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Arvan: Land of Dragons Setting Sale

40% Off Sale on Arvan: Land of Dragons fantasy setting PDF’s on the OneBookShelf sites!

Arvan: Land of Dragons is a high fantasy setting with the feel of gritty sword & sorcery. Set in an age of territorial expansion and the foundation of international trade. This world is rife with ancient caches from the Era of the Mad Mages and polluted ruins from the Era of the Warlords, a long dark age from which the world is still emerging. Additionally the planet is wide and diverse and crawling with numerous dragon breeds. 260 pages of ideas and detail hence a valuable game resource! Finally, this sale will not be repeated this year, get yours at a discount while you can!

SALE ENDS March 1st!

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Tabletop Meditations #16: Old Empires

In any given fantasy RPG, but by no means all of them, a remnant empire or a landscape littered withRuins of an empire the bones of an ancient empire sometimes mysterious oft times still vaguely powerful. Old empires appear throughout fantasy and thus many fantasy tabletop roleplaying games. Using this trope makes it a little easier to begin to build your own setting using this as the basis for a dark age or at least an age where the empire is in a state of decline this loss of power being vital to adventuring.

Ancient empires lend a sense of history, which can still be seen and sometimes experienced to a game world. They can provide explanations for some of gaming’s oldest tropes, especially for the ubiquitous dungeon, and present adventure hooks in the forms of artifacts, lost knowledge, and explorable ruins. The old empire (or empires) that may be present in a given fantasy world also carry their own tropes and various resemblances to those of real-world history. Old empires are useful to the GM in the context of RPG campaigns but also carry certain disadvantages.

When speaking of empires there are certain terms that are inseparable in most incarnations of this fantasy trope. These are Empire, Imperium, and Citizen.

The word empire carries with it some baggage in and of itself due to actual history and it conjures a very specific type of image. In the popular imagination, the word empire often conjures to mind the imperial wonders of the ancient world, marble statues massive multi-columned buildings and/or massive armies that could drink lakes and inland seas dry. Of course, in the modern context however it also brings to mind the subjugation of indigenous peoples, the snatching of land, and constant wars of conquest.

“Today the word empire is used to describe an extensive state made up of several ethnic groups but ruled by only one of them.  It has, at least since the early 20th century, also carried the suggestion of tyranny and brutality, inherited from the practices of modern European colonial powers.” [Grafton, Anthony, ed. 2010. The Classical Tradition. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Mass. Empire. pg.310]

The imperial entity also means the mass rule of law and an enforced order over a given territory. An empire allows for widespread civility allowing the gentler aspects of civilization to take hold as well as providing the structure for the crueler aspects of humankind to prevail (the argument for barbarism as told by R.E. Howard). Education and philosophy blossom as well as giving a chance for cults and even gangs (a criminal underworld) to appear.

Imperium refers, in common use, to the empire and its forces sometimes with exclusion to its people. Here it serves more as a reference to its machinery rather than its people or possessions. More often, it is synonymous to Empire and often it is used for both. However, it is actually a reference to the territorial reach and extent of the empire. “One thing all the various meanings of the word imperium have in common is the association between extended territorial dominion and military rule.” [Grafton. 310] This basic definition is as old as Rome and is less vague than the casual usages. “As early as the 1st century BCE, the Roman historian Sallust had used the phrase Imperium romanum to describe not merely the power but also the geographical extent of the authority of the Roman people.” [Grafton. 310]

When it comes to the term Citizen when speaking of empires this refers to those individuals that the Imperium sees as the core of its existence often making official capacity to accommodate that (or those) group(s) cultural traditions and to those that it has a legal and/or philosophical responsibility. Note also that there will be some legality involved with citizenship handled by an imperial bureaucracy. The reality of citizenship however is always an unpredictable affair and will vary throughout the history of the empire. In game terms, imperial citizens are often snobby and serve as exemplars of over-civilized fops that are incapable of not getting themselves killed not just in the wilds of the world but in the rural farmlands as well.

“IMPERIAL CITIZENS are so civilized that they have given up WAR in favour of POLITICS and POISON. The Management considers this effete and will direct you to feel contempt for most of these people, except the Emperor, until you come upon the elderly man who retains the old virtues of the Empire. A former General, he is totally trustworthy and warlike and scorns politics too. He will become a staunch supporter of the Tour and of great help either on the QUEST or in SAVING THE WORLD.” [Jones, Diana Wynne. 2006. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Revised and Updated Edition. pg.95]

An empire from the POV of a player in an RPG setting on the other hand is one of a civilizing force that carries with it a corrupting force as well as the violent force of law. It seems a bit libertarian but when it comes to a group of often somewhat individually powerful freewheeling adventurers their world view is one of reaping the benefits by hook or by crook from the landscape, evil forces, monsters, and its people. A functioning empire of course impedes this ravenous impulse of the rapacious adventurer with its far reach, armed authorities, and system of laws not to mention a potentially oppressive and faceless bureaucracy.

Even in its different phases an empire always affects the Players. A dying empire is an impediment to be overcome and its authorities avoided if possible. A long dead one presents opportunity in its corpse where adventurers can pick its bones clean. Of course, this can also happen with a dying empire in its last throes with players aligned with the barbarians at the gate perhaps riding the barbaric tide as it were, or following in its wake, or caught between a desperate authority and a savage horde.

In fantasy worlds, old empires typically have a single seed from which they are grown, a trope that helps to characterize the nature of the empire and what role it is itself to play within the game. The most common tropes are the Ancient Empire, the Lost Empire, the Evil Empire, and the Vestigial Empire.

The Ancient Empire often long gone, if not it is often senile and rapidly disintegrating, is a very common trope. It concerns a long existent imperial power that either has passed or is passing. Most of the world shares a common origin from within this type of old empire and if not from its peoples then from among its knowledge and maybe customs. These types of old empires help to build a historical foundation for a setting laying in a base layer of information in the setting giving the players a sense of history as they experience its artifacts and their characters share in its heritage. Heritage being writing, architecture, and economics, which may live on long after the empire, has died.

As this Ancient Empire was wide reaching and of course would have been involved in large engineering projects, it has left an indelible mark on the landscape not just the people and their cultures. “ANCIENT ENGINEERING PROJECTS tend to litter the landscape in some parts of the continent. Most of them are quite mysterious, and all of them are made of some substance not known to the present inhabitants, often of a greenish colour, or a matte black, though white is not unknown. They will be gigantic. Most of them will be pillars that touch the clouds, but ROADS and broken BRIDGES are common too. It is unknown what challenge caused earlier peoples to make things that were so very large. Most of them are no use to anyone.” [Jones. 4]

Lost Empires on the other hand are often not as far reaching and are widely believed to be extinct.  Within the game, they serve as a foundation for mythoi, as hidden enemies or saviors, or holders/discoverers of special knowledge.  A lost empire is an empire that has somehow disappeared from history and any information on it lay in vague historical accounts, clues in place names and legends. It seems only to exist within the odd bit or curiosity that can be found by the players within myth and folklore or that they simply happen upon in the course of an adventure.

An important aspect of a Lost Empire found in fantasy RPGs are Remnant (Lost) Cities. These lost cities are tracked down through a string of clues and can exist as still functioning locales though in complete isolation a la Shangri-La or as hidden and mostly intact i.e. not pillaged ruins. A Lost Empire can also serve as a mythic foundation for stories and the explanation for any strange anomalies such as dungeons as well as certain exotic places and anomalous peoples (not always human) of the world.

In addition, a Lost Empire can serve as a nebulous threat or even enemy striking from the shadows from beyond the mists of history. These enemies must be detected, discovered, and ferreted out by the PCs. These hidden people may also serve as secret saviors to be sought, or a secret repository of special knowledge that lays hidden for the PCs to quest for.

This brings us to the unavoidable Evil Empire, which always serves as an active villain sometimes doubling as an end of the world trope. This is most often the active type of empire though the Evil Empire can also be a disintegrating ancient empire though now evil if it has not always been so due to degradation and always a definite threat. This type of ancient empire is an active villain for the players to confront and maybe even try to topple. These sorts of powers often play into the end-of-the-world trope as well sometimes possessing the power of the apocalypse other times seeking it. Usually the McGuffin said world-ending power (often an object or artifact) could instantly put an end to the evil empire instead when the PCs get involved.

Finally, we arrive at the Vestigial Empire, an empire that serves as background and mood than anything else. It is just a contrast to the wilderness and its citizens the opposite of adventurers. “VESTIGIAL EMPIRE. […] This Empire occupies an area usually slightly larger than most other COUNTRIES and you will know you are in it because the ROADS will be well made and patrolled by Imperial GUARDS in HELMETS and SKIRTS. Rest-houses line the way, a day’s march apart. The LANDSCAPE will be full of prosperous farmlands, vineyards, and olive groves, and you may even see a little light INDUSTRY, such as pottery and carpet-making. White villas crown the hills – in fact, most BUILDINGS in the Empire are white. When you reach the imperial CITY, you will find TEMPLES and colonnades as well as streets of decent houses, drains, and public Baths. The aura of civilization extends to daily life too. The Vestigial Empire is the only Country on the Tour to have POLITICS. It has a parliament and a senate and many noble CLANS to jockey for power. This keeps all Imperialists very busy, very noisy, and very likely to POISON one another. They also […] understand MONEY in a truly civilized way.” [Jones. 216]

This does not mean that the Vestigial Empire was always as it is it could be the remnant of a once great ancient empire and the relics of its greatness strewn across the land. Essentially a Vestigial Empire is exactly what its name implies it often serves little actual purpose to the setting and is not necessarily any kind of impediment to the PCs, an annoyance perhaps or a place to trade but that is all. Essentially, the Vestigial Empire serves as a rest stop for the PCs and marks the line separating civilization and barbarism (according to imperialist thought).

Now if I may digress a little, there is a seminal fantasy world where old empires as an explicit idea simply do not really exist though an argument can be made for the Elves. In J.R.R. Tolkien it does seems that world lacks an Old Empire.  I have always felt this lacuna when confronting the Legendarium. It seems to need at least one Old Empire in order to stitch together some of the cultures in that world.

An example being the Rohirrim, only a single regional kingdom codifies their culture. As a people, they simply descended and gathered from other people through time. Their consistency of culture seems hard to achieve in that manner alone. However, where this cultural glue seems to lack the most is with the Easterlings. Granted they follow Sauron though he seems to function more as a god or object of reverence and worship than an actual king or lord. It seems they would need unification by a powerful overlord. Joined into a single cultural force before being forged into a war machine by a powerful overlord that rules them rather than influences them from afar.

Tolkien’s world is filled with ruins but ruins of the fortresses of petty kings and lords, there is no Alexander, Rome, Ch’ing, or even Attila to serve as a basis for a united regional culture just individual heroes. His Legendarium is more concerned with lineage and personal family histories rather than politics or even major cultural diversity except where it comes to language and race. The Legendarium is more a collection of heroic stories, songs, and tales documenting the plight of certain families and individuals than a world history. So in that respect Old Empires are basically completely absent, the Elves are very similar to the Rohirrim though the ruins of their younger days tend to be more widespread.

Concerning RPGs, Old Empires are useful to Game-Masters especially with the values that can be drawn from the historical. The GM can draw from history to provide not just inspiration but also some basic facts about what an actual empire was capable of not just in temperament but technological innovation and in the development of the arts. Instead of making up value and legal systems from scratch, the GM can obtain them from history already fully laid out and time tested in both practice and enforcement.

Examples of this historical wealth are found with the Roman and Chinese empires. From the Roman the primary points being the military machine, its extreme emphasis on order, running water, a senate or discernible governing body later to be usurped by an emperor. With the Chinese its vast armies and their military organization/logistics, the capability of the mass production of goods especially arms, the development of writing, philosophy, and medicine. These are all various civilized developments, systems and discoveries that can only be advanced or even made within a stable civilization of a certain level of advancement.

The Prime Uses of an Old Empire within an RPG campaign are many. Building an Old Empire into the past of a setting can help to explain common gaming tropes like dungeons, make its heirs desperate to reclaim their “heritage” creating wider conflicts, and provide a foundational layer to the history of the world deepening its history.

Injecting History via an Old Empire provides an easy framework on which a GM can build a setting and giving their new world a sense of historical identity or lineage. This can drop clues for PCs to follow to long lost cities, leave behind valuable artifacts, and leave lost knowledge behind ripe for rediscovery. The places the adventuring PCs visit may have a visible lineage and unique identity linked to the old empire distinguished by architecture, place names, familial lineages, and political organizations.

Imperialism can serve as a motivator to both Players and the NPCs. Either can see the old empire as their heritage and want to reclaim some of that former glory. It can motivate NPC (sometimes Player) villainy through imperialism. “Just as the Roman empire had become the embodiment of the Stoic notion of the koinos nomos, the universal law for all mankind, so its heirs sought to impose their own legal and religious order on all the peoples they overran.” [Grafton. 310] An aging empire that is rapidly disintegrating may try to forge outward under new leadership or try to transform itself into a new power providing a dynamic changing backdrop where the PCs could stand to benefit from the ensuing chaos.

Old Empires can explain away Dungeons, Ruins, Artifacts, and other such RPG commonalities as its relics or ruins. As well as set the mood when traversing the ruins of its lost glory. “RUINS of former days, like ANCIENT ENGINEERING PROJECTS, litter Fantasyland. Only the large kind are important to the Tour, and even most of these will be just setting the mood. You are not expected to be happy on this Tour. The Ruins make you think of the sad losses of former days. But cheer up. Just occasionally you will find TREASURE in a Ruin.” [Jones. 164]

Using old empires as a foundational component of your game world does have a few drawbacks. These disadvantages are Imperialist concepts inherent in an empire can overwhelm a game, the Players may become resentful of being restricted by existent imperial law and power, and old empires tend to be over-used in fantasy fiction.

This idea, old empires, is cliché territory when it comes to fantasy fiction but if the cliché is fun why not use it in an RPG campaign. As long as it doesn’t bore the Players or inhibit their characters to the point of strangling the fun out of the game it’s fine.

Imperialist concepts can begin to take hold of the game and cause certain in game tensions to become uncomfortable in real life. One of these concepts being slavery when based on certain superficial aspects of characters such as race and culture, which might get construed as stereotypes where characters may start expositing certain lines that smack of real world racism just with different names. Another example is the justifications for theft or domination, which may group certain characters together and the previous can happen the same way and may end up in slavery that then can proceed even further into the overlap.

Lastly, the PCs can become hateful of civilization within the game world and run amok if it becomes too oppressive of a force within the game. Players as well can simply become bored or frustrated with an empire that constantly boxes them in and thwarts their plans without fail. There has to be some holes to room to breathe even in a very powerful and extremely oppressive power’s demesne. Players will work hard against the odds if there is at least a glimmer of hope of success.

In conclusion, Old Empires are tropes of fantasy fiction but in terms of tabletop RPGs, they are still useful and hold some fascinating avenues to explore. Old Empires are useful to GM’s when building a history for their world and providing an explanation for the origins of some fantasy RPG tropes such as dungeons and monster haunted ruins. There are disadvantages of course when using old empires in your game. You run the risk of tramping on old clichés, letting imperialist thinking to overwhelm your fantasy, and alienating your players through the over-application of imperial will.

However, the advantages of a successful implementation of an old empire (or empires) in your game can outweigh the negatives. A successful implementation takes some lessons, inspiration, and facts from history, avoids the standard tropes though a twist on or subversion of the idea, and makes sure it enhances the fun at the table!

 

Wondrous Objects #6 – The Wondrous Armory

Here’s another fantastic item to drop into any Dice & Glory campaign. However, it is not strictly speaking an object. Instead it’s a clever use of a combination of spells, a locale, and some mundane but high quality weapons. It has the potential to pull double-duty as a hidden stash and an enemy’s clever gimmick.

A sudden need to flex the magic system inspired it. There are endless variations depending only on character resources and their scope of spell knowledge.

Wondrous Objects are pregenerated fantastic items, mostly magical, for Dice & Glory. At the discretion of the GM wondrous objects can add a reward or additional threat to their game world easily and quickly. Also as pregenerated items Game Masters can drop them into a game session with little prep-work beyond reading the PDF.

Wondrous Objects #6: The Wondrous Armory – 663k

A hidden room of weapons summoned only by its master!

Bizarre Beasties #10 – The Crow Sloth

The Crow Sloth, a pregenerated monster for Dice & Glory that can add a little surprise to any GM’s campaign. These creatures are massive brutes that will attack and kill any targets smaller than themselves. They leave the corpses of their victims to “ripen” for a few days before returning and devouring the corpse.

Inspired by the classic Owl Bear. However, combining instead the best abilities of a Crow/Raven with those of the Giant Ground Sloth (Megatherium). They are a giant brute type creature that will fight to the death and highly aggressive.

Bizarre Beasties can be used at the discretion of Game-Masters to add variety to their game worlds easily and quickly. So that GM’s can drop the fully fleshed Crow Sloth into game sessions immediately without any prep-work beyond reading the document. Finally, the Crow Sloth is a great addition to any GM’s bestiary.

Bizarre Beasties #10 – 624k

A giant crow-headed sloth-beast that kills with its massive claws and dagger-like beak!

Tabletop Meditations #15: The Golem

The creature comes barreling down a narrow web-choked hallway in the enemy wizard’s fortress. The ground shakes as the large humanoid stomps towards our hapless adventurers. Its fists like cudgels and its door-shattering shoulders wide and powerful. Its feet and legs like dreadful stumps ready to stomp our heroes into pulp. Snickering behind the monster is the wizard who created it and ordered it to slay his enemies. This is a golem; an artificial creature shaped from clay, chiseled from stone, or hammered from iron by a powerful wizard. It unwaveringly obeys every order that its maker gives it.

The golem is another staple of the fantasy roleplaying game used mostly by mages in game as a minion to account for their own physical weakness or set as a powerful guardian against adventurers and the like. Similar to other entities and beings considered classic archetypes of the RPG genre, the golem has roots just as deep if not deeper. The adaptation of the golem into RPG’s was probably inspired by the pop-image of the creature, which first hit the popular imagination with the silent film Der Golem (1914), a partially lost classic of the horror genre. Of course, the filmmakers were themselves inspired by a medieval Jewish folktale. This folktale, known as the Golem of Prague, has its clay feet planted firmly in biblical and Jewish lore.

“In the Talmud, the word ‘golem’ has come to mean lifeless, shapeless matter, something unformed and imperfect, a body without a soul.” [Patterson, Jose. 1991. “Angels, Prophets, Rabbis, and Kings from the Stories of the Jewish People” New York. Peter Bedrick Books. p.98]

First, what exactly is a golem? Of all the differences in systems found across the RPG-scape the few points about golems that are commonly accepted are that  it takes a mage or wizard of sufficient power to create and that “Golems are magically created automatons of great power. Constructing one involves the employment of mighty magic and elemental forces”. [Cook, Monte. Jonathan Tweet, Skip Williams. 2000. “Dungeons & Dragons: Monster Manual”. Renton, WA. Wizards of the Coast, Inc. p.109]

All the sources that I’ve encountered also concede that a golem is not technically living although it may be semi-autonomous able to carry out simple commands it is still not technically living. Therefore, most things that affect living beings such as death effects, poison gas, as well as most non-magical attacks (this last one does vary although a semblance of it is retained in most instances), do not affect them. It is also a mindless object in the most basic sense and thus cannot feel fear or fall victim to psychic attack and psychological warfare. Therefore, a golem is a magical construct given animation by a powerful spell-caster through a ritual that binds a spiritual force to an artificial body making it strong, durable, and immune to certain attacks and special modes of combat typically effective against living intelligent beings.

“A golem is a “construct”, a powerful, enchanted monster created and animated by a high level magic-user or cleric. Golems can be made of almost any material.” [Allston, Aaron comp. 1991. “Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia”. TSR, Inc. p.180] Essentially, a golem is the most basic example of a magical construct. The term magical construct can also apply to animated objects like statues and armor although this effect can be achieved in many games with simple spells with lesser power than for a golem. These would come about in a fashion more akin to standard magical items.  However, a measure of power is still required similar to a golem. “A living statue is an enchanted animated creature made by a powerful wizard.” [Allston. P.208]

Now what is a construct since a golem is also defined as a magical construct? “Constructs […] are created much as magical treasures are.” [Allston. P.253] Essentially a magical construct is a magical device that mimics the most basic features of a living being barring reproduction. However, how does a magical item pull this trick off? A wizard cannot just conjure a soul out of nowhere and infuse it into the artificial body (the construct) so a readily available substitute is required. This substitute for the soul came in the ancient lore from the secret name of God and the creative power of the Hebrew Alphabet. In RPG’s which draw on a very rich and deep reservoir of world (though still mostly Western European but expanding) mythology and ancient lore another source is found in the form of errant elemental spirits.

“The animating force for a golem is a spirit from the Elemental Plane of Earth. The process of creating the golem binds the unwilling spirit to the artificial body and subjects it to the will of the golem’s creator.“ [Cook. p.109]

Therefore, a golem so far is a magical construct that lacking a soul to grant it authentic life mocks the semblance of life using a trapped elemental spirit instead. The materials of the constructed body can be just about anything but tend to have a relationship to the earth in most versions but is probably not a necessity. This maybe stemming from the creatures originally being sculpted from clay. The magical process to create such a constructed creature lies within not only Jewish lore but primarily seems related more to the old silent films.

The golem as a creature has beginnings in certain biblical and mystical passages and works. The idea of a powerful artificial person was a common one in ancient times and became more widespread with the middle age folktales that draw on these sources especially when the European Jews suffered brutal oppression at the hands of their fellow countrymen.

There are commentaries to the Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Creation the most influential book of the Ma’asei-Bereshit mystical tradition written sometime between the 3rd and 6th centuries, which claims that biblical figures made golems. “The commentators believe Abraham used Sefer Yetzirah’s power, noting the wording, “the people they made in Haran” (Gen. 12:5); the prophet Jeremiah also made a golem. […] The idea was a theme in the Talmud (Sanh. 38a). Two anonymous Talmudic Sages were able to create a “one-third” size calf for Sabbath meals 9Ber. 55a; Mid. The. 3). More cryptic is the report that Rava “created a man”, who he then sent to Rabbi Zeira, who caused the creature to return to dust[.] [Dennis, Geoffrey W. 2016. “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, & Mysticism Second Edition”. Woodbury, Minnesota. Llewellyn Publications. p.181]

Up to the middle ages, there were multiple tales of Jewish figures attempting to or creating golems for various reasons. The Spanish philosopher and poet Solomon ibn Gabirol (ca. 11th century) is credited by Jewish occult tradition with creating either a female golem or a mechanical automaton. [Dennis. P.164] It seemed that creating a golem was a common ability in occult accounts and especially in certain medieval stories.

“The famous Rabbi Elijah of Chelm is reputed to have created a golem by writing God’s Holy Name on a piece of parchment and sticking it on the forehead of a clay model of a man. Not for one moment did it occur to the rabbi that he might be creating a monster that would run amok destroying everything in its path. When the golem proved uncontrollable Rabbi Elijah had no choice but to remove the parchment from its forehead, whereupon it immediately turned to dust.” [Patterson. P.98]

“Jewish folklore gives many accounts of rabbis who not only created golems but returned them to dust when they were no longer required. Most of them were used as attendants or bodyguards, and whereas they were supposed to have been able to understand and follow commands, they lacked the power of speech – a gift which God alone could grant.” [Patterson, p.98]

This brings us to the most common use for golems, guardianship and protection especially emphasized in the middle age folktales. The middle ages for European Jews were sometimes exceedingly bleak. This is the time that the most well-known and popularized myth of the golem originated when scattered throughout Europe Jews became victims of severe religious and economic oppression. Some brief examples of the ultimate results of this oppression being the Rhineland Massacres of 1096, the 1190 York Massacre, and the Black Death Persecutions from 1348 to 1350 to name just a few.

“They were forced to live in walled ghettoes which were built in the poorest sections of towns. […}[L]ife in the ghetto was governed by religious devotion and a strict code of morality. The poor overcrowded conditions were compensated, to a certain extent, by a growth of folk tales and stories many of which attempted to portray a happier life than the one the Jews were actually experiencing. […] The stories told in those days were peopled with a rich variety of figures who defended Jewish life – God, the rabbis, and the Golem[.]” [Patterson. P.86-87]

“With its great physical strength, its supernatural power to unearth the evil plots of their enemies, the golem became a kind of imagined redeemer to the Jews, helping them to cope with the daily problem of survival. By far the most popular of all golem stories are those told about the Golem of Prague.” [Patterson. P.99]

The story of the Golem of Prague concerned the famed rabbi Yehuda Loew of Prague (1512-1609) who was a renowned scholar of the Torah and the Talmud, a gifted storyteller, an eminent scholar, and could speak several languages fluently. One night he had a vivid dream.

In this dream, he found himself in the Christian quarter of the city and there to his horror he witnessed the murder of a child. Then the shadowy form of the killer took the little corpse, placed it in a sack, and left it in a cellar in the Jewish ghetto. As the shadowy murderer passed by him, the rabbi recognized it as the priest Thaddeus, an evil clergyman determined to destroy the Jews of Prague. With the festival of Passover fast approaching, it would be the Jews that would be blamed. Understanding the hideous implications of this horrible action, the rabbi prayed for help.

The answer was immediate. In his dream, he saw the sacred name of God and a formula of mystic words that would help him create a golem out of clay who would destroy the enemies of Israel. He awoke suddenly covered in sweat.

Taking the message of his dream as prophecy, the rabbi went to the banks of the River Moldau. There he shaped a man of immense size and when all was completed to his satisfaction, Rabbi Loew took from his pocket a piece of parchment. On this parchment, he had written the secret name of God and placed it in the mouth of the cold gray figure. He began chanting a mystical incantation while walking around it seven times one way and then seven times the opposite.

Immediately the figure began to glow like fire and then as soon as the glow had dimmed, its eyes opened. The rabbi gave it some clothes that he had brought and named the creature Joseph. As an artificial creature, the golem had no understanding of good and evil, could not speak, and could not reproduce. “He could not speak, having no soul, but he could obey.” [Constable, George ed. 1985. “The Enchanted World: Spells and Bindings”. Alexandria, VA. Time-Life Books. p.56] This creature, Joseph, was also very powerful knew the rabbi “because the longer Joseph lived the larger and more powerful he grew, he was an effective deterrent to violence”. [Constable. p.56]

With Joseph at his side, Rabbi Loew found the murdered child hidden in an abandoned basement in the house of a pious Jew. He had Joseph transfer the body to the basement of Thaddeus’ house. When the authorities came to the old man’s house, the rabbi directed them to the priest’s home where they discovered the body to the priest’s surprise thereby sparing the Jews of Prague.

Later, Joseph would also protect the rabbi’s people against a pogrom imposed by Rudolf II the Hapsburg Emperor (1552-1612). His work done the rabbi allowed the golem to rest on the bench in front of his house where the rabbi’s wife, Perele set him to hauling water. The rabbi had warned her previously that Joseph should not do household chores. Like a holy vessel, he was meant only for God’s work.

Regardless, she set him to his task, hauling water buckets from the well to fill the barrels in the pantry while she went to the market. A few hours later she returned with her shopping and was surprised by a crowd of her neighbors gathered about her home shouting, “it’s a flood!”. The pantry barrels were filled to overflowing yet Joseph did not stop. He kept running to the well and filling his buckets and then ran back to the pantry to continue to fill the overflowing barrels. It was at that moment, by good fortune, that Rabbi Loew returned from synagogue and ordered Joseph to stop. Then the rabbi turned and told the crowd that the floods had been sent to punish mankind but this had only been a reprimand to his wife.

However, as Joseph’s size and strength increased “like many other golem tales, over time the Prague golem grew in power and in unpredictable behavior”. [Dennis. p.182] “Like other creatures of magic, however, golems had a willful streak, and their ever-increasing size made them a threat to the very folk they were summoned to serve. So it was with Joseph, who ran amuck on a Sabbath eve for reasons no one could determine, leveling the ghetto walls with his massive shoulders and leaving buildings ablaze in his wake.”[Constable. P.56]

Of course, his creator caught him and “pulled the parchment from his lips, and recited backward the scripture that had started him into motion. All that was left when the man had finished was a lifeless mound of clay.” [Constable. p.56]

Hence, “the creator was forced to destroy his creation, thus curbing his own hubris and teaching him humility.”  [Dennis. P.182]

This story however, is more modern than one would think though its roots lay deep in the myths of the past. “Though golem tales were published through the 13th century, the story of the Golem of Prague as known today is the [sic] largely creation of an early 20th-century rabbi and writer, Yudel Rosenberg, and his book, Miflaot Maharal, “The Wonders of Rabbi Judah Loew”. [Dennis. P.181]

It is probably this story that inspired the filmmakers to make the movie Der Golem, which no doubt played a critical role in popularizing the myth.

“While filming A Bargain with Satan (1913) on location in Prague its lauded star Herr Paul Wegener was taken by the ancient ghetto. One legend told by the Jews there so intrigued him that he used it as a basis for his next picture. This picture Der Golem (1914) was more a sequel to the actual 16th century legend. In the film, an elderly antique dealer purchases an excavated statue after recognizing it as the legendary clay-man. A magic charm brings the creature to life and later goes on a rampage through the streets of Prague in a love-crazed pursuit of the antique dealer’s daughter. It reverts to stone when the girl snatches the charm from its chest and falling from a tower smashes to pieces on the cobblestones below. [Gifford, Dennis. 1973. “A Pictorial History of Horror Movies”. Middlesex, England. The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited. The Clay Man Cometh – And Cometh Back]

With any successful film, of course there was a sequel, which was in effect was a prequel that followed the actual myth closer than its predecessor had. Most importantly however, this sequel reveals the process of the golem’s creation. In the prequel to Der Golem, subtitled How He Came into the World (1920):

High Rabbi Loew sees in the stars that danger impends for the Jews of Prague. Instantly a flower-sniffing Junker arrives with a decree from Emperor Ludwig: leave before the end of the month. Loew consults his ancient archives.

‘This figure called Golem was made long ago by a magician of Thessaly. If you place the magic word in the amulet on his breast he will live and breathe as long as he wears it. Astaroth guards the magic word which can endow even clay with life.’

Loew moulds a mighty giant of clay, then creates a magic circle of fire and summons forth the spirit. Astaroth, a floating head, speaks in smoke the word ‘Aemaer’. Loew writes it down and puts it in the amulet: instantly the Golem’s eyes light into life. [Gifford. The Clay Man Cometh – And Cometh Back]

This is important not just from the establishment of a process of creation that can be adapted for RPG play, there are many different ways in Jewish occult lore to create a golem however all revolve around God, but it also establishes the power of the magic-user. “As the sequel/prequel to Der Golem demonstrates the ritual activation of the golem, it also demonstrates the golem master’s power. In the second story strand of the 1920 film, Lowe travels to the court of the Emperor, gives a powerful demonstration of MAGIC […], and saves the lives of the Emperor and his throng – for which service the Emperor cancels his edict against the Jews.” [Clute, John. John Grant. 1997. “The Encyclopedia of Fantasy”. New York, NY. St Martin’s Press. p.422]

Seemingly related to the methods found in the surviving Der Golem film most roleplaying games have similar procedures and rituals to animate and control golems. A good example taken from Palladium Games’ Rifts is this spell called, appropriately, Create Golem:

The sorcerer first draws a pentagram of animal blood. Second, he sculpts a Golem (humanoid shape) from clay. Third, he places two onyx gems […] for eyes. Fourth, he places a heart, molded out of iron, into the clay body. Lastly, the mage recites the ritual ceremony. At the end of the ritual, the mystic places a single drop of his blood on the behemoth’s forehead to bring it to life. [Coffin, Bill comp. 2001. “Rifts Book of Magic”. Taylor, MI. Palladium Books, Inc. p.147-148]

This spell is a Level 13 spell in the Palladium system, which as legend would indicate a powerful spell requiring a skilled and powerful mage to create a single golem.

From the moment it entered the popular imagination through film, the concept begged infusion into the fantasy RPG realm. This concept being of an unquestioning minion with a physical might that more than compensates for its master’s physical weakness as well as a simple guardian type monster. This idea retains a little of the golem’s purpose of protection and the idea that a powerful magic-user can create an artificial life. In a sense, the mage through the creation of a golem is trying to attain the elevation of a god.

An RPG golem is an animate, semi-autonomous magical construct created for the purpose of guardianship or protection through its shear might. These creatures are created by powerful wizards or those privy to powerful magical knowledge. The ritual and method that is used to create them is varied almost as much as those found throughout their history in story and myth. They often lack the ability to speak and to think for themselves though they can understand, follow, and execute their master’s orders.

However, it seems that most RPG’s don’t take advantage of the dangers posed by a golem found in lore where they can grow dangerously independent of their masters and increase in power and size the longer they live. They may still be very physically powerful and difficult to procure but they seem to lack the unpredictability of legend.

RPG Golems began as a demonstration of faith and power in Jewish occult tradition, became figures in folktales in the middle ages which spawned the seminal tale the Golem of Prague, which was adapted into a silent film in the early 20th-century. This film helped to popularize the idea of the golem as a magical servant/protector that then in turn was adapted into the world of RPGs.

On a final note since RPG golems can be made of many different materials not just clay, stone, or iron but also flesh. These flesh golems should they retain the rebelliousness of the legendary golems have more than a passing resemblance to the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.44: Betrayed at Last!

Nighttime – the four mages stumbled into camp, beat-up and dirty. Gornix (played by Gil) was nursing a gut wound. On their way out from the treasure vault, they had backtracked to a few rooms that they had missed. Gornix had been gored by an animated obsidian rhino statue. Szoosha (played by Isis) and Fauna (played by Jenn) had been trampled but their shield items had saved them from everything but a dirty floor. Excor (played by Cris) emerged relatively unscathed from that encounter.

The porter and Arcan the wanderer were waiting for them with a hot dinner. Behind them, there was the carriage and three other wagons painted with the college arms with draft animals. They had found two more wagons hidden around the area.  In answer to an innocent “how long have we been here” he answered that “tomorrow will be the first of Late Summer”. The four mages also found that the pair hadn’t heard from the others since their departure days ago. Soon after eating, they settled in to sleep and the night passed peacefully.

Come morning the four mages began to patrol the perimeter hoping to get a bead on their lost companions. Fauna used her cabal medallion to try to contact the others but she got nothing. As they rounded the eastern portion of their clockwise run, Gornix tried his medallion. He got a static obscured reply with a faint voice that seemed to sound from a great distance. They continued south and as they came to the southeast corner, Szoo spotted a large red dune and a young swordtail dragon slithering over the crest towards them.

Excor got the drop on the beast and snared it with his Shadow Ribbons spell. From there on the fight was a slaughter until Gornix knocked it out of the ribbons with his Force Ram fortunately in the process killing the dragon. It had even managed to resist about half of the spells they had slung at it but the mages had attained a plateau of power that was beyond the unfortunate creature.

They wandered west then north, Szoo used his medallion and got a stronger signal. The words, “Yeeeargh! We’re comin’ through! WATCH OUT!” blasted into his head. At that moment, Gornix found a half-buried stone door and wanted desperately to get it open. Excor used his medallion to try to contact them. He was able to find out that they were fleeing a cave-in down a long hall that slanted steeply upward towards a stone door. However, they were all out of spells.

They backed off from the door and Gornix smashed the stone doors in with a well-placed Force Ram spell. Suddenly, through the door, their companions ran up and out one after the other. Belrae in dirty purple robes a green frog on his torn breast, Riahm his tattered half-brown half-green cloak flying behind him, Jirek in his shabby robes nursing a broken arm,  and Xanto the Wasp and his apprentice Bumble followed by two large wasps each hauling a large sack of booty.

Out of breath Belrae turned a finger towards the Wasp and shouted “we were almost KILLED because of THAT GUY!”.

The Wasp: “What me? No. I was looking out for all of our welfare, what would this little venture of yours be without the wealth I collected? We are all now very rich, celebrate my friends, we have all survived!”

Just then, a blast of sand, pebbles, and dust engulfed them from the open passageway. Later the four adventurers led their companions back to camp. They later prepared for dinner and were ready to ship out come dawn.

As they ate they talked excitedly amongst themselves with the Wasp being mildly ostracized, his apprentice next to him. She was somewhat reticent to talk to Fauna when the druidess tried to strike up a conversation. Gornix left the group for a quiet rock a ways outside of camp, a place where he could “see the stars”.

He sat lotus style on the pale stone in an area of hardened red waste and gazed at the endless Elysian field above. Studying the stars he used his astrological knowledge trying to divine whether their passage home would be a safe one. He also gathered some mana points and stored them in the crystal that topped his staff, just in case.

Seeming about to make an announcement the Wasp stood up, the two bags of loot just behind him and Bumble.

The Wasp: “Well, my friends though I regret to leave this little party despite the undue treatment, Adieu!” He waived his hand and both bags and Bumble all teleported away.

Cris: “F@#k’in Wasp! I should ‘a grabbed Bumble!”

Excor had tried to beat the Wasp to the punch and made a snatch for his arm. Unfortunately, he had been just a hair too slow. Cris was right though. With his roll, he could have easily grabbed Bumble leaving the Wasp in a precarious position when he arrived back in town sans pupil. Her father would have killed him. However, Excor went right for Xanto and thus missed, not by much, but missed all the same. The mages were disappointed the villain had flown. The missing loot just added insult to injury.

Paradoxically the players actually seemed quite relieved that Xanto the Wasp had finally betrayed them even as they griped about it.

About one week later, the mages arrived back in Ezmer sans Arcan. He had parted company just before they hit the headland. As they pulled the wagons to the city gates, they saw the city bulwarks singed and blackened. In places, they were nearly completely demolished. Dozens possibly more Wher dragons laid in several rows and clumps, most dead some still twitching and being speared by the legion of guardsmen cleaning up the battlefield.

Fauna: “What the hell happened here!?”

Isis: “Yeah, geesh!”

Cris: “Oh yeah, it’s a Dragon Summer. They converge on the Ezmerian Headlands to mate.”

The crowded corner of Silver Circle street and Western Avenue was bustling with wagons, carriages, pedestrians, and horse riders. A group of agile street urchins weaved through them all before disappearing. Szoosha ineffectually watched the scene coursing around the street level of the Red Helm tavern from the window above in the cabal clubroom.

Fauna, Gornix, and Excor were sitting around the table dividing the loot that they had won. Each of the four had received a gold ring and necklace with a bee motif as well as a gold dagger as their share. Fauna claimed the gold skullcap that granted a +4 bonus to I.Q. when worn. Gornix took the bracers that granted +2 STR. Szoo claimed a gold ring that granted the Fearsome Form I spell and a constant +5 bonus to resist poisons. Excor took the ring that granted the Verminous Might (Winged Flight) spell and a necklace that granted the Sting spell 3 times per day (after a roll-off between the players).

Excor pulled the small silver chest from the portable hole and found it empty; it had a felt lining that had an indentation in it that fit the Amber Bee. They left the lotus mirror, an intelligent item, hidden in the cabal room, as none of them wanted it. They hung the lotus maces that they had captured on the walls of the tiny chamber as trophies.

After that had been accomplished, Excor pulled forth the first large chest that Gornix had holed up from the lotus vaults. The chest was oak banded with black iron. In place of a lock, there was a polished gold skull with a large ruby, citrine, and emerald in the eye sockets and nasal cavity. The jaw was jointed. Showing restraint Gornix “clairvoyanced” the lock finding out that the gems were buttons and to unlock it, the correct two must be pressed. However, the wrong combo would unleash a blast of toxic Grey Lotus spore.

Suddenly the mechanism unlocked and the top popped open as Fauna pushed the yellow then green gems without prompting. They admonished her lightly and then turned their attentions to the contents.

Within were a high quality nega-steel bottle with an aquamarine stopper carved into a flower that contained three doses of water charged with anti-magic energy. There was also a phoenix feather cape (Level 7 item, fire proof, Charm Against Evil (constant), Temporal Jump (1 x day), Seal of Health (10 charges)), a copper armlet with a large emerald carved into a lotus (level 8 item, grants a +1 I.Q. to wearer), 10 platinum talons, an alligator hide sack filled with gold bee husks (approximately 10 lbs. of gold), and a Drake hide sack filled with 100 pieces of tiger’s eye.

They each took 2 platinum talons leaving 2 for the cabal coffers. Finding that the locking mechanism could reset itself they closed it intending to leave it in the cabal room. Excor then withdrew the second chest.

It was another large iron-banded oak chest. Its locking mechanism was a solid gold faceplate inscribed with a honeycomb pattern where four of the cells had holes and three were buttons. Each button was inscribed with a black wasp, a gold bee, and a gold lotus. They argued a little back and forth about which two buttons to push after Gornix used his clairvoyance to confirm that was what they had to do.

Isis: “I got this! Um, the people there had a religion centered around gold bees and lotuses so…”

Szoo pushed the gold bee and then the gold lotus buttons. The chest popped open. The naga released a held breath.

Within the chest were a pair of highest quality leather gloves with amber buttons (level 7, +8 to sleight of hand, Quickness (constant), Counterspell: Curse: Affliction by touch 1 x day), a highest quality mirror-polished mithral priestess figurine (level 8, a command word grants a +9 to diplomacy and Owl’s Wisdom (1D4 + 3) 2 x day), and a highest quality stiletto with a clear quartz pommel stone, a blue-dragon-hide grip and decorative runes along the starmetal blade (level 14, +1D6 acid damage, keen weapon (18-20 critical)). There were also 10 talons of ice-steel, a silk sack filled with 100 pieces of obsidian, and a superior quality silk sack filled with 100 emeralds.

From that hoard, each mage got as their share 25 emeralds, 25 pieces of obsidian, 2 ice steel talons, and 25 pieces of tiger’s eye. Szoosha took the phoenix feather cape (after a player roll-off), Excor the armlet (after a roll-off between Cris and Gil), Fauna the gloves (after a roll-off between Jenn and Gil), and Gornix took the stiletto. They left the cabal coffers with 2 ice steel talons and the priestess figurine.

The following day the mages decided to finish off their reading of Vordan’s Tome. They picked up at the fourth section. The section began with a brilliant full-page illuminated gold lotus illustration. The section goes on to discuss the gold lotus giving a location where it could be found describing the location as “southern ruins alongside a billabong overseen by a warlord’s red edifice by a river at the foot of a bloody spire far southeast of the old black temple”.

Cris: “Well, there it is. Guess that’s next?”

They read on. Several gold gilded pages made up the meat of the section. They described the spell of legend Alchemical Gold but it was incomplete. The pages following those were from an old accounting ledger with pictures of various types of gold coins.

The fifth section was composed entirely of more entries from Vordan’s diary. All lamented or cursed something. The most interesting parts were of Vordan lamenting the loss of his ladylove to a lying, handsome, & corrupt official followed by several bad poems, revenge fantasies, and laughable schemata to win her back. There was a potion formula however of Allure and the spell Eatables to Maggots.

The sixth section consisted of several pages of reproductions of familial heraldry, only some of which were recognizable as those still in use. Vordan’s personal arms occupied a page. A black, white, grey, green-eyed Karkadann head on an orange lozenge like a longshield with an open book at helm and crossed green-leaved branches at bottom composed the wizard’s arms. Following were some more accounting pages with an address in the Market District. They also found the Luminescent Sigil and Harmless Beam spells. A large illustration of a key was on the page with the latter.

The seventh section was a beautifully illustrated catalog of mystic lotus types. Its final page was about the gold lotus and mentioning, “The royal jelly of that certain bee is required to grow them”. The section ended abruptly however cutting off the text. A few almost incoherent poems in a loose and sloppy hand occupied the margins. The section also talked about the refinement and use of the mystic lotus in alchemy. When using this section to identify lotus flowers the reader would get a +3 to identify and a +2 skill bonus when using alchemy.

The eighth and final section was simply a fusion of three sections taken from Vordan the Magnificent’s autobiography. The three sections concerned a torrid love story, a wizard’s duel in which Vordan lost, and the laments of an aged shop-keep. There were also three amateurish sketches of an alley shop front, an old man, and a small room with a chair in front of a strange circular window. There they found the spells Alarm, Amulet of Power, and Tele-Location.

They had heard that the twin swans had left on a ship with their brothers in arms in pursuit of a Creschan vessel, something to do with Creschan Fire. They had also heard that their former benefactor Virtra Wefa had poisoned herself along with her grim servant when faced with arrest by the black and white swan knights.

Later that week they tried to track down the Wasp at his house behind the Nezorik family mansion. He wasn’t home. So Szoo and Excor deposited the animated armor in the portable hole in his living room and left.

The mages found that Bumble became scarce at the next few meetings. Also the two ‘leaders’ were becoming ever more secretive as they seemed to get closer to Draega Skullshine the publican. However, Jirek was still chummy with them.

As the Dragon Summer ended, the mages prepared for fall. Fauna readied to make certain necessary political maneuvers involving the Brothers of the Rope. The other three were gearing up their operation for the rat fights, which would go into high swing come winter.

End of the Campaign (played between June 2016 and June 2017).

The Cabal of Eight Pt.43: The Final Room

The sound of stone grinding against stone filled the mages’ ears as the solid black-stone door slid the monster in the final chamberdown into the floor stopping with the finality of a thud. That door would never close again. A large central fire lighted the oblong octagonal chamber before them. The walls were of the same dull black stone as the rest of the place and floors were polished white marble tile. The ceiling was flat and very high.

Directly to the south was an elevated platform with white stone steps leading up to its top where sat a small silver box with wood panels. Supporting the western and eastern walls were a pair of thick but plain black pillars. Against the southerly diagonal walls, one to the east and the other to the west sat large iron-banded oak chests.

Gornix (played by Gil) immediately prepared to run in to one of the large chests and Excor (played by Cris) was eyeballing the small silver box.

The GM (me): *Exasperated Sigh* “Make a spot check.”

Gil: *Roll*Roll* “Nope. I go to the first chest.”

Fauna (played by Jenn) and Szoosha (played by Isis) stopped the Salt-Lotus Wizard from blindly charging into the newly opened chamber. They pointed out the giant lion-like creature lying at the center of the room, the firelight being at the tip of its tail. Its three heads were rousing but still groggy. In a rumbling voice that they felt more than heard, the central head spoke. However, the mages did not speak its language nor did they want to “waste” any spells trying to understand what it had said.

Cris: “It has three heads!? And it can TALK!?”

Fauna immediately charged in casting Lightning Bolt. The bolt struck the beast with no effect. Gornix on the other hand, moved in cautiously to the side and using his Dark Secret wizard ability was able to let the others know that it was immune to electricity. He also gave them a pointer on how to take it out which was mostly an educated guess. Meanwhile, Excor cast Shadow Ribbons and amazingly bound the monster. The creature struggled against the shadows. All three of its heads roaring a horrific bone quaking roar of rage and confusion but the mages were unshaken. Szoo cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (fire) on himself.

While the players all yelled at Jenn that the monster was immune to electricity, Fauna cast Lightning Bolt on it yet again. Gornix cast Amplify Magic his spell easily penetrating the monster’s resistance. Excor cast Slow on it, his magic also penetrating its resistance easily. The beast spat a fireball from its central head catching Fauna, Excor, and Gornix in the ensuing blast of swirling flames. Fauna stumbled but was saved by her Mage Armor, which was dispersed. Gornix took half damage having forgotten to engage his Shield and Excor’s Mage Armor absorbed the damage but was greatly weakened (not many Hit Points left). He had used an item to don it just before Gornix had opened the vault door. Szoo summoned his flaming naginata and charged in.

Gornix cast Force Ram at the creature crunching in some of its ribs wounding it horribly. Excor cast Paralyze II at it, his magic again easily penetrating its resistance to magic. Szoo put all his strength behind his blow as he rammed his weapon into its battered and bleeding side. However, the flame born weapon couldn’t penetrate its hide.

Gornix slung another Force Ram at the creature dealing it a crushing deathblow. The beast’s massive corpse slowly faded into nothingness. The battle was over. The mages assessed the damage, only Gornix had been wounded in that fight but he dismissed it as “nothing”. They spread out inspecting but not touching the chests and box.

Fauna checked the stairs leading to the top of the platform for traps, seeing none she ascended to the box.

Fauna (eagerly): “Should I open this chest guys?”

In response, Excor stepped out of the room and prepared to duck behind the stone jamb. Fauna took her time inspecting the box and the platform upon which it was resting. She found that the box had already been opened a long time ago and it was definitely trapped. She figured that it sat on a pressurized crevice that if it were removed would unleash poisonous gas from a hidden reservoir. Gornix tried to sense magic on it but was unable to get anything so instead he got a little frustrated.

Consequently, he cast Breath without Air on himself. Fauna backed off to the bottom of the stairs. Szoo left the room and ducked behind the doorjamb opposite Excor. He tried to identify the box but it was just a box. Therefore, he attempted to disarm the trap. Fauna retreated to the others. He failed to disarm it. Suddenly, a large several inches thick blue-steel door started to slide down over the lone entrance. Thinking quick, Excor tossed Gornix the Portable Hole. A second later, the door slammed down sealing the room airtight. A vast amount of gas billowed from the square hole the box had formerly concealed.

Gornix was now at the center of the room with the hole in his hands. He tossed the silver box in as the billowing gas snuffed out the last vestiges of his vision. The gas was sickly green and very thick. It blotted out all light blinding all normal vision. He was in pitch black even though he tried to light his way with his staff.

Cris: “Man! You’re totally blind in there! Be careful!”

Gornix carefully felt his way slowly around the room to the first chest. He holed it up suddenly feeling and hearing a huge torrent of gas blasting into the room causing his ears to pop with the pressure.

Gil: “Aw man, I’m glad I got breath, breathe without air on me!”

He slowly moved across the room to the other chest. Almost tripping at about the center of the room, he was able to maintain his balance. He edged ever closer but had a little bit of a struggle to feel out the second chest. The gas chilled his skin. He could feel it billowing through his hair and between his fingers. Eventually he found the second chest and holed it up as well. Once again, he triggered the trap concealed by the chest and again a huge ice-cold gust of gas hissed into the room. Consequently, Gornix felt the building pressure in his lungs now and the gas was leaving a sticky residue over his skin, in his hair, and on his clothes.

So, he moved quickly towards the metal door keeping his hand on the wall after he felt past the pillars. He made it easily to the now freezing blue-steel and used Ghost Step to exit the gas-filled chamber.

Fauna: “I wonder if there were any concealed doors in there?”

Szoo: “Oh yeah, we never checked!”

Gornix: “Well I don’t think anybody is going to be able to go back in there ever again.”

He “prestidigitized” himself clean. Fortunately, the toxin did not seem to be a contact poison.

Excor (shrugging): “Whatever let’s get outta here! And give me back my hole.”

Jenn and Isis burst out into hysterical fits of maniacal laughter. Gil just clinched his eyes shut and put his hand over his face. Cris flipped the two women the bird.

To Be Concluded…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.42: The Lotus Vaults Pt.2

The shattered remains of the door lay before Gornix (played by Gil) revealing a long hallway to the The Lotus Vaults and all its doorssouth. As the others, Fauna (played by Jenn), Szoosha (played by Isis), and Excor (played by Cris) moved slowly and carefully down the newly opened passage, Gornix peeked back through the eastern archway. He found another passage going southward. He sneered with doubt and followed the rest of the group catching up to take over lead position.

The group approached the dimly lit chamber at the end of the hallway (9 on the map). The small room flickered with firefly light from its southeast corner. Against the northwest corner and occupying all of that 5 ft.-square space was a large piece of semi-transparent yellow-orange amber. Caught within they could see an ancient warrior in scale mail, a horned open helm on his head , his axe raised, his sharpened teeth bared in an eternally frozen bestial rage.

This feature made them wary of the room and Gornix took a little time to search the floor. He found a small, hastily scrawled magic circle. It was still carrying a charge and he was sure that it summoned something when crossed. He just did not know what. Excor heedless, portable-holed the amber encased barbarian.

Excor: “What? It’ll go great in my tower! … When I have it built.”

Gornix was determined to move on and with the barrier of the amber husk gone; he began to lead the group. Of course, he accidentally stepped directly over the magic circle activating it.

Three Lightning Bugs sprang into existence with a magic flash identical to the one that they had faced not long before. The fight was brief. Gornix turned the tide early with a cone of fire that killed two and Szoo and Excor pummeled the last to death with a fire ray and Chrono-Missile. That taken care of they proceeded to the end of the short passage.

There they found a rusty iron door with a magic rune carefully inscribed upon its face to the north (D8). Its key lock mechanism was jammed and badly rusted. Gornix used his knowledge of Magical Script to identify the rune and its purpose. He knew that if the door was attacked in any way that it would summon a giant inferior water elemental.

Cris: “aw man! If we activate that thing we’re all dead! DEAD! Look at where we’re at! A giant water elemental will fill this place up, engulf us, we’ll all drown!”

They stood there puzzled for a little while and very wary of the door. The players even checked their sheets to see who could swim. Only Fauna had the skill.

Gil: “There is definitely something worth it behind that door.”

They searched the old iron door for the depression that would allow the Amber Bee to open it as it had others previously. However, they found that it did not have this. Gornix and Excor decided to do a synergized check for traps. They scoured the surface of the door and its edges for any sign at all.

They found nothing aside from the rune. So Excor tried using the Knock spell from his platinum key. However, the door was firmly jammed shut and simply couldn’t be opened without the use of force. In response, Gornix had the bright idea to just “ghost step through”.

Gil: “Wait, wait, wait! Mini-portal spell to see what’s happening first.”

Through the small portal, they could see nothing but darkness. Therefore, Szoo shoved his flaming naginata through it allowing them to see inside via the flame light. The chamber beyond was another octagonal chamber and very plain with a flat ceiling each of its walls lined with dark and very dusty wooden shelves (10). They could see several jars of what appeared to be seeds and maybe some preserved honey.

Excited by this sudden treasure trove Excor and Gornix ghost stepped into the chamber. Excor cast illuminate. They proceeded to loot the place shoving everything into the portable hole. The group managed to snatch a single jar of grey lotus honey, 2 jars of golden lotus honey, 1 jar of yellow lotus honey, and 1 of purple. They also found 3 jars of lotus seeds with grey, blue, and black respectively. With that they also found 4 jars of pure lotus pollen; purple, red, blue, and yellow. The pair also found an ancient rotting scroll case hidden amongst the shelves and holed that up without opening it. They exited via ghost step.

They backtracked with Gornix in the lead. He slowly moved towards the next chamber at the end of the hall just above the amber warrior room the passage opening to the east. This chamber (11 on the map) was lit by several firefly ambers in the wall niches and seemed very plain save for the white tiled floor. Other than that, the room was completely empty. He was sure that there were no traps in here so he lead them through noticing however that there were weapon nicks everywhere along the walls and even on the floor.

The group moved through into the next connecting chamber through a tall deep archway. There may have been a door ages ago but there was no trace left. The room before them was enormous and very brightly lit as if by the sun itself. All four of the mages were gazing in wonder from the archway.

Within the room had a domed ceiling its apex at 35 ft. tiled with a mosaic of a sparsely clouded blue sky. The floor tiled with polished white marble, the thick black pillars were lotus themed, and gold leafed with chevron patterns. They could see what looked like a miniature sun orbiting around the inside of the dome cascading the room with pure daylight. At the center of the room was a barren planter sunk into the floor. However growing in that was a 20 ft. tall woody lotus flower of a kind unknown to any of them. Its large brown petals were shriveled and leather like, and its woody bole was wart covered and twisted.

In the south wall were a recess and a door cut from the same black stone. Standing in the north where the room opened into a natural cavern was a golden statue of a bee about the half the height of a man. Within that portion of the area, there was a small waterfall to the east pouring down a wall of uncut natural stone into a large curbed basin or cistern. They could smell the strong scent of fresh, clean moisture and the musk of old damp wood.

What concerned them and impeded their progress was the giant brown lotus. They were hesitant to trespass on its territory. Therefore, Fauna used her wilderness lore to surmise that the plant was indeed dead, she thought. Gornix however knew through his monster lore that the Lotus was not dead but dormant and was some sort of mutation caused by the nexus. He guessed that they must have been near the nexus that fueled this place. Gornix cast Breath without Air on himself and made sure his shield item was activated. They stood at the archway looking in. None of them wanted to be the first.

Gornix: “I have Breath without Air and Shield so f@#k it!”

Fauna: “Wait! Let me Commune with Nature first!”

Before the brash Gornix moved in towards the giant lotus, the druidess was able to discern that the plant was indeed an unnatural monster and was very much alive. She also was able to locate the rest of the cabal whom were still alive and close. In addition, the monstrous plant was growing directly on top of the nexus point. Gornix stepped in. With the painful creaking of wood, the monster plant turned and opened its petals like jaws.

Fauna cast Lightning Bolt from the arch dealing little damage. Excor cast Mage Armor on himself. Szoo hurled fire at the creature singing it a little bit. The mouth of the giant lotus turned towards Excor and Gornix unleashing a blast of woody seeds as projectiles. Excor dodged while Gornix attempted but failed losing his Shield.

Fauna lobbed another Lightning Bolt again dealing a little damage. Szoo again hurled fire at the creature barely singing it. Suddenly the soil in the planter erupted and a root like a tentacle whipped at Gornix. The White Lotus Wizard used his battle magic to intercept its attack with Force Ram. His spell smashed into the bole shattering bark and splitting the tentacle.

Excor cast Lightning Bolt at the creature dealing a little damage. Szoo hurled more fire dealing some damage this time but the plant had still not caught fire. Another root-tentacle erupted from the soil and snapped Excor wrapping around his waist and grappling him in a crushing noose. Gornix successfully cast Amplify Magic at it.

Another root exploded from the dark soil narrowly missing Szoo.

Fauna cast another Lightning Bolt this time the magic amplified she shattered bark and split wood nearly killing the creature. Gornix followed up with Force Ram smashing the monster into splinters. After they were sure it was dead, they spread out to explore the gigantic day lit chamber.

Excor wandered over to the gold bee statue. Formed by pressing and welding hundreds maybe thousands of dead gold bee husks together it was impressive. After searching it, he found an old note rolled and stuffed into a small crevice. He read it after casting Comprehend Languages. It read:

I have faith that you have found my note be that only you, my love, would in our little place. I am confident that we will soon be together as you have the bee to guide you. Though I still fear for you as the barbarians near the temple after trampling the capital. But I still pray that my yearning will be ended and we will be together finally at the glorious spire.

The signature had long since disintegrated and just after finishing the note the ancient parchment crumbled to dust in his hands.

Gornix: “Hey, what was that?”

Excor: “Aw nuthin’”

Excor bagged the gold bee statue. Meanwhile Gornix turned his attentions to the dead lotus. Inspecting the stump, he found the control obelisk within as the plant had grown over and around it encapsulating it. After all were satisfied that they couldn’t and probably shouldn’t bag the miniature sun, mostly Excor objected, they turned their collective attentions southward towards the black door.

This recessed door was of the same solid black stone from which most of this place had been chiseled (D9). It was 5 ft. wide and close to 12 ft. tall. Carved on the dull surface a couchant lion with a flame burring over its head. There was a small niche in the shape of the Amber Bee just below that.

Excor unwilling to open the door himself tossed the Amber Bee to Gornix who unhesitatingly opened it.

Gornix: “All right! This is it!”

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.41: The Lotus Vaults Pt.1

Our four adventurers, Excor (played by Cris), Fauna (played by Jenn), Gornix (played by Gil), and Szoosha (played by Isis), stumbled into camp to the northeast of the ruins. They were dirty and somewhat worn by their foray into the black tombs beneath. Here they found Arcan the wanderer and the last of Bumble’s attendants whom prepared some food for them. Arcan and the driver were a little dismayed at Fauna’s frog mount though. The mages sat and ate for only a half hour and then immediately left again. Szoo and Gornix wanted to check out the hill.

Before they vacated the comforts of their campsite however, Szoosha used his cabal medallion to try to get a hold of the others.

Szoo [gripping the medallion and “concentrating”]: “Where are you?”

“Underground”, was all that he got in response. Disappointed at that the four mages disembarked for the hill. Before that, Fauna made sure to have Arcan care for her “froggy”. Arcan seemed to be able to keep it under control so she left her “steed” with him with no further worries.

Excor [to Gornix]: “Didn’t you fly over that already?”

Gornix: “Yeah. But it was a fly by, so I didn’t get a good look.”

Thanks to Gornix’s magic (Mass Nature’s Ability: Winged Flight) it was not long before they found themselves crowning the strange hill between the broken black pillars. They had guessed that a Leyline Nexus Point was around here somewhere, maybe at or under this hill. Therefore, Szoo used his Geomancy skill to try to suss it out but to no avail. The only thing he could glean was that they were very close to a source of great mystical power and that was all.

They all stood around the low and badly weathered black stone alter at the center of the small plateau. A layer of dirt and tangles of dead grasses covered the ground concealing a floor of solid smooth black stone. Gornix, in his continuing search for hidden compartments and secret doors, noticed a small depression in the top of the altar near its top edge. He turned to Excor but Excor wasn’t there. He had stayed on the ground still at the base of the hill.

Gornix: “Hey! We need the bee! Get up here!”

Excor: “Hell no! I don’t wanna be up there!”

The other two began yelling at Excor to come up and bring the Amber Bee. Eventually he relented and used his Gold Ring of Winged Flight and flew up, handed the bee to Gornix, and backed off hovering a good distance away. A little nervous from Excor’s performance of nervosa Gornix cautiously fitted the Amber Bee into the depression.

They all jumped when the ground began to rumble but were relieved when the round altar began to slide back revealing a hidden spiral stone-stair. It took a little while for Gornix to convince the rest of them to accompany him down yet again into the breach.

Gornix: “C’mon! Let’s adventure for the treasure … and stuff!”

Isis: “You had me at stuff!”

So they elected Gornix to lead them down. The Salt Lotus Wizard lit his oil lamp and tied it to his sash instead of using a spell to light his staff for light. On the way down, he checked every step before he stepped on it by “jabbing” it with his staff.

After several minutes of winding slowly down the spiral step they ultimately set foot into the bottom octagonal chamber (1 on the map). The walls were of dull black stone carved from the living rock. The ceiling was 12 ft. above their heads its dome tiled with a pale blue glaze a golden orb at the apex. Amber fireflies burned eerily in their niches. There were doors to the south and west. The western door was solid gold painted with lotuses of all the known colors wrought in crushed gems (D2). It was apparent that the door was locked. The eastern door was identical to the west (D1).

After some time spent inspecting every nook and cranny as best they could the four mages were at a sort of impasse. Gornix however unilaterally decided to force ram the western door. His magic smashed in the door, the opposite way that it actually opened.

Excor: “Man you knew that door opened in!”

Gornix: “Oh! I forgot about that.”

Excor: “We can’t shut it now!”

Gil: “I got trigger happy. C’mon guys! I couldn’t help it.”

Szoo: “Well, if there’s anything down here they know we’re here now!”

Gornix wanted to inspect the southern door but the others wanted to keep moving due to the racket he caused. He didn’t argue.

Behind the mangled door, they found a short hallway that turned south to steps down with amber fireflies flickering in the niches. Just before the steps, lying across the floor was a corpse. Upon inspection, they found that in life it had been a warrior perhaps centuries ago. Excor judging by the remnants of armor on the body and the sharpened teeth still in the skull guessed that it had been an ancient Westlander warrior.

Excor was an expert on Westlander culture though he was Ivoran nobility. He often tried to adopt the ways of the Westlands but his foppishness and refinement always seemed to surface. Gornix did a necrology check to make sure it wasn’t an undead creature lying in ambush. It wasn’t.

Cris [to Gil with a scowl]: “You have the necrology skill!? I’ll be watching you.”

Gornix led them into the lower chamber past the steps. This chamber was another octagonal cell with black walls and amber fireflies burning in their niches to the west. The ceiling was a gleaming gold tiled dome. On the northeast and southeastern walls were colorful mosaics of priests and priestesses among lotuses with gold bees flying all about them. To the south was a solid gold door painted with powdered gems representing all the known colors of the lotus blossom (D3) with a latch and no lock. To the east was a plain black iron door with no apparent lock (D3A).

Gornix pondered it for a second then decided to open the plain iron door. Excor cast Shield on himself. Behind was only a short dark passageway that ended at yet another plain unlocked iron door. Somewhat disappointed whereas the others were relieved Gornix cast Mini-Portal on the gold door (D3) in order to see what was behind it. He could see the end of a long hallway a firefly lighting the area behind the door (H2) and could also see that the floor was glistening as if it were mirror-polished or maybe greased. Though he wasn’t sure. The floor slanted down to the east. However, despite that he did still want to open that door.

He agonized for ages about maybe using his Ring of Levitation in order to prevent contact with the strange floor. Gil kept flipping through his notes, his spell sheets, and wavering between “I’m doing it” and “Let’s not but I can’t stop being curious”.

Cris: “Well do it or don’t do it!”

Ultimately, Gornix decided to go through the short passage behind the iron door. He led the adventuring party into another octagonal chamber where the amber fireflies burned in niches to the south and the ceiling dome was bare black stone (4). To the north was a solid gold door with a honeycomb and bee motif with an obviously hastily scrawled ward on it (D5). It also appeared locked. To the south was an iron door identical to the one from which they had just emerged. On closer inspection, the door to the south had severe rust damage to the bottom half to the point that the edge was ragged and brittle.

They stared intently for several minutes at the golden door and its sloppy rune. Excor identified the runic marking and told the group that should the door be touched in any way that the rune would summon a Lightning Bug. Gornix pried in closer and saw that there was an indention in the door where the locking mechanism was. He questioned whether using the Amber Bee to open it would set it off. So of course, he stuck the gem in the notch and hoped for the best.

The door opened and in a flash of mystical light, a Lightning Bug appeared to block their way. The Lightning Bug was a wasp-like creature the size of a man. Its body was black and yellow with the yellow stripes having a lightning bolt pattern on its abdomen. The cold metallic green compound eyes reflected their wide-eyed faces back at them.

Szoosha moved in and slashed unsuccessfully at it with his flaming naginata. Excor cast Slow on the monster but to no effect. Gornix cast Chrono-Missile at it. It moved in a flash as it tried to dodge but instead put itself into harm’s way. The missiles hit it hard cracking its flamboyant exoskeleton. Fauna tried to stab at it with her dagger but fumbled the strike.

Szoo slashed at it again but again missed. Excor cast Shadow Ribbons and easily ensnared the monstrous vermin. Gornix unleashed more Chrono-Missiles blasting a hole in its side. It struggled desperately to free itself of the shadow wrappings buzzing madly. Fauna stabbed it with her dagger getting a raw smelling light brown fluid on the blade.

Szoosha stepped into his blow and ran the creature through killing it in a burst of flame that reduced it to blackened ash.

Gornix undaunted by the fresh stench of cremated wasp-monster walked over to the iron door to the south and inspected it for traps. Finding nothing, he opened and peered into the hallway behind it (H2). Against the eastern wall of the hallway was a forest of long iron spikes that still seemed to be razor tipped. Tangled in a slowly disintegrating heap were a score of human bones.

Gornix [shrugging]: “Oh. We’re going north.”

He led them into a short passage lit by fireflies in the niches that turned eastward to a long stone stair down the other end of which was also lit by firefly gems and visible. The passage at that point angled south onto more downward steps and into darkness. They noticed a faintly glowing magic circle scribed into the floor that had been behind the gold door. They couldn’t identify it so they just “stepped around it”. This time they tramped quickly not testing every step.

However, when they were about halfway between the lighted portions of the long step in the middle of the stair the magic circle they had stepped over and another at the other end sparked to life briefly throwing out an intense a red glow. After the light faded a fire as high as a man and with the faint shape of one, stood at the top of the stairs, and at the bottom swarmed three large unnaturally colored bees.

Szoosha being a Fire Elementalist tried to rebuke the fire elemental. He failed. The bees buzzed in and attacked. One struck Gornix’s shield dispersing it. Another aimed its dagger-like stinger at Fauna who parried it with her dagger. The third jabbed at Szoo and struck home as he opened himself up to the blow while trying to avoid it (Natural 1 parry). Luckily, Szoo was immune to the bee’s poison and the bee was now dying but still able to use heretofore unseen other attacks. Gornix activated his Shield. Excor cast Chrono-Missile at the “lead bee” blasting it to bits. Fauna stabbed at a second bee dealing a killing blow. The fire elemental advanced on Szoo getting close enough to singe the naga’s scales.

The bee that had stung Szoo spat what looked like a Sting spell at him but the magic had no effect on the naga. Szoo turned and successfully rebuked the fire elemental forcing it under his control. With the battle won Szoo decided to let the fire elemental lead for a while.

They turned onto the now lit southward stair and then onto the level paved floor of a short passage leading into a large octagonal chamber (H3). On either side of them were firefly niches. They emerged led by the living fire into the large chamber at the end.

This octagonal chamber had a gold-leafed dome ceiling with the apex at 25 ft. There was a thick black stone column in each of the four corners with a lotus blossom motif and gold leaf chevron patterns ringing them. To the west, a stone stair sank into the floor and to the east stood three badly rusted and battle-damaged suits of full plate armor. Each bore weapon, one had great sword, the second a great axe, the last a great mace.

In the south rested a 3 ft. high dais serving as the pedestal of a 15 ft. tall white marble statue of a four-armed goddess with gold insect wings and a pair of golden horns. Two of her arms reached towards the heavens the other two extended palms up. A solid gold beehive vessel rested in her large right palm and in the other an amber scroll case. At her feet were the remains of ancient sacrifices and libations, bits of clay, glass, seeds, old wax, cinders, and bits of bone.

Cris: “Aw man, those armors are going to come alive and kill us!”

Excor rushed to the first suit of armor, the one with the great sword in its hands, and whipped out the portable hole draping it over and safely storing the thing inside. Immediately the suits of armor became animate, their rusty joints squealing like dying boars. Excor hastily rolled the portable hole back up and stuffed it in his robes.

Gornix cast shadow ribbons on one but it was too strong. It tore the ribbons of shadow that shattered like glass and then evaporated into nothing. Szoosha remembered that his ruby-studded copper bracers contained the armor bane spell and so he touched the axe wielding armor damaging it badly but not disintegrating it. The fire elemental touched the same target with its fiery touch but to no effect. The axe wielding armor hacked at Excor dispersing his shield. Fauna cast a lightning bolt at the mace wielder to little effect.

Jenn: “But I thought that metal couldn’t reduce electricity damage.”

Cris: “Yeah, but there’s nobody in there!”

An animated armor smashed its mace into the semi-solid fire elemental causing its flame to weaken and dim.

Gornix cast energy tentacle summoning forth a bolt of magical energy that he could use as an appendage. He tried to grapple the axe wielding armor but it was able to break free. Szoo reached out and grabbed the axe wielder disintegrating it to a pile of reddish flakes and dust. Fauna pulled her dagger and stabbed at the last animated armor to little effect. Excor activated his gold turquoise ring that cast a circle of protection around him. The mace wielding armor smashed the fire elemental with its weapon causing the living fire to poof out of existence.

Gornix maintained his energy tentacle and tried once again to ensnare and entangle the last animated armor but again it easily broke free. Szoo smashed his fist into it smashing it into a cascade of rust. It crumpled into a scattered reddish mess on the floor.

After the fight, Excor used far hand to grab the amber scroll case, as he was wary of traps. Casting comprehend languages on the scroll he found within he found it was simply a prayer scroll to a long forgotten deity in whose statue’s palm it had lain for centuries. Gornix far handed the gold beehive for the same reason. Fauna identified the gold lotus honey that remained within (1 dose). They stowed away their loot and moved on with Gornix in the lead.

He guided them down the stairs that sank into the next lower chamber (6). The room was pitch dark and much colder than the previous as chilly as the black tombs. They passed between two thick columns of black stone and as they passed between two large solid-gold braziers bejeweled with emeralds, the ancient things burst to life as white flames erupted forth and lit the room with a pale flickering firelight but leaving the corners dark and deepening the shadows behind the pillars.

The blue ceramics tiled the floor and at the center of the room, a faded white stain in an odd shape marred the tiles. To the west lay a solid gold door with a honeycomb and bee motif with no lock but a latch (D6).

Gornix eagerly moved into the center of the room to inspect the white stain. He saw that it had an uncanny resemblance to a human in fetal position. He realized what it was.

Gil: “Aw f@#k!”

Szoo caught movement out of the corner of his eye somewhere in the shadows at the edges of the room. The naga pointed out the direction and Excor and Gornix were able to spot a young priestess ducking behind the northernmost pillar.

Isis [at Jenn]: “Hey sis ya gonna talk to her?”

Jenn: “Hell no I know there’s nothing living down here.”

Excor cast illuminate casting the whole room in a bright light. The young priestess suddenly became transparent in the full light and her features withered and shriveled into that of an ancient corpse.

The battle was brief but energetic. The Lotus Wizard had identified the priestess as a wraith and the white spot her likely resting spot her body having disappeared over time. Gornix caused a magic explosion on a fumbled spell that wounded himself, Szoo, and Excor. Fauna slung lightning bolts and ultimately after their victory Gornix was out of spells and down a K.O. point. The creature dropped an agate, gold necklace fashioned after a lotus blossom, and a gold light mace with the head fashioned after a lotus flower.

Gornix carefully inspected the gold door and found that it was trapped and more by luck than skill, he disarmed it and opened the door. They moved into a smaller plain room with lotus motif pillars at each corner and amber fireflies in the niches (7). At the center of the room squatted a superior quality scrying pool, long since dry, of rose marble. They opted to move through the open archway to the south after Excor snatched the scrying pool up in the portable hole.

In the next chamber (8 on the map), amber fireflies burned in the niches their strange little lights glinting off the gold leafed dome ceiling. To the south were a sturdy carven wooden door (D7) and an open archway to the east.

The wooden door fascinated Gornix. Upon it was finely carved a scene of humans gathering honey from honeycombs surrounded by lotus blossoms. A heavy black iron key lock that appeared rusted shut even if they had the key to open it secured the door. Excor tried to use his magic key on it but found that the knock spell just wouldn’t work on it.

Szoo: “Ooh! Ooh! Let me BURN IT!”

Gil: “Naw. I know what tool to use … force ram!”

To Be Continued…

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.40: The Black Tombs Pt.4

Szoosha (played by Isis) was in the lead with his flaming polearm held up for light, Excor (played by The mummy haunted black tombsCris) followed with his lantern. He had just opened the door (D3 on the map) using the Amber Bee to allow egress into yet another mausoleum (13 on the map). His intelligence restored due to a potion he had stashed in his robes. They had all just awoken from a fitful sleep in a burial chamber (9) and decided to penetrate the last area. Gornix (played by Gil) followed Excor his intelligence still average. Fauna (played by Jenn) took up the rear.

They carefully tramped into the pitch dark onto the faintly moist dirt floor. Again, there were body niches carved in the walls floor to ceiling. Szoo turned north and slid only a few feet along the cool dark soil before he suddenly stopped. He was face-to-face with a black lotus mummy. Thick black ooze dribbled and bubbled from its mouth and nose. It was wearing a gold necklace with the image of a black enamel lotus dangling from its neck, and a gold ring set with an obsidian stone on its right hand.

Immediately the creature exhaled a thick black mist and the unfortunate naga inhaling at the same moment in a silent scream instantly dropped dead. Consequently, that was when the rest of the group saw that behind the black lotus mummy were warriors armed with sickle-swords and bronze pectoral plates. Behind this rabble was another more skeletal mummy that appeared to them as a priest. It had a polished bronze open helm, a gold bee necklace, and a gold bee and tiger eye ring on its left hand also armed with a sickle sword.

The black lotus mummy stabbed at Excor with its dagger the crusty blade gashing him badly. The two warrior mummies advanced on Excor as well. The first took a swing and critically injured the mage. The second did the same cutting him down with a single irresistible swing. He lay bleeding and unconscious on the black ground. Gornix quickly cast Neutralize Poison on Szoo saving the naga’s life. The priest mummy moved around toward the rear at Fauna. As she poured a healing potion down Excor’s throat she shouted, what she hoped was the password at the priest mummy. It was the password she had memorized “just in case” from the previous day.

The mummies stopped suddenly and backed off somewhat. Excor conscious but still near death slung down another healing potion. They decided to in Cris’ words: “walk around and see what we can get into”. However, they were going to try not to anger the mummies who kept following and observing them.

Gil: “Wait. Why don’t we just take these guys out?”

Cris: “Hell no! I almost died fighting them and he [indicating Isis] died!”

Gil: ‘Well walking around this place is just as dangerous!”

Cris: “I got natural 20’d two times, everything else is irrelevant! TWO TIMES! Whatever you got to say is irrelevant!”

With the mummy squad following them, the mages continued north then northwest around the corner. There they found another solid bronze door (D5) in the north wall. Excor read the magic runes scribed on the face of the door. The door was sealed with the Wizard’s Lock spell and warded. If the door was even touched, it would strike the interloper with a level 6 bolt of acid. He found no indentation for the Amber Bee.

Gornix cast mini-portal in order to try to see what was behind. He saw that behind the door was a short hallway lit eerily by a pair of amber fireflies in their niches that continued north then cut east around a blind corner. They tried to convince Fauna to touch the Amber Bee to the door she wisely refused. Gornix used clairvoyance to try to find a way to open the door but he got nothing.

Excor: “Let me see the map … why don’t we Ghost Step through right here so we don’t have to touch the door?”

Isis (to Cris & Gil): “Problem is only you two can cast Ghost Form!”

Fauna: “Don’t sweat it, I got Gaseous Form.”

They turned and made sure the mummies weren’t going to try something though they were looking askance at the mages. All at once, Excor and Gornix ghost stepped through the wall into the hallway. Fauna cast Gaseous Form on Szoo, and herself. They passed under the door. They moved quickly down the hallway and around the corner to end at yet another door. It was another solid bronze door with a gold bee and honeycomb motif (D6). Fortunately, they found a depression that fit the Amber Bee.

Behind the door was a vaulted tomb where a single black sarcophagus dominating the room (14 on the map). The flagged floor littered with a layer of detritus from the plaster that had at one time adorned the tomb with a mural that covered all of its walls and ceiling. A glowing amber firefly in the niche behind the coffin lighted the ancient tomb.

Excor did a clairvoyance for what the mural had appeared as before its long ago disintegration. The mural had been a panorama of a surrounding red land littered with gold beehives and fields of lotus blossoms. Above the four-armed goddess with golden horns and golden wings dominated a deep blue sky. In the distance, a natural red spire emerged from the horizon.

They readied to pry open the sarcophagus and thus Gornix and Excor cast Breathe Without Air on themselves. The other two drifted outside of the vault as the spell affecting them would soon dissipate.

As soon as the two mages were able to pry the lid loose a blast of powdered hematite blasted them in the faces, fortunately they weren’t blinded, and filled the tomb with a poisonous dust cloud for a few seconds. Those two backed off to join Fauna and Szoo at the doorway.

Inside of the black sarcophagus was a dead mummy adorned with a gold bee necklace, 3 gold rings, a gold skullcap, a pair of gold bracers with a honeycomb motif and a large emerald in each eye socket. Erring on the side of caution Gornix lifted the loot from the coffin using his Mage Hand spell. Excor was able to sense magic from two of the rings, the skullcap, and the bracers. Gornix then decided to inspect the hallway and tomb for any secret compartments or doors.

Meanwhile, Excor took to identifying the magic items. The gold skullcap was a level 10 item and granted a +4 bonus to I.Q. and so immediately Excor went and “slapped” that onto Gornix’s head restoring him to near his natural intelligence level. On the other hand the gold honeycomb bracers were level 6 items that granted the wearer a +2 to Strength (STR). The gold bee necklace cast the spell Sting 3 times a day at level three. The first gold ring was a level 5 item that granted a constant +5 bonus to Resist Poison and granted the spell Fearsome Form I once a day. The second ring was a level 11 item that granted the spell Verminous Might three times daily.

They began to debate about where to go since they didn’t want to face the mummy squad outside the door and eventually they began to argue, loudly. That is until the door to the hallway opened. Gornix cast Breathe Without Air on himself. Excor activated Shield from his Jet Amulet. Szoo cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (Fire) on himself.

Szoo moved back readying if anything should charge him. However, Gornix moved up and readied a Lifeblast spell for the first mummy through the door. A warrior mummy moved in and the Salt-Lotus Wizard blasted it to dust. Fauna readied to Throw Fire at anything coming through the door. The priest mummy shambled through his mere presence sending waves of fear through Szoo and Excor who visibly cowered. Fauna unleashed a stream of flames aimed at the priest but she missed scorching a wall.

The priest mummy swung its sickle sword but missed Gornix by a hair. The second warrior mummy stepped through the entrance and was going to swing his sickle sword at Gornix but Gornix used his Battle Magic to cast the Force Ram spell in a simultaneous attack. The Salt-Lotus Wizard also blasted that warrior mummy to dust preventing its attack against him. The black lotus mummy stepped in and spat out a blast of black dust that filled the hall. Fauna, Szoo, and Excor dropped to the ground. It appeared that Szoo was only sleeping but Excor and Fauna seemed dead.

Gornix cast Mass Neutralize Poison, Szoo shocked awake. Fauna and Excor gasped and rolled on the ground sputtering. The priest struck again at Gornix whom clinched the monster’s blade with his scimitar. The black lotus mummy moved in and stabbed Gornix in the side with its dagger. Gornix tried to cast Force Ram while his sword was in a clinch but failed. The priest broke the clinch even though Gornix tried to keep it tied up. The black lotus mummy stabbed Gornix again in the side blood gushed down his side pooling at his feet.

The priest mummy swung its sword once more at Gornix narrowly missing.

Fauna crawled to her feet as she downed a healing potion. From the ground, Szoo, almost reflexively, cast an energy ray at the black lotus mummy but the magic went wild and a blast of fire twice as powerful as intended exploded the poisonous undead thing into a cloud of ash. Excor stayed on the ground and cast a Close Wounds spell on himself. The priest swung again at Gornix but again missed. Gornix cast Force Ram at it but the magic got away from him and went wild. It only did half damage when it hit the thing though it badly damaged it. It was Gornix’s last spell for the day that wouldn’t sap his life force (drain K.O. points per spell cast).

Fauna cast Gaseous Form on herself. Szoo unleashed another ray of fire at the creature catching it afire. From the ground near the mummy’s feet Excor cast Life Blast at it blowing its upper torso to bits. The battle was over. They all exhaled a great sigh of relief then looted what remained of the corpses.

In all they collected 2 copper rings, 2 copper necklaces, a gold necklace, an obsidian lotus figurine, and a gold ring with an obsidian lotus gem. They determined that the obsidian gem ring was a level 12 magic ring that granted a constant effect of Breath Without Air.

Jenn (scowling at me): “That’s funny.”

Isis: “Oh yeah VERY funny!”

From the priest mummy they took a bronze open faced helmet, a gold bee & tiger eye ring (level 8 item, Sting spell 3 times a day), and a gold bee necklace. Before they backtracked back to the entrance and exited the tombs the mages went back to the room filled with amphorae (7 on the map) where Gornix threw 10 amphorae in to Excor’s portable hole. The players laughed about that last phrase for a little while.

Gil: “Come on guys.”

Gil (turning to Isis who was laughing aloud): “You’re being so … juvenile.”

They emerged at noon squinting blinded by the direct sunlight and nearly stunned by the blast of dry heat on their skin. Excor tried the cabal medallion on a hunch and he was able to get a brief static-garbled message.

“…You’re Out!? … How … We’re STUCK … he took … gold …”

Cris (turning to me, the GM): “Damn Wasp! He left ‘em in there didn’t he?”

I just shrugged and couldn’t help but smile.

To Be Continued…