The group re-entered the Sleeping Vault after burying Cethegus, later finding the Chamber of the Damned with its portal to the infernal underworld. But nearby, they heard they voices of the Knights of Lilith, calling for parley. And that’s where we’ll start up.
Melisanda and Bertram are in a machine room (chamber 7) with unknown conduits when they heard a sound. It took a moment to identify it, but the Knights have an expedition or envoy here and they’re calling for parley. This is potentially a trick, but having this group at their backs and even between them and the exit is really dangerous. It’s worth having the conversation, because these foes could simply kill them if that were their intention.
First, is this Ser Grisselda (likely) or Ser Katya? Yes, it’s Grisselda. This is about “A Faction / Social,” which I interpret as actually being about the relationship between the Labyrinth Dredgers (Melisanda’s group) and the Knights of Lilith. Grisselda’s goal here is “Avenge / Physical” which strikes me as odd. If she merely wanted vengeance on Melisanda, or the Labyrinth Dredgers more broadly, there would be no need to parley.
I’ll review the Knights again to see if that illuminates the situation any. From Krevborna:
Sworn to the service of Countess Alcesta, the Knights of Lilith scour the world to find the one who will help the Countess conceive her deathless child.
Motto: Body and soul, we are sworn to serve Countess Alcesta of House Karlok—in this life and the next.
One of their suggested quests is “Scour a Grail Tomb for lost knowledge that links Lamashtu to the arcane ways of the Lilitu.” (Apparently, they do a lot of scouring.) Further, “some scholars believe that the nobles of Lamashtu are descendants of the ancient Lilituans.”
In comparison, the Labyrinth Dredgers are “delvers employed by the Church[…] to search for lost knowledge within the hypogean Grail Tombs.” Despite the Church’s patronage, the Dredgers see them as a tool to be used and in fact are willing to embrace “occult means[…] to ensure mankind’s survival, even if it is heretical to do so.”
Therefore, I imagine Ser Grisselda pointing out how their missions align. Ultimately, both groups seek knowledge and, ultimately, the truth about the Lilituans. Neither of them have any particular love for the Church of Saintly Blood, and in many ways there are far worse things than vampires here.
Melisanda ponders this. She’s literally made a deal with the devil to escape the Church’s clutches and delivered one of their clergy (an inquisitor hunting her and her friends) into the hands of a fiend. At the same time, she doesn’t wish to see the rest of Krevborna turned into feeding stock for the Lamashtu nobility.
What is the target of Grisselda’s thirst for vengeance? I would have thought on the Dredgers, because of her defeat in the monastery of Saint Othric, but perhaps she has a wider view. The Lilituans are said to have “embraced demonic cults that ultimately transformed their noble rulers into the world’s first vampires.” Perhaps she has been sent to ensure that the demons do not return to the world en masse through this portal.
In Krevborna, demons and devils both originate from fallen angels, but whereas devils are the spirits of said angels who tempt mortals to commit spiritual transgressions, demons are the bodies of those angels who tempt mortals to commit physical transgressions. They use vampires, ghouls, and werewolves, yes, but just as with any “civilization” (to the extent that even applies to demons) there are various subfactions. Thus, the Lamashtu nobility and in fact their Queen herself have identified this particular portal as a danger.
Melisanda and Bertram confer over this. What does Grisselda want from them? Well, they’ve taken the gems from the Chamber of the Damned, which are needed for this ritual. But also, the Knights of Lilith have learned to respect the Labyrinth Dredgers. Ultimately, they could cooperate again in the future; consider this a sort of pilot project.
This seems agreeable, though the explorers are not (yet?) committing to anything longer term than this specific action.
I need a little bit more to work with here. First, is Ser Grisselda alone (unlikely)? Yes; that explains a bit more why she wants their help. Perhaps she’s being punished a bit for her previous failure, being sent to do this alone. I like the idea that someone within the Knights knew that Melisanda and Bertram would be here and sent Grisselda to humiliate or at least humble her a bit. It could also be a test for her; should she die doing this, it would be a proof of her worthiness to be elevated to undeath (a mark of high respect within their order).
Underworld Portal generated by DALL-E
Second, what do they expect to happen during the ritual? The most likely problem would be demonic or undead opposition. I decide to go with ghouls and potentially other undead, assuming that they come through after all. (This will be using the “Set the Scene” process in One Page Solo Engine.) I’ll ask ChatGPT to envision the scene.
Melisanda, Bertram, and Ser Grisselda enter the chamber and immediately feel the weight of the darkness and decay that permeates the room. The air is thick with the stench of brimstone, and the flickering brazier casts eerie shadows across the walls.
As they approach the portal, they can feel a palpable aura of malevolence emanating from the yawning maw. The portal is pitch black, and it seems to pulse with an otherworldly energy. The walls of the chamber are covered in strange symbols and carvings, each one depicting a different demon or entity from the underworld. They recognize some of the symbols from their studies of demonic lore, while others are entirely new to them.
In the corner of the room, they catch sight of 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.
Melisanda and Bertram move to the designated positions and place the summoning gems in their correct locations. Ser Grisselda begins the ritual, and the air begins to vibrate with power. The symbols on the walls begin to glow, and the portal begins to pulse with a sickly green light.
As the ritual continues, the chamber begins to shake and tremble. The debris and refuse on the floor begin to shift and swirl, and it is all Melisanda, Bertram, and Ser Grisselda can do to keep their footing. The aura of malevolence grows stronger, and they can feel the forces of the underworld pressing against the fabric of reality.
But all is not as it seems. What’s happening? “Move / Mystical” involving “Equipment / Technical”; the gems begin to spin and glow, and the portal continues to pulse and glow. Both of the explorers must save or take damage; Bertram is hit quite badly and lays on the ground bleeding. This seems like an opportune time for a Failure Move: “Foreshadow Trouble”. What’s this about? “Rumors / Mystical;” the whispers from the portal become audible, telling Melisanda that her “double” is carrying out horrible crimes in her name (this is her “dark secret” from character creation). Stop the ritual and they can help her stop this. Pressing on with this ritual will make her complicit in those crimes; she should slaughter this evil double.
I think she falters a bit, but ultimately decides to press on. If the demons are even telling the truth, then she can deal with this on her own later, and she doesn’t trust them to be doing anything other than manipulating her with half-truths at best.
Ser Grisselda continues to perform the ritual, but it’s going poorly. Melisanda will need to contribute her power as well, but she’s attending to Bertram. This presents her with a terrible choice, but there’s no time to think deeply. She decides to help with the ritual and hope that she can save Bertram later. This is a roll against her Insight, which she does in fact succeed at.
As Melisanda and Grisselda complete the ritual, the portal begins to pulse with a sickly green light. The air vibrates with otherworldly energy, and the walls of the chamber begin to shake and tremble.
Just as it seems that the forces of the underworld are about to break through, the portal begins to shrink and contract. The sickly green light fades, and the portal begins to collapse in on itself, as if being sucked into a black hole.
The symbols on the walls begin to fade, and the aura of malevolence that filled the chamber begins to dissipate. The debris and refuse on the floor come to a halt, and the air becomes still and silent.
With a final shudder, the portal collapses in on itself, leaving only a dark, inky stain on the floor where it once stood. The walls of the chamber return to their inert state, the symbols no longer glowing, and the remains of the unknown creature in the corner are still and silent.
The chamber is quiet now, and the air is heavy with the weight of what just transpired.
Bertram makes his save and groans in pain on the floor. Melisanda rushes over and works to staunch the bleeding as best as she can. Ser Grisselda looks on grimly and tells them that she must return to Lamashtu and report on the success of her mission. She will expect to see them in the future; they should consider her offer of cooperation.
The two explorers need to get Bertram back to someplace where he can rest and heal for a few days. As previously established, there’s a nearby village here in the Silent Forest. I’ll roll once to see if they experience an event on the way back, but no, they find their way back to the village without incident.
What’s this place like, anyway? The village is named Kuttek; this is probably where Ursuline, the trapper they met earlier, lives. They’re not trying to cause any trouble; Melisanda just wants to pay for a room and maybe a healer to check on her colleague. But there’s an obstacle in the way. I’ll check with the Oracle to see what kind of obstacle: “Simple / Technical (mental, operation)”. She’s carrying him on a hastily-assembled litter, and it falls apart on the way. Can she find help nearby (even)? No, she will need to handle this herself. She’ll make a check without the benefit of expertise (meaning I don’t add her HD); she succeeds, but it’s a close call. She’s able to get Bertram to Kuttek, but he’s really in bad shape and the bumpy trip didn’t help.
Is there a healer available (likely)? Yes, and something else happens, “Protect / Physical” involving “Knowledge / Physical”. The healer has significant knowledge, not just the use of herbs and poultices but actual medical training. He’s able to stabilize Bertram and get him to a bed, but he’s going to need a lot of rest and care to recover.
The session isn’t over yet, but I want to think through our story threads again.
Dr Philomena’s manor house is quite a distance to travel, but until they know for sure that the bounty is no longer an issue, that’s one of the few places they feel they can be safe. Creedhall and especially Chancel are far too dangerous.
There’s another place they could go: Lamashtu, where the Knights of Lilith serve Countess Alcesta.
Lamashtu is a cold northern realm where the populace must pay their undead sovereign a tithe in blood. Despite the obvious horrors of this kingdom, the court of Castle Lamashtu attracts artists, writers, and musicians who find undeath to be aesthetically inspiring.
This would represent a lot of danger for the pair, and Melisanda in particular would like to get back to the Dredgers. Bertram isn’t truly an explorer in any case: he’s an inventor and most comfortable either in the lab or out testing something in the field. That could involve testing the Ghost Flame, but Lamashtu may not be the best place to do that, given that it is in fact ruled by the undead.
I roll another Pacing Move from OPSE and get “Advance a Threat”. That’s going to be the bounty from the Church; even if the bounty has been lifted, someone might have already started hunting them and not gotten word that it was rescinded.
Melisanda gets worried about the whispers she sees between the villagers when she’s out during the day. It could be due to the fact that she’s an outsider, but she suspects something more. Is a bounty hunter already here (even)? No, but… I assume the “but” is that there’s a rumor that a bounty hunter is on the way.
The two explorers decide to leave forthwith. The nearest larger settlement is Veil, which is a few days’ travel away. From there, they can decide whether to get passage to a larger city.
This is going to involve three checks in a point crawl fashion. Traveling through sparsely-populated territory means there’s an increased chance of features (from 1-in-6 to 1-in-3). Events remain at 1-in-3 as well.
Deep within the Silent Forest (on the second check), the dice indicate a random event. “Assist / Physical” involving “Unexpected / Technical”. Out of curiosity, I ask ChatGPT for some interpretations of this oracle result and it gives me a d6 list:
I roll on this list and get : “The characters receive physical assistance in an unexpected way.” This could be Ser Grisselda, Crocon, or even Dr Philomena, and I randomly determine that the answer is actually Philomena. She’s got some sort of experimental magitech device, maybe? The help is that she’s letting them know whether the bounty has been rescinded (likely): Yes, it has. Once they reach Veil, they can try to find transportation down river and then down the coast.
On the final check, as they’re getting closer to Veil, they encounter a feature: a notable structure, “Unique / Technical”. This helps explain (at least a little) how Philomena could contact them: there’s an Incendiary Guild outpost or laboratory here. She’s got some sort of extension of her network here.
The laboratory is hidden deep in the heart of the Silent Forest, its location shrouded by the tangled vines and twisted branches of the ancient trees that surround it. The forest canopy overhead casts a dim green light across the clearing, the sun struggling to break through the thick foliage above.
The structure itself is a single-story building of weathered stone, its walls pockmarked with age and covered in a layer of creeping vines. The entrance is framed by a pair of heavy wooden doors, their rusted hinges creaking as they swing in the light breeze.
The building is surrounded by a ring of burnt earth, as if some powerful magical spell has been cast to keep unwanted visitors at bay. The ground within the circle is charred and blackened, the grass and underbrush having withered away to nothing.
As the characters approach the laboratory, they can hear the distant sound of alchemical equipment, the hiss of bubbling liquids and the soft clink of metal on metal. The air around the building is heavy with the acrid smell of sulfur and other chemicals, and a faint trail of smoke rises from a chimney on the roof.
The laboratory appears abandoned from the outside, with no signs of life or movement. But the faint sounds and smells suggest that there may be someone inside, and the characters can feel the weight of the unknown as they contemplate what lies within.
Time to check with the oracles on what’s going on here. First, is someone inside (likely)? Yes. Is it a member of the Guild (likely)? Yes. So I’ll generate the outline of an NPC for them to meet. “Leader / Social” whose goal is “Enrich Self / Technical”. Her notable feature is a “notable nature,” which is described as “Unique / Physical (appearance)”. I name her “Zuleika” and interpret her as a high-ranking Guild member, perhaps even in senior leadership. She’s fused mechanical bits into her body, giving her a potentially horrifying appearance.
The pair cautiously enter the outpost, announcing themselves to whomever is inside. When Zuleika comes around a corner to check on the arrivals, Bertram of course recognizes her immediately. Her reaction (which I’ll roll with advantage) is “monologue”, about “Current Need / Mystical.” ChatGPT gave me a brief description of this oracle result:
As Melisanda and Bertram enter the laboratory, they find Zuleika waiting for them, her augmented form standing out sharply against the barren, rusted interior. She launches into a fevered monologue about the need for some mystical artifact, her eyes flickering with a desperate intensity as she pleads with the characters for their help. As she speaks, they can see the flicker of arcane energies coursing through the metallic filaments that run beneath her skin, and they realize that Zuleika has become something more than human - something both dangerous and desperate.
I didn’t expect the pleading, but that’s part of the fun of asking an AI for help. In fact, I’m going to generate a new plot hook from this. We already have the objective, “recover something valuable” but need to understand adversaries and rewards. The adversaries are “a new or recurring villain” and the rewards are “advance a plot arc”. I don’t know which plot arc this is, so I’ll start with figuring out where they need to go. Is the artifact in Veil (even)? No. Is it in the Silent Forest (likely)? No, but… the “but” it isn’t far. How far? Not far at all - so it’s not in the Forest per se but on the edges of it. The location is “Old / Technical (mental / operation)”. ChatGPT generates the following list:
Again the dice indicate the fifth result: “an abandoned airship hangar.” That surprises me quite a bit; I would not have expected airships in this setting. Either this is some experimental location, or it’s quite old and once belonged to the Lilitu. The dice say it’s relatively modern, so they’ll need to figure out more specifically who built it.
Before they go, I’ll note that they’ve completed an additional expedition. This means that Melisanda advances to Expert level and gains her third hit die. Using the 1974 Rules, she’s up to 17 hit points. I also will have Zuleika accompany them as a third group member. She might only come for this one expedition, but it will be helpful for her to provide some insight on what she wants, plus a third ally is handy if combat breaks out.
I tried something a little different with ChatGPT this time, giving it this prompt:
I want you to act as a Dungeon Master. In this role, you do not describe the actions of the characters; that is up to their players. I will give you the basics of a scene and you will describe the environment in greater detail. I will also ask you for options to offer the players; in that case, you do not need to remind me that ultimately it is up to the group.
Also, when I asked it for help with oracle results (which has not always gone well), I asked it this:
In your role as Dungeon Master for this Gothic RPG, I need you to interpret the results of oracles (random events). The oracle tells us what happened and what it involves, but in broad terms that need to be interpreted. In this case, please interpret the oracle that tells us that what happened is “Assist / Physical (appearance, existence)” involving something “Unexpected / Technical (mental, operation)”. Please generate several different options.
The results were much better and useful than previous attempts, and I’ll keep refining this.
I don’t know how long this campaign will go, but my current inclination is to keep it going until they resolve the plot with the Knights of Lilith and the Lamashtu / Lilitu. Before the next session, I’ll formulate a more specific question to answer through the game (“play to find out” and all that). When I have the answer to the question, the campaign will end. A TPK could do it as well, but I hope that doesn’t happen.