“Now that you have returned, where is my offering?” the voice grumbled from the pool of magma below the enchanted bridge. Zamani could make out a shimmering humanoid form resting just above the surface of the magma.
“Offering?” Zamani questioned. The ugallu attempted to take on a voice similar to that of the hermit Shenuesh killed earlier, but realized he was failing when he felt the magma-spirit's glare. A rather impressive feat by the spirit, given it's complete lack of eyes.
The ugallu storm monk was having a terrible morning already, now made far, far worse.
Just a few moments earlier the party discovered this massive, magma-filled cavern. At the center of the chamber was a pillar balancing a large, disk-like platform. A small, sparkling pool of water somehow carved its way into the stone disk. Three enchanted rope bridges, protected from the cavern’s natural heat, stretched from the platform to three portals.
Zamani had emerged from just such a portal, and tried crossing the easternmost bridge to the platform before the magma-spirit arrived. The hermit must have used the stone platform as a lair, Zamani concluded, since a small slate lean-to rested next to a pile of rubbish. Perhaps there was more of worth on the slab, but Zamani needed to get past the spirit to find out.
“I require the offering!” the voice boomed, as the lava-spirit realized that a potential intruder was now in its midst. The glowing figure rose up out of the magma and centered itself on the rope bridge between the stone platform and Zamani.
With the rest of the party still at the portal, unwilling at the moment to walk out onto the bridge, Zamani was alone.
"Oh great spirit!” Zamani cried out. “See, the guy who was living here and giving the offerings before was weak. So we killed him.” Zamani’s voice cracked a bit at the end, but the ugallu retained his resolve and stood defiantly, prepared for battle should it come his way.
The spirit began to stir, but Zamani was prepared... not just with empty words but with a promise.
“We can give you better offerings!" Zamani smiled, bearing his fangs.
Living 4 Crits Presents
A Cypher System Fantasy Campaign
Ardeyn: Land of the Curse
- Sister Sariety, a Charming Speaker who Works Miracles, played by Frank
- Zamani, a Spiritual (Ugallu*) Explorer (Magic) who Masters Foot and Fist**, played by Andy
- Shenuesh, a Graceful Adept (Combat) who Wields Two Weapons at Once, played by Jeremy
- Milja the Ranger, a Sharp-Eyed (Qephilim) Explorer who Controls Beasts, played by Andreas
- Yaren, a Foolish Warrior who Stands Like a Bastion, played by Craig
* Ugallu is a race option from Broken Immersion by Ryan Chaddock Games
** Masters Foot and Fist is from Worlds Numberless and Strange by Monte Cook Games
Episode 2: Ribs
The party of freelance adventurers made the decision to explore the depths of the hermit’s home on a whim. Since the poor, now deceased human seemed so eager to protect his abode, perhaps something of value rested within the old abandoned mine. Milja picked up the hermit’s trail easily enough, and led the team of adventurers down several passages, traveling at least two miles, before coming upon the large, magma-filled Cavern of Zodrod...
... Zodrod the Mad Magma Spirit to be precise.
Zodrod was well pleased with Zamani’s promise of improved offerings. “Steel,” his voice cried out. “I demand steel!”
A simple enough solution for travelers who had taken weapons from their slain enemies in the Citadel Hazurrium. Zamani looked at the rest of his teammates and motioned for them to turn over something, anything that would sate the magma-spirit’s desires. The ugallu grabbed a shield from Sister Sariety and threw it into the magma. Zamani was allowed to pass and explore the platform.
Forty feet across at its widest, the platform made for an interesting domicile. The hermit’s lean-to, crafted from wooden slats and slate tiles, offered poor protection from the magma’s heat. There was little of value in the shack, save for a sack of thirty-five crowns and some steel horseshoes. Several piles of filthy rags situated near the lean-to once gave the hermit jackdogs some comfort, while a simple wooden chair near the pool served as the platform’s only piece of true furniture.
The pool was quite the enigma.
Zamani examined the shimmering water. The surface was cool to the touch, despite the ambient heat in the cavern. A promise of enchantment rested at the bottom of the pool, where a simple metal rod lay, perhaps untouched for generations. Not wanting to investigate any further, the ugallu monk walked over to the lean-to and grabbed the horseshoes, throwing them into the magma below.
“An offering for my fellow adventurers to cross,” Zamani announced.
The rest of the party made the trip to the precariously balanced stone platform. Since she was a good swimmer, and the metal rod was a dozen feet below the surface of the shimmering pool, Milja offered to go and retrieve the artifact.
The swim down to the rod was easy enough, but prying the rod loose was not without its hazards. The rod was stuck in the stone below, and as soon as the qephilim ranger pulled the it free a flood of boiling water entered the chamber. Milja desperately tried to swim to the surface, before becoming qephilim soup, but required the assistance of the rest of the party.
Once the rod was in open air, Zodrod returned. “My rod! You have found my rod!”
The party didn’t want to give up the only real treasure they had found in the chamber. When Zodrod moved to block the exit to the east, the adventurers ran to southernmost bridge and crossed.
Zodrod immediately began to laugh, as he dispelled all three enchanted bridges. “There is no exit from that direction, you are trapped, foolish mortals!”
Milja the Ranger wasn’t about to take any attitude from a simple magma-spirit. The qephilim tried wheeling and dealing with Zodrod, but did so in a most unprofessional manner. The word "demon" may have been slung at least once at the magma-spirit, much to his displeasure. When Milja turned to Sister Sariety, proud of her witty banter, Zodrod again called out.
“Not only will I require the return of my rod... I must also have one of the female qephilim’s limbs for you all to leave my lair!”
Sensing the company's indecision, Sister Sariety groaned and took charge of the situation. Sure, Shenuesh could far step across to the platform with a long rope in tow, and then out of the chamber entirely. But there was little chance that the rest of the team could deal with the magma-spirit while trying to use make-shift rope-bridges to cross the large, open spaces. So the sister started to fast talk Zodrod.
Using carefully crafted words, and keenly placed compliments, the Sister was able to reduce the fee for exit by one qephilim limb. Before Milja could rebuke the new plan, Sister Sariety grabbed the Rod of Zodrod and threw it into the magma.
An hour later the party was back on the road headed west.
The remaining trip to catacomb 1177 was quiet save for a small situation around lunchtime. As Shenuesh walked along the Path of the Dead he started to hear a calling from a cracked portion of the stone structure.
“Brother...” a voice rasped. “My dear brother Shenuesh.”
“Sabian?” Shenuesh called out in response. No one but the graceful adept seemed to hear the voice, and so he had to investigate. Before anyone else could react, however, the adept disappeared into the crack.
“You want to get him off me, I want to go back to sleep!” the skull yelled.
Shenuesh didn’t seem to notice the skull’s comment, and Zamani was no longer sure who was crazier, him or the human. Zamani noticed that Shenuesh was trying to keep the bones warm, covering them in wrappings as if they were a swaddled baby. Creating a small fire with some flint and steel, Zamani promised that “Sabian” would be warm. Shenuesh nodded and followed Zamani out of the catacomb.
The ugallu could hear a voice calling from inside the Path of the Dead.
“Dammit, how am I supposed to sleep with that light?”
Several hours later the party arrived at catacomb 1177, ready to begin their Dream Patrol. Preparing their weapons, and determined to face whatever may come their way, the crew slowly walked along the Path of the Dead while on the lookout for the dark arts.
It did not take long to discover something amiss.
Several hundred feet to the west there were clear signs that someone, or something, had tampered with the Path of the Dead. A large segment of the catacomb wall was torn from the rest of the structure, and fifteen skeletons rested on the ground, draped in their burial shrouds. Yaren led the team forward while Shenuesh guarded the rear.
When the foolish warrior was a few feet from the bodies the bones began to rise!
Yaren didn’t hesitate to draw first blood... or bone for that matter. The warrior pulled his sword and struck down one of the undead in a single blow. Quickly the rest of the party entered the fray, swords drawn, and warcries echoing along the wall.
But despite being walking piles of bone, the skeletons were quite skilled at chucking pieces of themselves. Shenuesh was leaping through the air when he found himself under fire by fiercely thrown rib bones. The werejackal tumbled to the ground in absolute agony as a serrated bone pierced his thigh.
Zamani was in even more trouble when one of the ribs impaled his abdomen, pinning him to a nearby tree. The ugallu tried to free himself, but it was slow work. To make matters worse, something cold touched the monk’s ear from behind the tree.
Although the skeletons continued their attack, lashing out with their jagged claws while throwing ribs with deadly accuracy, their numbers dwindled. Two by two fell to Shenuesh’s claws, while Milja and her griffin dismantled several more. In one blow, Lusia the griffin actually grabbed her qephilim master's cutlass, and used it to cut down a charging skeletal terror.
It took less than a minute for the skilled team of freelancers to end the undead threat, although much of the team was bruised and battered. Most of the party had at least one dirty rib bone protruding from an open wound. Milja the Ranger was just about to go looking for the party’s ugallu monk when Zamani appeared from the swampy marsh to the north.
“I got him,” Zamani grinned.
The “him” that the monk was referring to was a black-robed necromancer. The scrawny young man looked like he was resting peacefully, his face placed on a mud covered stone. Zamani explained that he saw the man flee the scene, and the ugallu gave chase. Once halted, the necromancer began begging for his life. That’s when Zamani gave him a “shock”, using his newfound ugallu ability to lightning punch the spellcaster into unconsciousness.
Sister Sariety tried using her miraculous healing abilities to cure the party of their wounds, but it was tough work.
"The Maker isn't happy with us attacking these skeletons,” Sister Sariety claimed. “Or maybe he didn't like how we treated Zodrod."
Most of the injuries were serious, and the Sister wasn’t used to these kinds of tearing wounds. It was slow going, but the party had time as they waited for the necromancer to awake.
Once the man came to, he seemed very eager to plea for his life. When asked for his name, the necromancer responded Memnosh. An acolyte of Trazzoek, Memnosh explained that he was just doing his duty, and was on a mission to cause trouble along the Path of the Dead in order to gain the attention of some freelancers. Memnosh offered to take the party to his master, and the group agreed.
Another mile down the path and the adventurers were at a strange stone structure. Once a keep that overlooked the Path of the Dead, the building was now barely a pile of stone. But on top of the toppled tower a man in grey robes looked out upon the party.
“Hello,” he called. “I am Trazzoek!”
The adventurers were somewhat surprised at the master necromancer’s open hospitality, and were equally concerned with the strange partially ethereal entity flanking Trazzoek. To his right a young woman stood, appearing both living and dead, corporeal and incorporeal at the same time.
“Who is she?” Sister Sariety called out.
“She is of no consequence to you,” Trazzoek answered. “At least not yet. Please join me downstairs for some tea.”
Sure enough, in the lower level of the keep there was a table, some chairs, and a hot pot of tea. Trazzoek politely offered drinks to each of the adventurers before asking Memnosh to take care of something strange outside. Apparently someone had set a nearby tree on fire, and this needed attending. A moment later Shenuesh entered the tower, having been distracted by something outside. He smirked as he watched poor Memnosh try to extinguish the flames.
“I’d like to make a deal,” Trazzoek stated boldly.
The master necromancer began telling a tale of woe, hoping that the party would assist him in his cause. The strange ethereal woman, Ralli, was Trazzoek’s apprentice, just like Memnosh. During an expedition in the subterranean ruins beneath Shalmarn the three necromancers came across an artifact that turned Ralli half dead. Trazzoek believed that a ritual could be cast to reverse the process, but he needed three rune-carved skulls that he could only aquire near catacomb 1000. Trazzoek had one skull prepared for the ritual, but at least two more remained inside the catacombs.
The master necromancer produced the skull, and for some reason Yaren felt a stirring within his soul. Most strange, the warrior thought, with a chill running down his spine.
Trazzoek explained that he required a distraction to complete his quest for two additional skulls. The part of the catacombs where he needed to explore was under constant guard, and most surely another team of freelance adventurers would be on the lookout for rogue necromancers. Trazzoek promised payment and future riches, as well as employment, if the party would join his cause. As a token of his promise, the necromancer would hand over the one skull he had acquired as a sort of ransom.
After a brief discussion amongst themselves the party decided to pursue Trazzoek’s offer… at least for the time being.
"It's fancy and its powerful and we'll figure it out later..." - Milja didn’t want to wait around to figure out what the Rod of Zodrod’s powers.
"Just say 'I'm sorry' and 'you're not a demon'..." - Sister Sariety begged Milja to apologize to Zodrod.
Frank - "You guys want to see if there's another way out?"
Jeremy - "I can jump it... so I don't really care."
"Bad touch!" - Andy didn’t like having Zamani’s ear get stroked by Memnosh.
"We could take that lust poison and combine it with one of the others I'm carrying and make for a really awkward encounter." - Jeremy was ready to really use some of those new cyphers.
“You punch one dude with lightning and everybody thinks you’re a wizard.” - Andy realized, one day later on Facebook, that his monk was the party’s only true spellcaster.
I never expected the players to want to explore the hermit’s cave. It never even crossed my mind. I figured we’d start off the evening with the characters waking up, stretching, maybe having a light breakfast, and then back to the Path of the Dead.
I was wrong!
The Zodrod encounter was not completely ad-libbed, rather it was a fragment of an encounter I was planning for a future adventure in a ruin. I’ve always hated the “lava levels” in the Legend of Zelda games, and I wanted to toss one into my Cypher System Fantasy campaign. Originally I wanted to create some kind of skill challenge where this metal rod was placed in a magic pool on a carefully balanced stone guarded by a spirit that wanted the rod.
“Zodrod” was a placeholder name, never meant to be permanent. But with only a few minutes to spare to create the encounter I just used the name. Figuring that Ardeyn is based on an incomplete video game, the idea of some half-baked, unfinished encounter could possibly work.
Unfortunately I never finished fleshing out Zodrod’s stats or what he could do save for make the magic bridges disappear. Big surprise for my players: Zodrod had no stats! The party could’ve just walked through him at any time and I would’ve allowed it. He was an incomplete creature, so I wanted to treat him as such.
Incidentally, if you would like to include the Rod of Zodrod in your own game, here you go:
Rod of Zodrod
Level 5 Artifact
Depletion: 1 on a d6
Touch turns level 5 creature to stone for 5 rounds but slows the user for the same amount of time, increasing all Speed related difficulties by 1 level.