Sunday, August 29, 2021

King of Kings Session 10 & 11 (10.5?) After Action Report

 Yes, two sessions in one post... or well, perhaps more accurately one session split between two days of play? It got split due to confusion on my part that caused a mixup during the first session. For the purposes of continuing numbering, gonna consider the second one as session 11. Just gonna describe it in one go though, just because it is easier. The events described in this post occurred on August 9th and August 18th.

Dramatis Personae
Ishthyromeda the Small, level one amazon 
Kusa, level one cleric of the exiled and half-dead foreign goddess Nasitu-Neb 
Manchugo Coldeswain, level one cleric dedicated to Damir, foreign god of the trade routes 
Rohm'Daan, level one cleric dedicated to Anzhalar, a local chthonic god of subterranean flame
also Parsani, scrawny son of a rural matriarch

The group made camp at the edge of the Holy Cedar Forest following the battle with the smoke-billowing headless bull-thing. After some discussion, they decide to call for Fire Eater, their jinn ally in the woodland. They get a fire started, burning some of Rohm'Daan's shiny acorns and some of the ancient silks they had found in an ancient tomb as a sacrifice. Fire Eater, in the form of a slimy black salamander, dashes out of the forest and swallows the flame whole.

They got into asking Fire Eater about what that headless bull-thing was, and they tell them that it was a "poor sort of being", specifically a marid, that only started living there three months priorthat the people who lived there were already gone by the time the bull-thing took residence there, and that there are small creatures that crawl out at night with axes and handsaws to slash at the fields surrounding the abandoned farmstead. When the group mention "that with yawns deep" which they heard about from the oracle back in Temple Town, Fire Eater thinks for a moment and just replies "a hole in the ground." After this, they say goodbye to Fire Eater and discuss what their next course of action will be.

They decide to go back to the ruined farm and investigate some of the collapsed buildings that they didn't look very closely at before. The largest of the buildings collapsed in on itself due to the ramming attack that the marid bull-thing did, so they go to the leftmost of the two smaller buildings still standing. Crawling one after another through a hole in the wall, they find what looks to have been a familial house, with beds strewn about everywhere and children's toys and animal bones on the floor. Manchugo investigates under some of the beds and finds a strange silhouetted form beneath one... which they push out from underneath it using a broom, revealing the desiccated mummified corpse of a child. Their body is intact other than their left hand which is much more destroyed.

Our adventurers take the body and bury it outside, then move on to the next of the pair of buildings. Inside, it is much the same; except for a basement at the back, which they descend down into after investigating the beds for other bodies (none were found). In the lantern light, they see silhouetted humanoid forms hanging from the ceiling, and presume that they are some sort of bat people. Manchugo wonders if they are the former farmers, transformed into bat-oids at some point. They discuss among themselves whether to burn the whole place to the ground, but ultimately decide against it.

After some more deliberation, it is agreed that they will investigate the ruins of the collapsed building and then wait out for the creatures in the basement to come out at night, assuming that they are the beings that Fire Eater mentioned. The big collapsed building seems to have been the house of the farm's matriarch, and they find her skeletonized corpse in the rubble, in what seems like a side room with a bed in it. There, Ishthyromeda finds a lockbox and, after fiddling with it with her knife, she finds a silver necklace, three brass nose rings, and two iron finger rings, all of which she pocketed. There wasn't much else of note in the collapsed building. After this, the five of them took the bones and buried them along with the dried out child corpse outside of the compound's walls.

Then they took to the walls and waited for nightfall... their plan was for Manchugo to throw a lasso around the last of the creatures as it exited the hole in the wall of the house with the basement, in order for them to interrogate it or otherwise figure out what is going on... but this is kind of where it fell apart. You see, in the process of me explaining the creatures crawling out of the abandoned house and Manchugo, Kusa, et al handling their actions during the encounter, I got so confused about what was going on (mostly due to communication problems on my end), and it was getting really late on top of that, that I elected to end the session there and pick up where we left off next time.


So yeah Manchugo had rope and used it to lasso the last of the little critters when it crawled out from the hole in the wall of the building. By this point ten other creatures had crawled out, with four of them remaining within the walls of the compound. Manchugo throws it at the last of the creatures, which now they can see has hirsute goat-like legs and massive ears, but he fails to catch it, misaiming and letting it hit the dusty ground uselessly. However, the creature doesn't notice where the group is, and ends up just running to join its brothers. Manchugo rushes forward and throws the lasso again, and ends up snagging the thing in the rope! He runs and grabs it up in his arms, tying it up with the ropes, before waving to the rest of the group for them to run out of the compound and to the edge of the forest to interrogate it while giving the rest a wide berth. Surprisingly, they are able to dash out of the compound without alerting the others.

Not gonna describe the whole interrogation and whatnot, but basically the players discovered quite a bit! The creature repeatedly told them to "fuck off" and was impervious to threats and torture but was ultimately coerced into helping the players with a gift of an abacus and reassurances that they would return it to its brothers. In the ensuing interrogation/conversation, it identified itself and its brothers as "we who gnaw" and "ka-li-kan-tsa-roi", frantically desperately tried to count the individual strands of the rope it was tied with, was appeased with the aforementioned abacus, described how they and their brothers gnaw at the roots of trees, and described how the farmstead was built by humans but that they had not seen the humans there (i.e. it was not those-who-gnaw nor the bull-marid who killed the peasants). The players decided to call the little creature Higgles.

Locheil wasn't playing in this session but he very graciously drew our lovely little pal :3

After the impromptu interrogation and the abacus deal that they made with Higgles, the group brought the small being back to the compound to return it to its brothers and ask them some questions too. It took some convincing on the part of Higgles to get its brothers to agree to talk with the man-things, but eventually the players asked some questions and those who gnaw asked some in return. Oftentimes those who gnaw would speak in unison or in singsongy chants. They asserted that there was no ruler among them to parlay with and asked the group what they did to make the bull-marid go away (they used what the creatures called "the poison metal what pisses off jinn" of course). In response to the players' questions, they said that all they do is gnaw and cut, describe how before they arrived here there were the "half-men" who were sorrowful and ashy-skinned and who were themselves chased out by wolves, mentioned that those who gnaw cannot smell, and said that they did not kill the owners of the bodies the players found earlier and in fact did not touch them at all when they found them.

Oh and also, when asked about the "that which yawns deep" thing that they heard about from the oracle back in Temple Town, those who gnaw spoke in unison (after a bit of muttering about whether or not to even say it): "big spiral, deep down, full of slime and gunk... a word of warning for the lot of you, a foul nasty funk... beware that which yawns so deep, the hole beneath the earth.... or else in the end you will find your life, in dearth... ancient kings dug down deep, a dismal dark so dreary! do not descend lest you desire naught but death and diadems of pale bony stone..." if you can't tell this was improvised during the game

After this, the group decided that they were much too tired, starving, and beaten up to continue pushing on, at least for now. They return to Tabur via the northern gate at the Tigerskin Quarter, where Kusa's connections got them into the city without having to pay an exorbitant tariff.

Treasure Acquired
1 Silver Necklace
3 Brass Nose Rings
2 Iron Finger Rings

Non-Treasure XP Acquired
Burying Abandoned Bodies (12 XP each before Prime Requisites)
Capturing Higgles (2 XP each before Prime Requisites; for being the one who lassoed Higgles, Manchugo gets 6 XP before PR)
Total: 14 XP/18 for Manchugo

Monday, August 2, 2021

Goin' Through the Fiend Folio Part 9 (Hellcat to Iron Cobra)

Two letters today (mostly just because I only has three).

Starting off with another weird supernatural cat servant, albeit this one is considerably more evil than the guardian familiar from the last post. Visually, the hellcat is very unique, being invisible in any sort of light source but appearing as a faint ghostly outline in darkness. It doesn't really have especially unique or interesting powers, just having three attacks per round (which is typical for a big cat, even mundane ones usually have claw/claw/bite) and having immunity to non-magical damage (also a... very strange and unnecessary thing that notes that magical damage bonuses don't affect it? I really don't like that.), but what is interesting is the hellcat's relationship to a master. Hellcats always serve a master, and will switch to serving one of the players if they are stronger than their current master (I assume that means higher level/HD) and are lawful evil. Personally I wish this wasn't tied into the alignment system so that anyone could have a hellcat but whatever. However, a hellcat can only serve a master for a year and a day before they have to return to hell, and every week they require a human sacrifice from their master. If they do not get a human sacrifice that week, then they will devour their own master! I really love this folkore-esque horror-esque vibe going on, it really feels like a supernatural being that you made a deal with that has forced you into a corner of doing horrible things. I just wish it wasn't tied into the alignment system; what does human sacrifice matter to someone who is already supposed to be evil?

Hoar Fox
Personally I don't find the hoar fox all that interesting aesthetically, but gameplay-wise it is very very good. I'm always a fan of nonstandard treasure types, and especially of furs as treasure, so the hoar fox's incredibly valuable silvery furs are a fantastic detail. I'm also a huge fan of creatures that prompt creative problem solving: the hoar fox's fur is worth 100 gp, so adventurers would want to kill them, the quickest way to kill them is with fire (they take double damage from fire), but fire damages the furs and makes them worthless for sale. On top of this, getting in too close won't always be the best idea because of the fox's cone of cold breath weapon. A supernatural winter fox is a very good folklore vibe, and I think this is a very well realized creature.

Hook Horror
I'm going to be completely honest, the hook horror gets this score off of aesthetics alone. There is a reason why hook horrors have become an iconic D&D mainstay since their publication here in the Fiend Folio! The bird-like head, hard exoskeleton, and unnatural hooks for hands is such a good design that balances the familiar with the unfamiliar, alien, and monstrous. The art here isn't exactly my favorite rendition of the horror, however; that honor would probably have to go, once again, to Tony DiTerlizzi's illustration for the 2nd edition Monstrous Manual (which is above instead of the Folio one because I like it more). Mechanically there just isn't a whole lot going on though, which in my opinion is a good thing, a simple beast that highlights the weird aesthetics is very good! Their one unique mechanic is a lower chance of surprise, which I think is cool, but the way it is implemented is weird; it says "10%", when I'm pretty sure that surprise works on a d6. How are you supposed to roll surprise with a probability that doesn't fit on the normal die? That is very strange. Love the note that it communicates with others of its kind by clacking its hooks on its exoskeleton. Could the players figure out how to communicate by hitting objects against each other, maybe banging weapons on their armor?

The hook horror first appeared in the Fiend Factory, and like the grell it is almost identical between the Factory and the Folio. So again, I will just reproduce Don Turnbull's editor commentary: "Straightforward stuff, but an excellent and vivid image even without the artist's work. Perhaps they could have vulnerability to, or at least fear of, light - so that a light spell would hold them off, for instance?" I think that would have been a fine enough addition!

Love the illustration though

Giant Hornet
On the one hand yay more giant bugs I'm always a fan of giant bugs! On the other hand the description of the giant hornet mischaracterizes them as excessively aggressive, and I'm never a fan of media that demonizes or exaggerates the violence of insects. The way that its sting works is very clumsy as well; it deals damage, and also poisons (negated on a save), and also incapacitates (I assume that means basically it paralyzes the victim) (negated on a save). Note that that isn't one save to negate both effects, that is two saving throws, one per sting effect. Call me a minimalist but I think it is best to make things just one roll whenever possible. The effect of smoke on the giant hornet's attack rolls is fantastic though, I really love that. That encourages nonviolent problem solving, using smoke to weaken it enough that you could potentially catch it or avoid it. Same for the loud buzzing making it easy to detect from a distance. A very usable creature, I just think aspects of it are clumsy.

Hound of Ill Omen
You know, I want to like the hound of ill omen. Its a pretty cool concept, a nice portent of doom goin' on, a spooky vision, all that, but its just not interesting the way its implemented here. Only one character ever sees it at a time (so the players cannot collaborate to respond to it), it cannot be harmed or stopped (so basically the players can't even respond to it at all), and its howl has one simple effect that is partially undone only by the specific application of the remove curse spell. The effect isn't even all that interesting, it just makes attacks deal quadruple damage for a short period. It is overly mechanical and only has one use. I'd love to use a black shuck type dog that portents doom, but this is not what I would use. It's also like the aleax from the first post in this series, in that it is implied to be sent by an offended deity, which honestly just makes it even less interesting.

Not exactly the most interesting undead monster unfortunately. Essentially it is just a wight that can shapeshift and can spread disease a la the D&D mummy, but rather than being a disease specific to the creature, it is one of the generic cardiovascular-renal diseases from the AD&D DMG. Does that mean the huecuva causes diseases that cause heart attacks? I love the illustration though, its honestly kinda sad that such a cool illustration is tied to a really quite boring monster. Also the name comes from Mapuche folklore, but the Mapuche huecuva (or wekufe or... well, there are a lot of alternate spellings) is just a term for a general type of evil/unclean spirit that can be controlled by sorcerers (kalkus) and can itself control the spirits of the dead. There are actually a lot of very interesting aspects of this indigenous "demon" lore, and it reminds me a lot of Middle Eastern spirits like daevas and jinn, especially in that the wekufe don't actually have a singular set appearance. I have no clue how "Underworld Oracle" chose the name of a category of Mapuche spirits for their heart attack skeletons. Man, a skeleton that causes heart attacks would just be more interesting than this even.

Ice Lizard
Ah, the white dragon answer to the firedrake! I honestly don't find it as interesting though, probably in part because the ice lizard has so much more going on than the firedrake does. It really just feels like a white dragon with fewer hit dice. Not only does it have the white dragon's cold breath weapon, it also can polymorph itself, cast sleep, and cast fear. It's unique aspects really don't feel all that interesting, like oh cool even though it is immune to most magic it is susceptible to hold and charm... That does allow for interesting problem solving on the part of the players, but there just isn't enough interesting here for me to use it over a young white dragon. 

An absolutely fascinating and weird encounter presented in an alright way. Boy do I wish there was an illustration though! The body is described in these absolutely surreal ways, a strange "grey-green lumpy cylinder" with tentacles. I really want to know exactly what that is supposed to look like, but this one is one of the very few monsters with no illustration! The power is interesting, if admittedly gimmicky; the imorph selects an opponent and slowly but steadily shapeshifts to look just like them, and although its attacks remain the same damage-wise its to-hit is based on who it is imitating. If this were where it ended I would have given it a lower score though; the imorph gets that three star rating primarily by having a real palpable reason for the players to engage with it, being host to a unique treasure in the form of a slimy liver that allows polymorph self when consumed mixed with water. I love that a lot, its very evocative and provides a super interesting reason to engage. Otherwise though yeah the imorph is kind of the epitome of a gimmick monster. 

EDIT (3/8/2022):
I somehow missed that the imorph actually originates in the Fiend Factory column! Thankfully, given my past self's wish for an image to really show what the imorph actually looks like, the Factory version has a drawing next to it:

What a delightfully unusual creature! Funnily enough, the description here is much clearer than the one in the Folio; I think probably because it doesn't call the imorph a "cylinder". Where did the cylinder comparison even come from? Nothing about this drawing is cylindrical. Anyway, powers of the creature are more or less the same, the Factory version just takes fewer words to say them (as is usual). I would say I vastly prefer the Factory description, since it explains the concept much more clearly, but interestingly enough one of the best parts of the imorph isn't in the Factory version! The slimy valuable polymorph self liver is completely new to the Folio version of the imorph. I wonder why that addition was made? Perhaps Turnbull and Gygax felt that the imorph needed some form of clear treasure? Speaking of Turnbull, his comment on the Factory version mentions that it would be really interesting if the imorph were able to isolate a weak member of the party and essentially replace them, doppelgänger style. Other than that, the comment isn't very interesting: Turnbull mentions that the imorph would be more powerful against certain players/opponents than others but that since it is unintelligent it wouldn't know that, and that it is important to keep in mind that once shapeshifted it will use the man vs man attack matrix rather than the monster one.

Iron Cobra
An iconic and fun construct! Snakes are always a fun design, and the iron cobra is very lovely as the creation of some sorcerer or the servant of some opponent that could easily be retooled to serve the players' interests. I like that there is a specific value for the cobra if it is deactivated, monsters that also serve as treasure are so good. It having poison is kind of boring, I think I would much prefer it if the actual effect of the bite could vary by what the creator desires. Maybe it could inject any potion through its fangs? The description acknowledges variable bite effects by mentioning that some iron cobras have "paralysing, sleep-inducing drugs", but for some reason that is easier to resist than the normal poison. Don't quite get that. I like how they are controlled by command words, if the players are able to acquire those then they can control it! Not exactly the most unique monster, but very usable. If I used them I would make it inject any potion rather than specifically the poison.