– Or –
The Characters Finally Head Off to Qelong
Having cleaned out Graupher’s Keep of the creatures that had escaped from the menagerie and the interplaner creature that Graupher and his men had brought back in their travels to research and destroy, the Lamplighters took some time to sort through gathered treasures and magic.
The magic-user researched spells and set up a new lab in the keep. Two of the characters experimented with the power suits that they had retrieved from the slaughtered Carcosans they found dead in the remains of Death Frost Doom. One power suit was still locked, but they had a weekly chance to find the combination and finally pulled it off. Each power suit had unique abilities I had randomly rolled using the tables from Carcosa.
Carcosa describes the alien technology of the world in the style of Jack Kirby style art. So the players in 17th Century Europe have suits of armor in the style of the image above.
The Lamplighters also hired in workers to clean out the mess left over from the thousands of undead in the Turning Tower, as well as fortifying and repairing the compound as a whole.
Now, in the Session #22 recap I noted that I thought once the Players had found Graupher’s ship they would be heading off to the world of the Qelong Valley to find the Aakom they needed to free their friends who became trapped in Null Space while exploring the ancient Duvan’Ku catacombs under Munich. (It’s a long story… but if you read all the entries you’ll get the details. I realized I can’t keep recapping everything in every recap. It’ll just take too long! Short version: They need to go the Qelong Valley in an alternate dimension, recover the Aakom leaking from a cylinder that is poisoning the valley, travel to Carcosa using The World Stone, get to and enter the Spatial Transference Void in the city of Carcosa which will let them enter Null Space, rescue their friends, and use the Aakom to escape Null Space and return to earth!)
Instead, they decided to return to Bergenzel and clean it out once and for all. Okay, I thought, and then next week Qelong!
But no. After experimenting and cleaning up the keep they decided that since some of the spider cult members of Bergenzel had fled the town, the most likely place they would have gone to would be the Insect Cult located north of Karlstadt. They didn’t know about the Insect Cult, really, but months earlier they had found a map of Europe on the inside of a dead knight’s flesh marked with:
- the death symbol of the Duvan’Ku which marked the temple from Death Frost Doom
- an insect symbol which marked the Insect Cult from Better Than Any Man
The Players had decided back in the seventh session that they would be traveling to the bug mark on the map. You might recall that I prepped for Better Than Any Man, the Player Characters stopped in Munich while traveling north to Karlstadt, found out rumors of ancient Duvan’Ku catacombs under the streets of Munich, researched further, and stumbled intoThe God That Crawls. (Which I had moved from England to Munich.) In doing all this they promptly forgot about heading to Karlstadt, my prep was scrapped and they entered a terrific module that took us three sessions to clear out.
More things happened and their focus turned completely from the events to the north and they headed west in an effort to find an adventurer rumored to have a ship that could travel to different worlds so they could go rescue their friends trapped in Null Space. (Again, the recaps keep looping around. In part it is because I have remember for myself how all this stuff went down!)
The point is: Once they Players had declared they were going to Karlstadt I started the countdown that is a core element of Better Than Any Man. The Swedish Army was going to sweep down from Denmark across the Holy Roman empire whether the Player Characters went north or not… because it started and it was up to them to get back up there in time to find all sorts of treasures and adventures or not.
Well, they never went back. And the catalogue of events listed in Better Than Any Man took place as described over the ten days of the adventure–even if the Player Characters were not there to participate in the adventure!
The Players, of course, knew nothing about any of this. Nor did their characters who had spent that last two months in shrines and catacombs built by the Duvan’Ku or traveling through the time-distorted swamps of Bergenzel. By the time they headed back to Munich to see the treasures they had recovered they heard about the onslaught of the Swedish King but did not realize that the adventure that had been waiting for them had been wiped out. (I try to be honest about how the world is moving forward around the Player Characters, whether the Players are aware of it or not. This was one of those times!)
So: We gather for Session #23 and I’m thinking: “Okay, here we go to Qelong!” And the Players decided to go to where they saw the insect symbol on the map. And they had no idea the Insect Cult was wiped out by the Swedish Army (along with the witches of Karlstadt and so on.)
So I pull out Better Than Any Man. Because even though the main adventure sites have been destroyed by the Swedish army Better Than Any Man has a whole list of awesome random encounters I can use to generate content for tonight’s session. Since the area will still be war-torn and ruined almost every one of the encounters will still be viable.
THE SIGN IN YELLOW
The Player Characters travel to Munich as they head for the Insect symbol on the map. They ask about rumors of the war, of the invasion by the Swedes, of anything to do about insects.
The find out that the Swedes sacked Karlstadt, sacked Würzberg, and killed many witched. They destroyed a tower that no one could see and the rivers ran with blood. They attacked a compound filled with monsters. Few men came out so they used explosives to seal it all up. The details are sparse. It is told more like exotic rumors and tales… but it is all true! This is the aftermath of Better Than Any Man–and the Lamplighters missed the party.
But, more pertinent, the Players hear rumors of dreams that have been haunting the citizens of Munich for weeks. People have been unable to sleep–or, rather, have been sleeping but do not feel as if they have slept. A figure in yellow robes haunts them. The Players begin to notice a strange symbol in yellow scattered on the walls of Munich. People feel that something is coming. That while they had feared what might happen once the Swedish army sacked the Catholic cities, this would be worse.
THE WITCH’S HEAD
The group continues north. They pass Würzberg and see corpses of “witches” that hang from trees. And hear tales of the witch trials taking place. They travel on and I make a random encounter roll. They hear rumors of war elsewhere. But a large portion of the Swedish army has been disbanded after the cities were sacked and mercenary troops took their loot and went home.
They reach Karlstadt. They see the heads of the witches on pikes on the city’s wall. Again, this is the aftermath of Better Than Any Man. They have missed all the events. And yet, by playing out the events as they occurred we have new chances for unexpected adventures.
For example, the adventures decide they want to examine one of the witch’s heads. Why? I do not know exactly. But can I blame them?
Since their journey south along a road to investigate fallen meteorite–upon which they came across a corpse that was later revealed to have been killed by a doppelgänger from another planet come to study the human race–and all the things they had seen from that moment onward until now, would it be truly unreasonable to assume that investigating the decapitated head of a witch on a pike might not yield interesting information? Certainly it was a possibility that such a thing should be looked into. And so they did.
Note several things:
I had no idea the players would want to investigate a decapitated witch’s head. I put it there as a bit of color and to make clear that whatever had happened had happened and the situation had wrapped up.
It is not my place to tell the players there is nothing interesting to be found by investigating a decapitated witch’s head over a city gate. If this is something they want to do I let them do it. Remember, in this game I have no plot, I have no story. There is no place we are trying to get to, no climax I need to guide them toward. Whatever they choose to pursue is the story.
At this point they are providing material for me to use. Again: I have no story. The Players make rolls as they sneak around and try to investigate the head of a decapitated witch.
So they get to the head. It seems to be, I explain after they examine it, a decapitated head and nothing more.
They decide to steal it.
James Raggi once stated there was no need for a Call of Cthulhu insanity-style mechanic for Lamentations of the Flame Princess because after a while the Players would be having their characters do all sorts of crazy things with the characters all of their own volition. Guess he was right!
The group slips the head into one of their sacks and makes their way back out of the city before they are caught with the witch’s head.
They decide to head back south, making plans to travel to Italy to find sailors for their ship and their journey to one of the worlds Graupher discovered. And so they travel south, this imposing group of fifth level adventurers…
- Werner, Prock a German mercenary
- Adrian MacBride, a Scottish cleric
- Vilfolk, a specialist noted for his facility with languages and knowledge of architecture
- D’Antonio, a warrior from Spain
- Rauk Bork, a specialist from Germany noted for his sneak attacks and tinkering
- Anika, a magic-user who has gathered strange spells and items during her adventures
As the group travel the sack with the head begins to move. They open it and the head is speaking. They talk to it, and the witch’s head is trying to warn them.
“I made a pact with the Insect Gods,” the decapitated head says, “because I knew something far worse was coming.”
“What?” the characters ask.
“The gods of Carcosa,” the decapitated head says.
Anika, the group’s Magic-User, decides to place the head upon her staff as an imposing decoration. And so they continue south in this fashion. Because this is, after all, Lamentations of the Flame Princess…
Some Thoughts on the Witch’s Head
I want to note here that I simply made up the head talking on the spot. I wanted to crank up the growing tension about the Carcosans and their invasion. I thought the dead witch would spit out a warning and that would be that.
In retrospect I would not have done it this way. I should have let the Players have their characters cast a spell of some sort or come up with some magical shenanigans to get information from the head if that’s what they wanted. I was excited to talk about what I was excited about. And certainly I’m allowed to share what I’m excited about.
But given that they stole the head of their own volition with no expectation it would provide information, I should have let them decide to press the matter further.
Not a big deal… but I did think about this after the session. A lesson learned.
But more: now that Anika has placed the head on her staff it is kind A Thing for me to deal with. Does it just keep talking? Spitting out omens? Or what?
I have decided the head will be an artifact of sorts. It actually isn’t the witch that spoke to them, but an avatar of the Insect God that hopes to manipulate the characters to its own desires. It will pose as the witch as long as it can to deceive them. It will have some powers it will offer to Anika to make its presence more palatable. But I haven’t worked those out yet.
The group continues south, but is still with the territory of Better Than Any Man. I roll on the encounter table from the book. I roll an Encounter!
I roll on the Encounter Table to see what sort of encounter. I roll a 21. Rogue Mercenaries! Interesting! I hadn’t expected that!
I roll again to see if they are foreign mercenaries. 50% chance. They are! I read the description quickly:
these men are simply foreign mercenaries stranded in a strange land trying to survive with no idea how to get home through hostile territory…
I decide these are Swedish Mercenaries who came over for the fight, pillaged, broke off from the army when payments came late. I roll to determine how many. 150 troops!
Huh. I have no idea how this is going to go.
I have each side roll for surprise. No one gets surprise.
I decide the Player Characters spot a patrol of Swedish Mercenaries–and the Swedes spot them. Rather than try to skirt the patrol the Players have their characters walk up to the patrol. Because here is a thing: The Player Characters are like Fifth Level now. In the setting we’ve built that is a big deal. They simply carry themselves differently. They are bad-asses who have seen the shit and when they approach a bunch of Level 0 Swedish Troops on patrol the troops take a step back. Because this strange crew of soldiers and specialists, as well as the strangely powerful looking cleric and the woman who is dressed in sturdy travel clothes but carries herself with the confidence of a woman who has looked the devil in the eyes and lived to tell about it walk like they are the last people you want to fuck with if you want to see another day.
I make a Reaction Roll, per the rules. I give a +2 to the roll since a) the mercenaries are without food or income and in no need to get into a fight they don’t need to get into, and b) the Player Characters look like bad-asses–so they probably won’t want to get into a fight.
The roll (if I remember correctly) was somewhere around the middle. The members of the patrol and the Player Characters trade pleasantries and trade doleful comments on the state of the war-torn world. The mercs explain their circumstances.
One of the Player Characters, Werner, asks to speak to their captain. The mercs are wary of this. But when Werner says it might involve employment they perk up and lead the six travelers to the camp.
Now, Werner is played by Eric. And Eric is a clever guy who comes up with clever plans. (Eric loves puzzles. He takes notes all the time and then goes back to them to put two or three pieces of clues together to make some solution unspool in dungeons.) So I can’t wait to see what is going to happen.
I check Better Than Any Man for more details about the mercenary company they are about to meet:
There will be 10d20 soldiers in all, with as many camp followers (cooks, wives— or “wives”, and children, etc.) in any such band, and the initial encounter will be with either a patrol of 3d6 soldiers (50% chance), 1d6 camp followers (40%), or with the main camp itself (10%).
Officer: Armor 16 (breastplate), Fighter Level 1d6, Movement 90’, 1 musket or sword attack for 1d8 damage, Morale 1d6+5.
Sergeant: Armor 14 (jacks or buff coats), Fighter Level 1d4, Movement 90’, 1 musket or sword attack for 1d8 damage, Morale 1d6+4. Has Strength 15.
Rest of the Troops: Armor 14 (jacks or buff coats), Level 0, Movement 120’, 1 musket or sword or pike attack for 1d8 damage, Morale 8.
Horses: Armor 14, 5 Hit Dice, Movement 240’, 1 hoof attack for 1d6 damage, Morale 8.
Camp followers: Armor 12 (unarmored), Level 0, Movement 120’, 1 dagger attack, Morale 6.
I roll a d20. A 15! So there is a large camp of 150 troops with as many followers.
The patrol leads Werner and the other Player Characters to the mercenary leader, who I quickly name Captain Boris Johansson. I roll the Reaction Roll secretly and tuck it away for later. I know how Johansson will react… but I want to wait until Werner makes his offer.
Werner offers the following: “Your men have no employer, no way to get home, and currently no food or work. We have need of soldiers. More than that, we have a keep that needs troops. And we have a village nearby that is deserted, but with home and lands that you could call your own. We’ll grant you the land and you can settle there and live there as long as you are under our employment.”
At first I didn’t know what Eric meant by all of this. And then I remember that the group had cleared out the village of Bergenzel not only of the spider cult but also the mist caused by the Time Cube that had held it frozen for decades. No one lived in the village anymore. And now it was a small village with buildings, land that was no longer a swamp, a church already built, and so on. He was offering them land that they had cleared. And silver for working for them. And I thought, “Okay! Good offer!”
On top of that I had already rolled a natural “11” on 2d6 on the Reaction table (“Talkative.”) So Captain Johansson is willing to at least entertain the idea.
Negotiations took place using the Hiring Retainers rules. We added up the modifiers, rolled 3d6 and the group got a 16 on the roll. Which meant a Loyalty of 10. (Very good!)
The company began packing up to head down to the Alps and the town of Bergenzel.
THE INVASION OF EARTH BY CARCOSA
So, the next day the Player Characters and the Mercenary Company head off. The players are now in good shape. They thought they might be going to Italy to get sailors to man Das Forscher, but I decided the merc company would have a good number of men also familiar with sailing and could serve as marines.
As they traveled they discussed which world they might go to next. They had not yet told the merc company all the details of the adventures or plans, waiting until the right time. But they had made it clear their adventures would be wild and extraordinary… and that at the same time the rewards would be great. This pleased there mercenaries. And more than that, because of the rolls I had made I decided Captain Johansson was quite taken with the group. He could tell they were survivors and a hardy bunch and he was willing to hitch his fate to theirs.
Now what the Players did not know was that every day since they had left Graupher’s Keep I had been making a secret die roll to see when the invasion of the earth by the Yellow King of Carcosa would begin.
I mean, we knew this was going to happen sooner or later.
Kar-El, the Carcosan they had befriended months earlier had spelled it all out. And they had gotten enough information to know the Carcosans had been working on a method of expanding and re-working the Spatial Transference Void to allow a direct connection between Carcosa and Earth that would allow two way travel. (Currently the Spatial Transference Void only goes from Carcosa to Earth. This is why one needs the World Stone to go back to Carcosa.)
The Players Characters and the merc company are heading south. They hear an amazing rumbling through the air. The ground trembles under their feet. It is something like an earthquake. And here I asked which characters might have experienced earthquakes before. Several Players describe when their characters have experienced earthquakes.
“This is something more,” I say. “Something different. It is as if the whole world has been touched. As if something has shifted in the earth itself, and not just under your feet.”
The look to the east and they see that there is a tear in the sky about a hundred miles away… the bright blue sky TEARING OPEN as a strange swirl of colors is visible. And from within it a MASSIVE BRIDGE OF STONE extending from the tear in space down toward the earth.
Upon the bridge they see, small but visible in formation, AN ARMY walking down the stone bridge.
And visible within the army, glowing with a presence that makes him more visible than he should be at this distance. He is a figure in yellow. He is, in fact, the King in Yellow, one of the avatars of Hastur of Carcosa. Some of the Players recognize this, others do not. I say no more on the matter.
I also do not add that Hastur is imprisoned under Carcosa and needs the sacrifice of millions to free himself. He has come to earth to make this happen. The population and means of war and execution exceed those of Carcosa and it here that he will found the altar that will free him–the planet earth itself.
Everyone is stunned by this sight. Many of the mercenaries drop to their knees and pray.
Werner says, “This is the enemy we fight. Come with us and we will defeat this army in their own kingdom before they can take our world.” Their plan is the same as it has been: To go to another world to find the Aakom, go to Carcosa, and manipulate the Spatial Transference Void. But now the stakes are bigger… not just to rescue their friends, but to destroy the Spatial Transference Void and seal the gap between Earth and Carcosa.
Now, Captain Johansson gets it right away… that this is a big fucking deal and if he can help he’s going to help. And he trusts the Lamplighters because of that Loyalty roll, so he’s all in. And he rallies the troops as best he can.
Eric says, “You know, given what they’re seeing they might not all want to come.” And I think, “True.”
So I make a roll to determine how many men Johansson can keep loyal to the company. And he is able to keep two-thirds of them on board to deal with this new, impossible threat. So the Lamplighters head off with 100 soldiers and their camp followers.
It is a several days walk and I make a roll each day. The Players do not know what the roll is for.
They make it back to Graupher’s Keep without incident. But on that day I roll again and I tell them, “You hear a sound like a terrible trumpet. A wind that rushes across the landscape rushes toward you. It rushes across the whole earth from east to west. You know this to be true as you know you own hands. And as the wind passes by both the Magic-User and the Cleric are uncertain about something. For it seems your sense of your magic in your thoughts and your god in your heart have been lost.”
They try to use their spells. Nothing happens.
The power and logic of Carcosa is exerting itself. The world is changing as the armies of the Yellow King march upon Europe.
The Player Characters and their mercenaries, which I have decided to dub Lantern Company, make haste and prepare to leave earth on their journey to another world and discover the means of stopping the invasion.
They have the coordinates from Graupher’s notes. Inside the underground lake in the Alps they turn the ship’s wheel per the combination written on the page of Graupher’s dream-induced drawings. There is a strange sound as the winds and waters of countless worlds rush by them…
And they are gone…