Monday, September 19, 2016

Iron Gods - Lords of Rust 2

We continue with our Iron Gods campaign, spoilers ahead.

After defeating the Smilers and rescuing Whiskifiss, the company paid a visit to the hangout of Redtooth's Raiders. Redtooth was greatly relieved to have her brother returned safe. The party learned that Redtooth and her gang were fighting a small-scale insurgency against the Lords of Rust. The party agreed to help and Redtooth told them she believed there were some explosives in a wreck of a small vessel in a fog-shrouded canyon at the far end of Scrapwall. She wanted to use the explosives to destroy the arena and the receiver array, two structures that were important to the Lords of Rust. The party agreed to retrieve the explosives.

To avoid the eyes of agents of the Lords, the party took an unwatched route guarded by a mutant manticore. They defeated the monster, but Smangtooth suffered a nasty radioactive bite resulting in a serious bout of radiation poisoning. Although she was weakened, Smangtooth and the rest of the party pushed on. The small ship was suffused in necromantic energy. The group fought shadows and skeletal champions before a final battle against a wraith. They acquired a number of useful items including three explosive charges and an inhibitor facet, a valuable weapon to use against artificial intelligences.

The party's exploits had finally attracted the attention of the Lords of Rust. Nalakai, a half-orc cleric of Hellion, came before them with an invitation from the Lords of Rust. Helskrag, the troll master of the arena, offered them a chance to join the gang in a trial by combat. They agreed to battle the following day only to find out they would be fighting Helskrag herself. Riding an enormous chariot pulled by two ogres, Helskrag charged toward them. As she closed on Smangtooth, she fired her autograpnel at Targus, embedding in his chest. Nils and Fact opened up on one of the ogres with laser rifle and alchemical bomb respectively. It proved too much for the ogre who staggered. The chariot crashed into Smangtooth, who was thrown twenty feet in the air, while Grendel moved up to engage in melee. A short, but bloody battle ensued. Nils concentrated his laser fire on the troll, knowing she could not regenerate the damage, while Smangtooth got to her feet and proceeded to dispatch the remaining ogre. Targus got mauled pretty good by Helskrag, but gave a good accounting of himself. In the end, they were battered, but victorious and offered membership in the Lords of Rust.

Fresh off their victory over Helskrag, the company was feeling confident. They had now slain two members of the Lords of Rust and were keen to collect another trophy. In accordance with the rules of the arena, they called out Kulgara, orc barbarian and leader of the gang.

She accepted the challenge and the next day, the group found themselves facing off in the arena against the orc leader and her elite ogrish bodyguards.The roar of the crowd and the rumbling of Kulgara's chainsaw was deafening as she started off by lobbing an inferno grenade. The group scattered to avoid the blast and the melee was on. Blood splattered everywhere as Kulgara's chainsword chewed into Smangtooth's flesh, but she gave as good as she got. Grendel battled two ogres, while Targus fought the other two. Fact and Nils concentrated their ranged attacks on Kulgara. Things looked bleak as Grendel went down from a massive strike by one of the ogres, but luck would smile upon the company at just the right time. A well-aimed blow from Smangtooth slipped past Kulgara's parry, crushing her skull and killing her instantly. Silence settled upon the crowd as Smangtooth picked up the chainsword, checked its heft, then slung it over her shoulder and walked away, leaving the orc warchief's ruin upon the field. Hellion awaits.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Is the Mythos becoming cool again?

I recently bought the first issue of the new Strange Aeons AP. It isn't the first Pathfinder AP to incorporate elements of the Cthulhu Mythos, but it is the first to use it as the central theme of the campaign. When I first became interested in tabletop rpgs back in the early 80s, Lovecraft's work was obscure and only the nerdiest among us knew of it, either through Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu game or the much sought after 1980 edition of the AD&D Deities & Demigods (which I have seen, but do not own). Sometime since then, Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos became widely known. Old Squidface himself eventually became this:
 Not exactly the epitome of cosmic horror Lovecraft intended.

Lately though, things seem to be turning around, although perhaps not for Cthulhu himself (besides, with Trump in the race, Cthulhu may actually be the lesser of two evils). The new star of the show seems to be Hastur; The Unspeakable One, Him Who Is Not To Be Named, The King in Yellow. I've always been a fan of Hastur, brooding in his cyclopean citadel of Carcosa on the shore of the Lake of Hali on a distant world in the Hyades star cluster, infiltrating the dreams of artists and poets with his dark visions.

The first mention of Hastur dates back to a short story by Ambrose Bierce called "Haïta the Shepherd" from 1893, although he was a benign god of shepherds back then. Hastur became much more menacing in Robert W. Chambers' 1895 anthology "The King in Yellow", a series of short stories in which a play of the same name appears in each story. The play is a source of great scandal, having the power to drive men mad. In this work, Hastur still wasn't fully developed and, in fact, the name seemed to refer more to a place than a creature. The next step in Hastur's evolution involved Lovecraft, who mentioned Hastur in his 1931 story "The Whisperer in Darkness". Although it was only a passing reference, it established Hastur as part of the Cthulhu Mythos. Finally, it was several stories by August Derleth, a contemporary of Lovecraft, which developed Hastur as he is thought of today, a Great Old One, spawn of Yog-Sothoth, half-brother of Cthulhu, the King in Yellow.

Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink behind the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa.
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.
Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.
Song of my soul, my voice is dead,
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa.
—"Cassilda's Song" in The King in Yellow Act 1, Scene 2

My first inkling of Hastur as the new hotness was the first season of the HBO series "True Detective". Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey play Louisiana detectives investigating several murders of women and children. They uncover a cult of prominent local citizens engaged in child abuse and murder. Throughout the series, there are repeated mentions of the Yellow King and a place called Carcosa.

Which brings me back to Pathfinder. In the Golarion campaign setting, the Cthulhu Mythos is called the Dark Tapestry which exists in the Void beyond the stars. In the Iron Gods AP, we learn more about the Dominion of the Black, an organization of emissaries who represent or serve the Dark Tapestry in some fashion. It was a confrontation with the Dominion that caused the alien ship to crash in Numeria. Next year, Paizo will be releasing a new space fantasy game called Starfinder and early indications are that the Dominion of the Black will be a major antagonist. I am eagerly awaiting this game to see what role the Cthulhu Mythos will play. Given Hastur's somewhat more cosmic fantasy horror style and new popularity, I hope and expect the Yellow King will figure prominently.

Hastur! Hastur! Hastur!


Sunday, September 04, 2016

Iron Gods - Lords of Rust 1

We begin the next chapter in our Iron Gods campaign; Lords of Rust. As always, spoilers follow.

The plans of the android cleric had been thwarted and the forge of Torch had been relit, but the city council were concerned that the danger to the city had only been temporarily defeated. So they summoned the company once again to offer them another commission. The offered 8,000 gp to remove the threat to Torch permanently. The party countered with a proposal of 10,000 gp, which was accepted. As the party left to prepare for their journey to Scrapwall, the Brigh cleric Jorum Kyte pulled them aside and asked a favour. He mentioned a friend named Dinvaya Lanalei, another cleric of Brigh who had been hiding in Scrapwall after running afoul of the Technic League. He requested that they make contact with her and let her know that the Technic League has lost interest in her and that she can come to Torch. In exchange for this communication (or a report of her death), Jorum offered his lesser rod of extend as reward. The party accepted the offer. They were off the next day.

It took several days of travel to reach Scrapwall. On the way, the party came upon a ruined keep known as Aldronard's Grave, a common stopover for crusaders heading north to the Worldwound. Expecting to find crusaders, instead they found horrors. A gang of cannibalistic thugs known as the Smilers had set up camp in the ruin. Named for the horrific facial disfigurements they inflict upon themselves, the Smilers had captured several followers of Saranrae and had already butchered and eaten some of the prisoners. Disgusted by what they witnessed, the party slaughtered the Smilers and freed the remaining prisoners, a paladin and three acolytes. Fortunately, the prisoners had overheard their captors' conversations. They had learned that a new gang called the Lords of Rust had taken over in Scrapwall. The Smilers and many of the other gangs had allied themselves with this new group. They also found out that one of the members of the Lords of Rust had recently been killed while on a mission which has proven a major setback to the plans of the group. In an effort to find out what happened, the Lords of Rust have started pushing their members to leave Scrapwall and investigate. That is why the Smilers were occupying Aldronard's Grave.

The next day, the company arrived at the main gate of Scrapwall. It was controlled by a gang called the Steel Hawks. They peacefully negotiated their entry and made contact with the leader of the group, a human named Sevroth Slaid. After satisfying herself that the party were not crusaders looking to cause trouble or Technic League spies, Sevroth warmed to the group and saw them as a way to deal with a problem she had. The Lords of Rust had installed a Smiler to lead the Steel Hawks. They were ruffians to be sure, but the Steel Hawks weren't cannibals and they wanted no part of Smiler depravity. If the company could destroy the Smiler leader, a ranger named Birdfood and his orcish lieutenants, Sevroth could resume control of the Steel Hawks and aid the party in any way she could.

The company devised an elaborate plan to provide poisoned ale to Birdfood's orcs, but it proved difficult to manage and in the end, just decided to have Fact pose as a capo of the Smilers and drop off a keg of ale to the orcs in hope that they would be too inebriated to resist. After much hilarity as an android posing as a gangster convinced a bunch of orcs to accept the keg as a gift from Marrow, the head of the Smilers, the orcs accepted and as expected, got drunk. The next morning, the company showed up again with another keg. This time the orcs eagerly let them in without much scrutiny and were promptly massacred. Birdfood was also killed in the melee and the company earned some respect among the gangs, "scrap-worth" as it is referred to by the people of Scrapwall.

After making contact with Dinvaya Lanalei and passing along Jorum's message, the party decided to reveal to Sevroth that they were in Scrapwall to investigate the events that occurred in Torch and it seemed the Lords of Rust were involved. They asked how they could find the Lords of Rust. Sevroth suggested that if they earned enough scrap-worth, the Lords of Rust would seek them out. She went on to suggest taking out Marrow, the necromancer boss of the Smilers, as one way to earn some. So, without hesitation, they headed off to take out the cannibal Smilers once and for all. The front door, chained from the inside and covered by a mounted laser rifle proved one of the biggest challenges. Eventually Smangtooth, aided by Targus and an enlarge person spell from Augusto, was able to break through but not before several party members got scorched. The party then mowed through more than two dozen of Marrow's minions including Smiler gang members and various weird zombie-like creations, some living, some undead.

Finally, Marrow herself, was slain and a great deal of loot was recovered. The company also released a prisoner, a ratfolk named Whiskifiss. He said he was the brother of Redtooth, leader of Redtooth's Raiders, a ratfolk gang of some repute in Scrapwall. It seemed another useful ally had just been acquired.