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Friday, February 24, 2012

A Trek to Caliban


Almost 31 years ago, I sat down with bunch of friends for a game. It was an impromptu thing, as my cousin (Jim) had come in from England where he was stationed in the Air Force. There was 5 of us at the table, well, actually 6 but he had to take off early. I’d been familiar with Arduin for a few years at this point but I’d been playing RQ recently and had been out of it.

Anyway, I came in with two characters I’d played in the past: a wizard named Petrois Ne’ Cor, wielder of the Wild Purple Winds of Cohchur and bearer of the 5 Rings that sank Tendo the Fair, the shining jewel of the Southern Ocean; and a Martial Artist known only as Core-do-mauc. Core-do-mauc was a tormented soul, caught between the hellish world of his demonic sire and the one of his hobbitton mother. He never carried a weapon, content to use the harsh planes of his bones where they protruded from his skin as all the weapons he’d ever needed. The few times he lost his cool and sunk into the torment that chewed at his mind like a pack of hounds, the curse his fathering sire intoned when he was born would show forth on his skin, the spidery runic writing burning through cloth and steel.

Jim got us all together and told us to talk and plan before we started because we were making a trek into Caliban. Caliban! I’d been there once with a different character and it was tough – tougher than nearly any other adventure I’d been on! Whispering, we stuck our heads together and started plotting. I peeked every now and then in-between and caught Jim watching us out of the corner of his eye and smiling while he doodled at writing some notes. Anyway…we had all brought a couple of character and after some plotting decided on the following characters:

1. Faux Shaddoe, a son of the night, scion of its darkness (16th level)
2. Bear Walks into Ghost Claws, a Blue Barbarian (11th level)
3. Lord Jevlin Motedreal, a Priest of Megalon and bearer of the Shield of the Fellowship of Stars (14th level);
4. Kanaan, son of Konaan, winner of 100 duels (13th level Warrior)
5. Josephus, who heard the first words of magik spoken and was forever marked by their utterance (14th level Wizard)
6. Gimly, Nightblade wielder and Hero of the Battle of Elements Cross (15th level Warrior)
7. Shainaine, cursed by the Red Moon to be both spider and man (were-spyder Trader 17th level)
8. While I had both characters, I ended up playing Petrois Ne’ Cor (14th wizard) as the 8th member of our party to give us more arcane backup.

Seeing we were settled, Jim called us over and we sidled over to the table. A bit of storyline later landed us all in Talismond√©, meeting with an interesting patron. Each of us had different reasons for being there at the meet, from greed to revenge. It wasn’t hard for Jim to leverage reasons for us to find our way to Caliban. Our common enthusiasm and desire to game under the hand of a truly experienced GM bonded us into the excitement he was building at the table. Jim used the NPCs and our own character personalities to play off us off, one by one and in en masse, using Faux’s delight in mysteries and ego to challenge Josephus and his appetite for knowledge while Bear Walks into Ghost Claws was challenged by Motedreal in a way he could not back down from for fear of disgracing himself before the spirits of his ancestors and his god. Gimly was the hardest but the taunting of Shainaine (who went out of greed) and Kanaan (who walked with us for glory and to poke Gimly in the nose) soon brought him along. Petrois went to find the Red Winds, lost to time and trouble in the past.

We stocked up and prepped at Josephus’ place outside of Talismond√©. Our patron was an enigmatic fellow, cloaked and garbed to disguise limb and feature. We trusted him little but he spoke the oath bond to Megalon that what he passed on was true and made plain his aims in our quest: to gain the Fire Stones of Anarr, once worn as a necklace for the Giantess Eldincarissa, who bore it into Caliban and lost it when she died in the grasp of a radioactive blood ooze. He had divined that they were within, laying upon the burning altar dedicated to the Greater Demon Ralkull! At our refusal to piss off a Greater Demon he swore that by replacing it with an even more treasured piece that we would not incur Ralkull’s wrath. We were skeptical; but listened a little more keenly when he offhandedly said he had three of the Blued Blades of Ananias: Izidkiel, Hanael, and Kepharel, each named after the quasi-divine beings that bore them into battle during the Heaven Siege. After some wheeling and dealing we agreed but only if we could take the blades as well, kind of a “just in case Ralkull shows up…” backup. The object we were to replace the necklace with was a reliquary of Boreas, the withered but potent left hand of the Borean Saint Raven Boaz. Our patron, I guess, had recently stolen it from a wintry shrine in the far north but didn’t relate much of the story that went along with it. He did indicate that it was thrice cursed and that the triple curses would adhere to whoever kept it for any length of time; kind of a poke to make sure we did this in a timely manner.

Thus, accoutered, we were ready. We swore fell oaths in ensure both sides would carry out our obligations. Josephus was the gate, so to speak, on how to get to Caliban. He had been there once prior and had magik at this disposal to transport us to the right world. A short time later and we found ourselves in a world with yellow skies, a single moon, huge and swollen on the horizon and rugged, forested plains in all directions. Taking stock and moving around, we quickly found Caliban, its needle like basalt stone stabbing the sky like a dagger in the eye of heaven. We weren’t alone however, and an army of thousands surrounded it on all sides. The men of the army were like the Mongols, tough asian looking men on horses supplemented with floating sorcerers dressed in long silk robes.

While determining what or how we should approach, we kept moving to get a view from all angles. Unfortunately we tripped an alarm or just had bad luck (or, maybe Jim wanted to move us along!) – anyway, we quickly found ourselves embroiled in a melee with an over strength company of the army. As tough as they were and even with numbers (probably 200 or so) they had never seen anything like us before. Josephus and I cast spells near simultaneously, he conjuring forth metal spikes from the earth in a circle around us, angling them outwards in a bristling wall. I called forth a massive volley of arcane bolts, ones that jumped, sparked and danced from person to person. The others engaged as well each in their own way. Lord Jevlin Motedreal was spectacular, evoking forth a blue light that filled the sky, grim and ominous to the enemy, draining their courage while empowering and bright to us.

We made quick work of them though it wasn’t all with ease. Josephus and I tangled with the Chinese like sorcerers, taking on a floating pentad of them. One nearly ripped the organs right out of my body but I held them within by sheer force of will (a close save!). I returned the favor by melting his bones, succeeding where he failed. Josephus called forth two gaunt, scrofulous death figures, ringing them with a halo of unwholesome yellow in accompaniment. The sorcerers were not without their tricks as well and summoned forth winged snakes of lighting, writhing tentacles of darkness out of the ground and a rain of throttling hands. In the end we won, though I was burned, frozen, whipped and near strangled. Josephus had lost use of his left arm to some kind of genetic dissonance spell but was otherwise okay. The rest fared in equal parts and we retreated quickly, Lord Jevlin Motedreal calling forth a sanctuary. Within the sanctuary, out of the flow of the world we had landed to find Caliban, we rested and healed.

While within, we plotted. Some careful divination (something we should have done earlier) quickly exposed a plethora of information we could use. After we egress the sanctuary we back tracked from the Caliban area, using more care than previously. We found our goal, which was a village of people, mostly peasants. Between Faux and Shainaine, we quickly got what we needed through trade, treachery and talk. Armed with the knowledge of the local heroes, legends and demigods, we enacted our plan. See, we were going to walk boldly up to the army acting like we were heroes and demigods of legend and mythology!

Some quick magik makeover and a little preparation had us doing just that, stomping into the camp of the Co Tang horde. We picked a mix of churlish and prickly heroes to emulate and it worked to our advantage. If we messed up (and we did!) we reacted with anger and after killing a person or two, people were a lot less apt to point out inaccuracies. The Co Tang commander was Han; he had a long stinking name Jim rolled off but we stuck to calling him Han just to piss him off. After a few days of wreaking havoc in his army Han was about ready to let us do whatever we needed to get us out of his hair. Which is what we hoped/prayed for. He gave us pass to Caliban, almost relishing the thought. He mentioned the loss of many men to it and we didn’t think much of it, knowing Caliban’s reputation.

A short trudge later had us within sight of the giant basalt steps and megalithic doors. A storm was raging around the tower where it pierced the clouds and in the flicker of lightning under the hail of raindrops we could see a field of carnage laid out before us. A few men? More like several hundred! The remains of men lay strewn in parts and pieces in a wide arc in front of the doors. Deciding not to attempt the obvious danger we scouted for other routes. Josephus attempted to go airborne but the winds quickly cut that idea short. Dimensional door/teleport options failed completely. Entry via the planes was fenced in. Attempts to quell the storm turned out to be impossible. No other entry ways at the ground level were available, even after we scoured the sides in the rain. We did find that the tower had a disconcerting way of slowly absorbing anything that pressed against it for more than a minute. We almost lost Kanaan to that. Luckily he regenerated or else he’d be shy a limb! When the attempt to move earth to go underneath failed (it kept collapsing) we were resigned the doors were the only option left.

After the rest of us moved away some distance, Faux slipped up to the doors. In the rain and darkened sky we all lost sight of him. After a little while we heard several loud and obnoxious retorts, a sound some of us were familiar with all too well. Gimly said it for us: that was a gun, a big one. When Faux didn’t come back, we had to do something. Not willing to risk another disappearing, we decided to go as a group. Not interested in dying, we tried to be smart. Kanaan had in his possession a most wondrous sphere. One that could conjure forth a spherical barrier of power around himself and a group of others. Its downfall was once within, he could not move it. However, Bear Walks into Ghost Claws was monstrously strong and after some practice found he could roll it (slowly, so we could walk with it). While the area around the tower was muddy and wet it was primarily level. Bear Walks into Ghost Claws rolled us towards the doors and we quickly found out exactly what happened. We got within 100 yards of the doors and it seemed like hell opened up on us! A massive volley of shells slammed into the sphere followed by an echoing series of retorts like rolling thunder. After recovering from his surprise, Bear Walks into Ghost Claws waited and then slowly maneuvered the sphere towards the doors at an oblique angle; it kept him from getting hit. The shells were coming at the sphere from several points around the door, spraying out across the field. Once we figured out the angles, he maneuvered the sphere and smashed each one with a giant blow, causing it to explode when it spit forth its next barrage of shells. He got a little singed and pierced by fragments of metal but otherwise was unscathed. Once it quieted, we waited a little and then exited the sphere to look for Faux.

We scoured the mess of sodden body fragments but Faux found us instead of the other way around. He slipped out of the wet darkness like a ghost, his body held together by liquid darkness. Pissed but otherwise fine, he explained how he had crept up toward the door but didn’t make it too far before several of the guns around the door opened up on him. It took him this long just to recuperate – luckily the storm provided the necessary darkness he needed to heal. Not that he would be full strength for a little bit. He rested, along with some of the others, who choose to go among the dead. Lord Jevlin Motedreal moved among the fallen to give them last rites and others for less respectable reasons (thievery!); Josephus, I and Gimly scoped out the door and the area surrounding it.

To our eyes, senses and magical viewing, the doors seemed otherwise unbarred. It looked like entry was as simple as opening the very large doors: imposing, 50 ft monstrosities, scarred, battered but otherwise formed of some fibrous metallic material. We piddle around for some time, observing the area and waiting for Faux to heal (his condition/state only allowed him to heal in a certain way; a weakness I filed away in case it became useful at a later date). We finished and finally moved in.

Inside, the doors opened up to a giant, well, foyer, for the lack of a better term. The room was long, angular and connected to a couple of small hallways and several smaller versions of the outside door. On each side of the room, deep grooves were etched into the floor and it was obvious that a section of the wall on each side could slide out, opening up to a tunnel or room on the other side. Josephus found he could fly inside and quickly sprouted a pair of large white wings to do just so (nice spell). He did a quick scout of the area (the ceiling was some 50 ft in height on average, arched and groined like a cathedral. While we arranged into a decent fighting order, he found and disabled a few sensory devices – some techno, some magical in origin. Something he did must have triggered a trap or security measure because one moment we were talking about how and where to proceed and he was winging down to the ground and the next the room filled with dark green-blue fumes, arid and choking. The winds whipped up around me, forcing the fumes away even before they could come close to me but it took a second before I could expand this protection to the others. By the time I had bound up the fumes into a churning ball of smoke in the center of the room, it had worked its powers on the rest of us. Shainaine had been forced into his spyder shape and Faux into pure shadow. No one else seemed affected but both found they could not return to their original forms. Shainaine was little affected as he planned to assume his were form anyway. Faux was livid – he lost a lot of flexibility being forced only into shadow form.

We funneled the fumes out the door. We cautiously moved around and finding we didn’t trigger anything further, chose to investigate a little more before going forward. Faux used his shadow form to slip down one of the grooves in the sides and found one side led to a ramp going down into a tunnel and the other led to a ramp going up. He didn’t follow either any distance but found the triggering mechanism for both on each side. Investigation of the others doors quickly revealed they were unlocked and easily opened. Presented by a mass of possibilities, we had Faux slip underneath the doors of each and quick scout the other side. More rooms and hallways presented themselves and we were left using guesswork to choose the way. None of the guidance we had gotten indicated the way and what we learned about the shrine and its followers indicated they were long-lived or immortal followers of Ralkull and never left.

Figuring the side hallways were for mass movements we chose one of the other smaller hallways. It went straight, curved and then ascended. It connected to other rooms and halls but prelim investigation revealed only dust and debris from ages gone. We traveled some more, using care but getting a little less cautious as time went on and it seemed easy. We found some evidence of occupation but nothing distinctive. We slowed and used more care again. Our path led us to an odd area: a room of hallways leading to a center area, perhaps a cistern in the past but now scum filled and muck covered, with tendrils of the stuff crawling up the walls and long the hallways. Slits in the stone walls let air from the stormy outside and the mix over the cistern’s water formed a list mist that lingered.

Unwilling to enter the area (who wants to fight an ooze or slime?), we considered backing out and taking another direction but Josephus elected to scout from the air (it had another vaulted ceiling) and Shainaine skittered along the walls in spyder form. I directed my winds to keep the mist away from Josephus, glad when it worked. Scouting didn’t reveal much but we weren’t too terribly surprised when something found us – it had been too quiet and we were expecting it! No one saw where they came from but the cats slipped in and pounced on Josephus in the air, sliding through the dimensions and mist like great predators, surrounding him in whirlwind of burning eyes and claws. We reacted, of course, and set off a mess of events. Shainaine managed to web one of them and was fighting it while the rest of us unlimbered missile weapons, spells and magik. Less than a second in the room and our presence roused the skeletons in the cistern: sodden bones who hurled gobs of the slime that covered their bodies or sought to grapple and pull us under the water. It was a mass melee, with seeming endless numbers of them coming out of the cistern. Still its not like we weren’t heroes after all and laid into them with gusto! Sad as it may sound it was almost pleasant to tear into an enemy after such a long period of quiet and we were all pulling out some heavy fire power to decimate the skeletons and zombies that joined them. The cats barely lasted the first few melee rounds and skeletons and zombies? Come on! What’s this crap? Well, never taunt the GM. There we were, kicking some major arse and Jim pulls out a trump card: a cluster of Spiga! Not one, or even two but four of these babies, who crept up on us while we were engaged with the above. I felt the first bite of their attack as they nailed me with several spells simultaneously, along hitting Lord Jevlin Motedreal and Gimly at the same time. If they had concentrated attacks, I’d died immediately. Luckily they didn’t. Two Thunderballs popped right on top of me follow by a Sonic Sidewider (concentrated sound attack that disintegrates matter). Gimly was blasted with bolts of black lightning (bolts of devastation) and Lord Jevlin Motedreal suffered a physical attack of some kind (don’t remember/notes don’t say). I got lucky on my rolls and negated most of the damage from the thunderballs but the sidewinder almost killed me outright.

Gimly, Lord Jevlin Motedreal and a few others retargeted on the Spiga and I took one on myself. I command the Wild Purple Winds of Cohchur to turn opaque and to whip and snarl around me, spun the ring on my left finger to invoke Endrig’s Expeditious Action to move me across the room instantaneously and began barking out a spell. The Spiga hammered the spot where I was, dissipating the Purple Winds a spell I had never seen before, one that started as a pillar of dark fire that split into nine sinuous necks ending in dragon-like heads that exploded on impact. At the same time it realized I had moved, I finished by utterance to Call of the Nijgeedean and triggered another spell I had bound out of time, directing the Chill of the Void spell to surround the Spiga. It came out of the globe of vacuum the Chill of the Void called pissed, chattering at me in some language I’d never heard, leaping up to cling to the ceiling. Of course, the Nijgeedean started showing up in masses at that point. It launched a spell and fired off its spinneret but I eluded the silk and resisted its disintegration. Enough of the one-inch golden flies had entered via the portal I’d created with my summons and they swarmed over it, stinging it thousands of times until it died.

When I looked up again, the melee was over and a few of us were down or dying. Kanaan was out. Faux had been eaten alive by some terrible spell but Gimly had thrown a darkness stone over his corpse, knowing he would likely regenerate back. Bear Walks into Ghost Claws had been petrified and then partly shattered by a sonic spell from one of the Spiga. Lord Jevlin Motedreal was up and in decent enough shape and was working on them. A feather could have pushed me over I was so torn up. Josephus looked equally as bad: fried, frostbitten, shocked and parts of him disintegrated in turn. I think only magik was holding him together and keeping him alive. Shainaine was still in spyder form since if he switched back he’d probably die immediately from wounds. Gimly was in the best shape since his darkblade had drunk deeply of their life force before they died. It was he who took care of any remaining skeletons who occasionally would rise up from the cistern.

It took some time to get patched up. We lost Bear Walks into Ghost Claws permanently as his spirit was unwilling to return (we blew all the rolls to make the Deathbreaker spell work). Faux didn’t seem to be regenerating back but Gimly pinned the darkness stone to his body and stuck him in a bag of stupendous stasis. I personally didn’t think it would help but Gimly was both convinced it would/didn’t care.

We patched up and talked about whether we could/should go on. After some serious debate about our resources and ability to do so, we crept farther along. The next encounter was brutal. Josephus was the first to go, exploding into red pulpy froth as concentrated sound slammed into him simultaneous with two shrieking sparking blurs of fiery light. We had trekked carefully down a few corridors and through rooms towards our goal but in the last, seemingly empty one something had eluded us. Something had been cloaked and activated as we entered, a metallic cone/golem with rectangular chainlinks for feet and various tubes, rods and metallic coils hanging from it [a war droid though we didn’t know it. It hit Jossephus with a sonic disintegrater and two rockets].

We scattered but it didn’t matter. A storm of grenades, lasers and rockets later left me and Gimly still standing. I’d tried a few spells but without must effect. Gimly had gotten the closest to it but had gotten badly burned by its flame thrower. I got hit and almost went down. Barely standing, Gimly grabs me and starts running. Realizing he’s to hurt to get away, he pragmatically shoves his dark blade into me (jerk!), killing Petrois to get enough HP and energy to run. He was nice enough to shove my corpse into his bag with Faux and ended up the only one to make it out of there alive.

---- We never finished the game, much to my sadness. It got late, Jim ran out of time and had to leave and the adventure stayed open. Still, its one of my more memorable treks to Caliban.

1 comment:

  1. I remember when I started gaming with you and Rick. Yall would talk about Caliban this and that... I was like ooo ya. I wanna go... Now if I see Caliban my bravest adventurers will suddenly have an excuse to go home ... cause ummm not sure if they turned off the stove or locked the door.. CANT be too safe you know! Hope yall survive Caliban.. Look me up when you get out...(if you get out)... Btw could you sign this amended group will for me? Ya thanks

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