Monday, October 21, 2019

GURPS DF Session 123, Felltower 95 - Forest Gate IV

Date: Sunday, October 6th, 2019

Weather: Hot, humid, diffusely sunny.

Dryst, halfling wizard (463 points)
Crogar, human barbarian (268 points)
Galen Longtread, human scout (409 points)
Gerald Tarrant, human necromancer (355 points)
     1 Skeleton (~35 points)
Quenton Mudborne, goblin druid (265 points)
Wyatt Sorrell, human swashbuckler (265 points)
Ulf Sigurdson, human cleric (265 points)

We picked up outside the second vegepygmy living area, with the PCs debating contacting the first group of vegepygmies and/or killing the bees they spotted last time.

After a short discussion, they decided to try and go back to the fallen druid - Trent Oakheart - and summon his spirit and search for his fabled staff. But first, they wanted to kill the bees they spotted last time. Dryst offered his usual inaccurate monster help - bees hunt by smell, six is a sacred number for them, and at least one other I don't recall.

So they sent a couple of spellcasters with Galen to the stream, and Galen shot down the bees as they buzzed around some blue-green flowers. They offered no resistance and didn't seem to notice he was shooting them down. Probably tough for insects to identify an attacking archer 20-30 yards away sniping them off two per second.

The bees dead, they headed back north of the river to get to the plant they held the remnants of Trent Oakheart (who Gerry started calling "Oak Trentheart".) They reached it and started to shoot it up with arrows and Sunbolt and Fireball. The plant responded by waving its fronds and sending pollen towards the PCs. It wafted over them and poor Crogar started to run toward its alure. Dryst hit him with Mental Stun and then they tied him up. The skies darkened and zapped the group with lightning - Wyatt was zapped nearly to death, barely avoiding death thanks to his Protective Ring (the PCs call it a "Ring of Protection +2," proving the strength of D&D's hold on the language of gaming.) Dryst cast Resist Lightning all around after they paused to let Ulf use Faith Healing to heal Wyatt. Meanwhile Quenton cast Wind and forced the pollen back.

They went back to the barrage and steadily demolished the plant until it was in tatters. They sent a few of their number ahead to the remains. Gerry cast Summon Spirit after they put together a good 7-8 questions in order of importance.

The spell failed. Either he failed due to penalties or this wasn't Trent Oakheart. They searched and found nothing else of value. They untied Crogar eventually. He occasionally let out low chuckles, but otherwise seemed fine.

So they decided to cast Seek Earth on soapstone, and found some to the Southeast. They worked their way that direction. They stopped for some squash and gave it to Crogar to carry. Then they made it back to the dead bees, crossing the river (and had to stop Crogar from trying to drink some of the water.) They crossed the stream, and rushed past the flowers and dead bees - at this point badly eaten by strange orange flies that scattered as the PCs approached. Wyatt tried to goad Galen into shooting the flies one by one, but failed.

They used Seek Earth again and continued to head in the direction of their goal.

They traveled into some new pathways, passing south of the field of giant venus flytraps encountered in session 120, then to a "tunnel" formed by a canopy of vine-draped trees. They sent in a servant and it was slowly grabbed by some of the vines and pulled up. They realized they weren't a problem for quick-moving party members so they moved in. Some weird scent drew them in and dulled the senses of one or two of them. Galen and Quenton recognized them as vampire blossoms, and backed off. Once again, they used Wind to clear the pollen and then hacked their way through.

From there they made their way through some familiar ground and eventually found the entrance area, and once again cast Seek Earth. The object was a short distance away.

So they searched. In the opposite direction of the way the gate faced them upon arrival, Quenton spotted a couple of trees untouched by the taint. He headed there. Leaning against one in the middle was a staff of wood, and a stone seal sat on the ground next to it. It was the Staff of Nature (see DFRPG Magic Items 1), the staff of Trent Oakheart. He grabbed it and began to see a vision.

As he did, Crogar rushed him and attacked, narrowly missing with his axe. Galen shot him twice in the hand, but couldn't cripple it. Crogar hacked Quenton twice, luckily rolling low damage, and "only" put him to -19 HP (from 10 HP.) Quenton passed the death check. Galen shot Crogar twice more, still unable to cripple him. Wyatt threw his longsword and impaled his hand, but for even less damage and just grazed it. All seemed lost.

Then Dryst got kind-of close and used Mental Stun and crushed Crogar's weakened Will. They piled on him again, and tied him up again.

Quenton was revived and saw his visions. It was of the garden as an oval-shaped garden of strange but healthy plants. He saw it tended by druids, and then Trent Oakheart spoke to him. The garden was a special place for all plants and plant life. But as they tried to consecrate an eternal guadian/custodian of it, a magical sapient tree, one of their number betrayed them. Instead of summoning a nature spirit, the traitor caused them to summon a force of great evil - a bayanganaga (DFRPG Monsters 2). The great, demonic dragon descended upon them and scattered them. Most of the druids were slain, before Trent Oakheart was able to use his powers and life-force to destroy the dragon. It fell, and its evil essence blanketed the sapling and corrupted it. As the tree had told them, it was the stain. The sapling grew immediately into a great, evil tree and began to slay the remaining druids and the garden began to corrupt. Trent sent the last few druids away with the seals and his staff, sending them to the pool and the gate. Clearly, the one with the staff did not make it through the gate.

Trent told (and showed) Quenton that the depression in the stain was the original spot for the sapling's seed. He needed to put the staff in there, and Trent showed him that the tree couldn't harm the staff or staff-holder. He also said they'd need the spirit of a special pool to cleanse the garden.

They decided to heal up Crogar and then cast Flesh to Stone on him after taking the squash off of him. They found they were all corrupted. They decided that the squash pool must be the magical pool. Luckily, someone argued that Trent said it was "very close" and they should check close by.

They found the pool very close to the entrance, down a narrow path they'd studiously ignored since the gold wasn't that way. They found the pool and the spirit of the pool told them to take some of the water. The water spirit would go in that water, and needed to be poured into the depression to cleanse the garden. Wyatt wanted everyone to take some water, but Quenton argued (correctly) that the spirit wouldn't be in every flask.

They tried to head right back but night fell. So they camped out. Dryst cast Analyze Magic on the sword they'd found and determined with was a (the?) Universal Sword (DFT3). Then they slept and suffered again through nightmares. Most of the suffered terrible nightmares but managed to keep their Will up. Quenton, though, found he was able to repel the evil tree in his dream. He realized (thanks to a Dream Interpretation default with a near-critical) that he commanded the dream, and that the he could repel the evil tree with the Staff of Nature. He saw himself putting the staff in, pouring the water, and defeating the tree.

He woke, refreshed and fine. Everyone else was still tired. They headed to the "tree." The garden seemed more hostile. Quenton sensed that the entire garden - everything warped in it - was connected to the evil tree. It knew everything and sensed everything. Anytime they slowed, storm clouds gathered. They had to keep moving. It took some time, and included Gerry getting -1 IQ from coming too close to the plants the bees had been circling. Ooops.

Along the way, they ran into a number of "crow"-like birds with black feathers and saw-edged toucan beaks. Galen decided to try and wave them off, using his Ring of Animal Friendship. Quenton was amazed he had this. Galen used his stock answer, "Doesn't everybody?" Just dragon-slaying vets.

Once again, as they moved along, they got "lost" and determined that they had to re-trace their steps. This was in the same area they got "lost" before. (I think they were thrown off by a path they hadn't detected before, and the lack of the calls of the "Help me!" bird. Don't navigate by creatures in case they move. This one did.) They found their way, oddly, to a stone henge - fully intact, large size. They backed off. They went back and forth a few times before someone decided they needed to make their way to the vegepygmy fort to ensure they knew were they were. They made to the henge again, and then things really got confused.

(In the interests of time, I jumped in and asked how, if they could navigate from one spot on the map the vegepygmy fort, how they could not there know where they were on the map. Why not just navigate to where they wanted to go? I think I convinced the holdouts who wanted to ensure the were 100% certain that this was already true.)

They moved toward the tree's grove. The plan was, get "around the corner" and buff up while Galen kept an eye on it, and then rush the tree to distract it while Quenton, with every spell in existence on him, would fly to the stain and destroy the tree.

Instead it was clear the tree was waiting, lightning was going to pound them, the winds were kicking up, and birds were crying from all around. They had to move. The tree wasn't messing around.

They moved in, the wizards rapidly casting Great Haste on themselves and then on the fighter-types (all except Galen, it seemed.) Wyatt and Galen rushed past the trees. Quenton, partly buffed but Invisible (uselessly, in the end) and overcoming his crippling Cowardice, tried to wave the tree aside with the staff. The tree boomed, "I defeated the staff before, and I will again!" but Quenton was having none of that.

He flew past the tree and to the stain. The tree turned. One of the others rushed the casters, another slugged Galen and wounded him badly. The tree gestured and a dozen tree-men and tree-mites peeled out of the woods on either side of the clearing and attacked. Wyatt headed to fight them.

Quenton landed in the stain, but suffered nothing for it, shielded (at least for the moment) by the staff. He thumped the staff into the dirt. The tree rushed him, as did all of the minions (except for one big one attacking the wizards.) He then poured in the water.

Galen shot the tree, and the arrows stuck in. Dryst used a 6d Flame Jet to set one of the big trees on fire (and eventually torch it down.) Clearly, it was weakened.

The trees rushed Quenton, and Galen was trampled by the big tree and wounded very badly. The tree couldn't harm Quenton, who huddled in the center of a swarm of punching and swinging tree-men and tree-mites as they tried to kill him. He chose to stay with the staff to "protect" it, having misunderstood that it was, in fact, invulnerable to anything the evil plants could do. (Oddly, I thought - I told him outright that it could not be harmed by plants.) He suffered badly. Wyatt ran around the stain, hacking at the tree-men. All of them, though, started to show cracks and started to fall apart. Clearly, they were suffering dice, not points, of injury each turn. Galen climbed to his knees, drinking three Major Healing potions in turn from his magical potion-siphon. Quenton desperately tried to Dodge and after throwing a 3d Explosive Fireball from his magical necklace into the tree, setting it aflame.

Then Quenton flew away, leaving the staff (having been convinced out-of-game not to pull it out and take it with him . . . good thing. That wasn't the thing to do, per the visions and dreams.)

The trees rampaged around after that, trying to kill things. Dryst worried the big tree was going to flee and they'd need to cast Trace on it. Aldwyn's player, running the sole skeleton, suggested he'd just hang on to it and they could Trace him. But it wasn't fleeing. It was trying to kill them and find a way to survive against an unraveling force it could not harm. This did not work. Dryst used another Flame Jet to torch the big tree.

In the end, though, they just fell apart into kindling and then ashes. As the tree died, it let loose a soul-scraping wail that harmed almost everyone, reducing their HP directly. Only one PC (I think Galen) critically succeeded and was unharmed. The others suffered to varying degrees but no one was really threatened with death - and Galen took 4d but ended up taking 8 injury!

The tree slain, the skies began to rain. Lightning no longer brewed up (and luckily for the PCs, the fight was too short for it to began to slam down on them.) Some grass began to grow along the fringes of the stain.

Quenton fled a pull to the henge. So they used Walk on Air to all go and fetch Crogar, and turn him back from stone and scold him for trying to kill Quenton. Having done so, they decided to go to the henge and then to the vegepygmies.

The henge was slightly glowing when they arrived. They followed Quenton into it. And there was a silver-edged blue light and suddenly the henge, and the garden, were gone.

They found themselves in a northern pine forest, atop a grassy round hill. Know Location put them many hundreds of miles East-Northeast of Stericksburg; north of Molotov, in fact.

They were forced to camp out for the day and night there, aided by Galen's superior Survival (Woodlands). They trekked south for a week, unmolested by any hostile forest creatures. They could feel them shying away from them. After a week they came to a village that sustained itself by trapping. Once they explained where they came from, they were introduced to a local druid. That druid sent them on to the south, and told them that druids would meet them.

They made their way south and eventually near a river that fed into the Cold Fens. They followed the river, then then took boats to and down the Silver River to Stericksburg.

Outside of Stericksburg, Warlock, the local emissary of the secret cabal of the druids, met them. He brought rewards for them:

- 6 Great Healing potions.
- 20,000 sp
- a necklace of gold with leaves picked out in green enamel (10,500 sp)
- word that Quenton could keep the Staff of Nature or they'd give them 50,000 sp for it.

and told them that all druids and plants would know of their deeds (a +1 reputation from both.)

The PCs chose to keep the staff for Quenton, gave the Protective Ring to Ulf so he wouldn't die, sold Gerry's old necklace and gave him the new one for a 25-point Power Item, distributed the money around, and presumably handed out the potions (I didn't pay attention.)

The finally arrived back in Stericksburg on 10/20/2019, two months after their foray into the gardens. Most of it was spent walking and barging and boating home.


Fun session. Lots of groaning came from the location of the staff and other soapstone seal - they were so laser-focused on loot they didn't bother to really look around. Had they done so, I suspect this would have been a two-session delve with basically identical loot . . . and the tree fight would have been much simpler without trying to beat it when it was, in fact, totally unbeatable except in the presence of the staff, and would start dying once the ritual was completed.

One thing I noticed about puzzle answers and clues is that even plain, obvious clues can be misinterpreted. Quenton had a vision from Trent Oakheart that showed exactly what happened, and then exactly what to do to defeat the tree. It left nothing to interpretation. The spirit was very clear - take me, pour me into the niche, and wait it out. Despite that, it somehow became warped into a complex plan to have someone else (not a druid) dive-bomb water into the hole, ram the staff in, etc. Then it became Quenton doing it, and even then he misunderstood the need to stay with the staff. He didn't, clearly. They couldn't touch the staff and the demon-warped tree couldn't touch him. So he was vulnerable for no reason. Good thing he didn't pull the staff out, and even that almost happened. I'm not sure why, but in GURPS games, especially my games, 1 second is clearly a total eternity. You can do a lot ("I fly over at Move 24 and ram the staff in and draw my wineskin and empty it, then on the next turn I pull it out and fly away at Move 24") and amazing things will happen. No one has the patience to wait . . . maybe it's the North Jersey / New York area crowd. We're an impatient bunch. But regardless, I made it as explicit as I could without making it like the old technical directions I used to write. Even so . . . there wasn't clarity on what to do.

And so it wasn't the Warden after all. Not an alien garden maintained by the druids for their grey masters. I think the players were disappointed, but here we are.

Tomorrow, details on the adventure sources. XP was 16 apiece plus MVP - the details of why will come later this week, too. Basically, four sessions worth.


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