Wednesday, April 15, 2015

City in the Mirage, Chapter 3

Rage Bourne Crusader
What follows is a write-up of my group's playtest of the new game I'm working on: Exiled in Eris.

I am running them through the introductory adventure I included with Swords of Cydoria, adapted to Exiled in Eris. Not to mention some final playtesting and fine tuning of the rules.


Rage Bourne Crusader, Human Artifact Hunter
Theris, Human Celestial Guardian, searching to recover lost artifacts of the Celestials.
Jip-Jip, Tintazi Scout with a slave-bond to Theris
Pi 2-50, Cyberdroid Aerine and sniper
Thyra, Barbarian warrior from Gatas, land of the Amazon women.

"The City in the Mirage, Chapter 3"
The Dead City
Having made their way through the invisibility force field that hid the lost city from view, the team camped for the night. They built their camp in the center of the ancient arena where gladiators fought and died for the amusement of Aeonian nobles.

The Ruins of Hrosek
The city was in ruins. Many of the buildings were collapsed. The walls of all the compounds had been breached in an attack over a thousand years ago. Everything was covered in a two-inch layer of white crystals that crunched underfoot like snow and disintegrated into powder. The crystals and powder were alkali and were poisonous. The city was coated in the powder to a height of twenty feet above street level, meaning that the powder was once dissolved in the lake water and the lake had flooded the city to twenty feet. The alkali substance had long ago dissolved any organic matter within the city, leaving nothing but the desiccated bones of the dead.

After clearing the powder from the campsite and cataloging various small mundane artifacts, they lit three chemical fires and settled down for the evening.

The camp formed three general social groups. The first included Lord Kendrik and Magister Reeg, who stayed apart from the rest of the group and primarily kept to themselves.  Second was the five students, including their gregarious "leader", Dentir Osso. Third was the guide team led by Rage Bourne. Dergo and Frunk, the two household guard, asked Rage if they could sit with them. Rage agreed.

They learned that Dergo was an older sergeant, a Norukarian veteran of the War of Unification. He had little love for Pi 2-50, who was wearing the brown coat of his enemy during the war, the Coalition, and was wary of Theris, for the Celestials fought for the Coalition during the war. Pi and Theris eased the tension by telling him they were too young to serve in the war and that Pi found the coat in the desert.

Frunk was young, barely eighteen. He kept looking over at the students, people his own age telling stories and laughing, and sighing. Eventually Frunk asked Rage if he had anything to drink. Rage offered him a bottle of Mancean whisky. Frunk said thanks, took the entire bottle, and went over to the students. Rage sputtered in a weak attempt to protest but made no attempt to stop him. Dergo laughed, then excused himself to start his patrol.

A Chat with Osso
At one point, Dentir Osso left his group to their drink and approached Rage Bourne, "Do you have a moment? I'd like to talk to you in private." Rage agreed and the two went for a walk around the perimeter.
Dentir Osso

Dentir asked, "So how did you come by this line of work?"

Rage gave him an answer but Dentir seemed not to care.

"I see. So what do you think of Lord Kendrik?"

Rage said that he had great admiration for the aging adventurer.

Dentir seemed annoyed by that answer, "Hm.. Good to know. Thanks."

Sensing something odd, Rage asked, "Why do you ask?"

Dentir said, "No reason, just making conversation."

But Rage pressed, "If you think there's something going on, you should tell me."

Rage Bourne Crusader
Dentir, suddenly conspiratorial, looked around before answering in a hushed tone, "If you ask me, he’s a threat to what we’re trying to do here. Do you know what we’re really looking for here?" he indicated the surrounding ruins and the few trinkets the expedition had recovered so far, "It’s not this junk, no. We’re looking for whatever causes the airships to crash. The professor thinks it may be a relic of the Sdara Vatra, some kind of ‘anti-anemoi’ that negates their buoyancy.”

After a short pause to gauge Rage's attitude, he continued, “Something like that would be a great defense against airship bombers and scouts. It would be very valuable. The professor has tried to keep it a secret, but Lord Kendrik knows, I’m sure of it. Whatever we find, Kendrik will never let us, I mean, the University  keep it." Dentir's demeanor changed to one of disgust, his affected accent of nobility slipping, revealing a low-born civilian, "He’s a noble. He’ll find some way to keep it for himself. they take and they take, but they never give anything in return!” He turned and muttered under his breath, “Bloody nobles. It’s what they do. It’s all they do.”

Rage asked, "Who do you think should have it?"

Dentir looked hopeful, "The Resistance! I have contacts with the Demetrian Resistance back in Norukar. I told them what we were looking for. They told me to contact Madame Katrea when I arrived in Sweetwater. She's working for the Resistance. I've made arrangements for her to get.. whatever it is we find, and she'll deliver it to the Resistance!"

Dentir added, "Don't tell anyone. Keep it a secret from the magister and Lord Kendrik, they'd try to stop me."

Rage cautiously responded, "We won't get in your way."

With that, Rage re-joined his team. Everyone slept well that night without incident.

An Immortal Monstrosity
The next morning, Magister Reeg discovered an alarming development. The force field had a peculiar desiccating effect. Their eyes and mouths were unusually dry, even for the desert. They became thirsty quicker. Water was evaporating at an alarming rate. They were going through 4 gallons of water a day. They had planned on a ten day expedition: two days traveling to the city, six days on-site, and two days return journey. They had already gone through six days' worth of water. At this rate, they could only spend one or two more days in the city before they had to return. it was clear, the priority was to deactivate the force field.

Magister Reeg reminded the team, they had been hired to scout ahead and clear the ruins of danger for the students, and to report anything they find to him to be immediately cataloged. The students would stay at the base-camp within the arena cataloging finds. Magister Reeg and Lord Kendrik would go with the team but would wait for them to clear an area before entering it.

Lord Kendrik blustered, "Nonsense! I expect to be right there in the thick of it, what?"

Magister Reeg suggested they start with the temple compound in the center of the city. Rage Bourne agreed. The group cautiously approached from the front.

The compound gates were smashed in, a section of the twenty-foot wall had been breached. The temple within was in ruins, the right wing was completely collapsed. Rage recognized the temple as the removable building from the scale model of the city in Yalzhas' tomb. He knew that whatever they were looking for was probably located in a vault under the temple. As they approached the gate, Crusader told the magister to wait outside. He was going to take the team around the compound to secure the entire perimeter. Magister Reeg agreed.

When they reached the rear of the compound, Crusader took his team aside.

He told his team about the discussion he had with Osso the night before. He said that Magister Reeg knew about an artifact and was specifically looking for it, but was keeping that detail a secret from the rest of the expedition. He told them that despite Reeg keeping it a secret, Kendrik also probably knew about the artifact somehow and had no intention of giving it to the university. He asked what they wanted to do.

Theris replied that they should find the artifact first before anyone else and turn it over to the Demetrian Resistance, like Osso wanted, but not to trust Osso with the deal. Rage nodded his agreement.

Rage then threw a grappling hook attached to a rope over the rear wall of the temple. Their plan was to sneak in from behind while they couldn't be seen. The team stealthily climbed up the rope and stayed low, staying hidden behind the tall structure of the temple. They climbed along the roof of the wing with the collapsed roof, moving towards the gaping hole.

Suddenly, a gigantic figure materialized as if from thin air! The creature was a tirak, a breed of carnivorous saurian native to western Markania, a terrible creature by itself, but this one was mutated into something beyond nature! It's arms, normally short, were long and man-like, it's body was covered in plates of thick crab-like armor, and from it's head grew two long bull-like horns. On top of its physical mutations, the beast apparently had the ability to hide in plain sight using some kind of chameleon-like camouflage!
The Mutant Tirak Attacks!
The mutant tirak immediately grabbed Rage in its rapacious jaws, its dagger-like teeth biting deep into the screaming artifact hunter. The team sprang into action, attacking the creature from atop the partially collapsed roof. Pi 2-50's plasma rifle flashed brilliantly in its thunderous discharge. The glowing blade of Theris' starsword sliced through the creature's armored exoskeleton like warm butter. Thyra fired her crossbow but had little effect. The creature tossed Rage in its mouth, eventually swallowing him whole!

The team continued to attack but Thyra was next to be lifted up in its jaws and swallowed. At this point, Theris finally delivered a killing blow. The creature fell to the ground with a thud. Thyra found Rage's limp leg and pulled him out of the tirak's dead carcass. Rage was dying but desperately clung to life. Thyra applied the shamanic healing arts of her tribe to bring Rage back to health.
Thyra of Gatas
As Rage stood up, covered in blood and tissue and stomach acid, Lord Kendrik and his two soldiers came running into the compound. "What's happened here? Some kind of danger, I imagine! Is everything now in equilibrium?"

Rage, coughing, told Lord Kendrik the beast was dead. It was one of Xurin's horde, lying in suspended animation here in the city for hundreds if not thousands of years. More dangers might lurk within the temple. He ordered the nobleman to wait outside while he and his team cleared the structure. Lord Kendrik agreed, but told Rage to call for help at the slightest trouble.

The Temple of the Sdara Vatra
Rage and his team entered the collapsed wing of the temple structure. They found nothing but rubble and white crystalline powder. They found no stairs down but did follow some stairs in the rear that led up towards the octagonal temple at the center of the compound. They followed the stairs and saw that the white powder stopped, meaning they were above the high-water mark of whatever ancient flood had happened here.

They entered the temple through a concealed passage in the rear which no doubt allowed for miraculous appearances by temple priests in bygone times. They found nothing but a large octagonal platform made of marble in the center of the room. Set within the top of the platform was a thick metal inlay of an eight-pointed star within a circle, the ancient symbol of the god-like Sdara Vatra.

The front entrance to the temple was burst off its hinges long long ago. Lord Kendrik and his men came striding through the open doorway. "Any progress, what?"
Lord Kendrik
Rage replied no. Lord Kendrik suggested that the team return down the rear passage and investigate the hall that led to the left wing of the temple structure. Rage narrowed his eyes, sensing some kind of deception from the Norukarian lord, but acquiesced. The team retreated down the passage but stopped just around the corner. Rage motioned for them to shut up while he listened.

He heard the sound of rusty metal turning, followed by the sound of stone scraping on stone. A few seconds later, the sound repeated and stopped.

Rage led the team back into the temple. Lord Kendrik and his men were gone. He felt around the table, feeling the metal symbol with his fingers. He eventually pushed hard on the symbol and it popped out. He turned it like a ship's wheel, rotating it 360 degrees until it stopped, then pushed the symbol back into its grooves. The flagstones in the floor around the platform began to descend, creating a spiral staircase that led into a concealed tunnel beneath the temple. The team descended and the stones returned to their original position behind them.

The stairs led to a secret room over a hundred feet down. Frunk and Dergo readied their weapons at the team's approach. Lord Kendrik, who was busy studying some metallic squares on a metal door on the opposite wall told them to be at ease.

Lord Kendrik invited Rage to take a look at the metal squares, as well as the inscription beneath it. There were eight square metal plaques, each about four inches wide and a quarter of an inch thick. An inscription above the door was written in ancient Aeonian.

Rage told Lord Kendrik that this room was trapped and probably very dangerous. He told him to take his men and go back upstairs until it was safe. Lord Kendrik reluctantly agreed but left Dergo behind to watch. While Rage translated the inscription, Pi 2-50 engaged Dergo in small talk to distract him.

The inscription read:

No two siblings shall abide
To sit together side by side
Up or down, left or right
Nor corners touching even slight
Once the siblings are aligned
Pay your homage to the divine

Rage called Theris and Thyra over to consult. He noticed that the plates were removable, perhaps magnetic, and could be re-arranged. He correctly deduced that the plates had to be re-arranged in the correct order to disable the trap and that no plates could touch another plate, either adjacent or diagonally, in any sequential numerical order. The team discussed their options, eventually arranging the plates in the following order:

He then paid his homage to the holy symbol of the Sdara Vatra by touching it with his fingers.

The Ossuary Vault
The door opened to reveal a long straight passage with a high gothic ceiling that eventually led down a ramp. The corridor opened into a large octagonal room like the one they saw in the model.

The room was an octagonal ossuary chamber, ninety feet wide. The ceiling was vaulted and supported by four stout columns. The walls were lined with niches, filled with the dried bones of the ancient priests of the cult of Sdara Vatra. The funeral wrappings that once covered the bones had long ago decayed into dust.

The far wall of the ossuary chamber was dominated by two heavy vault doors, bound closed by a larger version of the eight-pointed star-symbol of Sdara Vatra. At the center of the symbol was a slot for a card about four inches wide. A blue diamond shape was set in the floor in front of the vault doors. It glowed with eerie blue tracery.

The team cautiously crossed the room to approach the vault door. As they entered the room, the diamond-shaped panel set in the floor began to glow even brighter. Liquid metal, like mercury, began to drip upwards from the diamond shape, forming a metallic three-dimensional diamond that hovered in mid air. The liquid metal eventually took on a humanoid shape with arms and legs. One arm ended in a long sword. The other arm formed a kind of buzz-saw. The metallic guardian shouted in a grating electronic voice, “TAS RAYA PRADINNA! YA BRABDA DANYA ZARKAN TE AKKAT!”

Rage translated from Sdara Vatran, "This Area is Forbidden! You have ten incremental time units to vacate!"

The team spread out. After ten seconds, the guardian shouted "AKKASAS YABANNA! TASAS-YURO VANAR VAHEEN GARU!", but Rage didn't have time to translate before it attacked. It fired its sword as a ranged weapon at Theris and attacked Rage with its buzz saw. Pi took up a sniper position near a column and fired but missed. Pi's shot accidentally hit Dergo who was across the room readying his ballistic rifle. Dergo fell, gravely injured.

Thyra felt helpless, unable to affect the armored sentinel. Rage gave her the key card they found in the tomb and told her to open the vault. She took the card and ran for the vault. Theris' glowing starsword cut the mercurial guardian in half and the liquid splashed to the floor, apparently inert.

As soon as the guardian fell, Pi 2-50 felt a presence in his electronic mind. Another entity was trying to take control of his body. He resisted and, with great mental effort, was able to successfully force the other entity out.

Thyra inserted the card into the slot. Previously invisible tracery inlaid into the doors, resembling a giant circuit board, began to glow blue. The two great metal doors slid open, revealing the treasure within.

A silvery metal orb, about ten inches in diameter and polished to a mirrored finish, hovered a few centimeters above a metallic plinth.

Piled around the plinth were several treasures, coins of precious metals, objects of art, religious artifacts depicting the Sdara Vatra, and other offerings made to the temple priests and stored away within the vault. Rage estimated an entire haul worth nearly 50,000 Aus.

Rage quickly hid the orb under his jacket. As soon as he touched it, a blast of wind swirled around the orb and blew outward. At about that moment, Lord Kendrik, Magister Reeg, Dentir Osso, and Frunk entered the chamber.

Vengeance of the Aya
"I say! You were not supposed to notify us before you touched any treasure! Step away from.."

The thunderous report of a plasma pistol echoed in the subterranean chamber.

Magister Reeg looked very confused for a moment, staggered, and fell dead.
Magister Reeg

Lord Kendrik was holding his steaming plasma pistol, having just shot dead the learned professor.

Frunk stood dumbfounded, staring at his master.

Lord Kendrik shouted, "What's happened? Who turned off the lights? Why can't I see anything?" before turning his pistol on Frunk and opening fire, killing the young solder.

Dentir ran for cover as the rest of the team rushed to attack Lord Kendrik. "I.. I seem to have no control over my limbs! Blasted mechanical things!" Lord Kendrik began attacking the team. He was apparently the being possessed by an aya, his cybernetic limbs and eyes under the control of the disembodied spirit of the dead guardian.

Before Rage could call for Lord Kendrik to be captured alive, Theris had eliminated the problem, killing Lord Kendrik in one slice.

"Well, I guess we're not taking him alive," the Artifact Hunter quipped as he picked up Lord Kendrik's valuable plasma pistol and monomolecular sword.

Suddenly, the power cell in Pi 2-50's plasma rifle began to over-charge. Pi quickly threw it across the room and it exploded like a small grenade. The aya was now possessing any advanced technology in the room. Rage threw down the monomolecular sword. It, too, exploded into sparks. Rage desperately threw the plasma pistol into the hall, hoping to save it. He was relieved when it did not explode.

The Ambush
The expedition, now consisting of Rage Bourne Crusader, Theris, Thyra, Pi 2-50, Jip-Jip, Dergo, and Dentir Osso, returned to the surface. The shimmering force field around the city was gone. They rejoined the four undergraduate students in the arena. The three bodies were wrapped in cloth and stowed on the wagons.

The two girah did not look well. They were both wounded by the sand squid attack and did not have protection from the alkali powder. They would not survive the return trip. That night, Thyra applied her mystic healing power to one of the ailing girah, restoring it to health.

The expedition camped that night. Already, Rage could tell that he no longer required as much water and that his lips and eyes retained their moisture. The desiccating effect ended when the force field was disabled.

The next morning, Thyra healed the other girah. Now, both would make it. The team made plans to return. Osso objected, citing all the city ruins left to be explored, but it was obvious he was stalling for time. For what reason no one could guess. His argument was weak and was quickly overruled by Crusader.

They packed up the gear and set off across the lake bed.

They camped that night at the edge of the lake bed where the tintazi had attacked three nights previous.

The next day, they crossed the elevated gap between two two small mountains and were traversing the rocky plain when Pi 2-50 spied a group of men riding anators riding at a gallop to intercept them. The men had been hiding behind a large boulder. This was obviously an ambush. Dentir Osso moved to the rear of the group.

When the men got within 500 feet of the expedition, the one who appeared to be their leader opened fire with a laser pistol, killing one of the students. Pi 2-50 returned fire with his ballistic sniper rifle.
Dentir Osso ran out, waving his arms, screaming in horror, screaming, "No No No! It's not supposed to happen this way! No one is supposed to get hurt!" A laser beam caught Dentir Osso in the chest and the student fell to the ground.
Pi 2-50

Pi's third shot caught the bandit leader in the head, causing it to explode and taking him off his anator. The rest of the bandits, without their leader and now uncertain about their chances, turned and fled. Pi ran over to the dead bandit leader and gave Thyra the laser pistol and sword.

Rage went to Dentir, who was dying. He asked the misguided student what he was trying to do. Dentir's words were feeble through bloody lips, "I knew... Magister Reeg and.. Lord Kendrik would never give up the.. orb. So I met with... Madame Katrea... in Sweetwater. She's an agent.. of the Demetrian Resistance. She hired the.. bandits to steal it from us. No one was... supposed to get.. hurt." *COUGH* *COUGH*

Satisfied with his story, he asked Thyra to heal him back to health. Dentir, ashamed for his actions, kept quiet for the rest of the journey.

Leaving Sweetwater
The expedition returned to Sweetwater late that afternoon, six days after they left and four days early. They went straight to the Tonbo. They did not stop to visit. They avoided Madame Katrea and Baron Donahee, and told Captain Resko to power up and take off. They were returning to Acik-Sehir.

Captain Resko took stock of the survivors and of their haggard state. He asked Rage, "Where are the others?"

Rage answered, "They're dead."

"What the hell happened?"

Rage turned and looked at Captain Resko with a smirk, "That's archaeology for ya."


Thus ends the latest playtest of Exiled in Eris. It was a lot of fun. I tweaked the rules here and there as we went, but they were very minor tweaks. It played great, better than I expected to be honest. The players had a great time with their characters. And that final line. That was the honest-to-god final line of the campaign, spoken by Rage's player, Jeff D. It was UH-MAZING! It was like the end of a movie!

Anyway, I'll be packaging Exiled in Eris soon and selling it as a PDF and print on demand within a week I think. I'm converting City in the Mirage to the new rule system tomorrow and hope to have it out soon after. 

I'll be running more Exiled in Eris adventures every few months, and posting new rules here and adventure outlines. 
See you soon! 

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