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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Planescape - The Slags

On Sunday night we played through another session of my Planescape campaign. Right now we're going through a trilogy of homebrew adventures that will bridge the gap between Nemesis and Tales From the Infinite Staircase.

This is partly to buy me time while I read and absorb the staircase adventures. I'm pretty sure I won't be using all of the scenarios in that book, as a number of them don't appeal to me.


This session revolved around an NPC from the Planescape:Torment computer game. His name is Ignus. He's a sinister wizard obsessed with fire. He is actually on fire, in fact.

In the game and my campaign, Ignus starts off immobile - an attraction in a bar. In the game, you can free him and have him join your group. In my game tonight, the heroes could free him and cure him, too.

I changed the story of Ignus. In my game, Ignus was tricked by Shemeshka the Marauder into committing arson on her enemies. Then she manipulated him into becoming an inert humanoid portal to the plane of fire.

The Arcanaloths

A'kin the Friendly Fiend
Shemeshka's enemy/rival, A'kin knows this. He helps the heroes free Ignus and use him to blackmail Shemeshka into leaving the heroes alone.

Shemeshka and A'kin are fascinating Planescape NPCs. They are both Arcanaloths, both possibly exiled from their home plane of Gehenna. They have what appears to be a love/hate relationship. Shemeshka has burned down A'kin's magic store three times in the last hundred years.
  • A'kin: Always seems friendly. Some people hear him screaming and throwing things at night. The book suggests that he might have been an ally of devils in the Blood War and that he did something so terrible that he was exiled. No specific details, though.
  • Shemeshka: She's an amoral manipulator. She has agents spying on everyone, and she secretly controls a number of organizations. I thought I had read somewhere that Shemeska is actually a male who lives as a female, but I can't find it now. Shemeshka is referred to as a "she" in Uncaged, but the gender symbol in the stat block says Shemeshka is male.
I decided for the purposes of my campaign, that A'kin cut a deal with the devils. He was going to hand over almost every single arcanaloth to them, so that the devils could enslave them/kill them/use them for nefarious purposes relating to the Blood War. A'kin was essentially going to commit genocide on his own kind! In return, he asked the devils to spare himself and Shemeshka, who he loves.

The arcanaloths found out about this plot, and A'kin and Shemeshka had to flee Gehenna, never to return. Shemeshka is mostly furious, but slightly flattered that A'kin wanted her spared. So now they do this dance where A'kin trolls her, she gets mad, and then he says sorry and they make up for a day.

Plans for the Infinite Staircase

Last time we played, the Lady of Pain did stuff to the heroes. She did something to Bidam's heart, and enchanted Theran's spell book. My idea is that if each hero adheres to their core philosophy, they will be given tools via the heart and spellbook that can help them defeat the Iron Shadow (the villain of the Infinite Staircase). Here's my plan as of now:

Theran: He believes in reading and learning, basically. So each adventure, when an encounter is getting crazy, Theran's spellbook will glow. If he takes a round to read it, he will be given magical knowledge - he'll learn a bit about the Iron Shadow and he'll learn a magic item formula. If he doesn't read the page right then, it's gone forever. The book will also be a key tool in defeating the Shadow.

Bidam: He likes to love them and leave them, or as he says, "Hit it and quit it." Every adventure he will meet someone. He will have a choice of hitting it or quitting it. Either choice has ramifications:
  • Hit It: The person is imbued with a metal coating over their heart. All of the people Bidam infects will become minor sources of pain in the multiverse. The heart of the Lady of Pain is failing, and she wants others to help her carry the burden of the void inside of her. Each of these people will have the lesser ability to look at people and cause bloody cuts to appear on their body like the Lady of Pain can.
  • Quit It: If Bidam decides not to seduce somone, or if he tries to go back to someone he had a fling with a while before, a member of the Zactar faction dies. You may remember that the Zactars are the followers of Umbra - the Lady of Pain does not want new factions in Sigil, so this is a way to eliminate them. It hinges on whether or not Bidam stays true to his beliefs - belief is the most important thing in Planescape.
I used a lot of material from Uncaged: The Faces of Sigil. That book is loaded with NPCs and has a few detailed locations, too. I've been going through that book and taking notes, as that is how I retain all this stuff.

I also decided that from here on out, I will try and make sure that in each session Theran's robe of eyes is useful (see invisible) and Bidam's sword of sharpness is useful (cuts through stuff). I want them to feel like their magic items are useful and have a lot of value.

The Party

(Jessie) Bidam - Platinum-Scaled Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Drow Wizard
* NPCs - Fall From Grace (Succubus Paladin), Selinza ("Litorian" Wizard, level 3) 

Back to Deadbook Square

We picked up where we left off last time, In A'kin's office. He explained that Ignus knows things that they can use to blackmail Shemeshka into leaving them alone.

They left to go to the Smoldering Corpse to check out Ignus. They were stopped by an NPC that I stole from Curse of Strahd: "A small man with no legs named Filmore Stunk, who can drink whole casks of wine without getting drunk." He sold them two poisons - torpor and essence of ether (from the 5e DMG). Both of them can knock people out. I put this here to give the heroes a chance to buy an item that would help them in a later encounter. At the very least, it reinforces the notion that their choices matter in game.

As they finished their transaction, they heard A'kin screaming and trashing the upstairs area of his shop. They came very close to investigating, but decided against it. This is a trait he has that is unexplained in the books. For my game, I'm saying he's endlessly tormented by his failed scheme and the fact that Shemeshka won't be with him.

Festhall: Clients are becoming depressed. I had read this funny idea on reddit about how some people feel ashamed by the porn they watch, and that they could use a "post-porn depression councilor." I decided some "johns" at the festhall become depressed after their visits (I googled some vile acts on urban dictionary, and invented "the Sigil Hot Pocket"). The heroes hired a councilor named Aza Dowling.

Here's the deal. This councilor is actually an agent of Shemeshka from Uncaged. There is this NPC shapechanger named Fallow. He has multiple personalities. He is a member of every single faction, and he spies on them all for Shemeshka. Aza Dowling is the Sensate spy!

So the seed for Shemeska's revenge is already planted. A spy is in their midst.

The group checked out Ignus and talked with Drusilla. She's this real sad NPC (also from Planescape: Torment) who was in love with Ignus before all this happened. She continues to watch over him and hopes one day he will be free. The heroes felt sorry for her and gave her a job.

They did some research and learned they needed two things to free Ignus:
  1. A decanter of endless water, No problem, they know a dabus who has one. The dabus gladly loans it to them)
  2. A "Ritual of Hydration." I made this up. It's a ritual that creates links to the plane of water - it can counteract the link to the plane of fire in Ignus.
The Doomguard

The Armory
The heroes found out that the Doomguard faction created the ritual for their tower of salt. The group headed to their headquarters... to steal it!

The Doomguard is a faction that believes in entropy. They want to speed along the death of the universe. So they make weapons. The armory has four towers attached to the building, each of which also exists in a different plane.

The "Tower of Sealt" exists on the elemental plane of Salt. It is overseen by a guy called Roth, Doomlord of Salt.

Long story short, Fall From Grace shapechanged into the form of a Doomguard member. The heroes enlisted the help of Turia, the crabby tiefling from Nemesis.

The heroes got a look at the leader of the Doomguard, Factol Pentar. I want to introduce her now, as she is a big deal in the Faction War adventure.

Factol Pentar
The heroes sneak up to the room where the ritual is, and they poison a guard (torpor - knocks him out). They go into the room, detect and avoid a glyph of warding, cut a steel cord with the sword of sharpness and yoink the ritual, which is inscribed on a sheet of metal.

As they turn to leave, two guards come up the stairs. I gave them 5e thug stats and decided to give them this slightly modified 2e doomguard ability:

Entropic Blow: Once per week, a doomguard can attack with disadvantage. If they hit, they do half your hit points in damage!

The group subdued the guards. Turia came up and was most distressed. The group told her they'd go do the ritual and bring the sheet back. They could even cast mending to fix the steel cord!

The group raced back to the Smoldering Corpse bar, and they cast the ritual using the decanter. Ignus was free, but still on fire. And he was saying crazy crap like:
  • "I live! Long have I slept! Dream of Flames!"
  • "Ignus hears you all! Burn!"
  • "The fires grow dim - soon, I shall perish."
The heroes had a hard time figured out how to de-fire him. Theran has this amulet of flowing flame that belonged to a demon lord named Alzrius (they stole it from an abyssal fortress long ago). He put the necklace on Ignus and poof - flames out. Ignus plopped to the ground, a withered up burnt fellow.

The Other Place

Iarmid, owner of The Other Place
After some healing and examination at the church, the heroes were having a hard time getting coherent speech out of Ignus. There was only one thing that could help him recover - take him to a magic spa. Yes, my campaign is stupid. This is an actual location in Uncaged: Faces of Sigil called "The Other Place." The heroes took Ignus, Drusilla, Fall From Grace and Selinza the cat lady (who is now a 3rd level wizard) to the spa and we had ourselves a montage:
  • Bath: The heroes got a cleansing bath. Theran and Fall From Grace took a bath in holy water (Fall From Grace did not remove her chastity bodice for this - everyone else chose to be butt-naked).
  • Grooming: Then there was skin-grooming, scale scraping, etc. Poor Ignus got a whole layer of charred skin removed.
  • ManiPedi: They got their nails manicured/sharpened.
  • Massage: Then they got hour-long massages from four armed reaves. A reave is.. a four armed creature with leathery skin. They are warrior mercenaries, except for these people, I guess.
Wouldn't you know it, Bidam and his reave lady masseuse hit it off! Bidam used the ancient art of seduction on her and had himself a romantic encounter. When it was all over, he felt his metal heart beat oddly. He somehow saw the reave's heart through her chest - he watched as a liquid metal coated it. Bidam was extremely alarmed, to say the least.

Jessie (she plays Bidam) eventually vowed that Bidam would purposely not seduce the next person to come along, to see if anything weird happened.

The spa worked. Ignus remembered! Sort of! He realized that he had stashed sensory stones in his house long ago. The sensory stones contained incriminating memories that would show that Shemeshka was guilty of a myriad of crimes. These stones were what the heroes needed to blackmail Shemeshka. Ignus was still too frazzled to record new ones or, really, be coherent for long.

I should note that normally, sensory stones are wiped when the are taken out of the Civic Festhall. There were some in The Tacharim base in the Modron March, but those also lost their power if they were taken from the room.

So the deal here is that the little box is the sensory stone's "room." If taken out - useless. Wiped. I'm going to say that to make a box like this is ridiculously hard, probably needing the blood or ashes of a past factol to power it.

The Slags

Before he became a fiery guy, Ignus lived in a section of The Hive (the worst part of Sigil). In the years since Ignus had last been there, the area his home was in had become The Slags.

The Origin of The Slags: The blood war spilled over through portals into The Hive. For weeks, devils and demons battled each other, destroying buildings and magically warping the area. Now it is a place that has earthquakes, ruined buildings, and there are tanari supply caches everywhere (magic crates full of demonic magic items!). Cool, right?

So the heroes go in and walk through the "crooked maze of ramshackle buildings." The whole place rumbled. Fall From Grace warned the heroes that earthquakes were common here.

A two-headed dog that was five feet long glared at them from a side alley. Bidam threw it some rations and made some great animal handling rolls! Bidam befriended this creature - which is an Aoskian hound. Followers of Aoskar bred the animals long ago. They have the ability to stun you with their bark.

The group continued on, and they found the remains of Ignus' home. It had been cut in half by an explosion. In the years since, razorvine had grown over it almost completely. A ladder led from the ground to the third floor, where Ignus' stash was.

Ignus had told them he had a secret compartment in the wall - it was a metal carving of the Lady of Pain's face that opened when you said the command phrase: "Dream of Flames."

The group climbed up. The saw some slimy eggs in a corner. They found the stones, as well as the spell book of Ignus. Then... an earthquake hit! The floor split wide open and Theran fell 3 stories, cut by razorvine the whole way down (that's 3d6 + 15 points of damage)! He had just a few hit points remaining.

Worse, a chasme flew toward them. Those were indeed chasme eggs in that building.

5e chasmes are really deadly. If they hit you, you take 16 damage + 24 necrotic! And the necrotic can't be healed until you take a long rest! It also has this droning power, which knocks you unconscious if you fail your save.

I knew this was a tough monster, but it only had 84 hit points. The heroes are 8th level. They can do a lot of damage in a single round.

As it turned out, I think the group barely got a shot in. This was a very deadly encounter.

The chasme did piles of damage to Fall From Grace and dropped Bidam unconscious with the droning aura.

Selinza jumped off of the building and used feather fall to land on the street next to Theran. She made him invisible.

Theran spotted a building nearby - an invisible building that he could see thanks to his robe of eyes. It was just ten feet high, and cube-shaped. It had demogorgon's face carved into each side and no visible entrances. It was a tanari supply cache!

Theran actually ran over to it, invisible, and began to study it.

There were some shenanigans. Ultimately, Fall From Grace got the chasme to chase her, allowing the heroes to flee to safety. Fall From Grace was ultimately able to lose the chasme thanks to some good die rolls.

Theran kept studying the cache. He really wanted to get inside it but he couldn't figure out how.

Bidam realized a way - they could get Ash Vodiran, the greatest thief of Sigil, to walk through by becoming insubstantial!

That was my idea when I made this. I just wanted to see if they would be willing to let Ash out prison, or if they could come up with some other clever way to get inside.

The heroes regrouped at home. They put the sensory stones in a magic vault to keep them safe (The Vault of the Ninth World, from Planescape: Torment).

A'kin delivered a message to Shemeska, then hid with the heroes in the shadows near his magic shop. He gleefully rubbed his hands together. Theran could see Shemeshka approach The Friendly Fiend shop invisibly. She was furious. She cast fireball and blew the place up!

A'kin cackled in delight and told the heroes that Shemeshka would leave them alone for a while at least.

That's where we stopped! It was a really good session. Planescape is so rich with material that it feels like we've barely scratched the surface of the setting.

Click here for the next chapter.


Rynath Wilson said...

Another fantastic session. I think you've got a good grasp of what makes for an excellent Planescape campaign, no doubt helped by your familiarity with Torment.

Again, I wish I could play in this game. Your group is quite lucky.

Sean said...

Rynath: Thanks for the kind words, I really appreciate it. These last few sessions have been good ones. I've starter reading Hellbound and am looking forward to running blood war adventures.

Rynath Wilson said...

I think the key to running Blood War scenarios is to emphasize how eternal and hopeless the whole affair is; endless carnage and suffering that never seems to move closer to any resolution. Mercenaries may do stints in the war for money and glory, but those who survive inevitably just want to get as far away as possible.

In 5th edition, I'd probably make use of the optional Sanity score and Fear, Horror and Madness rules in the DMG to really hit the above points home.