To Think of the Life of a Man (1967)
In a time that breaks
in cutting pieces all around,
when men, voiceless
against thing-ridden men,
set themselves on fire, it seems
too difficult and rare
to think of the life of a man
grown whole in the world,
at peace and in place.
But having thought of it
I am beyond the time
I might have sold my hands
or sold my voice and mind
to the arguments of power
that go blind against
what they would destroy.
I leave all that behind.
The Rogue Marklech, Spider Cultist The Wizard Falur Ryerson, Ordained Arcanist
October 11th, First Watch
Marklech and Falur approached Arpad outside of the mine, the prospector offered the group 50sp per room to map the quicksilver mine. They accepted the offer, and requested the service of some of Apad’s guards. They negotiated briefly, and Arpad offered three men at the day rate of 10sp per man. Falur and Marklech agreed, each paying 15sp to hire the three guards for the day. Bronek, Marek, and Jurek each carried a shortsword, bundle of torches, and wore leather armor. Arpad had the storekeeper give each member of the expedition one ration.
The first room (1) was a long narrow chamber that descended towards a wide natural cavern mouth, there were two masoned doorways on either side of the room, leading to excavated and reinforced corridors.
The group entered the first doorway to their right. The corridor led to a natural room (3) where one wall featured a 25-foot climb up to a rocky balcony. The characters climbed up to the balcony (4) to find a rocky shelf broken-through by the heavy solid roots of an ancient tree. From within the center of the root ball, a glistening crystal shape reflected light. The characters peered into the crystal to see the skeleton of a Winter Elf with hands raised protectively above its head as if to ward off a blow. Marklech touched the crystal, a vague sensation of fire and combat washed over him but he resisted the pull of the experience and yanked his hand away. Jurek came up to the platform with them, but he did not seem to see the crystal. Marklech and Falur decided not to map the balcony, hoping to keep the discovery of the winter-elf-crystal a secret from Arpad until they could further investigate it privately.
After climbing down from the balcony, they proceeded down the corridor to find a locked door (5). After picking the lock, they saw that the room was lined with shelves of old mining equipment and some old supply crates. Amongst other artifacts, there were usable mining picks, leather aprons, gloves, boots, lanterns, and helmets. After some searching, Marklech found 13 small mirrors in a leather pouch. Marklech discovered that his new lantern could be converted into a hooded lantern using the mirror and some leather pieces. After some time, a cold breeze blew in and each person sensed miner-ghosts lurking in their peripheral vision. They took this as a sign to leave the room, the henchmen guards required some persuasion to keep them from fleeing towards the entrance.
October 11th, Second Watch
The next doorway led to a four-way intersection. Ingress to the intersection was partially obstructed by four masoned pillars. The pillars supported an unsteady-looking shale slab ceiling.
The group proceeded through the first doorway on their right, finding a large room with a seemingly-bottomless pit (7). Marklech and Falur thought they heard something calling for help in the depths of the pit. Falur seemed convinced that he needed to descend the pit to provide assistance, but he came to his senses before going over the edge.
They continued to the next room (8), finding three grain silos dug into the floor and a dry ditch that ran along the cave wall towards a deep ravine. A swollen door at the top of a small ascent sealed off the room. At the party’s direction, Bronek and Marek kicked the door in. A thick mildew smell of rot filled the room and a viscous black fluid began to seep down towards the ravine.
The group proceeded up the ascent into the next room to find a large dark pool of black sluice. As they tried to walk by the pool on a narrow stone walkway, a grey ooze attacked them from out of the black sluice. Falur was nearly slain when the ooze bludgeoned him with an acidic slap.
October 11th, Third Watch
After they mapped the room with the grain silos (8), the frozen apparitions appeared in the doorway. As the characters approached the doorway, an intense cold emanated from the apparitions. When the party tried to pass through the apparitions to leave, the apparitions sapped the air from their lungs as if plunged into an icy bath. They pushed through the airless zone, gasping for breathe on the far side.
Marklech and Falur returned to Arpad and each received 17gp 5sp in payment for mapping 7 rooms.
October 11th, Fourth Watch – Rest
Experience: We have transitioned to using an XP system where 1xp is gained for each 1sp that is spent on repaying their bond-debt, paying taxes, buying goods, or hiring services. I believe that this has encouraged the players to drive the sandbox a bit more forcefully. The players have started emailing before the session to identify what the characters intend to do during the session, this has helped me to focus my prep.
Bond-debt: Each character starts the campaign with 3,000 gold of bond-debt to Lady Osis, this is why the characters are adventuring. A 100gp payment is due at the end of each calendar month (in-game time). The characters have enchanted tattoos which reflect the amount of their debt and the identity of the creditor. There are collection agents in any sufficiently large town to whom they can make early payments along the way, if they wish. While they have bond-debt, they cannot purchase property, and any assets they acquire can be seized if they default on their monthly payment. We talked for a while about how central debt is to the society, I am interested to see where that takes us.
Exploration: For this session, I prepped by developing a few random tables so that we could generate the mine as we explored. I have about 12 set-piece rooms prepared, when the characters entered a room there was a ⅙ chance of generating a set-piece room. I believe random tables are useful for some chaos and inspiration, but the GM should always feel free to place rooms by fiat if it would be more fun, thematic, or appropriate. Likewise, to determine room contents I would roll a d6, roughly using the following results: 1-3. Empty, 4. Monster, 5. Special, 6. Trap. We ended up with a good number of empty rooms, to the relief of the characters.
Tracking Time: I tracked the time using a print-out each session. The handout represents one week of time, with 24 hour segments per day, organized into four sections of six blocks. Each of these sections is referred to as a “watch.” To map a room, I would mark down 1 hr. I did not require any rolling for success here, I did roll to determine a random event each hour. Random events would occur on a roll of 1. Luck was with the party, no random events took place. At a few other points, the players would spend a decent amount of time deciding how to approach an obstacle. If they had taken too long without deciding, I would let them know that another hour had passed in game. The characters also knew that they needed to consume one ration per day, and that if they went four watches without resting then they would gain a level of exhaustion.
Magic: This was the first session with the wizard Falur since he found the enemy wizard’s spellbook in May. I explained the character’s absence from the last session that he had been working to decipher the spellbook. I made some house rules for spellbooks, wizards can prepare their daily spells out of any spellbook they are carrying, but each spellbook takes up one Stone of inventory. Also, a spell within spellbook can be used like a scroll, but this will remove the spell from the book. Spells can be copied from one spellbook to another, using 10gp worth of special ink and 1 hour of time. I am considering limiting the number of spells that can be written in one spellbook, either by limiting the sum total of spell levels, or just limiting the spell count.
The Keep of Izotz Five frost-rimed towers pierce the lightning-filled sky – Battle plans and quality salvage from the great war
The Gates of Memory An icy bridge crosses the memory-killing River Styx – Vigilant guards monitor infamous river of the dead
The Mausoleum of the Damned Lost souls emerge soaked, regretting forgotten sins – Ghoulish shambling husks, fodder for the great war
The Ice Harbor Ice-breakers crewed by brine devils & drowned souls – Unloading leviathan oil, giant squid, and shark fins
The Balefire Lighthouse Blue flames circles the highest floor, a baleful glare – Flames guide lost ships and lost souls to harbor
The Lord’s Monolith Carved from black ice, a blinking blue eye at its peak – Frozen Lord telepathically monitors his realm
The Obelisk of Doors Obsidian stone, each side a portal to a distant plane – Devils never let a soul depart intact and unsworn
The Memorial of Forgotten Lives Etchings from travelers, damned souls, and the lost – Names and deeds that have been forgotten by all
Threats in the Stygian Harbor of Izotz: – Salt-frozen winds flay frostbitten skin and chill the bone – Gangs of damned souls and frigid planars control streets – Thick skinned neanderthal fishmongers filet sea monsters – Baatezu monitor the portals, demand heavy toll to enter – Barbed devils patrol imperiously as corrupt guards – Frost giant mercenaries and shamans barter with devils – Brutal white abishi and erudite blue abishi marshall forces – Frozen Lord rules from his iceberg tomb beneath waves
The Keep Summer hunting fortress of a distant prideful lord.
Iron-barred gates, deep claw gouges in the wood
Rear wall was partially collapsed by a rock slide
Pristine trophies decorate the inner chambers
Hunting tapestries depict all manner of beasts
Prospector Camp Spruce-pole longhouse near a mountain stream.
Frozen sluice box glimmers with bits of gold dust
Scattered remains of prospectors long decayed
Buried stashes, a dwarf might smell out the gold
Gold is haunted, unless burial rites are performed
The Tower Biting winds howl through the broken battlements.
Diabolist dwells here to study the ancient portal
Eternal fires burn in volcanic hearths on each floor
Bound blue imp deters visitors, loathes
Dozens of journals describe the Stygian realm
The Stones Obsidian slabs stark against a snowy embankment.
Ancient hell portal rimed with icy Stygian runes
Frigid wind carries whispers from the fifth hell
Hoarfrost blights the hillock around the stones
Remnants of a recent blood ritual on an icy table
Dangers along the trail: Yeti Stalker – lurking in the snow, looking to prey on the weak Woolly Rhinoceros – digging for roughage below the snow Icy Demon – trap those in cold, promise safety for a pittance Blizzard – frozen sleet and hail batter those without shelter Avalanche – pummel and suffocate everything in the path
The Cleric Jannik, Priest of Prios
The Rogue Marklech, Spider Cultist
October 9th, First Watch
The party returned to the mining camp to inform Arpad of what had occurred at the Skull Cave. He seemed incredulous, doubting the existence of any demonic skull cave but was nevertheless concerned about barbarians. Arpad consented to accompany the party to see the site of the skull cave. When they arrived, the skulls were gone, and the cave led only to a solid rock wall. The characters felt an otherworldly sensation that they were being laughed at. They arrived at the barbarian camp to discover that the corpses of the barbarians, black cloaks, dogs, and wizard had all been decapitated.
The expedition returned to the mining camp, and the characters began helping with mundane tasks. The bunkhouse roof lacked a proper beam to support it, the old one had rotted out and was beyond repair. The laborers reported that they had found no logs of sufficient length were within safe distance of the camp, so the laborers asked for the party to assist them to find and retrieve such a log. Without the barracks, the laborers could not begin excavating the mine entrance in earnest. The party led the three guards back towards the barbarian encampment to find a sufficiently large tree, remembering that there were some suitable specimens.
They found a tree with a large straight trunk, but a bear was leaning against the trunk reaching for a bee hive. The party attempted to scare the bear away, but the bear only retreated slightly. Lurking at the edge of the woods. The party attacked the bear, two of the guards were brought low by the brown bear’s heavy attacks but Jannik’s healing magic brought them back to their feet. After the bear was slain, the men felled the tree with heavy axes and carried the timber back down to camp. As they passed the stream, they noticed that more water was pouring down from the mine adit than before. The path was somewhat flooded. Marklech washed himself in the cold mountain water, and they continued on their way without investigating.
Fourth Watch – Rested
October 10th, First Watch
Marklech spoke with Vine in a fragmented Thieves Cant. Vine indicated that he tried to steal the locket from Cantor because Cantor was somehow analogous to a poisonous bush in tainted soil. Vine has been kept in shackles since he was caught trying to steal Cantor’s locket in Session Five (October 7, II Watch)
The party spoke to Cantor, who reiterated that he was planning to work for Arpad for one month, but come the first of November he would head into Symbaroum forest to try to avenge his slain brother and kill the witch. He invited the party to join him, he was sure that there would be much treasure to be found.
Marklech and Jannik took a long walk in the woods discussing Marklech’s personal history. Marklech discussed his abduction and forced conversion as a youth. The two men agreed that they were both disturbed by the townsfolk of Bridge being able to flaunt tradition by worshiping gods other than Prios. Marklech is still not clear how transparent he can be with Jannik, likewise Jannik is not sure what to make of Marklech’s heretical magic abilities.
The Cleric Jannik, Priest of Prios
The Rogue Marklech, Spider Cultist
The Wizard Falur Ryerson, Ordained Arcanist
October 8th – Third Watch – Barbarian in the Skull Cave
The adventures looked around the skull cave. Falur read the inscriptions on the massive skulls, which were etched in Infernal script.
Upon the skull of a hill giant was written:
He trod the land from stream to peak, No foe could challenge his physique. Refugees sought sanctum in his land, Sanctum they found, by death at his hand. In arrogance he believed himself strong, a well-shot arrow found him weak.
The skull of a snake-like humanoid
Slithering in the mire and murk, Fools believed him a god gone berserk. The coven’s worship tamed his heart, A weapon he became through their black art. Wrath fueled his efforts, a blessed blade ended his work.
The skull of an Abishi demon
From the deepest depths he tread, Arranging and plotting the violence ahead. The factions united and battles commenced, Betrayal and deceit as allies turned against. His greed left him blind, not seeing the daggers ‘til he bled.
The skull of a six-horned demon
Two horns he earned when he toppled the lords of old, Another he grew after his great offering of gold. Two horns he stole from the beast in the deep, And he last he took from the maiden in her keep. His demise was lust, seeking his seventh horn in the lost stronghold.
As Falur read the inscriptions aloud, Marklech dispatched his spider familiar to keep watch. As the spider crawled away, the black cloaks Jakab and Istvan accosted Marklech, accusing him of witchcraft and illicit magic use. Janik came to Marklech’s defense, claiming that the rogue was under his supervision. The black cloaks did not seem to agree, but reluctantly backed away. They muttered something to the extent of “we’ll see about this.”
Marklech’s familiar alerted him to an incoming threat, a barbarian carrying the severed head of a brown bear. The rogue warned the party, who all hid themselves in the shadows along the cavern wall. Immediately thereafter, the barbarian strode into the cave talking to himself. He muttered “those fools won’t notice that I’ve gone until it’s too late. I killed the bear, I deserve the rewards… I shouldn’t have to share the blessing with those weaklings…” He walked towards the black altar, but the party intercepted him. After a brief combat, the barbarian was slain. He also carried a small charm made from the bark of a birch tree.
After overhearing the conversation, the party surmised that the altar must reward those who come with offerings of severed heads. Falur asked the black cloaks about whether they had something that might destroy the evil altar. The black cloaks said that it would take powerful magic to destroy such a thing, and that it was out of their capabilities. Jakab added that destroying such an altar should be the responsibility of an ordained arcanist, indicating that Falur ought to take the lead.
Jannik attempted to cast Detect Magic as a ritual. He chanted a Priosian religious word that meant “the light that reveals” while meditating. However, he struggled to maintain his concentration like he was a young acolyte sitting to his first prayer. As he chanted, a voice whispered in his head.
the light that reveals… the weakness of man, the light that reveals… the hollowness within, the light that reveals… the lie inherent, the light that reveals… the facade of progress.
Jannik could not concentrate on his spell, Falur decided to expend a spell slot to cast Detect Magic instead. As he inspected the altar, he knew it to be an infernal artifact crafted by a magic more ancient than man. Falur approached the altar, and made out some of the infernal inscription etched in the dark stone. It read: “Master of Darkness, Keeper of Skulls, Revealer of Sins.”
The party explored the cave, keeping to the left wall for about an hour. They stumbled upon spring water that had worn a fissure through the cave floor, descending to a pool some 50ft below. They did not investigate, instead they turned around and returned the way they came.
October 8th – Third Watch – Barbarian Camp
They intended to return to camp to let Arpad know about the skull cave, but as they left the cave they smelled smoke from a nearby campfire. They investigated, finding a small barbarian encampment. They were spotted while scouting and a difficult battle ensued, the barbarian wizard seemed to control a mix of natural and known magicks. The vines of the forest rose up against the adventurers. The barbarians also released two hunting dogs, and a giant man with a greataxe soon came bolting out of a tent. Both of the black cloaks were killed in the fray, and the party members were barely any better off.
The enemy wizard ran when he saw the tide turn against him. The party chased him into a nearby cave, following him carefully to his lair. They killed him after he drank a potion. In the cave they found a bookshelf filled with texts and a chest with a +1 Shortsword and a Robe of Fire Resistance. The wizard left behind a spellbook written in a cryptic cypher.
As they inspected the wizards body, they found tattoos that indicated he had been in debt-bondage to the Lord of Ravenia (the same man to whom Arpad the mine-owner owes allegiance). However, the tattoos had been altered and twisted. Falur saw that the man had somehow blocked the tattoos effects, he had defaulted on his debt but somehow prevented the tattoos from enacting the debt-price.
The wizard wore a necklace with a stone amulet. Falur attempted to remove it, but his hand came away chilled as if plunged in a bath of ice. Falur inspected the amulet and saw that it had the sigils for “Stone, Bone, & Wood” etched in stone. Jannik went to the bed and removed a sheet, he used the sheet to remove the amulet from the wizard’s body, placing it into his bag still wrapped in cloth.