Vastlands ep.10 – Refuge in Darkness

We had a an extra week’s break as most people couldn’t make it, but there was a lot of excitement for this session – players arriving much earlier that expected! I might be “old fashioned”, but I love my weekly sessions. Feels a lot like a weekly tv show. Once more we’re picking up from the crypt below the magical prison-tower…

Various images of the Prison of the hated pretender – by Gus.L (excuse my poor montage)

In Game (session 10)

PCs present: Alette (Hunter), Estmund (Dolmenwood Knight), Prudence (Magic-User), Solvang (Magic-User).
NPCs: Fluff-Tail (Grimalkin) (well, outside chasing rats and squirrels), Pastor Gwyne (Friar)

Alette and Estmund wrestled with the heavy bronze armour plates, slowly dressing Estmund in this ancient panoply of the long dead Crusaders. Inside were engraved many old Liturgic prayers. Meanwhile Prue took a closer look at the glints from the mosaic, and crawled out to pry out some of the gemstone eyes. Everyone was shocked when she screamed -the mosaic had collapsed and let Prue fall down onto a pile of jagged bones. Solvang went to offer some help climbing out, when they saw (and heard) some phantasms rising from the bone dust. Solvang immediately began his chanting to call on Darkness, and Prue looked around in panic as the Phastasms reached for her, before all was engulfed in darkness and the phantasms screamed as they dissolved. “A rope please?”

Estmund was overjoyed when the armour was secured. He could barely feel the weight and was able to run around the room as if unencumbered. His excitement was dampened when Pastor Gwyne again stared in horror at the dark-magician helping a witch, and started questioning “Why are you disturbing these sanctified graves?”. He grew even more nervous as Prue started muttering about “lets just kill the priest”. Solvang and Estmund immediately crowded the Pastor and tried to distract him with tales about how he was instrumental in helping them push back against the dangerous wraiths. Pastor Gwyne ended up confused and muttering to himself. Everyone silently agreed that it was time to leave and return the pastor to his church.

The collected Fluff-Tail on the way back (full of squirrel and sleeping in the sun) and returned to Drigbolton. Prue called on her witchcraft to whisper a message to the spirits of the air – sending to the Lady Harrowmoor “We have found the Undying Tyrant”. Some hours later a bird returned and whispered a message “Be sure he can never escape!”

The party chatted and compared their experiences. Solvang desperately wanted to meet the “voice hiding in darkness”, and they all wanted to understand better the magical cage. The Grimoire was hard to understand, but seemed to be a collection of spells developed by the Undying Tyrant, with references to strange powers and machines. The notebook from the dead bodies proved to be the diary of mercenary professionals – who had been hired by the Bishop of Brackenwald to investigate magical writings. They had been well paid, and their accounts with the banks in the capital Emeraude were clearly detailed! Their notes referred to rumours of ancient ruins in the far Yellow Lands to the east, and buried treasures in haunted tombs in the forests north of Brakenwald. Alette took her own notes to remember. They decided to rest the night so Prue and Solvang could recover. All their loot was packed away securely in their rooms.

The next morning they ventured back to the tower. This time they wanted to explore further. Alette went up the tree to check the upstairs situation, while the others argued over plans while being watched by the phantasms across the magical seal. At first they were carefully considering plans, but as more phantasms joined the throng they began to panic. Eventually Prue suggested trying to cast darkness on they decided that Solvang would cast his darkness on Prue’s earing, and Estmund would lead them through the rooms by means of a rope. They dashed through the seal and cast the spell – just before the phantasms were able to overwhelm them. Alette shouted a warning as they came up the stairs – the phantasms were crowded around the top of the stairs and their glow appeared to be pushing back the darkness spell. Estmund asked for the earing from Prue, and told everyone to get ready to run. He threw it at the crowded Phastasms. Unable to run away in time the dozens dissolved in screams of rage. But the others waiting below them rushed up the stairs. One managed to almost grab Prue’s leg, leaving horrible and painful burns down the back of her leg before she could escape to the refuge of the Darkness.

They left the earing blocking the stairs down and walked across the now empty chamber to the closed door. They knocked and requested entry – threatening to break down the door if the “voice” tried anything. It relented and the party entered. They saw an almost skeletal man dressed in rags and a crown of sticks and bones. They gave him some rations which he gobbled. Solvang and Estmund tried asking questions, but the man was confused and could barely remember much beyond his fear of the phantasms and light. They learnt that the “god-botherers” had imprisoned him here, and the phastasms tried every morning to catch and burn him to death. He lets slip that a device upstairs will end his torture, but the key is hidden in the crypt below – “Tell me the stars so I can end my torment” he begged.

The party “promised” to help him (while silently agreeing to thwart him) and left the stinking room. Peeking through a ceiling-hatch Estmund saw some more phantasms. They carefully climbed up, keeping the darkness around them. They could hear the grows and screeching of dozens of phantasms outside the darkness. Estmund peeked out to get an idea of where archways and walls were, then they held hands and ran towards a corner – blocking a large number of phantasms in a corner and engulfing them in the darkness. Estmund could hear a last few wailing in anger. He was fed up and charged out with sword drawn. The creatures battered pointlessly against the crusader-armour and Estmund finally drew Chyde’s sword in anger – runes glowed along the blade in response to the otherworldly threats – and cut through them in a single stroke!

He stared in awe at his sword. “Hey guys, I’m magical now!”. Prue and Solvang just shook their heads and stayed silent, letting their not so bright companion enjoy his victory.

Finally the party stood in the shadow of an ancient armillary sphere – a device of bronze clockwork that seemed to defy understanding – and all could feel eldritch energies radiating from it.

At the Table

Oh wow. This was a lot of fun. The crypt from last and this session was a giant puzzle, but they players cottoned on to “unwary action sets off traps” and started making plans. It was honestly a joy to watch the players work out the tools they had at their disposal, (darkness spell, heavy armour, rope, The limits of the enemy) and using them to render the dangers of the tower harmless! This session had a lot of “rulings” – things not covered by the basic rules of D&D – Int checks to move in the right direction in total darkness, maneuvering enemies into corners to dispatch them. Dex checks to catch them by surprise and use a giant ball of darkness as an aoe weapon. Using initiative to see if they got to move before being attacked etc.

It honestly felt very exciting and tense. Just one slip led to Prue being badly injured (enough that she had to stop and heal herself with magic to be able to walk), and the constant growls of dozens of the Phastasms kept everyone on their toes. This was one session where everyone was keeping very close track of time to ensure their “darkness” spell wouldn’t suddenly run out, being careful to not explore/interact too much and waste their limited time. Yes, a visible countdown really adds spice to a session!

Reaction rolls are a constant surprise – and this party seems to be fated to get along with the most dangerous things. Seriously, Lady Luck seems to love them when they try to be friendly. A natural 12 on meeting the Tyrant… He was trying to act “lordly” and holding court for his visitors, but still insanity and confusion limited the information they received – but they deserved to at least get the key info about how the phantoms could be stopped.

Its strange that this reminds me a little bit of “Death Frost Doom” in the stakes of the adventure. Everyone agreed that letting an ancient undying necromancer-king out of the prison would be a really bad idea. Even letting him recover in peace might let him puzzle his way out of this prison.

Oh, almost forgot. This was the first time the sword of St Chyde got used against “otherworldly” creatures… and finally showed it’s reputation gained in the war against the frost-elves. Someone(something?) is going to come looking for it for sure!

The football match put a time limit on us, but everyone is excited for “the final puzzle” next week.

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