Friday, November 23, 2018

Session Report - Descend into Brimstone - 2 Nov 2018

Archibald (innkeeper, 1st level Zombie)
played by American John

Nell (innkeeper, 2nd level Warrior)
played by Todd

Chaus Hussar (0th level cavalryman)
played by Peter

Detective Guillermo "the Bull" (man-at-arms)
NPC ally

Caspar, Melchior, and Abendego (magicians)
Salma and Penelope (acolytes)
NPC ... allies?
Session 7
The small pilgrimage arrived at the demon-shrine, an ancient pueblo building inside a large cave. The crowd of spectators stopped a few steps behind the adventurers, and whispered amongst themselves about the site before them. Confronted with the shrine, standing on the very doorstep of a human sacrifice, Archibald, Chaus Hussar, and Nell felt indecisive. Nell turned to the nearest Mason, Abendego, "Now, remind me again why we're doing' this sacrifice? What are we lookin' to accomplish?" Abendego explained that the architecture of the West is boring and undeveloped, Hezzemuth, as a queen of the ants, is sure to be a builder, certain to build great things, and that he and his colleagues want to be part of it. Melchior leaned over to chime in that the sisters had promised them that Hezzemuth would reward them with special demon's eyes.
Nell took all this in, then asked "Now, remind me again who these sisters are?" Melchior repeated the story of how they found the shrine while looking for interesting architecture in the Maw, and that in the shrine they met the two Mexican sisters who inducted them into Hezzemuth's cult. When the Illuminati sent an assassin from back east to kill them, the sisters somehow foresaw the assassin, and gave the Freemasons the advice they needed to get the drop on the assassin and capture him.
Nell, Archibald, and Chaus Hussar debated what to do. They settled on the idea that it would be like going to see a Vaudeville act at a music hall, and decided to go ahead and enjoy the show. Nell still felt conflicted, and called back to the crowd to explain that the Masons wouldn't be performing the sacrifice themselves, it would be the sisters ("The beautiful sisters!" chimed in Abendego) but this information did not deter the crowd.
The adventurers entered the shrine. They saw a giant pool of water, yellow with sulfur, and smelled brimstone in the air. They saw the giant soldier ant that'd killed Archibald, lurking at the far back of the room. The Masons led them past the pool through a doorway to the right, into a large hall with a high ceiling, held aloft by wooden pillars. At the front of the room was a stone altar with a man bound and gagged to the stone. He was flanked by two beautiful Mexican sisters and two stone sculptures of Hezzemuth, marble images that cast her as a Greek goddess holding tools like the plumb bob, the ruler, the triangle. The crowd filed in, and all eyes were on the bound man. They edged to the back of the room, trying to stay as far from the bloodshed as possible. ("Ohhh, you mean this is COLLEGE college!")
The Freemasons took their place at the front of the room, standing around the altar. The sisters, Salma and Penelope, addressed the crowd. "Ladies and gentlemen! Tonight, you will witness a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! The queen, Hezzemuth the Painmistress is coming to earth!" While the crowd was in awe of the sisters, Archibald, Nell, and Chaus Hussar whispered among themselves. They saw another door on the back right-hand side of the room. They crept over, sidling between the other onlookers, and pulled the door open just far enough to slip through. Chaus Hussar went ahead while Archibald and Nell stayed to guard the door.
Suddenly, chaos erupted in a matter of moments. One member of the crowd came forward and threw back the hood cloaking his face - it was Detective Guillermo "the bull"! "Tonight?" he yelled, "Tonight you sons of bitches are going to pay for your crimes!" He fired his handgun at the sisters, but only hit the wall behind them. In the other room, Chaus Hussar entered a dusty, disused space with another stone altar and another pair of statues, these showing Hezzemuth as a cruel smiling woman with razor teeth, licking blood from a dagger, and holding a whip, a flail, and a sword. As he stepped forward to investigate, he heard the noise from the hall ... and stepped into a bear trap. Nell heard Chaus Hussar scream in pain and ran through the door to help, shouting "Save Guillermo!" over her shoulder to Archibald. The Freemasons rushed forward to detain the detective, and Caspar stabbed him in the shoulder. Archibald lurched forward, but his new zombie body was too slow. Salma made beckoning motions with her hands, and said in a powerful voice "Come now detective, you don't want to hurt us." Guillermo stopped struggling against the Masons, his arms went limp, his eyes went blank. In a voice like talking in his sleep he said "I will come to you now. I don't want to hurt you." He walked to the front of the room with Archibald too slow behind him, and Penelope slit the detective's throat before plunging her knife into the bound man's chest.
There was a thunderclap and blinding flame as a demon tore through the wall of reality and into the room. The crowd panicked and tried to rush for the exit, shoving and jostling in a frightened herd, as Archibald backpedaled for the door his friends had disappeared into. Hezzemuth laughed and laughed, lashing out into the crowd again and again with her whip. Each time it cracked another onlooker was torn apart, their bodies practically exploding under the force of the demon queen's wrath. The last thing Archibald saw as he backed through the door was the Freemasons' eyes suddenly glowing with the light of hellfire. "My eyes!" they shouted, "I can truly see!"
In the dusty room, it took Nell and Chaus Hussar several tries to free his leg from the bear trap. They froze when they heard the commotion in the other room, and Nell drew a bead on the door as Archibald came through. She wiped her brow and holstered her pistol. "Mr Archibald!" she scolded, "I nearly shot you!" They could hear Hezzemuth's whip cracking and her horrible laughter as the remaining members of the crowd screamed in fear and agony. After getting free and wrapping a bandage around his leg, Chaus Hussar put the bear trap in his bag and moved to get a closer look at the altar and its horrid statues. Archibald noticed that the real Hezzemuth looked much more similar to these gruesome visages than she did to the neo-classical statues in the main hall.
Chaus Hussar tried to topple one of the statues, hoping it might somehow break Hezzemuth's power, but he had to rock it on its base to make it move, and it fell forward on him instead, pinning him to the floor. At the same time, the other statue came to life and moved toward the trapped man. Archibald touched his demon ore necklace, the one that bound his soul to his dead body, and projected his own ghost temporarily into the room. Archibald's un-dead flesh was grey, his posture poor, his movements slow and jerky - but the ghost that appeared was like an idealized version of him as he'd been in life, and his flesh fell to the floor like a discarded cloak as the ghost emerged. He tangled with the statue, distracted and passing through it as Nell worked to free Chaus Hussar. As soon as she got him out, the both set the statue back upright, and the one Archibald was fighting abruptly reverted to perfect stillness.
The sounds from the other room had quieted, so the three decided to make a break for it. When they re-entered the hall, they saw the soldier ant blocking the far door and a few survivors cowering against the back wall amidst a charnelscape of severed limbs and spilled blood. Archibald picked up a severed arm. The demon Hezzemuth stared at Nell. "Wouldst thou join me, Sweet Nell?" the demon's voice boomed, "Wouldst thou become my disciple?" Archibald threw the arm over the ant's head into the other room, and the great beast turned to follow the snack. Nell turned to the survivors "Get on now! This here's your chance!" They heard a splash as the ant charged into the sulfurous pool. The friends and the few survivors ran for the door, and found the entry room completely empty with no sign of the giant ant. They felt confused, but didn't stop to investigate the source of their good fortune, but rushed onward, back through the Maw, back to the elevator to the Gallows. "You know," said Archibald, "I'm getting tired of giant ants." The others nodded in agreement as they trudged.
It was evening as the group finally made their way to the surface. A few others must have escaped ahead of them, because everyone in town, from the elevator operator onward, seemed to be aware of what had transpired. The bartender at the Gallows offered the a round of stiff drinks. "Shoulda known that you all was the real heroes in this town," she said, commiserating with Nell. "Them Freemasons musta bamboozled us all somehow. I guess them preachers was right about that demon, tryin'a talk some sense into us." Archibald contemplated his drink. "Yes, and to think, it only took dozens of deaths to realize human sacrifice is wrong."
After their drinks, Chaus Hussar suggested going to rob the Freemason's hotel room, and Archibald and Nell agreed. The hotel manager said "Of course, I could never watch someone rob my customers, no matter how odious they are," then unlocked the room door and walked away. They found some spare clothes, and most importantly, the three Masons' spellbooks. One book contained a spell to save a person from falling, another a spell to help read other magical writing, and the third spell to inscribe magical runes. Chaus Hussar decided to try to learn magic, and wanted to keep two of the books. The group agreed that they could probably trade the final book to Pemberton Nimby in exchange for something made from the fossil they'd brought him. Nell mentioned she might like to get out of town for awhile, maybe stay away from the Maw and look for adventure somewhere else. She remembered a fairy tale she'd heard as a girl, the story of the Gold Soul Mine where one day all the miners vanished and all the townspeople left, and only their ghosts still worked the mines...
demon eyesight x3 (effects TBD)
stolen spellbooks x3 (Feather Fall, Read Magic, Runic Alphabet - Mortal)
Guillermo "the Bull" (sacrificed to demon)
unnamed sacrificial human (sacrificed to demon)
about 15 spectators from the Gallows (sacrificed BY demon)
4 XP for participating in sacrifice/summoning
1 XP for bear trap
1 XP for living statues
1 XP for giant soldier ant
1 XP for robbing Freemasons
Total: 9 XP for Archibald and Nell, flat 5 XP for Chaus Hussar for finishing funnel
Running graveyard (and session of death)
Detective Guillermo "the Bull" the NPC Mexican police-captain (7), Bjornk the hunter (6), Meriwether the 1st level Cleric (5), Archibald the 1st level Thief (3), Officer Shia "the Beef" the NPC Mexian police-officer (2), Daniel the plumber (2), Officer Benicio "the Bull" the NPC Mexican police-officer (2), Luther the factory-hand (2), Jed the miner (1), Henry the huckster (1), Lilly the clerk (1), Bill the livery-stabler (1), Harry the butcher (1), Rusty the auctioneer (1)
My main goal going into this session was to preserve my players' ability to decide how they would interact with the human sacrifice / demon summoning scenario. I was willing to let them be spectators, participants, or opponents, but I didn't want to force them into any of those roles. By that measure, I felt like this session was a success. I think a couple of my players felt bad afterward for having take a little while to decide what they wanted their characters to do, but from my perspective, the important thing was that they weren't forced (or rushed) into doing anything they didn't want. And as I said, deciding they just wanted to watch the sacrifice and summoning was, from my perspective, a completely valid decision for them to make. 
I can recall a couple times as a player, including once when John was the ref, where what I really wanted to do was watch one monster fight another monster so I didn't have to fight either of them - and in retrospect, I can see that the judges were doing the same things I did here, kind of slow-rolling it and checking in often to make sure the players were still on-board with a spectator role in the scene. In fact, the one thing I wish I'd handled differently was the combat between Guillermo and the sisters (who, yes, were Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz). Again, I made decisions about what each of the NPCs was going to do, then had my players roll the dice. This was slower than me rolling the dice myself, but it didn't really constitute meaningful participation in the combat, I don't think. In retrospect, I wish I'd rolled for myself so I could have narrated a little faster, or assigned each player a faction (sisters, masons, and Guillermo) and let them control them fully. (Also, man!, that whole thing could have played out differently if Guillermo had hit someone during the surprise round, or not ended up last in the initiative order, or succeeded his saving throw against being charmed.)
This session felt like the end of one chapter and the start of something new for the campaign. I think my players want to branch out. The goal of the megadungeon mine is to be the default campaign activity. If you can't think of what to do, you go down into the mine, and you find something that sends you on a quest. Then you complete the quest, and unless that turned up new leads, go back into the mine for something else. In the original BPBM campaign where I was a player, finding demon ore often served as the reason for a quest, because we had to find someone who could turn it into a magic item, and then do them a favor. The other way we got embroiled in a quest was finding a letter from a hostage, which eventually led to us mounting a rescue. I think my players liked going on the quest for Nimby, and want more of that sandbox style play. And I think they want to see more of the world. This has got me thinking about the limits of a procedurally generated dungeon, how large it can be, and how much variety it needs to stay interesting. The next place they're off to is Goodberry Monthly's "Goldsoul Mine" dungeon.
I liked Peter's idea to go rob the Freemason's hotel room. We rolled randomly for the spells there at the table. At the end of the night, Peter also rolled to find his wizard spells, and got Color Spray, Sleep, and Spider Climb, the lucky devil. Each time my players have found a magical item, I've had to decide what it does. When they trade the spellbook to get back the fossils, I've decided that they're going to turn into a dragon!

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