The Abode of Flax, or the endless creativity of player paranoia and the virtue of quitters

About a year and a half ago, during one of my frequent FB pushes for players in Northport, I got an odd request; someone wanted to play a Lich.  Now, liches are among my favorite things, acting as sensible prime motivators in megadungeons of my youth.  I had recognized them in the works of Lloyd Alexander and loved the references in Andre Norton’s Quag Keep, both read in my pre-teen years.  I had a long built campaign setting for AD&D, called Bridgeton, that was essentially a city built on piers over the rough equivalent of the entrance to the Black sea, as seen on a really abbreviated map. I was maybe sixteen, and painted some lousy pictures of the demigod-lich Chorakas, an 18th level fighter/21 level Magic user who wore gauntlets of shocking grasp and could grant up to 4th level spells, with some special Bigby-esque power ups for his clergy.  I relied heavily on the DMG city encounter tables, and did things for character development for my NPC’s like reading tarot spreads for them.  You can tell how free from healthy social interaction I was at this age.  I eventually published a short story from my game notes in my college press, but gradually gave up on the setting, losing the notes for it in the great storage unit flood of ’09.

HPIM0793.JPGChorakas Ironfist, Acrylic on paper, c.1986

When I got the GURPS 3rd Horror book, I was drawn to the Lich there, and was quite pleased with the one in Undead. I already had DFM1, but not yet  the pyramid article, so I built a 600 point lich for him, completely devoid of equipment.  My magically-induced catastrophy provided a suitable reason for his sudden beginning not in a position of full power.  The same umana critical incident that teleported a mountain full of trolls to the depths below the city had been accompanied by earthquake, floods, fluxuations in ambient mana and stars falling from the sky.  In DF, falling stars are full of anti-magical meteorotic iron, and the incident not only allowed for their to be enough for PC’s to get some. (I had recently binge read my way through the Order of the Stick’s pursuit of Xykon, and that may have influenced me more than a little.) A direct hit on a mana depended critter half a mile underground not only explained a lot of my prior mapping, but also allowed me to reintroduce a villain from an earlier incarnation of the city.  Using the stats for Greater Troll that were put forth by the now defunct Otherwhere.org’s Advanced Goblins &Grottoes, I had built a survivor of the teleportation named Leopold, much styled after Grimtooth.  He was huge, heavily armored by stony skin, cunning and magically inclined but at risk for turning to stone.

I had him sniff out the remains of Abarax the lich, and lick all of the iron from them. This had the added effect of temporarily rendering the Troll bereft of his spell use, but also made him undetectable by magical means, and magically resistant as well.  So the lich awoke in the ruins of his palace, now effectively a low mana zone, crying for his servant, Flax.

The player dropped out soon after, as the kind who ask for special packages usually do, and left me with the question of what had happened to, and who was Flax.

Flax, I decided, was the former apprentice of Abarax, and he had survived the cataclysm.  So, I took a 250pt wizard, added the 125 point Learned lens and the 125 point Gadgeteer  lens, resulting in a 500 point basic character, who I knew to have the additional power ups of Magery 6, Mystic bolt 6 and 5 levels of enhanced magic resistance. He also had quite a bit of gear by the time he died.

More importantly for the characters, 407 years after the apparent destruction of Abarax, is that Flax continued to keep up correspondences with other powerful spellcasters. This brings the hook into play; Aethelbert the sage specialized in the history of the cataclysm and was fascinated by Flax. He had heard tell of the abode of Flax being somewhere below Northport.  As the Plutocracy both frowns on Necromancy and taxes items found under the city, a very convoluted plan was concocted by Camilla (an Adept Agent with her own agent) a “Quest Coordinator” for the guild, to secure a party of explorers and our friend Karlow the Sewer worker, to infiltrate the undercity, locate the library and find a way to haul out the goods without raising the ire of the plutocracy.  Several adventurers were vetted for this, and Hitomi the cat-folk thief pulled guild rank to be included, along with her buddy Johan Stark, a very effective knight specialized in axe and flail, and cursed with wierdness magnet.  Later, Gorgoth the ogre was added to the group.  The full contingent consisted of a dynamic Leprechaun Druid named Aoife, Zarrat the wizard and Syrik Flair, a spell-archer wizard.

This is the group that found their way down into the undercity to track down a place where Karlow had found a scroll case marked with Flax’s sigil.  After much travail, and encounters with some strange lobotomized goblins, and killing a collection of slorn, they tracked the path of the scroll case back up to where it had been dropped, by a dead thief in an area that was actually under the Shevnian quarter of the city, safely out of the jurisdiction of the plutocracy.  A misunderstanding and a little accidental intimidation by Gorgath lead to Zarrat fleeing the group, he was later disciplined by the guild and involved in other adventures separately.  Since most of the pc’s have overconfidence and impulsiveness, Syrik went on to shoot a fireball arrow at a slorn, but failed to kill it. Slorn are lesser worthies, and have hard to kill, so the toxin spitter kept coming and badly wounded the wizard.  A halt to exploration was made, and the party got temporarily rich off of the thief’s gear, which included a trollkilling sword they sold.

Their next trip down, which played out over several months of pbp,  they were joined by replacement wizard Gigi Nevins, a Pixie, and a trio of kobold laborers to carry the spoils.  They retraced the dead thief’s route and rappelled down a shaft to the home of the trolls.  After their first encounter, they realized that it was hypocritical for a mixed-race group suffering social stigmas like outsider/minority and almost monster to be racially motivated murder hobos and parleyed with the trolls.

This caused me to spend a bit of revision in the circumstances of the level, and instead of fighting the trolls, they competed in a number of challenges which led to acceptance by the trolls and an escort to the island abode of Flax.

The island was a spire of Adamantine rising our of a near bottomless pit, and supported by adamantine reinforced shaped granite, and sealed with orichalcum doors covered in evil runes.  The top of the spire was a nest to undead gargoyles (guard+Wight+gargoyle) and a set of cannon like projectors of flaming skulls, and the doors were guarded by pairs of armored sword golems.  The challenges of the trolls were calculated to let them form a plan of attack, but given the party’s emotional proclivities, they nearly lost three members crossing the bridge, partly because the druid kept using touch attacks on the fatigue draining gargoyles the trolls had referred to as “Flying Death”, and because of a a certain Cat’s curiosity.

The Druid ended up saving everyone, although Stark was partially healed by the trollop infatuated with him making him troll-blooded.  Svetlana the trollop is a fairly potent spellcaster, and considerably more intelligent than the knight, but shares wierdness magnet with him.

Now, getting past all of this to snatch up a wizard’s library isn’t so bad, if the wizard is out.  Flax, apprentice to a powerful Lich, was not out.  Taking a page from Michael Curtis’ Stonehell Dungeon and his character of the Plated Mage, I had decided that Flax liked immortality, but wasn’t  big fan of being undead. So that 575 point build got loaded into a 9’tall orichalcum golem.  ST18, striking ST 20, DR 23, outfitted with a meteoric iron sword and an orichalcum reinforced staff, he could have made more of a threat than the group could handle.

Two things made him manageable. The first was Hitomi stealing his soul jar, which put him in a bargaining state of mind, and the other was the one-two punch of one player being laid low by the flu, and another player who had picked up two of the characters when their players bowed out being overrun buy his work schedule.  Not wanting to repeat my earlier debacle of running npc combats over the PC’s, especially as the druid was out of energy reserve, the Pixie had 1 hp and the thief had nothing to scratch the armor with, I pulled an even from deep in the past, the waking of the lich, which had played out something like fifteen months earlier, but in a bit of a void, and made it now.  Flax got up and left, taking with him his soul object, and unravelling some of the binding spells as he did.

Gadgeteering for fun and profit

One of my players, who started the game early last year with a goblin priest of the hunt named Zeelzeel Shadowspear, has decided to play an Artificer.  Zeelzeel was a lot of fun, and when the player went on hiatus, he served as an NPC in a vouple of groups, and introduced his cousin Razakeel Shadowcloak, a necromantic apprentice. Zeelzeel also brought the kobolds of the guild back to the faith of their ancestors, reintroducing them to the worship of the Erl King, and wooing them away from the gentler faith they had bothered from a local human church. Father Robard, a goblin priest of the same, despite his pacifism, was quite wroth with Zeelzeel, who had impressed the kobolds by rescuing one of their young from a Triger that had escaped it’s charmed enslavement by wandering across a no-manna zone.

The introduction of the Artificer came soon after I had some of the other PC’s wander into some artificer trolls. As it is a point of courage an honor to work with fire for the highly flammable trolls, all of the males that are tested by fire and lose the vulnerability (usually bought down by lowering their appearance from ugly to hideous from the scarring from being burnt) usually become troll smiths.  So what kind of gadgets do trolls like to build?

Traps. Trolls like to build traps. Yes, being fireproof makes it easy to work the forge, but with ancestors like Grimtooth, there is a lot of pressure plate and dart work, to say the least.  What else do they make? My first priority as a member of a species prone to combustion would be a fire extinguisher. So using the example of the crude flamethrower, they combine a barrel and a bellows to make a backpack water jet cannon. Not proof against stone missiles, however.

Second order of business is fireproofing, in the form of spiked archer’s blinds, covered with waterlogged leather from the primary source available. By Crom, my trolls wear a lot of leather armor, and they live deep underground, so whence the hide? Some of it comes from Slorn, which are used for meat, mounts and tool making, but more of it comes from the larger and ridiculously regenerative Andersonian trolls, as found in DF Monsters and are kept in chains by the trolls found in The Next Level, who are more or less what Aethelbert the sage refers to as “Common Least Trolls.” He calls the big guys from Monsters “Common Greater Trolls” which gives me space in the campaign world to incorporate things like Giant Two Headed Trolls.

One of the PC’s is an elementalist and a bit of a pyromaniac, and usually wanders around with a cluster of Fire Elementals, so traps like buckets of sand over doorways and baited traps, like alchemical fire tossed under an iron cauldron propped up by a stick like the classic rabbit box trap, are employed when she is around with her flaming friends.

During the challenges the other group had to pass when negotiating with the other tribe of trolls, the party wizards had to figure a way of disposing of a flaming skull that had similarly been trapped, and the trollsmith had rigged a weight driven clockwork timer to raise the cauldron from the imprisoned skull spirit. Naturally, one of the wizards, a spell archer, thought that destroying the mechanism would count as a win, and one disintegrate spell later, he got to learn a few choice words of trollish.

At the moment, the new Artificer is designing some spiked slorn proof doors to be installed in a part of the dungeon that the guild is expanding into, but I am going to have to be on my toes to allow for maximum fun through inventing .