Vastlands ep.9 – The Undying Tyrant

Finally, after many adventures, the party has reached the goal that they set out for when they left their home of Mistmill. We got to try out a little bit of our magical research and herbalism rules during a week of downtime, and then we began the wonderful puzzle dungeon of “Prison of the Hated Pretender” By Gus.L If you get a chance check out all the other stuff Gus has done, his stuff is really quite good!

Prison of the Hated Pretender – by Gus.L

In Game (session 9)

PCs present: Alette (Hunter), Estmund (Dolmenwood Knight), Prudence (Magic-User), Solvang (Magic-User).
NPCs: Fluff-Tail (Grimalkin)

Staying in Spinnewith Manor was almost like being back in Mistmill – food was served regularly, the beds were comfortable, and the library was full of fascinating texts. Prue spent the week wandering the local countryside and collecting herbs. Laird Spinnewith found her work enthralling and asked to help. Prue managed to convince the Laird that she would only share “the secrets of witchcraft” for a hefty price – to which the Laird readily agreed! Estmund relaxed by riding the countryside and visited the locals, trying to show he was willing and able to help all in need. Alette also wandered around, but was more interested in finding oddities. She encountered a strange reaction from the fairy-silver necklace given as a gift from Princess Snowfall-at-Dusk. It started to hum and grow cold as she approached a broken stone-fence. When peering through she saw a strange tree-lined path of buttercups. When removing the necklace it disappeared. Solvang though, had a most productive week researching texts and experimenting, and finally developed his “Writ of the Underworld” where he can dismiss those creatures that have been raised from the dead via unnatural forces.. He also spent a little bit of time trying to organize Laird Spinnewith’s papers – which led Solvang to realise that there was an almost complete set of instructions for summoning otherworldly beings among the inane ramblings.

This peaceful interlude was interrupted when Frey and Limber, the proprietors of the King’s Deer tavern in town came to ask for help. Their sons had gone north into the wilderness and dared each other to enter a “haunted tower” they called the Giant’s Head. Wiggyl had returned, but Brag was still lost. The parents asked that Estmund and his companions see what was going on.

Wiggyl led the four up to the tower, shaped as a giant crowned head carved into the side of a mountain. Standing in front of this ancient face the party grew nervous and uncertain. Then they heard the cries of Brag pleading for help. Alette scaled the tree overhanding the tower, and peeked into the “eyes”. She saw a dozen misty shapes drifting in the sunlight. As she started to reach across to enter the room the glowing shapes became more solid, nightmarish creatures that wailed and rushed at Alette, only to be stopped suddenly at the threshold as if hitting a wall.

Prue and Estmund ventured into the “mouth”. The sunlit chamber was bare except for some animal bones and scattered ashes, but any further exploration was blocked by a sigil inlaid on the ground. Beyond they could dimly see walls covered in ancient frescos, scattered urns, and a throne. Prue sent her “Invisible Servant” across to collect one of the urns.. but the moment it passed across the sigil Prue felt it vanish – magic dissipating. Estmund tried throwing some bones into the sigil and then watched in horror as the bones were slowly pushed aside. They caught sight of a staircase leading up, and so bravely crossed the seal. Upon opening their eyes on the other side, and still being alive, they crept up the staircase and peeked into the room behind the eyes.

Alette saw the pair come upstairs, and so started poking at the creatures inside the tower’s eyes with her bow. They screamed all the louder and scratched at the invisible barrier, trying to get at the woman who tormented them. With the creatures distracted, Prue and Estmund crept across the room and opened the door where the voice of the other child had been heard.

Once they entered a hoarse strangled cry filled the room. “No light! No light!” Prue shut the door by instinct, but nearly retched at the stench of the dark room. Estmund called to the boy who crawled towards his voice, but the 2nd voice grew angry. “You come to steal! Leave! My treasures!” Estmund felt the hand of child and pulled him up, passing the small hand to Prue who then dragged the child out of the door. As the light streamed in, Estmund pulled away from tattered arms reaching towards him. As he dashed out of the room the arms retreat back into the darkness. Alette screamed at the creatures, trying to stop them from turning to look, and in the chaos Estmund and Prue carried the boy back downstairs and out.

While all this was happening, Solvang had been investigating the throne and frescos in the lower floor. The images told a story of a powerful tyrant and his dead soldiers being brought low by holy crusaders, and the inscription in old Liturgic on the sigil made Solvang salivate with anticipation “For the Eternal Torment of the Undying Tyrant”.

The party returned to Drigbolton and reunited the children with their parents. They went to the local church (dedicated to St Gretchen of the Blessed Meal) and (with generous donations) convinced Pastor Gwyne (Friar) to accompany them back to the tower on the following morning – once they had packed and prepared.

The tower was well lit with the morning sun streaming through the mouth and eyes. The party stood at the sigil and faced off against a dozen screaming spectral creatures. Solvang gestured and chanted, calling darkness to fill the mouth of the tower – the floor fell into darkness and the creatures wailed in pain as they dissolved into motes of dim light. Everyone (especially Solvang) was surprised at the effect. Estmund peeked upstairs and saw another dozen creatures in the sunlight. Instead the party descended.

They found a brightly lit (but quiet and empty) tomb, the ceiling crafted to represent a night sky full of recognisable stars – which were glowing gems. Around the walls were sarcophagi and a couple of burnt, dead bodies. In the center was a mosaic of skulls. While Estmund stands guard (after anointing his blade with holy water) Solvang and the Pastor examined the mosaic “These Sainted Dead Shall be Free to Roam the Night’s Heavens” – they deduced that this was the burial place of the ghosts haunting the tower. Alette and Prue went to the most decorated sarcophagus and tried to open it. They were barely able to jump back after hearing a click, and a blade passed before them. “next time we check before opening!” Inside they found an armoured soldier. The Pastor identified him as a Crusader of the First March – one of the holy warriors who brought the faith of the Green Lord to these northern lands well over a thousand years earlier.

Prue and Solvang argue over some gems (filled with red smoke?), Alette loots the burnt bodies (filling a singed bag with daggers, coins, and a leather notebook) while Estmund reverently removes the ancient armour, finding the insides engraved with prayers.

At the Table

Phew… lots happened in that session!

I tried out some downtime activities. Solvang’s player trying our research rules – which went wonderfully and we’ll use again, while Prue’s player tried out our herbalism rules – which also was a lot of fun with a small set of random herbs and combining them for more effects. (I’ll write these up) The other players spent time getting to know the area better (and healing!)

I’ve run “Prison of the Hated Pretender” By Gus.L a couple of times before – it works great for 1st level characters as a way of learning a bit about OSR play – most of the dangers are more like puzzles that can be cleverly solved without combat. It is also rather fatal to characters blindly charging in. I was a tad nervous about running this for a full party of 2nd-3rd lvl cautious characters along with followers. I thought it might be a bit easy…

I wanted to give the players something more of a challenge that just “explore the tower”, so directed them to save a kid who got trapped inside. Almost worked a little too well as my players dropped everything and rushed to the tower without any preparations. (oh crap!). The tower’s defense was almost impassible to the unready players – who were deathly afraid of the glowing incorporeal creatures. The magical sigil caused some challenges – but they noted that it was keeping everything in the tower and so used that to good effect (Alette’s player deciding to taunt the “ghosts”)

But once the rescue was successful, Solvang’s player was very keen to go back and explore! With more preparation (and a priest to turn undead) they returned. They had assumed “ghosts more dangerous at night, so safe at morning” and got a rude surprise. But once they figured out that darkness drove them away it was much better. Thanks to some lucky encounter rolls the party got to the “loot” without much difficulty (well, one triggered trap)

I’m very curious as to how things will go next, as Solvang’s player really wants to have a meeting with the Undying Tyrant in the room upstairs…

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