Monday, March 5, 2012

Daruna Session Notes, Part I

This is part one of a (hopefully) two part series covering events at my last Daruna campaign session. I posted up the teaser last week. Things took a few interesting twists, including a couple major distractions from the main rescue mission plot line.

The party is approached by Marshak Selo and Rakshi Harth, who ask them to investigate what has happened at their relative's building site to the south. The relatives, a young couple engaged to be married, along with several guards, slaves, builders, and retainers, have vanished after discovering and exploring a ruined cellar/tunnel uncovered during the excavation. Only Loh a Harth slave, returned to the city, bringing word of the troubles. The party agrees to investigate. They're given a writ granting them authority to investigate backed by the two families, an up-front payment, horses for the journey as needed, and supplies to cover the trip. Loh, despite being a bit slow, is sent along to tend the animals and provide what limited information he has.

After the meeting the party is approached by Bhanda Masa, who claims to have heard the party is heading south and asks if they're willing to make a delivery at the village of Doy, which is more or less along the way. He offers to pay them a small fee, but the party agrees to do it for free, banking on gaining some goodwill (Bhanda proved to be a useful, if shady/scary, source of magical information / ability during the party's interlude in town). Bhanda indicates a mule loaded with grain will be ready when the party leaves at dawn tomorrow.

Image courtesy of The Donkey Sanctuary
The next morning the party picks up the mule (which is loaded with six huge pottery jars of grain), and heads out. At the gate they run into a small snag though: their nemesis Vikus Pari and his buddy Lat Kusumera are on duty. Vikus stops the troupe and starts an inspection of their goods. There's a brief, sweaty moment until Ramone shows Vikus the writ, and he grudgingly lets them pass. [The party suspects they're running drugs or other contraband for Bhanda at this point].

The trip to Doy is uneventful, but the village is a bit unusual. There are more than the usual number of armed and unfriendly villagers around, and their welcome is less than warm. Eventually they contact one of the two men, Charup Dhanti or Yanas Suva, they were supposed to drop the mule with and set up camp outside the village on the bank of the Tana River. It is a good thing they stayed, as a group of river pirates attacks the village that night, killing several villagers. The party charges to the rescue and manages to turn the tide, killing the pirate leader in a pitched battle on and around his boat drifting down the river. The villagers strip the bodies in town, but Orca (with Torin's assistance) manages to beach the leader's boat, which has some minor loot and a few Smoke Bombs and Noxia bombs aboard. The villagers are a bit friendlier after the fight, but still suspicious.

The next morning the party departs for the ferry. As they near the site they encounter a rather disgruntled farmer, who tells them the ferry isn't running. The party investigates and finds the ferry is tied up at the docks, but holed and flooded. Furthermore they spot a number of odd humanoid creatures made of mud and reed swimming in the river, watching them. They fall back to the nearby tavern and try to find out what happened. In a dazzling display of rolling natural 20s for gather information checks, Ramone gets the gist of the story:

Image courtesy of Michael Gwyther-Jones
Sometime after the Selo/Harth party crossed, creatures from the river started to attack fishermen, passing barges, and the ferry itself. At least a few people have been pulled under or killed in these fights. The creatures are described as mud men (the reed/mud creatures seen at the sunken ferry), 'turtle men', and some kind of huge scaly fish with tentacles. They also learn that there is an ancient shrine on the far side of the river, a mile or so north of the ferry crossing near a portage trail, a fact that at least a few of the guards heard about in the tavern when they stopped for an ale.

The ferryman proves to be a drunk and a coward, but two brothers in his employ are bolder. They agree to take at least some of the party across the river in their fishing boat so the group can investigate the shrine and see if they can find out more about the river woes. As the group prepares to depart, Sula, thinking that perhaps the river spirit can be placated by a religious ritual, offers up a prayer for safe passage and an offering of bread and wine, declaring the party's intent of crossing to discover what has angered the spirit and to try and repair the damage. The others notice the mud-men watching this process from beneath the waters.

Apparently Sula was on the right track. The group crosses the river without incident, though they are followed by the mud-men and several larger shadowy forms they can't make out. After the crossing the party heads upstream to the shrine, leaving the brothers near the ferry crossing (well back from the river) in case they need to cross back or move more people across. The party treks north and eventually finds the shrine, a spire of incongruous stone rising from the river's edge. There is a small alcove in the rock face, with a natural shelf at ground level beneath it. The remains of past offerings, bits of food and bone, feathers, scattered silver, lie on the table and the ground nearby. Orca shimmies up the stone and finds the alcove empty, though there are marks in the dust and grit that indicate something was removed.

Further investigation is interrupted by the sounds of a fight on the river. A barge drifts into view from upstream, a nasty bit of river that the tavern folk say is hazardous at best. The crew are trying to fight off several of the mud-men and large, serpentine fish with plated bodies and tentacle like fins. As they watch several of the mud-men pull one of the crewmen off the barge with their long seaweed-like hair and drag him beneath the surface. Orca grabs a rope, activates the water-walking power of his Heron Helm, and runs to the barge while the others tie off the near end. The ploy works, the barge swings to the bank allowing the sole remaining crew member to get off (and flee in panic). That's the good news. The bad news is the party has gotten the direct attention of the river spirit Anamika, a monstrous, fish-headed serpent with six clawed arms, and its mud-men and serpent-fish minions.

Sula steps to the fore and starts talking, offering the party up as a means to cleanse and re-dedicate the shrine (at this point the party believes the guards stole something from the alcove). After tense negotiations Anamika grants the party a quarter cycle of the moon to recover the icon stolen from the shrine, with a clear threat to turn not only her own river realm against the locals, but to incite the other spirits in the area against them as well. The party falls back to the ferry, has the brothers bring across the last party member and enough supplies to last them a few days, and then sets off for Madhas, the village near the villa building site.

They're nervous going in, since the locals at the tavern view the villagers with suspicion, claiming they are heretics and cultists, but the village proves to be pleasant (or so it seems), and the headmaster offers the party use of the village hall for the night. They also discover that Nishuru Vadura, the master builder hired by the Harths, is in the village with his crew, doing some work to pay for their room and board. The party seeks him out and gets a bit more detail on the events at the villa site. He tells them the ruin uncovered was likely early Darunite construction, and that he warned the others against going into the ruin, citing possible gas pockets in the sealed tunnels and chambers. His recounting of the events matches Loh's for the most part, and allows the party to determine that everyone from the Selo/Harth party except two of the slaves ended up descending into the ruin. His own men and the local laborers he hired in Madhas are all accounted for. He agrees to lead the party to the site so they can investigate.

The party reaches the site without incident, and does a bit of exploration. A search of the tents scattered around the partial foundation uncovers the missing icon of Anamika in short order. A few minutes later the party is "surprised" by three kids from the village, who followed them to the site and have been "scouting" the area. They are proud to show the party a dead horse, one of the strays from the Selo/Harth group. As the party investigates they're attacked by a trio of animate tree-stump creatures with spiny branch/root tentacles that leave behind burrowing finger-sized splinters. They destroy these things and decide to head back to the river via Madhas and restore the shrine so they can repair the ferry and get their own horses and the rest of their party across (and allow Nishuru and his crew to get back to the city with a report on current progress).

Back at the shrine the party replaces the icon and Anamika appears, and as a reward for returning the icon it "baptizes" each of the party members in the river, marking them with its sign and telling them "When in need you can visit my realm." The party later determines that they have the ability to breathe underwater for short periods of time. With the shrine restored the party heads back to the ferry and works with the locals to get it repaired using timber taken from the barge they tied along the river. They also encounter a group of lizardmen led by some sort of shaman offering a sacrifice at Anamika's shrine, and make a small exchange of gifts. The shaman seems pleased by the restoration of the shrine, and the party gets the idea that perhaps Anamika has arranged some better protection of its icon.

Donkey image courtesy of The Donkey Sanctuary.
River image courtesy of Michael Gwyther-Jones

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