Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Daruna Session Notes, Part II

The continuation of the session notes from my most recent Daruna game. This is part two of two. Part one can be found right here. At the end of part one the party had just recovered the icon missing from Anamika's shrine and restored it, allowing the ferry across the Chungal River to start running again.

The party, along with men at arms, horses and Loh, head to the building site via Madhas. After establishing their camp next to the Selo/Harth party's site, the core party members descend into the exposed ruin. It quickly becomes apparent that the ruin is an ancient house of some kind. After poking through a few rooms they find a rough cave containing a tiled floor, a well, and an ancient dead tree. Clearly this was once an open courtyard of some kind, before the structure was buried. They also discover three of the lost guards sprawled around the well, but still alive. Their relief is cut short when they discover the guards' movements are actually caused by the swarms of giant roach-like bugs that have taken up residence inside their corpses. The bugs stream forth and form two swirling swarms that close and attack the party.
Image courtesy of J. Matthew Harrington

The group quickly discovers that mundane weapons are almost useless. They also find themselves gagging and half-blinded by the stinging chemical cloud emitted by the creatures. It takes a while but eventually they realize there are larger bugs within the swarms and that these creatures seem to be directing the focused attacks. A concentrated effort against these 'brain bugs' eventually leads to the swarms being dispersed, the stragglers swirling away and down the well in disorganized retreat.

Though wounded, the party decides to press on a bit, descending a nearby stair into the old basement of the structure. There they find stairs leading further down (the bronze door marked with Daru's sunburst and Nityada's burning wheel) and stairs leading back up to a different section of the ruin. They decide to explore more of the upper area, since they had discovered a too-small passage leading away from the buried courtyard near the well. At the top of the stairs (where they find the corpse of one of the missing slaves, they encounter a gargoyle-like creature guarding a workshop or laboratory, destroyed long ago in a catastrophic explosion. After a brief fight they destroy it, and uncover the skeletal remains it was guarding, along with several interesting magical items, a golden sash, a silver ring, a golden spiral pendant, and a bundle of papers and scrolls.

They continue past the gargoyle lair into several other chambers, all half-buried in earth and rubble. They uncover a hidden cache of gems and blackened metal bars, and a very nice mosaic of Daru's sunburst on the wall in a narrow hall. They also find the other end of the too-small tunnel from the courtyard, and conclude that they've pretty much explored the upper area of the structure, leaving only the deeper stairs or the well as their options. They opt for the stairs, having no desire to encounter any reinforcements from the swarms.
Image courtesy of Gary Lee Todd via Wikimedia Commons

The stairs lead down quite a distance, eventually leading to a narrow landing with another bronze door in one wall. The far end of the landing ends in a sheer drop with a narrow and crude stair spiraling down to the right along the wall of what must be a very large cavern. Unwilling to make that descent, the party checks out the door, which bears the same marks as that above, and finds a crypt. Exploration is cut short when Orca hears moaning and scratching coming from one of the stone sarcophagi in the chamber. They dig away the fallen stone blocking the lid and open it. Within is a well dressed man covered with bug bites and delirious with thirst and hunger. Sula ministers to his wounds and the group brings him to their base camp, hoping Loh will be able to identify him. He can, the man is Arupa Harth, the missing groom.

The next morning Arupa is at least semi-stable and tells his rather disjointed story. They were exploring above and found the courtyard. The swarms came out of the well and attacked the group. The guard captain ordered the couple to retreat while he and his men tried to drive off the bugs. The captain followed the couple as a rear-guard but the trio made a wrong turn and ended up in the crypt room, swarm in pursuit. Seeing the empty coffins Arupa put Tula (his bride) in one and closed the lid, then dove into another and pulled the lid down over himself. He heard some kind of fight out in the hall, then only the sound of the buzzing bugs outside the sarcophagus. Eventually that faded. He was getting ready to get out, free Tula, and try to escape when he heard something big outside the coffin. There was a loud crashing noise and a scream from Tula, then silence. He tried to get out, but the lid was blocked by something (the stone piled on his sarcophagus was a fresh fall).

Leaving Arupa under the care of their two men at arms and Loh, the party descends into the cavern beyond the crypt. The narrow stairs lead down the wall and across a rather tricky jump. The party was facing a second, longer jump when a huge creature swoops out of the darkness and slams into Torin, a chimera! The party fights back but the narrow stairs hamper their efforts. Finally Lister uses a fly potion to flank the beast and hacks off a wing. The creature plunges to the cavern floor, dead.

Torin decides to try one of the party's new healing potions while Lister takes advantage of his flight and finds the beast's lair, a cave atop a large stone pillar in the cavern. Within he finds the fresh remains of another well-dressed man. The seal he carries proves his identity as the missing Harth retainer. Scattered among the debris are a number of coins, a small cloth bag holding several gems, a strange amber orb, and a verdigris encrusted bronze box containing something magical. Lister gathers the loot and returns to the group as his flight potion wears off.

Despite Torin's unconscious state (the potion was very potent but sent him into a coma-like sleep), the party decides to explore a bit more, and Orca takes the lead, using his stealthiness to explore the lower cavern. He returns after an hour or so, with a curious shield and a rough layout of the cavern, including a rubble heap that might hide a passage onward.

Rather than retreat, the party elects to split, leaving Lister and Torin in a small cave on the stair while the rest of the party continues exploration. Torin comes around shortly after Orca, Ramone and Sula head down, so he and Lister join the others.

The party climbs over the rubble pile and discovers an even larger cavern. The southern wall is finished brick and plaster, part of a strangely illuminated structure flanked by statues of lion-headed men posed in a warding stance. The doorway into the structure glows with swirling red and blue lights. They avoid the lion-headed guards for now, and head north-east, into more caverns and more or less back beneath the original structure above. They find an underground stream that runs through a series of natural caves and trace it back to its source, a spring-fed pool with a shaft that leads upwards. Orca scouts across the pool using water walking and determines the shaft is very likely the bottom of the well from the courtyard above. On guard for more bug swarms, the party backtracks and explores several side-passages, eventually finding a massive hive-like structure of paper, clay and debris in one of them. Bugs!

Another pitched battle, but the group is better prepared, targeting brain bugs and tossing a vial of liquid fire at a swarm right from the start. Eventually the hive's queen comes forth and Sula nails it with an arrow through the head. With the swarms dispersed and the queen dead, the party spreads several flasks of oil over the hive and burns it all (after a fruitless search for loot or signs of victims). Injured by the battle the party retreats to the base of the well and rests a while, reasoning (correctly) that nothing is going to wander into the swarm's territory. While camped out they do a more detailed search of the pool, and eventually pull out the partial remains of three more unfortunate guards. This brings the tally of the still missing down to Tula, the bride, and one of the slaves.

After resting the party heads back south and skirts the guarded structure once again, moving down another natural cave. This eventually wraps around the structure (which extends back into the cavern walls) and leads to an unguarded entrance. The party enters, and after exploring several vestibules or waiting rooms, one of which features an odd mural depicting a landscape with multiple suns and moons in the sky and plants in all phases of growth, finds themselves at another entry into what they think is the opposite side of the chamber they saw before. Within they can see a pair of huge bull-statues flanking the entrance and a pyramid-shaped structure in the center of the room. It's hard to see as the red and blue lights seem to blur and obscure vision.

After debating a bit, the party decides to advance into the room. What's the worse that could happen?

Something bad apparently. As they enter the chamber, various party members disappear, finding themselves in different settings. Two are in a sun-lit courtyard with a raised platform in the center. Atop the platform are a number of people carrying out some sort of ritual that involves a spinning column of spiraling golden lights. Another finds himself in a chamber like the one he expected to see, except there are no bull statues. Two more find themselves facing off against the bulls, now animate and covered in crystalline scales. After a few hesitant actions scenes shifted again and people find themselves shuffled between scenes.

Eventually most of the party members realize they are shuffling between three different time frames, each showing the same chamber at some point in the past. Lister and Orca are the first to realize this and also discover the sun-lit scene is pre-Cataclysm, magic is untainted by the corruption that would make it nearly impossible to use in their era. They decide the ritualists are probably up to no good and attack. This draws the attention of some of the lion-headed guards, which have been engaged in a running battle with several strangers on the far side of the pyramid. The pair manages to kill one of the ritualists (the entire group is protected by some sort of potent magical ward). Meanwhile Ramone and Torin manage to fight off the two bulls and Sula finds himself alone in the dark.

Things shift a few times and eventually the group figures out that all the people they see within the chamber are wearing golden spiral pendants like the one they found back in the gargoyle room; the one being carried by Ramone, who seems unaffected by the time shifts. Chaos ensues as lion guards attack party members in the ancient past while in the nearer past another rite is going on involving a strange guardian beast and a magician with a golden glowing seal. In the present the same guardian beast is using the same seal to carry out a similar rite on a young woman, probably the missing Tula.

There is much chaos.

Eventually the party members realize they need to grab pendants or they're probably going to get stuck in another time. In the ancient past ritualists die, and in the present Sula grabs the girl and gets time-shifted away to the middle time-frame. There he helps Torin kill the guardian beast and the magician (which causes the girl to disappear). He grabs the golden seal and a pendant. In the ancient past Lister ends up fighting off the attacks of two of the lion-guards, then grabbing a pendant from one of the fallen strangers. Most of the ritualists are down but it appears they've finishes their rite. Ramone battles the guardian beast in the present aided by Orca, who reappears just as he's about to fall. The guardian beast vanishes but not before Ramone grabs the golden seal it carries. Orca ends up back in the ancient past again and grabs two pendants, slaughters the last ritualist, and grabs *that* version of the golden seal.

Eventually everyone ends up in the present, the pendants seem to pull people back to their 'proper' phase. The last of the guardian creatures falls, and the party retreats from the temporal rift, back the way they came. In the natural caves they find a shaft leading upward and climb, eventually reaching the surface.

Uh oh.

The world has gone mad. The sun is spinning west to east, the moon is shifting phases overhead, the Great Flame and Black Horse, major features of the night sky, are spinning the opposite direction from the stars. Plants spring up, bloom, grow fruit, wither and die before the group's eyes. Water in rivers runs backwards and forwards where it is not frozen solid. Of people there is no sign, no canals in the empty plains below, nor smoke from Madhas on the horizon.

Yeah, they broke time.
Image courtesy of imaginum

After they freak out for a while the party gets themselves together and decides to head back to the river. Maybe Anamika can provide some insight as to what's happened. Along the way they confirm Madhas is missing and discover that the seal from the ancient past is the only one that remains of the three they recovered. At the river, there's no sign of the tavern on the far side, and no sign of the ferry. The group worries about what they're going to eat, since they only have limited supplies and they've seen no sign of animal life. Eventually they discover that "electricity works." Whatever they touch is pulled into their time-frame. At least they'll be able to forage plants for food.

Oddly, they find the stone spire and shrine to Anamika intact. They make an offering of precious food, and the primordial appears. Anamika seems unconcerned by this turn of events. Apparently the primordials don't experience time as humans do (makes sense since they are at least quasi-divine beings and immortal). It offers some information and suggestions concerning the group's situation. The most important bits:

  • Scorborax, the primordial created by Daru to rule over time, now lies trapped within the golden seal the group has.
  • Anamika also mentions that at one time (HA) ancient humans sought to bind seven of the greatest primordial spirits into artifacts of power.
  • It does not know how to break the seal, or if it is even possible. It advises the group to seek one of the few greater primordials still free "at the end of all paths."

The mention of seven artifacts triggers a faint memory for Sula. He recalls a fragmentary story of the Lost Kingdoms, something about them creating seven potent artifacts to defend their realms. The artifacts were a sword, a shield, a chalice, a vortex, a seal, a mask, and a scepter. He wonders if the cup the party found in the ruins in the Twisted Lands might have been the chalice.

So ends the session. Before we started play I had mentioned in passing that I might regret the outcome of this game. It's going to be... interesting to see how this plays out.

Ruins photograph by J. Matthew Harrington.
Tomb photograph by Gary Lee Todd via Wikimedia Commons.
Clock image by imaginum.

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