13 June 2013

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 19 - Something Rotten in Scavia

This is the nineteenth Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

The region that includes Scavia, just north of the Scarlet Sea, near the Badlands, is a place that my games almost always include at some point. There isn't much official written about that area, which might be part of the appeal. What is known is that the human kingdom of Scavia was once seated at the edge of the Scarlet Sea, an off-shoot of Death's Sea, it was wealthy and was one of the first governments to accept the Theran Rites of Protection and Passage. Oh, and the kaer was built on top of lava and the civilization itself resided on the ruins of something ancient. Those last two might have something to do with it.

While it wasn't actually overrun during the Scourge, I'm not against saying that it was because the idea of an opulent kaer with fantastic and sweeping architecture, built in the Scarlet Sea, partially flooded with lava, infested with creatures from the area along with whatever Horrors call it home is freaking awesome. If you don't like the idea of that, I don't think that I want to know you. I'm serious. It's hardly a low Circle endeavor, but it is definitely a location where you can craft some amazing encounters that you will never get another shot at. And if an entire people has to be sacrificed to entities that feed on fear and pain from beyond our reality, them's the breaks.

In the surrounding region, there is substantial opportunity for adventure. While the kaer itself is generally only good for one amazing arc, the rest of the area should be good for a few stories. Since I take a darker look at Barsaive as a whole, my setting generally has that area spotted with smaller kaers from the people of Scavia that were taxed and enslaved to provide for the magnificent kaer of the capital. Many of their kaers were constructed from the strange ruins that their society was built on, since they were on a budget. Some of these were great, others not so much.

Nonetheless, it was weird. Things got strange and it may or may not be related to the Badlands to the southeast. The survivors tend to be poor and xenophobic. They don't care for outsiders and generally lead very suspicious lives. Their insular natures make this a good place to introduce creepy cults formed around the runs-cum-kaers. The general feel I go for in this region is similar to the Midwest during the Dust Bowl. With a healthy dose of the Appalachians or Ozarks, giving a feel that they haven't quite joined "modern" society in a lot of ways.

Adventure Log – 019 Something Rotten in Scavia

Written By: Honeysuckle Sunspray of Glenwood Deep

Date: 01 Celebration – 12 Raquas, 1507 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Elmod the Nethermancer
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster
Jak’Tak the Weaponsmith
Sogun the Messenger
Ting the Swordmaster

Our latest adventure has taken us to Scavia and the settlements surround the area. This settlement still requires visitors to prove they aren’t Horror marked, how quaint(1). They are rather strange and won’t let Ting stay in the inn(2). The innkeeper talked of a stranger passing through and the effects look as if this stranger was peddling krokodil(3).

Jak confirmed the location of the shop where the tainted drugs are being distributed. The distributer, Bracha, used to be the leader of the town. The whole area seems to be affected by the drugs.

In the evening we decide to be champions of justice and Sogun breaks down the door to the shop and picks up Bracha to stop the process of making krokodil. Bracha described a dark looking elf Named Mestoph(4) that was the distributer of this drug.

I know we’ve followed the dark trail of Mestoph before, still not sure of the connection between Elmod and Mestoph, but I know there’s one(5).

Meanwhile… back at the alchemy shop, Jak and Ting managed to destroy the tools to make the drug and are going to bury the remaining supply.

In the process we see a person, obviously hooked on krokodil. After two straight days of travel following this guy, we knock him out and tie him up so we can get some sleep. The next morning we release him to continue following him. Towns that we pass through are filled with beggars that are heavily addicted(6).

Finally, we reach broken down ruin that seem dark and nefarious. The inscription is written in Sperethiel and it sounds like there is a Horror trapped inside. Despite the evidence of mindless souls entering, we head inside(7).

Broken down buildings are seen and crazed laughter can be heard with no identifiable source. Once we looked closer, the mindless shapes began coming toward us and block our path in all directions. We managed to fight our way out, but Ting was poisoned, so we decided to head back.

Heading back, we meet a traveler in a wagon, Morlan, who sells things to adventurers at a mark-up, of course. Morlan is a Merchant adept who travels to find interesting wares and sell them in remote locations.

After spending all of our money, we decide to head back to the tainted ruins, possibly against better judgment. Elmod, in a creepy sort of way, talks to a ghost outside the city who seems to be guarding the city as there is a Horror trapped inside. We venture inside as sneaky as possible, but jehuthras spot us anyway. In true hero/adventurer fashion (survival mode) we run away to the interior of the city where we see a robed figure sitting on a throne.

He is surrounded by cadavermen and jehuthras and seems happy to see Elmod. He is really creepy with black skin, white hair and bright red veins. His throne grows around him, creating some sort of super body structure with four arms and a spiky tail(8).

There must be some crazy Horror magic in this place to create something so hideous. Destroying this creature is the only option. The animated armor is not easy to damage, but we were able to find some weak points and chip away at it until we finally destroyed the Horror tainted creature that caused this mess.

Perhaps in destroying him, the krokodil will be less of an issue in the surrounding camp areas. After saving the world once again, it is time to head somewhere a little less exciting.(9)

*     *     *
(1) The Greeting Ritual is very common outside of the major cities in Barsaive.
(2) Sounds like Ting is a little rusty with her art.
(3) We had no idea this had spread so far...
(4) This needs to be verified immediately. If the Mestoph is behind this... I don't even know.
(5) Additional intelligence needs to be gathered here.
(6) Maybe it has spread here from the South? Perhaps Maester Bleys is good for something after all.
(7) Hah! I love these guys. "Sounds dangerous and stupid to enter... what are we waiting for?"
(8) I would love to know more details about this. If nothing else than to make Zamrica read it.
(9) Received and edited by Ela Pono

There were three things going on in this session. The first involved showing the extent of the krokodil problem, that it wasn't just localized to Bartertown, but throughout at least parts of Barsaive. While they had encountered the drug previously, the Group never got to see what some of the other effects are. Beyond the disease and rotting of the skin, that is. There were less answers than new questions, but it was fairly clear this problem is even worse than it initially appeared in Bartertown.

The next element to this session was exploring more of Elmod's mysterious background. He learned that someone who looks almost exactly like him (just with polarized colors) was going by the assumed Name Mestoph, who Initiated Elmod into his Discipline, is involved with the krokodil problem in someway, as well as some very dark blood magic that he used to create some sort of blood magic mecha, and is almost certainly dealing with Horrors in some fashion. Oh, and he definitely knows who Elmod is and is pretty jealous of him. Why? Who knows - it's not like Elmod had a blood mecha. 

Finally, danger. The encounters this session were pretty serious - there weren't any lucky rolls to skew the results and what started as overconfidence turned into cautious determination. Which is precisely where I wanted the tension at for the big boss fight - the aforementioned blood mecha.

This was the first fight of its kind and I wanted the encounter to be as awesome as the initial promise: that you will be fighting an "evil" (?) mirror-universe twin-thing Nethermancer who has constructed a mecha from the meat and bones of the drug users that have been summoned to his corrupted lair in the bowels of a broken kaer. The environment itself had pools of blood at one end of the room, where the throne-cum-mecha was, and an arc of standing stones at the other end, where the PCs entered from. While the blood was never used, the stones provided some important, though deteriorating, cover during the fight.

While that is all well and good, the opponent is what really matters. It was well above anything they could have handled for a few more Circles. I'm pretty certain it would still be a challenge for them - but without that, there is no sense of accomplishment. No bones about it, this was a hell of a thing. It was just over 15 feet tall, a body somewhere between humanoid and beast. It had a massive bleached white skeleton that also acted as armor, with claws, a long, spiked tail, and a gaping maw. Underneath the skeleton was glistening muscle, sinew and tendons, with living crystal growing from that mass as additional armor and to serve other, unknown purposes. The Nethermancer himself was within the rib cage, nestled in the protective womb of bone, crystal and muscle where he controlled and powered the thing by binding it to most of his spell matrices, along with Thread Magic. 

Actually, here it is:

DEX: 8   STR: 18   TOU: 13   PER: 9   WIL: 9   CHA: 5

Initiative: 10
Actions:  4 + 1 (4 physical actions, one Spellcasting/Thread Weaving)
Attack (8): 16
Bite (7): 25
Claws x2 (2): 20
Tail (3): 21 ( Armor Defeating on a Good Result)

Physical Defense: 14
Spell Defense: 10
Social Defense: 12
Physical Armor: 20 (Armor Defeated on an Excellent Result)
Mystic Armor: 10 (Armor Defeated on an Excellent Result)

Death: 150
Unconsciousness: (I'm going to be honest, I didn't bother)
Wound Threshold: 15
Recovery Tests: 3
Knockdown: 19
Movement: 10

Karma Points: 10     Karma Step: 4

Powers: Astral Spear (7): 16, Battle Bellow (4): 9, Spellcasting (6): 15, Thread Weaving (6): 15, there are plenty more powers, but I just didn't feel like trotting them out since I wanted all of this to fix on an index card

How were they possibly supposed to defeat this monster? Teamwork. No, seriously, through teamwork. The first round on combat was the PCs attacking while it was "coming online", giving them a chance to figure out just how screwed they were unless something changed in their favor.

When I have something neat planned, I've learned the hard way that it's best to not hope the players are going to randomly stumble into it, unless you absolutely know they will. In this case, I didn't wait for anyone to ask, "Does it look like there are any weak points?" There is no way for me to know if they will (they never have before, but they have never had to) and it's not like Earthdawn has any support one way or the other, it's very much up to the GM. So, after they roll initiative for the next round, I ask who wants to make a Perception Test as a Simple action for 1 Strain. They could do it as a Standard action for no Strain as well. Suffice to say, they were curious.

At that point, I introduced the Weak Points (while prototypes are generally regarded as super awesome, they also have the super downside of falling apart). These were some index cards that had a particular maneuver on it (Cutting the Tendons), along with the requirements (Called Shot, Physical Defense 10, at least 12 damage) and the effects (reduce Physical Defense and Initiative by 2). There were a variety of them, each affecting some part of the nethermecha, with some crossover - physical attacks could affect mystic traits and vice versa. By finding these Weak Points, the players were able to work together to weaken it sufficiently that they could bring it down. It was pretty important to include ways for all of the characters to contribute, so some of the Weak Points were tailored for their particular strengths.

In all, it was wildly successful. The players had a blast working together, figuring out how best to approach taking it apart. It was by far one of the most exciting combats I've seen in a long time, with players actively involved, exploiting scenery (mostly standing stones, which were getting chewed up), and really role-playing the hell out of the moment. This isn't something that I would break out often, simply because it will end up feeling less special with each successive use. That being said, it is a great way to shake-up a very special combat and make it more than just causing a big pile of damage. It's still about causing a big pile of damage, just other stuff too.

Here's a list of all of the Weak Points that were used:

Blinding the Third Eye (Unlimited)
Requirements: Called Shot, Spell Defense 10, 10 damage
Effect: Prevent Spellcasting for one turn

Cleave the Shoulder
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 14, 18 damage
Effect: Reduce Attacks by 1 (claw)

Cracking the Shell
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 8, 12 damage
Effect: Reduce Physical Armor by 2 and increase Initiative by 1

Crush the Bones
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 10, 14 Damage
Effect: Reduce Physical Armor by 2 and Initiative by 1

Cutting the Tendons
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 10, 12 damage
Effect: Reduce Physical Defense and Initiative by 2

Destroy the Limb
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 12, 20 damage
Effect: Reduce Attacks by 1 (claw)

Flay the Flesh
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 12, 10 damage
Effect: Reduce Attack and Damage by 3 Steps

Fracture the Crystal
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 10, 8 damage
Effect: Reduce Spell Defense and Mystic Armor by 2

Go for the Eyes! (Unlimited)
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 16, 8 damage
Effect: Prevent one attack per Success Level for one turn

Mystic Ligatures
Requirements: Called Shot, Spell Defense 10, 12 damage
Effect: Reduce Physical Defense and Initiative by 2

Pry the Armor
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 8, 16 damage
Effect: Reduce Physical Armor by 4 and increase Initiative by 1

Right to the Face!
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 12, 20 damage
Effect: Reduce Attacks by 1 (bite)

Scour the Meat
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 8, 16 damage
Effect: Reduce Attack and Damage by 1 Step and Initiative by 2

Shattered Karma
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 12, 8 damage
Effect: Reduce Mystic Armor by 2 and Karma by 3

Shred the Muscles
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 10, 12 damage
Effect: Reduce Attack and Damage by 2 Steps and Initiative by 1

Tangle the Weave
Requirements: Called Shot, Spell Defense 8, 8 damage
Effect: Reduce Spellcasting, Thread Weaving and Astral Spear by 2

Tear Out the Root
Requirements: Called Shot, Physical Defense 16, 16 damage
Effect: Reduce Attacks by 1 (tail)