Wednesday 2 October 2013

Across the Baklands #1

Heading north – perhaps to avoid the area plagued by BADDU-BAK BEETLES – the party were approached by a small ‘posse’ of CENTAURS. Baklands Centaurs are not graceful faerie creatures, but a crude, dim-witted, and proud people with a character that is as much wild horse as it is humanoid. The party watched the Centaurs circle the party, kicking up clouds of dust and rearing up theatrically. The show concluded, the Centaur leader began to parlay with the party, demanding tribute to cross their plains. Having been told by Shadrack that the Centaurs had no real concept of money and that it was the gift itself that was important, Mopsy gave the leader a feather from the Goldcrest Eagle, while Ho Lee offered one of his silver arrows. The Centaur placed both objects in his mane-cum-hair which, using rancid grease, had been sculpted into a pair of large horns.     

Gifts given, the Centaurs relaxed and grew friendly, answering the party’s questions as best they could. They told the party about the ‘Dead Man Walking’ to the south, the BLACK ELVES who crossed the Baklands in petty trading caravans, and the fact that the eastern parts of the Baddu-Bak plains were the territory of the KLATTAMEN. When the party raised the subject of the Seven Serpents, the Centaurs grew agitated. One caught the barest glimpse of stick on the ground in the corner of its eye, reared, whinnied, and frantically trotted about as if the ground was crawling with snakes. Once order had been restored, the party were told that a ‘Snake Man’ lived in a hole in the ground to the north.

The party decided to push on east, across the plains, searching for the AIR SERPENT, the only one of the seven about which they had any information. Shadrack had told them its weakness, and that he had heard stories of an unnatural whirlwind to the north east of his cave.

In the book, this whirlwind is *just* an unnatural whirlwind, but I decided to bring another of the Serpents into the Baddu-Bak plains, avoiding the series of three Serpents in quick succession that, as written, ends the journey across the Baklands. By placing one of the Serpents earlier in the adventure, it allows the party to make use of the information that they have been given, and establishes a precedent as to the importance of information – rather than character abilities – in defeating these immensely powerful supernatural thingamajigs.

The party skirted around the Black Elf caravan and continued east, until they came across a small, ugly, gnome like creature. The creature demanded that the party either give him a gift, or step off the path and allow him to proceed. The path was just a lightly worn strip across the Baddu-Bak plains; the creature could easily walk around the party. The party offered the creature a gold piece, which he rejected, asking for something more… interesting. The party grew suspicious, even hostile, and refused to move out of the creature’s way. The gnome-thing cursed Ho Lee, who tried to retaliate by casting a spell but found that he could barely speak for a stutter. Having a history of tangling with mysterious magic users for no real reason – and coming off the worst – the party stepped aside and allowed the creature to pass.

It was events such as this, in which opportunities to gather information were passed up, with severe consequences, that prompted a change in the party’s ‘standard operating procedure’ vis-à-vis encounters with intelligent beings.

The party were still in pursuit of the Air Serpent, and took the opportunity to turn north a maze of rocky hills. The sound of someone playing a flute caught their ears, and the party turned a corner to find that the music was being played by an old man. The old man greeted them in a wheezing voice, drawing in deep breaths as if struggling for air. He invited the join him for a while, and asked the party what they were doing out in the Baklands. The party told him that they were hunting serpents, and the old man responded by saying, ‘That’s funny, because the serpents are hunting YOU!’, before tipping his head back allowing the AIR SERPENT boiled forth from his mouth.

Shadrack had told the party how to defeat the Air Serpent, so while Cramer and Mopsy fought defensively, aware that they would struggle to win a straight fight, Ho Lee swung his sword at the empty body of the old man. Off came his head, but the Serpents still attacked, flowing past Cramer and Mopsy's shields and pushing its way into their lungs, choking them. Ho Lee searched the body as his companions waved their swords ineffectually against the Serpent. Among the old man's clothes he found a small snake. As he killed it, so died the Air Serpent. Cramer and Mopsy were gasping for air, but the first serpent had been defeated.

Unsure where to go next, knowing little except that Mampang was to the east, the party pushed on. Soon they arrived at the KLATTAMEN village on the edge of the Forest of Snatta. Shadrack had told them that the Klattamen, a primitive tribe of nearly humans, were friendly enough but celebrated physical strength and violence. And so it proved, with the party enjoying the hospitality of the villagers, before Mopsy was challenged to a fight as the after dinner entertainment. One of the Klattamen women, who had been admiring Mopsy throughout the meal, brought him a club before retreating, giggling shyly. Mopsy and the Klattaman CHAMPION fought to a draw - Mopsy was still wearing his armour, so even though the Champion was landing the majority of the blows he was managing to do little damage. For a brief moment Mopsy had the upper hand as the Klattaman fumbled and fell, and Mopsy leapt! But he was not strong enough to pin the Champion. Eventually the Chief stepped in, calling the fight a draw. Honour on all sides had been maintained, and the village had had their entertainment.

Asked, using crude sign language and simple words, about serpents, the Klattamen made fearful face, pointed south and smashed rocks together. And the party trotted south, leading to the incident that prompted the post Consequences of Failure. Plunging headlong into an encounter with the EARTH SERPENT, with no specific knowledge of the creatures weakness, they speculated amid the sound and fury of combat. Experiments with water, MUD, and other stones produced no joy (though for a while the party mistook a the effects of rolling a double six as revealing the weakness...) etc.

I tried to provide as much information as possible. Appropriately, the Earth Serpent rolled 'snake eyes' early in the fight, which I interpreted as it losing contact with the ground (the source of its power). I had it shriek in agony as it crumbled away while airborne. I also made sure that the party saw that the Serpent absorbed stones and earth as it moved, leaving a shallow trench.  As I described in the earlier blog post, in the end I had to point out that the current strategy - fighting defensively and hoping something happened, could not end in anything other than a slow, miserable TPK. They needed to do something, and the something that they needed to do had already been suggested, and then ignored/forgotten.

Ho Lee cast YOB, and the GIANT was able to pick up the Earth Serpent. Separated from the earth, its rocky form crumbled away until the Serpent was nothing more than a small brown snake. After thinking about casting HOT on the weakened Serpent (and after clarifications about the insignificant size of the snake), Ho Lee commanded the Giant to kill the Serpent, and that was that. Two Serpents down.

The final portion of the session included a pretty typical, 'so, you're really going to do *that*?' moment.

Choosing to go forward - east - rather than double back and investigate a strange, localised thunderstorm - the party entered the Forest of Snatta just before nightfall. The forbidding, twisted Forest of Snatta, home to foul beasts and murderous vegetation. And just inside the Forest of Snatta, the party made camp.

Well, if you made camp in a dangerous forest, you must surely expect a 'wandering monster' roll, mustn't you?

One shiny wet nose! Two big furry ears! Two big googly eyes! It's a BEAR!

The party were never in danger of being defeated by a lone Bear, but it did do them some damage, and interrupt their sleep. Cramer continued the party habit of taking a grisly trophy, cutting off a paw, and the party was able to snatch a few more hours of sleep. As were we, reconvening a few days later to continue the party's exploration of the Forest of Snatta and their hunt for the Serpents of Mampang.

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