Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Deathodendron - Soulbound AoS roleplay campaign session 4

After all the action and violence, the group decided it was time for a long rest. At a crossroads of corridors they sat back and deliberated what to do next. Through this discussion, they forgot to inform the newly arrived Stormcast what was going on in the first place. Ah the stresses of adventure and all that…

I'll take any excuse to use pictures of this big guy :)

After the selfless sacrifice of the Doom Seeker, the rogue decided their chances of survival were dependent on the presence of Dwarves in the group. "We have only one Dwarf left, so we must be careful", was his advice. The Kharadron tried to point out that even though he was a Duardin (sort of a Dwarf) he was not a Fyreslayer and therefore had absolutely no intention of ‘seeking his doom’ for the group.

Meanwhile, the Stormcast remembered snippets of a conversation with Sigmar. Well not so much the conversation as the garden were it was held. To be honest only one detail actually stood out: it had beautiful white flowers. The god king had told him something important about the group, but he couldn't remember what it was. On hearing the group talk about Nurgle, the Stormcast had flashbacks to a time when he stood with a noose around his neck, and to an earlier time: a war and family in danger.

Too few Dwarves in this team

In the end, the group decided to send the team of Freeguilders deeper into the tunnels for reconnaissance. They intended to find a way out through another tunnel themselves. “Too few Dwarves in this team,” the rogue stated. After some extra deliberation – motivated by protests from the Freeguilders - they turned the decision around. The Freeguilders left through a corridor that seemed likely to lead to outside. The group went deeper into the labyrinth to reconnoiter.

After going through a few corridors, they came across yet another grubby little man with wobbly teeth. This one called out enthusiastically that the Deathodendron was very close. The Stormcast took one look at the Nurgle scum and punched the figure in the face with a clenched and gauntleted fist. The man spat teeth and collapsed to the ground. The rest of the group shrugged and decided that this might be a good idea. Nurgle being quite unpleasant too, and all that.

The temple of Alarielle

They walked on until the Sylvaneth spotted a symbol of Alarielle above a door that was overgrown with mold. The dryad cast a - very successful - lifebloom spell. The mold disappeared and pleasant-looking, soft green moss grew in its place. Behind the door, there appeared to be a small temple dedicated to Alerielle. It had panels on the wall showing the symbols of the goddess.

The Sylvaneh noticed that these panels were in the wrong order. The dryad grabbed the magic mirror they found earlier and looked at the temple through it. With that, the old glory of the temple was shown. The panels indeed appeared to be in a different order. With fumbling help from the rogue they got the panels loose from the wall. Behind two panels, in a hollow, was a miniature version of the magic mirror. Behind a third hollow were two small statues. These seemed made to hold the small mirrors.

Not appearing in this game session: three frogs.

Using the images in the large mirror as reference the rogue placed the mirrors in the holders. Together these captured sunlight from an unsuspected source and cast an Endless Spell. This spell fed on the already present Lifebloom and brought the temple to life. The moss became even softer and thicker, and in the center of the temple a small white tree with sweet, nutritious peaches grew.

The group slumped down and took an extra rest. In this peaceful setting, the Stormcast could suddenly remember his conversation with Sigmar. He had to stay with the group to see if that would bring his memories back. Immediately he recalled his own beheading, getting quartered and dying with both his legs cut off. As he tried to shrug these horrific memories of, a few more gruesome ways to die followed. Each ended in a flash and rebirth on the Altar of Apotheosis.

Altar of Apotheosis

The paladin wondered if remembering the past was a smart endeavor to pursue. Then he remembered being hanged by a rancid gang of Nurgle followers, praying to Sigmar for the strength to break loose and fight them one more time. It was the first time he had died only to reawaken on the Altar of Apotheosis.

As the Stormcast recalled his memories, the group discussed whether they should camp for a few days. This was interrupted by rumbling in the hallway. A group of fourteen Plaguebearers, accompanied by the angry admonitions of a Scrivener approached. The Idoneth shrugged and threw a magical vortex in that direction. All the Nurgle daemons were pulverized by the spell.

The group decided to keep walking anyway, more enemies might come. As they walked they heard the sound of a false but cheerful bagpipes in the distance. They followed that sound. After some wandering, they arrived at a huge hall. Giant stone doors on rails stood open at its entrance. They suddenly were happy they’d pulled the big lever last time. In the hall, behind a hedge of three mutant giant trees (Fecund Gnam-Maws), stood a second Great Unclean One. Behind the demon were three statues. An overgrown statue of Alarielle, and on either side large versions of the statues they found earlier in the alcove in the temple.


"Dance for Deathodendron," the Great Unclean One shouted, smiling at his merry band of followers. A capering horde of Plaguebearers and Nurglings danced before the hedge of Gnaw-maws. They capered and somersaulted accompanied by the shrill, organic sounds of a ghastly bagpipe played by yet another daemon. A deep, yellow fog hung around the dancers, obscuring the walls of the hall.

It turned out Deathodendron wasn't a fecund tree, but an even more disgusting greater daemon.

The players surged into action. Soon it was raining thorns on the ‘central dance floor’ thanks to a spell cast by the Sylvaneth. The Kharadron sucked the clouds of yellow fog away from the flanks. Out of the fog the disembodied and impaled bodies of the Freeguilders emerged. Caught while trying to find the exit. The Witch Aelf and the Stormcast made short work of the bagpiper. The rogue looked around and saw a piece of mirror sticking out from under the roots of a Gnaw-Maw.

The large mutant trees vomited out waves of Nurglings. The group fought their way to roots containing the mirror. In the process, the mages were hindered by the Great Unclean One. It was trapped behind its own mutant trees and settled for watching the spectacle and hindering any magic from the group’s spell casters.

To kill a greater daemon

Finally, the group managed to cut down a mutant tree. Quickly recovering the second mirror, the Sylvaneth stepped into a puddle, disappeared, and then reappeared from another puddle directly behind the Great Unclean One. The deamon’s attention was diverted by a rather heroic speech from the Stormcast. As a thank you for the challenge, the silver paladin received a (nearly fatal) blow with a rusty flail.

The rogue also tried to do his part. To the Great Unclean One's dismay, he climbed onto the monster. Sitting on the blubbering layers of diseased flesh, the hero tried to plant a knife in the daemon. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a bit too ambitious. It did little damage to the monster.

The Sylvaneth made grateful use of all the distractions to place mirrors on the statues. As the last mirror was placed enormous amounts of sunlight were reflected onto the statue of Alarielle. Mold and rancid growths fell from the statue. Clean water started running from her mouth. The statue turned out to be a huge fountain. Where its water fell, the contagion of Nurgle melted away.

The Deathodendron, standing in the basin of the fountain was hit by a tidal wave of cleansing water. The daemon collapsed like a pudding, melting back into the garden of Nurgle. Nurglings disappeared with it and peace descended on the temple.

We're rich!

Suddenly the Rogue thought of something important. "We're rich!", he cried out. Quickly he ran to the healing fountain, intending to grab as much of the water as he could. Kneeling down he realized he had no bottles on him at all. Not even a canteen. Bemoaning his lack of foresight he made a makeshift tarpaulin, to retrieve at least some water from the well.

Satisfied with completing their first mission, the group took a well-deserved long rest. The first sector of Hollowreef was free of chaos....

I havent managed to paint a proper looking Hallowed Knight so far. 

GM's perspective

Finishing the grand finale of this first chapter in my Hollowreef's Riddle campaign was a lot of fun. After seeing the damage done to the Doom Seeker in the prevous session, the group was suitably nervous on spotting another Greater Daemon of Nurgle. Also the big reveal that this was the Deathodendron was fun, although no one was very surprised :).

When it comes to adventure in dungeon-like surrounding (such as the dank corridors of Hollowreef) you can decide to map all of it out. That way you can go really old school and just spend two years going through every corridor, reaching a new level whenever you find the stairs and all that stuff (as was so properly digitized by the first Diablo computer game). 

Personally I think computer games are a better medium for that kind of exploring. On the table I prefer to just talk about the dank corridors and - much like a book - move on to the next bit that gets interesting. Occasionally I do prepare maps, but my rule of thumb is never to use more than five rooms (if possible). That's about one or maybe two evenings worth of gaming in my experience. 

Three act structure

The system with zones in Soulbound encourages this kind of planning. You have the confrontation prepared. The road to it consists of talking, interacting and maybe having someone roll some dice to see what happens. Its a nice system, especially if you (loosely) follow a three act structure to the story. For those of you not overfed on 'how to write' books. A story (very loosely put) consists of:

  • Act 1 - setup, inciting incident
  • Act 2 - Confrontation, rising action 
  • Act 3 - Resolution, climax

In the case of this adventure I filled this in with:

  • Act 1 - The group descends into the deeps of Hollowreef, learns about the Deathodendron and is ambushed.
  • Act 2 - The group attempts to rescue whomever is captured during the ambush and finds the way towards Deathodendron.
  • Act 3 - The group confronts Deathodendron and manages to clear the Nurgle infestation from this section of Hollowreef.

Each act finished with a combat map. In between the maps I planned some interaction with non-violent NPC's (the hapless inhabitants) and a few interactive bits like finding the mirror shard and later the lost temple of Alarielle. I never use random encounter tables because I want each encounter to add to the story (even if it is as little as getting the party moving). 

Next steps in the campaign

With the first chapter finished I'm going to rework the rest of the planned campaign. Although I like the zone structure this fist journey was too combat oriented for my taste. There's nothing wrong with a lot of good scraps along the way, but I want a few more interesting bits to remember too.  

As far as the climactic battle went. It was so much fun. The Stormcast really expands the the party as a bulwark to cover the others. I was curious how the players would resolve the combat. They could've charged the daemon together, but I don't think all of them would've lived. The mirror was there as another option to resolve the fight, but how could they get it passed the monster guarding the statues? 

In the end the group surprised me. I didn't know about the dryad's spell. It allowed that character to travel from puddle to puddle. Nothing is quite as satisfying as a group of players resolving your adventure in a creative way; especially as this resolution took a lot of teamwork. 

All in all I'm very happy with the story so far and I can't wait to find out what section of the abandoned city the group will explore next. I also can't wait to see the looks on their faces when they discover they get quite a lot of say in who'll move into the now cleared lower hives of Hollowreef. But that is for the next game session...

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