Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Wandering Misfits, session #5 - "Prison of the Hated Pretender", part 1

Summary: An extremely belated session report of our game that happened two weeks ago. The party continued delving deeper inside the stone head, discovering things that led to an almost deadly encounter.

Prison of the Hated Pretender

While Raina was awestruck by her discovery, the rest of her companions decided to casually investigate the gruesome room which they uncovered last session. For whatever reason, Gybon wanted to try out and have a break on the dirty, rotten couch. Sitting down, he heard a faint crackling sound, the result of his behind breaking a small opal stone hidden between the stained cushions.

In the meantime, Shine was still disgusted by the room and Torus was noticeably spooked overall. First to notice that Raina was missing from the scene, he moved closer to the door to check on her, but has suddenly heard dragging and thumping sounds on the floor above them. When he peeked out and saw Raina on the ladder, he completely freaked out, yelling at her to get down since something else is coming for her.

Oblivious as she can be sometimes, Raina wasn’t disturbed much by the idea of something unexpectedly snatching her, yet she heeded the words of her companion. However, she forgot to close the trapdoor behind her, so moments later the sounds that Torus previously heard were increasing in volume. When the noise reached its peak, the trapdoor was viciously slammed shut, dust and pieces of the dry ceiling splintering away. And then… nothing.

Startled by the reaction of whatever thing which didn't want to be disturbed, the party decides not to mess with it for the time being, so they move back into the derelict room to fetch the big dresser and use it to block the trapdoor with. Surprisingly enough, Raina finds a nice stash of silver in the dresser, making Shine a bit irritated.

Oh for God’s sake… Of course, why haven’t I thought of that.

Dragging the dresser under the trapdoor and reinforcing it a little bit, the group heads downstairs to check on the horses. On the way down, Torus remembers that he heard strange noises from the underground level, tickling the interest from the rest of the group, despite his hopes that they will collectively freak out and just up and leave this forsaken place.

They descended back into the 3-sectioned room where they paused to decide what to do next. The majority was in the mood to explore the underground level. Shine, however, wanted to check up on the horses before they moved on, since the thunderstorm outside was still going strong.

Horses, the majestic stoics that they are, were completely fine. On her way back, Shine slips and falls face first into the sigil circle. Scared that who knows what will happen to her, she completely froze in shock, nervously bracing for whatever it was that fate had in store for her next. Relieved that nothing seems to have happened, her relief is shattered as she unexpectedly hears innumerable voices screaming inside her head, the high pitch piercing her ears. The noise, nigh painful, makes her join the choir of tormented moans, the rest of the party terrified by the sudden wailing of their compatriot. Raina reacted swiftly, pulling Shine out of the circle. The screaming eventually stopped for everyone involved, so Shine took some time to sit on the ground and cry.

Detail from "Crypt of San Martino ai Monti, Rome"
by François Marius Granet
Torus knelt next to her to provide comfort, while Raina analyzed the circle again. She had no intention of touching it, so instead she just threw a stone inside it. To her surprise, the stone started moving towards the end of the circle, as if some invisible force was pushing things out of it.

Meanwhile, Gybon had an adventure of his own. Standing above the spiral staircase and looking downward, he noticed that it was pitch black and moved in for a closer look with his lantern. The darkness seemed impenetrable and as he moved ever closer, just above the hole, several twisted shadowy hands sprung out from below, trying to grasp him. He was fast to react, pulling away just in time, but tripping backwards and falling on his butt. This attracted the attention of everyone else in the room, except for Shine who was still a bit unnerved by her accident.

Torus continued freaking out, while Raina moved to Gybon so that they could investigate the staircase. She moved closer to the hole with her torch, only this time the shadows were waiting. As if a trap was sprung, the hands burst towards her, grasping Raina’s hand with clawed fingers. An unnatural chill as that of an ancient grave spread through her arm, shocking her and giving more than enough motivation to quickly disengage and pull away. As she stumbled a few steps back, the hands retreated.

When things calmed down a bit, Gybon took Raina’s torch and threw it down the staircase. The torch pierced the unnatural darkness floating around the opening, revealing an unnaturally bright crypt of some sorts. The revealed scene was instantly horrific, a pile of corpses revealed at the foot of the stairs, two of which seemed “fresh” and adorned in clothes suited for adventuring folk. Whatever it was that tried to grab them from the shadows was not visible, but there were some strange, indistinguishable shapes looming about in the room.

Curiosity was stronger than reason, so the group quickly decided to investigate. Yes, even Torus, who was intrigued by the prospect of… "acquiring" wares from the dead.

Ezekiel's Tetramorph from Anton Koberger's
incunabula Bible
Gybon was the first to rush downstairs, instantly revealing the holy symbol of his God, singing his praise and basking the room with the might of his patron. The creatures screamed in agony and fear, turning away and cowering from the cleric’s majestic presence.

It was only then that he was able to properly see his enemies for the first time. There was many of them, all with strange, unearthly shapes and features. A glowing orb with many broken arms protruding from its miniature body. A ghostly female figure with red eyes and a fragile body. Flapping feathery wings focused in a chaotic circle of motion and broken patterns. A levitating scorpion with a face of a child. He couldn’t even see them all, nor could he discern all their shapes since they constantly motioned through each other.

Raina was the next to come down, instantly seizing the momentum to attack. Some had different priorities, so Shine and Torus shamelessly used the cleric’s divine presence to grab the corpses of the two adventurers and drag them upstairs.

When the presence of Gybon’s God waned, all hell broke loose as the creatures flooded towards the party in a flurry of scratching limbs and biting mouths. The ensuing battle was chaotic and vicious. Our adventurers suffered brutal wounds, but thanks to their wit and a little bit of luck, they persevered. The last of the damned creatures dissolved under the swing of the cleric’s weapon, leaving a scream drowned in vengeful rage to echo in the room. And then, silence… and a breath of relief.
Final thoughts:
Man, this was a wild ride, swinging between being totally cool and, at times, being quite exhausting. I'll kick it off with the negatives, just to get those out of the way.

Combat was great, but tiring for me. I dislike battle scenes in general, mostly because I tend to describe all the nitty-gritty of the chaos going on during the fight. I believe this stems from the fact that I predominantly ran World of Darkness games (Werewolf in particular) and Cyberpunk 2020 where combat is extremely fast, hectic and violent, sometimes over in a single pull of the trigger. On the flip side, the majority of fantasy confrontations can drag out and take ages. It is simply incomparable to something like the "Friday Night Firefight"

Essentially, coming into a fighting scene, I am under the expectation that because it is a bore for me it will also be a bore for the players, thus I engage into the mode of making combat as engaging as possible. As this is an online game with a rather minimalistic setup (everything happening on Discord voice, no fancy Roll20 maps, tokens, etc.) you can imagine the strain of describing every single detail about the chaos boiling around the battlefield. I think this is mostly my compulsion to keep everything clear and evocative, which equals a lot of work that leads to being exhausted from talking too much (especially with a shy group as this).

The lesson here is to loosen up with the descriptions. Vague or quick details are enough sometimes, while certain moments don't even need a description.

The other negative is that I feel like some scenes which I perceive as evocative and important are somehow not sticking with this group. For example, the scene with the first round of hands jumping out of the staircase was described with a lot of zeal and sense of horror, yet it didn't resonate at all with the players. I'll dare say that I feel like this is mostly due to lack of RP experience from the players, which makes them react to things with an out-of-game perspective instead of an in-character view.

HOWEVER, I'm the kind of GM that takes responsibility for everything, so I will try to spark a conversation with the players once we finish this adventure and see whether or not some scenes are simply not their cup of tea.

The positive thing is actually the fact that these negatives are just in my head, since the players seem super thrilled during and after each session. It makes me extremely happy when the ending of each session is met with praise and ovations, but I still want to take the time to reflect on things that need improvement from my side. All in all, everything is fun and I'm enjoying it greatly, but the GM-craft is a constant work in progress!

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