Thursday, September 24, 2020

Submerged Spire of Sarpedon the Shaper: Sessions 2 and 3

 Previous report here. Underwater playtest of Lexi's Sawn-Off rules in the eponymous dungeon

Dramatis Personae:

Lexi

Micah the Earth Elementalist and Krokka the Butcher. They are half-siblings.

Nick:

Boris the Veteran and Johnathan the Traveler.

Phlox:

Samsa the Occultist and Gernald the Traveler.

Exhausted from their near escape, the group collapsed under the stifling blanket of the afternoon sun, passing into the realms of sleep, and awoke to stars.

Samsa and Gernald had joined the venture so Boris and Krokka opted to stay behind to recover from their bodily traumas.

Not wishing to revisit the surrounding towers so soon, Micah, Johnathan, Samsa, and Gernald waded into the ruffling surf, venturing into the cavernous dome topping the central tower. Inside, a stone sculpture and altar plastered in congealed seaweed with a healthy sprinkling of barnacles. A spiral staircase wound upwards through the ceiling and downwards into full-dark water.

Gernald, knowing the tongue of Carvings, stepped forward and entreated the sculpture to conversation. It responded, promising to answer one question if the group scoured its surface of matter.

The party assented, and Johnathan found a wavy knife nestled with rusty flutes near the altar during the cleaning. Much debate was had over the question, but finally Gernald bowed and asked: "What are the most dangerous things in this place?"

The rosy statue replied: "The one who waits, the one who stings, the one who devours, and the one who grasps. Most importantly - the one who crushes."

While Micah pondered the form of such things, Gernald, Samsa, and Johnathan ascended the spiral staircase and happened upon a huge, tarnished bell. The clapper was surprisingly clean, and radiated power from its inscriptions. Gernald managed to sort out a feeling of humility and routine from the north side and joviality or stirring from the south side. 

[DM's Note: This room originally existed at beach level, above the statue room, but I forgot that and retconned the bell to the roof.]

Samsa declared her intent to ring the bell. Johnathan and Gernald quickly retreated. After delicately testing the clapper, Samsa rung the bell, producing two mighty knells but no further noise.

Gernald noted it was 2:00 in the morning.

The bellringers joined Micah and plunged into the inky swell. The next room had walls adorned with stone protrusions, suitable for shelving, despite the lack of shelves. The party noted a large array of objects covered by silt, and recovered some marvellous curios.

Descending further to the next level, the party found an assortment of marble tables, one surrounded with opalescent seats fashioned from giant clams. Their skin tingled as they swam around. Johnathan, while examining a fireplace, was accosted by a dreadful snake skeleton that paralyzed him with one bite!

[DM's Note: I hate paralysis. I find it to be a lazy mechanic that engenders frustration and boredom. Fortunately, the party made their Con saves quite well.]

After a panicked retreat, it became apparent the party could not outpace the creature. Samsa summoned Clippet, Lord of Ducks, who proceeded to swim upwards while carping about the unpleasantness of the situation. The others stood and fought, getting in some mighty blows. Micah briefly held the thing at bay with a stone tentacle, and the creature retreated.

They looked at each other, then, for a brief moment.

"Kill?"

"Kill."

"Kill....kill...KILL!"

In seconds, the skeleton lay in pieces. The group ate briefly.

The party swam into the portal from which the skeleton issued forth, discovering another pile of bones!

…These bones did not attempt to murder them.

After rifling through the pile, the party recovered a handful of coins and left, travelling down the staircase in this lesser tower to a curious room filled with many orbs. After some prodding, the orbs were identified as a multitude of woks, so the party resolved to turn them over. Most yielded forms of wildlife, though one was cemented by an unknown substance to the floor. It was let alone.

Under the largest wok, they discovered a mass of small eels squiggling around an red, faceted object. Accompanying these were four large eels that darted out and began circling the exterior of the room. Some debating resulted, but ultimately the party opted to leave the object alone.

[DM's Note: Originally, this room held nothing but kitchen utensils, but after describing the woks as "orbs", I felt a small measure of guilt at arising hopes and came up with some orb inhabitants.]

 Swimming upwards and then down to the next level through the central tower, the group discovered some basalt statues, more tables, and a suspiciously intact, well-carved wooden chair that identified itself as a "hot air detector." After more interrogation by Gernald, the chair revealed itself to be a thought reader, and expressed concern over it's master's location.

"Pray tell, how has my master conducted himself recently? I have not been graced with his presence in some time."

"I have had no occasion to worry over either his hospitality or his behavior."

"Ah, then you must be a special guest, indeed! My master holds very few people in any regard."

Our divers' skin tingled, and suddenly anemones erupted from Johnathan's eye sockets! Somehow, he retained vision through the tips of their tentacles. After some commiseration our divers continued, Johnathan opting to sit in the chair.

[DM's Note: Boris is the only original group member who hasn't been mutated. I wonder why?]

Concentrating, Johnathan scanned the lesser towers adjourning his current location, discovering a muffled clamor in one, silence in another, and finally three intelligences in the last. 

He felt a whetted hunger and, horribly, an awareness of his intrusion! One mind, filled with malice, cut itself off from his perception, and the other two quickly moved out of range. 

The party moved to retreat upwards through the center staircase, wondering whether they had time to decompress or if they had to risk depth sickness. Such speculation was stifled by the arrival of those intelligences sensed previously. 

These horrid creatures, equal parts spider and human, engaged the party in mortal combat. Micah bent the walls to prevent ingress, but the things advanced, using the tight spaces against the party, pinning some to the ground.

After several tense rounds of combat and some lucky dodges, the party managed to escape largely unharmed, bringing the creatures down with relentless spears. Johnathan, however, was knocked unconscious, necessitating a proper retreat.

[DM's Note: These creatures had a "save vs Death" ability, which I also dislike. I've amended it to permanent ability score damage on a failed save, not that it matters now.]

For the second time in four hours, our divers stumbled out of the star-speckled surf with an unconscious member.

Feedback: Sawn-Off's combat system is beginning to grate on me. Players autohit enemies, but get not only DR from armor but also the option to roll Defense (roll 1d20, add relevant ability score, try to get 20+) to dodge an attack. Granted, DR/Defense only work against one attack each, but enemies have neither DR nor Defense options, making combat trivial, if time-consuming against tougher foes. Very few enemies have multiple attacks.

I have some ideas to fix this, and I'll hopefully report back with some progress. Find out next time!

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