Solo Skald |||

The group has just finished burying one of their own in the Silent Forest outside the entrance to the Sleeping Vault. They didn’t get farther than the entryway when an ambush of some horrifying human-like spiders killed the ruffian. But a movement in the shadows tells them they are not alone.

Shadow in the forest

I wrote that originally thinking that it might be a way to add another group member, favoring immediacy over realism. But as I’ve pondered it today, I realized there’s no player who just lost their character trying to get back into the game. So I’m going to use the NPC generator and see if that makes sense, or if we have someone else approaching.

  • Identity: Tradesman (Social) (she/her)
  • Goal: Harm (Physical)
  • Notable Feature: Unremarkable
  • Attitude to PCs: Hesitation / Confusion
  • Conversation: A Faction (Physical)

Let’s give her a name: Ursuline. She’s perhaps a trapper or furrier with no knowledge of the PCs. In fact, coming upon them burying someone might even seem suspicious to her. She suspects them of some possibly engaged in some sort of dark deed, and that’s why she hesitates.

Oi! I don’t want no trouble!” she says, holding up her hands. It’s none of mine, whatever business you’re doing here.”

Melisanda and Bertram each take a breath, having just buried their colleague. We’re, ah, explorers. Had a bad time here.”

What is Ursuline’s reaction to the mention of explorers? I’ll roll her reaction again: Hesitation / Confusion”. Who’re you with, then?” she asks.

This particular expedition is really more about the Labyrinth Dredgers, although the Incendiary Guild is involved. So Melisanda answers and tells Ursuline that she’s a professional with the Dredgers. We’re here checking out this vault. Dangerous place, more than we expected.”

Without even checking with Melisanda, Bertram speaks up. We’ve got to get back in there. There’s coin if you’re willing to help us.”

With the mention of coin, I’ll roll Ursuline’s reaction again, but with advantage: Cautious Aggression.” Ursuline wants no part of this, and in fact is somewhat opposed to their mission. You’ll be unleashing something terrible,” she says. People like you are the reason this land is… the way it is.” She’s smart enough not to try to take them both on; her aggression is social, not physical; she spits and disappears back into the forest.

Back underground

That’s just the two of them, then. How close are they to the nearest village? They’re quite remote, of course, but there could be one behind them. Unfortunately, not as close as they’d like. Heading back now to hire someone to join their expedition would set them back even further. They might not be able to map the whole place by themselves, but they can at least get a few more rooms mapped out before heading back.

Chamber 1

So they re-enter the entry hall. The water continues to seep implacably, collecting in a pool beyond that cloud of darkness. Does Melisanda know anything about this? With an Insight of 4, she might: yes, she’s got a sense of how it works. What does it do? Seek / Social,” from which I infer that something could look out from it. She will want to dispel it before that can happen. If she fails to do so, some dark entity will be alerted to their presence, but she does succeed and the cloud evaporates for now.

This area has several exits, so they’ll move to the right and see what they find.

Chamber 2

Common area, 1d4 = 2 Dangers, no Discoveries. Antechamber holding bones or remains of a creature. The dangers are creature: Apostles of a cosmic nightmare, singing hymns in a language that burns in the imagination.” The same result came up twice, so that intensifies the danger. The chamber has 1 additional exit up.

What are these apostles of a cosmic nightmare”? They can’t be regular cultists as the vault has been sealed for centuries or longer. I’ll key on the words cosmic nightmare” here. It could be a Nightmare Beast” (The Monster Overhaul p. 165), an Elsewhere Creature” (p. 180), or a Shivered Beast” (p. 193). Rolling between those three options, I get the Nightmare Beast.

Spawned from fevered dreams, wild experiments, or cracks between dimensions, Nightmare Beasts are usually hostile, though some are merely tragic and unsettling.

TMO has some tables here, so let’s learn a little about it:

  • Body: Veiny ball of flesh
  • Limbs: Jets of steam
  • Head: A PCs face
  • And Also: Stuffed with straw
  • And Also: Leaps then falls

Nightmare Beast generated by DALL-E Nightmare Beast generated by DALL-E

Its initial reaction is Cautious Aggression.” But there’s a thing about these beasts: they’re not entirely real” and the explorers can try to disbelieve in it. If they make a save, the beast takes 3d6 damage, but if they fail, the beast targets them next. It has HD 6 = 16 HP, so that would be quite a bit.

Both Melisanda and Bertram will attempt this, as it is already acting aggressively. Melisanda fails, but Bertram succeeds and deals 7 damage to it. From here, we’ll move to combat.

HD 6 = 16 HP (currently 9), AC 10, MV 12, #AT 1, d8 Sonic Wail (can plug ears and save to negate)

Only Melisanda needs to save on this first round. She sees Cethegus’s face on this horrible thing, and the wail sounds in her mind like his anguished cries of pain. She takes 2 points of damage. She’ll also need to see if her Insight increases just from the nightmare vision, but she rolls below her Insight and stays as she is.

But now it’s her turn, and she might as well try to kill it. Drawing her pistol, she fires, tears in her eyes and whispering, I’m so sorry” to this vision of her friend. She hits critically, dealing a full 6 damage. Bertram continues trying to disbelieve, succeeding. That’s enough to dispel the thing.

Chamber 3

As mentioned last time, the geography of this vault is impossibly convoluted” and I envision it something like an Escher drawing. So they somehow go up into a space that shouldn’t exist because they’d be back in the forest, but here they are.

Common area, no Dangers or Discoveries. Machine room filled with junk and debris. Three exits: down, left, and forward.

The fact that this doesn’t make any sense is largely why they’re here. As much as they’d love to recover secrets here, they mostly want to get a map and descriptions for a larger expedition in the future.

What does the room look like? ChatGPT says:

The machine rooms contain the Lilitu’s advanced technology and are found in multiple locations within the tomb. They contain strange and elaborate machines that are powered by unknown energy sources.

I asked it to describe this particular one:

Melisanda and Bertram step into the chamber and are immediately struck by the sheer amount of debris and broken machinery that litters the room. Cogs, gears, and other scraps of metal are scattered about in disarray, as if someone had been tearing apart machines with abandon.

Melisanda picks up a rusted cog and turns it over in her hand, squinting at the inscription etched into its surface. Bertram meanwhile picks his way through the wreckage, muttering to himself as he examines the piles of broken machines.

After a few moments of exploration, they both pause, glancing around the room with growing confusion. This chamber simply doesn’t make sense. It is as if the room is occupying two different places in space and time, simultaneously existing in two different locations that overlap in this one spot.

Melisanda looks up at Bertram, her brow furrowed in concentration. This is impossible,” she murmurs, holding up the cog for him to see. These machines shouldn’t exist here. It’s as if this room has been lifted out of time and space and deposited here.”

Bertram nods, his eyes scanning the room with growing excitement. Maybe this is what we’ve been looking for,” he murmurs, his fingers twitching with the desire to tinker with the broken machinery. A machine that defies the laws of physics…imagine the possibilities.”

He likely takes a few bits and bobs, then they go left.

Chamber 4

Common area, 1d4 = 4 Dangers, 1 Discovery. Corridor with junk / debris. Two exits: right and down.

Dangers:

  • Trap: Alarm
  • Trap: Based on magic type: restoration / healing
  • Creature: An oozing pool of hatred, fear, and suicidal thoughts.” (x2)

I’m having a bit of trouble with these dangers, so I’ll turn to the Tome of Adventure Design (2e) for some help.

First, I assume the alarm is mechanical, so I’ll roll on Table 3-127 Mechanical traps - Concealment, Complicated Triggers” to see if any of this makes sense: it could be concealed in a machine, or the trigger could be pressure plate: when depressed, the trap is activated.”

The restoration / healing trap is where I start to have more difficulties. I’ll roll on Table 3-135 Basic Traps (Magical)”, first for the profile: Magical Trigger and a Magical Effect.” The trigger is interesting:

Carving, gem, or other feature can see” intruders and has enough intelligence to discern friend or foe.

We know the effect is linked to healing magic. As I’m thinking about it, I think it heals the oozing pools”. If there’s combat, the oozes will heal 1 HP per round.

Normally, an ooze appears by itself with 5 HD. I decide instead that there are two of them at 3 HD to represent it splitting. As I look at the list of types in TMO, I decide to interpret the oozing pool of hatred, fear, and suicidal thoughts” as a gibbering ooze,” made of bubbling flesh, eyes, and teeth.” Mechanically, Anyone within 50’ who wishes to attack a gibbering Ooze must Save or attack a different valid target instead.”

Our group won’t want to fight the oozes in any case, as they’re not here to clear out the vault. But do they trigger the alarm?

Melisanda is in the lead here, as the more experienced delver, and she sees the pressure plate. She’ll point it out to Bertram, who (as an inventor) likely has more ability to disarm it. But they see the gibbering oozes and decide to back out of the room. From the Machine Room, they’ll go down.

Chamber 5

Unique area, no dangers, 1d4 = 2 Discoveries. Chamber of the Damned” with a combination of creature remains and junk / debris / refuse / waste. One other exit: back.

What is the Chamber of the Damned? When originally generated, ChatGPT said:

This chamber contains a portal to the underworld, where the Lilitu communed with demons and other dark entities. The chamber may contain powerful artifacts that were once used in the Lilitu’s rituals.

That’s one of the discoveries, then. But what kind of artifacts? I’ll roll on the Find subtable for Discovery and get coins / gems / jewelry”. These gems likely have something to do with summoning or communing with infernal entities. This could certainly shed light on the Lilituan Empire, which fell when it embraced demonic cults that ultimately transformed their noble rulers into the world’s first vampires.” The characters don’t necessarily know this history; that’s what they’re here to discover, after all!

The air is thick and heavy, and a chill runs down their spines as they take in their surroundings.

The room is dimly lit, and the only light comes from a flickering brazier that casts dancing shadows across the walls. The floor is covered in debris and refuse, and the air is thick with the stench of decay.

In the center of the room lies a gaping black portal, a yawning maw that seems to lead straight to the underworld itself. The walls of the chamber are covered in strange symbols and carvings, each one depicting a different demon or entity from the underworld.

As they take in their surroundings, Melisanda and Bertram catch sight of something lying in the shadows. It is the remains of some unknown creature, twisted and mangled beyond recognition. It is as if the creature was pulled into the chamber from another dimension and destroyed by the forces that reside here.

Despite the darkness and decay, there is something alluring about the chamber. The gems scattered throughout the room glimmer with an unearthly light, and there is an aura of power that pulses through the air. It is as if the chamber is whispering secrets to them, secrets that have been hidden away for centuries.

Melisanda will take these gems; there are d6 = 6 of them total. Once she’s back in a lodge hall, she can study them in greater detail. She also takes time to document the symbols and carvings, as they might provide information related to the gems and certainly about the Lilituan Empire.

Given the other horrors in this vault, I imagine the group is glad that this underworld denizen is long-dead! They’ll examine the bones; I want to know if there’s anything significant to be learned from them (likely): yes, definitely! Bertram will sketch

For now, they’ll double back with this other exit.

Chamber 6

Common area, 1 Danger, no Discoveries. Machine room with smell / odor / stench. Is this the same room as before (unlikely)? No, and… I don’t know what the and” is, so I’ll draw on the Topic Focus oracle: Enemies / Physical.” There are signs that their enemies have been here, which could mean the Knights of Lilith. That’s the stench: the foul odor of undead flesh. There are no additional exits here.

Wait, if there are no additional exits here, that means that the enemies are around someplace and must have come through the Chamber of the Damned. That could either mean they came through the portal or they are exploring the vault as well. Melisanda and Bertram will need to be extremely cautious, as they are not prepared for a real fight against an expedition from Lamashtu (the kingdom that the Knights of Lilith serve).

They head back and examine the portal closely for indications that it’s been used recently, but they don’t understand it well enough to glean much information. They’ll go back to the first machine room and go forward.

Chamber 7

Common area, no Dangers or Discoveries. Another machine room, this one with a breeze / sound / echo. One exit, to the left.

The apparent preponderance of machine rooms here reflects a great deal of infrastructure for the vault. This place once hummed with activity, although that could have been mostly automated.

What is making this sound, actually? Is it an echo of something elsewhere (unlikely)? No. There’s no breeze here from outside. I’ll ask the Oracle and draw a Joker, which means reshuffle plus add a random event. After all that, we get:

  • Sound source is Dignified / Mystical
  • What happens: Communicate / Social
  • Involving: Community / Physical

Is this related to the Knights (even) or whatever is on the other side of that portal? It’s the Knights, who are inviting the explorers to parley.

This is a good time and place to end the session.

Wrap-up

As I said earlier, I really intended to add another character into the group, but the constraints of group play do not necessarily apply to solo RPGing. Ursuline might come up in the future, though.

ChatGPT did a good job of describing the locations I asked it about, and its verbiage gave me things to work with in the narrative.

This twist with the Knights of Lilith could end up either very interesting or putting a close to this particular group. The fact that they’ve encountered powerful rivals will likely end this particular foray either way, but hopefully that ends with them returning to civilization.

Up next Solo Gothic - Part 5 Solo Gothic - Part 7
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