Thursday, November 30, 2017

Death & Dismemberment Table for DCC

In Dungeon Crawl Classics, there are two ways to save a dying character.

First, a character who drops to 0 hit points starts bleeding out, and continues bleeding out for a number of rounds equal to their character level (so a 0th-level character bleeds out instantly, a 1st-level character bleeds out for 1 round, a 2nd-level character for 2 rounds, and so on.) If a character receives healing while they're bleeding out (either from a cleric's lay on hands ability or from the new fleeting luck mechanic) then they lose 1 Stamina and wake up with however many hit points they regained. Healing a character who's bleeding out requires another character to step outside combat to administer aid (unless fleeting luck allows characters to heal themselves, I'm not completely sure how this new mechanic works.)

Second, a character who drops to 0 hit points might get saved if their friends roll over the body. The idea of rolling over the body is that maybe the character got lucky - maybe they weren't really dead with 0 hit points, maybe they were actually just unconscious with 1 hit point. The character who seemed to be dead rolls a Luck check - if they roll less than or equal to their Luck score, they get lucky, and they're just unconscious (if they roll over their Luck score, then they're unlucky, and they're really dead.) If a character is rolled over, they lose 1 Strength, Agility, or Stamina (at random) and they get -4 to all Action Dice rolls for the next hour. Like healing, rolling over the body requires another character to administer aid. Unlike healing, there's no time limit built into the rules for rolling over the body. You can attempt to roll over the body of a character you failed to heal who just bled out before your eyes - maybe they'll get lucky and it just looks like they're dead. You can also attempt to roll over the body of a character who got left behind when everyone else ran away from the monster that seemed to kill them, or a character who got dragged away to one monster's lair while the other monsters prevented the other characters from following - as long as you eventually find the body, no matter how much time as past, you can attempt to roll them over and see if they're really alive. (As a judge, I would probably still rule that 0th-level characters who seem to die are really dead and can't be saved. And I wouldn't let the other characters find the body of a fallen comrade unless I was willing to let them try to roll over the body and save them.)

I've written a Death & Dismemberment Table for DCC. (As far as I can tell, the idea and name of a "death and dismemberment table" originally comes from Robert Fischer's "Classic D&D Injury Table" and was popularized to reach a wider audience in Trollsmyth's "Playing with Death and Dismemberment." Since then, the idea has diffused and proliferated into numerous versions and rule systems.) To roll on this Death & Dismemberment Table, a character still has to be saved from death by being healed while bleeding out or by having their body rolled over to discover they're really still alive. Healing still requires clerical magic or fleeting luck, and rolling over the body still requires a successful Luck check. However, this table replaces the automatic ability score loss that accompanies healing or rolling over. Instead of automatically losing 1 Stamina (or automatically losing 1 Strength, Agility, or Stamina) the character instead experiences random ability score loss. On average, the results of this table are equivalent to the automatic 1 point loss in the DCC core rules - but only on average, any individual roll might produce results that are worse, the same, or better than the result listed in the core rules. Also, the way I've suggested deciding what dice to roll means that low-level characters are likely to get worse results than the following the core rules, while high-level characters are likely to to experience better.


Roll on this table after a character has been saved by healing magic, fleeting luck, or rolling over the body. The dice-type for the roll is determined by the character administering the life-saving aid, and the roll is modified by the Luck score of the dying character.

Most characters are untrained in medical care, and so roll a d10. Characters with the following occupations are considered trained, and so roll a d20 - alchemist, barber, butcher, dwarven apothecarist, elven sage, halfling chicken butcher, healer, herbalist, shaman. (Judges using alternative occupation lists should determine which occupations are considered trained in medicine.) Clerics always roll d20 + CL. Unless granted a superior dice-type by their occupation, thieves roll the dice-type indicated by their "cast spell from scroll" ability. (At the judge's discretion, thieves could recieve the dice-type determined by their occupation and add their "handle poison" bonus to the roll, but this decision should be consistent across all thieves.) Wizards who have an arcane affinity for necromany use the dice-type indicated by their occupation, but they may improve it by +1d for each one spell their affinity grants them the ability to cast using a higher die. (For example, a necromancer who got result 14-15 on the arcane affinity spell rolls a d12, while a necromancer who got result 26-29 when casting arcane affinity rolls a d16. The maximum benefit of this training is to roll a d30, which would require both a trained occupation and an arcane affinity result of 16-19 or higher.)

Roll    Result
0 or less    Internal bleeding / cerebral hemorrhage. Your injury is much worse than it initially appeared. Outwardly you look unscathed, but your insides are shattered and pulped. Despite all efforts to save you, you bleed out and die.

1    Stroke. You blacked out, and when you came to everything was dark and quiet. You are blinded (by a cutting attack) or deafened (by a bludgeoning attack) until healed and you permanently lose 2 points of Personality (if cut) or 2 points of Intelligence (if bludgeoned).

2    Spinal injury. You heard a terrible snapping sound, and now you can't feel your body or move it except to make it twitch or spasm. You are paralyzed until healed, and you permanently lose 2 points of Stamina.

3    Shattered elbow. You landed hard, and your arm bent at an ugly, impossible angle. Your broken arm is useless until healed, and you permanently lose 2 points of Strength.

4    Mangled hand. You broke your fingers, snapped your wrist. You'll never make such precise, steady movements again. Your broken arm is useless until healed, and you permanently lose 2 points of Agility.

5    Concussion. You passed out, you threw up. Your head is spinning, your vision is blurred, you can hear people talking but you can't understand the words. You permanently lose 1 point of  Personality (if cut) or 1 point of Intelligence (if bludgeoned), and until your organ damage is healed, you cannot engage in strenuous activity (combat, running, jumping, swimming, climbing) without making a DC 10 Will save or else getting dizzy passing out.

6    Heart attack. For a moment your heart stopped and you couldn't draw breath. You vomited and shit blood. Even now it feels like your chest is being crushed in a vise. You permanently lose 1 point of Stamina, and until your organ damage is healed, you cannot engage in strenuous activity (combat, running, jumping, swimming, climbing) without making a DC 10 Fortitude save or else hyperventilating and fainting.

7    Slipped disc. Your spine twisted and your hip fell out of its socket. Your leg is numb and you can't feel your toes. You feel pins and needles when you feel anything at all. Until your broken leg is healed, your movement rate is reduced by half, and you permanently lose 1 point of Strength.

8    Shattered knee / broken ankle. You went down hard and now your leg can barely support your weight. You'll never be as nimble or as light on your feet as you were before. Until your broken leg is healed, your movement rate is reduced by half, and you permanently lose 1 point of Agility.

9    Nasty headwound. You have an ugly scar on your face now. It makes you stupid; it makes you mean. You permanently lose 1 point of Personality (from a cutting attack) or 1 point of Intelligence (from a bludgeoning attack.)

10    Broken ribs. Your chest made horrible cracking sounds as you slammed into the ground. You'll never draw a full breath again. You permanently lose 1 point of Stamina.

11    Dislocated shoulder. Your arm was knocked from its socket. You can put it back, but it'll never bear weight like it used to. You permanently lose 1 point of Strength.

12    Sprained wrist. Your hand got bent back too far, at an angle it was never meant to turn. It will always feel stiff and shaky after this. You permanently lose 1 point of Agility.

13    Success! You are revived without permanent injury.

14    Success! You are revived without permanent injury.

15    Success! You are revived without permanent injury.

16    Success! You are revived without permanent injury.

17    Superior healing! You moved faster than you've ever moved before trying to dodge that last blow. You failed then, but you won't fail again. Permanently gain 1 point of Agility.

18    Superior healing! You never saw such perfection in the techniques of violence until you saw the blow that almost killed you. Now that you've seen it, you'll fight more perfectly too. Permanently gain 1 point of Strength.

19    Superior healing! All your life you've had a crick in your spine; your bones clicked when arched your back, flexed your hips, turned your wrist, stretched your jaw. Somehow that last blow knocked everything into place, suddenly everything just fits and nothing is out of place. Permanently gain 1 point of Stamina.

20    Superior healing! You used to be callow and naive. Nearly dying has changed all that. You have perspective now. Permanently gain 1 point of Intelligence or 1 point of Personality (your choice).

21 or more    Divine intervention / patron bond. Your recovery is nothing short of supernatural. Some powerful being had a hand in keeping you alive. It might have been your cleric's deity, your wizard's patron, or another supernatural entity trying to recruit you. You recover all hit points and permanently gain 2 points of Luck. In addition, roll 2d4 + 10; you gain that result in Divine Aid or from the appropriate Invoke Patron spell. You can gain this Aid or Invocation at once, or later at a time of your choosing. The entity owns you now; it saved your life, and you owe it a favor in return.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Alternate Mutations for MCC

The Mutant Crawl Classics core rules have tables for determining mutant appearance, manimal subtype, and plantient subtype. Each table takes a similar form, roll 1d30 to pick a category of mutation (skin color, skin texture, eyes, etc for mutant appearance; primate, canine, feline, etc for manimal subtype; deciduous, conifer, fruit-bearing, etc for plantient subtype) then roll again to choose a specific mutation from within that category.

There isn't necessarily a problem with any of these tables, but I do worry that there may be slightly too few specific options within each category, and that the categories for manimals and plantients leave some obvious choices out. (I also wonder about some of the mutant appearance charts. Is there a meaningful difference between hands that "are comprised of tentacles" and hands that are "absent, replaced with tentacle fingers?" What if someone's sole mutation is to have 2 arms or 2 legs, which is a serious possibility on the "Body" category subtable?)

Partly, this concern is practical. Tables with too few choices risks producing too many repeats, and because each MCC game begins with 4 characters per player, this risk is greater than in other games. (Reading the Random Esoteric Creature Generator and then reading Island of the Unknown shows what this risk looks like.) It doesn't matter if the mutants at one table look like the mutants at another, but it does matter if some of the supposedly unique mutants at one table look like others at the same table. (If mutants are supposed to belong to distinctive types, rather than being individuals, then this isn't a problem at all, but I think that the mutants are supposed to each be unique.)

The other part of my concern is creative. I don't claim to have imagined every type of mutation, but it seems there are some obvious possibilities left out. Many of the mutants depicted in the art of the book, for example, cannot be created following the tables, which seems like another missed opportunity.

In the future, I'll write my own tables, but for now, here are three alternative tables based on the mutations in the Crawling Under a Broken Moon zine and the Umerican Survival Guide. These tables provide categories of mutation without offering specific types within each category. One way to use these tables would be for the player and judge to decide together what the mutation looks like. Another way would be to follow up by rolling on the CUaBM or USG mutation tables, which provide chances for a number of possible abilities related to each category. One caveat here would be that these tables were originally written for a world where mutations are less common than in MCC.

The first table provides alternative mutant appearance results. The second provides alternative manimal subtypes. The third provides alternative plantient subtypes.

Mutant Appearance (roll 1d24)
  1-2    Extravore (digestive abnormality)
  3-6    Extra limbs
 7-10    Cranial abnormality
11-14    Dermal abnormality
15-18    Ocular abnormality
19-20    Aggregate features (roll 1d3, 1 granite, 2 iron, 3 crystalline)
21-22    Weaponized features (roll 1d6, 1 claws, 2 spines, 3 fangs, 4 horns, 5 club fist, 6 spikes)
   23    Roll 1d20 once on this table. The mutant has two mutations of this type.
   24    Roll 1d20 twice on this table.

Manimal Subtype (roll 1d20)
  1-2    Avian (bird-like)
  3-4    Bovid (cow-like)
  5-6    Canine (dog-like)
  7-8    Crustacean (crab-like)
 9-10    Feline (cat-like)
11-12    Piscine (fish-like)
13-14    Amphibian (frog-like)
15-16    Reptilian (lizard-like)
17-18    Testudine (turtle-like)
   19    Roll 1d16 twice on this table.
   20    Roll 1d16 once on this table and 1d20 once on the Mutant Appearance table.

Plantient Subtype (roll 1d12)
 1-2    Tree-like
 3-4    Bush-like
 5-6    Vine-like
 7-8    Flower-like
9-10    Fungi-like
  11    Roll 1d10 twice on this table.
  12    Roll 1d10 once on this table and 1d20 once on the Mutant Appearance table.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Characters I Want to Play - Alternate Occupation Tables for MCC

The Mutant Crawl Classics core rules provides separate tables for starting occupations (hunter or gatherer) and character genotypes (pure-strain human, mutant, manimal, or plantient).

My first thought when I saw this was that there was no reason to separate these tables. One of the interesting things about Dungeon Crawl Classics' starting occupations table is that it determines both the character's race (human, dwarven, elven, or halfling) and their occupation with one roll.

My second thought was that I could use the occupation lists from DCC #79: Frozen in Time or from Mystic Bull Games' The Tribe of Ogg and the Gift of Suss to replace the minimalist occupation list in MCC proper.

Below are three tables providing alternate occupations and genotypes for MCC characters. The first table uses only the occupations originally found in the Mutant Crawl Classics rules. (In all three tables, I preserved the frequency of the original genotypes.)

01-16    Human hunter - wood spear (1d5)
17-32    Human gatherer - leather bag
33-49    Mutant hunter - wood spear (1d5)
50-66    Mutant gatherer - leather bag
67-77    Manimal hunter - wood spear (1d5)
78-88    Manimal gatherer - leather bag
89-94    Plantient hunter - wood spear (1d5)
95-00    Plantient gatherer - leather bag

The second tables uses the occupations found in Frozen in Time. The pure-strain humans have occupations that went to humans in the original table. Only pure-strain humans can start as lore-keeper's assistants, shaman's assistants, or as stargazers. The mutants have occupations that went to both humans and demihumans. The manimals and plantients have only those occupations that originally went to demihumans. Manimals are weighted more heavily toward dwarven and halfling occupations, while plantients are weighted more heavily toward elven occupations.

   01    Human artisan - club & clay pot of ochre paint
02-03    Human butcher - flint cleaver (as hand axe) & side of mammoth meat
04-05    Human brewer - club & skin of beer
   06    Human canoe-maker - dagger & canoe
07-08    Human cord-maker - knife (as dagger) & hide cordage, 50'
   09    Human fire-bearer - spear & clay pot of embers
10-11    Human fisherman - harpoon (as javelin) & flint fishhooks, 12
12-14    Human gatherer - knife (as dagger) & basket of vegetables
   15    Human healer - club & bone needle and sinew thread
   16    Human herbalist - club & herbs, 1 lb
17-19    Human hunter - spear & animal pelt
   20    Human lore-keeper's assistant - club & divination bones
21-22    Human orphan - club & weird trinket from former tribe
23-24    Human potter - club & clay, 1 lb
   25    Human shaman's assistant - club & herbs, 1 lb
26-27    Human slave - club & strange-looking rock
   28    Human stargazer - spear & piece of meteorite iron
29-30    Human tanner - dagger & hide armor
31-32    Human weaver - dagger & fabric, 3 yards
   33    Mutant artisan - club & clay pot of ochre paint
34-35    Mutant butcher - flint cleaver (as hand axe) & side of mammoth meat
36-37    Mutant brewer - club & skin of beer
38-39    Mutant canoe-maker - dagger & canoe
40-41    Mutant cord-maker - knife (as dagger) & hide cordage, 50'
   42    Mutant flintknapper - flint hand axe & flint, 1 lb
   43    Mutant herder - staff & elk calf
   44    Mutant fletcher - short bow & flint arrowheads, 20
   45    Mutant scout - spear & piece of signaling quartz
   46    Mutant fire-bearer - spear & clay pot of embers
47-48    Mutant fisherman - harpoon (as javelin) & flint fishhooks, 12
49-50    Mutant gatherer - knife (as dagger) & basket of vegetables
   51    Mutant animal trainer - club & wolf pup
   52    Mutant fowler - sling & feathered cape
   53    Mutant healer - club & bone needle and sinew thread
   54    Mutant herbalist - club & herbs, 1 lb
55-56    Mutant hunter - spear & animal pelt
57-58    Mutant orphan - club & weird trinket from former tribe
59-60    Mutant potter - club & clay, 1 lb
61-62    Mutant slave - club & strange looking rock
63-64    Mutant tanner - dagger & hide armor
65-66    Mutant weaver - dagger & fabric, 3 yards
67-71    Manimal flintknapper - flint hand axe & flint, 1 lb
72-76    Manimal herder - staff & elk calf
75-76    Manimal fletcher - short bow & flint arrowheads, 20
77-78    Manimal scout - spear & piece of signaling quartz
79-83    Manimal animal trainer - club & wolf pup
84-88    Manimal fowler - sling & feathered cape
   89    Plantient flintknapper - flint hand axe & flint, 1 lb
   90    Plantient herder - staff & elk calf
91-94    Plantient fletcher - short bow & flint arrowheads, 20
95-98    Plantient scout - spear & piece of signaling quartz
   99    Plantient animal trainer - club & wolf pup
   00    Plantient fowler - sling & feathered cape

The third and final table uses the occupations found in The Tribe of Ogg. The role of shaman's apprentice is again reserved for pure-strain humans. There were no occupations specific to the demihuman ooloi in this adventure, so as in the first table, all genotypes draw on the same list of occupations.

01-04    Human fisher - spear & string of fish
05-08    Human flint knapper - flint axe & 1d5 stone daggers
09-16    Human gatherer - stone dagger & leather bag
17-26    Human hunter - spear & hunk of dried meat
27-28    Human shaman's assistant - club & fetish object
29-32    Human tanner - club & 1d3 tanned hides
33-36    Mutant fisher - spear & string of fish
37-40    Mutant flint knapper - flint axe & 1d5 stone daggers
41-51    Mutant gatherer - stone dagger & leather bag
52-62    Mutant hunter - spear & hunk of dried meat
63-66    Mutant tanner - club & 1d3 tanned hides
67-69    Manimal fisher - spear & string of fish
70-72    Manimal flint knapper - flint axe & 1d5 stone daggers
73-78    Manimal gatherer - stone dagger & leather bag
79-85    Manimal hunter - spear & hunk of dried meat
86-88    Manimal tanner - club & 1d3 tanned hides
89-90    Plantient fisher - spear & string of fish
91-92    Plantient flint knapper - flint axe & 1d5 stone daggers
93-95    Plantient gatherer - stone dagger & leather bag
96-98    Plantient hunter - spear & hunk of dried meat
99-00    Plantient tanner - club & 1d3 tanned hides

At some point I might try my hand at writing my own alternate occupations table, possibly with slightly modified genotype ratios - but for now I just wanted to make something to facilitate picking occupation and genotype in a single roll, and something that utilizes the two already-existing stone-age occupation tables from DCC.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Campaigns I Want to Run - Dungeons & Decorators

I have no immediate plans to run it, but I rather like the idea of a campaign where the characters are not particularly out to find ordinary, interchangeable gold, but where, instead, they are aesthetes out to find unique biological specimens and objets d'art to wear to parties, stock cabinets of curiosity, and fill their homes with the rarest and most valuable items they can find.
I suppose part of this desire is me wanting to translate the only kind of treasure hunting I actually do - shopping at thrift stores an used book stores - into the goals of a game that is all about treasure hunting, albeit normally of a more mundane and monetary variety.

Part of it is my desire to imagine pretty things, and then imagine finding and collecting those pretty things. And part of it, if I'm being honest, is something like jealousy or wanting to be her when I see news profiles devoted to people who actual lives seem to consist mostly of finding and displaying pretty things to audiences of their friends.

Collectors like Hollister, left, and Porter Hovey, sisters with an appetite for late 19th-century relics like apothecary cabinets and dressmakers’ dummies, are turning their homes into pastiches of the past.
Credit: Michael Weschler for The New York Times

Awhile ago, the Grey Lady had an article about a pair of sisters who collect antiquities.

And of course there was an accompanying slideshow.

The aesthetic here is something I absolutely love, which makes it all the more tempting as a source of inspiration. Some people want their games to feel like a heavy metal album cover; I want mine to feel like a Wes Anderson movie. At some point, I want to run a campaign where the characters wear suits and dresses and "borrowed" military uniforms, where they fight with fencing swords and dueling pistols, and where they gain experience for collecting unique treasures and displaying them to the public. For a campaign like that, you need rumors about treasures to be found, inventories not just for the characters but for their display cases and show houses as well, rules adjudicating the XP attached to monetarily invaluable objects, and additional incentives to show off - NPC rivals seeking to outdo the aesthetes, rules for spellcasting that demand each spell be attuned to a unique object.

Dungeon of Signs has had a couple ideas that work well in this vein. He has a great list of starting equipment for bored aristos gone dungeoneering on a lark, plus a list of possible babysitters retainers for them, upscale carousing results, advice on XP for finding curios and trophies rather than XP for gold, and not one but two examples of this kind of play.

His other really good idea comes from a post about starting magic items for aristocratic heirs. In addition to being a really good list, one that's easy to combine with the other aristocratic starting equipment, there's a great suggestion for these heirs to simply be robbing their own houses, exploring the Ghormanghast-ian depths of their familial estates, and recovering treasures that their own ancestors lost to time and neglect. As someone who has spent a fair bit of time helping her mother clean out her attic, I can't tell you how interesting I think it would be if such an attic were truly enormous, and if the items found there were magic and beautiful and valuable.

From Dungeon of Signs: "Your house has fallen, not once, not even twice, but like a tottering drunk, tumbling endlessly, colliding with fixed obstacles, cowering from imagined enemies and unprepared to face tomorrow. Why do you alone see it? Your elders, the family head, the old retainers, the children, and even your peers are blind, wrapped up in false glories and an imagined past. While they sit in dark worm eaten parlors, clutching the greasy and threadbare arms of their patched tapestried thrones and waiting for the Empire’s return to fortune, you have calmly laid out the need for change. Over meals of what were once decorative carp but are now your rubbery repast carved up on golden plates, you have shouted and raved for action. In the mossy dripping blackness of the overgrown topiary garden you’ve intrigued and schemed."
"Your efforts have come to naught, your warnings, your rumor mongering, your pleas and prayers cannot move the fixed inertia of a Millennium's propriety and tradition. Now there is only flight, clutching poorly prepared supplies and rushing for the unknown world beyond the mansions and spires."

The other option, of course, is not to play a campaign where you steal from your own dead family members to pad out your own estate, but where you play a slightly more conventional campaign where you are robbing other dead families to pad out the estates of today's aristocracy - which does not include you, in this campaign, you're not the elite, you're just their interior decorators.

Fernando Sanchez scours a shop in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for a Venezuelan client’s terra-cotta wall.
Credit: Justin Mott for The New York Times

And of course there's an old New York Times article about that as well.

It has a slideshow too, naturally.

The emphasis here is less on finding one-of-a-kind objects as it is on finding relatively rare building materials in large enough quantities to actually build with them. Tearing up old roads for paving stones for a private driveway, pulling the roofs off old buildings to use as kitchen backsplash tiles, tearing down a millennia-old religious school for the stones to build a garage, extinct animal skins become bathroom wallpaper - these are real examples, and the point is that no "abandoned" building is too sacred, no modern purpose too profane for this kind of treasure hunting. The collectors who hire these kinds of decorators seem to me to take some kind of perverse pleasure in acquiring the most natively important materials and using them in the most trivial ways.

Coins and Scrolls has a couple posts about campaigning in this vein. First he writes about the general prospect of ripping apart a dungeon and carting it off as building material, and then he has a more specific example of disassembling the Castle of Elemental Evil and using the components to build a new fortress.

As is generally true of a game about committing muggings and burglaries - with a side of killing endangered animals and destroying the archaeological record - behavior that I find reprehensible in real life seems like it would make for pretty good campaign fodder. I've already been thinking about how to use rare building materials as a kind of go-to treasure for the architecturally-obsessed Bo-al in my on-again-off-again Island of the Blue Giants campaign.

Reclaimed shutters recline in a Chiang Mai warehouse.
Credit: Justin Mott for The New York Times

A more recent Times article claims to discuss the current fad of tomb-robbing for building materials in China.

As before, the real world details here are just fascinating. Due to China's long history, the country is littered with old tombs. Nearly every estate and plot of land has one, sometimes more than one. Farmers used to consider it a familial duty to guard them, but the destruction of tradition during decades of revolution and re-revolution also destroyed that sense of obligation. Now tombs are a ready supply of dressed stone and other materials. And the high prevalence of art forgery has given rise to a class of wary investors who only want to purchase recently pillaged artifacts to ensure their authenticity and provenance. Meanwhile, the government has stepped up the surveillance of old tombs, the rewards for turning in robbers, and the penalties for robbing.

Again, that's practically a campaign right there.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Terrible Perils of Joining the Whig Party in Scarabae

I played in another online game set in the weird city of Scarabae around a month ago. Here's a link to the referee's session report on Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque.

Since her last adventure - which had resulting in helping out the career of a hated artistic rival (aka Yvanna Gallows, aka really any artist who was still working in the arts rather than being forcibly retired due to illness) - Traviata had shut herself up in her apartment where she could hide from her rival's citywide popularity (and indulge in a bit of hate-listening to the recovered record without anyone else knowing her dirty secret.)

Eventually, Traviata used her downtime to get back in touch with Akiko, the water genasi nurse she'd helped rescue from a contaminated medical clinic. She asked Akiko to amputate the leg that had been scarred by a burrowing parasite, and fit her with the wooden prosthetic she'd taken from the clinic. Akiko was shocked, but performed the surgery gratis as repayment for Traviata's help saving her life.

(I think I managed to surprise the referee, Jack, with this request.)

When Traviata did emerge from her home to go back into the city, she found her neighborhood, the Redgutter, surprisingly quiet and empty. Ordinarily it was abustle with activity at all hours of the day and night. Instead the streets were silent and deserted. Checking her mail, Traviata found an invitation from the tiefling job broker Koska, asking her to attend a meeting of a number of local business owners.

When Traviata arrived, she met Khajj Kahla (a minotaur cleric she'd met once before on a job clearing out a haunted apartment), Gisbert Highforge (a dwarven fighter), and Crumb (a fellow artificer, a kenku who focused on gunsmithing rather than alchemy.) Koska's assembled "chamber of commerce" included Voone Jaskar (the tortle pawnshop owner and go-to fencer of stolen goods) and Wick (a fire genasi who owned the most popular adventuring bar, the Bull Roarer.) All three told a similar story to the gathered adventurers - everyone was missing, no one was left. Jobs were going unfilled with no one to take them, there was no supply of "recovered" artifacts to sell on to Scarabae's legitimate collectors, no one was showing up to share drinks and tall tales of their mighty deeds.

(I don't know if Jack intended it, but this mood eerily matched the feel at the time of one online community for roleplayers that he and I both frequent. There were some very public, very unpleasant arguments between members of the community that led to several of them leaving the public space in the week or so before this gaming session. At that time, there was definitely a feeling that people were disappearing, and the community felt unusually quiet and empty.)
(Koska's situation also matches every referee's worst fear - there are adventures to play, and you're ready to play them, but there are no players to be found, and for a moment at least, it seems like there will never be any players ever again. Again, at the time, this felt like a possible near future for the community.)

Koska swore to her innocence - this wasn't her fault, she wasn't sending everyone off to their deaths underground. Voone Jaskar reported that the last time he'd seen any adventurers selling loot, it was a lone thief trying to hock a box full of white powdered wigs. Wick claimed that after days without customers, she had a single visitor, an out-of-towner elven wizard who insisted he felt a malign otherworldly presence, and who left after a single drink, refusing to stay in a neighborhood he said was cursed.

Wracking their brains for potential contacts they could go to for information, the group decided to pay a visit to Aurulent Masque, a semi-retired drow warlock. She was an ex- (well, mostly ex-) adventurer herself, a hostess of semi-regular salons, and a known mentor and advisor to young adventurers. When they knocked, the found Aurulent all dressed up in her signature yellow gown and gold jewelry, and the poor woman nearly burst into tears at the sight of them. No one had come to see her for weeks! She's been so lonely, and she thought it was somehow her fault no one was coming to see her anymore! Traviata, Khajj, Gisbert, and Crumb were quickly hustled inside Aurulent's house and shown to her her salon, another room all decorated in shades of yellow, perfectly contrasting with Madam Masque's dark drow skin. Aurulent brought out her best detection spells for the occasion, finding the presence, determining that it was alien or even extra-dimensional, and localizing it to the old docks, a section of abandoned wharf and warehouses that was turf to a gang of ratfolk yakuza who styled themselves "the 47 Rodents." The group was glad for the information, but not quite sure how the rats could possibly be responsible for their current situation.

Together with Aurulent, the group walked to Wick's bar, talking loudly all the way about how they had a HUGE advance payment from Koska, how they planned to get BLACKOUT drunk, how they were HEEDLESS of any risk of danger. Their plan - to attract whatever was causing people to disappear - seemed to work. Khajj and Crumb both noticed they were being followed, and when the group got to the bar, they spotted their surveillance - a glassy-eyed halfling wearing a giant white powdered wig, pressing his face against the bar window to watch them. While the others held the spy's attention, Crumb snuck outside, disguised himself with magic, and walked right past the peeping halfling, at the very last moment, snatching the wig to pull it right off his head. He couldn't though, because the wig was clinging to the halfling's head with crab pincers, and the wig, not the halfling, was screaming!

(It's probably good that Crumb was the first person to interact with the wig creatures. Traviata might have just killed the spy if he wouldn't answer her questions, and I think certainly would have put on the wig to use as a disguise to try to infiltrate the 47 Rodents' hideout. Which, as we quickly learned, would have been a HUGE mistake on her part. Fortunately, thanks to Crumb, she never had the chance to make it.)

A brief combat followed, Gisbert defended his friends with his shield, Traviata blasted the wig off the poor man's head, and after a lot of screaming, the creature died. Back inside the bar, they questioned the halfling, who seemed not to have bathed for days. He said he and his friends were at their hideout after a successful burglary adventure, when they got a knock on the door, and found a hand-delivered crate full of white-powdered wigs. They thought it would be funny to try them on, and did, and he doesn't remember anything at all after that. Meanwhile Khajj dissected the monster and saw that it was an crablike alien crustacean growing long white hair from it's hindquarters, and the hair had been styled and coiffed to create the appearance of a wig.

(The appearance of these creatures kind of reminds me of the minogame, mythic Japanese turtles who live a long time, are very wise, and have a luxurious mane of hair growing from the rear of their shells. I absolutely love the idea that you could have a creature that looks like that, then grow its hair out and style it, so that most of the time, it just looks like a giant human hairdo, while still remaining a basically naturalistic creature underneath.)

Khajj cut the hair off the monster, and Traviata used skills she picked up in the opera to refashion the hair back into a wig to disguise the halfling Zillan as though he were still possessed. Aurulent took the body of the creature back to her house to study further. Zillan led the way back to his house, which was empty with no sign of his friends. The group did find the box the wigs came in though - an old tea crate with a return address at the abandoned docks. They traveled to the docks (presumably into the 47 Rodents' territory?) and located the address - a collapsed building. Inside they located the shipping office, where they found a hole in the floor. All the papers in the office related to the tea trade and dated back to when the company was still in business, offering no leads on the current problem. With the building dead silent, it seemed that any answers were going to be found beneath the surface. Khajj led the way down the hole into the underground.

(I had initially been imagining these docks being abandoned for 5-10 years. Jack shocked me when he said everything in the office was over 100 years old. It really changes my view of Scarabae to think that parts of it might have been abandoned, not for decades, but for centuries.)

Down the hole, the party found a circular chamber, with a giant pool of water blocking passage to the passageway visible on the far side. They also found a raft sitting on the still, dust-coated water, and a crack in the wall behind them. Suspecting that a raft-ride across to the other side was a sure chance for ambush, the party sent Traviata - wearing her new cap of water breathing - under the surface to investigate. Sure enough, she spotted a giant's skull that appeared to the hiding place of some kind of creature. Gisbert went under next, with a rope tied around his waist, to act as a fishing lure for the unseen creature, and he succeeded in baiting it to come forward and attack him. For several rounds after that, the party engaged in frantic combat against a giant hermit crab with a huge impenetrable skull-shell. After all that, the group still decided to investigate the cracked wall rather than chance crossing the water.

(Artificers get to make themselves magic items periodically, starting at 2nd level, and Traviata's first creation was the cap of water breathing. I chose it from among the available options because I thought it opened up new avenues of exploration. I kind of like that in this case, all it did was allow us to get ourselves in trouble we would have avoided otherwise. We didn't have to fight the crab monster, and in fact, we never would have encountered it at all if Traviata hadn't gone underwater. The monster had no treasure, and we gained nothing by defeating it. All we did was get into a pointless, dangerous fight that risked our lives and risked alerting the people we were trying to sneak up on.)
(I don't like adventures where everything is like this. I don't like it when all the treasure is worthless or cursed, all the secrets are harmful, every combat is needless and gains you nothing - but, I do think it's good for some adventures to have some areas like this. It makes a place feel more real when it feels like it exists for itself, rather than existing for the players' benefit. Nothing communicates how dangerous the underworld is better than having placed that exist solely to remind you that it's possible to stick your nose somewhere it didn't belong, and that you profit nothing by indiscriminately treating everything like it's there for your benefit. So while I hope that Traviata will eventually be able to use her cap to do some worthwhile underwater maneuvering, I'm okay with her first outing revealing nothing more than a secret room she'd have been better off not finding.)

Winding through the narrow crevasse in the stone wall, the party eventually made their way to a large open chamber filled with colorful mushrooms growing on mounds of dirt. A number of passages branched off from the chamber, and a stream of oily black liquid flowed out of one chamber before branching out to irrigate each of the mushroom mounds. Turning her alchemical eye to the mushrooms, Traviata determined that they were poisonous and would release deadly spores into the air if disturbed. The group decided to investigate the passage that held the source of the poisoned waters, and found that it was flowing out of a statue of a woman holding a skull and a dagger. Khajj couldn't identify the woman as any known deity, but he did spot that she was wearing a furry white cloak - in fact a giant wig monster. The group engaged in some really intense combat after that, and Traviata spent almost all of it pinned to the ground, held fast by a grasping tentacle of white hair. She's lucky the tentacle was just holding her, rather than trying to crush her to death, because she could not for the life of her break free. Khajj, Gisbert, and Crumb laid into the thing with their best attacks, but the wigmother soaked almost all of it up to no obvious ill effect. Eventually the trio's tactics won the day, and the wig monster was crushed under-hoof.

(I'm not sure if the wigmother had damage reduction, a high AC, or just a lot of hit points, but it spent most of the combat appearing to get hit a lot and not reacting to this at all.)

Gisbert used some of his dwarven carving knowledge to examine the statue after the fight, and found both a hidden chamber inside it holding a magical poisonous dagger, and a font that seemed to be producing the black liquid feeding the mushrooms in the next room. Traviata took the dagger and a vial of the liquid for study. In a second chamber off the mushroom hall, they found a haggard man chained to the wall. The man, Gessel, was another adventurer, and he claimed his own friends had knocked him and out dragged him down here while wearing white wigs. The group recovered 5 vials of potions (3 proved to be healing, and 2 to be magical poison) and then sent Gessel though the crack in the wall and encourage him to climb the handholds in the round chamber to meet Zillan in the tea-shipping office.

Investigating the next passage leading off the mushroom hall, the group found a well-appointed bed chamber, and located a chest full of valuables - piles of coins, a pair of ivory dice, an onyx locket, a silk handkerchief, a soapstone pitcher, a feathered owl mask. They also heard a clinking sound and muffled conversation coming through a door connecting to the bedroom. They decided to get the drop on whoever was on the other side, and flung the door open to surprise a shabby-looking man in a red robe and his dinner guests, a trio of white-wigged adventurers. Khajj and Crumb managed to kill the wig-monsters clinging to the elven, human, and dragonborn adventurers' heads, while Gisbert and Traviata worked together to defeat the red-robed cultist. Gisbert used his shield to protect the pair while Traviata stabbed with her new magically-poisoned dagger, eventually dealing him a death-blow. As he died, he gasped out "You fools! It's too late! You can't stop it now!" A perusal of his body turned up a very fine scimitar and pistol, while a cursory search of the room found more creates and barrels, stuffed with adventuring gear, herbs, tobacco, and mead. After the party revived the freed adventurers, they heard a familiar story, that they were kidnapped by friends wearing wigs, and had no memories after their arrival. The elf Zamph, human Golo, and dragonborn Edwyn thanked the group for their rescue, and each hauled a container of booty as they followed the group's directions to the surface.

Exploring more found a another corridor that circled back to the mushroom hall, and then a final passage leading downstairs to a giant prison cell. The room was filled with adventurers - the group recognized many people they knew from the Redgutter neighborhood - all chained to the wall, and mostly unconscious. As they were woken and freed, they told stories of receiving a package full of wigs and trying them on, or else of being ambushed by wig-wearing friends. Eventually, everyone was set free and instructed to pick up the rest of the cargo before climbing back up to the docks. Continuing past the cell, they found a storage room full of bedrolls, a room with hundred-year-old frescoes depicting everyday life in Scarabae, and a final passage that led back to the circular water-filled room.

(The fact that the entire map was a loop was a real relief, because we were really starting to worry about how we'd ever have time to backtrack to the beginning and clear an entire unexplored wing of the complex.)

As the friends, and all the freed prisoners carrying all the recovered loot, returned to Redgutter with the cultist's body, they laughed as the streets once more filled up with noise. Imagine Voone Jaskar's surprise as his shelves filled back up with plundered goodies! Imagine Wick's face as her bar packed in with weary folks eager for food and drink and conversation! The friend went to Koska's house first, to share the good news with her, but they found Koska at her wit's end, pacing and crying. She pointed to a scorched pattern burnt into her floor and stumbled through her story. Men wearing red robed had teleported into Koska's home, kidnapped her daughter, and teleported away!

They took Koska to Aurulent Masque's house, and Aurulent used her magic to interrogate the dead cultist's body. His corpse claimed to be a member of a group called the Children of Fimbul - druids who want to end all civilization. The Children believe that Koska's adopted daughter Yuriko has magical properties that will aid them in completing some important ritual. The corpse's final bit of information is that the ritual will take place across the sea, in the jungles far to the south. Traviata and her friends were struck silent by the magnitude of the task before them, and wondered how they would be able to rescue Yuriko from being sacrificed an ocean away.

(I got the sense from Jack that this news was the culmination of at least a half dozen threads introduced earlier in the campaign. Unfortunately for me, all the clues are from sessions before I started playing. I'll need to read up on his previous Scarabae session reports to find out more about the Children of Fimbul, their alliance with alien mind-controllers, and their plan for Scarabae and Yuriko.)