More from the Crown of Kings for Advanced Fighting Fantasy. Earlier play reports: One, Two, Three, Four. Cramer's gender changes during these reports - that is my mistake, not some weird Chaos effect.
Ever since playing far too much Frontier: Elite II on the Amiga, I have associated this music with adventure. It was one of the pieces of music that played as you dropped out of hyperspace. Given that my post-Crown of Kings thoughts have turned to Traveller...
After gathering their breath, taking mere moments on Titan but a week on Earth, the party had forgotten what they had planned to do next. I didn't realise that the party had forgotten as, consulting the map made by A (Cramer) and remembering some of what they had been told in the Wayfarer's Rest, they were decisive and headed straight to the Temple of Courga.
A remnant of a lost culture, the Temple of Courga is a ziggurat built from the same stone and in a similar fashion to the walls of Khare. The path to the temple is flanked by looming statues of heroes and minor gods. These statues appear to have been drawn from a number of cultures and time periods - the idols of other tribes, cities, or times paying homage to the Goddess of Grace. It appears, though, that she has been forsaken by Khare, as what might once have been sacred gardens are now the city's rubbish heap.
The party picked their way through the trash, lit a torch and stepped into the temple. Their temple glittered with gold, silver, and jewels. Several ornate goblets rested on each pew, but all eyes were drawn to the huge, golden, jewel encrusted statue of Courga. She was unlike any representation of Courga with which the party were familiar. Rather than a 'realistic' portrayal of a slender, beautiful woman, facing them was something from an ancient culture - an idealised representation of a woman, crudely voluptuous to the eyes of contemporary Old Worlders.
A strange music filled the temple. Looking up, the party saw that a number of small openings are cut high into the walls. While these admit little light, they transform the ziggurat into a huge musical instrument, played by the wind itself. They also see Gargoyles, six of them, eyes fixed on the Goddess.
Mopsy, a worshipper of Telak, son of Courga and her brother Fourga, God of Pride, stepped up and placed his last gold coin on the steps at the base of the statue. The party were able to read the plaque which reads: "On Courga's face you kiss across // and finish with the lips // for answers to your questions you // must err not else me spits". Mopsy motioned to kiss the statue, but Ho Lee and Cramer cautioned against it, reminding the knight of the story of the sailor. Unwilling to risk their lives without any further clues as to the correct way to kiss a goddess, the party left the temple. But not before they discussed whether to loot the temple. It was agreed that to prise out the huge gems that were Courga's nipples would be sacrilege, and I reminded the players that this was a world in which gods are most certainly real and make daily interventions. However, Ho Lee tried picking up one of the goblets. With a noise like the grinding of stone, the GARGOYLES (yes, capitalised - these are MONSTERS, not statues) turned their heads to stare down at the potential defiler. Ho Lee gently put the goblet down, and the Gargoyles turned back to stare at the goddess.
What then? I had to prompt the memories of the players. Who did you speak to last session? What did they tell you about? Eventually, they remembered that the High Priest of Slangg had told them about the Hidden Lord in Beggartown, and as Beggartown sits on the margins of the trash heap that surrounds the Temple of Courga within a few minutes the party were exploring a deserted warren of foul smelling shacks and shelters.
Deserted - the rest of the beggars busy at 'work' - apart from a blind old man, eyes painted on his closed eyelids, begging for alms. This is a fantasy adventure game, not real life, so the players reasoned that the beggar either was the Hidden Lord, or he was someone who could help the party find the Hidden Lord. However, as they knelt to speak to the pathetic wretch there was the flap of leathery wings and a hideous screech. Five HARPIES were swooping down to attack the old man. "He's found me!" the beggar wailed.
Told that the swooping Harpies would have a mechanical advantage (+2 to Attack Strength) in the open, and reminded that they were outnumbered, the players opted to protect the old man. Ho Lee and Cramer attacked the swooping Harpies while Mopsy attempted to drag the old man to the cover of one of the shacks. A complex series of rolls followed, in which the characters would outnumber one Harpy but would be outnumbered in turn by the remaining Harpies. And fumbles. Fumbles, fumbles, fumbles! Each character fumbled at least once, while at least one of the Harpies scored a critical hit on Mopsy.
Mopsy dragged the old man to a shack, and, with the Harpies advantage neutered, began to gain the upper hand. Cramer and Ho Lee fought, two against three, in the open for a round or two. Realising that this could only end in defeat, they made a dash for the shelter of a crude lean-to. D wanted Ho Lee to cast HOT (a fireball spell) on the next turn, but turns are simultaneous in AFF and the Harpies would be pursuing Cramer and Ho Lee and would be in the position to engage in melee that turn. I decided that in order for Ho Lee to cast the spell off without catching Cramer (and Ho Lee, perhaps) in the ball of fire he would have to make his Magic Test as if he was under missile attack. The casting attempt failed, but I ruled that only two Harpies could attack through the entrance to the lean-to, while Cramer could fight them both, protecting Ho Lee. With both of them low on STAMINA, Ho Lee cast WAL, buying them time to drink a Potion of Stamina each. I had offered D the opportunity to have Ho Lee feed a potion to Cramer in the middle of the fight - subject to a Test for Luck - but he wisely chose a different option.
While their cuts were knitting and their bruises vanishing, the Harpies tore at the lean-to. They would have ripped the roof off in - dice roll - three rounds. This time, Ho Lee had time to prepare (and had a fresh batch of STAMINA to burn) and successfully cast HOT. Boom! Screech! Having put paid to his opponents, Mopsy charged across to help and rolled a five and two. The party were into Irkutsk.
The old man was indeed the remaining Hidden Lord. He was convinced that the ARCHMAGE OF MAMPANG was seeking to subvert the city by using him as a pawn. In order to hide from the Archmage he had hidden himself as a beggar and, in a gory countermeasure against magical scrying, had plucked out his own eyes. Now, that might well work, but he was, nevertheless, a little unhinged. He is convinced that the Harpies were agents of the Archmage - but in Khare, stuck between the Shamutanti Hills and the Baklands, who knows?
He knows one line of the Gate Spell, but he can't remember the second half of it. "By Courga's grace and..." is all he could remember. Well, A (Cramer) reasoned that it must end in -ide, given the other lines of the spell. But what? I looked at C (Mopsy). I could see the words he needed scribbled on his character sheet, jotted down when I described the relationship between Telak, Courga, and Fourga. After some time, C asked me if he could just roll against his Religion Lore skill. I said that I had already provided him with all the information, and had the old man interject and suggest that the party could always risk asking Courga for the answer. Luckily for whoever might be tasked with kissing a goddess, the players managed to drag, "and Fourga's pride", from their notes, and they were off to the North Gate. But not before the old mad had given them a silver ring in the shape of coiled serpent. He couldn't remember why, but he thought it might be useful.
A bribed guard later and they were able to cast the Gate Spell and enter the Baklands. I ruled that, even though Cramer deliberately mumbled the last line, the Guardians of Khare would not react as if it were a failed casting. As the party walked under the deep walls, a disembodied voice spoke to the party. Lord Shinva had escaped the... care of the entity that guards Khare. Who would take his place? After the party had argued over the silver snake ring for a while, the Spirit of the Walls addressed each of them in turn. Would it be the black-hearted devotee of Slangg? He would fit in perfectly. Would it be the knight with his chivalric code? Perhaps he would be someone who could bring a little hope to Khare. Or would it be the sorcerer, who could explore all manner of occult secrets as a Hidden Lord? Mopsy volunteered, and he was cursed to return to Khare after his mission was complete.
And that was that for the session, except for a short trek across the fringes of the Baddu-Bak plains, where the grass grows as if it were tufts of hair sprouting from ugly looking warts. This being Titan, this short journey involved a group of seven NIGHTHAWKS swooping out of the setting sun - "not more flying things!" - a rescue by a GOLDCREST EAGLE - "can't we ride it to Mampang?" - carrying some important plot related information from Analand, and an overnight stay with the hospitable Shadrack the Exposition Hermit.
On to Mampang!
SI allowed D to have Ho Lee spend some experience points devising a variant of the GOB and YOB spells that would summon a MANTICORE using the tooth he had pulled from the monster in the Shamutanti Hills. Despite the warning about balance in the rulebook, I figured that this spell, in the context of this adventure, would be unlikely to unbalance the campaign as it is likely to be, in effect, a one use spell - unless that party fight and defeat a second Manticore on their way to Mampang. I had the new spell cost the same as it would cost a wizard to learn Raise Skeleton - 120 experience points.