(The Royal Physician; "Return to the Runelords" by Paolo Puggioni.)
Good old Oubliette. How many people have the monsters consistently be defeated by extraordinary diplomacy checks? Last campaign it was how they appeased the spectre of the Witch-King, & then this session they escaped-- at least the first time-- the same way, with clever pleas using in-game details & extrapolation, complete with lucky dice rolls. Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves, we'll get there soon enough. So! Sadly, Mollie has left us, which is a bummer but! Does have the upside that now the pacing of the game will pick up. I tend to let players blather, I like the "roleplaying" part where they all pretend to be these fantastic characters, but couple that up with my tendency to be "mysterious" means the story is pretty thick, pretty dense. So, Mio Yudai, the warrior monk & body guard, has become an NPC, & hopefully when Mollie visits she can reprise the role. Eric also couldn't make it-- holiday party season-- so Ren Joko Izumi was present but not as smart or useful as he could have been if his own personal demigod had been here to nudge him into action. The rest of the gang was! Silissa's & Nicole's rode the train with me down, so Kemushi Moe no-Cho & Mukade Keku Kin were there, our representative from the corporate zaibatsus, followed by Amina o-Kitsune & Haru o-Kitsune, fatbutts & Luke's, the aristocratic noble Kitsune cousins, who I think really found their family bond this session.
Where were we? Last session saw them barricade themselves off in the antechamber of the Arboretum attached to the Pyramid of the Royal Physician's Tomb. They are trapped in there by a vicious sandstorm with the corpse of Gale, Moe's assistant, who went weird & dark & poisoned himself to death...& is rotting at an accelerated rate. I describe his body as "like rotten fruit," but when Moe & Amina investigate, they discover that...it isn't just poetic? That is, the consistancy of Gale's body is like...well, you know how a few centuries ago people made savory jello, with like meat & savories in unsweetened gelatin? Like a pumkin still on the porch in late November, but chunky with bits of...chunk. Amina plunges her hands in, looking for something. Haru is curious, & Keku too, coming closer-- well, Haru cowers behind Mio for a while, but eventually he comes over. Keku's attention is split between those events & the door. There was a mighty KNOCK at the door, & another KNOCK shortly after, & Keku & Haru see orange sand wisping in, spinning about in mini-cyclones like the American Beauty plastic bag, then sand starts to pour in.
Amina plunges her hands inside of the body, rummaging around, looking for...who knows what. What she finds is cold, almost metallic, but wormy? She pulls it out & as she does Moe gasps gutturally & drops to a knee. "You ever pull a wart out & you can feel the roots still inside your body, tugging? Sort of like that, only the roots are wrapped around your heart." Out it comes, a thing sort of like an iridescent golden anemone, the same colour of shining gold as the pill Ren gave Moe, as the erstwhile taikomochi points out. It immediately starts melting in her hand; Amina squeezes it & I describe it to Silissa as an gynecological exam sort of feeling, in her torso. Wrapping it in a handkerchief, it continues to dissolve, & drip down in golden rivults...which evaporate before they hit the ground. It touches Amina's skin & sticks together, viscous. "Like mercury!" Yes, I've been avoiding saying that, but occultist Haru examines it; ilike alchemical quicksilver, it is spiritual liquid, pure but different. As it sublimates, melts, trickles away, Moe-- urged by Haru & Amina-- drinks down the last drops of it, triggering another flashback, to her childhood, to food & sleep deprivation.
(The Eye of the Storm; Age of Conan concept art.)
Keku has been keeping her eye on the sand from the door, watching skull faces manifest in the orange dust, & one of the cyclones grows bigger & bigger than the others, forming a roughly human form with a golden flickering halo...that engulfs Mio! She struggles to get out while Haru pleads for her life, saying they just came to consult the Royal Physician & Keku (with help from Moe & Amina's muscle) push the door outside open against the piled up sand. Outside there is-- oh what-- a giant black dirt elemental, in the eerily silent eye of the swirling sand storm complete with a bright golden solar disc above its head, a towering sable threat. Keku, unabashed, keeps walking out; her cybernetic eye, of Al-Kem origin, shows her a skeleton, arrayed with peacock feathers, pulling the strings. Haru's diplomacy seems to work on the "dust devil," & the windy orange creature dissipates, dropping an unconscious Mio, whose eyes are blue-black, the same blue-black as the stains on Amina's face, as the bloody albumen from the terrordactyl eggs. "SO BE IT. ENTER MY TOMB. CONSULT THE ROYAL PHYSICIAN. THE ROYAL PHYSICIAN MUST LIVE AGAIN, OR DEATH COMES." So says the skyscraper-creature, before-- with the THUMP-- all the sand in the sandstorm & the dirt making up the creature fall to the ground, the tornados stopping as if a switch had been flipped.
Mio is hurt & Ren agrees to take her back to the longhouse to let her rest & take care of her, to look after her. The two former-PCs-turned NPC exit stage left. The party talks it over-- back into the Arboretum? To hopefully find a way into the pyramid, into the presumed tomb. Or bail entirely? Just because some demigod screams at you doesn't mean you have to do what they say, & the whole reason the group came here was the auction for the canopic jar weapons, & this is a distraction. Yeah! They lean towards deciding to ignore the Royal Physician, to troop back to the log cabin where Goro the warlord waits, & get on with the matter at hand...& then Moe uses her skill at hypnosis to jumpstart affairs, jerking them by the arm Derren Brown style, leading them out. Keku sobers up first, walking out into the strange sand-sculptures & hillocks reshaped by the storm & it's sudden conclusion. They are all trooping through when suddenly one of the sandy dunes shakes like a dog-- a dog the size of an SUV-- & lumbers up onto two legs, stalking towards the party, directly between them & their destination. Keku-- Arrogantly, as that is her Vice & we were just talking about how to get Willpower back-- charges.
Keku's has very clever wrist-mounted tools, among them knives, that she whips out & sticks into it the "sand elemental" & following her lead is Amina who rushes forward with her katana...only to find it stuck in the creature's body. (Nicole had been afraid of her weapons getting stuck, which I laughed at because, well, it was one of the "powers" I had written down for the thing.) Haru is maneuvering around, distractingly, saying to the thing they he defies the Royal Physician, & other such slurs; Luke had some good ones, so it is a shame I can't remember them now. I didn't make him roll, that's how good they were. Keku takes the chance to jump back into the fray, climbing the sand creature to stab in...& getting stuck in turn, this time. Amina's still tugging on her katana, her family's honor in physical form, to no avail.
(The Sandstone Golem; Stone Golem from Rise of the Runelords.)
Moe has a different, crazy tactic. She wants to hug it out. The Shogunate has a lot of ritualized culture, formality turned rote-- think of the tea service-- & Moe approaches the creature thus, with a ceremonial dance...& rolls really well. (The dice hate Nicole, are indifferent to Luke & Lilly, who seem to roll statistical averages, but they sure like Silissa.) As they touch, Moe feels something golden pouring into her mind. You know how you can fill up a cup to the brim, then take it to a similar cup & dump the liquid in, right up to the brim? Only imagine one vessel is cracked. The creature, sand shifting, solidifies into a smooth rocky figure, a "sandstone golem" with a skull face...who leans into the embrace, but at the same time...picks up Amina & throws her hurtling at Haru. ("Throw" was another power...) Haru ducks out of the way but Amina is really trashed; she seriously wounded from the terrordactyls, & getting the crap kicked out of her has almost knocked her out.
Amina puts on the mask of the oni king & meditates, centering herself in her rage, & Haru cuts his arm with his wakizashi, his honor formed of folds of steel, & flings the blood toward Amina as an offering to the devil god. He fails his Humanity check so he drops to a six & writes on his sheet "Blood Magic." Hooray for Oubliette! Moe clutches to the rock monster, it cradles her & then...collapses. "THE ROYAL PHYSICIAN MUST LIVE OR YOU WILL DIE." Keku avoids being sucked into the implosion, though not particularly gracefully. Amina's sword is sticking out of the side of a sand dune; it never moved, the "golem" instead shifting without turning when it was animate. The iris' of Moe's eyes are golden, & her voice has an odd timbre to it; Keku watches Amina & Haru confer for a moment & then the two of them are suddenly enthusiastic. "We need to learn more about the mad--" it almost seems Haru is about to say "madness" but no, "--majesty of the Royal Physician." They agree to go to the Pyramid, for the-- & then in a great moment of synchronicity, they say their motives to Moe, all at once, over top of each other. "Life!" "Power!" "Knowledge!" Taking some of Moe's coca-based stimulants to shake off the beating they've taken, Haru & Amina are very motivated to move on...
(The Dust Devil, Sand Elemental & Sandstone Golem; photo by Mordicai.)