Saturday, May 3, 2014

Taxing Mistakes: Hard Time

This adventure was part 2 of the "Taxing Mistakes" duet I set up for my players. The only clues they recieved prior to the adventure were that "mistakes" and Carceri were involved.

The adventure started with the PCs being hired by Tripicus, an ursinal scholar and expert on the Prime Material Planes (Uncaged: Faces of Sigil), to return a book to it's owner a dwarf named Zeracuk. The complication, however, is that Zeracuk died quite recently. Tripicus suspected, however, that he would have ended up in the Dwarven Mountain, a location in the Outlands were the dwarven gods live with their petitioners. Tripicus tells them the location of a known portal to the Dwarven Mountain behind a dwarven blacksmith's shop. They key to the portal is to brandish a dwarf crafted hammer.

The players head to the blacksmith's shop, purchase an (expensive) hammer from him, and brandish the hammer while passing through the portal to the Dwarven Mountain. A street teaming with drunk and merry dwarves greeted them, noticeably avoiding walking near the PCs. A large ale hall stood before them, large in the cavern amid the dwellings and shops.

The PCs entered Strongale Hall, the name of the large ale hall, and ordered drinks and started chatting to the extremely inebried dwarves. After a few hilarious conversations about what it means to be dwarven, the now drunk party meets a dwarven woman named Emera Stoutforge who offered to take the players to Soot Hall where the dwarven sages end up.

After a long walk deeper into the mountain, the PCs ended up in Soot Hall. A thick layer of soot coated everything, caused by the massive forges and refineries that fill the mountain. Norbys was extremely excited with this and began rolling in the soot. Emera dropped them off at the archives with the curator, Pyrus Chertchip.

When asked about Zeracuk, Pyrus does not know anyone by that name but does tell the PCs that a cross-trader had randomly ended up in Soot Hall and that they had unceremoniously shoved him through a portal into Carceri where he probably belonged. Suspicion grew that maybe Zeracuk and that man had "switched cosmic places" and that now Zeracuk was stuck in Carceri and needed to be found and brought back. Pyrus all but threated the PCs about this, saying that they'd face the wrath of the dwarves if they didn't help right this cosmic wrong. Pyrus then led the PCs to the portal they shoved the random through and opened it for them.

The PCs emerged on the other side of the portal standing on a small ledge at the end of a rope bridge spanning an impossibly deep chasm. The chasm separated them form a small town spread over two ridges and connected by similar rope bridges. As the PCs crossed the bridge, Norbys failed his Dex check and fell on to the slats of the bridge and got a good and frightening look at the near-infinite distance he almost fell. A crowd also gathered in the town, Gaola, with the folks jeering and taking bets on if the PCs would fall or not. When they finally made it across, the crowd dispersed unhappily.

After talking to a few of the unhappy residents of Gaola, the PCs learn that a dwarf had recently been in town and taken the only bridge out of town. He may have gone to the town of Straifling, the steading of the hill giant power Grolantor, or the palatial temple of the titan Crius. The PCs head out on the path for Zeracuk.

After getting half way across the bridge out of town, the Watcher of the town threatens to cut the bridge unless one of the PCs comes to her and coughs up some jink as means of a "toll." If more than one comes, or they fail to pay, she would have cut the bridge loose and the PCs could have fallen to their deaths. Bobby gathered the necessary funds and headed back to pay the Watcher.

Out of town, the PCs carefully treaded along the paths along the crags. Frequently I had them make Dex checks to see if they might fall or tumble, which led to a few of the PCs falling a little bit but catching themselves a little worse for the wear.

Eventually, the PCs came to a fork in the road where a very dirty female giant was standing and looking quite confused. When approached, she dropped her club and cowered in fear of the PCs saying she didn't want any trouble. Eventually, when the PCs were able to calm her down, she explained that she was lost and was looking for her god, Grolantor. The PCs offered to help her find her way which made her very happy. She offered to help the PCs move over the treacherous terrain and used a rope to tie them all together.

The PCs headed right on the trail, which was a very long and arduous journey which eventually led them into a terrible wind storm. Pressing on, the wind grew and grew in intensity until it suddenly stopped at the exact moment a giant fortress suddenly appeared before them. Tanaaka, the hill giant, curious that this was the steading of her god offered to run up to the gate and ask if they had seen Zeracuk. After a brief conversation with the gate guards, she came back and, sadly, said they had not seen any dwarves. At this, the party bid farewell to Tanaaka as she left to join her god in his home.

The PCs the returned to the cross-roads and took the left path. After a while, there was another fork in the road: one path to the right which headed straight up one of the treacherous peaks, and the path to the left which stayed level but went around a different peak.

The PCs chose to head left, up the peak. After walking up the sheer cliff, the PCs came upon a level ridge forming a platform from where a cave loomed from within the rocks. Bones were scattered over the ridge. A loud series of noises emanated from the cave: cursing, screaming, laughter, crying. It seemed as if the sounds were coming from a single being. As the PCs got near the cave, the noises mime sagely stopped. The PCs began to deliberate over what to do when Bobby declared "I go in." Being a Cipher, Bobby has to comply with whatever the player said.

As Bobby approached the cave, a hoarse "Who's there?" came out of the cave as a arcanoloth peaked it's head out of the cave. Krell, the arcanoloth, appeared gaunt and malnourished, her ribs could be seen beneath her skin, her eyes were red from weeping, and she smelled horrid. Her cave emitted the stench of waste and rot. The PCs started talking to the pitiful arcanoloth as she wailed and wailed about how she was so hungry. Eventually, the PCs struck a deal where they gave her some rations in exchange for a descriptive map of the region. She all but attacked the food offered to her and told the PCs everything they could possibly want. While she really wanted "souls," the rations suited her just fine.

Armed with a verbal map of the mountains of Colothys (the layer of Carceri the PCs were on), they quickly moved to Crius' Temple where Krell had said the dwarf probably went to.

The temple was massive and made of white and grey marble. The pillars and doors were sized for a titan and not a normal human, so the PCs were dwarfed by everything. The front door to the temple was open and the PCs walked inside with care. After entering into the temple, one of Crius' guards stepped out and demanded the PCs business. He wasn't very interested in actually stopping the PCs so much as "doing his job" in the weakest sense of the phrase. After giving a good enough excuse, the PCs asked the guard if he knew where the dwarf was. He pointed vaguely to one corner of the tremendous titan-sized temple, saying that in the hall one of the rooms should hold him.

In hallway, the PCs entered one room that was filled with different works of art made by Crius. They were beautiful and exquisite works created with incredible care. Each of the pieces was rooted to the floor using Crius' command of gravity. Norby's player spontaneously described how there was one piece of art that was just paint strokes suspended in air as a three dimensional piece of abstract art. This was a really awesome moment.

After inspecting the art gallery, the PCs opened the door that happened to be the prison of Zeracuk. Cautioning them not to enter the puzzle cage, he explained how the door was unlocked but he was unable to see the handle as the whole cage was of perfectly smooth marble. If the PCs grasped the door and pulled, but didn't enter, he could get out. Following his commands, they freed him. He then told them that a portal back to Sigil was in the storeroom just next door. Turns out that Zeracuk was an expert in portals and had gone to Crius' temple to find this portal but had been captured by the titan.

At this point, Crius appeared before the PCs. Towering over them, he rooted them to the ground with his gravity command and offered them a deal. If they could answer a riddle correctly, he would let them go. If they failed, he would imprison them for as long as he saw fit. Faced with no other options, the PCs consented to the deal.

The riddle: I pull you down. I let you soar. I diminish in water yet remain the same. I constancy hold you in my grip. Some say I'm interminable. What am I?

Given a few moments to deliberate, Crius demanded the PCs answer. Weakly, Kale answered "gravity." Crius, annoyed, responded that this wasn't strictly right but it was close enough to the correct answer of "weight" that he would let the PCs go.

The PCs then jumped through the portal to Sigil, took Zeracuk to the portal to the Dwarven Mountain behind the blacksmith's home, and delivered him to Soot Hall. In return for their help, Zeracuk gave each of the PCs an ability Manual of their choice. These are books that, when read, increase an ability score by 1. This is the only way to increase the base value of a stat.

This adventure was adapted from a pre-written module from Well of the Worlds titled "Chapter V: Hard Time". The transition from the Dwarven Mountain to Carceri was really forced and I felt was by far the weakest part of the module. I had a really hard time on the fly improving it and I still feel it came off really weak. It is really hard to write and succeed at hand-offs during adventures, and I felt this was rather ham-fisted. From both a module as written and a my execution of it perspective. The art of the first town in Carceri was great and I really enjoyed showing it to the players.

Carceri was a lot of fun to run. By using the organizational email to hint that the party was going to Carceri, I really put the players on their toes. They spent the majority of the beginning of the session being very afraid and cautions, out of game, and it was a fun to slowly reveal how and why they were going there.

I really hammed up the Arcanoloth, grabbing at my face and nearly screatcing with the desire for food. It really freaked out the players and was a great role play moment for them, especially with how Bobby and all of them realized that it was just hungry and didn't really want to hurt them per se. Well, beyond eating them. But only a little bit.

I started using of the art material from the books a lot more to help illustrate the scenes for the players. A lot of the planar locations and characters can be really tough to describe, so adding the images helped a lot. Additionally, because I own physical copies of almost every Planescape manual and boxed set (missing Planes of Conflict sadly), I put up a map/poster relating to each session. I just use a simple and cheap poster frame I bought and can easily replace the concents in. I'd always wanted to really take advantage of the posters and maps in this fashion so I finally pulled the trigger for this campaign and I've been using it for every session. The players seem to really appreicate it.

Also, this adventure represented a general transition in how I "bill" sessions in the organizational email. I'd already been very prone to naming adventures, but the use of a hint or preview element has become a neat element I'm trying to integrate more. It is a lot like doing "scenes from next week's episode" for my campaign, which fits because of the extremely episodic structure.