Archive for June, 2017

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 44: Heart of Darkness

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on June 18, 2017 by Carl

The Innkeeper, a tall rangy fellow with a shock of greying hair, whistles to himself as he bustles around the Devil’s Riddle inn, tidying and cleaning. Despite the lack of customers due to the desertion of the village of Tylon, Jeden is content. He has his health and he has his inn. What more could a man ask?

The scraping of wood from down in the cellar wakes him from his happy reverie. “Mistress Lisandra? Master Rufus? Back so soon? I hope you gave those damnable creatures a taste of their own…”

He tails off as the cellar door opens. Three gaunt, black-cloaked figures step into the room, one moving to block the only other exit. “Oh blessed Saviour preserve me!” whispers the innkeeper in horror, the colour draining from his face. The dishcloth falls unnoticed from between nerveless fingers.

One of the robed figures approaches him. There is nothing hurried about its movements, no haste as it reaches up and pulls back its hood to reveal the dead-eyed stare and bloodless grin of the creature that used to be the bookseller.

“So good to see you again, innkeeper.” Its voice is low and rasping, and something in it’s tone chills Jeden still further. It cocks its head to one side. “I trust my room is as I left it?”

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 43

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on June 18, 2017 by Carl

“First thing’s first, Fyn. Armour back on before we go anywhere.”

The group quickly follow the Blademaster’s instructions, and once ready he speaks again. “It’s hard to say whether our best chance of finding our foes lies up these stairs or deeper into the tunnels. But I say we head up; what think you, Lisandra?”

“I’m inclined to agree my friend; if nothing else it may provide us with a better understanding of our whereabouts if the steps lead to the surface. We we know there are tunnel entrances at the monastery, the inn and also a smuggler’s cove further south at the coast. Is that right Fyn?”

Fyn looks at her, puzzled for a moment. “Oh, you mean the edge. Yes, that’s right. I’m not sure where we might be right now, but it makes sense to find out. Lead on Rufus.”

The steps lead upwards for some distance. Eventually Rufus and Fyn find themselves facing a well-made wooden door. However much of the ceiling of the tunnel has collapsed, and the door is blocked by heavy masonry. Where the ceiling has given way dim light filters down into the dusty air. Fyn peers through the gap.

“It looks like there is a chamber above us, but open to the sky, the walls damaged. Some sort of ruin. Tomas! Come lend a hand here, let’s see if we can widen this hole.”

In short order the two of them have cleared a hole large enough for Fyn to wriggle through. He stands and looking up realises he is in what was once a cellar. The ceiling above has collapsed, and beyond that much of the ceiling of the first floor, as well as most of the roof. There is rubble everywhere.

“It looks like an old manor house, but long since fallen to ruin.” he calls down. “Strange though, I don’t know of any ruins in these parts…” He peers up, spotting a family crest over an arched stone doorway. “Hold on, isn’t that… Blessed Seven! It is! The twin boars! That’s Lord Cotely’s arms! This must be Cotely Hall!”

Idril and Lisandra have clambered up alongside him.

“That’s not possible” mutters the elderly gnome, leaning heavily on her cane as she recovers her breath.

“Why not?” Lisandra asks. “Had you not expected to emerge here?”  

“It’s not that,” Idril replies, her eyes widening in shock as she confirms Fyn’s guess. “This ancient ruin is indeed Cotely Hall. What is impossible, my dear, is that this manor house, so ravaged by time’s passing, was only built fifteen years ago. And when I last visited Lord and Lady Cotely here, not three months past, it was in perfect condition!”

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 42

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on June 13, 2017 by Carl

“Place any metal armour into this sack. Sheath your weapons. Keep everything of metal away from your skin.” Idril busies herself gathering and preparing, some way down the passage that leads to the rust monster lair.

“Great” grumbles Cayleb. “So now we’re defenceless. How d’you expect us to get past those steel-eating monstrosities? What’re we going to use, harsh language?”

“Let me worry about that, young man.” She hefts the large pouch she took from Fyn. “I suspect they’ll be too busy focusing on dinner to pay us much mind. And if they do, well you have your crossbow, Rufus and Fyn have bows, Lisandra and I have our magics, and Tomas here is not carrying any metal. I think we’ll be fine. Master Rufus, would you be so good as to accompany me?”

The two set of quietly down the corridor with Fyn close behind until they reach the archway. Rufus and Fyn take up positions in cover as the rest of the party come up behind them. Cayleb brings up the rear, carrying a sack full of armour as quietly as possible. The rust monsters amble about the room, seemingly oblivious to the presence of the adventurers. There are two doors leading from the room, one in the far wall, another in the wall to the south.

Idril fishes out a handful of steel ballbearings from Fyn’s pouch and rolls them across the floor to towards the far corner of the room. The rust monsters’ antennae respond instantly,  twitching towards the sound and scent of metal. Two scuttle after the tasty morsels immediately, oblivious of anything other than dinner. Only one of the creatures pays the party any mind, though it too moves in the direction of the shiny ballbearings.

“Time to go!” Idril barks, and the group dash into the room, making for the door in the far wall. Rufus and Fyn take the lead, followed closely by Idril. As they pass through the archway they feel the now-familiar thrum of magical energy as the trap triggers again, and the pouch grows warm in Idril’s hands. Rather than reach in she grips the top of the pouch and flings half the contents into the far corner of the room. All three rust monsters fall on the metal in a feeding frenzy. “Quickly, while they are distracted!”  

In their haste no-one but Tomas spots the small lever jutting out of the wall near to the far door. And he is far too preoccupied with herding his companions to safety to pay it any great mind.

Rufus pulls the door open and he and Tomas make sure everyone is through before slamming it closed behind them. They are through.

To their left rough-cut stone steps lead upwards into darkness. To the right the smuggler’s passage continues for a way before turning right again.

“Right” smiles Fyn. “Which way next?”

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 41: Heart of Darkness

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on June 11, 2017 by Carl

Four cowled figures stand facing one another, eerily lit by the glowing orange  coals in the brazier that lies between them.  

“Let us begin” rasps the tallest of the hooded figures. Each of them raises their hands, clasping those of their neighbors, forming a circle. Black lightning crackles between their fingers. The flames in the brazier flare up, tinged with green and purple. In union the four figures begin a sibilant chant.  

“Pierce the veil! Tear back the safeguards of this world! Hear us Master! Hail to the Fury! Hail to the Glory that Was and Will Be! Hear us!”

The colours in the fire intensify, the flames rising higher still. At their heart a set of features form. They flicker, blurred and indistinct, then stabilise.

“Speak, my Shadowspawn. How progresses the ritual?” The voice is chilling, evoking putrefaction and the crypt. The four figures cringe visibly, and there is hesitancy in the hissing voice of the figure that responds.

“Master, forgive us, there has been a delay. We captured the one who recovered the book, but he was killed before our Harvesting could be completed and before we could learn of the book’s location. And when we were able to perform the Harvesting it was somehow reversed…”

“FOOLS!” The voice is deafening, and fire erupts outward. The force of it rocks the four figures back, flames igniting their robes in places. “You have allowed your base hungers to guide your actions, ignoring the true prize! You lose yourselves in skirmishes whilst forgetting the war!”

The tallest figure bows its head. “As you say Master. We shall refocus all our efforts upon completing the ritual.”  

“And have you now recovered the book?”

“N-no, my Master but…”   

Flames erupt, punching through the chest of the tallest creature. It shrieks, its hood falling back to reveal cadaverous features. Even in the throes of pain its mouth is set in a hideous rictus. The flames consume it utterly, until nothing but its smoldering hands remain, still clasped in those of its neighbours.

“Master, we have taken steps to discover the book’s whereabouts.” hisses another of the creatures. It drops the scorched, twitching hand it holds and reaches up to pull back its cowl. The features revealed are those of the young bookseller, though the skin is now palid. Grey lips are pulled back into a fierce grin and the eyes are those of a corpse. “It is hidden at the inn known as the Devil’s Riddle. It shall be a simple matter for us to retrieve it. Any that oppose us shall be slaughtered. And once we have it your ascension is assured.”

“See that it is so.” replies the figure in the flames. “Do not fail me in this my Shadowspawn.”

The flames subside, leaving the figures shrouded in darkness once more.

The Devil’s Riddle: Interlude: Cut scene prep

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on June 10, 2017 by Carl

This session prep started normally enough:

Q: Encounter en route? NO

But it then took an unexpected detour;

Random Event: A Setback to the thread ‘The Fury, and the Glory to Come’ occurs, involving the Overindulgence of War

Interesting. The Fury thread was introduced from a throwaway line back in Session 24 that my bad guys spoke through two reanimated flayed villagers: “The Harvest is complete. Hail to the Fury! Hail to the Glory that Was and Will Be!”

Just a bit of colour at the time, based off this random event: “An Action is taken by Captives, involving a Celebration of Anger”. It seems the GM Emulator is interested in exploring this thread. Something has gone wrong with the adversary’s plan it seems, perhaps related to their summoning of an ancient evil being compromised by the bloodthirsty actions of the agents of the Dark.

Seeing as this is a solo RPG there’s nothing stopping me from using a cut scene to pull back the curtain a little on our bad guys. To do that some prep is needed. Let’s see where they are, who they are and what they’re up to.

Q: Are they in the smuggler tunnels? YES
Q: Are Jesters present? YES
1d4+1=4
Q: Anyone else? EXCEPTIONAL YES

I figure that either means a powerful master or many minions. Or perhaps lots of potential victims. Which is it?

Q: Master? YES
Q: Undead? EXCEPTIONAL YES

Oh, that can’t be good. That says to me that we’re dealing with a big bad mastermind undead. And nothing says big bad mastermind undead like a lich. Gulp. Logically that’s got to be the Fury, the thing they are trying to summon. It sounds like the Jesters are communing with their master.

Q: Anyone else? NO

So what do these undead bozos have to chat about? We know from the captured thug back in session 19 that the Jester the party killed was obsessed with capturing the bookseller in order to get his hands on a book that would aid in returning an ancient power. That bookseller was confirmed dead back in session 23.  Is that what this is about?

Q: Does this relate to the bookseller’s book? YES
Q: Do they have the book? NO
Q: Do they know where it is? YES

Uh-oh. Perhaps they raised the bookseller’s corpse and asked him. That would explain the delay. That, along with the focus on the Devil’s Riddle Inn’s Harvest ritual, as well as the reversal of that ritual, could explain the Fury’s setback.

What I’m unsure of at this point is why this book is so important, and why it exists. I could just go with the flow, but I’m curious what the GM Emulator will tell me, and unless explored it feels like a bit of a plot hole.

We saw in session 26 that by weakening the boundaries between the world and the Dark desecrated ground serves as an access point for agents of the dark to reach this world. But apparently that weakness is not sufficient to allow a being of significant power (the Fury) through, just its minions.

We also know that at least one of those minions, the Jester with the face of High Cantor Ander, travelled here from Rufus and Lilandra’s abandoned world. We also know that the Light and Dark are constants across the worlds of this multiverse; they sit above and below  each of the worlds, and touch each of them (as does the feywild).

So this book must contain a ritual to further break down the barriers between the planes, beyond what can be achieved by consecrating or sanctifying a place. That leaves three further questions;

Q: How did the bookseller get the book? The Answer involves Truly Bizarre Creation.
Q: How did the Jesters learn he had it? The Answer involves An Incredible Display of Stupidity, and could affect the thread ‘The Elysian’.
Q: Where is the book now? The Answer involves Evil Creation.

The Elysian was mentioned briefly by Lisandra back in session 2: “I have once read of such a thing. A being of myth near whom none could touch the Source. A creature of such supernatural beauty that none could look upon it for long without being driven mad. A creature who’s mere presence meant utter destruction for the spawn of the Dark. The Elysian.”

In this context I’m going to read “ritual” for “creation”. I interpret these answers as meaning the book was in the possession of a half-mad wizard who tried to use it to pierce the veil; this ill-advised attempt went spectacularly wrong and the wizard was killed, but in so doing attracted the attention of a hugely powerful being of light. This, in effect, was exactly what the Jesters were planning to do, only they wanted the Fury to come through instead.

The attempt attracted the attention of the agents of the Dark; a Jester was dispatched but by the time he reached the site the book was gone; most of the wizard’s library had been pilfered by an opportunistic rogue. They got on his trail, captured him, but have only now focused  on discovering where he hid his stash.

That location is back at the Inn, under the bed of the room where the Harvesting ritual took place.

That’s it; I think I have everything I need to create my cut scene.

The Devil’s Riddle: Session 40

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on June 2, 2017 by Carl

At Lisandra’s outburst the other turn to look first at her, then at Rufus, some with concern, others with confusion.

“OK, that doesn’t sound good.” Fyn gulps. “Do you mind explaining just what in the Ebon Pit is going on? Is something wrong with Rufus? Is he ill?”

Lisandra is about to speak, but Rufus cuts her off, a breach of etiquette between Channeler and bodyguard that is remarkable in itself. “Now is not the time.” he snaps, his voice tight. He takes a deep, calming breath. “We have a job to do. Gather up the weapons we came for and let’s get moving.” He meets Lisandra’s eyes and she is relieved to see that his gaze is steady and clear. “All is well, my Charge. It was but a momentary… It has passed, please do not trouble yourself.”

Lisandra nods, noting with faintest of smiles the apology inherent in her companion’s rare use of the honorific. “Very well, my friend. If you are certain.” The look of concern on her faces eases, but does not altogether depart.  

Despite their best efforts all the group are able to find is the hatchet and a dagger for Fyn. There is no shield for Rufus. “You have to be kidding! We went through that nightmare, and all for a bit of kitchenware?” grumbles Cayleb. “There damn well best be something worth all this trouble past those rust beasts, that’s all I can say…” He spots Tomas frowning at him and tails off.

Idril, standing close at Lisandra’s elbow, watches shrewdly as the Channeler’s eyes follow Rufus around the room. Up until now the Blademaster has projected an air of cool, unassailable authority. Lisandra too, for that matter. To see both of them shaken so is disconcerting. Whatever unspoken warning passed between them, it bears further scrutiny. And, when the time is right, a full explanation.

Their work done the Blademaster leads them out of the chamber again, his jaw set and his sword gripped firmly. If he is aware of the nervous glances being exchanged behind his back he does not show it as he slips noiselessly down the smuggler tunnels.   

As the group depart none of the group notices the large ring of mushrooms and toadstools that has begun to slowly sprout from the dirt between the flagstones. As their footsteps recede into the distance, from within the ring comes a powerful scent of wildflowers and the faintest strains of entrancing, unearthly music. As swiftly as the circle formed it fades again, the mushrooms withering and rotting back into the dirt as if they had never been.  

The Devil’s Riddle: Interlude: The Blademaster’s Secret II

Posted in The Devil's Riddle on June 1, 2017 by Carl

We know some of what has led to this point, but now we need to find out how this set of circumstances develops, and what happens to bring about this state of of “stalemate”.

Q: how did Rufus end up at the temple ahead of Andromeda? Here are the options as I see them.

  1. She granted him a period of freedom
  2. He fled her and hid
  3. He fought and wounded her
  4. He trapped her, she subsequently escaped

Magic pyramid says 4. He was able to capture her somehow.

Q: How was she captured?

  1. A magic item
  2. A powerful ally
  3. A special place
  4. An obligation

2: An Ally

Q: Who was the ally?

  1. An agent of the Dark
  2. A rival fey
  3. An agent of the Tower
  4. Something we haven’t seen yet

2: A rival Fey. Interesting. So here’s what we have so far.

Rufus made a bargain with another powerful Fey, King Finvarra, in order to escape his fate he betrayed his lover (who, in fairness, had stated she had to kill him), and saw her bound and dragged off in chains.

Shattered by his whirlwind romance and its tragic conclusion a broken Rufus takes off and eventually finds himself at the sky temple, seeking redemption. The Tower Mother Telerassi introduces him to an ancient weapon master, the last of his order. Over time Rufus becomes his apprentice and learns the lost martial secrets of the Chamarands. He attains mastery and finds peace.

But Andromeda claws her way free from the Fey King’s torments.

Q: Does she kill Finvarra? Yes

She enacts her revenge upon Finvarra, throwing the power balance of the Fey realms into chaos, then turns her attention to the one who thwarted and betrayed her; her lost love, Rufus. Consumed with a thirst for vengeance she confronts him in his temple refuge

Q: Does Rufus trap her in his sword? EXCEPTIONAL NO.

This seemed like a logical option to me but the Emulator emphatically disagrees. That response suggests either it’s not her but someone else that’s trapped in the sword, or that she is trapped elsewhere. After a bit of head scratching I go with this:

With his master’s aid Rufus attempts to slay Andromeda’s mortal shell and trap her essence in his blade, but he fails. Though she is mortally wounded Rufus is not strong enough to bind her; instead her spirit attempts to seize control of his mind. In a final act of self-sacrifice his master impales himself on Rufus’ sword and is himself trapped in the weapon in Andromeda’s stead, binding himself in endless deadlock with the mad Queen’s spirit.

While Rufus possesses the sword of the last Chamarand he is able to  keep the Fey Queen’s psyche at bay. Woe betide him if he should lose it, or if some dark power should begin to destabilize the delicate balance that exists between the two warring minds…