Monday, August 28, 2017

The Sacrifice of Degenerate Art by Men Made of Salt

Oh look, the new Yvana Gallows album is out!
Campaign: Scarabae (Open Table, Google Hangouts, 5e D&D)

Characters: Mortimer Queensberry (human way of the fist monk), Traviata Manu (human alchemist artificer), Leonid Vok (weretouched fighter), Viktor (dragonborn sorcerer).

Objective: Recover the stolen master recording of Yvana Gallows's next album.

Events: The party was convened by Koska, one of the licensed quest givers in Redgutter. By the bucket of iced champagne sitting on her battle-scarred desk, it was obvious that Koska was trying to impress the client for whom she had arranged this meeting. Mortimer, Traviata, Leonid, and Viktor were introduced to Yvana Gallows, a famous black-maned and kohl-eyed chanteuse known for her the dissonant shrieks and moans. Gallows was wearing a black-plumed ensemble that made her look like a lounging vulture. Flanking her were two hulking bodyguards: a mangy, one-eyed gnoll named Cromgar and a grinning bugbear with green-dyed fur named Mint Julep. It turned out that a few of the characters Koska had called to this meeting were fans of Yvana Gallows; notably, Traviata was not.

Yvana Gallows had a problem: she had completed recording her latest album--etched, by audio magic, onto a glass disc that could be used to manufacture wax cylinders for sale--but someone had stolen the master from the recording studio! Gallows claimed to have no enemies in the music scene who might have stolen the recording to get back at her, but then she was so self-centered that she might not have noticed anyway. The idea of chasing up leads with sellers of bootlegs, over-eager fans, and rival musicians was considered, but the party decided to make their first stop the recording studio itself.

And so they made their way to Furiosa Deluxe, a studio owned and operated by a very intoxicated half-orc with dreadlocks and terrible tribal tattoos named Spandau. Spandau's offers to "party" with the adventurers were mostly ignored as they focused on their investigation. Spandau showed them the scene of the crime; someone had burst in through a sewer grate in a disused storage room. Near the broken sewer grate were large crystalline chunks that Traviata readily identified as being sharp bits of hardened salt. Viktor cast a light spell on his staff, and with the aid of a ladder brought in by Spandau, the party descended into the sewer to look for clues.

The waters of the sewer smelled, well, like a sewer, but Leonid's perceptive nose caught a strangely briny scent among the other odors. The party's exploration of the cobblestone walkway running alongside the sewer's rushing water discovered an area near the ledge that had foot and hand prints cast in salty residue; it looked as though something had slipped into the sewer, pulled itself back up onto the ledge, and left this strange residue behind. The party began to suspect salt-based creatures, perhaps a salt golem sent to steal the recording at the behest of a rival musician.

Further exploration in the sewers discovered an old worm train being held in rusty metal clamps above the water. Using Viktor's climbing kit, Mortimer ascended up to the worm train and made his way inside one of its segments. The interior was quite dusty, but the dust was undisturbed--Mortimer was the first person to be inside the worm train in quite some time. The rest of the party joined him, and they began to explore the train. Unfortunately, their combined weight was too much for the rusty metal clamps holding the train in stasis above the sewer's water; the worm train listed to the side before coming crashing down into the water.

The party rushed to the worm train's controls at the "front" of the worm as it began to squirm its way through the sewer's waters, but no one in the party was particularly adept at driving--so their efforts only served to goad the worm into undulating at an alarming rate down the tunnel. As the worm train picked up speed, a couple members of the party noticed through the windows that they passed humanoid figures that had been camped further down the cobblestone walkway. They also heard a thump on top of the train as it passed those figures, a scream that died away as the train sped further, and then a pounding sound that reverberated from the ceiling of the train down into one of the passenger compartments. The party armed themselves and went in search of the sound's origin.

What they found was that two of the figures they had passed had leaped on the worm train as it sped by, and had hacked their way into the worm's interior with axe blades comprised of hardened, sharpened salt. (A third had attempted to make the leap as well, but missed...which accounted for the scream they had heard.) Attempts to parlay were fruitless; the strange men, clad in clothes made of palm fronds, charged the party. Both were quickly dispatched, and both shattered into shards of rock salt upon death. The party rushed back to the worm train's controls but arrived just in time to see that, somehow, the worm train had cleared the sewers while they were fighting off the interlopers; now the worm train was skipping along the surface of a larger body of water and was rearing up to crash directly into an island! The party braced for impact.

Luckily, most of the party made it through the crash with only bumps and bruising; Leonid, however, was knocked out cold. The conscious portion of the party left the worm train where it had embedded itself and got their bearings. The sun that hung in the sky was not the sun that shone over Scarabae; it instead looked like a chunk of irregular salt that emitted a pinkish-orange light, much like a large Himalayan salt lamp. To the left of the party's landing spot was a crater in the island's crumbly soil. The center of the island was dominated by a lush jungle of sharp-edged tropical trees. Two volcanic peaks jutted out from the center of the jungle. The tallest peak had a ziggurat carved into its side; at the foot of the ziggurat was a small village of huts.

The party opted to approach the ziggurat from the right, through the jungle. As they neared the structure, they spotted six guards standing vigilantly before the only visible entrance to the ziggurat. Each of the guards was armed with a spear tipped with a jagged salt-like crystal. People were going about their business in the village below. The party's attempt to stealthily approach the side of the ziggurat was unsuccessful; four of the guards rushed them, and were beaten down. Like the interlopers on the worm train, the guards exploded into salty shards when dispatched. Viktor used his magical slippers to climb up to the second level of the ziggurat and get the drop on the two remaining guards with a chill touch spell as Mortimer and Traviata charged them.

The guards cleared away, the party entered the ziggurat. From the six sets of shackles stapled into the walls, the first chamber was a place of imprisonment. The next chamber held a bier, on which a man-shaped body completely crusted over with salt crystals laid in eternal rest. The final chamber on this level of the ziggurat featured a back wall obscured by a constant cascade of water and walls completely covered by etchings and pictographs. Viktor studied the pictographs and realized that the ziggurat was a temple dedicated to Razo the Unlistening, a deity who commanded his faithful to disapprove of "degenerate art" such as writing, painting, and music. The salt-encased body they had found belonged, in life, to Razo's first prophet. Traviata was incensed at this religion for philistines!

The stairs in the final chamber of the first floor led up to a room on the second where the party surprised a number of priestly acolytes getting dressed in their ritual garments. Traviata intimidated the priests, getting them to reveal that their minions had stolen the master recording of Yvana Gallows's album so that it might be sacrificed at the ziggurat in the name of Razo the Unlistening. When Mortimer pointed out that the pictographs in the ziggurat were themselves a kind of art, they failed to comprehend his meaning; such is the way of religious hypocrites and zealots. Attempts to get the acolytes to reveal the location of the recording fell short; pushed too far, the acolytes began to chant "nonononononono," summoning crowns of salty crystals that flew at the party like daggers. The party fought back, taking some damage in the process, but Viktor's waves of thunderous noise softened the acolytes up so they could be dispatched by Mortimer's fists and Traviata's gun.

Spying through the gap between the floor and the door in this chamber revealed that someone on the other side had their back against the door to hold it closed. Traviata splashed the ankles of the person holding the door shut with acid, causing them to leap away from the door while cursing "Son of a Razo!" The party burst through and found the head priest of the saltfolk clothed in ritual garments made of fronds from the jungle. The priest summoned a hammer of salt that swung at the adventurers of its own accord. They struck back with blunderbuss blasts, pugilism, and spells. The high priest created an aura of cutting salt that felled both Traviata and Viktor, but the battle was decided by Mortimer punching his fist through the priest's midsection--causing him to dissolve into a pile of salt granules. 

Mortimer stabilized his comrades, and the party barred the door to the chamber to recuperate. They discovered a lump of pinkish-orange salt and a potion that proved to be magical, as well as a demonic green mask made of salt and a collection plate filled with coins. More importantly, they found the master recording of Yvana Gallows's next album--thankfully they had gotten to it before it had been sacrificed! The final floor of the ziggurat opened up on an aperture where works of art that the saltfolk disapproved of would be thrown to the ground below and destroyed as a sacrifice to Razo the Unlistening. 

The party desecrated the ziggurat's pictrographs with acid on the way out, and collapsed the salt-covered remains of Razo's first disciple. (The salt-encrusted form proved to be hollow, much like the faith of the saltfolk.) Back at the crashed worm train, but party found another set of controls at the worm's other, undamaged, end. Careful study of the controls under less frantic circumstances led to better results; they got the worm train to move in reverse at a less-than-breakneck speed. Returning the way they came revealed that the party had crossed through a planar portal while fighting the saltfolk who invaded their train; going through the portal from this side put them back in the sewers of Scarabae. Traviata and Viktor stopped to study the portal and learned the secrets of manipulating its energies; they closed it, for now, and made its location difficult to find.

Back at Koska's offices the party found that the quest giver had already spent a portion of her cut from Gallows on a new sign that read Koska's Adventuring Collaborative. There was a tense moment when Traviata's jealousy over Yvana Gallows's popularity tempted her to smash the glass disk that held the new album before handing it over, but either her better nature or the promise of payment stayed her hand. Yvana promised to include the adventurer's names in the liner notes to the new album. Mortimer played a tune on his harmonica to impress Yvana. Months later, the party would discover that the chanteuse had ripped off Mortimer's melody on her newest single.

XP: 429 each for Traviata, Viktor, and Mortimer. 75 for Leonid.

Coin: 32 gp and 5 sp each from the coins and green mask, plus 250 gp each from Yvana for a job well done.

Magic Items: Pinkish-orange salt driftglobe (claimed by Mortimer), potion of healing (claimed by Viktor).