Posted on July 3, 2012
The Acts of the Lords of Rannick LXVI
I’m pretty certain that the first time I heard a Led Zeppelin song that referenced Sauron, I pissed myself and couldn’t wait to tell my friends about it. I’m finally getting around to replying to Jonathan’s call for evidence of the Old Ones at work… There now follows a very meandering text about how awesome it is when things I like like other things I like: I was going to edit it , but realised it was too long for me to bother… which is a sure sign that it needs editing. Well, link to game recap is below.
Sometimes two things you really like intersect neatly. Darkest of The Hillside Thickets would be a great example of this because it is exactly the kind of music I like, written about books that I like. Synergy! (Toren Atkinson is Kevin Bacon of the games industry, having been involved in… oh, god, almost everything… as well as leading DoTHS and having been a person of note in the D&D 3e revamp.) The Lovecraftian tradition that Paizo sneakily introduces into their world (thematically the Pathfinder setting, Golarion, is 75% D&D, 10% Call of Cthulhu, 5% other RPGs and 10% Reasonable accommodation of all of these factors) is a well mined vein in rock music, computer games and various other related hobbies. So much so that you need never have read Lovecraft to be relatively familiar with the pantheon and the themes.
There is a funny intersection between High on Fire’s De Vermiis Mysteris (of which I admit I am only a middling fan – I loudly applaud the effort, without being thrilled at the result, I wish they’d do more instrumental stuff) just because the particular strand of Cthuliana exposed by The Spires of Xin-Shalast is also covered somewhat by several songs on that album. You’ve already encountered the Hounds of Tindalos (Frank Belknap Long) and the piping chant of Tekeli-Li (Edgar Allen Poe) but the Men of Leng are I think entirely H.P.’s. A fourth Mythos-artifact is introduced in this session (another of FBL’s, one that isn’t necessarily written into the module, but one that makes sense given what IS written into the module. This is to deal with what I believe to be an inherent blind spot in the plot of SoXS, so we’ll see how this works out. I haven’t had to fiddle a lot with the plot of RotRL, but there is some spottiness in plot that is found in this campaign that seems to be ironed out of future efforts. Anyway, I’m happy to keep putting layers of Cthulhu mythos into other games as well as dorky acknowledgements to other shit I enjoy.
I think it is probably because of Games Workshop’s more blatant incorporation of their non-game pursuits into their games (NPCs in Death on The Reik being named after their favourite continental philosophers, chapters of space marines being named after their favourite poems and bands (Dark Angels, Hawklords etc) that this all feels like it is the way it should be. I used to like that about GW. It’s like our own little cant – a secret way of reassuring dorks that the things we like have merit because we all like all of them. Back in the easy going 80s this was all a big lark but it is kind of funny to see the serious-faced GW of today stuck with using the flippant fluff of yesteryear. Seriously, Ultramarines. Get it? They wear blue…
There are some games in which those kind of winks and nods are inappropriate. They’d be stupid in Traveller and ridiculously out of place in CoC. But I always wondered that Shadowrun never really lingered or incorporated pop culture stuff, but strove to build an entirely new and separate pop culture. Really, Shadowrun’s setting is only one mega-plague, a handful of neural jacks and some pointy-ears away from our own. SLA Industries is funny that way because it is entirely comprised of nods and winks, you’re just not supposed to realise it or comment on it as you play.
Anyway, Paizo, in its humanity, does well with some small nods and winks to gamer culture – especially, I must say, those thrown up by MMORPGs and console RPGs- whereas some (like the double-take inducing supplement below) are reminiscent of other things solely because they are presumably drawing from the same wells.
It is a fine tightrope to walk without making it seem like they are just racking up meme references, but I think they do well with this so far. I mean, they’ve just brought out campaign with ninjas and another one with pirates, so that may all go to pot.
Aaaaaanyway… back to the longboat making its way up the Storval Deep.
As they spotted the denizens of Leng capering about the top of the Spindlehorn, the water ahead rose violently in a great surge, the water roiling as numerous tentacles broke the surface, followed by the horrific neck and head of Black Magga, the Mother of Oblivion. The same one that attacked them in Turtleback Ferry? I couldn’t possibly say. Looked like the same kind of thing though.
The Bosun, in the absence of an actual captain, ordered the boat hard to the shore, running the flexible hull onto the narrow stony beach beneath the southern peaks that surround the Storval Deep. Black Magga followed in their wake.
The sudden stop sent the boatmen flying and cowering by the gunwhales and Halvard was unable to keep his footing on the deck, rolling in what must have been an alarmingly dangerous blur of armour spikes. Three marines managed to keep their feet, the other fell and broke his neck. The tentacled monstrosity propelled its way through the water, by means unseen – even looking at the illustration, I’m not sure how that thing conveys itself – and once it had reached the stern, breathed across the boat, inciting a brief madness in everyone bar Ron and Albedon. Halvard and Arradin spent a few seconds self-harming but were then grappled by the monstrosity and became locked in combat with it.
Dagfinn meanwhile leaped down from the stern decking, twirling around the aft mast in a show of considerable swashbuckling adroitness. Somehow this got him into a fight with a deeply confused marine, but that ended when Dagfinn shoved him overboard. Unfortunately that left him open to a sneak attack by Kerplak… the gnome had been up in the crows nest but now found himself on the deck and firing off at whoever seemed to be in his way.
Ron moved forward and helped Halvard, as Arradin activated her Mark of Wrath which enveloped her in a swirling maelstrom of fire. She struck out with her bastard sword as she was squeezed slowly by the otherworldly tentacles. Albedon got ready with a Mage Armour and then cast a freezing sphere which didn’t do much, except freeze the lake.
Arradin’s attacks proved effective as did Ron’s whacks with his Axiomatic Quarterstaff, the Mother of Oblivion being a creature from a distant realm of Chaos. Ron, Halvard and Arradin finished the creature off and it flopped around in the foam in its death throes. Albedon assessed the shifting-material nature of the MoB and established the other-plane-ness of the creature.
With the threat from the water averted, healing spells were cast and those unengaged looked up to the Spindlehorn to see the reaction of the dancing men. The denizens of Leng had stopped their capering and were observing the action. At first they simply stood, still and attentive; but then one calmly stepped from the lip of the playform and into the 2000ft of air between the high vantage point and the rocky shore beneath. Silently, the man plummeted to his messy death below. Then the second man, followed suit, then the third, silently and calmly falling to their doom. When all of the men had perished in this way, the party managed to get themselves collected and get the boat underway. Some small repairs and a fair amount of bailing was required, but the sailors were mostly glad to have something to keep themselves busy after the terrifying attack and gruesome suicide display.
With the boat underway again, everyone thought it would be a good idea to head over to the shore around the Spindlehorn and see if any of these suicidal otherworlders functioned as ruby-filled pinatas. Parts of them bounced as they hit the shore (while other parts did not) so they were hoping some of those things were precious gems.
800ft from the shore, however, Kerplak and Albedon spotted a party of three live denizens of Leng, standing by the bank, amongst the tattered remnants of the jumpers.
The denizens of Leng did nothing as the party approached, Kerplak sizing them up for a long range shot, but the foremost of the men raised his hands in supplication. At this time the floating image of a head appeared before the ship, large and clearly illusory. It was a scarved and turbaned man of Leng, the odd too-large eyes and slightly misshapen pupils staring calmly out at the party. It requested parlay with the party in a voice that regrettably slid between Henry Kissinger and George Takei. I’ve got to work on that. I think you could understand the confusion though right?
Dagfinn called out across the water that they were willing to parlay, but also totally capable of killing the Denizen of Leng (because that is what Dagfinn does). The Denizen of Leng said that death was no barrier to them, at which the Lengite on his right drew a curved dagger and made a deep slash across his own throat. Blood poured out for a second or two after which he fell to the ground then foamed into nothingness.
Pulling up to the shore, Halvard and Albedon stayed on board, words of fiery destruction on their lips, ready for parlay to go wrong. Kerplak used his Ring of Invisibility and Cape of the Mountebank to dim-door behind the DoLs and start collecting rubies from the remains of the leaping Lengites.
Arradin, Dagfinn and Ron dropped ashore and parlayed. The Denizen of Leng explained that Xin Shalast was lost, but that they could help the party to find Xin Shalast. The problem, they explained, was that Xin shalast was a built so long ago that the landscape had changed dramatically. Any old directions to the city would be useless. Xin Shalast could not be found, nor could they lead them to it, but they had something that may help. They had a serum that would allow one to look through time. Dagfinn inquired as to why they were here, but their answers were vague. The Denizen of Leng demonstrated that their two planes of existence were very close to each other and that they were simply exploring this wonderful world.
After taking the long tall bottle, the Denizen of Leng declared that there was an understanding between them; that on arriving in Xin Shalast, the party would not interfere with the plots of the Lengites. They had their own plots at work in the city and if the party wanted to go there and shake things up, they only asked that they be left out of it. Evereyone seemed chagrined at that. The otherworlder demurred and offered to guide Dagfinn through his first experience with the drug they called the Serum of Liao.
Dagfinn drank a tiny amount, and sat down on the shore of the Storval Deep as everyone else looked on. He was aware of only the Denizen of Leng standing beside him, coaching his breathing as his perceptions changed, letting him know what to expect.
The sun and moon flickered over head a few times, days speeding by, then weeks then months, years, centuries, millenia. The experience was odd, Dagfinn was experiencing time the way most of us experience distance, observing many eras at once as his eyes focused. The drug entirely change the way time was experienced. There was a period of impenetrable darkness and choking dusts, then he saw the Storval Deep suddenly emptied, and great statuary lining the deep canyon in its place. Ramps and scaffolding appear and thousands of stone giants clamber over them, cutting blocks of stone and carving out the canyon walls. Eventually, the canyon walls thicken, the scaffolding disappeared and the canyon returned to its natural state. In the course of a few minutes, Dagfinn had experienced over 45,000 years of history although he had been able to linger on the era furthest from the present for some time, suggesting, as the Denizen of Leng said, that control was possible through focus and discipline.
Dagfinn returned to himself and his time, seemingly none the worse for wear. The Denizens of Leng departed seeking assurances that they would not be interfered with in Xin Shalast. The party was lukewarm at best on this, but at least nominally agreed.
That’s where we left them.
Dagfinn for his Adam Ant-ics in swinging around the mast for swash-buckly high jinks – if you have to take a move action, you may as well make it an awesome one – and Ron for his Orphans of Oblivion joke. Honorable mention should go to whoever for making the Tampons of Liao joke. That was great and I think that’s staying with me the most.
As I mentioned, we’re going to gloss over the rest of the trip up the Storval Deep and the trek across the Storval Plateau as they try to make their way to the point at which the Kazavon river dumps out of the mountains. This is a largely boring and difficult trek, so this is the point at which we cut away to a montage of the party making their way across the landscape, overlaid with a yellowed map with a red line slowly snaking its way from the head of the Storval Deep to the mountains.
That isn’t to say that there is nothing of note on this part of the journey, but it is several days of hard travel across high desert and our time would be better spent adventuring. You can of course, spend this time doing whatever you feel like, but the travel is HARD. At the end of eight hours of hard hiking you’ve only made about 30 miles of actual progress and are likely exhausted.
You say farewell to the boat and its crew and they prep for the trip back across the Deep – they are not looking forward to it. The Kazavon river, wide at the point at which meets the Deep, snakes north then south again, then finally north. It is in early spate just now as the new year turns towards Spring, so it makes for a good source of fast flowing drinking water, but is going to be tricky if you ever need to cross it. The weather is dry for the most part, with occasional flurries of light snow that cut your visibility but don’t make travel much slower.
You don’t follow the river exactly, cutting across the curves to save time, but the rush of the water is an almost constant and relief to find again once you have left it to cut across foothills. Signs of civilization are nil, with the landscape crossed by nothing more than game trails. You know that raiders from Urglin are a danger here and that the Shoanti cross the plateau periodically, but of these two groups, you see no trace.
The ground rises slowly as you head northeast until the peaks of the massifs are faintly visible amongst the distant clouds. Then the foothills and lesser mountains become discernible and the ground starts rising rapidly. Finally, the mountain valley out of which the Kazavon pours comes into view. Somewhere there, the Vekker brothers maintained some kind of base for their mining operations.
It is here that we will pick up next time.
Meanwhile, Dagfinn is acting a bit funny and many of you are having strange dreams. Dagfinn will often answer questions before you posed them and seems occasionally clumsy, rather than his poised self. He’ll sometimes trip or take odd steps on the trail as though he is stepping over things that aren’t there. He’ll make odd comments and then seem confused for a few seconds, before returning to his normal self.
Several of you have troubled and unusually focused dreams: you look out over a blasted infertile plateau of pale grey dust and stone. The uninhabitable nature of the landscape is disturbing, but it is occasionally crossed by small parties of robed men, walking quickly with the bouncing gate of the men of Leng or swarms of long limbed giant spiders who move with an unnatural intelligence and awareness. There are other creatures too, that stay perpetually at the edge of vision and move surreptitiously, as though aware of your scrutiny and eager to remain hidden.