Role-playing reviews

Reviews related to role-playing games, with a focus on Gods & Monsters, and a bit of superhero gaming.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

Session Reports

Jerry Stratton, March 26, 2016

June 4, 2016: 992 9 September 28 (epilogue)
Undead Dragon

The lizard-king returns to its dark lair to die… a second time. (by Noir1992 and Sikari888, CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0)

In the final session of Thracia, we gamed for only about half an hour: after a lot of summer travel, we wanted to get together and move the game forward but we also wanted to just talk. One of the players needed to be in bed by 9 PM; our normal get-together time was 6:30, then eating and talking and drinking, then gaming. In this game we started at about 8:15.

I suggested that if they did what they planned to do—head out of the Lost City into the jungle—it would take about five minutes, and then they would have completed the adventure and I could give them their experience points.

I had rolled wandering monsters ahead of time for a few days, just in case, and there were none in the first sixteen hours.

So, they ran to the jungle, and then chose to go directly north1. It was about mid-late evening when they started, and they went until just after dark before climbing one of the huge canopy trees to set camp. The tree idea was Eddie’s: it’s what saurians do to avoid night encounters. Of course, Eddie’s people eat spiders and other bugs that might live in trees…

After handing out experience points, Zah Eil achieved fifth level. He added his new level to Prophet, so that after this adventure he was a 2nd level Warrior, 3rd level Prophet. Riana reached sixth level, so she became a 6th level Prophet. Among the spirit manifestations she gained access to were the ability to turn into a tree, and have discussions spanning sixty miles by way of plant life.

Eddie still had that three-injury loss of his tail. He’d healed two of it, but until it heals completely it still counts as a penalty of three. Eddie also had two injuries from the giant bats.

The lizard king was following Zah Eil, or, more specifically, the tablet of the arts, invisibly. It had a potion of fire resistance, as well as all of its spells except one teleportation, invisibility, and summon elemental. It had three injuries, and 24 survival remaining out of 57. In the future I did give them hints and the occasional perception roll in places where a giant invisible flying lizard following them might be noticed. But it was invisible, and it was flying.

Zah Eil still did not have a holy symbol, which limited the spirit manifestations he could use. But he could tell—feel—that there was a symbol of Ishtar for him to the East, along the direction of the Road.

May 28, 2016: 992 9 September 28, 6 PM
Screaming bat creature

“Those aren’t big birds, sweetheart.” (Carlos Cabrera, CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0)

After a discussion about whether to leave the caverns (and face the tyrannosaur) or go deeper into the ruins (and check out the treasure, and hopefully find a shortcut to the City), they chose to go deeper.

Zah Eil and Riana led the way; Majelica and Eddie the Lizard went next, and Owen and Alvin followed behind. They used the existing torchlight from the walls for light, and Owen’s magical light from behind.

Zah Eil examined the altar on the balcony overlooking the chasm, while Eddie kept lookout over the bridge. “It’s been used,” he said, “and in the last few days, for blood sacrifices.” Zah Eil was also pretty sure they used cups or something like cups.

And they crossed the bridge; as they got toward the center of the bridge, Owen—the light-bearer—was attacked by giant bats, and completely surprised. Fortunately, he did not fall off the bridge. Four bats attacked him; one successfully bit him as he flailed at them. Suddenly, ten bats were swirling around the group and attacking. Most couldn’t get through any of the armor, but Eddie, who was already out of survival, gained two injuries from a giant bat bite. Owen took seven points, gaining seven injuries.

Riana talked to the bats and managed to calm them down. But by this time Owen was dying; Zah Eil figured if they kept him still and safe, he had only a few hours to live. Zah Eil called on the spirits of Ishtar to heal three points and then again for seven points, bringing Owen up to three survival. Owen would now survive, but was still unconscious. As part of her conversation with the bats, Riana promised that they would leave the bridge alone, so the group dragged Owen across the bridge to the other side1

They chose to avoid the bear and the treasure chests, because they weren’t sure if there were guards still in the treasure room.2 They investigated the other end. Through the secret door and thin hallway Eddie was pretty sure the door was easily openable, but man, did it smell on the other side. Riana identified the smell as wolverine musk and waste.

Alvin recognized that the secret area was still trafficked, so it wasn’t a good place to camp out anyway.

So they went to the other doors, which weren’t secret, and found long stairs leading down. And the smell of rotting corpses, which Zah Eil was pretty sure were human.3

May 21, 2016: 992 9 September 28, 5 PM
Oxford Castle motte well stairs

Darkness below, tyrannosaurus rex in the light. Which way to go? (Motacilla, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

When Owen returned from scouting the lair of the Enkian priests, he waxed rhapsodic to the others about treasure chests in a back room, but emphasized that getting to them meant going through nine Enkian guards. The others—especially Majelica—wanted to escape the underground; but no one had ideas on how to get past the tyrannosaur.

The stairs flipped back to stairs rather than a slide, but that just made it easier for them to be eaten by a dinosaur.

They hatched a plan to get through the five visible guards: the two on the other side of the bridge, and the three around the corner of the intersection twenty or so feet beyond the end of the bridge. The plan called for Owen to sleep the two at the bridge; Owen, Majelica, Alvin, and Eddie would then rush across; Alvin and Eddie would start tying the guards up, and Owen and Majelica would sleep the three guards beyond the intersection—those guards didn’t yet know that the party was aware of them.

Alvin pre-cut some rope to have it ready to tie everyone up.

To fill out your scorecard, the two guards are Daneil and Marmin, and the three plate-mailed guards around the intersection are Beilgar, Beilshar, and Bahrein.

The four that show up in round four, that Owen did not account for in his plan, are Shalm, Barirpal, Tirar, and Kordok.

Owen focused a sleep spell on the two guards, such that they had a penalty of 3 to their reactions. This meant that they only saved on a one or a two; and Daneil made his save with a 1. Since they were expecting some sort of attack (though with spears rather than magic, since they’re not familiar with it), Daneil attacked back, recognizing Owen as the source (Daneil and Marmin are prophets, after all). Daneil used a weather spirit to cast foul air around Owen, and it stuck. Owen had two rounds of activity before he was going to run completely out of breath.

Daneil blew a whistle; no one heard anything. But the three plate-mailed guards at the intersection came around.

May 14, 2016: 992 9 September 28, 3 PM
Tyrannosaurus Rex head

“Oh, granny, what big teeth you have!” (MattGlen, CC-BY-NC 3.0)

During this session Owen, Majelica, and Alvin had players; Zah Eil, Eddie, and Riana, did not. So, of course, the player entrusted with Zah Eil’s character had Zah Eil lead them in crossing the second bridge; I am thus honor-bound to remind them that at the end of the last game Zah Eil had planned to look for and displace any huge bats likely to swoop down onto Owen’s magical light. There were in fact huge bats, so they shot arrows into the swarm, which swooped away from the stalactites and off into the distance.

They crossed the bridge and turned left on the crossing bridge. There were stairs. And light coming down! Not much, but some light, and it looked like sunlight. The stairs went up about a hundred feet.

Someone was moving on the other side of the rope bridge. Owen covered his light. There was someone moving across the bridge, crouching down1. Everyone climbed the stairs. At about 60 feet, the stairs turned into a smooth slide. Riana, Majelica, and Zah Eil grabbed onto the rough broken-plaster walls. Alvin, Owen, and Eddie slid all the way back down, and Eddie took 2 points damage.

Owen was blasted with some sort of foul, choking stench. He evaded it.

Eddie climbed up, easily enough being taller and a good climber.2

The top of the stairs came out onto some sort of stone platform. The opening was horizontal, covered in thin roots and dirt, which Eddie easily pushed aside. Eddie tossed Riana’s divine rope3 all the way down the stairs, tying it to some stronger roots, and it expanded to the necessary length. Everyone climbed up the rope, except Riana who became a bird.

They looked around the stone platform and found themselves in a clearing in a jungle. Hot, humid, and lots of broken stone lying around from ancient structures, and a swamp a bit to the north.

They discussed where to go. The sphinx said to go north to the road. They were also worried about the slug creatures, who they thought had a city around here. And they were thinking they could take a shortcut if they could find a crossroads teleport pad rather than walking a thousand miles.4

May 7, 2016: 992 9 September 28, 3 AM
Metropolitan Sphinx

If this starts talking and offers to answer questions, probably a good idea to play along.

Eddie, Riana, and Zah Eil

Riana, still a skink, returned. She saw yet another band of saurians, six of them. Combined with the eight mananubi at the temple of Ishtar and the four mananubi at the pillars down the stairs, that meant eighteen potential enemies milling about. And there were more down the stairs, past some rubble, and in a place they were guarding. Riana told Eddie and Zah Eil about the long stairs past the rubble, going up, as well.

Riana, traveling as a tiny skink, had taken two hours to on her scouting run. During this time, Zah Eil studied the tablet for information about golems like the one the lizard king summoned in the abandoned ancient temple. He discovered that (a) golems are created things, and there are golems of Enki guarding the gates of the city, and (b) the thing downstairs was an earth elemental, summoned from the elemental planes. Elementals are deadly and unstoppable, but, summoned by a sorceror, nearly always turn on their master before they fade back to their elemental home, which they do within an hour. The sudden rush of information threatens to overwhelm Zah Eil, but he managed to order his mind and survived.

Which meant that the elemental was almost certainly gone. Riana the skink returned to check, and yes, there was nothing there. So they all returned, see that the altar was destroyed, that the door behind the altar was heavily damaged, and the door going left in the secret room behind the altar was propped open.

They went through. The blue lights made them drowsy. Riana was at a penalty to attack and defense due to the drowsiness, but since she was a skink no one cared. She fell asleep on Zah Eil’s shoulder. Zah Eil let the door close. They went up the stairs into the statuary hall. The green lights pulsed; Zah Eil told everyone to close an eye. But he then went and started looking at stuff. The lights flashed. Eddie and Riana managed to avert their eyes, but Zah Eil was blinded.

The place smelled vaguely of burned person without the full rankness. Eddie led them forward. There were still-smoking bones scattered around the far end of the room on some stairs leading up.

They stopped and listened. They heard noises above. It turned out to be Alvin, Majelica, and Owen.

Reunion

Alvin, Majelica, and Owen were letting the web, that they’d lit in the previous session, burn. Smoke was filling up the ceiling as it filled the upward-going stairs in the hallway. A good thirty feet in, they saw a giant spider moving in the smoke—then realized it was a dead husk, five to six feet long in the body. The fire died out after about half an hour. Zah Eil, as the only person left relatively undamaged, lit a candle and went to look up the stairs. The stairs led up about fifty feet and turned right. It was dark all the way. There was probably a wall about thirty feet beyond where it turned right. He headed back down and told everyone it was safe to rest here.

April 30, 2016: 992 9 September 28, 1 AM
Dacian Draco

“A green glow and monsters on the walls.” (Courtesy Radu Oltean, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Eddie, Riana, and Zah Eil

Eddie, Riana, and Zah Eil as you may recall, returned to the ebon demon room; the demon continued to always face Riana. They sent Eddie the giant (lizard) thief out to the temple of Ishtar to scout around. Eddie snuck loudly out the secret door, but fortunately no one in the abandoned temple noticed him. Eddie snuck around the corner where he knew there was a passage, and found himself looking straight at four jackal-headed creatures lolling about some columns that flanked wide stairs leading down. Eddie ran back into the secret room; the jackal-heads were not surprised, however, and managed to fire their arrows at him; two hit. Eddie gained an injury; he converted it into three injuries in his tail, and loses his tail.1

But Eddie managed to get back through the secret door before the creatures came around the corner to see him enter it. Since they hadn’t yet cried out, the jackal-heads at the temple didn’t see him either. Eddie tried to hold the door shut in case they came looking for it; he heard them moving beyond it and talking unintelligibly to each other, but no one seemed to try the secret panel.

They discussed going back down to where the giant stone creature had been rampaging, but Riana decided to become a skink and scout out the area that Eddie had seen. This was her last shape change of the day. She skittered past the four guards and down the stairs, finding a rubble-filled cavern. On the other side of the cavern she found (a) stairs leading up, and (b) a lone jackal-headed guard guarding a door. She scooted under the door and saw seven jackal-headed creatures and one human. One of the jackal-headed creatures occasionally looked out of a small hole in the wall. Riana went out a back door, to the right and to the right again, and saw stairs leading upward. This would be where the creature was looking. She went back out; almost got stomped by the outside guard; went back up through the cavern and up the stairs, and looked in the other passage. There was a man-made structure there, some sort of room, empty.

Zah Eil spent this time reading the tablet of the arts to find information about golems which, because he’s a prophet, is what he expected the stone creature was.

Alvin, Majelica, and Owen

Meanwhile, Alvin, Majelica, and Owen escaped through the secret room behind the altar. The earth elemental tried to grab Owen as they ran through the doors into the glowing blue room, but Owen made his evasion roll. They ran up the stairs into the room with green-glowing columns and statues of Greek monsters.

April 23, 2016: 992 9 September 27, 10 PM
Undead Dragon

You meet this in a dark room. How quickly do you change your pants? (by Noir1992 and Sikari888, CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Zah Eil and a few others started feeling tired. The pulsing blue light made them drowsy. They walked up the stairway, to a set of unadorned double doors at the top of the stairs. Eddie said they were probably a secret door on the other side, and not trapped.

They opened the door, and discovered a long hall with glowing green columns on either side, and next to each column a statue of a strange creature: a sphinx, a manticore, a hydra, a harpy, and on and on.

Eddie examined the door to make sure he knew how to open it again if it became necessary; pressing on the door where the lock was on the other side worked it. (They also still haven’t removed the rock holding the door in the blue room open.)

As they discussed what this room was and what to do next, the green glowing lights went out. Owen’s magic light remained, but they still freaked a bit. A few minutes later, the green lights came back on again.

Zah Eil, when he received his spirits that morning asked for two war spirits and two healing spirits. He got the healing spirits, but only one war spirit—and one prophet spirit that he didn’t ask for. He guessed (correctly) that this meant Ishtar wanted him to manifest divine guidance. Looking about this room, he realized that this whole area was the temple section of a larger city. And that meant it was a holy area that he could manifest divine guidance in.

He had the spirit manifest divine guidance. A man’s voice spoke to him.

“Why are you taking a man’s voice?”

“I am not Ishtar. She’s not speaking with you right now. I am Tammuz, and I’m not too happy about that because when she starts calling me Tammuz it means I’m going to die soon.”

“I guessed.”

“Why are you here?”

“Well, I guess, the third tablet?”

“She stole those tablets from Enki. They’re hers. She wants them back. Where are you going now?”

“A third secret, the tablet of music and the arts, waits in the court of the lizard king, beyond the ebon demon, beyond the shrine of the moon, past the temples of the dead, in a city lost, ancient beyond imagining. Look you beyond, and beware, the hidden crossroads and the guardians of the lizard king’s rest.

‘We know where the ebon demon is, and the shrine of the moon, but where is the lizard king?”

“I can’t tell you that because (a) it’s a goddamn riddle, and (b) Enki is all over this place. But haven’t you already seen one?

“Oh, shit, that fresco in the hallway before the urns?”

April 16, 2016: 992 9 September 27, 8 AM
Cuneiform planisphere

This cuneiform planisphere has nothing to do with this adventure. But if I’d seen it before reskinning the module, it would have.

Rather than rest in the demon room, they cut away the plaster. Riana used her claws and, after Riana did not get punished by the attentive ebon demon, Owen used his spare knife.

Eddie Lizard checked for traps, then opened the door. The other side was as Owen had described it—rubble everywhere, stalactites and stalagmites blocking the way. It went down eighty feet, turned left, and went down eighty feet again, whereupon it opened into a one hundred by two hundred foot room. There were tracks coming out of one of the side doors and leading towards the front of the room. Eddie examined them; probably some of the jackal-men. They came out of one door and went up to the altar; it looked like kneeling.

Eddie walked around the walls of the room; there were four doors on each side, many blocked by rubble and rock growths. Fallen plaster and dust was everywhere. At the far end of the room the wall was a semicircle. The half-circle was on raised stone; stairs led up to it, and within it was an altar and a podium. The curved wall was covered by the tattered rags of a faded tapestry.

Zah Eil went to look behind the tapestry, because there had to be, of course, a hidden door there. At his touch, the entire tapestry crumbled into dust on the floor. And there was indeed a door behind it—a pair of them.

They decided to hole up here. They’re worried about the tracks they’ve left in the dust betraying where they are, so Majelica cast dust wand and sucked all of the dust in the room into her wand simply by walking up the room and pointing her wand left and right. The rubble, fallen plaster, and ancient columns were now as clean as they had been when they were made. Or broken. Or whatever. But the party’s tracks are gone, because there is no dust for them to be in.

Next, they closed the door that had tracks coming out of it and Majelica cast bar passage. It will be barred for about five days. They then went back up the stairs toward the demon room, and at the landing where it turned left, they set up camp and watches. Owen prepared to create a lost corner if they hear anyone trying to open the barred door.

There were, however, no encounters that “night”. They rested twelve hours.

In the “morning”, Eddie searched for traps on the no-longer-hidden doors behind the altar; finding none, Eddie opened the doors. This led into an 80-foot square room very similar to the one they just left: plaster frescoes shattered on the floor, stalactites, stalagmites, and debris everywhere. There are doors on the left wall and doors on the wall straight ahead. They chose to go straight ahead.

April 9, 2016: 992 9 September 27, 7 AM
The Caverns of Thracia cover

Minotaurs, saurians, and jackal-headed mananubi. The cover fits the reskin pretty well!

The jackal-headed mananubi brought the captured characters to a Greek-like open-air chapel. On the way there, they saw a glass tube rising into the clouds; a gigantic oak-like tree; and a wall of thorny trees on either side of the chapel. There was a minotaur, two saurians, and five jackals on guard at the chapel. The creatures all discussed what to do with the captives. They decided (a) to send some jackals back to the platform to check out the other side, since it probably isn’t guarded any more (six people can’t sneak through); and to send one of the jackals on ahead to tell the minotaur-king that they have captives.

At that moment, Zah Eil commanded the minotaur to sleep. The minotaur walked over to a column, leaned back, and took a nap. While the minotaur was walking, Zah Eil manifested darkness. Because they’d seen this sort of thing before from him and Riana, none of the player characters were surprised.

Eddie Lizard could still see people—saurians have “underground” vision. He/she surmised, then, that the two saurians on the chapel steps could also see. They brandished their clubs and began to step down.

The jackals that had had their bows out fired in the darkness, and missed everything.

Riana manifested sunder weapons. All wooden weapons in play were warped and cracked beyond use: the bows of the jackals, the clubs of the saurians, and the battle-axes of the jackals on the steps. Since the player characters didn’t have any weapons, this didn’t affect them. Eddie saw the saurians reach for something in their armor.

Zah Eil ended his darkness.

Alvin began sermonizing about the wrath of the gods.

The saurians threw darts at Eddie and Zah Eil, and hit Eddie.

Majelica and Owen both cast sleep on the six jackals that had captured them. All but one fell asleep.

At this point, the remaining jackal behind them ran away; the five up front retreated quickly, with the saurians covering them with more darts. Riana manifested darkness on one of the saurians; it didn’t hold, but there was still darkness around the west side of the chapel/guardhouse. This covered the player character escape as they ran back to the platform they’d arrived on.

Alvin grabbed the bag of their weapons that one of the jackals had been carrying; they distributed their weapons and jumped onto the platform.

And waited.

Alvin and Majelica looked at the destroyed control pillar; everyone else went into the center of the platform. After a minute, everyone else disappeared. Alvin and Majelica then went into the center.

Rather than the platform floating above the jungle that they expected, they were in utter darkness. No stars, no moon(s), nothing. Eddie could see shapes moving. Owen called out “light spell” in Anglish and cast light.

April 2, 2016: 992 9 September 26, 7 AM
The Crossroads

The logo on road signs for the highways that intersect with the crossroads, King’s Road 49 and King’s Road 61.

They talked for a bit with Mahukia. Akudaum, Mahukia’s somewhat bumbling assistant, was still asleep1. They mentioned the circus. He gave them his spiel about the circus, which I stole directly from Ray Bradbury:

Who are the insects? October people, I’d guess. Off one of the side roads there was a man who saw the flea circus, must have seen it, for he wrote the truest words about it I’ve ever read. I have it here somewhere. Ah, yes:

“Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Night sand flows in their veins; the worm ticks in their heads; the blind burrower sees with their eyes, and they speak the tongue of flies. They are the abyss between the stars. They sift the divine storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. In gusts they beetle-scurry, frenzy forth, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles—breaks. Such are the October people.

“They set their clocks by death-watch beetles and thrive the centuries. These creatures want the flaming gas off souls who can’t sleep nights, that fever by day from old crimes. They build death-camps for our dreams.”

Zah Eil convinced them that the dragon-tail room was a safe place: the slug-creatures wouldn’t be able to find it.2

Zah Eil asked Ishtar for guidance on how to continue on the path she’s set for him. He was given a description of how to get to the tablet of music.

Ishtar stole the tablets of life from Enki, who hoarded the secrets that man would die. The secret of language and the secret of gardening were stolen from the city, and hidden in the passage of fire. But a third secret, the tablet of music and the arts, waits in the court of the lizard king, beyond the ebon demon, beyond the shrine of the moon, past the temples of the dead, in a city lost, ancient beyond imagining. Look you beyond, and beware, the hidden crossroads and the guardians of the lizard king’s rest.

He was also given a riddle:

Only a glutton may cross this portal, one who eats heavily and can never get enough, yet who cringes even at the thought of drinking, for drinking will sicken him until he dies.

Zah Eil decided that the riddle meant fire. He lit a candle and touched it to the door; the metal pooled a little.

March 26, 2016: Caverns of Thracia session reports
The Lost City of Thracia

I originally planned on doing these session reports in order, but that is a huge and daunting task. So I thought I’d put them up in order of how much other people might be interested in them. That’s why The Caverns of Thracia is up first, despite coming near the end of the campaign. On the list of “adventures I really want to run”, Caverns of Thracia has been at the top ever since I first acquired it from eBay back in my acquisition phase several years ago.

So when the player characters came to the edge of the domain of the First City, and I decided I needed an abandoned town of a culture built on divine power mixed with a bit of technology, it seemed a tailor-made opportunity to re-skin Thracia.

The characters first learned about the Lost City in the Temple of Apuiporo in The Yellow Forest off of The Road. Supposedly, one of the nine tablets of Enki was hidden in the Lost City, and Ishtar, of whom one of the PCs was a prophet, wanted the tablets restored to The City. Since she originally stole the tablets from Enki and gifted them to mankind, she felt she had a stake in the matter.

The characters are:

  • Alvin, 7th-level warrior from Highland.
  • Eddie the Lizard, 5th-level saurian thief from the Yellow Forest.
  • Majelica Mountjoy, 6th-level sorceror from Highland.
  • Owen, 7th-level classical sorceror from Highland.
  • Riana Carlyle, 5th-level Druid from the Celtic lands with an archaeopteryx familiar (Riana is often an NPC).
  • Zah Eil, 2nd-level warrior/2nd-level prophet of Ishtar from Kish in the domains of the City.

The adventures started in Biblyon in The World of Highland but the characters have passed through several doors since then and are now on the Road to the City.

As they leave the Temple of Apuiporo, it is about 7 AM on September 26, 992 AC (after the cataclysm). They are guests of Mahukia in the Temple of Apuiporo and have just defeated four saurian butterflies (servants of the Insect Mesh). Zah Eil, Majelica, and Owen are all seriously injured: Zah Eil has three injuries, Majelica four, and Owen seven. In Gods & Monsters, that number is also the penalty they each have on any attack or action rolls they make.1

  1. <- Saber-toothed salmon
  2. Giant armadillos ->