Thursday, 9 March 2017

[Actual Play] Team Tsathogga Rides Again!

I haven't written any actual play reports since December, but that doesn't mean that the Team Tsathogga group has ceased to meet. In the last two months of real-time we've played through a whole year of game-time, highlights of which include:

  • Gathering all the surface-dwelling human inhabitants of the Purple Islands together into one settlement and converting them to the party's made-up dualistic religion.
  • Using the giant purple cloud monster to smash up the undead pterodactyls patrolling around Zombie Mountain.
  • Almost getting eaten by zombies.
  • Discovering that Elder Amelia is apparently some kind of alien, having no idea what to do with this information, and ultimately opting to just maintain an embarrassed silence.
  • Returning to the tunnels beneath their hometown, taking over the goblin tribes that lived there by claiming to be prophets of Tsathogga, and destroying an infestation of goblin spore zombies that they'd accidentally started during their previous visit.
  • Totally failing to assist the Toad People with the fact that their entire young adult population had been conscripted by the Science Fungoids and marched off to fight in some kind of underground warzone. ('Eh. We'll get around to it later.')
  • Breaking into the shrine of the Devourer (a slightly rewritten version of Death Frost Doom) and escaping with lots of creepy books, at the cost of only one dead PC and 150-odd murder zombies released into the surrounding region. ('They'll cope... right?')
  • Recruiting Sophie the Muscle Wizard.
  • Using absurd numbers of Charm Person spells to infiltrate a secret society at a medical college by persuading its leaders that Sophie was actually an amnesiac noblewoman, and conning them into making a new undead body for their buddy, Markus the Psychic Head-in-a-Jar.
  • Making friends with a bunch of mutant freaks in the woods, whom the same secret society Frankensteined together and then abandoned some decades earlier, and handing Markus over to them so that he, too, could learn the art of being a freaky undead mutant powered by Mad Science and Liquid Time.
  • Finding a boyfriend for Jack the Fighter, to take his mind off his dead sister.
This week, though, they finally returned to the Purple Islands, and the session which resulted was so much fun that I just had to write it up...

* * *

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So Team Tsathogga returned to the Purple Islands, which had been the site of so many of their dubious victories in the past. They found their human inhabitants living together in peace under the enlightened leadership of their friend Erin, who told them that Elder Amelia had established a fort on the eastern island, and also that there had recently been two other visits to the islands: one by Magister Sorn, the elf magician who had trained Hash, and the other by the Order of the Divine Surgeon, the secret society which the party had recently deceived. Given that the PCs had basically set up both of these expeditions (and, in the case of the Order's mission, also effectively set it up to fail) through the controlled distribution of information about what the islands did and did not contain, this did not come as an entire surprise. When time permitted, they agreed to follow up on what had become of both of them; but their first priority was to test their hypothesis that some of the serpent folk, whose cruel empire had once dominated the world, might still be alive somewhere in the tunnels beneath the islands...

Descending into these tunnels, they received an extremely wary welcome from the tunnel-dwellers, who remembered their antics the year before all too clearly. However, when the PCs told them that they had come to deal with the shadow-dwelling creatures with whom they had long suspected they had been unwillingly sharing their tunnels, they became excited: they believed that the creatures had been very active recently, with people hearing lots of movements in the darkness and even hatch doors to the surface clanging open and shut when no-one was nearby. They didn't know what had provoked this new bout of activity - as far as they knew, the creatures had never before shown any interest in gaining access to the surface - but it had prompted them to set more guards by the tunnel entrances, and they welcomed any help that the PCs could offer.

The assumption of the tunnel-dwellers was that the creatures were deliberately collapsing tunnels to hide themselves - but if they were able to creep out through the tunnels to the surface, then some secret, non-caved-in entrance to their lair must also exist. The PCs thus proceeded to spend two days searching partially-flooded tunnels and interrogating moles in an attempt to find this entrance, to no avail, and spent their nights under the watchful eyes of the tunnel-dwellers posted to guard the hatch which led up to the east island on the surface.

On the first night, the guards felt they were being watched by something, but whatever it was retreated back into the darkness whenever they advanced with lights. On the second night, however, the serpent folk attacked. The first warning the PCs got of this was a gas grenade crashing down in their midst, releasing a great cloud of yellow-green vapour which made it hard to see or breathe; and as the tunnel-dweller guards stumbled around in this, struggling to aim their blunderbusses, they began to be cut down by scything laser beams which flickered out of the darkness, slicing their bodies apart and filling the air with the smell of burning meat. With several PCs incapacitated by the gas, the remainder decided to grab their poisoned comrades and flee as quickly as possible, ruthlessly shoving their way past the coughing tunnel-dwellers as they stampeded for the ladder up.

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Snake men with laser guns! Run!

Circe, true to form, was the first one to escape to the relative safety of the surface; while Skadi, bringing up the rear, suffered a near-fatal volley of laser fire from the gas-mask wearing snake-men below as she grimly clambered up the shaft. Once they were up on the surface, Jack and Sophie provided covering fire, Jack by shooting arrows at the snake-men at the bottom of the shaft, and Sophie by dropping dumb-bells on them. The serpent-folk fell back, and Skadi managed to drag herself out of the hatch more dead than alive, but the tunnel-dwellers were slain to a man.

For a while, the PCs tried to keep the snake-men pinned down in the tunnels, engaging them in a missile duel in which the PCs fired spells and weapons down from the top of the shaft while the snake-men fired their laser weapons up. Unfortunately, their primitive weapons proved no match for the superior technology of their opponents, and they were soon forced to abandon their position, shutting the hatch and weighing it down with rocks before fleeing for the nearby woods. The apemen who lived there grudgingly permitted them to climb a tree and hide in the foliage provided they made no attempt to move further into the forest; but a few hours later an apeman messenger came shrieking through the canopy, and all the apeman warriors who had been watching over them suddenly went swinging away to the east.

Curious, Hogarth turned himself invisible and followed them on foot, soon coming to a bizarre scene: the snake-men, it seemed, had partly excavated a small, ancient spaceship from beneath the forest floor, and one of them was now tinkering away inside its engines while the rest provided covering fire, holding at bay a screaming mob of furious apemen in the trees nearby. (Several dead apemen littering the forest floor bore witness to the efficacy of their shooting.) Not wanting to be turned into laserbait, Hogarth merely watched silently as the snakeman mechanic retrieved something from inside the engine before the whole group of them turned and ran back in the direction of the hatch, hurling gas grenades into the apeman mob as they went. One of them was pinned to the ground by a thrown apeman spear, which by some stroke of fortune managed to penetrate through its weird black mesh armour; but the rest soon escaped into the distance, pursued by the apemen as soon as the effects of the gas wore off.

With both snake-men and apemen now gone, Hogarth was free to loot the dead snake-man's body (taking its gasmask, gas grenade bandolier, and weird wrist-mounted laser weapon), before heading inside the spaceship itself. It had clearly lain undisturbed beneath the earth for centuries, its only cargo a heavy, unmarked metal cylinder. An ancient skeleton in a spacesuit sat propped up in front of the windshield; his co-pilot, it seemed, had managed to eject in time. Face-down on the dashboard, Hogarth found an old, faded photograph of what must have been the pilot's high command, and noted with grim amusement that the 'Divine Surgeon' revered by the secret society they had deceived back on the mainland appeared to have been none other than the chief medical officer of this ancient spacefleet. Taking the cylinder with him, he returned to the rest of the group.

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Rest now, spaceman. The struggle against the serpent folk goes on...

Keen to avoid any further showdowns with the snakemen, the PCs headed north to Amelia's fort, which was being run by the Angel Andrew in her absence. Andrew allowed them to stay in the fort for old time's sake, giving Jack a chance to visit the grave of his sister, which since her death had become a pilgrimage site for the native population; and the next day, after Circe had finished healing everyone's laser wounds, he even agreed to lend them a ship to carry them to the west island, to further investigate the secrets of Zombie Mountain. Sailing west, they found a smaller ship moored outside the abandoned village, with a man on deck whom they recognised as Ernst, a member of the Order of the Divine Surgeon. He, in turn, recognised Sophie as 'Lady Penelope' (her fake cover identity during her time with the Order), and began to pour out a tale of woe and trauma concerning what had happened to him and his expedition on the island. Following 'Penelope's' advice, they had sailed out expecting to find an island full of docile and obedient undead: instead they had stumbled into a hell of ravenous zombies and sacrifice-happy slug-monsters, who had killed both his companions and half of his crew. Sophie could only shrug her shoulders and say that conditions on the island must have changed since their previous visit.

At this point, the party had a debate about what to do next. If Ernst returned to the mainland, then it would become fairly obvious that 'Penelope' had set his mission up for failure: but could they really kill a moderately-innocent man just to protect themselves? On balance they decided that, yes, they could, because the Order of the Divine Surgeon had been mean to them and had tried to enslave their psychic zombie-buddy Markus by building him a body that would only function for as long as they gave him regular alchemical injections, so fuck those guys. (Fortunately, Zeth, the party's budding mad scientist, had managed to hook him up with an alternative supply.) Privately acknowledging that it was 'the most evil thing they'd done so far', they invited Ernst to join them in returning to the island, as his sailors now refused to set foot on it, assuring him that his mission could still be a success. Then they lured him out to the altar of the Devourer in the slug-man settlement, and Sophie brained him with a rock.

('I do it quickly', her player said. 'I don't want him to suffer...')

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Out from the surrounding hovels surged the slug-men: but this time they were met by Circe, resplendant in the ritual regalia of a high priestess of the Devourer (which she'd looted from their shrine on the mainland), who hailed them with the appropriate ceremonial greeting before cutting out poor Ersnt's heart upon their altar. Convinced that their spiritual leader had finally returned to them, the slug-men prostrated themselves before her, eagerly drinking in her story of how the Devourer cultists who had sailed from these islands had gone on to win many conquests in the world outside. Intrigued by the fact that the island's zombies apparently left the slug-creatures alone, Circe led them to the foot of Zombie Mountain, which was much easier to approach now that it was no longer guarded by endlessly-circling undead pterodactyls. Then Hogarth cast Invisibility, she cast Invisibility to Undead, and the two of them set off up the mountain's slopes to see who or what lived inside the giant face carved on its side, the apparent origin point of the island's zombie infestation...

Hogarth's spell lasted as long as he could maintain concentration, so he climbed very slowly and carefully. Circe's spell only lasted for half an hour, so she climbed very quickly indeed, soon leaving Hogarth far behind. Looking into the 'mouth' of the giant face she saw a mob of zombies waiting just inside, peering out - but, of course, she was invisible to them. Heading on down its 'throat', she came to a phalanx of skeletons in scavenged weapons and armour - but she was invisible to them, too, if only for a few more minutes. Beyond them she saw an old man, asleep on his desk. She could have used the remaining minutes of her spell to leave quietly, Instead she used them to walk over to the man and wake him up.

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I mean, how bad could the situation get?

He opened his eyes. He saw Circe standing over him in the regalia of a priestess of the Devourer. He screamed.

Instantly Circe's sacrificial dagger was in her hand. 'Tell the skeletons to attack and I'll kill you!' she hissed.

'Skeletons!' the man wailed. 'Don't attack her unless she attacks me! But kill her if she does!'

Instantly the skeletons formed up around the now-visible Circe, levelling their weapons at her, but not striking... yet. Circe, playing for time, began blathering away about how the cult of the Devourer had changed a lot since it had left these islands, and how they now recognised that the Devourer was just one of a trinity of gods, and had he ever heard of the Frog God? Or maybe the Bright Lady? Meanwhile Hogarth, still invisible, finally entered the cave and began rifling through the old man's bookshelves, ignored by everyone; and on the mountainside below, alerted by the old man's scream, the rest of the party and the slug-men began to ascend the mountain, unaware of the Mexican standoff which awaited them within the caves above...

...and that's where the session ended. Will Circe be able to talk her way out of this one? Who will win if the situation devolves into a grand zombies vs. slug-monsters melee? Is sending multiple people to their likely deaths by feeding them misinformation really more evil than just braining one dude with a rock? And just what are the serpent-folk up to in their hidden tunnels? Some, none, or more of these questions may be answered in the next installment of The Adventures of Team Tsathogga!


  1. I especially enjoy the very pulp recurrence of false and/or deeply distorted religions in these APs. Did you plan much of the spaceship gods out or make them up on the spot?

    1. The premise of the setting is very much 'what if a fantasy setting was actually the ruins of an SF setting which had forgotten its own history', so most of the stuff in it does have its origins in the now-forgotten war between the ancient astronauts and the snake-men, even if the PCs are pretty much the only people who have access to enough information to have started to work this out. Most of the setting's religions are built around worship of stranded aliens, deified historical figures, rogue snake-man bioweapons, and whatnot, although there may or may not be actual gods out there as well. The fact that the PCs have continued this process by gleefully making up new fake religions of their own is just an added bonus!