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Monday, June 12, 2017

Planescape - Blood War XIV. The Charnel God of Orcus

We got a late start for this one, so I had to cram a lot into a short period of time. I know a lot of DMs run things at a different pace and I think that a lot of people would have just let the group go at their own speed, but I like to chop through it and honestly, I don’t think it hurts the game too much. Nobody seems to mind, anyway.

In D&D I feel like there’s a lot of wasted time at the table. If you watch people play, it tends to be pretty boring. I’ve developed this spastic style where a few phrases get uttered many times per session:
  • “Anybody doing anything else special?”
  • “Do you go do X or do you want to do something else?”
Waffling: When you let the players sit there and haggle over what to do next, a lot of weird things happen. Sometimes the players wait for someone else to decide. Sometimes one person wants to do something, but isn’t heard. Sometimes a faction of players get into shenanigans because they’re getting bored or annoyed that a decision hasn’t been made.

I want to run a full session in under two hours. To do so, I have to set fire to all that stuff. Let’s cut to the chase! Give them the chance to do whatever they want and then move on.

I went overboard with preparing again, so this one was crammed with material.

We started off with a bunch of downtime stuff.

Scorpion Tail: Theran had a demonic scorpion tail attached to his above-butt region. I gave him the tlincalli (from Volo’s Guide to Monsters) power. It paralyzes! He’s 13th level, what the hell.

High-Pitched Metal: In the neighborhood where the group lives, there’s a mad scientist-type who makes golems. He sewed the tail onto Theran.

His name is “Dr. Stein”, which is a reference to a song by a band called Helloween. When I was a kid, I found this song to be both utterly ridiculous/delightful. My friends used to ask me to sing the one part in a thick German accent: “Dr. Shteen grows funny creatures! Lets them run – (super-high 80’s metal voice) into the niiigghhtt!" I timestamped it for you.

I should mention that Bidam got a demon scrotum sewn on, so now he has two sacks and four balls  – 2 dragonborn, 2 demon. Personally I thought it would have been cooler if there were four balls in one sack, but it’s not my character! My campaign is stupid.

The group did a bunch of goofy stuff with the new employees at their main festhall. Jessie finds it hilarious that their talking cat (Jysson, from the very 1st session of the campaign) is attracted to the new tabaxi (cat-lady from Volo's) so I’m milking that for all it’s worth.

I made sure to show Eravamont Glask canoodling with ladies. He’s my Sean Connery NPC. I realized the group has a huge pile of female NPC allies and not-so-many males, so I’m using him to try to even things out a bit.

Red Shroud: The succubus known as Red Shroud, who is a fairly major NPC from earlier editions, lives in Sigil now and is running something of a spy/information-dealing business. I am thinking of building up a sort of secret war between her and Shemeshka the Marauder.

She tipped the group off that the devil festhall had a new owner – Lilis, wife of Dispater (the lord of the second layer of hell). I think technically, she’s an archdevil and can’t enter Sigil, but for my campaign I’m saying technically she’s not an archdevil.

Honestly I am very confused in general about which devils can leave hell. Many supplements infer that none of them can, but then a whole bunch of other supplements have them coming and going all the time.

The group met with Lilis and I got to introduce her three male erinyes minions. One is her bodyguard, one is her messenger, and one is a super-handsome guy that Lilis adores name Sintelis. Jessie seemed very interested in this dude and I got the feeling she’s got something up her sleeve. I’ll keep dangling this guy out there and we’ll see what she does with it.

Lilis tried to get the group to give her information on the 1st layer of hell. The group knows one of Zariel’s secrets – she’s nuts and she talks to severed angel heads. I wanted to see if the group would spill it. They didn’t.

Demon-Making Farm: The group picked up more adult nephrotics (demon crustaceans). The heroes found out last session that the nephrotics taste delicious, and reluctantly sold four of them to Red Shroud so she could sell them to restaurants.

Skyshrine: At Theran’s floating castle in the Abyss, there was a problem. They could hear the babies crying. These babies are all children of Graz’zt, and one of them is clearly a child of Graz’zt and Lamashtu.

They went into the nursery and found that the succubus nurse had been turned to stone, and Iggwilv was here glaring at the baby! Iggwilv is angry that Graz’zt made a baby with Lamashtu.

This was a tricky little thing, here. I wanted to show that Iggwilv was now on their side, sort of. She wants Iggwilv dead. I also reminded them that Iggwilv knows Lamashtu’s truename – Lamashtu is under her control, to a degree. Iggwilv might be able to summon and bind her! Lamashtu is the big villain of this whole thing, so it’s kind of a big deal.

I also wanted to show that Iggwilv is powerful. She had a sorcerous duel with Theran a few sessions back, and Theran was a bit cocky about it. She was using low level spells! I decided she wanted to show him how powerful she was and that he’d better do as she says. I looked up her 3e stats and just grabbed a few spells:
  • Counterspell: I read up on it to make sure I ran it right. As a reaction, you can just shut down a spell. If you use a higher slot, you can auto-shut down almost any spell with no roll!
  • Dispel Magic: I grabbed this in case Theran created some sort of effect
  • Banishment: I thought it would be awesome to use this spell on the group and send them back to my homebrew setting for the 1 minute duration of the spell.
For the purposes of this encounter, her DC was a 16 and her spell attack bonus was a +10. I took these numbers right from a CR 22 mind-flayer alhoon from Volo’s. I have statistical wiggle-room because this Iggwilv is actually a simulacrum – a clone made of ice and snow.

The 3e stats give her a staff of power, so I pulled out the staff of power sheet I use for my Eberron character and I was good to go.

The group got nervous that she was going to hurt the baby. She ranted and raved, and I dropped all of that Lamashtu info. Then she cast fireball on the heroes, not hitting the babies, but setting the place on fire.

Bidam charged and she banished him.

Theran cast disintegrate. Counterspell. She cast cone of cold… he was hurt really bad. He cast something else. Counterspell. She dropped him with magic missile, I think.

Bidam appeared in my homebrew city of Olwynn. In my previous campaign, Bidam had a job taking care of a slow-witted goblin named Slurp, who lived in a tower owned by Pollidemia the Wicked, a reformed villain who’s been in my campaigns for many years.

This went over well, as I had hoped. The winged wolves barked and jumped around excitedly. Slurp yelled “Daddy!” and ran over. Pollidemia took a look at Bidam. Bidam originally was a dragonborn who picked through trash to eke out a living. Now here he was with gleaming golden armor and a massive sword of sharpness. She was most impressed. Then.. Bidam vanished. He was back at Skyshrine.

Iggwilv was gone. Bidam healed Theran and they put out the fire.

I had mixed feelings about this because I don’t like it when the heroes fight creatures that they are no match for. I justify this one by saying that it is all to build anticipation for the day when they do take her on and defeat her. It should make it feel rewarding and well-earned.

Sigil: The nurse had been turned to stone. The group brought her to Sigil and paid to have her restored. She was first enraged and began trashing the temple she’d been restored in. They politely asked her to leave.

Then she realized the group had saved her. Demons are not used to acts of kindness, so the group has earned her loyalty.

Burningwater: The 9th layer of the Abyss, home to Bidam’s wife, Bazuuma – demon lord of positive energy. The heroes had given her a pile of soul larvae. She consumed them, and gained greater power!

She used it to transform her kids – abyssal dragons named Pyranicus and Pyranica – into Young Adult Dragons. They were quite excited and asked Bidam if they could fly around and go on adventures with him. The kids were told in no uncertain terms that they were never to leave this plane without permission.

New Demon: Bazuuma gained the power to create a more powerful demon type! The chain of progression goes like this:
  1. Jovocs
  2. Red Unicorns with foul mouths
  3. Oculus Demons!
Oculus demons are from Expedition to the Demonweb Pits, which is a pretty great adventure that, like many others, goes unheralded.

Oculus Demons

These demons look really cool and they have a bunch of eyes, including eyes on their fingertips. They can shoot three rays per round. The rays are of negative energy. They do damage and slowly paralyze you!

Negative energy! Bazuuma is a demon lord of positive energy, it feels like it fits so well to just flip their beams to positive energy. They fit this NPC like a glove! I should probably have an oculus demon NPC sidekick for a few sessions to get another male in the mix and to kind of reinforce that they exist and that Bazuuma’s power is growing.

New Abyssal Realm: Last session, the group pulled a layer of the Abyss into Hell. They saw a new abyssal layer forming in the void where the old one had been.

Theran bought a scroll of plane shift and cast it (casting off a scroll is a rule I can never remember!).

I should note that Theran had to buy this scroll in Sigil. He went to the Society of Luminiferous Aether. Bovina came along. She wanted to check out a book that Theran found there last session that had details about Haagenti, the mother of minotaurs.

Bovina is a member of a faction that believes anyone can become a god. She wants to become the god of minotaurs. This was a way of setting the table for that. I got plans!

They floated in the void and saw the heart/core of the new layer. Bazuuma stuck her hands into it and crystals grew out of it.

When I was preparing this, I kept asking myself where the heck I was going to get a cool new abyssal layer from. I had no ideas! I dug through a pile of D&D stuff, and was flipping through a 3e book by Bruce Cordell called When the Sky Falls, a whole sourcebook about meteors hitting your campaign world. This is one of a billion books I’ve only flipped through and never read.

Then I remembered a pdf I have from the same line: Beyond Countless Doorways. This is a 3e book, a “planescape reunion” where people who worked on the planescape setting made up 20 new planes for you to use! New planes!!

So I dug through it and chose one. Bazuuma grew her new realm in an instant…

The Crystal Road of Deluer: Crystalline roads 30 feet wide, 6 feet thick spanning a seemingly endless blue sky. The roads connect to giant circular rocks made of a certain mineral. For now, there’s copper, bronze and mithral, among others.

On the mithral “lode” is.. The Mithral City! A city of mithral. Pretty awesome, right?

I decided Bazuuma could create a few portals, since she was forming the whole realm.
  • Plain of 1,000 Portals: Pretty much every abyssal layer has one of these, not Bazuuma’s choice.
  • A crystal tower in the plane of positive energy.
  • Deadbook Square: A secret portal hidden in a rarely-used building. The key to activate it is hair from Jysson, the talking cat.
With all that done, we finally got to the adventure.

The heroes needed to go to Thanatos, the abyssal realm that once belonged to Orcus but now is ruled by Lamashtu. Their devil army is invading.

The group made their way through the abyssal undersump. Devil guards are stationed here to hold the place, but that’s tenuous at best. They had to pay the toll to the Fulsome Queen again, which they did gleefully. She’s an official NPC from Pathfinder, a demon woman made of waste.

We got into a thing about wiping with slime which you probably don’t want to hear about.

They arrive in Thanatos. They had a mission to accomplish: Go shut down the portal to Baphomet’s Realm. If Baphomet, demon lord of minotaurs, popped through that portal and attacked the devils, the whole invasion would be ruined.
Crypt Thing
The group got on their abyssal griffons (Theran is reluctant to ride on his flying throne, for whatever reason) and they flew to the Valley of the Crypt Things.

They came upon a circle of thrones facing each other. Seated in each was a skeleton in robes. When Bidam stepped in the circle, they all stood and pointed at him. They whispered in his mind that the charnel god was loose in the Valley, and that they’d be rewarded if they dealt with it.

The charnel god is a pathfinder thing. When orcus died, shards of his divinity rocketed through the cosmos and landed in places connected to him. A shard entered into a fifteen foot tall statue of Orcus and came to life – a charnel god. Charnel gods hate their former followers, because they think it is the fault of the followers that they died.

So this charnel god of orcus is rampaging through this maze of mausoleums, causing the crypt things endless headaches. The group had to go in and find the portal to Baphomet’s maze (flying is no good due to a deadly hovering cloud of necrotic mist), so they were on their toes.

The group was going to go through three planned events, and there were three optional locations they could visit. Each location had piles of treasure. I decided that the group needed more money – cash money – so I thought this was a nice way to dump it on them.

For the optional areas, I used modified traps from the unearthed arcana traps thing. It worked fine!

Crypt of the Demon Lords: This crypt had some orcus faces on the wall, fire-breathing traps. The group did a great job of figuring it out and avoiding them. They found some stuff made of gems worth 10,000 gp, I’ll leave it to your imagination. They also found a ring with a stylized “CU” on it.

Temple of Orcus: The group had to traverse a huge temple of orcus with ornate, lode-bearing pillars. Suddenly, the charnel god exploded into the temple. It roared and charged Bidam. Bidam has the orcusword, a powerful relic of Orcus. It’s like a magnet to the charnel god.

It ran through a bunch of lode-bearing pillars and the whole ceiling collapsed. Bidam got out, but Theran was buried. He was able to misty-step out of the rubble. The charnel god was gone! Would it be back? Yes.

Crypt of The Angels: The classic Indiana Jones rolling boulder trap! The heroes made some epic die rolls and dove out of the way Treasure: Crystal chimes and a golden hourglass worth a total of 10,000 gp. A ring with a stylized “S”.

Temple of Doresain: The group needed to go through this place to keep going. They were cautious, and listened at the door. This huge temple was full of zombies! The ceiling was too low for flight, dangit. No problem, Eravamont Glask has turn undead. He was turning like crazy, creating a circle that was safe for the group to stand in.

Suddenly, the far wall exploded. Like the kool-aid man, charnel god had returned. The group smartly exploited a hole in the floor. The charnel god fell in and the group got the heck out of there. Would the charnel god be back? Yup.

Crypt of the Devils: This had a complicated trap from unearthed arcana, with slashing blades and crushing pillars. The heroes tried to ride on Theran’s flying throne to get to the treasure at the far end, but got hit by a pillar and they went hurtling in all directions. They scrambled and got the treasure: A huge pile of platinum and an emerald marital aid worth a total of 10,000 gp. Also, a ring with a stylized “OR”.

They sat there for a minute, thinking about the rings. “CU”, “S”, and “OR”. Jessie yelled “Orcus!”

Portal to the Ivory Labyrinth: Finally! The group arrived at a weird clearing – a circle of statues of orcus. All of them looked exactly like the charnel god. The portal was an archway with engravings of minotaurs and a maze design on it and appeared to be inactive. The entire area was carpeted with bodies of slain minotaurs. Apparently the charnel god was killing anyone who came through the portal.

The group scanned the area, nervous. They rolled perception checks and rolled incredibly low. I rolled for the NPCs (Eravamont and Bovina the cow lady). They rolled low, too. Dammit!

One statue came to life. The charnel god! It pounded on Bidam with a stone wand of orcus. Theran fired off a disintegrate spell, cracking it open. The group saw a swirling shard inside of it.

Somehow the group finally made a perception and they saw glowing runs on three of the statues that matched the statues of orcus. They put on the rings and took control of them!

Their statues beat the crap out of the charnel god and then Bidam reduced it to ash with two swings of the sword of sharpness.

The shimmering crystal plopped to the ground. Theran realized that it was a divine shard. With no prompting, Jessie said.. “Bovina could use that to be a god!” Yep! Sort of!

I asked them who touches the shard. I did that on purpose to give them a meta-game heads-up that maybe touching it would have consequences. They very, very carefully mage-handed it into their bag of holding.

Bad guys will want that shard! Acererak will want it! Graz’zt will want it! I’m going to base the shard’s properties on Nahyndrian crystals from Wrath of the Righteous, which I’ll talk about next time.

Next session, the group goes into Baphomet’s Maze.

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