Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ephemera Session 6: Pants on Fire, Smelly Vapor, and Rundt

Cast of Characters
Sandy, Dwarf Fighter +Daniel McEntee
Egbert, Mage +Rob Conley
Conner, Mage +Tim Shorts
Darius, Mage +Ken H
Alfred, Torchbearer (NPC hireling)
Tub, Frost Goblin (Charmed NPC ally)
Bob, Swarthy Dwarf (Charmed NPC ally)
Rundt, Hunchback Swarthy Dwarf (New Charmed NPC ally)

GM Note: Despite the dice being exceptionally unkind, nobody died. There were several near misses, as almost every damage roll against the PCs was for max damage or very nearly. All night long, the PCs' luck stayed just one pip shy of the worst luck they could have.

The valiant Cindarrin ended the last session in the Temple of Balus. They had just lost John the Rotund, their hireling.

The Cindarrin explore the last remaining room – in which resides the zombified remnants of Abbot Dietrich, of the Temple of Balus. Needless to say, he is serving a different deity now. The abbot is accompanied by two skeletons.

In their pre-battle banter, the PCs discover that Dietrich is the one responsible for the deaths of the adolescents sent from Tarn to the Temple – each batch sent by King Gor into the Temple is converted into a new set of skeletal minions. The PCs quickly kill the zombie abbot, though not before taking damage themselves.

The heroes do, however, uncover a scroll containing a new prophecy, the Prophecy of Galen:

After quick trip back to the Prayer Hall and a bath in its healing column of light, the PCs return to the Relic Room which they had previously examined and then abandoned, smelling the scent of oil and sulphur coming from pipes (some 22 of them) in the walls.

The Cindarrin decide to cut up a coil of rope and stuff the rope into the pipes in an effort to block the flow of oil and sulphur they anticipate will spew out of the pipes if they disturb the relics.

This done, they attempt to remove the globe covering the finger bone of some forgotten servant of Balus. Darius, Sandy and Conner do this together. As soon as the glass over the finger bone is lifted, the pressure of flaming fluid bursts through the rope-plugs of one of the pipes, severely burning all three adventurers, and rendering Darius unconscious.

GM Note: I don't even try to anticipate how PCs will attempt to get around hazards any more. So I ruled on the spot that there was a 1/6 chance of the blockage failing on the first turn, a 2/6 on the second turn, 3/6 on the third turn, etc. as pressure mounted. An unlucky die roll of 1 on the first turn blew one of the rope segments out of its pipe right away and burned the party members. 

Darius is dragged back to the Prayer Hall with the mural and the column of healing light. Sandy grabs the finger bone and brings it out of the Relic Room.

The light in the healing column has changed color to a blue-green (from its previous sunshine yellow) and the satyrs and satyresses in the murals have changed expression from frolicking to serious. The head satyr frowns. The light no longer heals the party members.

Offerings of wine are made to the head satyr in the mural, and apologies are made. The image in the mural indicates with his eyes that the bone should be returned to the Relic Room. Sandy does this. The color of the healing light returns to normal, and the expression on the old satyr's face returns to one of satisfaction.

The party heals up in the light (though the healing energy is less powerful now) and prepares to return to Tarn to deal with King Gor and his small army of swarthy dwarves.

Once outside the temple, however, the party are witness to a stampede of woodland creatures running through the forest, chased by a large, sickly grey-green cloud rolling through the trees. Animals that straggle behind are caught in the cloud and killed.

The party decide that this represents a more grievous threat than the actions of King Gor in Tarn, and they elect to back-track the trail of dead animals to the source of the killer fog. This they do and after two days of marching arrive at a large dome in a forest clearing.

The dome is of rust-streaked iron, with two smoke stacks emitting occasional wisps of grey-green steam. A door is found and, though locked, the hinges are rusty and easily broken. Entering the structure the party is confronted with riveted arched corridors made of iron, and ghastly green chemical lamps illuminating the structure.

The party advances toward a clanking and hissing noise and soon find themselves face to face with a giant clockwork mechanical pumping station of some sort. Sandy, the dwarf, examines the enormous device, figures out what connects to what, and throws a lever that shuts down the machine. The party decides whoever operates the machine will obviously come to check out the malfunction, at which point they can ambush him.

While waiting, Conner peeks into a room just to the east, and spots a copper plaque on a far wall. Advancing toward it, he is attacked by two Stirges swooping down from the ceiling, but Sandy skewers one with an arrow and the other one flutters off.

Conner reads the plaque. "Armageddon Outpost 12."

Then Rundt appears. Rundt is a hunchback swarthy dwarf, in a vomit-orange cloak and hood, who carries a big heavy wrench nearly half as long as he is tall. Conner quickly charms him. The dwarf explains he was sent by "the master" to see why the machine stopped. If the party wants, he will take them to the master. The Cindarrin agree. Rundt leads the party through several rooms – a library, a laboratory – explaining that just he and the master live here, the master is performing experiments with a rolling, foggy cloud that kills, and that the master hates pretty much every species the old Lords of Ephemera favored back in the Time that Was – essentially men, elves, (lawful) dwarves, and halflings.

Rundt brings the adventurers to the chamber of his master, Vagroth, a Vapor Demon, with a grey-green, fog-like humanoid body that tapers off into a tail and floats just above the floor. In contrast with the iron-riveted decor of the rest of the complex, this room contains only the Vapor Demon and three urns. Rundt quickly explains that the master lives in one and keeps his treasures in the other two.

Vagroth threatens the party with a hissing voice. Darius tries a charm spell. "Fool," spits Vagroth. Egbert tries one as well. Vagroth sneers at the second attempt and sprays Egbert with an acid blast from his hand. Combat ensues.

Sandy tries to strike Vagroth but his weapon passes through the demon's fog-like body. The party's charmed allies miss as well. Only Darius has better luck, peppering the demon with darts.

It occurs to the party that perhaps they should break the urns, as this might kill the demon. Tub and Bob break the urns to the right and left of Vagroth. Treasure spills out of them.  Everyone then concentrates on the center urn. But the center urn turns out to be difficult to break.

GM note: here began a kind of Keystone-Cops-in-the-Dungeon scene. The difficulty in breaking the urn was not by design. I told the players to break the urn they just needed to make a roll to hit AC 10 – a 55% chance of breaking the urn with any one attack. With two to three PCs and two allies attacking the urn each round, nobody managed to roll a 10 or better on a d20 for over two whole rounds. That's right. Something like ten or eleven straight attack rolls – each with a 55% chance to hit – missed. There was nothing special about the urn. The players just could not roll a 10 or better on d20.

Party members strike the urn repeatedly. It bobbles. It wobbles. It falls on the floor and rolls around. But it doesn't break. Sandy the dwarf, in his frustration, lifts the urn over his head and tries to smash it on the floor. Thunk. Bounce. Roll. Not a crack.

Meanwhile Darius is fighting the Vapor Demon single-handedly. Again he peppers it with darts. The demon ripostes with a poisoned dagger. Darius is cut badly, and weakened by the toxin.

Finally Egbert makes one last deperate attempt to break the urn, picking it up as Sandy had done in a bid to smash it on the floor. Finally, it breaks. The demon hisses and howls in pain, curses the Cindarrin, and dissipates into oblivion.

GM Note: Breaking the urn wasn't an auto-kill, but it did about twice the damage any normal attack could have done. Which was ironic, since Darius had already, by this stage, single-handedly dropped the demon to a mere 2 hp.

The party pick up the treasure, and are informed by Rundt of a secret door leading to rooms with Vagroth's chemical vats. The party open the door to the first vat room, and there we called it an evening.


  1. It was an excellent session. I am not sure how I survived the one-on-one melee battle with the vapor demon. Sometimes we can make it on looks alone (must have been Darius' charisma).