Wednesday 22 March 2023

[CAMPAIGN JOURNAL] The Inverted Tower of Hyél Singh

I bring you news of glory and death from the City of Vultures!

Four adventurers, sworn to take revenge for the destruction of the fair city of Avendar, have conspired to track down and assassinate their penultimate target, “He Who Is Not Known”, who has so far drawn many veils of secrecy around him. By now, dead was Isomarg, Maker of Images, identified at a ball of the rich and influential, and hunted down in his own residence. Dead was Ardaviraf, He Who Slumbers Deep Beneath, roused from his drugged torpor to which he had consigned himself, and confronted and killed as he emerged to a higher level of the Underworld. And dead was Vifranavaz, He Who Walks Beyond, followed to the Crystal Palace, an orbital pleasure resort, and found already dead in the dark vacuum of space among the stars he had sought with such obsession. But the price had been high: many of Avendar’s finest agents were also killed in action, with new operatives taking their place. The sole survivor of the second team (after the ill-fated first was unmasked and neutralised) was Farzan, Savant of the Seven Mysteries (Magic-User 9, recently reaching name level), and he was joined by Bron the Elder (Fighter 8, who could calculate the exact value of any object with mathematical precision due to a strange device implanted in his skull deep in the Underworld), Tigran Zard (Cleric 7, a servant of the baleful Sea Demon), and finally Farsi the Younger (Thief 6, Farzan’s created simulacrum).

Two more foes remained: Mehersimin, the Faithful Companion, who had chosen to abandon high society and marry the dreadful Kwárü Khan, a subterranean horror whose very name was only spoken in whispers; and “He Who Is Not Known”, who had practiced complete anonymity. A few fractions of information were known: that “He Who Is Not Known” was a high-ranking priest of the Temple of Jeng; and that he had once infiltrated Avendar’s avengers under the name “Jamal”, and feigned his death when he had presumably learned what he wanted – the latter fact revealed in the mirror of the vampire-mage Riamos in his sealed tower. Divine prophecy could not find “He Who Is Not Known”, only that he was hidden even from the eye of the gods. It was eventually theorised that “He Who Is Not Known” might be using an amulet of proof vs. detection and location, and the company’s objective was thus focused on tracing the route of these items through the City’s trade networks.

In the previous episode, Bron the Elder and Tigran Zard had masked themselves as desert nomads, and visited one Lady An-Raydn, an aristocratic socialite running the most exclusive trading house on Uugen’s Market. Here they learned that these items were indeed for sale, but in such high demand that there would be a long waiting list. Bron and Tigran Zard nodded, and took a good look at the document where the lady’s scribe had recorded their aliases. The same night, a quick heist was conducted to enter the trading house, procure the document, and make a copy – and leave quietly. The names had, indeed, revealed a clue: an amulet was purchased by one Hothog Mirza, as an intermediary for the Temple of Jeng. The infiltrators were left pondering in a dark street about their next move…

The City of Vultures, South-East

It was past midnight, and the company headed home to their hideout in what used to be the House of Rogat Demazien through dark and empty streets. Passing by the massive Temple of Jeng (the guards reinforced due to a very recent break-in), they were walking through a twisting street, when an elegantly dressed stranger in silk clothing and turban walked right towards them. The man introduced himself as Abu Kasim, and offered the group their life if he could sate his hunger for blood with one of them – flashing a smile of chiselled gemstones in his terrible maw, a sign of traditionalist high aristocracy.

“There shall be blood, but not ours!”, came the response, and the fight was on.

Failing to control Farzan with his gaze, Abu Kasim called on the rats of the canals and sewers to emerge in a great horde, while Farzan employed his greatest magic, conjuring undead shadows to attack the foe. But the final word was said by Tigran Zard, who revealed the true power of the Sea Demon to the vampiric lord, bringing him under his sway permanently. Tigran Zard now commanded Abu Kasim to lead him to his hideout, which he did, noting that his four wives would also be there. With some caution, they followed him to a derelict palace close by, where Abu Kasim drifted in through a small gap in the walled-up entrance. All the windows of the ruined place were also mortared, an so, Bron the Elder used rope and grapnel to climb the façade, finding a rooftop entrance. Abu Kasim received his guests in a dark hall, in the circle of his pale concubines, and on request, brought for his treasures. It was revealed that he was a skilled alchemist, and had distilled magical potions in his lair, of which two – a potion of speed and one of healing (which Abu Kasim kept in a locked cabinet next to some holy water – “if the women become unruly”) – were exchanged for a holy symbol of Jeng, before it was agreed that they would seek him out again if needed.

On the next day, torrential rains fell over the City, and even its omnipresent vultures sought refuge beneath ledges and canopies. The men of Avendar shared a breakfast of date sorbet and khofit – the city’s weird dark drink of choice – while making chitchat with the owner. By some stroke of luck, the man knew someone who knew Hothog Mirza, who was apparently a frequent customer of Izam the Butcher, a seller of fine meats. The game was on! Izam the Butcher, a burly, moustached man, received them in his store, frequented by an upscale clientele, and promptly made a saving throw against charm person, and another against the effects of a ring of hypnosis. However, the bull-headed fellow eventually proved vulnerable to simple bribery, revealing that Hothog Mirza came only infrequently, but he bought vast mounts of both fresh meat, and pricy pâté. He could be contacted, if needed, next to a place called the Sundial of Kabeer Nervani, about whose location Izam knew nothing. Satisfied, they left with a very pricy jar of pâté.

Guessing that the sundial would be in the City’s older section, they continued their investigations there. Shapur, an elderly clam merchant (who was unsuccessfully sought to see if he had a sufficiently valuable pearl for the identify spell), knew nothing about him, but back on Uugen’s Market (now busy with all kinds of buyers and sellers), fortune smiled on the investigators. Markon, a grocer selling vegetables, as well as two sacks of rotten potatoes for a silver each, suggested that they contact his friend Waseb, a stone carver who knew the city’s statues and bas-reliefs like the back of his hand. Just then, it so happened that shutters above them opened, and an unpleasant fellow harangued the outlanders with vile insults and slander.

“Do you fine swordsmen leave this stain on your honour unanswered?!”, asked Markon, promptly raising the price on the rotten potatoes to a princely gold piece. A deal was struck, and the heckler hit with a carefully aimed potato, falling back into his room with an angry yell.

“What are the odds these two are working together?”, mused Bron the Elder on their way to Waseb’s workshop.

Waseb was indeed knowledgeable, and uncharacteristically of the City’s opportunistic denizens, gave his advice freely and unequivocally: the sundial, a great cracked stone disk, was in a dead end alley near the fish market.

“Not much sun today though”, he grunted, and Farzan responded: “We are only visiting it to find the place – a full survey will take place tomorrow”

The disk was indeed where it was, in an inner courtyard, where street urchins were poking a dead dog with a stick as their daily entertainment. Water flowed down the richly carved, broken wheel, and Tigran Zard saw that it was a thing of mystical importance, with comet cycles and stellar signs. From here, stairs led downwards through an archway. Halfway down, in a rest, lay a groaning man, robbed and beaten within an inch of his life. Tigran Zard helped him as he could, but he remembered nothing that had happened, even his name. Farzan smiled.

“You know what? We will call you Jamal – we will take you somewhere safe so you can collect your wits.”

At their end, the stairs opened into a damp, vaulted chamber with an enormous, carved stone mouth, and a small opening on the same wall.

“Speak, oh mouth! We seek audience with Hothog Mirza, as he is known to deal in rare and expensive wares, and might be of help to us.”

“I, the oracle hear your request”, came an echoing voice from the unmoving lips. “Hothog Mirza is the one who seek, but he only deals with an exquisite clientele. I demand a tribute of 2500 gold pieces [adjusted for standard AD&D values], to be deposited in yonder donation chute.”

“We do not have that much coin on us – as you know, many thieves and scoundrels inhabit this city. We shall return to our quarters, and procure the correct amount.”

“The oracle shall await your contribution!”, came the response.

Tigran Zard now examined the mouth more carefully. There was a small stone pipe, curving upwards, while the chute led down. Multiple ideas were advanced – including a reduce spell to have someone climb up the pipe to see where it would lead – but eventually, an idea struck! They would return at night with the vampire Abu Kasim, and he would drift through the opening in mist form for reconnaissance. Satisfied, they returned to a nearby eatery, spending a quiet afternoon observing the outside rain. They left the nameless man, still confused, with the owner and a hefty tip, so that he might spend the night and perhaps recall who he was.

Returning to the vampire’s palace, Abu Kasim agreed to the plan; and he was offered a bountiful feast for his services. They went through the dark alleys to the stone mouth, and Abu Kasim dispersed into a red gaseous mist, seemingly sucked into the mouth. Time passed, and he returned to the subterranean chamber:

“I saw an octagonal chamber, once splendid but now in ruin, and a fat, low-born man, receiving a foot massage from three slave girls – then I went through the keyhole of a double door, and emerged in a gallery overlooking the street to the west of us.”

This street, busy during the day but now deserted, had only a small, nondescript door on the building façade, and once forced, it led down into a shabby-looking storeroom. Proceeding cautiously, Tigran Zard quickly found a tripwire, evidence they were on the right track. From here, a ladder led up to a trapdoor, and the gallery: the double door on one end, and a walled-up archway on the other.

They stepped quietly into the octagonal chamber, a once-splendid hall with a crumbling appearance. Hothog Mirza, an oily, grossly fat man with thick moustaches, was enjoying the massage of his swollen leg in an ornate chair next to a scented brazier..

“We have brought the 2500 gold pieces”, spoke Bron the Elder.

Hothog Mirza uttered a surprised yell as he was tackled, while the three slave girls fled screaming into an adjoining chamber.

“And here is your promised dinner, oh, Abu Kasim”, said Farzan as the vampire followed the screaming beauties.

Hothog Mirza folded very quickly under questioning, as he listened to the terrible sounds from the next room, pleading for his miserable life with information and the contents of his locked safe. He confessed that he did not know who wanted the amulet – he helped obtain it from Lady An-Raydn, but it was his master, the mighty Lord Hyél Singh, who had personally delivered it to a high-ranking priest of Jeng. This was a rarity, and a sign the deal was significant: Hyél Singh lived outside the City in a great sealed biodome, and only rarely made a personal visit with Darwesh Ral, Qualandar, and Zarak Miir, his elite legbreakers. Sobbing and begging for mercy, the thief betrayed all he knew about the dome. There were no external entrances, and the only way in was via the great carriages of the deep Underworld, using the word of power, * * ADARKURSHID * *. The lush jungles of the dome were filled with all kinds of animals the lord had collected – Hothog Mirza bitterly lamented the theft of his pricy medallion and golden mirror on a visit he had made. The lord’s dwelling was something called “the Inverted Tower”, which the thief had seen but never entered.

“He had seen our face,” spoke Farzan once the man had nothing more to say, but Bron the Elder waved his hand to signal his dissent, and looked at the quaking Hothog Mirza with a stern expression, just as Abu Kasim emerged from the side room with blood on his gemstone teeth, wearing a satisfied expression.

“Our man will surely not run to his master to explain he had just spilled his deepest secrets to the enemy – right?”

They left the badly shaken thief in his crumbling quarters, parting with the vampire-alchemist and returning to their hideout.

The Biodome of Hyél Singh

The following day, they descended to the lowest level of the Underworld through a collapsed shaft they had previously discovered beneath the House of Rogat Demazien, and took the fastest route through the passages to a great semi-circular hall with a single, straight metal track running between two enormous blast doors of incredible antiquity. Its former guardian, a mighty metal warrior, lay there defeated as smoky metal junk.

“ADARKURSHID!”, exclaimed Farzan, uttering the power word. For a while nothing happened, but after some time, the mighty gates slid open, and a tube-shaped carriage of bronze, decorated with rich ornaments of demonic beings, rolled into the station. Doors on the side slid open with a hiss, revealing a lit interior. They boarded the carriage, and the doors closed as the contraption left the platform. The voyage was long, and proceeded first north, then for a much longer to the west. Eventually, it halted with a screech, and the doors opened again.

They emerged into the dusty interior of a crumbing hall of rectangular shapes. Natural light streamed in through mighty vertical windows, and an open portico. Beyond lie a dense jungle alive with colourful flowers, chattering birds, and other sorts of bountiful animal life. Above, a faint shimmer was visible through the haze: the surface of the biodome, covering an area some six miles across. On rising hills, clusters of metal pylons rose into the air.

“We should keep this for our retirement days”, mused Farzan.

“It lies too close to the City of Vultures, soon to be destroyed in an unfortunate catastrophe”, countered Tigran Zard.

They followed a path into the jungle, emerging at a gazebo with small monkeys playing and fighting under a cracked dome. Remembering Hothog Mirza’s laments and watching their valuables, the intruders followed a southern path that climbed one of the hills, to one of the pylon clusters where they could get a better view of the land. However, something was off: coming closer to the structure, they felt a weird nausea and a constant buzz ringing in their heads, retreating until they were out of range of the disturbance. Bron the Elder climbed one of the taller trees. To the northeast, he spotted another pylon cluster on a hill, and a lower plateau where enormous lizard-beasts were locking horns in a clearing of fallen trees. To the northwest was a lake, beyond which rose yet another pylon-crowned hill, with a low, flat structure between two higher points. North of it, a mighty tree rose, and small green dots – large birds – seemed to be flying around it. Still further north, on the far end of the biodome, a perfectly geometric pyramid stood on another elevation point, each of its four sides a different colour.

“The pyramid doesn’t look like an inverted tower. We should look at the small flat building first – and that one’s closer.”

Returning to the valley below, the jungle path led to the lake. Water lilies swam on the surface, and the statue of a bearded man stood on the shore among mangrove trees, pointing at the water with an accusing look. Enormous dragonflies the size of a man’s arm droned above the surface. After determining that the water was shallow, Tigran Zard volunteered to explore the area where the statue was pointing and waded in, while Bron the Elder, Farzan and Farsi the Younger stood ready. His curiosity was soon rewarded. An enormous green horror, with the powerful hind legs of a frog and the gaping maw of a crocodile leapt at him. In a short and furious melee, the frogodile was killed, its blood and guts spilling into the water.

“Get out of the lake, now”, suggested Farzan, and the two combatants were glad to follow his advice.

Further along the path, the company passed a group of great apes – hulking, muscular brutes – fighting in the treetops, not even noticing them. They quickly put some distance between them and this area. The path now climbed up to the flat structure on the western hill. It was a massively built, although heavily worn building. A corroded bronze statue holding a halberd stood by a heavy blast door; narrow horizontal windows were apparent, but they proved too dim to peer inside. After ascertaining the statue was inanimate, the adventurers examined the door more closely. A narrow horizontal slot was discovered, but Farsi the Younger was unable to open it with his picks. Farzan thus used his knockspell, and the portal slid open. The interior consisted of an abandoned room, filled with badly decayed and obviously non-functional metal boxes, once dotted with dials and levers. Spiral stairs also descended downwards, and unlike the room proper, signs of foot traffic were in evidence. After a brief discussion, they took the stairs down into the Inverted Tower of Hyél Singh.

The Inverted Tower of Hyél Singh

The steps led deeper, until Tigran Zard halted the others, pointing at a batch of faint, painted eyes on the wall. Suspecting a magical trap, he suggested using dispel magic, but Farzan was reluctant to use it up just yet. After simple experiments with thrown dust and waving a trident before the eyes, which failed to do anything, they just walked before the peering eyes. At once, a loud blaring sound came from below. Any defenders would now know thieves were about. Guessing that they may still need a little time to organise, they quickly continued on.

A lit archway opened to the west. Looking through, they stepped into the inverted tower’s interior – but not the tower they suspected. This was no cramped underground shelter, but the top of a great vertical hall of octagonal shape, descending into unfathomable depths. Hexagonal crystal tubes suspended from the ceiling glittered with a subdued light, reflected from splendid mosaic surfaces of green and gold. Beyond the opposite balcony, the chatter of exotic birds could be heard from a chamber just as magnificent as the main shaft. Downwards, ledges and bridges could be seen at various depths, lit with diffuse magical lights. And from deep below came complex music, its strains blending into each other, rising and falling in a complex harmony.

Seeing no good way across without getting exposed, they continued onwards down the spiral stairs. An abandoned-looking armoury opened to the east, where four bronze warriors stood without moving. The guardians were only inanimate for a long moment before lowering their halberds and attacking in formation. In the confines of the stairwell, they were eventually destroyed, but time also passed. Tigran Zard quickly grabbed a fancy-looking shield embossed with a man-eating tiger (a cursed magical shield, it turns out), and followed the others.

The stairs descended on a wide ledge overlooking the central shaft. Across, a raised drawbridge generously decorated with golden ornaments could be seen, a winch mechanism next to it. Two more of the bronze guardians stood flanking it. Beyond, a domed room with an ornate fountain sprinkling its water into a pool was mostly left in darkness. Looking down, an alabaster bridge spanned the shaft on the next level. Bron the Elder quickly motioned to his companions to hold the rope while he would climb down. He was barely over the ledge when a bright flash of light came from the archway across, a light beam searing his side but thankfully missing the rope it was aimed at. A man wearing black, form-fitting syntextile clothing (a rare protective outfit only found in the well-preserved vaults of the Ancients) with a sunburst symbol darted back towards the opening. Farzan returned fire with his chromatic glove, sending a beam back in the same direction and wounding the man, who disappeared through the opening. Bron dropped down to the bridge as the assailant bolted up the stairs. Cursing, Bron ran after the man as the others covered the shaft from above. The music, rising from the depths in its strange echoing harmonies, kept on playing. Tigran Zard prepared to follow his fighter companion down the rope, taking quick note of the library to the east, a fantastic stone gallery running along the wall a level below, and what looked like a lush garden on the lowest level. The music came from the direction of the balcony, rising and falling.

Bron the Elder emerged into a dim hall. Beams of light shone from the ceiling, dividing the intricate tiled floor into pools of light and darkness. The statue of a simurgh stood watch over a collection of strange glass objets d’art displayed on various pedestals. Stairs descended further down, while open spiral stairs climbed back up. No movement was visible. He stood motionless, looking for movement. Up above, Farzan and Farsi the Younger waited on the ledge, ready for anything. There was quick movement behind the winch mechanism next to the golden bridge, but they were ready, and the man behind it, identical in clothing to the first, stumbled and fell as he was shot through the head with a beam from Farsi’s laser rifle. Darwesh Ral, the first of Hyél Singh’s elite bodyguards, was dead. Tigran Zard was now in the simurgh chamber, and Bron the Elder nodded, briskly moving up the spiral stairs. There was a slight movement, and he was immediately locked in a life-and-death struggle with an unseen attacker who had barely missed him. Experience and strength prevailed, and Hyél Singh’s second guardian, mighty Qualandar was cut down, his body and equipment remaining invisible under the effects of dust of disappearance.

The way was open up to the winch room. Tigran Zard and Bron the Elder climbed, coming across the bronze mechanical men, advancing on them. Farzan and Farsi the Younger helped as much as they could, but had to take care not to hit their comrades. A light beam came, deadly, from deeper down the central shaft, aimed with utmost perfection. Farsi the Younger, confident just a moment ago, stumbled and fell into the depths, shot through at -17 Hp. (Lasers. Serious business.) Another beam aimed at Farzan followed in quick succession, but only hit a stone ornament, exploding it into a shower of stone shards.

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!”, cried Farzan in rage as he saw his simulacrum die in an instant. From deep below, the direction of the balcony, came a triumphant shout --

“When you are fighting with Hyél Singh, you are fighting with the best!”

Enraged, Farzan spoke the words of his fireball, hurling it down towards the balcony. Hyél Singh dodged, taking only part of the blast as he darted to safety. The fireball detonated in an echoing explosion. The stone balcony cracked and fell, burying part of the subterranean garden in an avalanche of debris. A woman’s terrified cry was cut short. So died Zúr, one of Hyél Singh’s wives, crushed beneath the stones as she was watching the confrontation. One way or another, this encounter would now end in murderous revenge.

Regrouping above, the three remaining intruders tended to their wounds and gathered their wits. Descending carefully, Farzan examined the simurgh room with detect magic, revealing the beams of light to be magical, which were thus carefully avoided. Stairs followed deeper down, flanked with alien-looking tapestries and bas-reliefs of large stone faces, also magical. Finding no other way, Bron the Elder pressed forward.

“Great lord! Uninvited prowlers have come before your exalted gaze,” droned the faces in unison, but Tigran Zard only shrugged as he gestured forward towards a yet deeper spiral staircase.

“Yours are old news.”

They were now on the level of the broken gallery. The magnificent music, playing without stop, came from the east, from the direction of the podium, but a laser beam scorching the wall behind them signified this was no time to tarry. They pressed on, down to the lowermost floor. To the west, a comfortable guard room lie deserted. To the east opened the columned hall at the bottom of the inverted tower. The avalanche of broken stone from the balcony had covered some of the rich flowerbeds and exotic plants. A long, exquisite dining table set with tableware was cracked in half, and avantgarde chairs lie scattered about, next to large, upturned jugs of beaten gold. A screeching peacock ran from the sight of the adventurers. Hyél Singh and his last bodyguard were waiting somewhere behind the cover of the enormous support columns.

They waited carefully, anticipating a move, and Farzan pointed at a shadow from behind one of the columns to the east, from before a large arch leading into a regal bedchamber. Tigran Zard quickly cast hold person at Hyél Singh, which was immediately cancelled out by the lord’s ring of spell turning. Tigran Zard cursed as the lord and his bodyguard quickly downed magical potions. Farzan called on his greatest spell, conjuring four shadows and commanding them to attack the master of the tower. Hyél Singh moved in a blur of lightning speed, making quick work of three shadows with his flashing blade. Bron the Elder carefully moved along the perimeter of the room, in the cover of the columns. The bodyguard came forward, with the stature of a great hero, grown in size and power.

“I, the invincible Zarak Miir, shall finish you without this small thing!”, he laughed as he cast aside his laser and reached for a heavy two-handed scimitar. The fight was on, and blows were traded.

Farzan now aimed his dispel magic, saved for just such an occasion, at the hasted Hyél Singh. The spell broke the power of the lord’s ring of spell turning and longsword +1, but failed to counter the potion’s effect. Tigran Zard’s second hold person had likewise no effect on such a mighty warrior. Hyél Singh finished off the final shadow with a blast from his laser pistol. Farzan aimed a lightning bolt of 42 Hp, but the lord dodged aside and only took half damage. He shot back at the exposed magic-user, and Farzan, Savant of the Seven Mysteries lie dead on the luxurious floor tiles of the great hall. Recoiling in horror, Tigran Zard withdrew, seeking shelter from the deadly barrage.

To the side, behind the great columns, Bron the Elder and the power-filled bodyguard fought for their respective lives. Experience, again, was on Bron’s side, and Zarak Miir fell from two quick swordstrikes, dying too quickly to even realise he was bested. From the side came Hyél Singh with dark fury in his eyes, sweating and badly wounded, his black syntextile vest shimmering in the light. He rushed Bron, and dropped him bleeding and unconscious on the palace floor.

“Where are you? Where are you??? Come out, come out, wherever you are!”, he called in furious anger to the hidden Tigran Zard, now the sole adventurer standing.

“Sea Demon, accept my sacrifice in thy mercy!”, cried Tigran Zard, rushing the lord of the palace with his cause serious wounds spell. The strike hit Hyél Singh square in his heart, which stopped beating at once, and he fell, with a mysterious smile perhaps only he understood on his lips.

Tigran Zard looked around the field of battle, and all was still. When he had healed Bron the Elder back to health, they were the only living beings inside the tower. Dead was Darwesh Ral, and dead was Qualandar, defeated in the initial breach. Dead were Farsi the Younger and Zúr, who had died almost simultaneously. Dead was Farzan, Savant of the Seven Mysteries, and dead was Zarak Miir, felled in battle; and so was the lord Hyél Singh, killed in a desperate final struggle. And dead were his three remaining wives, Rufelza, Rozmeher and Izaida, who had drunk deadly poison to follow their man to the gloom of the Netherworld.


* * *


GM notes


This was a two-part adventure, but took a single six-hour session. It gives a good example of what kind of things an experienced high-level (high-level by our standards, anyway) party can get into, and how they handle investigation, followed by high-intensity combat against skilled and intelligent opponents. This was a true test of skill, and it was won, even if victory came at a high price.


It is also an example of where long-running campaigns can end up. The challenges are complex and have no straightforward solutions. Instead, the open environment and the toolbox of information, character powers and player resourcefulness offer opportunities to achieve things. There was no set path towards “He Who Is Not Known” (although the campaign’s setup establishes Avendar’s five enemies as the party’s targets, and all follows from this fixed premise). From fragments of information, Avendar’s avenging agents could establish their elusive enemy was wearing an amulet of proof vs. detection and location, and exploit that knowledge to infiltrate the City’s magic item trade, moving up the chain through multiple intermediaries.


We can see the City of Vultures as a collection of possibilities, connections, true and false links. Over the course of the campaign, the players have probed their central problem from multiple angles, attacking it from openings they could find. We see this in this adventure as well. They can be seen putting together information, seizing and leveraging chance elements, and getting closer to their quarry. In fact, one of the important players, the vampire Abu Kasim, was just a random encounter from the Nocturnal Table (you can check him out, he is entry 374), whom the adventurers turned to their side, quite literally. Abu Kasim then proved a useful ally infiltrating Hothog Mirza’s hidden lair. There was a dark price to be paid, and these crop up now and again in adventures in the labyrinthine, corrupt City of Vulures. The final, hard-won victory even rhymes in a way.


Very little of this was set in stone. After the previous session, I had a few notes on how the characters may be led to Hothog Mirza through his bulk purchases of fresh meat for his master’s menagerie, and some on how his role in the magic item trade may expose him to a careful investigator. The former vector proved to be the winner, but there may have been other, unanticipated ones. If you have the general environment and a few fixed points, it is a matter of player initiative and GM reaction. Other encounters were rolled randomly and incorporated into the course of play.


Relatively little adventuring took place in the biodome, perhaps wisely. (A brief discussion on how cool it would be to encounter the inevitable velociraptors notwithstanding.) The way to the Inverted Tower was relatively clean, and Farzan’s knockspell allowed an entry that would have otherwise been more complicated. This is what character capabilities are for. They could have used that dispel magic on the alarm system, but you never know when it is needed better. The mission goals might have been accomplished without triggering an alert, or Farzan might have lived if they could just dispel those potion effects. But this is how fog of war, resource management and decision-making under pressure goes. You take risks and see the consequences play out.


Overall, the tower had a much more different scope than the players had anticipated, and they adapted well. It was hairy, but victory was won through decisive action, if not without a price. It is yet to be seen if Farzan can be returned to life. This is one of those areas where I have a difference of opinion with the D&D standard. I never removed raise dead, but it is not as easy to come by as by-the-book campaigns – as already noted, 9th level is high level in our games, and that goes for the NPCs who might cast the spell as well. Tigran Zard attempted a divine intervention (this is a flat % chance equal to character level for Clerics and divine champions), but the Sea Demon could not be moved in this way. There may be others, just like with other campaign goals.


This session also demonstrates how outright destructive futuristic weapons can be in a low-tech setting. This is by design – it is true power once you get your hands on it. It is, however, not more powerful than having access to standard magic items like wands or miscellaneous magical devices, and cartridges are not easy to come by. These have played surprisingly little role in the campaign so far, but the future may, again, be different. The finale draws near, and the challenges will not be easier. Will Avendar be avenged? And what price glory? Well, these fates are yet to be written!


  1. These play write-ups are always entertaining. Your mapping style looks like you could expand it on the fly. Usually DMs have a refined map and then hastily sketch maps live for the players, your style looks like a blend of the two with all the obvious advantages. Not the city map that is too complicated, and it would benefit from a very light grey filling of streets and squares, which the eye will see as shadow and won't interfere with text. This could be achieved swiftly with a copic marker with brush tip.

    With cities, the primary difficulty is killing the default atmosphere of vast emptiness. Streets and streets of fake architectural facades and robotic extras all descended from a handful of progenitors. Leiber was magnificent at giving life and spirit to his city, originally he intended Rome to be his rogues' home. In gaming, the challenge I believe is to cram the gaps *between* encounters with the details and signs of city life.

    1. A lot of the smaller ground-level detail in this campaign was indeed improvised, sometimes from pure imagination, and sometimes extrapolated from the detailed key areas, or random encounters. The same goes for the dynamic of the city around the characters. As long as there is a coherent vision and consistency, the approach works, as the improvised details will fit into the whole. This is something that probably cannot be bottled in published material, only approximated. For example, the procedures and tables in the CSIO or Mythmere's City Encounters help capture the complexity of the urban environment, but it needs some effort to bring to life.

  2. Graceful way to do away with the PCs from the previous campaign, just because they won (or derailed the campaign - I thought this is what emergent content means).

    1. Thank you indeed for calling it graceful, I also enjoyed doing it immensely. Deeply satisfying, and very emergent as well.

  3. My engagement with the hobby is now reading your blog... Too much work, so little time. I'm the chief propagandist for a libertarian-conservative presidential candidate with a real chance of winning or dramatically increasing his share of seats at the Argentinian Congress.

    1. Best of luck with that! These will be a rough couple of years all around.

  4. Thanks for sharing the campaing journal, Gábor. These are always inspiring. I envy you how much action you manage to cram in for each session. Our games tend to be slower, probably as the players love to deliberate.

    Seeing how the city comes alive from - I assume - are mostly random encounters and tables from the Nocturnal Table is also nice.