Thursday, February 23, 2017

Time of the Tarrasque #5: Beetle Mania

Every few decades, that dreaded abomination, the Tarrasque, reawakens from its long slumber. At such a time, the world's greatest heroes must defend the world from its nigh-insatiable appetite. Sometimes these heroes fail, and civilizations fall. And even when they succeed, the lands in the Tarrasque's wake are changed forever.

Previous Sessions: 
The PCs' minis, with upgraded equipment (L-R): Jumari, half-orc inquisitor; Jubair, human rogue; Fatou, human wizard (with owl familiar Nochaesh); Lucretia, half-elf monk (zen archer); ZhzZha, half-orc cavalier; and Edel, elf bard.
The party spent some time discussing whether to press on or withdraw to rest. The inquisitor Jumari convinced the rogue Jubair and wizard Fatou that they needed to finish clearing the tomb of any possible trace of the death cult, and the rest of the party somewhat reluctantly followed along rather than splitting their forces.

Jubair scouted ahead into the tunnel out of the last room. After a short distance, he caught sight of a pair of cat-sized beetles that glowed with a sickly greenish light. When he returned to report to the party, he was uncertain whether he had actually seen these "ghostly beetle things, with whiskers," or was merely hallucinating from the poison from the iron cobra. He wondered aloud whether the entire party was hallucinating--perhaps they were still outside, in the sandstorm?

His strange behavior convinced the group to retreat upstairs, report to their employer and the rest of the caravan, and get some much-needed rest. The party took turns standing watch in the room with the trapdoor to the lower level, with Jumari sleeping upon the door itself. Before going to sleep, Jubair proposed to the cavalier, ZhaZha, that they find a way to bring her war-trained camel with them, which led to an unproductive (but humorous) discussion of how to fit a camel through a door sized for a person, then safely down the ladder to the floor below. Their conclusion was to not annoy the camel.

The sandstorm arrived soon afterwards, and the caravan spent a noisy night sheltering in the tomb. The winds were still blowing in the morning, when the party prepared to return to the lower level.

This time, two ghostly beetles were near the breech into the tomb's worked spaces, and immediately attacked the party when they reached that entrance. One was quickly dispatched, leaving nothing behind but a puddle of disturbing slime behind. However, two more arrived--one of them passing straight through the wall and attacking Fatou. Jumari recognized the bugs as being some sort of ectoplasmic creatures--not quite ghosts, but not fully solid, either. Her falchion easily cut through two of the insects, but not before ZhaZha, Jubair, and Fatou had fallen from nasty bites. The bard Edel healed the first two, then Jumari pulled out some scrolls to assist him.

Once everyone's wounds were attended, the group continued down the earth and stone tunnel, which led through a series of small chambers to a dead end. From the muffled sound of blowing winds, they guessed that this room was near the surface of the rock wall from which the tomb's entrance was cut. After some searching, the monk Lucretia found a boulder-like slab that formed that secret door. Due to the raging storm outside, they left that door closed for now.

The party returned to the worked portions of the complex, and gave every room a thorough search, but found no more rooms or treasure. During this time, Jumari, Jubair, and ZhaZha decided to return to that last secret door. The overly-inquisitive inquistor opened it, and received a faceful of sand as a reward. The brawny cavalier shoved the door closed before too much sand blew in to prevent its closure, and they returned to the upper level to wait out the storm.

Fatou took this time to use mending on some of the shards of obsidian from the shrine room, in an attempt to piece together what the cult object had originally looked like. She was able to reattach some of the largest pieces, but the smaller shards proved too much of a puzzle. Jumari, however, could now see enough of the shape to conclude that it had been a statue of some wraith-like figure--clearly another symbol of the death god Asmolon. When she asked why the wizard was trying to repair this unholy object, Fatou tried to explain her interest in learning about their enemy, but ultimately ended up stopping and bagging up the remaining pieces. The evoker then started working on a map to this place, so that she could inform her goddess's temple of its location so that it could be properly purified at some future date.

The storm stopped soon afterwards. Once the caravan cleared sand from the exits, they were able to continue south to Zahallan, which they reached two days later. All six fledgling heroes decided to part ways with the caravan there, and collected their final pay from Lucan Midorichal.

The party also sold much of the gear that they had taken from the tomb, and from the orcs they had fought a few days before then. Having agreed to keep working together, they pooled their new funds to purchase a wand of cure light wounds for their communal use. Edel was chosen to carry this item, which would allow him to continue to serve as a healer while freeing up his own precious few spells for other purposes.

Fatou announced to her new friends that she planed to spend some time studying at the temple, and asked that they not leave her behind. She did not, however, explain her plans in any detail--which led the ever-paranoid Jumari to fear that the wizard's keen interest in Asmolon's relics meant that she wanted to join that god's cult. She mentioned this theory to Jubair, who, as an amateur conspiracy theorist, swallowed the idea whole. However, when the rogue repeated it to ZhaZha, the cavalier told him that the idea was ridiculous. She also assured him that Jumari couldn't be one, either. This left the poor rogue very confused. He ultimately concluded that none of his new friends could be death cultists, because none of them were boring enough to be such awful people.

Jubair spent the next few days visiting his relatives in town. He is an orphan, but has an uncle and aunt in Zahallan who help him out from time to time when he takes breaks from his solitary life in the desert.

Edel took this time to track down a Fendorlian elf family he had learned about when the caravan was last in Zahallan. Laeroth Virren lived in a modest home near the city's East Gate. Part of the building also served as a bowyer's shop run by his daughter Naladella. This elf woman turned out be a tough-looking warrior bearing the scars of old battles. Edel perused her wares, and found an elven-styled shortbow that suited him well. As they discussed his purchase, he asked if she had news from their homeland. His pleasant manner and appreciation for her craftsmanship caused her to open up readily, and she explained that she and her father had left Fendorlis during the Zolothi conquest (when dragon-led kobolds overran the high elf kingdom--the same invasion that caused Edel to leave home). Her father Laeroth was a spellcaster who, despite the distance, had the means to keep in touch with contacts he had made before the diaspora. She rarely heard much of that news herself, as she was the pragmatic one of the family, focused on making a living here. Edel asked if he could meet her father, and she agreed, instructing him to come back when the shop closed for the day.

After a few days, Lucretia visited the temple to check on Fatou, and learned that the young wizard was studying to become a cleric of Yaziel, just as her late mother had been. Fatou asked the half-elf's advice on what to do about the unholy scripture they had found in the tomb. The monk recommended that she leave it with the elders of the temple, so that they could study it and dispose of it as they saw fit. This matched Fatou's own thoughts, so she took it to the halfling mullah, Jenana Nasrud. She explained how she had acquired it, and shared her thoughts about studying it in order to better understand and fight the evil cult. The mullah commended her instincts on the matter, and thanked her. Nasrud promised to study it further, and assured Fatou that, even though such works were forbidden by holy law, the best place for them was in the hands of the priests of the Mistress of Secrets.

Lucretia visited her friend again a few days later. This time, Fatou asked her to arrange for a letter to be sent to her father, Zarqa Damiri, in Almazur. Lucretia knew that Lucan Midorichal would be leaving town soon to return to the Shield, and would pass that way, so agreed to ask him to deliver it. [The monk had letters of her own to send back to her contacts in the Shield through him, so this errand was no burden to her.] Fatou revealed that she had left home without telling her father. Both her parents came from magical lineages--her father administered a school of magic, and her mother had been a priestess of the goddess of magic. After her mother's death, her father had pressured Fatou to follow his path, but she felt drawn to her mother's calling as well--and now that she had left home, she had the chance to do both.


The PCs are now second level, and all but Fatou will be continuing in their original classes. We have some additional downtime activities to conclude over email before our next session--including some additional shopping, Edel meeting with Laeroth Virren, and Jumari hunting around town for traces of the Asmolon cult on her own. Depending on how extensive all that is, I will either repeat the highlights at the beginning of my next session summary column, or write it up as a separate "interlude" post.

Also of note, Jumari has yet to share her own religious affiliation with her new comrades. They know only that she can cast divine spells, presumably with no obvious holy symbol, but do not know that she is an inquisitor. We expect some further discussion of religion to occur once the rest of the party learns about Fatou's changed status. If nothing else, the newly-minted cleric is extremely curious about what exactly Jumari is!

For this adventure, I used The Desert Tomb, a map from the Dyson's Dodecahedron blog, as a starting point. I redrew it to fit onto a more easily drawn grid, then populated it with monsters and treasure.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Time of the Tarrasque: Sources Used

While I was developing the "Time of the Tarrasque" setting, I had to make some decisions about which Pathfinder sourcebooks to use for my new campaign. These choices affect which books the players are free to reference while creating, playing, and advancing their characters, and also affect which books I will be using as GM. Many of these decisions were informed by how familiar my players and I were with each book: how long I had owned the book, and how much (if any) of its content we had used in past games. This column will review those decisions. For this purpose, I have grouped sourcebooks into primary, secondary, and other sources, based on their level of usage in the campaign.

One house rule that I have in this campaign (and in almost every other RPG that I run) is that if I don't own a sourcebook, it's not allowed in my game. In order to properly judge how a given book might affect my campaign, I insist on having a copy that I can study at my own convenience. And while PDFs and the SRD are very convenient for ease of reference and portability, I vastly prefer print materials when reading any significant amount of text (such as when reviewing a new acquisition for potential use).

Primary Sources

These are the core books that the players and I can expect to use almost every session. 

Core Rulebook [CRB]: All races, classes, feats, equipment, and spells in this book are available to player characters. This is the one and only book that I expect each player (or player household) to possess their own copy of.

Advanced Player's Guide [APG]: All new classes in this book are available to player characters. Most other new material in this book is freely available as well, though APG spells are considered uncommon and thus less easy to find and learn than CRB spells. (See "Spells" on the campaign wiki's Character Creation page for my house rule about uncommon divine spells.)

Advanced Race Guide [ARG]: At the start of this campaign, only the core races are available as PCs. Most alternate racial traits and other race-specific options for those races are allowed; however, I have made a few cosmetic changes to some races (such as bonus languages) to better fit my world's history and geography, which I have noted on the campaign wiki. I may allow other races as PCs later in the campaign, if it fits the story to do so. Meanwhile, I will be using material from this book for NPCs of the non-core races. (Orcs, hobgoblins, and kobolds will all feature prominently in the campaign, for example.)

Bestiary: Players can use this book for reference for mounts, familiars, and summoned monsters. Otherwise it should be considered GM's-eyes-only unless I specifically say otherwise.

Secondary Sources

The players can expect these books to come into play on a more limited basis. 

Adventurer's Armory: Most equipment in this book is available, with GM permission. I will allow players to use the alchemical power components rules.

Animal Archive and Familiar Folio: These two books provide new options for familiars, animal companions, and mounts, which players can choose with GM permission. 

Bestiary 2 and Bestiary 3: In general, monsters from these two books are not as common as those from the first Bestiary, but there are exceptions. I reserve these books for my own use.

GameMastery Guide: Most of this book consists of advice for GMs on running the game, which will certainly inform my campaign. As for the crunchier bits, I have used the sections on the planes and settlements in designing the world, and will be making regular use of the NPC Gallery.

Ultimate Campaign: So far, we have only used this book for background traits and drawbacks, and (for a few players who were interested in using it) the background generation system. However, I plan to use the downtime rules on a trial basis when the opportunity arises, and I will allow PCs to use the retraining rules. The mass combat rules will likely see use at some point before the campaign ends.

Other Sources

I am reserving these books for my own use for now, for one or more of the following reasons:1) they are GM-specific sourcebooks, 2) I haven't decided how much of their content to use in the game, or 3) I want to limit the scope of character options until later in the campaign.

Advanced Bestiary (Green Ronin Publishing): This collection of templates will see occasional use in the campaign. 

Advanced Class Guide [ACG]: This is one of my most recent acquisitions (just a few months ago), so I have not yet had an opportunity to try out the new material in it. I found most of the new hybrid classes to be rather complicated for my tastes (requiring more text and/or bookkeeping than the older classes) so I am not currently using them. Also, many of the archetypes and feats in this book are designed to let a character gain the abilities of another class, making the end result feel very similar to a new hybrid class. On first read, this seems to go against the "niche protection" design philosophy behind much of the rest of the game system. I will need more time to study this material (mostly by seeing it in play at Pathfinder Society events) before I decide what, if anything, to allow. There are, however, a few spells, feats, and magic items that look like they'll be useful for this campaign even if I never introduce any hybrid classes.

Bestiary 4 and Bestiary 5: I haven't owned these two bestiaries as long as I have the first three, so naturally they feature less prominently in my plans for the game. In addition, these two books contain a selection of monsters that require the Mythic Adventures rules, and Bestiary 5 has several that require the psychic magic rules from Occult Adventures (see below about those sources).

Monster Codex and NPC Codex: I will use NPCs from these two books from time to time. 

Mythic Adventures: "Time of the Tarrasque" is meant to be an epic campaign, so I will almost certainly introduce these rules at some point. However, I don't intend to do so before the PCs have attained several levels. We need more time to get acquainted with the characters before they ascend, and I want to make sure everyone has mastered the core rules before adding this additional layer of complexity. 

Ultimate Combat and Ultimate Magic: Along with the ACG, these are my newest acquisitions, though I have owned all three in PDF ever since they were part of a Pathfinder Humble Bundle in early 2016. Between the PDFs and the Pathfinder SRD, I was familiar with bits and pieces of these two books before I owned them in print, and I do intend to use some of this material in "Time of the Tarrasque." However, I plan to put off implementing them for a while yet, just so that my players and I can keep the amount of information that we have to juggle to a more manageable level during the early phases of the campaign. The heroes might occasionally encounter a NPC who knows one or two feats or spells from these books, but those will be rare secrets that would require the PCs to do something special to gain access to them. I have no plans to ever allow firearms, gunslingers, ninja, or samurai, as they do not fit the world I've built. (I'm still undecided about magi, but they would be extremely rare at best.)

Ultimate Equipment: At the moment, I only own this book in PDF, but intend to acquire it in print eventually. I will be allowing new items from this book on a case-by-case basis (and already have for a few common items, like bandoliers, which should be easily available but only appear in this book). 

Sources Not Used

Finally, I own a few Pathfinder books that I don't expect to ever use in the course of this campaign.

Freeport: The City of Adventure (Green Ronin Publishing): This huge setting book includes a great deal of excellent content that can be used in any Pathfinder game. However, I just concluded a Freeport campaign this past fall, so am unlikely to use the new crunch from this book unless and until I run more adventures there.

Inner Sea World Guide: This book (which I only own in PDF) is very specific to the default setting of Golarion, so has very little that I would ever consider using for my campaign. (I also own a handful of Pathfinder Player Companions specific to Golarion, which likewise would have very limited usefulness for this campaign.)

Occult Adventures: I don't have any plans to introduce psychic magic into "Time of the Tarrasque," and (like the ACG) this book's new classes are a bit complicated for my taste, so I don't foresee using this book for the campaign.

Time of the Tarrasque #4: Rock Bits on a Dais

Every few decades, that dreaded abomination, the Tarrasque, reawakens from its long slumber. At such a time, the world's greatest heroes must defend the world from its nigh-insatiable appetite. Sometimes these heroes fail, and civilizations fall. And even when they succeed, the lands in the Tarrasque's wake are changed forever.

Previous Sessions: 
As the caravan moved on with its walking wounded, the wizard Fatou and the cavalier ZhaZha studied the sky and predicted that a sandstorm would come through this area the next day. The bard Edel recalled a stony ridge near their route back to Zahallan that would provide much better shelter than the endless dunes, so the band headed that way. 

The next day, the caravan reached the stone ridge. Lucretia's sharp eyes soon spotted a portico carved into one of the larger outcroppings. The PCs went ahead to investigate as the drovers continued to move the pack animals that direction.

The small, columned portico had once been covered in carvings, but most of the details were either chiseled away or eroded by the desert and time. There was no obvious entrance from the portico itself, but a stone door could be seen to the right of the columns. The rogue Jubair examined the door, found no traps, and opened it. Unable to see far inside, he let the half-orc inquisitor Jumari explore in his stead. Inside was a small, empty tomb whose wall murals had been defaced to the point of being almost impossible to make out. A small alcove on the far side held a shattered coffin and much unidentifiable debris. 

Meanwhile, the others searched the shaded area among the columns. Fatou spotted a venomous snake hiding under a piece of fallen rock, so she stepped away before zapping it with a force bolt. That angered the serpent, but it slithered away to hide elsewhere. 

The monk Lucretia found a secret door in the center of the carved wall. This led into a long gallery which sported two murals on the longer walls. Jubair, Edel, and Fatou joined her in investigating this space, while ZhaZha stayed outside with her camel. One mural showed the military exploits of a warrior in distinctive armor. Jubair thought that this person must be Gorza, a hero among the local orcs and half-orcs. The opposite wall showed robed figures ambushing and murdering this warrior, then dismembering the corpse in a gruesome ritualistic manner. Fatou recognized the ritual black robes and some of the gory details as belonging to the death god Asmolon's cult. About this time, Jumari rejoined them by finding a secret door linking the empty tomb with this hallway.

The party paused here to inform ZhaZha and the rest of the caravan about what they had found. The half-orc cavalier tied her camel to one of the columns outside and went in to see the gallery for herself. She didn't recognize the imagery, but did know Gorza's name, explaining that he was considered a hero in her home village (though she seemed reluctant to say more about her own past). 

Beyond the gallery, Lucretia and Fatou found a room with walls blackened by paint and soot. On the far wall stood a dais, on and around which were strewn shards of obsidian. Fatou concluded that this was once a shrine dedicated to Asmolon, but that someone has shattered whatever cult icon once stood here. 

Edel hung back so that he could provide light with his cantrips. Meanwhile, Jumari led Jubair and ZhaZha through a door off of the gallery. This led to a series of small storerooms filled with decaying furniture and containers. The first room contained two flying severed heads, which attacked ZhaZha and Jubair but were easily obliterated. In the second storeroom, Jubair found a box in better condition than the other stores, but heard the sound of moving coins inside. ZhaZha smashed open the box with her pick, and two mummified hands sprung out to attack her and the rogue. These animated claws inflicted some minor wounds, but were unable to grasp hold of their targets before being destroyed. After encountering so many ambulatory body parts, the trio were now paranoid about what use the rest of the bodies had been put to!

Lucretia and Fatou investigated the other door off of the gallery, which led to a chamber containing four skeletons, which attacked. Fatou's force bolts and Lucretia's arrows quickly downed a couple of them, but one of the surviving undead mauled Lucretia, knocking her unconscious. Edel healed her while the other half of the party rushed to the scene to help finish off the skeletons.

The combined group then finished exploring the storerooms. The last one contained a pair of animated eyeballs that trailed nerves that formed spindly wings. These creatures sprayed fluid at Jumari (who resisted) and Fatou (who dodged), then closed to attack. Lucretia impaled one with an arrow, while Jumari cast disrupt undead to finish off the other. (Fatou noticed that when Jumari cast her spell, the red birthmark on her face flushed a darker color, but the wizard failed to grasp the significance of that effect.) In this last room, the party found a small coffer holding silver coins, and a case of masterwork bowyer's tools (which Lucretia was very pleased to claim). 

The party searched the storerooms more thoroughly, and located an everburning torch, which was given to Fatou since she is a spellcaster who rarely uses weapons. They also searched the skeletons' chamber, where ZhaZha found a secret trapdoor down to a second level. The party paused here to inform their boss that this level of the complex was clear, which meant that the rest of the caravan could lead the animals inside and take shelter now.

Below the trapdoor was a short corridor that led past a door then split into two passages. The door led to a room containing an armored skeleton laid to rest upon a stone bier. The body began to move, but Fatou zapped it with magic and Jubair charged and stabbed it before it could attack. ZhaZha and the rogue then finished it off as it tried to stand. This gave the party their finest loot since entering the tomb: a breastplate, shield, and longsword, all of masterwork quality, and a magical amulet. Edel determined that the amulet was a protective item, and the party all agreed that Jubair needed it most. Jumari requested the breastplate, and ZhaZha took the sword and shield. The bier bore an inscription identifying the deceased as a champion of the Lord of Endings (Asmolon). 

One branch of the passageway led to a room where a cave or burrow had broken into the worked stone room, but the opening was five feet or so above the floor, so the party decided to put off exploring this direction for now. The other branch took them to a small treasure room where Jubair spotted the movement of an articulated metal snake. This iron cobra bit and poisoned him. The venom's damage made the rogue fall unconscious, but Edel soon revived him. The magical snake proved to be difficult to damage, but Fatou's force bolts slowly wore it down, and ZhaZha's great strength finished it off when she finally managed to connect with it. Jubair tried to use his roguish skills to extract any remaining doses of poison from the defunct construct, but only succeeded in poisoning himself again. Jumari thoroughly smashed the remains before he could try again.

The treasure room contained three chests. The first held gold coins. The second held a divine scroll (blood biography) and a pile of documents containing unholy texts of Asmolon's cult. Jumari claimed the scroll, and wanted to destroy the blasphemous writings, but Fatou insisted on keeping them for study in order to better understand their enemy. The third chest contained a longbow that had been preserved with an unguent of timelessness, as well as an unused pot of the same substance. Lucretia claimed the bow, as she had been trying to save up money for a better weapon; this one was not masterwork, but would let her make full use of her strength. While she and the spellcasters examined it, Jumari noticed the name "Gorza" inscribed on the bow in Orcish. 

At this point, the only remaining route to explore is the tunnel out of the neighboring room. Edel and Fatou expressed a desire to rest and recover their spent spells. However, Jumari is eager to continue exploring. She is obviously focused on clearing this place of any remaining trace of the death cult, and if the isitoqs' master is still around, he or she might know they're coming. Plus, there may still be some danger to the caravan above if they stop now. Despite his poison damage, Jubair is willing to follow her. However, we will have to resolve this little disagreement over tactics next time...


The ambulatory body parts: beheaded (Bestiary 4), crawling claws (Bestiary 2), and isitoqs (Bestiary 4).

The tomb map at session's end, showing the locations of all creatures encountered so far. (I will share the source of the map I based this on next time, after the adventure has been completed.)
(Edited to add Edel's latest verse)

Time of the Tarrasque, verse 4 
by Edel Naergon [Chris LoBue]

En route we learned a sandstorm would assail
Us, so we sought a place to remain hale.
A stony ridge we found nearby, and more,
As we found both a clear and secret door.
One led to a tomb, long since pillaged, and
The other led deeper beneath the sand.
Two forks, the party split to check, while I
Remained where I could keep both under eye.
Three battled severed body parts, still live,
While two against some skeletons did strive.
I healed my fellow elf when she did fall
While other stepped up to destroy them all.
Down a trap door, more living bones, still armed
Were put to rest 'fore we were further harmed.
Further down, the party found a snake
Whose armor and venom did make us quake.
Our team triumphed after a drawn-out fight,
Though rogue twice felt the viper's poison bite.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Time of the Tarrasque #3: Under an Autumn Moon

Every few decades, that dreaded abomination, the Tarrasque, reawakens from its long slumber. At such a time, the world's greatest heroes must defend the world from its nigh-insatiable appetite. Sometimes these heroes fail, and civilizations fall. And even when they succeed, the lands in the Tarrasque's wake are changed forever.

Previous Sessions: 

The next morning, Lucan Midorichal announced that he planned to stay at the Burburan Oasis until after the autumnal equinox celebration coming up in a couple days, then return to Zahallan. At that time, the PCs' current contract will end.

Jumari received a message from Sulma Malak, the scholar she was referred to about the giant language. Malak's company, "Allara's Diggers," had returned to Burburan and could meet with her that evening. All the PCs accompanied Jumari to the bar that night. The proprietor pointed them toward a table with two halflings, a woman and a man, who were talking animatedly. Jumari accosted the halfling woman, and introduced herself. The other halfling excused himself, and joined a nearby table with two humans and two half-orcs--presumably the rest of the Diggers. (ZhaZha recognized one of the half-orcs, Mutawak, as coming from Gorza's Well, the same half-orc village she had been raised in. Mutawak was a bruiser, good at smashing things but not too bright, so ZhaZha had no urge to approach him.)

Fatou showed Sulma the stone disk they had found, and the halfling named a price to translate it. Jumari agreed, and paid her. Sulma told them that the writing on the front was the names of the four elemental gods, transliterated into Giant from the elemental tongues: Sakutima, the air god; Nyonaposh, the earth god; Shapeto, the fire goddess; and Lapekai, the water goddess. The two lines of script carved onto the back read, "Costheus, Nikaos of the Varfur." Sulma explained that "Varfur" is the name that the desert giants give themselves, while "Nikaos" is a minor noble title. Fatou then took back the disk and moved to another table, while the other continued to talk with Sulma.

Lucretia followed Fatou, who told her that the four elemental gods were named Chazital (air), Genesib (earth), Lutoran (fire), and Talusoka (water) in Common. The Thovalan half-elf recognized those names from her religious studies, because the Sword Islands, her empire's main rival, worship them under those names.

Meanwhile, Jubair asked what they could expect if they were to try to return the disk to the giants. Sulma said that the dead giant's people would definitely want it back. She confirmed what they had heard earlier that this version of the Medan holy symbol was associated with the ruined city of Tibul. Sulma desires to see that city for herself someday, but it's rumored to be haunted and cursed--though she did not know any details yet. It is also too close to the Shalash Escarpment (and its resident orc tribes) for comfort, and the Diggers are not powerful enough to deal with any giants that might dwell there.

The party asked the scholar what she knew about giants in the desert. Sulma knew that cyclopes dwell in the desert, and once saw one at a great distance. They are usually evil, but the desert giants are not--they're merely prickly about their privacy. When she asked where the party had found the disk, Jumari answered truthfully, but was vague about the location. Sulma said that she had seen other ruins in the desert that were definitely giantish in make, but could not say for certain whether they were connected to Tibul in any way.

The PCs had learned what they wanted to, so thanked Sulma and took their leave. Fatou approached to thank her and added a small tip to the fee, as a sort of apology for her rude departure. When  the party was alone again, Jubair suggested that they try to team up with Allara's Diggers to go investigate Tibul. None of his companions jumped at the suggestion, but will keep it in mind for after they finish their current job.

Two days later was the autumnal equinox. The PCs spent the intervening time helping Midorichal prepare for the return trip to Zahallan and learning more about the upcoming festivities. Lucretia, being a foreign monk, had many questions for Fatou, who was her only companion with significant education about the dominant local religion. Jumari, on the other hand, stayed near the caravanserai and avoided the festivities for the most part.

On the day of the equinox, many of the PCs participated in contests that were being held as part of the celebration. They also saw some of the Diggers competing as well, and the rest of that company were among the spectators. ZhaZha entered the camel races, and came in second, winning a small cash prize. Lucretia competed in the archery trials, but did not do well enough to place.

Jubair and ZhaZha drew each other as opponents in the first round of the wrestling tournament. Within a couple minutes, the wily human rogue had pinned the half-orc cavalier, so he continued to the next round. Jubair's next opponent was Mutawak. This bout last several minutes, as each in turn got a momentary grip on the other, only to have their opponent slip away. Jubair finally pinned Mutawak, but the long exertion contributed to his quick defeat in the next round. (He was, however, consoled by the fact that he lost to the man who ended up winning the competition.)

Edel joined in the storytelling competition. His story, an elvish tale, was well received, but was rather on the melancholy side[1].  One of the other competitors was Sulma Malak, who told the exploits of a local tribal hero, but the prize went to an elderly halfling woman who told a story about the brass dragon that her own nomad tribe takes its name from. (Jumari made a rare appearance for the storytelling contests, but then made herself scarce again.)

The next day was spent recovering from the revelry and making final preparations for the next leg of the journey. 

Camp in the desert: 4x4 plates are halfling-sized tents (NPC guides/drovers); 8x8 plates are human-sized, for the caravan boss (brown) and PCs. Not shown: halflings, ponies, pack mules.
During Jumari and Jubair's watch on the caravan's second night in the desert, a small band of orcs attacked the campsite. The two PCs saw them before they reached the tents, and the rogue bellowed out a warning to the camp as he engaged the leader. The half-orc inquisitor joined him to provide flanking, allowing the rogue to swiftly cut down the orc. However, other orcs soon arrived, and Jubair fell beneath their blades. The two NPC halfling drovers who shared the midnight watch ran to spread the alarm and protect the animals picketed around the campsite.

Edel and ZhaZha emerged from their tents and engaged the nearest orcs--the bard with his scorpion whip, the cavalier with her pick. ZhaZha suffered a hard blow and fell, but luckily Edel and Jumari were able to heal their allies and get them back into the fray.

Meanwhile, Lucretia and Fatou had emerged from their tent to discover an orc fighting one of the halfling drovers just outside their boss's tent. Lucretia shot arrows at it while Fatou fired force bolts and Midorichal sniped with a crossbow from within the cover of his tent. With that orc wounded, Fatou went to help her other friends, whose calls for help were growing more urgent.

Orcs attack! The leader (foreground) goes down quickly, but so does ZhaZha (center). Lucretia (rear, with bow) and Fatou protect the boss, who snipes from the safety of his tent. (The smallest plates represent the NPC halflings on watch.)
Unluckily for Jubair, he took another hit before he could get to his feet and was knocked out again. Jumari used her intimidating appearance to good effect to frighten one of the orcs responsible, who promptly withdrew, then fled.

Once Lucretia finished off her orc, the monk and wizard's missiles helped turn the tide on the other side of the battle, and Fatou's owl familiar got in a lucky hit to drop one of the staggered orcs[2]. ZhaZha managed to stand safely[2], and called for her camel to attack her foes. With one of the orcs now flanked, the cavalier was able to land a gruesome critical blow that impaled her foe's skull upon her pick[3].

Jubair (left) goes down, but a healed ZhaZha calls for her camel mount and crits on an orc with her pick. Jumari (by Jubair) has demoralized one orc, who withdrew (but did not escape). 
Jumari had taken a hard blow herself, but her healing judgment saved her from losing consciousness as she continued fighting. She touched the remaining orc with her hand, which opened a gushing wound that instantly killed him[4].

ZhaZha mounted her camel to chase the fleeing orc. However, he was brought down by missiles just before she reached him. Once the orcs were all dead, the PCs were able to tend their wounds and make sure that Jubair was stable. They also searched and stripped the dead orcs of their arms and armor, for use or sale later.

In the morning, Midorichal gave the wounded characters lighter duties so that the healers could revive Jubair and help the others recover a little more. The merchant still got the caravan moving at a fairly early hour, in the hopes of getting well clear of this location and any further trouble their battle might attract. The sooner they reach Zahallan, the happier every one in the company will be.


Time of the Tarrasque, verse 3
[By Edel Naergon (Chris LoBue)]

At festival for turning of the year,
A race almost won by our cavalier.
I shared a woeful Fendorlian tale
While others of us sparred to no avail.
On our return, under an autumn moon,
An orc attack led me almost to swoon
'Til allies stout, willing to lay down life,
Joined in to block this craven elf from strife.
Rider and rogue were both knocked to the ground
Before the winning strategy was found.
By mighty pick and bow, the raiders slain,
We bound our wounds and set out once again.


Out-of-character notes:

[1] The elf bard reveres the faerie goddess of the spring, so spending the autumnal equinox in the desert made him rather lonely and homesick.

[2] The orcs proved difficult to slay due to their ferocity ability--they could continue to fight even while dying, but were staggered and continued to lose hit points while they did so. However, a single hit from one of their falchions could drop a 1st-level character to negative hit points. I ret-conned away an attack of opportunity that hit ZhaZha for a crit that nearly killed her, because I remembered--mistakenly--that staggered characters couldn't make such attacks. Checking after the session, though, I found that they can still take immediate actions, which I will need to remind my players about next time. It's just as well that I took back that hit, though, because ZhaZha would have likely bled out the next round if a healer didn't get to her that same round.

I should also have pointed out earlier that Jubair and ZhaZha could opt to fight defensively or take full defense, which would make it easier for them to survive until it was safe to stand up again--something my Pathfinder Society rogue learned the hard way just a couple weeks ago.

[3] ZhaZha's player deliberately chose a x4 crit weapon, and it has paid off. 35 hit points is pretty darn impressive for a 1st level character!

[4] This was her bleeding touch domain power, and its effects are rather creepy--though not nearly so dramatic as ZhaZha's crit was!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Building the Bestiary #11: Aquatic Animals

This week, we'll look at common aquatic creatures. The LEGO group has produced a large number of ready-made animal figures, such as the starfish, dolphin, and two small fish shown above. Some of these, like that silver fish and the classic shark and octopus, are common pieces that regularly reappear in new sets, so should fairly easy to acquire. Others have fallen out of production, or may not be the right size you need for a given monster, so you'll need to build one out of bricks. I'll be discussing both ready-made and built models in this column.


The streamlined body of a fish is one of the most efficient forms in nature, as it maximizes the speed with which the creature can move through water. This is why most aquatic mammals have a similar silhouette, from the fluked tails of dolphins and whales to the flippered hindquarters of seals and walruses.

Two fish and a seacat
Of course, fish come in a variety of shapes. The most common fishy threat in most role-playing games is the shark. The classic shark figure, first introduced in the Pirates theme, is a good size for a Large shark. For a Medium shark, you can use a Shark Warrior minifigure (Atlantis) or Shark Suit Guy (Minifigures Series 15), or build one. In the photo below, I've simply removed the legs from the Shark Suit Guy and placed him face-down, which makes a surprisingly good Medium shark. The built shark shown here uses a "travis brick" (a 1x1 brick with studs on all four sides) as a base, with slopes and cones added to its sides and top, and a feather plume for the tail fin. For a dire shark, you'll probably need to build one, unless you can track down the big shark from the Brickbeard's Bounty set (shown below). (This figure is rather nice in that it's big enough to swallow a minifigure!)

(back, L-R): Atlantis Shark Warrior, standard shark, Brickbeard's Bounty shark;
(front, L-R): Shark Suit Guy (minus legs), brick-built shark
Eels are most easily represented by snake figures. A larger eel can be built from a series of hinges (like those used for walls in my Spell Effects column) with additional details added.

Rays are wide and flat, and can easily be built with a selection of angled and/or curved plates, with a few details such as tails and dorsal ridges added, as shown below.

LEGO manta ray and three brick-built rays


Most whales are Gargantuan or Colossal in size, so are a bit beyond the scope of what I want to cover in this week's column. The Lighthouse Point set (LEGO Creator, set 31051) has a very nice buildable orca that is just about perfectly sized for a Huge creature.

Single-piece LEGO dolphins can be found in the Friends and Elves themes, as well as some of the older aquatic themes (shown in the first photo in this column). These are actually too big for use as Medium dolphin minis, so you may want to use the brick-built shark model shown above instead--just turn its tail fin sideways to make horizontal flukes.


A LEGO crab figure has a bar-type attachment point built into its back, allowing you to clip on a tail to make it into a lobster. You can also make a simple crab of the same size out of a 2x2 round plate and a pair of 1x1 plates with side-clips (see photo below).

The next photo shows the underside and top of a Large crab model. The body is made out of a couple of SNOT ("studs not on top") bricks with faucet-like pieces added to serve as short, bent legs. I then added angled plates to make the body shape more semicircular. The pincers are built out of Technic pieces, and inserted into Technic holes in two of the body plates. Some small plates were added to the base to lock the SNOT bricks together and to keep the model from tipping forward. Finally, two levers serve as antennae.


Small clams can be found in various aquatic-themed sets, but much larger clamshell parts were introduced in the LEGO Elves theme. The large clam on the left side of the photo below is taken straight from Naida's Epic Adventure Ship (set 41073). You can also build a giant clam using round bricks and a hinge, as shown below. 


A small jellyfish (or each square of a jellyfish swarm) can be represented by a transparent "boat plate," crystal ball, or bell jar brick. A larger jellyfish will require some additional parts to give it tentacles. Seaweed and vine pieces are useful here, as shown in the models below. The second photo shows more detail of how the tentacles attach to the larger jellyfish's bell (which is made of stacked transparent radar dishes).


The classic LEGO octopus is suitable for a Large giant octopus or Huge giant squid. Due to the amount of space filled by the tentacles, you will want to add a base to show exactly which squares it fills on the battle grid. (See Giants about size categories.) A smaller octopus can be built by using a travis brick, either by adding small rubber teeth to each side, or by adding seaweed (or other branching piece) to one side and shaping the body with small plates. (An example of each is shown below.)

The four-pronged piece used as a base for ship lanterns makes an excellent starting point for a small squid. Just add a cone for a small squid, plus a couple extra pieces for a slightly larger one (see above). A giant squid, on the other hand, is a much trickier build thanks to its Huge size, at which scale its numerous limbs will be much more prominent. In the model below, I clipped hinged arms and tentacles to the bars of a net-like octagonal plate. A short Technic axle connects the center of this structure to the body; the small tan gear both anchors that axle in place and makes a great beak. SNOT bricks provide attachments for the eyes (transparent radar dish "corneas" over 1x1 plate "pupils"). This model can be modified into a giant octopus (Large) by replacing the tentacles with shorter arms, shortening the body, and putting it on a smaller base. Similarly, it can be upgraded to a kraken (Gargantuan) by enlarging both the model and the base.

The next installment of "Building the Bestiary" will address models for vermin miniatures. After that, lucky #13 in this series will be devoted to some iconic D&D creatures that are not Open Game Content, and thus not to be found in Pathfinder: beholders, mind flayers, and others. But I expect to have at least one more "Time of the Tarrasque" journal to write before we can get to those.

Appendix: Past "Building the Bestiary" Columns

#1: Humanoids
#2: Underwater Races
#3: Giants
#4: Undead
#5: Tiny Creatures
#6: Four-Legged Friends
#7: Oozes
#8: Spell Effects
#9: Elementals
#10: Devils