*** Potential Spoilers ***
The adventure described below is loosely based on the great sword-and-sorcery novel Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed. I think what happens in the game is probably different enough from what happens in the novel that nothing’s gonna get ruined, but things change in play, and I might end up using some plot point from the book that reveals a little too much. I’ll try not to let that happen, but you have been warned.
Oh, and you should also go read Throne of the Crescent Moon, because it’s a fantastic book.
There’s some stuff going on in real life that’s been making it hard to get quorum to play the Storm Point game, so for the next little while, we’re relaxing the quorum rules a bit to make sure the game doesn’t die from lack of momentum. Normally, we play as long as four out of five players can make it, and have one of the players double-up on running a character. But doubling up on a character is a pain, and we’re more likely to get three than four players these days, so I dropped the quorum requirement to three, said no one needs to double up, and decided to keep the entire adventure within the city of Belys to allow a little bit of verisimilitude for changing party composition based on player attendance ((That is, only the characters of the players who attend get to go on the adventure, so no one has to play two characters.)).
This sort of ties in with some other meta-changes to our regular game. One of the reasons we had players doubling up on characters was to keep the experience point and treasure distribution even, and so limit the amount of fiddly bookkeeping I was having to do as GM. I’ve decided to move a couple of steps farther in the direction of eliminating fiddly bookkeeping, in the interests of making the game do what the group wants it to do. A few sessions back, we had a discussion about the direction of the game, wherein we decided that we would use campaign downtime to be able to advance the characters without it taking another six years to get to 3oth level ((Check out the link for more details about the discussion and the decision.)). I’ve decided to do away with handing out experience points ((I’m still using experience points to build encounters, because it’s a pretty handy way of balancing things.)) – instead, I’m just going to tell the characters when they advance in level, and use downtime for bigger level jumps.
As for treasure, I’m still working on that, but I’m leaning towards abstracting that more, and letting characters gain and swap magic items in the downtime. We’ll see how that goes.
I had just finished reading Throne of the Crescent Moon, so when I was looking for a city-centric adventure idea set in a vaguely Arabic city ((My game city, Belys, is vaguely Arabic. Dhamsawaat, the city in the novel, is much more than vaguely Arabic. This comes from the author having done actual research, and me having based my Arabic city on hazy memories of 1001 Arabian Nights.)) , I had a good model right in front of me. I took the main idea of an evil necromancer summoning ghuls for a nefarious purpose and came up with my own nefarious purpose and version of the necromancer. Then, I started reskinning ghouls to serve as my ghuls.
In the book, there are a number of different types of ghul, and I wanted to reflect that, but Belys is all about the Genasi noble families controlling the elements, so I decided that my flavours of ghul were all going to be elementally linked – earth ghuls, sand ghuls, wind ghuls, fire ghuls, storm ghuls, water ghuls, etc. I started with the earth ghuls, using the horde ghoul stat block, and just describing them and their paralysis attack differently – they looked more like putrescent corpses with burning eyes, long claws, and sharp fangs, and their paralysis felt like the earth trying to draw the victim down into a grave.
I’m not going to talk about the other flavours of ghul I’ve come up with, because the party hasn’t met any of them, yet.
So, armed with the ghul stats and the necromancer stats, we started the game.
The characters had become moderately famous in their quarter of the city after their elimination of Channah and their favour for Bitaryut the Blind, not to mention their popular feasts and their ties to a few merchant concerns. When they heard reports of poor families disappearing from the labyrinthine alleys of their neighbourhood, they decided to take a look.
Investigation found that the missing families had all lived in homes on cul-de-sac alleyways, and each had had a symbol drawn on their doors in blood. These symbols, according to the priest and the swordmage, were sigils of dark magic designed to call the corrupted dead to their location. Our heroes found evidence specifically of ghuls – and the priest was able to fill his comrades in on the difference between ghuls and the more common ghouls. The primary difference was that ghuls were created by necromancy, and didn’t propagate themselves the way ghouls did, which meant that someone was creating and using them.
The gang trooped up to the main temple of the Raven Queen, who handles the official graveyards of the city, and managed to only insult the honour of their priests a moderate amount when they asked if anyone had been robbing the graves under their care. The Raven Queen priests huffily informed them that none of the graves they oversaw had been desecrated, but that some in the city performed private burials for their family members, either for religious or financial reasons, and they couldn’t be expected to watch over them.
Putting things together, the party began to speculate that they might have someone trying to build an army of ghuls in the city, starting with some of the non-consecrated graves, and then using those ghuls to fetch fresh materials from the poor living in the alleys of the city. This was somewhat worrisome to them.
Given that their investigation had revealed that the attacks had all occurred on nights when the moon was either new or hidden by heavy clouds, the group decided to set up a watch to try and stop the next attack and, hopefully, gain some more information about where the mastermind was located. They hired a few mercenaries and paid a number of vendors and other street people to keep an eye on things ((And, of course, they pointed out that, if they had become crime bosses after ousting Channah, they’d already have these operatives on the payroll. I just sighed and rolled my eyes.)) and, when a dark night came, they used the hand of fate ritual to narrow down the probable location of the next attack.
They took to the air on their hippogriffs ((I will never live that down.)) to be able to get to any of the three or four alleyways they thought were the targets. And, sure enough, one was. The ghuls were mainly minions, with one tough ghul seeded in the middle, and they took them out pretty quickly. They also spent a fair bit of time looking around for the necromancer they were sure must be on the scene to control the ghuls, but didn’t find him ((Was he even there? I’m not telling.)). They then followed the ghuls’ back trail down into a sewer and another huge mob of ghuls. Again, they were minions, and the gang managed to wipe them out in short order.
That’s where we left things. Tomorrow is the next installment, as they see if they can find out where these ghuls are coming from, and what vile plan is behind their creation.
We’ll see how that goes.