Pawns of Destiny, Episode 18: The Tower

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“A tree cannot find out, as it were, how to blossom, until comes blossom-time. A social growth cannot find out the use of steam engines, until comes steam-engine-time.” – Charles Fort, Lo!

I’m playing fast and loose with the campaign now, with this most recent episode being primarily The Scrolls of Eximir adventure from Lankhmar: Savage Tales of the Thieves Guild, garnished with wilfully distorted parts of Jalizar: City of Thieves and The Sword of Izim. All of those are within my self-imposed five year spoiler threshold, so I shall speak only in generalities in this post.

The Scrolls of Eximir is a heist in a wizard’s tower, with a lot of puzzles and traps and a few fights. This party is really dangerous in combat now, so I find it best to challenge the players with puzzles rather than challenge the characters with fights. It worked very well indeed, although they managed to bypass most of the traps, but what makes the scenario really fun is the tower itself; this only appears on certain nights, and neither written records nor peoples’ memories mention it unless it is actually present. This led to all sorts of shenanigans with the PCs leaving each other cryptic messages to ensure they remembered what they were doing – without mentioning the tower, as any message which does so is erased when the tower vanishes. (That’s not a spoiler as it’s pretty much the first thing the heroes find out when they get that job.)

They were heartbroken when they had to abandon the pornographic tapestries from the wizard’s bedroom during the exfiltration phase, but it was that or get zapped and/or eaten by the guardbeasts. Running through sand carrying what amounts to a rolled-up carpet under fire and while being pursued by sorcerous constructs is not good for your insurance premiums.

While handing over the loot to their patron (the wizard himself, unable to enter the tower for plot reasons), Ghost the Tricarnian pirate accidentally asked one key question whose answer shattered the obscurity around the party’s destiny; now they understand what they are supposed to do and how they can do it – there are aboleths under Jalizar, and it is their destiny to get rid of them or die trying.

Well, my Jalizar has aboleths under it anyway, because they’re really good evil creepy masterminds and in my opinion any fantasy city with multiple levels of sewers needs aboleths at the bottom. Your Jalizar May Vary.

What I love about how this is turning out is that without knowing what the plot is, and without me changing it to match their PCs, they have been amassing the assets they need. For example:

  • You need to get into the secret underwater entrance to the aboleth lair? Dorjee has environmental protection potions so you can breathe water, and your buddy the pirate captain knows where it is (not what it is, and probably just as well since she’ll have to ferry you to it).
  • You need backup? Well, those Amazon mercenaries owe you a favour, and the Snake Sorceress has a grudge against the Fish Cult, I’m sure they’ll help.
  • You need a demonic runesword to slay the aboleths? You buried one for safekeeping earlier in the campaign because you thought it might come in handy someday.
  • You need the barbarian not to get taken over by the demonic runesword while using it? He spent the last two sessions getting credit with a wizard so that guy would make him an amulet of protection against mind control.

If there’s one thing that’s better than building the campaign denouement around the PCs, it’s watching them do it themselves without realising what they’re doing. Fantastic.

Now that the players have worked all this out, I can prune three of the next four sessions, which were going to keep feeding them clues until they did get it, and move directly to the climactic battle against the aboleths. It’s going to be a close-run thing, and they know it, but bless their mercenary little hearts, they’re going in anyway, because they think the Temple of Etu would want them to.

As Dorjee’s player said: “In the Game of Flounders, you win or you die.”

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