“In the Game of Flounders, you win or you die.” – Dorjee Pema, Lotusmaster
This was a long session for us, about five hours. The party spent over an hour planning – no bad thing – and recruiting allies they thought they could trust, because they knew they were still being watched and knew that most people in Jalizar would turn on them if the price was right. They took care to lay a false trail, spreading rumours that they were preparing to go raiding in search of a specific McGuffin, before enlisting the help of allies.
U’wahz used his Sage superpower to invent an item of Jademan headgear reputed to grant bonuses against mind control, and they decided it looked like Jayne’s hat from Firefly. They spent more time preparing their equipment and spell lists, and got the sorceress to cast deflect and boost Spirit on them using her Binding Ritual to make them permanent. (Yes, I know strictly she can only do that on one power at a time, but I decided to roll with it because I knew how tough the boss monster was.) That burned all her power so they decided she wouldn’t come into the “dungeon” with them.
They persuaded themselves they would have to spend a long time underwater, so Dorjee made a load of environmental protection potions (and a couple of barriers and a healing potion, because both character and player are cautious). That burned all Dorjee’s power, so when they realised they would also need light concoctions Dorjee negotiated with the House Tanaka to get half a dozen. The favour they want in return is significant, but happens offstage after the campaign ends, so is not relevant to the players.
I had prepared for this game by picking some battlemats I liked the look of, and allocating encounters to points of interest, which I find works well as an approach. I figured the group would spend an hour settling in and planning, an hour each on three encounters, and half an hour wrapping up, and that was close enough – they spent more time planning than I expected, but not so much that I had to drop an encounter. (Pro tip: Keep an eye on the clock, and be prepared to add an extra fight if they’re moving too quickly, or to drop an encounter if they’re taking too long.)
Thus it was that the party began by storming a pirate’s nest in a cave, then moved on to fighting fishmen in the sewers below Jalizar, before ending up in flooded ruins infested with aboleths. By the time they entered the pirate’s nest, the party was well over forty characters; Max the barbarian, his sidekick Magrat the shaman, Magrat’s dog (yes, Max’s henchwoman has her own henchdog), Ash the thief and his pet crocodile Tik-Tok (given to him by the Temple of Etu in recognition of services rendered), Zosimus the gladiator turned mercenary, U’wahz the Great Library sage, Dorjee the lotusmaster, Ghost the Tricarnian pirate, a sorceress, a pirate captain and her crew, and a couple of dozen Amazon mercenaries. Nine of the party were Wild Cards, and five of those were Legendary Rank.
The pirates went down fast and hard, but the party did remember to take prisoners this time, and thus learned how to get into the sewers and which locations to avoid. Leaving their pirate and Amazon allies to loot the nest and guard the prisoners (because they expected to spend most of their time underwater and only had so many environmental protection potions to go round), they descended into the sewers, meeting a group of crocodiles (which ignored them, because they have spent the last few sessions making generous donations to the Temple of Etu the Crocodile Goddess) before disturbing a band of fishmen at prayer. Those didn’t last long either, but did manage to mind-control Magrat’s dog and almost kill Ghost before Tik-Tok starting rolling aces on damage. (Tik-Tok does that a lot, and has contributed greatly to a generally overblown perception of how dangerous crocodiles are in the game.)
The fishman shaman was too late in arriving to help his colleagues, but did manage to cast fear (causing Ghost to run off screaming into the pitch black sewers) and puppet (causing Zosimus to change sides and defend the shaman) before critically failing his third casting and making himself shaken for six turns, more than enough time for Ash to stab him to death.
Following the shaman’s trail led them to a set of stairs down into the flooded ruins, where they found an aboleth abusing (dead) slaves. Aboleths are truly horrifying, and the party did not roll well; Magrat was paralysed with fear, her dog fled, Tik-Tok tried to flee but was being carried and could only thrash his little legs impotently, Dorjee tried to flee but tripped over Ghost when Ghost had a heart attack and dropped, incapacitated, on the stairs.
U’wahz was doing quite well at persuading the aboleth the party was on its side, until Max stabbed it with the Sword of Izim, initiating hostilities (and more fear checks all round due to the sword’s hellish laughter). While Zosimus and Max hacked away at it, Ash and Tik-Tok dove into the water to attack its soft underbelly. The aboleth tried to bargain with them several times, but they ignored it and kept wounding it despite my enormous stack of GM bennies; then they set it on fire as well, and it decided to clear off for a century or two and come back when they were all dead of old age. That’s a viable tactic when you’re an immortal sorcerer-mastermind.
That was when the party discovered there were three of the things down there. The others fled too; it’s just not worth taking the risk of being hacked and burned to death when there’s an easier option. The party were disappointed not to kill the aboleths, but frankly their chances of taking on three of them and surviving were not good, so they decided to take what they could get and call it a win.
Emerging into the daylight, the party realised that they had both saved Jalizar (because the aboleths had left) and doomed it (because they would come back), explaining why the prophecy had been vague on that point. I thought that was fitting.
We spent an extra half hour or so discussing what the PCs do next; most of them go home, either to report back to their patrons or retire, but Ash surprised me by embarking on a crusade to exterminate the fishmen of Jalizar’s sewers in the name of Etu. Max took the Sword of Izim back to Northeim with him, so that in a century his grandson’s grandson can return to destroy the aboleths for good.
Actually, the party’s notes on how their PCs retired and their plans for their descendants to return and sort out the aboleths a century hence were so good I am tempted to make that a future campaign.
This session went well until the final encounter, but fell a bit flat right at the end. It would have been perfect if they’d managed to destroy the aboleths, but I repeated one of my common mistakes, namely giving a monster too much Toughness. Aboleths, at least as I converted them, also have too many special abilities; three or four is as many as I can remember to use in a given session.
However, looking back on it I’m satisfied with how it turned out; it followed the classic trope that evil can be banished, but always returns eventually, and brought the campaign to a suitable close; as Max’s player said, “Max will retire now. He will never do anything more heroic than that.”