(The Man in Black & the Bride in Black; "Black Wedding" by Juha Arvid Helminen.)
My recent Oubliette campaign continued over the holiday weekend! Yesterday's game was the second part, following after the last session directly; I had planned for the adventure to be a two-parter, & my timing worked out perfectly! As I mentioned, I'm really striving for that; my pacing is the skill I'm most trying to hone with this campaign-- at least so far. I want to keep things flowing, going from single-session adventures to two-part adventures, with multi-session adventures being a big, climactic deal. Episodes & chapters that also move along a serial plot. I can tend to dwell but I'm attempting to nip that in the bud; keep the players options free form but also provide direction & nudging, so they aren't left adrift. To that end I'm using more jump cuts ("do you guys have anything you want to do on your way out of the dungeon? No? Okay! You're all out of the dungeon!") & in media res, cold opens, things like that. Again, I think I'm handling it well; I'm proud of myself. I am keeping it mixed up so that the various Players get the spotlight & the sorts of meta-game activities they crave-- a bit of light combat, some spookiness, some mystery, some politics, all that razzmatazz. I felt I might have under prepared for last night's game, but it turned out that I had anticipated my player's actions fairly well; there was some eventualities I wasn't really all prepared for but by & large they kept to the stuff I thought they would.
Our tale resumes with Duke of Saltwater, Slumbering Heart Dwells on the Hill boiling into a fit of indignation & rage, as his bodyguard Praetorian Long Cleaver of 1000 Helms lies broken & unconscious on the ground, ribs shattered, arms rippling with disease. Curie First-Light wraps his arms in gauze & examines them through the lenses on his goggles, seeing that the cancerous tissue is inter-fibrated with Long Cleaver's living skin, far beyond his ability to remove. Blue Glory on Dark Water notes that the creature they believe to be the Sugar Cane Killer is...if not rotting, then blazing with sick life, tumescently writhing, the stitched on limbs dissolving as the fibrous wriggling growth of its body self-metabolizes. Slumberheart storms off to collect some of the strange meat while the others build a travois out of sugarcane to drag Long Cleaver back to their cabin to finish cleaning his wounds as best they can as he struggles with the terrors of unconsciousness, groaning, hallucinating that his dogs are there with him, slipping in & out of wakefulness. Blue Glory stays with him while Slumber heart stalks off to confront Eight Moons of Delight & Maze Strange Kills, with Curie following him, jogging to catch up. "Where is the coal?!" asked Slumberheart, murder in his eyes. Ah ha! The coal! The man at the longhouse, at the last inn before the climb, had told them the people of Lookout Lake lived off the proceeds of selling coal, but the party saw nary a mining tool (they looked, desperate for weapons) & the white garb of the people there were clean, their hands soft. Where was the coal indeed?
Eight Moons seemed shocked at the metastasizing mess left from the defeat of the Sugar Cane Killer-- but not surprised for the right reasons. Nonplussed at the existence of a cancer-faced frankenstein monster, sure! Concerned that the creature might be up to no good; that is shocking. I'm sure you've seen a horror movie a more "science panic!" variety where one of the researchers is all "but the experiment with hyperintelligent sharks could never go wrong! I'm genuinely surprised that it has!" Yes; that. Trouble in paradise? How! When she saw the melanomas practically crawling up & down Long Cleaver's arms, she insisted that the party come with her to the "Operating Room." & they did, taking the elevator up to the top of Lookout Hill, & into the tower. The first floor was filled with filing cabinets & desks & paperwork; Eight Moons of Delight led them upstairs, to a theater of horrors. A white, stained table, covered with restraints & leather straps. A smaller tray with saws, knives, probes, screws, snips-- all the torture implements of medicine. The rest of the room was ringed with glass, set with chairs behind it, for observers. At first Long Cleaver wouldn't be strapped in: "She's going to cut off my arms! Don't let her cut off my arms!" Eventually he relented...& Eight Moons of Delight really did do her best not to cut off his arms. She did; & it turns out, she succeeded. There were Stamina rolls (paired with Eight Moon's medicine skills, plus the tool bonus of the operating room, minus some impressive penalties) to keep Long Cleaver from dying on the table; it took every inch of his will, but he didn't. As for toughing it out without screaming? Well-- he went a long time without screaming? In the end, surgery without anesthetics will break the strongest man. She finished up, cauterized his wounds, & untied the now exhausted & unconscious (again) Long Cleaver.
(The exploratory tunnels under Lookout Hill; "Pervaya Eltsovka River" by dedmaxopka.)
Down into the basement! When Long Cleaver of A Thousand Helms had come to his senses enough limp along (take the guy fresh out of surgery into danger? Sure! Role playing games sometimes force odd choices...) with them, Eight Moons took our intrepid friends down into the lower levels of Lookout Tower; first stop, Maze Strange Kills laboratory! A black room lit with an eerie blue glow...the circle of the room has an operating table similar to the chirurgy room above, with a key difference being that it has a sort of umbrella stand with huge syringes propped up next to it. The indigo light comes from a ring of dozens of circular glass tanks ringing the room; the liquid itself seems to be biolumenscing, plankton-tide light flickering. Bubbles move inside the tanks, not like air bubbles but rather the fizz of carbonation-- but that is not all that moves in the tanks. There are clumps of raw meat, flesh-- each pulsing in rhythm. Some unfurl like a fist, others twist, or flick like flagella; some strobe like struggling jellyfish or shiver. Blue Glory doesn't like this one bit; she stays at the door while Slumberheart interrogates Eight Moons; this is Maze Strange Kills' laboratory, she knows very little about it. This is where the exo-tissue was added to the severed limbs, she says. As they talk, Curie First-Light examines the semi-circular benches of tools & parts, widgets & gadgets; the cybernetic replacements are part of an ongoing project of compatibility, both forwards & backwards. Making prosthetics that can interface with human organs but also making things that...can interface with human organs for their own use. Curie leaves the lab with an odd gleam in his eye.
A picture has begun to emerge in the minds of our heroes, based on their observations & the statements they've gotten from Eight Moons of Delight. The "sacrifice" of limbs that the people of Camp Lookout Lake are brought here, & the arms stitched together & animated with...some kind of virulent, animate cancer. The malignant flesh is joined to human limbs, & wrapped like a mummy in burlap & linen. The resulting creature, crooked limbed & tentacle-headed, is used in the dark below; eyeless workers digging for coal, allowing the people above to live in indolent utopia. At least one of the creatures has gotten it in mind to begin reproducing; meaning that yes, the Sugar Cane Killer was collecting arms, legs & eventually heads...which it brought back & used to, presumably, create more creatures like itself. Eight Moons claims the creatures don't think, aren't really aware; the Players & their characters are convinced that just isn't the case. Slumberheart has it in his heart for-- justice? Vengence?-- "The shepherd must cull the flock," he says. Is Maze below? Are the other creatures dangerous? & what is the mysterious source of "exo-tissue" that Maze Strange Kills first began to obtain the animating viscera from?
Deeper! Deeper is the answer, into the coal seam itself, lit with Curie's anabaric lantern, held by limping Long Cleaver. Blue Glory wisely takes the rear, & Slumberheart smolders-- but slowly becomes distracted by what he sees. The first layer of the mine is classic room & pillar; the room is the coal seam itself, mined clear with the occasional column of coal in regular mathematical patterns, supporting the roof from collapsing. Blue Glory feels a puff of wind on her neck & is there-- scuttling on the ceiling? Creatures climbing around the pillars out of view? Nah. Perhaps? Nah. They go to the next tunnel bored in the ground, down deeper at an angle again to the continuing seam; this level is far less orderly. The pillars are grouped into areas...closer & with empty spaces within, almost like they've been used as ad hoc rooms. Sticking the anabaric lantern between a grouping of pillars (the light shuttering, going dim but for the beams coming out of the openings, Curie sees the inside of the room seems rough, uneven; like a salt lick left in the woods. "They eit eet!" he says, accent heavy. Yes-- Eight Moons concurs; they digest it with their organic solvents, slurping it up to deposit it later, like bees.
...which takes them to the third level of the mine, where all artificial order has given way to organic design, irregular & non-symmetrical pillars & shapes. Slumberheart, who has been fascinated, dragged by his senses & natural latent psychic abilities & empathy into the world of these creatures through their architecture, says it displays intelligence; & more than that, creative ability, increasing in order the deeper they went into the mines. Here, they are not alone-- they hear sounds, see figures-- & Blue Glory calls out "Hello? We're sorry for intruding in your home?" & mumbles to the other under her breath "well, it is only polite." The shambling shapes come closer (I used Zombies & Terror Wights for the minis) & a voice called out in a childish lisp-- but adult depth-- "Who there? Come see Mommy. Come see Daddy." The party bravely shuffles forward-- & the figures dip & out out of the light, both drawing away from the party & slowly encircling them. They are burlap covered, shambling-- but not revealed in monstrous, like the Sugar Cane Killer. The voices come from the end of the long chamber "over by big hole." These creatures are more obviously horrid, if seemingly innocent-- while the other creatures obviously mock the human form, these are more tumorous, more tentacled, more writing; the legs are at the bottom only because that is a logical place for them, the arms at the sides only because manipulating appendages seem useful, there; they are wrapped in strands of beating meat, like puppet strings. There are heads on top; yes-- clearly these are the creations of the Torso Murders (I used the Wrackspawn minis). The creatures seem-- harmless? They are more confused than anything? Mommy & Daddy want to know what colours are; tell them about "Sleeping Thing" in the chamber below, that the Man in...Black? Yes, black, woke up Sleeping Thing. They know they aren't really Mommy & Daddy; the Killer tried to name them that, so that is their name, but they aren't...parents? They are friends. "Friends" they say, gesturing to all the other creatures.
(The Sleeping Thing, Ultra 5ja; "Traitorous Instinct" by Scott Chou.)
The last bit of the climb down to the lowest chamber-- the area where the purported source of cancerous growth originated-- is a bit of a clamber. While the Players broke out a bottle of wine & took a second to refresh themselves, I drew up a map of the room on the wet erase mat; the black circles were rock pillars; the green squares are mining carts, some upended; the red xx'es? Well those are huge piles of broken syringes! Then of course I laid down the not-so-mini miniature (Rottingham, the Scourge Ghoul) & started...well, messing with them. I took all their character sheets & shuffled them, telling the players that their thoughts were bleeding together, running like wet paper. This causes some confusion-- well, plenty of it! Ultimately I don't think it worked out, so scratch that meta-stunt for the future! There was a load of misapprehension-- lightning guns zapping, folks scurrying for cover, shouting in each others accents. Meanwhile, the faceless giant rose to its...feet? Limbs, anyway. A sigil of holographic light blazed in the sky above in, reading in an ancient tongue "ULTRA 5ja." Its body was shapeless, formless, morphic, jello, invincible, all powerful. "KNEEL" it bellowed in their minds, in reply to being addressed; & Blue Glory & Curie knelt, breaking the spell dissolving their sense of self. Curie & Slumberheart spoke to the Thing. "Immaterial" it replies to many questions; "The creature wished knowledge of Recalibration." What is Recalibration? Is it the end of the world? Is it the world changing? Is it control of the world? "Correct. It tells them what it told the Man in Black: "The THRONE & the BRAND." They leave; the creature squicks them out, references things they don't know much about-- Abaia, MALAZAZZ. Fearful of further murders, they speak to ULTRA 5ja about the creatures above. "You wish them neutered? Done." Slumberheart says-- "the ULTRA is like to an Alpha as we are to dogs-- only we are the dogs." (This continues a trend in Oubliette-- the Giant under the Hill; see also the Knocknanny adventure & the Tomb of Vanapagan among other things.)
Then-- the end! They left; plain & simple. but on the stairs down...the long climb...they saw leaving the Last Lodge...The Man in Black! With a companion-- the Bride! They hear Blue Glory whistling for her steed & notice the party on the stairs, walking into the night mists. When our heroes finally made it down the found Red Spotted Crow dead-- exsanguinated, though there was nary a scratch on him! It took Long Cleaver hours of ransacking the place-- Blue Glory on Dark Water bemoaning her lost clothes-- but they found the cache Red Spotted Crow had kept their objects of worth in, hidden in the knots & boles of the wood beneath his bed. Then Long Cleaver of a Thousand Helms lavished the Hungry Templar rites of the dead on him, carving him up (awkwardly & poorly, as Long Cleaver himself was still badly hurt) & putting him on a platform for a sky burial. "What aboot his metawl awrm?" crooned Curie, himself magpie like. Ah, wise Long Cleaver wouldn't let him mutilate the dead. Alas for curious Curie!