to.

playing dead

Later, they snuck out of the hut and carefully descended the paddies. Rill was already waiting for them by the river. They had settled on an approach to the corpse smugglers. They would play dead, posing as the corpses Rill had to trade. Rill brought sheets and wrapped them up.

In a little while, they heard people approaching, loud and bawdy. When the other group was close, they quieted and hailed Rill, who hailed them back.

“You’re all alone.”

“I am,” Rill answered. “But I have bodies for you.”

The smugglers came closer. Through thin sheets, Aso, Revan, and Stink saw five humanoid figures. Three talked chattily with Rill. One hung back, quiet.

The fifth stepped forward and said, appraisingly, “So this is the great Rill.” Revan recognized this voice.

“We brought the boss with us this time, Rill. He wanted to meet you himself.”

“Dackson,” said the fifth figure. Revan remembered Dackson well. He was a member of the Defilement, the corpse smuggling ring Revan ran during the war. He never really fit in with the crew. He wasn’t a true believer, but he was the best Revan had.

After Rill introduced himself, Dackson introduced the fourth figure: a Merchant. The Merchant nodded silently.

Then the “Eyes” (as Rill called them) started loading bodies.

[The players’ plan was bold, and it was midnight (in the game). So I set an easy DC and they rolled to pull off the ruse. Aso and Revan succeeded. Stink failed. I asked Stink’s player, “When the smuggler picked you up, something fell out of your pocket. What was it?” Revan;s player said, “The Potato God!” I said I liked that. Stink’s player went with it.]

A root vegetable dropped onto the ground at the smuggler’s feet. Stink had pocketed it during the celebration in the village. He hadn’t carved it yet, like he does with potatoes, but he was using it for worship.

The smuggler grunted, still shouldering Stink. “You brought us some fresh ones,” he said.

“I did,” said Rill, keeping his cool.

The smuggler slung Stink across a mule and retrieved the veggie. He turned it over in his hand, as two others loaded Aso and Revan side-by-side on another mule. The others started leading the mules away. He threw it into the river and followed.