Yo, ho, ho, me trumps!
I've been spending a little too much time playing Assassin's Creed: Black Flag. I could be reading good fiction, or painting miniatures, or... Or anything. But instead I am cruising around the Caribbean trying to collect every last sea shanty and hidden treasure chest.
But back to Mampang for the final session of the Crown of Kings campaign.
The party ended the last session captured by the Mampang Guard and brought to see Captain Cartoum. Their Adventure Ends Here. Or well, it likely ought to have done. But as we broke up the penultimate session I said to the players that they needed to think very hard about how they were going to get out of this very sticky situation. Following the between session conversations on Facebook, I was not optimistic.
BUT, many sessions ago I had allowed Ho Lee to spend Experience Points creating a new Sorcery spell. The AFF2e rulebook explicitly advises against this, but in the context of a one-off 'adventure path' I figured, 'why not?' And so Ho Lee's magical experiments had added COR to the Sorcery spell book, an analogue to GOB and YOB. Where those created GOBLINS and GIANTS from the teeth of those creatures, COR brought forth a MANTICORE. When word had reached the Archmage that Ho Lee had very publicly and effectively demonstrated this novel sorcery, he was interested in seeing the innovating wizard for himself.
And so, despite Mopsy's quite frankly hopeless plan to convince Captain Cartoum that this was all a dreadful misunderstanding - that despite killing quite some number of the Archmage's minions, disguising themselves are guards, and refusing to surrender, they were there to enter the service of Mampang - the party were not summarily executed a mere flight of stairs from their goal. No, like any good villain, the Archmage demanded that they were brought to him, and, in his genre-appropriate arrogance, dismissed the guards.
[This bypassed a number of interesting encounters, but the party were not going to have a chance to see those. It was this, or a game-ending consequence. I am very happy allowing players to run themselves into TPK. And with these players, TPKs and near-TPKs are not uncommon! But then I do not normally run a linear campaign.]
The party were in the Archmage's library-cum-observatory with just the villain and his manservant, Farren Whyde. The Archmage offered the party the Crown of Kings, if they would tell him the secret of the COR spell. Mopsy was up for taking the crown that floated in the air before them, but saner heads prevailed and the Archmage grew frustrated. With the party hesitating, on edge, ready to attack the Archmage, there was a wet ripping noise behind them. The 'Archmage' cowered behind his desk as the body of Farren Whyde split in two to reveal a NETHERWORLD DEMON.
But Boss Fights can be boring. They are not a point in the game - most of the time - where the players are able to make any more significant, interesting choices. At this point, it is No Retreat, No Surrender! D hovered his finger over the Big Red Button - as the Demon began to whittle away the PC's STAMINA reserves the ZED spell was readied. What would it do?* But in the end some rather lucky Critical Hits from Cramer and Mopsy snicker-snacked off a couple of points of the Demon's SKILL, and the foul thing fell under the swords of the Heroes of Analand.
In the gamebook, the players could either summon the Samaritans of Schinn (the 'good birdmen', which the party bypassed - to be fair finding the good birdmen rather than the bad birdmen is a 'left or right' decision), or resurrect Farren Whyde and have him summon the birdmen. Anything else necessitates the player fights his way through the now alert Mampang Guard - an impossible task. Not wanting this adventure to play out like the end of Return of the King, I had two options, 1) present the party with wave after wave of Guards, a pointless, hopeless battle that would demand another session of play that would contain no reward and little in the way of meaningful decisions, or have the Samaritans of Schinn show up at the window of the Archmage's Tower.
"Squawk! Need a lift?"
Deciding this would be the end of line for these adventurers, I asked each player what they planned their character's long term future to be.
Ho Lee, with the benefit of a few armfuls of the Archmage’s books and paraphernalia, secluded himself in a tower in the wilderness and delved deeply into magical secrets. He was killed many years later by a party of adventurers, who then sold his library in the book markets of Gallantria.
Cramer, still driven by Slaang, God of Malice, decided that he would seek the leadership of the KLATTAMEN tribe of the Baddu-Bak Plains. By force of violence, Cramer became chief, but his rule was short-lived. Mistaking a hearty respect for violence for a tendency towards cruelty, Cramer abused his subjects, and was lynched after just a few months.
Mopsy, who the spirit of Khare declared to be the new Hidden Lord, was ever the good and noble(?!) knight. Conscious of his duty to his sworn lord, he returned to Analand and persuaded King Arkle to raise an army to allow him to annex Khare. As the pennants of Analand approached the walls of the Cityport of Traps, SULPHUR GHOSTS boiled from the walls, scattering the army. Mopsy was never heard of again, but legend has it that a blind beggar claiming to have once been a famous knight now lives in the slums of Khare.
*I was set to have the ZED spell transport them to The Pit, where they would continue the battle with the Demon. If they won, I might have been tempted to run an 'Escape the Pit' campaign. If they had lost, well, at least the Demon had been banished.