[UPDATE 1/6/21: I no longer support spending money on products that benefit Zak S, or giving him positive attention and connection. The short version is that I find credible claims that he has engaged in unacceptable behavior and not made up for it. For more detail, see here for the core of the accusations. To get Zak's side of things, he maintains this separate blog from his main one to post updates on the legal status of these complaints.
Please consider these claims and make your own decision on their validity, and the implications thereof, before either supporting or shunning Zak.]
Last night once again saw the absence of a couple of players due to finals-induced napping, but also saw the reappearance of the long absent player of Blum (the dead wizard) and Ash (the new wizard who has basically been played as a henchman up to this point). Varian's player returned, and despite some good natured complaints that the rules were “unfairly targeting” him, sure enough gave the carousing rules a go and peer pressured Yllgrad’s player into joining him. Unfortunately for me, both passed their poison saves easily and another one of the players agreed to cover Yllgrad’s excessive tab, so I was robbed of all opportunities for shenanigans springing from Mr. Rients’ excellent carousing table. But it remains, waiting for its next opportunity.
So, after recovering from hangovers, the party set out to engage the services of one of the captains they found out about last week. They decided to go with Guth and Spir, the gruff ex-watchmen and his lanky partner, on the thinking that a couple of treasure hunters might prove hardier than some of the other captains if the natives turn restless. After some negotiation on fees and some debates about the nature of insurance for faux-medieval shipping, they saved some money by pressganging their huge following of hirelings into rowers (to be fair, they were willing to take some turns at the oars themselves).
Only even more Volcano-y
After making the necessary arrangements, they set out to the island of Fyrberg. After some discussion, they decided it would be best to soft pedal things to begin with and get the lay of the land. So after an arbitrary percentage roll to determine if there was foul weather (there wasn’t), around dusk they came up to the docks of Bjergby, the sleepy little fishing town on the island, and arranged lodging for their troupe. They told the innkeeper there that they had come to check out the hot springs, and he told them to head on up to the shrine in the morning.
When they came to the shrine, they were greated by the high priest of Gurgu, Bjergmund. He’s a friendly, enthusiastic-in-a-low-key-kind-of-way guy, and he informs them that all are welcome to enjoy the hot springs for a small donation (1 gold per person for as long as you like), but that all are invited to learn the ways of Gurgu. Yllgrad declined to get in on this nonsense, not trusting the baths, so he hung back out of sight and out of mind. Earn, the cleric of Dwyn and his followers decided to simply partake of the baths, while Caleb decided to feign interest in the cult of Gurgu. He convinced Varian and Ash to come along as well. I reminded him that as a cleric, he is a character who believes in his god so hard that he gets magic powers, but also that his god is a god of deceit and trickery, so he should factor those things into his decision. He said he felt good about the fake initiation into a new religion and a delighted Bjergmund led them deeper into the volcano (did I mention the shrine is inside the volcano?).
Meanwhile, Earn and his three hirelings take a long, relaxing and rejuvenating bath. They don’t know it, but had they been injured, they’d have healed at an increased rate, and if something comes up where being relaxed enmineraled seems like it would be a factor, I’ll come up with some other unspecified benefit.
Earn's the only PC who enjoyed a nice, pleasant non-baptismal bath
Also meanwhile, after the other two groups are led their separate ways, Yllgrad sneaks in and starts to listen at doors and snoop about. I love how the default assumption in D&D that things are perilous informs players' actions. More on that later. At any rate, he finds a human sized robe of the initiates of Gurgu and puts it on, then hitches it up and continues on his snooping way.
The party following Bjergmund is led past a central open shaft in the volcano (totally unrealistic but also totally cooler than either a) spurts of magma coming out of a relatively short mountain or b) a tall, normal seeming mountain that suddenly explodes and kills everyone) and into a chapel. He invites them to kneel and says a brief prayer to Gurgu, welcoming these new followers. He directs them to a font of steaming hot mineral water and has them drink. Then he leads them to a series of linked baths called the “cleansing path”. The players are mostly passive through all this, though Caleb keeps spontaneously chiming in with expressions of devotion and converted zeal. Each stop on the path is a little allegorical homily followed by a dunk in hot mineral water, at the end of which they are invited to pray as the spirit of Gurgu moves them. Once again, Caleb whips out the new convert gusto and Bjergmund is impressed, almost like this guy knows how to lead a prayer or something. He then leads them around a path, showing them some store rooms and a secret entrance known to the faithful, and then back to a statue where followers leave small candles and offerings in times of trouble, and then he invites them to dine with some of the other initiates and leaves them to attend to some other matters.
Earn’s bath continued to be lovely through all of this.
Yllgrad, on the other hand, begins to follow a path that spirals around down around the central shaft, lit by the glow of hot liquid magma hundreds of feet below. He pokes his head in a few rooms, finds some storage areas, a kitchen (which he avoids, because he hears the sounds of cooking inside), and a darkened classroom with wax tablets covered in the runic alphabet, and a storage room with child sized robes. He has a moment of awful revelation that they’ve never seen any children here until I tell him that, yes, there were children in the village, just none here in the temple he’s sneaking around. So he decides to change into a child sized robe and hides the adult sized robe in the storage room before going back out to the central shaft and continuing down.
Well, it’s at this point that he gets hit by a jet of scalding hot steam. I’ll admit to a little trepidation in their employment, for reasons that will become clear in a moment. See, I wanted to have a hazard that could be spotted and avoided like a trap, but which was in fact just a natural hazard. Unfortunately, basing their “activation” on a random chance when anyone passes them (1 in 6) makes them seem like they’re set off with intent. Even if you allow his dwarven stone sense to notice there’s something weird (passed, described water in otherwise dry area, crack in wall – he tested by rolling a rock and throwing another). And a listen check to hear the building hissing sound (failed), then a breath weapon save to take half damage (failed). So he got rather scalded, and I’m worried I fell a little into ‘bad trap’ design. I realize now I should have described the noise of the building steam rather than testing to see if he noticed it, because that was the key step to his agency in negotiating the hazard. By randomizing it, his only options were “use my player knowledge that we’ve engaged this feature with a lot of rules already and go back rather than press on to presumably interesting stuff” or “press on since I don’t have a good reason to take any further precautions”. I failed to build enough clues in for him to ask about to learn enough to make an informed decision. Well, live and learn, I suppose.
And Yllgrad lived and learned as well, even if he did take 12 damage from scalding steam. So, when he heard footsteps beyond the next door he gave a listen to, he concocted a clever ruse. He imitated a child and said “help, help!” Well, these folks come running, and he’s waiting for them. They’re unarmed, so unlike his initial plan to hit one in the face with an axe (or rather, all 3, because they’re all 1 hd fellows), he instead grabs one and leans him out over the lava shaft and demands to know what is going on here. He figures they activated the steam since there was no obvious trigger mechanism but it burned the crap out of him.
They blubber a lot because they were minding their own business helping to sweep the local church when some dwarf in one of their robes grabbed one of them and threatened his life. But he pulls the guy back and holds him hostage with his knife and demands to be led the way they came from. He asks them what’s back there, and they tell him the greater mysteries, they don’t know, they’re just initiates. He threatens to kill their friend and they say the same thing. Well, he makes them lead him through the doors into the greater mysteries, and every time they object even a little, it’s again with the knife to the throat. So, he finds some rooms with mysterious gold circle patterns inlaid in the floor, and they don’t know what they are because they’ve never been in there before. And that’s where we left off.
Only imagine Mario holding a Goomba over the edge by the throat
As I was saying earlier, it’s fun how the combination of a) the default assumptions of D&D, and b) some rumors they picked up at dockside bars in Mickleheim, have the players convinced that the seemingly innocent cult of Gurgu is not what it seems. And maybe it isn’t. Their going theory is that Gurgu is a demon and the cult has been duped into thinking he’s a benevolent god, and that they’re going to find something sinister sooner or later, which will give them the chance to kick some ass and take the Heart of the Mountain, the rumored giant ruby they came here to find. We’ll see, I suppose.
One interesting thing about running this location is that I kind of inadvertently ended up with a “Village of Hommlet” kind of scenario, where the interactions with and within the village will end up being important, and the NPC personalities will be big factors (for now at least). I also gave some thought to Zak S.’s talk about places sometimes being dungeons and sometimes not, depending on what’s going on there. The shrine was not a dungeon to most of the group, but it was to Yllgrad. Later on it might be a dungeon to everybody or to nobody. I didn’t really set out intending such a scenario, but it’s turning out to be fun and an interesting departure from the default assumptions of Fellhold itself, the wilderness, or even Mickleheim.
Once the players finish up with Fyrberg, I’m going to post a full write up of the location as an adventure and map, but I don’t want to give anything away just yet. In the meantime, here’s a steam vent hazard for some quickie rules:
A crack in the wall is covered in condensation, and the floor in front of it is damp compared to the surrounding area. Every so often, a jet of steam bursts from the crack, scalding anything in its path. When a party passes, there is a 1 in 6 chance of the steam venting. It is preceded by a telltale hissing noise, like water about to boil in a tea kettle. Randomize which character in an affected group is in front of the vent when it goes off, and then apply a cone to ft long and 5 ft wide at its widest. This cone does 4d8 scalding damage, save vs. breath weapon for half.