Session 25 - Of Trolls and Men: The Crustacean Manifesto
Foreword: Heavy emotions this session - we were down a player and for some reason I had a bit of an odd feeling.
Timekeeping: Session started 10/04/2022, ended on 13/04/2022
Characters: Sixtus Sunwalker (H P3), Milton North (H F3), Maethedir (E F2/MU2)
Downtime Adjudication: Milton recuperated after going unconscious for a week. The party relaxed in Stoutholm for their downtime of 10 days.
The game opens up with monthly upkeep. Nobody had enough money for themselves let alone their henchmen. All of their henchmen finally have enough of the lackluster treasure gains and the failed upkeep was the last straw - they all leave them. Since they couldn't pay all their upkeep I request all their character sheets and roll to see if any items had broken due to failure to be maintained. Sixtus' Footman's Mace, Maethedir's Potion of Animal Control, and Sack, as well as Milton's Quiver, Large Crossbow, and Bastard Sword were all broken. The players begrudgingly accept upkeep costs, but I think it would help them a lot to read Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser to appreciate what they are trying to simulate. It is obvious however that they 1) take wealth from PCs which 2) encourages adventuring.
Finesstro the Nimble's PC was away this session too, so he would not be partaking in any adventuring. Now, I had spent some time preparing more of the dungeon I was certain the players would delve - they finished last session having just scoped it out, they were two days from a city but in a "safe" place right next to the dungeon they could restock up at, but no... As per the rule of Total Player Autonomy they decide they want to go back to a city and do 'Bounty Hunter Work' to make some coin before they go on wilderness expeditions. I'm confused but put all my prep away and crack open the DMG. Finesstro went with them, thus they had his map and made it back to the city unscathed, arriving on the 11/04/2022...
The party got to Underland relatively late, so they went to the Giant's Shin and rested for the night. There was some banter and conversation as the tavern was surprisingly bustling with what appeared to an insurgence of adventurer-types. They heard that the Duke was having trouble on two fronts - armed red men were harrying villages to the south-west, while Lizard Men were taking sacrifices from farmsteads to the north-west. The party didn't care, and rested.
Everyone hikes to the Guard House. This is the first time anyone actually mapped the city. It takes ages to travel using dungeon movement rates while mapping as specified in the PHB. They eventually make it - the guard presents them a 'lucrative' job - there is a cult on the Street of the Gods that is breaking the protocol and disrupting status quo by preaching and harassing people outside of the street devoted to it. This is a no go. So far they haven't been violent just annoying. 10gp per cultist 100gp for the leader, dead or alive.
So the party hatches some scheme involving the party disguising themselves and tipping off cults for information about this particular one (known as the Cult of Farglegand - their followers wear rainbow harnesses and are generally Chaotic). The Paladin was to go in the lead, Detecting Evil on each stall to make sure they didn't donate to any evil religions. Anyway, the plan doesn't go anything like this - Firstly, they run into a press gang on the way, who are quick to leave them alone upon finding out a Paladin is in the party. Secondly, the Paladin found his deities stall (at the upper rung - they are a dominant religion in Thropsford but only a high-end cult in Underland) and the priest there tells him the cult in question are at the lower end. Maethedir tried talking to a priest from the Cult of Yama's Water Buffalo who couldn't look past the fact that Maethedir was a godless elf. They return to the Giant's Shin with this information and plan on working tomorrow. Sixtus calmly dismantles a young liar's fanciful tales of dragon-slaying, while simultaneously complimenting and motivating a rat-catcher of 27 years that he can always grow. The party also heard that Sunland had finished it's palisade (which Sixtus paid half of) and wanted to mine stone to the south, but were having troubles with monsters there. The party puts this info on the back-burner, and rest.
The party hits leg to the Street of the Gods, and they run into an old henchman of Milton's, who is peddling his proto-god Issek of the Jug. This henchman, Orfel, had left after Milton last died. He was sorry, and gave them some useful info about the Farglegandians. Their leader is called the Big Fargooble and he has 10 followers. As per the hierarchy of the Street, this is enough info for them to find the stall.
The party apprehends the leader when he is alone, listening to his ramblings about Chaos awakening recently, something to do with 'amorphous fluidity and rigid conformity clashing'. Milton related this complicated concept to feces and urine. After this conversation, a quick and decisive employment of the Grappling Rules saw the wild cult-leader in ropes. Sixtus waited at the stall for followers to return - he ends up capturing one and killing another who tried to overbear him. All told, they net 120gp for a job well done. Why a level 3 party is happy with this after previous hauls is beyond me, but anyway. They also heard there was some trouble in the sewers - they infer this to mean a blocked passage. Taking the entrance north of the Giant's Shin they enter the very same room their evil PCs entered almost a year ago...
They are in a 30x30 room with a door to the north-west, a passage where laughter can be heard to the east, and roaring water to the south. They go east. They try to investigate the laughter which is just above a small bridge over some flowing sewerage. It stops, but starts back up. This goes nowhere, so they continue - eventually coming to a crossroads. Sixtus falls in a hidden, spiked pit and takes 8 damage! After this shenanigan, they continue, and follow some long sewer tunnel for ages, hoping to find some Mongrel Men (now known as Pit Men™) who are accepted citizens of the city after some Patron dealings last year. They speculate the sewer troubles are related to troubles they might be having (which may be related to Lizard Men troubles that the evil PCs in all likelihood instigated a long time ago). Anyway, they have no luck, but do come across a collapsed tunnel wall leading into some ancient speleothem-filled cave. There is a stone staircase leading up to a platform, about 10' high. They ascend - it has a huge (10' diameter) statue head of reddish-brown colour, with a dominant hooked nose and vacant eyes, about 3/4 buried in the earth. Maethedir checks it closer and finds a hidden lever at the nape of the neck. The party rigs up some rope contraption and pulls it - a huge earthshaking event occurs for about 5 minutes straight. Then nothing.
The party continues into this cave system, through a rotten wooden door. They come to a very obvious pit into darkness with wooden planks across it. Sixtus walks it fine. Then he ties a rope around himself and throws it to Milton. Milton steps on it and breaks the wood, but is saved by the Paladin's smart idea. He made his save to hold onto the lantern. Finally, they throw the rope to Maethedir (looping it twice so it is twice as thick/strong). The intent is for him to jump and them to pull him. The rope doesn't break and they make it across. Shortly after, they find a huge metal door bolted from their side. It has a rotten sign with a skull painted on it. They are in something of a rough-hewn mining tunnel with scaffolding along the way. They continue, coming to a crossroads, and keep going the way they are - busting open a locked door to some sort of mining equipment room. Everything is super old - and there is a desk with a huge ledger on it as well as an array of huge red-brown pincers on the table, about twice the size of a human hand.
A perusal of the ledger shows mining operations documented as far back as year 876! That's 161 years ago in the campaign. However, there is a disturbing journal entry sitting within detailing a warning to all - do not pull the lever on the head of the statue, lest you unleash the humanoid crustacean men who are wont to violence in the presence of silver and women. The players all go "Oh shit". They grab the ledger which, after some random jokes about Jordan Peterson and lobsters, leads them to call it 'The Crustacean Manifesto'. Next, they gather some timbers to board that pit back up, and then explore a few other tunnels. There are some more natural caves with the bodies of deceased small humanoids and ruined mining equipment, but otherwise all pathways are caved-in. So they leave. Before they do this, they knock on the huge metal door... A strange clicking sound like the Predator can be heard. They knock again and a huge dent is left in after something big rammed into it. It's time to go. They kick away the boards and Maethedir throws a bead from his necklace of missiles, burning up two supports and half-collapsing the tunnel in front of the door.
There is debate about what to do next. Go back to the surface and warn the city, perhaps netting some coin for the claws and manifesto? There are some concerns about the... Integrity... Of the Duke, however, so they stay for some more exploration. This section is pretty sparse, except for one room which has a ring of various cock-roach boxing rings, with little cockroach gloves, portraits of victorious roaches, and so on. They end up back where they entered - there is a door to the north-west which opens up. Straight ahead is another door which is locked but I just upped the open-doors requirement to a d12 since it's pretty old anyway. They bust it down in a timely fashion - no random encounters so far surprisingly. This changes soon...
The room is some sort of alchemy lab. The walls have chains and shackles with skeletons, a table with two potions on it, and a trunk of vials of some milky fluid. The characters take some of this, and go and try and bust another door in here open. They are determined to smash it open, and spend a good 10 minutes attempting to open it. I'm just rolling wandering monster checks left and right. Finally it gives. They hear a squelching slurping behind them, from the way they came in, but it is beyond the lantern light. They take up formation at the doorway, backs into the unexplored corridor, when these slime-ridden kobold/goblin things come charging out. It's a meat-grinder. Sixtus Sunwalker has an AC1 blocking the doorway and only 2 of these things can fit at once, so he's not getting hit at all, while Maethedir is just nuking themwith his Guisarme from second rank. This continues... However... There was more than 1 random encounter.
|how they wish it went
Melee continues... The troll is regenerating - it doesn't seem to quite as much as it's receiving but it just isn't enough when Milton is cut down. Rather than have their bodies eaten by the thing, Maethedir decides he will throw the whole necklace at it (he's within the blast). He rolls to-hit, and in this case I give him a chance by using the missed trajectory rules for oil flasks etc. It doesn't go his way, and ends up being short. Him and the troll, and everything in that corridor, are totally incinerated. And so ends the tale of the trio - the first TPK of the campaign, on level 3 characters that had been there since the first session over a year ago. That night, the citizens of Underland reflected on the strange earthshaking and explosions beneath them, wondering what other grim event they herald...
Treasure & XP: Not Applicable
Character Performance Ratings: Not Applicable
Downtime Requests: Not Applicable
Comments: This was an emotional game and I felt truly upset at the outcome - these were the first, and most prominent and influential characters, in the campaign. Unlike the evil PCs, who everyone accepted could die at any moment, likely deserving it, these guys were the heroes who should triumph! They had altered the fate of the realm, saved the dwarves from invasion, liberated the backwater hamlet of Steemham (reformed to become the thriving town of Sunland) and more... But no more. Though tragic, I quickly moved on as it is the nature of the game. The take-away observation here is that, the fact that it was jarring and upsetting, meant that it was significant. If I had altered things to save the party, it would have diminished the value of their achievements, to the point of it being nothing more than my own fan-fiction. The players tried their best, but today it wasn't enough. Their characters ashes pave the sewers beneath Underland, an eternal reminder of the mortality of us all.
Also, I must roll to see what items were incinerated.. Perhaps some choice things may be recovered.