Substances that do crazy things to you are part and parcel of several RPGs. Call of Cthulhu has all sorts of dusts and serums that transport you through time or reveal previously hidden truths. SLA Industries uses drugs the same way D&D uses stat buffing spells. Shadowrun combined drugs and cyberware, because Shadowrun was all about two great tastes that taste great together. Pathfinder does have a class that uses themselves as a human Erlenmeyer flask: the Alchemist, who use potions to buff their own drug-addled self.
Video games inevitably got in on that too. From getting staggeringly drunk in any RPG that let you drink, to opening up minigames or levels through the protagonist’s consumption of certain substances, the visual and auditory feedback of videogames let designers create so pretty memorable psychedelia. I’ll never get tired of pimping Psychonauts which – although it doesn’t involve anything more intoxicating than running around someone else’s mind – features the Black Velvetopia level. It is the most drop dead gorgeous psychedelic video game experience – yet remains true to the rather innocent story and feel of the game. Fighting black-velvet Luchadors? Tim Schafer, you magnificent bastard.
The game that inspired me to put a less-conventional way to meet one of the island’s inhabitants was FarCry 3, a game which had drug use as an integral part of the story. Perhaps the designers of that dangerous tropical island also felt tramping through the jungle to get places was going to get boring after a while, but the use of hallucinogens to advance the storyline is well done, in a very responsible “drugs-are-a-bit-scary-kids” kind of way. Grand Theft Auto V – which I can’t believe I’m not playing RIGHT NOW, that’s how much I am compelled to write this blog – also heavily features drug use, but they’ve taken the foot off the serious approach and getting high off your face is always a fun playing experience. Which makes a big difference to getting shit-faced drunk in GTAIV, which just caused you to sloppily waltz into traffic while trying to walk down the street to attend to the neediest cousin in the world.
Nope, GTAV pulls out all the stops; humour, violence, psychedelia AND a Tangerine Dream soundtrack? Rockstar Games, you’re trying to seduce me, aren’t you?
Anyway, deviating a bit from what’s written in the published adventure, I thought I’d try out a few things – one, I think it fits with how I imagine Pezock’s character; two, it is a different way of getting around the island and three, this adventure has been largely devoid of puzzles, which I’ve always liked in RPGs. Spoiler, THERE ARE PUZZLES COMING. We really only got to the trip at the end of the session, so we’ll see how they go next week. This isn’t the last drug trip in this adventure path, but we’ll see how this one goes. Fortunately, the three PCs I thought most likely to down weird substances were around last night:
Orny, Warlock: Orny seems like he’d be at home eating a bunch of weird shit. Goat familiar, ffs. If he doesn’t have kids trying to buy mushrooms off him all the time when he is in a town, I’m reading the Witch class wrong.
Uun, Barbarian: If there was D&D Angel Dust… I kinda think Uun would be all over it. He’s already partially naked and he wanders around repeatedly harming himself with his own sense of invulnerability. Christ, he’s almost there already.
Nobody, Gunslinger: What could go wrong? Seriously? His veins are already tainted with infernal blood, so fuck it, floor polish goes in next, let’s see what happens. Also has the atrocious aim that the action movies of the 80s assure me that all drug-users have.
Percy, Cleric: Ooh, the odd bird out, the man of the cloth. There’s no reason that Percy – or any other follower of Sarenrae would necessarily frown on any one particular concoction, other than what their high Wisdom was telling them. Other than the “body is a temple” religions though, there’s no particular proscription of drugs amongst various faiths. Percy is going to try it out and make his own mind up goddessdamnit.
Having managed to open Ishiro’s buried treasure chest and having plucked out those items they thought useful, the party had stayed overnight in a decently improvised cabin that was once the refuge of castaways, now assumed eaten by the cannibals. After that they had found the beach, fought some sort of plant zombie spore thing and killed it. Now they stood on the beach looking into the lagoon that dominated the northern half of the island, with Nobody pointing out what appeared to be a large crab in the far distance.
About two miles away, that’s how far away it was, so Nobody estimated that the crab was about the size of a small house. Uun could see it, he thought, maybe? A dome like shape in a little bight in the jungle. Yeah, that could be a crab. That was enough crab to feed everyone for a long time, they noted. So with melted butter on their minds, they sent a party west to investigate while Ishiro, Floki, Victor, Malicia and Rolifson all went North to return to their camp with their big chest full of loot.
Trekking along the beach before the day got too hot, they found another abandoned camp. Three small shelters had long ago collapsed on a beach strewn with broken blades. On inspection, they found two items of note: a small platform built up a palm tree above one of the huts and an intact dagger. The dagger was a high quality blade, curved and wickedly serrated, like the shards of blades they found rusting on the sand. It was also etched with the two crossed mantis legs that they had seen tattooed on Sasha Nevah’s back. After Nobody stashed the dagger and they took a sample of the curved blades, they followed the shore of the lagoon clockwise until they neared the crab. It was, indeed a crab, albeit one of stupidly large proportions. I bet it was ugly too – the great thing about real crabs is that their unarmoured bits are too small to really make out any features as such, but I bet blown up to this kind of huge scale they are disturbingly ugly.
You take that back, jerk.
Uun, seeing the crab listlessly moving its pincers around what was apparently a large sand nest, decided to step forward to make diplomatic overtures at the crab. Which is the kind of thing you can do if you have Handle Animal. As he did so, an entirely different crab burst out of the sand and lunged at Percy. A quick Slumber hex from Orny put the thing to sleep (which was my mistake, the crab I was using is immune to mind-affecting spells/effects, but whatever,.. it was some other smarter, dozier crab). Percy stepped up to do the Coup De Grace honours, but in keeping with all the rest of the party’s CdG attempts, it didn’t work. The crab woke up and lunged again. Since we were all fulfilling party roles, Nobody fired his gun off without harming everyone.
Uun, meanwhile, ignored the fight behind him and continued to placate the enormous crab, which was by now waggling its tree trunk sized pincers around. The sand crab had pincered Percy hard, the tengu rocking on his feet until Orny managed to lay a small healing spell on him. The crab couldn’t last long against Nobody’s backup weapon and a resurgent Percy. Uun was joined by everyone else as they tried to establish some kind of communication with the enormous crab. Here’s where everyone’s knowledge nature started failed them. They can’t be blamed; it’s not a skill they had many ranks in, if any, but they really felt the lack of it this session.
The enormous crab rotated towards them, and waved its pincers menacingly. It began making loud groans. Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo, as of a man dying down a well, letting everyone know how much that sucks. Uun continued to try to Crocodile Dundee it, but the moaning sound persisted until the crab quite clearly told him to fuck off. It went back to moaning, but now the party wasn’t going to let the “fuck off” thing slip by. Crustaceans, no matter how enormous, aren’t usually capable of that. More like Cuss-tacean, amirite?
The party began more diplomatic, typical friendly assurances and this seemed to work well, helped by some stellar rolls. The plate of armour under the mouth of the crab dropped open and a dark recess was visible beyond. At assurance that the party would put away their weapons, a nervous looking tengu popped his head around the door. This, it turns out, was Pezock: King of the Island.
Fiddlededee, would you like to buy me pig?
Pezock, he was more than happy to share, was a tengu who had been cast ashore when his ship wrecked what he thought was four years ago. He was, he claims, entrusted with the island by his beloved Captain and so took up the heavy burden of rulership. He moved into the rotting carcass of an enormous crab and cleaned it out and then rigged up a series of ingenious pulleys and weight to animate the crab to a certain degree. His is a happy kingdom, for the most part, full of birds and fish and plants. He does not care for the cannibals, but they have not given him too much of a hard time, as they are not interested in eating him, since he is a tengu. Every once in a while, some will pass by and harass him, but since he deals with intruders by slicing them in half with the massive crab claws, he isn’t too concerned.
He had a fair amount of knowledge of the cannibals and the island, but not where the two overlap. He has no idea about any “lighthouse” and tries not to go near the cannibal camp. He reckons there are 30-50 cannibals although they usually travel in patrols of 6 or so. A war party, however, can have as many as 20 and when patrols fail to capture shipwrecked sailors, they usually send in a war party to subdue the camp. Then they eat the sailors – but only if they are human. Pezock insists that their cannibalism isn’t a matter of survival, but has some “stupid religious aspect”. Surviving on the island isn’t too difficult once you get the hang of it and the cannibals know the island inside and out. Of the cannibals themselves, he knows they were here long before him and that there is only one inhabitant of the island older than the tribe’s presence. The tribe’s numbers are on rare occasion swelled by shipwrecked converts, but other than that – though the mysteries of human reproduction remain misty to him – he has never seen any female cannibals (since they run around “all beards and bollocks”), so he is a little confused as to how they have lasted as long on the island.
Pezock mentioned that he’d seen two other castaways – a small woman and a tall man, dressed like a ship’s Captain, heading south into the dense jungle. He kept his distance, suspecting that the cannibals would find them soon. The party suspected that this was probably Ileana and Captain Kovacs. He gave them a tour of his crab, a marvel of engineering and improvised rigging, as well as the trapped area right behind the crab, full of tiger pits and snares. In doing so, Pezock was obviously enthusiastic about having someone to talk to, especially those antagonistic to the cannibals. Pezock also bears a sawtooth sabre – a maintained and intact version of the serrated weapons found broken on the beach earlier. He was happy to have them stay the night. The party discussed amongst themselves whether or not they should move the camp to this friendly location. They decided that they should.
Map so far.
The next morning they headed north and went back to their base camp. They explained that they thought they’d be more secure next to their new ally.
Jask and Ishiro were on board, their loyalty to the party secured through the favours they’ve been done (although Ishiro is keen to point out that they should otnay entionmay the easuretray because he reburied it with the rest of the party who accompanied him… so that they don’t have to split it any more ways).
Sasha was ambivalent. She was also a touch defensive about her tattoo and the motif being located on the daggers – she just got it because it looks like an N, and her last name is Nevah, she claims. The party wasn’t buying that. Fine, she admitted that she did know a little bit about the Red Mantis Society of assassins.
Aerys was still in the throes of some wicked withdrawals – to which the party has two conflicting solutions: First, Uun has booze, almost. His fermenting hooch will be ready soon and he said she could have some of that. Second, Orny promised to cure her of her addiction with Viper Berries, but keeps forgetting to search for them – and if this session’s Knowledge Nature Failstravaganza is anything to go by, maybe shouldn’t be in charge of finding them when he does remember. Aerys’ involvement in discussions was minimal, except that she just wanted to lie down.
Gelik was the only one who had reasons to object – he didn’t want to leave the camp he was fond of and had served them well, for an unknown quantity of security that was Pezock. The move brought them closer to the cannibal camp, and further from the ocean shore – there will be no point in building a signal fire on the shores of the inner lagoon. He argues that they are putting all of their rescue eggs in one lighthouse basket. A lighthouse they haven’t even bloody seen yet. Still, if that’s what everyone wants to do, he’ll go along, although he’ll complain sarcastically the whole way.
I don’t have my pen software on my new computer yet…
So off they set, transporting their big pile of possessions from one beach to another beach, leaving behind their huts and camp. The whole process more or less ate up the day, so when they arrived at Pezock’s crab they had time to set up some makeshift sleeping arrangements. Pezock is delighted to have guests/subjects and chatted all evening about life on the island. He particularly takes a shine to Malicia and takes every opportunity to make little asides to her as he makes sure everyone settles in. As people started turning in for bed after a meal of not particularly well smoked sea-urchin laid on by Pezock, the tengu made his way around the camp and gave a few party members a tap on the shoulder, asking them to join him in his crab.
Get stuck in.
In there he had a small cookpot going and told them that he thought they should visit the other potential ally they may have on the island; the island’s oldest inhabitant. Doing so would require… ingestion of a totally harmless concoction of his own devising. He gave each of them two halves of a coconut, one filled with fibrous brown-grey goop, the other with water to wash it down. They dutifully did so and after a couple of seconds were overcome by nausea. The feeling passed as they laid down on the floor. Pezock reassured them that was just the side-effect of the puffer-fish neuro-toxin, but that they shouldn’t feel any other adverse side effects. He was preparing a pot of beans for their return, as he always felt like beans when he got back. As darkness descended on them, Pezock arranged them comfortably on the floor. “Mind over matter, lads: mind over matter.”
The experience was the same for each of those who had eaten the mixture: their conscious returned to a black field, with a feeling of tranquility and ease. They had been completely freed from their physical selves and couldn’t feel their bodies at all. The blackness that surrounded them (not darkness, they could see everything, its just that everything was a rich blackness) began to be illuminated by glowing tropical flowers falling towards them, blooming and shedding luminous petals as they fell. They began to experience a surge of energy and moved with increasing speed and vigour through the starfield of glowing blossoms until the bright forms blurred together to form a tunnel of dancing, pulsating light along which they sped, beings of pure energy.
That’s where we ended for the evening. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!