Thursday, March 28, 2019

Time of the Tarrasque #21: Really Big Words

"Time of the Tarrasque" is my current homebrew Pathfinder campaign. For an index of past session summaries, see The Story So Far.

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (archivist) 4.
  • Fatou Damiri, human wizard (evoker) 3/cleric of Yaziel 1; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor of the Lost Egg 4.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 4; and Zafira, camel mount.

Last time, our heroes and the caravan traveled up The Stairs, to the top of the Shalash Escarpment. Along the way, they spotted a small dragon (of unknown species) stalking them, and met a small group of high elves going in the opposite direction. From the elves, they learned a bit more about the town of Galdar, where their own caravan is headed, as well as news about Dorthyra, home of the academy where Edel studied.

(Addenda to last session: Fatou asked the elf mage Bellesor to deliver a brief letter to her religious teacher, Jenana Nasrud, in Zahallan. Enclosed with it was a second letter for the mullah to send on to Fatou's old friend and mentor, the wizard and noble Buthayna Najmi, in Almazur.)

The caravans's first few night's travel north from The Stairs was uneventful. Near the end of the sixth night, however, they spotted a stone structure partly buried by sand. The heroes went to investigate as the kobolds rested nearby. The building was a sort of simple step pyramid consisting of a square structure on top of a larger one. Stairs led from the ground up to a entrance into the top level, but the steps were cut for creatures much taller than humans. A short distance from the bottom of the stairs, the explorers found a handful of footprints from a small, barefoot humanoid creature; these prints showed the feet to be spindly, with long toes. After some study, Jumari guessed that they were left by a flying creature, because they started and ended very suddenly, but were otherwise clear.

ZhaZha's camel was able to negotiate the stairs, albeit slowly, so she followed the others to the entrance. Inside was a small landing with stairs at each end, going down to a hallway that gave access to the lower level as well as another flight of stairs going down. The walls here were carved with images of daily life in a town or city--except that the subjects were one-eyed humanoids. The relative scale of plants and animals in some images made it clear these people were giants--cyclopes. Some images were accompanied by inscriptions in an unknown language that Fatou guessed was Cyclops; the script bore some resemblance to written Giant. She also concluded that the artwork must have been created very long ago, because as far as she knew, the cyclopes were little more than savages in the present day. However, the carvings were in exceptional condition for their apparent age, in stark contrast to this structure's sand-scoured exterior.

ZhaZha left Zafira here rather than take her down these steeper stairs. On the level below, they found a giant-sized kitchen, with two long-unused hearths. The room was empty except for a thin coating of dust--in which they found more of the small, strange footprints, and a few handprints from the same creature. One of the hearths had recent scorch marks, but the flues of both were clogged with sand.

The next room was a storeroom with built-in stone shelves, but it was bare. Beyond that was a workshop that still held some tools--some giant-sized, some closer to human scale. Fatou judged these old metal items to be too fragile for their original use, but they might have value as curios to other scholars, so the party packed them up to take with them. This room had more images carved into the walls, showing cyclopes teaching skills to a smaller race. This second group had short, squat builds and rocky skin, and lacked hair; Edel and Fatou identified them as oreads, a partly elemental race.

Continuing clockwise around the level, they next found a room that had niches carved for lamps or figurines (all long gone) and images of cyclopes worshipping and studying. No gods were depicted in these carvings, but some of the people wore or bore items suggesting the four elements. This room no longer contained any furniture, but there were depressions in the walls and floor that suggested it once had, and had been used as living quarters.

On the far wall was the first door they had found in this place: a huge stone rectangle firmly wedged shut. The two half-orcs had to make a couple of attempts before they forced it open. Inside was an octagonal room with a large dry basin set in the floor. The walls held large sheets of tarnished metal that had been obviously installed to serve as mirrors. Between these panels, the walls were carved with images of nude giants bathing and frolicking. Fatou wondered aloud how the cyclopes had heated water for their baths. Jumari and ZhaZha, who had spent their lives living in the desert, found this idea bizarre--why would anyone want to boil themselves?

There was a second door out of the bath room, but Jumari grew impatient and returned to the hallway that connected most of the rooms on this floor. She soon found herself at the entrance to a large room with a throne upon a dias--and the skeleton of a cyclops seated in this huge chair. Rather then enter by herself, she took a step back and examined the room from the hallway. The wall opposite the throne was covered with the largest, most elaborate, and best reserved relief she had seen in the structure so far: A cyclops king dominated the center of the image, and was surrounded by various followers offering gifts and praise.

As she was studying the room, ZhaZha and Fatou managed to pull open the door between the bath and the throne room. The three women cautiously entered the room and looked around, while Edel hung back inside the bath. When Jumari and ZhaZha approached the throne, nothing happened until they stepped onto the steps of the dais. At that moment, the skeleton's head swiveled to look at the inquisitor, and the dead giant began to rise. ZhaZha struck it with her pick as it did so, which drew its attention to her, and it struck back with a large bony hand. Jumari moved to flank it, but both her blade and Fatou's scorching ray missed their mark. Edel identified the creature as a mindless skeleton made from a cyclops, and began offering advice for how to fight it [using his archetype's naturalist ability]. ZhaZha and the skeleton traded more blows, but when Jumari's blunt morningstar proved more effective, the cavalier switched to shield bashes. After the bard and cleric healed their wounded friend, Fatou then began casting enlarge person, but ZhaZha finished off the undead before the spell was complete.

Jumari and Fatou spotted movement coming from the sculpted wall, but Fatou could not use detect magic due to holding the charge on her previous spell, so Edel tried it while Jumari used sift. Neither spell revealed anything immediately, so the inquisitor continued scanning the wall, and eventually tried climbing it so she could examine the higher parts better. Despite ample handholds, she had difficulty pulling herself up--and was interrupted by something emerging from the wall to attack her. It looked like part of the wall was extruding itself to form the top half of a stony humanoid figure. Fatou cast her held spell onto ZhaZha, who attacked the monster but missed. As Jumari and the creature traded blows, Edel tried calling out in Giant that there was no need to fight, but it ignored him. The cavalier challenged the monster, and the inquisitor intimidated it. It continued attacking Jumari, so ZhaZha repeated her demand for it to fight her, and finally struck it. Her pick bit deep into the wall behind it, and it collapsed into a pile of sand. As Fatou provided more healing, Jumari angrily poked at the wall in several more places, but nothing else emerged.

Another large stone door (which ZhaZha found easy to shift while enlarged) led to another chamber that held a hearth, a set of shelves, and a large stone platform obviously meant for use as a bed. The shelves held only piles of moldering dust, except for one scroll that detected as magical due to ancient abjurations used to preserve it. The rods around which the scroll was rolled were at least as long as the tall cavalier's normal arm length, so the heroes awkwardly moved it out into the throne room to unroll partway and examine. The script was large, obviously written by giant-sized hands, and appeared to all be in the same handwriting, though clearly recorded in sections over a long period of time. The text included few images, but a four-lobed symbol for the elements appeared a couple of times. They carefully rolled it back up so that they could continue exploring the site.

The last room on this level appeared to have been a barracks; the walls here bore images of warriors and athletes. They piled their loot--the scroll, the tools, and some jewelry the skeleton had worn--near the stairs to the exit before going down to the underground level.

Passages led in two directions to round rooms, each of which held a stepped pedestal before a large stone idol. The first statue they examined was a one-eyed monstrous bird, very similar to the idol they had seen beneath the sphinx where the caravan had camped below The Stairs: an image of Chazital, god of air. This room's platform was bare. The second room's platform held an empty depression. The idol was a multi-headed dragon with only one eye in each head. Fatou concluded that this must be a variation on Talusoka, goddess of water. The walls of both rooms bore inscriptions in Cyclops and some other unknown languages.

While examining these details, the party heard faint voices from the far side of the central stairs. They tried to sneak down the hallway, and found a third shrine, with a large, unlit brazier. However, before they could see more, a small, winged, imp-like creature flew around the corner and breathed a cone of dust at the heroes, sickening Edel. A moment later, two more joined it: one stony and one flaming. Fatou identified the three creatures as mephits: dust, earth, and fire.

The two new mephits breathed rocks and fire, respectively, while the dust mephit cast blur upon itself. The three outsiders then started clawing at the heroes, though the earth mephit enlarged itself first. The heroes struggled to overcome the creatures' damage resistance--Fatou and Edel couldn't hurt them at all with their ranged attacks. However, the mephits had trouble landing solid blows on the heroes, and even when they did, the wounds were merely minor scratches. But then Edel's hideous laughter spell neutralized the earth mephit. Jumari downed the dust mephit with a critical hit, then dismissed her savage maw spell to demoralize the conscious mephits. The inquisitor then started hacking at the earth mephit to take it out before Edel's spell wore off.

Meanwhile, ZhaZha faced off with the fire mephit, taking a second flame breath attack that Edel and Fatou helped to heal. The mephit soon concluded that the other half-orc posed a worse threat, and it cursed in frustration when Jumari resisted its heat metal attack. Fatou's force bolt finally downed it, and the half-orcs coup de graced the other two mephits, who were healing very slowly.

The room with the brazier held a statue of a cyclops women with flames for hair, which Fatou easily recognized as Lutoran, goddess of fire. A fourth and last shrine held a platform with a stone pillar, and a statue of a muscular cyclops with its large eye carved to look like a faceted gemstone. This was Genesib, god of earth. Fatou guessed that the statues would be worth a small fortune each, but weighed far too much to move without a large crew of skilled engineers.

The walls between the shrines also bore intricate carvings: thunderstorms between the water and air shrines, smoke between air and fire, volcanoes between fire and earth, and swamps between earth and water. This last one was unlike anything the desert-bred half-orcs had seen before; Fatou only recognized it from descriptions in books. Finally, there was a 5-foot-square stone set into the wall beneath the stairs, which bore an inscription in some non-giantish language. Fatou and Edel studied it and the writing in the shrines, and determined that the second language in each shrine was the matching elemental tongue; the large stone was also marked in Terran. They were unable to translate any of these inscriptions, except for working out that the words in the fire shrine referred to some kind of test or trial in order to get a blessing from the god.

Growing bored with waiting for more concrete details, Jumari decided to experiment, and set some old, bloodied bandages on fire in the metal brazier. They ignited easily, and burned quickly. As they did so, the Ignan portions of the room's inscriptions glowed faintly.


Next time, our heroes will continue to try puzzling out as much as they can about the "tests" mentioned in the shrine's inscriptions, before they have to give up and wait for Fatou to prepare comprehend languages the next day.

The PCs have earned enough XP to reach 5th level, so I have asked the players to work out their advancements before our next session. They will get to use those improved statistics once they leave this dungeon behind.

For the cyclops skeleton, I wanted a sturdier and more compact
model than the ogre skeletons I built for The Forge of Fury

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