Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Deconstructing the Serpent's Skull 3: City of Seven Spears Part II

PART V: THE DREAMING JUNGLE This section is the ruins of a residential district.  The jungle has taken over this district more than the others, due to some decision of preservational magic made at the founding of the city (don't you just love all that historical banal detail?)  The theme of this district is fungus and vegepygmies—and as I said in my discussion of the first module, I don't really care for either all that much.  Anyway, lots of fungal hazards are suggested, although only obliquely as "make any encounter more tricky by adding these elements to taste" kinda way: violet fungi, shriekers, brown and yellow mold, green slime (etc.)  In addition to hordes of vegepygmies, which are unorganized, there is a "dream spider", a giant russet mold colony on the ziggurat, including an advanced vegepygmy chieftain, and a green hag who lives in an old manor house.

PART VI: THE SACRED SERPENT This was the artisan district, the ancient Atlantean Greenwich Village, or somesuch.  It is ruled by a lillend, a creature that looks a little like a winged Medusa, except beautiful because the top half isn't just a woman, but an angel (no snake hair, though.)  There's a tribe of locals who live here, and of course, they're all artists and crap.  A variation on the We Wuz Kangz fallacy, except instead of kangz, they're all super wonderful people and sculptors.  This is the one that the PCs are most likely to be able to ally with, rather than having to conquer.

A lot of the encounters here are with NPCs, then, not monsters, although this isn't entirely true.  A lot of the "statues" are actually very elderly people who willingly turned to stone via basilisk rather than die normally.  There are guards who paint themselves to look like statues, which is actually kind of clever.  There's a memorial to the founder of the city, with a big statue, but the area is swarming with venomous snake swarms.  The old arts academy is where most of the tribe lives, including their witch doctor (druid) leader.  Assuming the PCs haven't been wandering through the district massacring tribesmen, he's willing to talk, but wary.  (Curiously, although the Mwangi Expanse is Golarion's fake pre-Colonial Africa, the art here has Osond, the druid, look more like a meso-American native of some kind.  He's got a real Mayan vibe going on in the art.)  This district is also dealing with an outbreak of bubonic plague, although this is something that isn't really described at this point in the adventure. There is a ball pit, further suggesting a Mayan connection, where the basilisks live. Finally, the ziggurat is where the insane lillend lives.  She's supposed to be relatively powerful for the PCs to tackle, nor are they supposed to want to, although of course, she is mad (although relatively lucid in recent years.) (She's CR 13; the PCs are only half that in level.  The other challenges of the other districts are CR 8 and 9, mostly.)  She may ask the PCs to kill the monstrous vampire that's causing the bubonic plague (see below.)

Finally, there's some "haunted ruins" that are empty if explored, but will play a role later.

The least ridiculous-looking froghemeth image I could find.
PART VII: LAND OF THE GREEN GOD This is an interesting district; a former farming district (yeah, why there's a "farming district" inside of the city makes little sense, but the farmers mostly lived at the north and the fields spread to the south.)  The old farms are partially submerged under a big lake. There's a tribe of boggarts (frogmen, but not the scuba type) who live here, but they're in somewhat desperate straits.  Their witch doctor has been dominated by the aboleth (see last post in this series) which means that the magical fetish that protects them from the vampire mentioned above is at risk, they will be weak against their human and troglodyte enemies, and the froghemeth that lives in their lake will probably rise up and eat them because it's not properly appeased.    In spite of this, of course, they'll be quite wary of the PCs, but they can be friendly if the PCs help out, and they'd be happy to allow their area to be a base camp if sufficient help is provided (i.e., returning their missing witch doctor, killing the lillend mentioned above, or killing the trog high priest.)

Enemies to be encountered here may include frog-men patrols, the frog-man chief, and of course the froghemoth in the lake itself.  There are also some unusual challenges.  The witch doctors island has a charm that keeps the monstrous vampire (a vrykolakas, or Greek vampire) at bay.  This same vrykolakas is the creature mentioned in the artisan district as causing the plague, but it's also a threat to the boggarts, especially if the witch doctor's fetish is destroyed.  I like the idea of the vrykolakas (although maybe not necessarily the name) as a more feral vampire that is less focused on drinking blood, but causes disease, suffocates sleeping victims, and can possess animals when killed, to return another day after burying itself and slowly transforming from a possessed animal back into the same vrykolakas again—unless properly disposed of (burned, chopped up, staked, etc.)  There are some alternate names for the vrykolakas, including vorvolakas, and the in the south Slavic languages from which the Greeks borrowed the word, vǎrkolak and vukodlak.  Sadly, there's nothing particularly interesting about the encounter; it's just sitting around in an abandoned building.

At the top of the ziggurat is an entrapped hezrou demon.  It was summoned by the original chief of the froggy tribe in a botched ritual to become a half-fiend, but it remains trapped.  However, the nature of the trap was that after answering 101 questions, it would be free.  The chief was pulled into the Abyss and never answered the questions, but others have come by and asked from them time to time, and he's now up to 99, and very frustrated at continuing to be stuck.  When the PCs arrive, he attempts to woo them with his ready answers to their questions (although he prefers inane questions that are easy to answer, of course.)  If they ask and he answers two questions, he attacks them, now free—but he's not going to fight to the death and get sent back to the Abyss.  He'll flee and possibly even become a recurring villain in the area for some time, upsetting the balance of power as badly as the PCs have, for that matter, in the ruined city.

PART VIII: THE MANTIS HERESY This is the old temple district, and it has a cult of monster-god worshiping troglodytes, which in D&D are particularly smelly lizard people. (For purposes of FANTASY HACK, there's no difference between lizardmen, troglodytes, boggarts, or serpentmen—I just don't see any point in coming up with new stat-lines for herpetological people.  Besides, I've already split lizardmen into a big mauler and a lighter scout-type stat.)

Besides the combat encounters, there's the possibility of doing archaeological research about what deities the ancient Fake Atlanteans worshiped, if you're so inclined, and some detail is given to accommodate that.  You'll fight scaly acolytes (clerics) and advanced thugs.  There's a promenade with several gigantic "jungle mantises" waiting to ambush anyone who comes in.  Although these mantis do also eat the troglodytes, they have cultic significance to them.  If the PCs kill them, there will be howling and wailing and gnashing of teeth from the old buildings of the ruined city, and waves of lizardmen will attack the PCs until four groups are killed off.  The crypt of the city's founder is also located here, although curiously, it's not detailed at all, and you're told that if the PCs want to explore it, you can either make it already looted, or create your own dungeon to meet your needs for it.

As with each other district, there's a ziggurat here, and of course, the lizardman high priest lives here, with two pet Deinonychus (as mentioned a few adventures ago, this is way too big to be an actual Deinonychus, so it must be a Dakotaraptor or Utahraptor instead.)  He's also got a mantis blade; a special magical sword, up here, and will be supported by lower level lizard clerics.

The south entrance to the city is also here, although to get through it you will need to deal with a gigantic predatory parrot called a camulatz.  And one of the old temples is haunted by the insane ghosts of four priests from the city's heyday.

PART IX: ESCAPE FROM THE UNDERWORLD While not keyed to a specific location, the plot finally intervenes after letting the PCs explore all of these districts in the form of a refugee from below.  Juliver was part of a Pathfinder expedition that was captured and has been missing for some time.  She escaped and damaged the teleportation crystals necessary to reach the serpentmen city below, but found serpentmen undead clogging up the escape "hatch" that reaches the city.  So, while she makes it, she's been subjected to a feeblemind spell, which renders her unable to speak, paranoid, and basically has the intellect of a non-verbal toddler.  The first wave of undead that comes up after her includes a mummy "boss" with four wights and eight ghasts (a kind of "superghoul.")  He'll come up in the "haunted manor" mentioned above, but the place will be empty until Juliver passes through and awakens the undead buried beneath.

The final "boss" of the adventure is an undead ghast serpentman necromancer (I kind of dislike the layering of concepts like that that 3e introduced and made normal.)  He's also got another mummy, more ghasts and more wights with him.

Following this, there's a list of a bunch of magical treasure scattered at various places around the city.  I've downplayed magical items in FANTASY HACK a lot from a D&D perspective, but I don't mind having some.  There's way too many for my taste here because I prefer a more sword & sorcery low magic paradigm to the magical item supermarket.  Then there's some discussion (mostly in the form of a bunch of fiddly rules) about where the PCs may set up their campsite, and in fact introduces a mini-game of exploring the city for "points", which they'll presumably compete with against the other factions mentioned earlier—Aspis Consortium, Red Mantis Assassins, Pathfinder Society, etc.  They can also, of course, raid their rivals and kill their people and destroy their camps.  There are also some rules around how the actions of the PCs can lead to changed attitudes of the various factions—either the guys who already live here, or the explorers trying to crack the city open for their own purposes.

Finally, of course, there's the bestiary at the end of each module.  Here, we have the camulatz (giant parrots), various new swarms—snakes, venomous snakes, piranhas, megapiranha swarms, and an odd plant-based effects that act like swarms.  We have the mokole-mbembe which is basically an aquatic sauropod with an Elasmosaurus head attached.  There are these kind of totemic tiki gods that become constructs of sorts.  And finally are the harvestmen: strange pseudo-undead that are like Frankenstein's monster, constantly replacing their injured or damaged or aged parts with body parts scavenged from their prey.  This is supposedly because of a juju curse; and there's an essay here about Juju magic, which is basically a D&D version of voodoo.

I've got the following that I'd need to use in this module, then:
  • pterosaurs and crocodiles—I already have stats for both
  • a ghost
  • the mokole-mbembe (I'd just have a carnosaur and make it amphibious)
  • troglodytes (lizardmen)
  • gibbering mouther (addressed in the last module)
  • the aboleth (curiously, I might use the stats for a succubus, make it aquatic (not amphibious) and just describe it wildly differently.  Assuming I wanted to have something like an actual aboleth.)
  • I already discussed last module what to do about the various apes needed here.
  • For the demon-ape that's been petrified, if it gets unpetrified, I'd use the Typhon daemon stats.  Maybe give it fly if you care about having it fly.
  • For the gigantic crocodile, I'd take existing crocodile stats and ramp up the hit points, to hit and damage a bit.
  • keches can use bear stats, but make them arboreal and give them a bonus to hiding
  • I've already got chimeras (chimerae?)
  • I can recreate shadows with the ghost template.  All of these incorporeal undead are too much alike to justify being totally different kinds of creatures.
  • serpentmen and boggarts and troglodytes will all be treated as lizardmen stats
  • the rakshasa can be represented by a succubus statwise
  • the giant two-headed snake can be a sea serpent, if that's not too big and dangerous for you.  If it's not, you can always make it attack with both ends, where it really will be difficult to deal with.
  • The zombies can be skeleton stats, as normal
  • I've already discussed various fungal hazards and vegepygmies.  I probably won't convert them at all, but if I do, I'll use something in my stat blocks.
  • I don't have hags, but I prefer to see them less as monsters and more as NPCs anyway.
  • The dream spider can probably be a wyvern that doesn't fly, but which spins webs that cause hallucinations.
  • The closest thing to a lillend that I have is my angel stats, but those won't do at all.  I'll probably have to whip up something new if I want to use the lillend.
  • I don't have basilisks, but some work with the medusa stats will probably do just fine.  Just reduce the intelligence.
  • The ketos is probably too much to represent a froghemeth.  In a pinch, I'd use carnosaur stats made amphibious, and add tentacle attacks.
  • I'd like stats for an alternate vampire, although I don't know that I'd call it a vrykolakas, or any other derivative of that name, actually.  
  • I'm also not sure that the typhon demon makes a good stand-in for the hezrou or not, but I also don't think it's worth the trouble to worry too much about it.
  • The jungle mantises, like most other gigantic insects and other bugs, can be represented by wyvern stats.
  • The camulotz can be represented by pterosaurs; pretty much any large predatory flying animal works there.
  • I've already got mummies, wights and ghouls, but not ghasts.  Since ghasts are just slightly advanced versions of ghouls, I won't bother.
  • I can recreate the new swarm types by simply moving my existing swarms to a new environment; i.e. insect swarms can't fly and become snake swarms; bat swarms swim instead of fly and become piranha swarms, etc.
  • I have no idea what—if anything—I care about the harvestment or tiki gods, but if I want the former, a toned down flesh golem would work.  I'd need to create the latter from scratch.

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