Thursday, February 6, 2014

Player Map of the Valley

The players began the campaign as life-long residents of Thrayorb village, a hunting and primitive agrarian community. As such, it was reasonable to assume they has some knowledge of the area immediately surrounding the settlement. I provided them with this map at the start of the campaign. Each hex is 2 miles. So far, they've not done much to add to the map in their travels. That will likely come back to haunt them in the future.

Rather than give directions as "north" and "west," The map is aligned with "Sunrise" located at the top of the map and "Sunset" at its bottom. There are six other compass points amongst the Tsali, demonstrated on this really sketchy compass rose.

The wind always blows from "Windward," pushing the regular rain clouds in the direction of "Stormend." The rest of the compass is self-explanatory. It's hardly world-shaking creativity, but I hope it conveys the primitive level of society the PCs are products of, while remaining easy for the players to mentally translate and remember.

Life in the Valley Session #2 (1.26.14)

I’ve had a boatload of work to do prior to the beginning of the 2014 convention season (which starts on February 20th for me at TotalCon 28 in Mansfield, MA. Stop by if you’re in the area!) so forgive the delay. Our next meeting is going to be a playtest of the adventure I’m running at Gary Con VI in Lake Geneva, WI. As such, I won’t be writing a recap of that for fear of spoiling it for anyone planning on playing it in March. The regular campaign resumes in March and recaps will follow. Now, on to the tale already in progress…

The band moved through the early morning forest, slipping stealthily through the grand ferns and moss-covered stones that littered the forest floor. Pushing on in the direction of Risingwind, they hoped they would reach the foothills said to hold the House of Silent Men by nightfall. Each knew that today was a rain day, and the skies would unleash a torrent at midday. It was time to cover ground.

Scarcely an hour had passed when Xamot/Tomax’s sensitive ears detected the tread of light footsteps trailing behind them. A duo of bipedal creatures was in pursuit of the group, moving quietly but quickly through the underbrush. The band turned to face their pursuers, prepping for battle. Jackbo scampered up the bole of a great tree as Joe used his innate camouflage to hide amongst the ferns. Shadow attempted to emulate Jackbo’s climb, but the damp, slimy moss that ringed her chosen tree’s trunk prevented her from climbing. Xamot/Tomax readied his illusion-creating powers, as Shadow decided to forego here climbing to hide behind the mossy tree.

The great fens of the forest erupted with movement as two figures burst from cover. Human in shape, but altered by radiation, these humanoids had tremendous maws filled with twisted teeth, and only shallow divots of flesh in place of their eyes. They were Teeth People! Dressed in preserved killdeer-hide jerkins and carrying spears, the two looked hungry for the meat that walked on two legs.

The cannibal hunters’ hands snapped back, loosing their spears at their chosen targets. One slammed into the tree trunk beside Jackbo, quivering in place from the force of the throw, while the other sailed through the forest gloom to strike Shadow hard in the shoulder. The Tsali human grunted from the impact and stared in shock at the shaft protruding from the wound.

Xamot/Tomax called upon his power to affect others’ minds and conjured up a fierce piercer in his place. The two hunters turned in his direction, drawing knives and gnashing their teeth in anticipation of mutant bear meat. Uh-oh! This was not what the dual-headed mutant had intended!

As the Teeth People descended upon Xamot/Tomax, Joe darted through the underbrush, powering up his electrical capacitors like a small, furry dynamo. The otter closed on the cannibals and launched himself into the air, striking one with the snap of electricity and the sharp smell of ozone. The Teeth Person stumbled, his hair askew and on end, but recovered, ready to fight.

In the tree above, Jackbo pulled the spear from the trunk and then slithered back down to the ground. He charged the non-electrocuted Teeth person, thrusting the spear at the cannibal’s hide-covered body without effect. The engaged Teeth Person had much better luck in return, lunging in to bite Jackbo’s arm with his oversized mouth. The cannibal began worrying the bitten mutant like a dogoid with a bone.

Behind the tree, Shadow pulled the spear from her shoulder and blood began to flow from the fresh wound. Looking about, she saw a plant with broad, puce-colored leaves growing amongst the green ferns. Plucking a large leaf from the plant, she pressed it against the wound, staunching the blood with steady pressure.

Back at the fight, Xamot/Tomax’s second brain conjured up the illusion that it was not one piercer the Teeth People hunters faced, but six! Such a ferocious number of opponents was enough to send the cannibals into flight, but their retreat would not be so easily accomplished. Xamot/Tomax and Joe surrounded the hunter by them, jabbing at it with spear and snapping at it with sharp teeth. The other hunter dashed into the forest, but Jackbo, now enraged by the wounds he suffered, sprinted after the fleeing cannibal. The two dodged over fallen logs and broken stones as they ran, one attempting to reach safety, the other berserk with rage and craving vengeance.

Xamot/Tomax and Joe brought down their foe after a protracted fight, dropping the cannibal’s body onto the forest floor. The duo turned to see Jackbo disappearing into the forest shadows and quickly sprinted after their friend. Shadow, her wound only now ceasing to bleed, remained with the slain Teeth Person hunter.

Jackbo’s fleet feet ran down the Teeth Person, who turned to fight for his life. With gnashing teeth he lunged at his opponent, but Jackbo, moving faster and stronger than any normal humanoid, dodged the snapping attack to plunge his spear into the cannibal’s side. The tide of the battle turned against the Teeth Person, once a creature of horrific myth now proven all too mortal. Joe and Xamot/Tomax rushed into the fight, and with three-against-one odds, the outcome was assured.

Meanwhile, back at the site of the original confrontation, Shadow was surprised to hear the sound of someone (or something) clearing its throat with a guttural cough. Whirling around (and wincing at the fast turn), she gasped at the sight of three 7’ tall Wolfoids standing at the verge of the forest gloom. Two bore bows with arrows knocked, while the third carried the longest knife Shadow had ever seen. All three were dressed in stiff panels of plant fiber woven together in complex patterns.

“You are not welcome here,” said the knife-wielding Wolfoid.

“Alright, I’m leaving,” Shadow replied, already backpedaling away from the furry trio.

The Wolfoids wouldn’t let matters end so quickly, and questioned the Tsali human about her and her friends’ presence in the forest. The other three, noticing the sudden arrival of the newcomers, sprinted back to join in the conversation.

As the two groups parleyed, it was discovered that the Wolfoids were also experiencing a strange illness amongst their kind, but not nearly as serious as that afflicting the Tsali. Like the sickness plaguing Thrayorb, the disease appeared in conjunction with the loud thunderclap that occurred three days ago. The Wolfoids informed the travelers that the lands to Sunset were held by the mutant wolves and they were not welcome there, but the canine trio helpfully informed the band that they had wandered slightly off-course and must correct their journey if they were to arrive at the House of Silent Men. The Wolfoids warned the group that if they had continued in the direction they were traveling, they’d leave the forest and stray close to “land that kills.”

The two groups parted, the band pleased to escape further bloodshed. Before heading off in the correct direction, the Tsali villagers stripped the slain Teeth People of their goods, acquiring two strange outfits of stiff killdeer hide and a pair of knife. The cannibal hunters also carried dried meat, but Shadow and the mutant humanoids were wary of eating jerky of unknown provenance from the Teeth People. Joe, harboring no such qualms, nibbled at the dried meat and announced it tasted like frog. The band brought the dried provision along, ostensibly for Joe’s consumption.

Traveling along their new route, the group passed a few hours without event, finding a large, gray-green fir tree with broad skirt just before the rainfall began. The four rested beneath the branches of the tree, safe and dry amidst the torrential rains and rested in preparation for the latter half of their trip. If all went well, they expected to arrive at the House of Silent Men by nightfall.

Once the rain ended, the group resumed their trip and, after a few more hours, found themselves facing a 60’ high escarpment that rose before them like a wall. Neither the Knower of Things nor the Wolfoids had mentioned such an obstacle. Trees grew both atop the cliff and at its base, and it seemed to extend from Settingwind to Risingstorm as far as they could see. With their path limited to either scaling the escarpment or following it, the group chose to keep their feet on the ground and headed toward Risingstorm along the base of the cliff.

After a half hour of walking and night fast approaching, the escarpment showed no sign of ending. Joe elected to scout by climbing one of the taller trees in the vicinity. His sharp claws and nimble body soon saw him atop a great tree looking in all directions. The escarpment did continue a vast distance, but entered into a clearing not far from where the group now stood. From the treetop, the otter could also see a broad swath of foothills on the tableland atop the cliff. It was these hills which they sought! He clambered down to inform his friends.

A quick conference decided the group would investigate the clearing ahead, for no other reason than a change of scenery and perhaps to find a means to scale the cliff. Pushing forward, they reached the edge of the clearing and the broad meadow it contained just as the sun slipped below the horizon. In the gloaming, the band spotted a herd of killdeer grazing in the meadow. Numbering over a dozen, the herd contained several bucks, known by the tribesmen to be armed with venomous antlers.

Joe, being smallest and able to camouflage himself, was sent ahead, scurrying close to the cliff wall. The killdeer, at some distance away, paid no attention to the small mutant otter. Joe discovered the escarpment made an abrupt turn after a short distance and a cave mouth pierced the cliff at that point. It was a very odd cave, being comprised entirely of straight lines and right angles, but at the very least it presented shelter for the night. He returned to his friends and the group moved towards the cave.

As the quartet entered the meadow, the killdeer bucks smelled the tribesmen on the wind and moved to defend the herd. Nine poison-antlered deer leaped through the meadow intent on impaling the Tsali with their toxic horns. Xamot/Tomax, knowing that if the alpha buck could be startled into flight it would take the rest of the males with him, threw a powerful illusion of a brushfire at the largest male in the group. The realism of the mental image turned the buck in its tracks and it darted off into the woods, the rest of the herd following close behind.

Joe probed ahead with his telepathy, scanning the cave for active minds. Dimly, at the edge of his mental feelers, he detected the angry thoughts of a creature: “They’re coming into my home. I hear them. I’m going shoot the first one I see!” Strangely, Joe found himself intensely loathing the creature whose thought he intruded upon, more so than even its desire to harm him could account for. Joe spread the word to his fellows and the group sprang into action.

Xamot/Tomax, warned of the creature and his weapon, nevertheless decided surprise was the group’s greatest asset and leaped directly into the mouth of the cave, screaming! There was the twang of a bow string and an arrow whistled by both of his heads into the meadow beyond. He, too, felt himself gripped by a fierce hatred of the cave’s occupant. The rest of the group, seeing the mysterious creature was now holding an empty bow, rushed into the cave to dog-pile on their opponent.

The group discovered a small, perfectly rectangular space beyond the cave mouth. Standing in the middle of the weird cavern was a bipedal feline with tawny fur and dressed in shorts and vest. The tall puma creature struggled to reload his bow as the party engaged him. Something about the mutant cat aggravated the band and each felt themselves give in to a deep-seated hatred for the beast. In short order, the cat was laid low by their attacks.

Their opponent slain, the band examined the bizarre cave and discovered the floor and walls were constructed of fitted ceramic tiles. A rectangular groove and smaller square studded with depressed circles occupied the rear of the cave. Xamot/Tomax and Joe busied themselves with examining the odd grooves and depressions, while Shadow and Jackbo stripped the dead mutant of his gear. Aside from the bow and quiver of arrows, the duo found a woven bag tied to its waist and an unusual bracelet wrapped around its wrist.

Joe discovered a small black rectangular slot next to the depressed circles at the same time Jackbo examined the bracelet. Made from a stretchy cloth and secured with a metal fastener, it bore a rectangular patch of brown material stitched into the cloth. Shadow claimed another knife from the bag and discovered a square box filled with small spear heads of a type the group had never before seen.

After some consultation and experimentation, Joe and Jackbo discovered that placing the brown part of the bracelet into the rectangular slot caused a hidden door to open in the rear wall! Beyond it was a small, square room brightly lit by shining rods in the ceiling. Moments later, hidden musicians began playing a soft, jaunty tune ( Joe scampered inside only to be surprised when the door closed behind him, trapping him in the small space! Jackbo fumbled with the bracelet outside, reinserting it into the slot and causing the door to reopen. Joe rushed out rejoined the band.

Xamot/Tomax, with his amazing hearing, entered the small room to discern the location of the hidden musicians. The strange song came from the ceiling of the tiny chamber and Xamot/Tomax jabbed his spear into the metal roof, trying to get the musicians to reveal themselves. His efforts caused a small panel to pop open, showing darkness beyond.

Outside, Joe puzzled over the box of spear heads Shadow had discovered. After pondering the box’s design, he announced the box was part of some spear-throwing device and was useless by itself. The group agreed to keep a sharp lookout for such a wondrous item in their travels. As the hour was late and the band tired, the mysterious door in the small room’s ceiling would be left for the morning. Kindling a fire in the tile-lined cave, the group bedded down for the night.

The group awoke refreshed the following morning, but were anxious to locate the House of Silent Men. Their supposed two day journey had stretched into three, and the group needed to acquire the potent medicine for their sick fellow tribesmen and return as fast as possible. Gathering their gear, the quartet opened the small room and climbed through the tiny hatch in the ceiling.

Beyond was a tall shaft leading 60’ straight up. A single, amber-hued light provided illumination and a number of horizontal rods set into the wall led in an upwards-fashion towards the top of the shaft. Xamot/Tomax, with Joe on his shoulders, began the climb up the horizontal rods, with Shadow and Jackbo following behind. As the keen-eared mutant climbed, he detected the sound off drumming and chanting coming from the top of the shaft. Intrigued, he climbed closer as Joe extended his telepathy outwards.

The combined extraordinary senses of the two identified the chanters as Teeth People who were whipping themselves into a feeding frenzy. Four of the cannibal waited off to the side of the shaft’s apex and were excited for a meal that was about to come. They had captured a poor wanderer and were in the processes of preparing him for eating. The band agreed that the Teeth People needed to be dealt with before they devoured their captive.

Springing into action, the foursome reached the shaft’s top and discovered a closed door on the right wall. Xamot/Tomax pried the door open as Joe leapt inside, snapping his jaws and charging up his electrical glands. Shadow and Jackbo rushed in behind them.

The space beyond the door was a ruined building, the roof partially collapsed and granting a view of the sky above. Four Teeth People lurked inside, surprised at the interruption. One of the cannibals banged away on an all-too human skin drum, while another turned a large spit set up above a low fire. Strapped to the spit was a creature made unrecognizable by the restraints and BBQ rub that covered his body.

The surprised cannibals put up a stiff fight, but victory ultimately went to the traveling tribesman. As the last of the cannibals fell, the four turned their attentions to the would-be meal still lashed to the spit…