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’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.

Death and Taxes: On regulating the Undercity

One of the organizational features of Northport is the Plutocratic Bureaucracy.  Centered in their underground temple complex, the Hadereum, the Plutocracy has oversight over all things below the surface, and of taxation.  Priests of Dis Pater Pluton, with spheres of Earth and Death, the Plutocrats are all at least Almost Wealthy, and concerned about lawbreakers, tax evaders and anything underground.  They are vociferously against Necromancers and will hustle to put down greater undead, but do allow for criminals (especially debtors) to serve out sentences of “Death plus hard labor” and frequently have a few necrmantic zombies wandering about bearing placards indicating their crimes as object lessons for the populace. They make a point of casting Final Rest on decent citizens, and any holy warriors of the sect definitely use the shtick that prevents reanimation. They do not raise the dead either.

There is a standing 30% tax on any goods found under the city, which has lead to a small cottage industry dedicated to bypassing this.  Any goods found directly under your own property are immune to this tariff, and civil servants who work for the Department of  Sewers and Aqueducts (a perk) are entitles to anything they can carry.  As half of the city is actually under foreign control (Little Shevnia) the reach of the plutocrats end at that geopolitical border.  Some of the Adventurer’s Guild Quest Brokers (Agents, or Adept Agents with agents of their own) make a very selective effort in vetting those on retrieval missions to avoid anyone with a duty to the plutocracy from participating. On the other hand, there are delvers that make use of created servants and golems to transport goods to locations that are not taxable, so that they can pass a Truthsayer spell asking if they themselves moved the property…

Maintenance of the underground is handled by the doughty members of the Department of Sewers and Aqueducts, who spend their time repairing gates that keep the overabundant slorn from entering public areas, and unclogging drains of debris (like corpses) that are then fed to ottyughs that dwell in caged pits near the sewer catchment basins.  One such Sewer worker is Karlow who has served as a guide to many of the adventuring parties attempting to investigate the undercity


orcish sewer worker
att:100 adv: 32 d/q: -54 skills: 46 total: 125
ST 13 [20] DX 12[40] IQ 10[20] HT 13 [20]
Hp 15[0] Will 11[0] Per 11/13h [5] FP 13
bs: 6.0 [-5] mv: 6 dodge: 9  T/S: 1d/2d-1
[15] orc: +1 ST, -1 IQ, +1 HT, +2 hp, +2 acute hearing;
         rapid healing, +3vs metabolic hazards, social stigma: savage
         ugly, bully
[5] +8 vs metabolic hazards
[5] absolute direction
[1] licenced sewer worker
[1] adventurers guild member
[-10] bad smell
[-5] stubborn
[-10] struggling
[-5] loner
[-5] anosmia
[-5] curious
[-5] workaholic
-claustrophilic, horrible hangovers, proud, nosering

area knowledge: undercity level one IQ/E: [8] 14
                   ( other levels default at -2 per level)
                    Northport surface IQ/E [1] 10
hidden lore: sewer secrets IQ/A [1] 9
carpentry IQ/E [1] 10
Masonry IQ/E [2] 11
Engineering: Civil IQ/H [1] 8
Plumbing IQ/A [8] 12
forced entry DX/E [2] 13
traps IQ/A [1] 9
climbing DX/A [2] 12
stealth DX/A [1] 11
streetwise IQ/A [1] 9
swimming HT/E [1] 13
Brawling DX/E [2] 13
knife DX/E [1] 12
Staff DX/A [2] 12
polearm DX/A [4] 13
axe/mace DX/A [2] 12
Search Per/A [2] 11
Observation Per/A [2] 11

Languages: Aralaise native/broken 0/-2
           Orcish accented/0 2/0

Leather Jacket $50 DR1
Heavy cloth pants $40 DR1
Boots $80 DR 2
Medium hardened leather vest $125 DR2 =DR3 total
Leather helmet $40 DR3
heavy leather gauntlets $13 DR2
Pack $40
Crowbar $20
dueling Bill: 2d+1 cut/1d+3 imp/1d-1 cut(hook) $100
large knife $40 1d imp, 2d-3 cut
knobbed club,$20 2d cr
gate key: 1 lb iron key on lanyard attached to his belt

Of course, the true maintenance of the deeper levels are managed by the original inhabitants, who do not care for these recent developments…