(For those who came in late: this is the fifth session of my GURPS solo-play campaign. Instead of a GM, I use a big collection of procedural tables (see the tabs above!). The campaign is set in a fantasy world I created from scratch in in a previous series of posts, using a procedural world-creation system. Enjoy!)
If you’re just reading for the plot, you can skip the italics!
The PC: Temian Fell, explorer of ancient ruins and all-round hero.
The story so far: Temian is deep in a dungeon far beneath the Castle of Heirloom Peak. The whole castle used to belong to the Baron of Heirloom peak, but the Baron dabbled with dark sorceries, including necromancy, and eventually those evil forces got out of control, and the castle was overrun by demons.
Temian’s goal is to find the Baron’s cursed magical tome (“The Book of the Corrupted Seal”) and then return it to the Witch of Dunmoss, to whom it belongs.
As our session begins, Temian has just entered the castle Crypt – the place where the Baron performed his darkest deeds of necromancy…
Getting Started: What’s At Stake Plot-wise?
First of all, let’s roll to see What’s at Stake This Session? (Rolling…) 4: “A Personal Plot element.” Excellent! Same as last session. Temian’s Personal Plot is his attempt to find and explore the Ruins of the Lost Elven City of Tara Ithuil, far to the North-West. Last session, we discovered that the demons who have overrun this castle are also searching for the location of the Lost City, for their own foul purposes. What will we find out this session?
Scene 1: Into the Crypt
Before entering what seems to be the Baron’s Crypt, Temian checks the inscriptions on the wall carefully. Is this area really what it seems?
Temian’s Occultism is 11, and Peril is 2, so his effective skill is 9. (Rolling…) 10: Just missed it. He’s got no idea.
The inscriptions are worn and faded, and he can’t really tell. Ah well – nothing for it! Trying to suppress his fear, Temian, begins his descent down into the crypt.
Last time, we found out that the castle Crypt seemed as if it was the lair of deadly undead opponents. But is that really true? Let’s consult the But Are Things Really What They Seem? table! (Rolling…) 6 – “Yes”. Ok – it really is the lair of deadly undead opponents. I’m not sure that counts as good news, but at least it doesn’t come as a surprise.
Let’s see how Temian fares as he descends into the crypt.
First of all, let’s roll for a Mishap. (Rolling…)8, 6: “You meet with a deadly Obstacle, hazard, Ward or Trap”. Uh-oh! So which is it? Heading over to the Hazards system. (Rolling…) 5: A threat appropriate to the monster type (Undead); then 3, which makes it a Ward. Ok. So we’re up against a deadly Ward. What kind? (Rolling…) Right – so it’s a magical Ward. To notice it you make a Per-based roll on either Occultism or Thaumatology. To dispel it, you make an IQ-based roll on the same skill. If you fail, it does 2d+2 impaling damage – OUCH! PROBABLE DEATH!– though you can resist that damage by rolling against Will. All these rolls are penalized by Peril.
Uh-Oh! This could be the end of Temian Fell…
That, my friends, is a deadly, deadly magical ward, and it could well kill our only PC if the rolls go badly. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Temian will survive this, because otherwise this series is about to come to a rather sudden end!
Temian descends the stairs cautiously, sword drawn. There’s a dark, brooding feeling in the crypt, and the stench of undeath is nearly overpowering.
He reaches a landing, and starts heading down the next flight. But as he crosses the threshold…
Ok, here goes. Does he notice this deadly magical Ward? His Per-based occcultism is 11, and peril is 2, so his effective skill is 9. (Rolling…) 9! Just made it!
…he notices some odd sigils carved around the edge of the doorway. Hang on a second… aren’t those… Thinking quickly, he pulls his foot back, just in time to avoid running into what he’s sure is a magical trap of some kind. Whew! That was close.
Now, to take a closer look. Can he work out how to dispel it, maybe? Or else get around it?
Now, we could just roll on Occultism again here, but first, let’s see if there’s another way around this Ward – a “workaround”, as the Hazards system calls it. (Rolling…) 10: the workaround requires either Architecture, Heraldry, or History. Hmmm… that’s no good! Temian doesn’t have any of those.
Temian examines the doorframe carefully. He knows that the Baron must have had a way to pass through this magical ward unharmed, and he sees markings that look like heraldic symbols up there, mixed in with the more obviously magical sigils. Probably the Baron pressed the heraldic symbols in a particular order before going through. Sadly, though, that’s of little use to Temian – he knows nothing about Heraldry.
Well, it looks like he’s going to have to either turn back, or try to dispel the ward, using his very limited arcane knowledge. Being a bit cocky (quirk-level Overconfidence), Temian decides to try to dispel the ward. He reads the sigils to himself, and then chants something that he thinks ought to be a counter-curse, while stepping through the doorway…
Ok, here we go again! To dispel this, Temian needs to roll a 9 or less. (Rolling…) 12! No good! The Ward zaps him!
…right into the deadly ward itself. There’s a sharp cracking sound, and he feels an intense stab of pain, right in his brain. It’s almost as if something is worming its way inside his mind, trying to eat away at his sense of self – a ravenous, dark thing, reaching deep inside him…
This could be serious, serious trouble. He’s got one more chance – a roll against Will to resist the damage, penalized by Peril. Man, I’m happy now I spent those extra 10 pts to buy Will up to 14! That means he’s rolling against an effective Will of 12. Ok, moment of truth.
15! No good! He’s going to take 2d+2 impaling damage – which will probably kill him. Ok, so this exactly the kind of situation our 15 pts in Luck is there to deal with! Time to use it. (Rolling again…) 10, 12. The 10 made it! The Temian Fell series can continue! Man, I’m sweating here.
…desperately, Temian gathers all his grit and determination, and tries to force the ravenous thing out of his mind.
A second later, he finds himself on his knees, gasping for breath, and sweating – but unharmed. He’s through the portal!
Woah – that was way too close.
Now we’ve dealt with the mishap (just barely!), so it’s time for an “Opportunity.” (Rolling…) 14: Nothing. Fair enough.
Still trembling a little at his close shave, Temian makes his way through the crypt area, with the greatest caution. The smell of undeath is all around him, but he manages to make it through to the other side without encountering any of the awful unliving abominations he knows are lurking somewhere nearby.
At length, he comes to….
That’s excellent – especially because, as we learned last session, this deadly area was worth risking because it, too, allowed us to subtract 3. We were already subtracting 2 because of the areas we’ve already visited, so we’re at -8 now. Nice! If we roll an 11 or less now, we’ll have reached the Goal.
13: “The lair of deadly opponents, but also a promising route towards your Goal.” Ok – that wasn’t as good as I’d hoped! But never mind – if we can survive this (potentially a big “if,” since the opponents are “deadly,” and Temian has already used up his Luck!), then we’ll be subtracting a huge 11 from the next roll on the Area Type table – which almost guarantees we’ll soon be reaching our Goal.
What kind of “deadly opponents” are we talking here? This is a job for the What Type of Monster Is This? tables. (Rolling…) 10: The Dungeon’s Primary Monster Type – Demon-Kin. Ahah.
Scene 2: The Baron’s Chambers
…a series of sumptuously appointed rooms that can only be the entrance-hall to the Baron’s own chambers. Evidently the wicked Baron worked and slept down here, in the deepest under-levels of the castle, beneath the crypt.
This grand entrance hallway was once very finely furnished, but it’s been befouled in a way that strongly suggests the presence of Demon-kin. Temian suspects that he’s now drawing close to the site at which the infernal powers were first unleashed upon the world – this place still feels disturbing, as if here the Infernum is pressing itself right up against the boundary that ought to keep it apart for the mortal world.
Well, there’s nothing for it – sword drawn and eyes peeled, he heads in…
Is this area really what it seems? – i.e., the Baron’s chambers, and the Lair of Deadly demon-kin? (Rolling…) 10: Yes.
Does a Mishap occur? (Rolling…) 9, 2: “A Trivial Encounter”. Whew – that’s not too bad! We already know that these are Demon-kin, but how many, and what sort? (Rolling…) 1 Demon-Kin, rated at Peril 1. Ok, so what’s it like? Humanoid, ST9, vestigial wings, cosmetic claws.
Does it notice him? Temian’s Stealth is 11, and the Demons’ Per is 11. (Rolling…) 12 and 12. Both fail by one. Since the initial stealth roll was failed, I guess no Per roll was actually required- so let’s say that yes, the demon spots him.
Let’s also roll up some encounter conditions, to make this interesting. (Rolling…) Encounter Distance: 1, 1: woah, o yards! They bump right into each other! Battlefield feature (Rolling…) it’s a High Mana area. That makes sense! The Baron was dabbling in dark sorceries… he probably built his personal chambers all the way down here, deep underground, so as to take advantage of the high local mana level. But Temian has no way to sense this, so it’s just background for us.
Anyway, back to that demon…
…and bumps straight into a malformed demon-creature, coming the other way. Woops! It’s a gnarled, misshapen thing, a bit like a human being in size and shape, but with reddish skin, sharp little nails, and a pair of stubby vestigial wings on its back.
Is it armed? Let’s ask the Solo 6. (Rolling…) 4: “No, but…”. Ok, so it’s not armed – but there’s a weapon it can use nearby.
For a moment, Temian and the demon-thing are both startled….then the demon-thing’s eyes dart to the wall, where a wicked-looking scimitar is hanging. It makes a dash for it!
At this point, we need to work out how fast this demon is. (Rolling…) Results: DX 10, HT 10, which means Basic Speed is 5.00. Temian’s Basic Speed is 6.00, so he acts first.
Thinking quickly, Temian lashes out with his sword…
(Rolling to hit…) 11: hit! Ah, but does the demon have any special demonic defenses? (Rolling…) Yes! The demon has High Pain Threshold. Ok, good to know. Now it tries to dodge… (Demon rolls to dodge…) 16: fail! (Rolling for 1d+3 cutting damage) 3: which means 6 pts cutting. The Demon has DR (tough skin) equal to its Peril rating, which, as we just learned is only 1 – so 5 pts cutting get through. Multiplied by 1.5 for cutting (rounded down, as per pB379), this results in 7pts of damage. That’s a major wound, so the demon has to make a HT roll to avoid knockdown and stunning. (Rolling…) 8: success.
…and hits the demon squarely as it turns, slashing a wide, gaping wound across its shoulder and back. Disturbingly, though, the demon doesn’t seem to flinch at this in the slightest – apparently, it’s only weakly bound to this mortal form, and is thus almost impervious to pain!
Now it’s the demon’s turn, and it’s not stunned in the slightest – though it is at less than 1/3 Hp, which means its move and dodge are halved. What will it do? Well, let’s see – does it have any demonic special powers? (Rolling) 15, +1 Peril=16. Yes, it has at least one special power. So what is it? (Rolling..) 2, 5: A Terrifying Howl! Well, that’s what it’s going to use…
Seemingly unphased by the gaping wound in its back, the demon turns to Temian and lets out an awful, ungodly cry – a horrible, awful, terrifying howl, with all the rage and hate and despair of hell behind it!
Temian then has to make a Fright Check, at Penalty equal to Peril/2, rounding up – so at -1. His will is 14, so he’s rolling against a 13. (Rolling…) 12: just made it! Man, those 10pts I spent on high Will are really paying off this session.
Steeling himself against the horrors of that awful cry, Temian strikes out at the infernal creature once again…
(Temian rolls to hit…) 12: hit! The Demon rolls to dodge, at 1/2 value (Rolling) 13: fail. (Rolling for 1d+1 impaling damage) 5: which means 6 pts of impaling damage, reduced to 5 for DR, but then doubled to 10, because impaling. A devastating hit! The demon is now at -8 HP. (Demon rolls to avoid knockdown and stunning…) 11: fail! (Demon rolls to avoid unconsciousness…) 9: success. Right – so the demon is prone and stunned, which means it must miss its next turn, but it’s still conscious.
…and manages to stab his broadsword deep into the core of the creature. It falls to the ground, its scream still echoing through the entrance chamber.
The demon must Do Nothing this turn – but at the end of the turn, it can roll vs HT to recover from being stunned (Rolling…) 11: fail. The demon will still be stunned next turn.
Temian gathers all his strength to stab it again….
Let’s go for an all-out attack (strong), for +2 damage. (Rolling to hit…) 14: fail!
…but the writhing thing manages to slip past the sword point.
Now it’s the Demon’s turn, but it’s stunned so it has to choose Do Nothing. Now, the Demon is at negative HP, so normally it would also have to make a roll to stay conscious now – but we’re actually in an exceptional case here: it chose “Do Nothing” last turn, and because Temian missed, it didn’t have to make an active defense -and as per p. B419, this means it doesn’t need to roll to stay conscious. It does get to roll to see if it recovers from being stunned, though. (Rolling…) 16: fail. Still stunned!
Desperately, Temian tries to stab it once again….
Same thing again: all-out attack (strong), for +2 damage. (Rolling to hit…) 6: hit! Nice. The demon’s dodge is now halved and at -4 , so it needs a critical success here (Rolling…) 13: fail. (Rolling for 1d+5 impaling damage) 6! Woah! So that makes 11pts impaling, reduced to 10 by the DR, doubled to 20 for impaling! That’s a really, really serious hit.
The Demon is now at -28 HP. (Rolling to avoid death) 12: nope. The demon dies.
…and this time he catches it with a mighty stab, his sword running it through entirely. It falls limp. With a shudder, Temian thinks that perhaps he severed its spinal cord on the way through. Grimacing, he drags his blade out of the demon’s corpse and wipes it.
Quickly, now, he takes a look around…
Now that the Mishap has been dealt with, we can roll for an Opportunity. (Rolling, and consulting the “Lair” column…) 9: A small hoard of treasure! Nice! Let’s head over to the Treasure system to work out what it is…
A small hoard has Peril/2 pieces – so this treasure is just one object. What sort? (Rolling…) 6: a special or magic item! Nice. What sort? (Rolling…) 12: A Mysterious Fluid. Interesting! We won’t learn exactly what sort of fluid it is until Temian does, and he doesn’t have time (or the skill!) for that right now…
…and notices a crystal vial on one of the side tables. There’s some sort of liquid inside it. Temian can’t tell what it does, but it looks fancy, so he quickly stows it in his sack and gets moving. After all, that demon he fought just howled very loudly – there’s every chance that some other awful thing is already on its way!
IS something else coming, in response to the demon’s howl? If so, that could be very dangerous – we’re in a “Deadly” lair, after all. This looks like a job for the Solo 6. (Rolling…) 4: “No, but.” Ok. So there’s nothing else coming right now… but Temian can hear something coming, from a little way off in the distance.
…and in fact, just at this moment, Temian hears some answering howls echoing through the halls from some chamber further within! It’s time to get moving!
Temian races through the Baron’s Chambers, looking for a way through…
Time to determine What’s Up Ahead? (Rolling…) 8: the path splits, offering us a choice of 1d3+1 ways. (Rolling…) 6: so there are 4 ways out. We’ll roll on the Area Type table for each – but we’ve come so far through this dungeon now that we get to subtract a pretty hefty -11 from the roll, so we’ve got a good chance of finding a route to the Goal.
(Rolling for the four options…) 10, 4, 9, 7. Subtract 11 from each of these, and they’re all 3 or less – so all of these routes actually lead to the same place – the Goal!
Scene 3: The book of the Corrupted Seal
…and it doesn’t take him long to arrive at a large central chamber, with four entrances, one on each side. It’s obviously the Baron’s library, and the place where he conducted his darkest rituals. Surely the Book of the Corrupted Seal is here? Temian walks into the chamber and looks around him…
Now that we’ve reached our Goal, it’s time to determine whether or not there’s a Plot Twist. For “Fetch” quests like this one, the appropriate Plot Twist table is the “Is It Really Here?” table. This roll really matters! (Rolling…) 10: “Yes, you find what you seek.” Thank heavens!
…and there, on a wicked-looking lectern in the center of the room, lies the very tome he seeks – the Book of the Corrupted Seal! At last!
Temian eyes the Book. It’s what he’s come here for, but now that he’s face-to-face with it, he finds he’s a bit reluctant to touch it. He’s painfully aware that this very Book is responsible for all the Infernal awfulness going on in this castle. And its last owner, the Baron, presumably met a very grisly fate.
To put off the moment when he has to actually touch the vile thing, Temian quickly takes another look around, to see if there’s anything else worth taking here…
As the Dungeons system stipulates, there’s always a large hoard of Treasure at the Goal location, because this is fairly cheesy fantasy, and that’s just how these things work. So let’s head over to the Treasure system and roll it up now.
A large hoard has 1d6+Peril treasure elements. The current Peril is 2. (Rolling…) 1: +2, =3 treasure elements. Not great. What are these treasure elements?
- First treasure element (Rolling…) 400 Valirothian silver pieces. Score!
- Second treasure element (Rolling…) Same thing again – another 400 Valirothian silver pieces. That’s a lot of money. That’s twice now I’ve rolled a 6 on 3d6 at the key moment – score!
- Third treasure element (Rolling..)Bad. This is a miscellaneous object worth 10sp but weighing 100lbs. Maybe that’s the old ruined chest that all this money is in…
Well, despite that last item, that proved to be a serious haul. Recall that Temian’s whole starting loadout cost just 500sp, in total. This will be a highly profitable trip – if he can get home in one piece.
…and he soon spots a crumbling old chest tucked under the central altar. The chest itself is heavy, old and virtually worthless – but inside, there’s a haul of Valirothian silver pieces – 800sp in all! That’s a huge windfall.
Well, no more delaying – now the time has come to pick up the Book. Surely no harm can come from simply touching it, right? As long as he doesn’t actually open it up and try to read?
Gingerly, Temian reaches out to touch the Book…
The return of the Lost City plot…
This would be a natural place to end the dungeon – we could just have Temian pick up the book and walk out. But that would be too easy. And anyway, I still have a job to do: as we determined at the start of the session, I need to give Temian a genuinely challenging opportunity to make some progress in regards to his Personal Plot, which is his quest to explore the Lost City of Lara Ithuil. This looks like a great time for that. Here goes…
… and as he reaches for it, he recalls the ritual chamber he saw in the castle cellars. The bloody sigils there seemed to indicate that the demons infesting the castle were searching for the location of the Lost City of Lara Ithuil. And it’s this very book that summoned those demons in the first place.
Excitedly, Temian wonders – what if the Book of the Corrupted Seal contains valuable information about the Lost City? Or at least about why these demons are seeking it? Yes, he thinks, it’s a tome of dark sorcery – but how bad can it be? Surely it wouldn’t do any harm just to open it up and take a look?
This opportunity to advance the plotline needs to be genuinely challenging, so let’s declare that the book is magically warded in some way to be determined by the dice. Heading over to the Hazards section, I consult the rules for Wards. What kind of Ward is it? (Rolling, rolling…) Results: It’s a magical ward that you have to roll vs Occultism or Thaumatology to detect and disarm; if you fail either, you roll vs Will-Peril to avoid 2d-2 corrosion damage. Ouch!
Temian examines the book’s cover and bindings….
Temian has to roll against Per-based Occultism, at a penalty equal to Peril, to detect the ward. His Occultism is 11, so his effective skill is 9, (Rolling…) 16: nope!
… and finds that it certainly looks safe enough. A little reluctantly, but with great excitement, Temian reaches out and opens it up…
…and suddenly, it’s as if there’s a dark, infernal energy trying to eat away at his very being! Aaaah! It seems there’s some sort of dark spirit in the book, and it hungers for the souls of the living! Desperately, Temian tries to push it away by sheer force of will…
Temian’s Will is 14; peril is 2, so he’s rolling aginst 12. (Rolling) 10! Success!
…and to his great relief he’s able to beat off its first assault. The dark spirit of the book retreats back into the pages, for now. Hurriedly, Temian flips through the pages of the book, trying to find any reference to the Lost City, before the dark spirit of the book can recover itself enough to launch another assault.
Reading the book, Temian is shocked to discover evidence suggesting that..
What does the book tell him? We already know that some powerful demonic forces in the Infernum are searching for the Lost City of Lara Ithuil. Now we have to invent something that will advance that plot. Let’s take this matter out of our hands a little by giving up our power to the Solo 6.
First question: does the book reveal that a Demon Prince is searching for the Lost City because that’s the only place that his cultists can summoned him into the world?
6: an emphatic “No, and…”. Ok, so that’s not the reason – and let’s say that the Demon Prince is already walking the mortal world, in the flesh. That’s bad news!
A Brief Detour in Which I Name a Demon Prince…
It would be handy to have a name for this Demon Prince – prefarably an evil-sounding one. Sadly, I don’t have a table for Demon Prince names (terrible oversight!), but let’s roll for a couple of evil realm names, and maybe an infernal theme word or two, and see what we can do with the results. (Rolling, rolling…) After a bit of playing around, I come up with “Narnuilakh” and “Starless”. Let’s call him Narnuilakh, the Lord of the Starless Night. Maybe the “Starless night” in question is the black void in the Infernum where Narnuilakh makes his home… or maybe it’s the utter darkness to which he hopes to reduce the world at the End of Time… or something. Temian doesn’t know, and we’re putting ourselves in his position, so let’s leave this to be determined later.
Second question: does the book reveal that Narnuilakh, the Lord of the Starless Night is actually searching for the Lost City because it contains a treasure-trove of powerful sorcerous lore, that he could use for his own dark purposes?
3: A qualified “Yes, but…”. Ok, so let’s say that Narnuilakh is searching for the Lost City’s hoard of ancient sorcerous lore, but he’s not going to use that sorcerous lore himself – rather, he wants to find it so that he can tempt mortals to use it – and thereby damn themselves, Excellent. That’s enough plot for one revelation. Let’s head back to the story.
…the Demon Prince Narnuilakh – whom the text sometimes refers to as the “Lord of the Starless Night” – is walking the earth in mortal form! Woe to mortals! And worse, he’s searching for the location of the Lost City of Lara Ithuil, because he knows that its long-buried library contains powerful magical lore, of a kind not seen in the world since ancient days.
Temian doesn’t really understand what these ancient magical secrets are supposed to do, but the book seems to imply that Narnuilakh is planning to use them as a lure with which to tempt foolhardy mortals into selling him their souls. Fiendish!
Shocked by this revelation – but suddenly all the more eager to find the Lost City himself! – Temian decides he’d better get moving. Stowing the Book very carefully in his sack, together with his loot, he picks up his sword again and heads out. Time to call it a day.
Conclusion: Wrapping Up
Despite the fact that it’s totally unrealistic, the Dungeons system says that once you’ve reached the Goal, you can just fast-forward through your exit from the dungeon. I find this much more narratively satisfying, even though it’s obviously a massive cheat! You want the dungeon to end on a climax, not on a dribble back through multiple already explored areas…
(However, this doesn’t apply to the Journey home through the wilderness, which could prove dangerous – we’ll see about that next session).
Experience Points and Plot Awards
Once again, Temian managed to make progress regarding his personal plot by finding out what Narnuilakh, the Lord of the Starless Night, is plotting… so he earns an experience point, as well as a Plot Element.
Temian now has two unspent XP. I’ll wait until the adventure is over to spend them – that usually feels most natural. Also, he’ll probably accumulate a few more more at adventure’s end.
Temian has also accumulated two plot elements. As per the rules for plots, once he accumulates three plot elements, he can choose whether to turn them into a big chunk of points by resolving the plotline and starting another – or whether to keep accumulating more plot elements in this plotline, for greater long-term rewards. So he’s nearly at that point!
All in all, it was a really fun session. So stay tuned for the next episode, to see if Temian can make it home in one piece – and perhaps whether he can convince the Witch of Dunmoss to spare his friend’s life!