We left the party just past midnight, on Slowday, hiding in the ruins near the Octopus’ Garden on the west side of the Mound, trying to stay hidden from a large posse of gang members from the 19th Street Jump – a powerful gang that works for the local boss, Nick the Pig. Our resident poisoner, Violet, drank some cursed moonshine from a Druid of Galron and was going to experience the full effects of that early in the session, and I opened by telling her that she wasn’t feeling very well. This raised some eyebrows.
Oh. The character of Walter wasn’t present, as the player couldn’t attend. The Man in the White Coat chastised them for “making him up”, and patiently explaining that if they continued to give in to their psychoses, they would never get well. When the character returns, this will be conveniently ignored. A meta-concession. Forgive.
RUN THROUGH THE JUNGLE
The party looked and the gang was coming up both streets that flanked the ruined area they were currently hiding in – kicking in doors, harassing the locals, and searching the ruins with torches. They made a decision and took off, stealthily, through the ruins, to the north, hoping to get into the dump and then maybe away on to the main road. Vice got his foot caught in some rubble, and Flinch wrenched his brother’s ankle freeing him. The party was now slowed. When they arrived at the dump they found it crowded with homeless locals and this didn’t seem like a good place to linger, as the Jump was close behind them now.
They paused for a moment to discuss their options. The gang was now swarming the ruins where they had been hiding and they rabbited. Not up and away. Not East, into houses. They went West. Into the Octopus’ Garden.
The dark wood is filled with twisted statues of humanoids, in poses that would suggest agony and terror. They sprinted Southwards, along the treeline out of the torchlight, but close enough that they could see the searching gang members.
Flinch notices a beautiful woman, undressed, walk out of the darkness and beckon him. He starts gawking and tries to tell his brothers, but they don’t see a thing and now everyone is worried about what the fuck is going on with this creepy park. I also told Violet that her illness was getting worse.
Stealthily, they were moving, until Vice, our resident Slothborn (mostly nude and covered in phallic tattoos), steps on a branch and snaps it loudly. The torchlight immediately falls on him and there are shouts from the gang leader. “Oy! Don’t you fuckin move, mate! The Pig wantsta talk to youse lot!”
The party rabbits. Deeper into the wood, and soon they garner the attention of a nest of Assassin Vines, who dwell in the canopy and hunt at night. Out of the darkness a vine grabs Kheign’s ankle, yanks him prone, and then drags him thirty feet, into the darkness. The party jumps to his aid, but Vice is also grabbed by another vine. He is freed in one strike by his brother Flinch and they rush to free Kheign, who has taken both his short swords out and jammed them into the ground in an attempt to arrest his abduction.
The vine is having none of this, and pulls Kheign free, as his family swings and misses the vine that is now thrashing wildly to try and throw them off (and subdue its prey). The party recovers themselves and moments later the vine is severed and Kheign resumes his feet just in time for the party to notice the gang has braved the wood and is moving towards them with torches. They run West, towards one of the meadows, and upon reaching it, see that it is not an open space, but is filled with concentric rings of these weird statues. All of the family, save Kheign, climbs trees in hopes of ambushing their pursuers. Kheign stays as the lure, and he’s ready for blood.
The Jump soon finds them, and they try and negotiate with the party, saying they should just come in, talk to the Pig, there’s no need for all of this stupidity. They are all carrying manacles in addition to short bows and short swords. Kheign invites them to fornicate with themselves and the battle is joined. Archie is successful in doing a falling attack on one of the Jump, but Violet is unlucky, and end up falling head first out of the tree as she attempted to climb down – this woke up a nest of Stirge who were sleeping in a hollow in the tree. There were Stirge on every family member and two of the Jump. Violet’s illness increases.
5 more Jump arrive with torches and crossbows. Vice is now hiding behind one of the trees on the edge of the clearing, looking at the battle deeper into the wood. He was hiding the other gang’s dead, but Archie has joined him, when Vice looks over his shoulder at a sound he heard, and a beautiful nude woman from the waist up, and a giant python from the waist down, with a lovely coif of vipers, comes slithering out of the circles of statues and hisses, “Who dares invade my garden!?” and he barely overcomes the petrification gaze of the Gorgon. He elbows Archie, who turns and looks – failing his saving throw and turning to stone.
The Man in the White Coat tut-tuts as the Woman Who is Always Smoking hisses, “Lying” at them, and The Man in the White Coat says, “Come now, Archibald, we’ve discussed this need of yours to always find failure with yourself. What really happened.” and Mitch, the player, understood exactly what I was doing and said “Fine! I ran away, ok! I was afraid! So what!?”, and I asked him which was he was going to flee and he said Archie would dash away from the Gorgon towards the battle. Groovy.
This battle was insane. It keep escalating from these extra encounters. The Stirge were bad enough. That was the result of a 1 being thrown on a Dex check for Violet to descend the tree with stealth. Instead of just having her fall, I needed something else – and I knew that Stirge nest in most of the city’s parks anyway – it seemed a good solution. The Medusa was roused from the sound of fighting and investigated as a matter of course. I didn’t roll for a damn thing. I didn’t write up night encounters for this place, I just knew what lived there and had them respond naturally to the situation. I could have very easily written encounters, and have done so many, many times in other instances, but for this place I didn’t feel that had the right tone. This place needed to function as a true milieu, only a very compact and busy one, and as long as I knew the basic inhabitants, I could wing the rest. This is the key to low prep. You gotta trust yourself.
SMELL YA LATER
The Jump were dying, but the party was severely beaten up, near death, and Kheign was now fighting the Gorgon up close, also resisting the gaze effect, and wasn’t doing much to hurt her at all. It was looking pretty grim. More torchlight could be seen coming towards the battle site, the Jump wasn’t going to give up, but in the end – after a lot of threats, shouting and negotiation, Archie made the decision to surrender and go with the Jump to see the Pig tonight, but they wouldn’t go handcuffed and they wouldn’t disarm.
You can imagine how that went down.
Two things happened during all this as well. The Gorgon, realizing the Kheign isn’t a threat and seeing most of the combatants dead on the ground, quits the battle and slithers off into the darkness.
At this moment Violet falls to her knees and the curse of the moonshine reveals itself as a thick vine suddenly shoots a foot out of her mouth, seemingly growing from her tongue. The Jump loses their minds and a few of them start jabbering about some guys at the Choked Goat exploding into plant material earlier today. The party decides to use this to their advantage as they twig to the fact that something is up with this moonshine. They use their fear to intimidate them by claiming responsibility and paint Violet as someone to be feared, with this creepy power.
The gang caves and they agree to their conditions but they have to leave for the Pig’s Manor, now, before anything worse happens. The party agrees and they all begin to walk out of the park – the gang in a loose “horseshoe” formation around the party, in the middle.
This “surrender” lasts about 5 minutes and the party decides to make a break for it, and attacks the remaining gang members. The party gets some miraculous rolls and manages to slay half of them and escape the park. Violet is babbling that she wants this thing cut off from her face, and the rest of the party is very close to death. I don’t think they had 20 HP between them. They reach the road and bolt into the houses on the other side and out of the blue comes an ally. Chopper the talking dog suddenly barks at them and says to follow. They are panicked and distrustful, but they agree to follow Chop to a safe place. The dog leads them to an abandoned house “its just a place that I bring the bitches to – bitches love abandoned houses.” He says they can rest and they give him some food and in return he gives them an exposition dump.
He talks about the neighborhood being all stirred up as everyone is looking for the Black Phoenix gang, and that a few people have died after drinking their moonshine. Violet gets the vine cut off and now she can talk at least and demands they find a way to remove this curse. Chop tells them he doesn’t know nothing about any of that and cannot help. The party sets a dual watch and Chopper takes off a few hours before dawn, not saying where he is going and when he’ll be back. Flinch tries to interrogate him, but the dog blows him off and leaves.
The party gets its first rest in 2 days, and they split to go the Choked Goat to find out more details about the people who died, since they are thinking Violet might not have long to live. They manage to stealth through the streets, but it doesn’t look like there are any search parties out looking for him – this just makes them more paranoid. At the tavern the Barkeep (who is new, as the old one died from cursed ‘shine) freely tells what he knows, being there when it happened, while Flinch and Khiegn head out to the nearby well to see if they can score some drugs. Sure enough there’s a new dealer there, but with some muscle this time. While Flinch argues over the high price (which was not true yesterday when he picked up – the perils of an unregulated market), Kheign looks into the well and notices that the body of Billy Shitheel is no longer there.
Flinch finishes his business after some heated language and they both return to the bar where they find Archie still talking with the loquacious ‘keep and Vice in the corner talking to a man named Joey who has been performing oral pleasures on himself. They talk religion for a bit (being of the same faith) and everyone is totally not weirded out by this exchange at all.
There’s some lighthearted roleplaying back and forth with Archie and the barkeep that I named Sweaty Freddie with the Rusty Machete, that being a name that I literally lifted from some reddit comment a mere hour before the game and was overcome with how insanely genius that was for an NPC. It was good to have a few laughs in the middle of such grim drama, but that didn’t last long as the party decided they needed to find a hedge witch that could take care of Violet’s problem. Sweaty Freddie pointed them down the road towards Dirty Mary, and off they went, finding the old besom in her front yard fussing over some recalcitrant chickens who were refusing to lay more eggs. The witch laughed at Violet’s predicament and chastised her for trusting a “Green Man” and said that she couldn’t cure the curse, only the one who placed it could lift it, and that was not going to happen anytime soon most likely. She said she would sell them the recipe to one of her healing breads (since “health potions” weren’t going to be a thing, and I was using my long-time variant of only healing 3 HP per long rest) but they could barely afford it, as the price was five gold and they only had eight. Instead they bought a slice of the bread each, for much less cost (but still expensive) and they healed a bit, but not enough to feel comfortable getting into another fight. They decided to not buy more and the witch left them in her yard. As they turned to go they suddenly saw Chopper run around a nearby corner. They said hello and Chopper apologized and looked upset. They started to question this when they were suddenly ambushed from the rooftops by a dozen archers from the Jump.
The time to meet the Pig had come and this time the party decided to go quietly.
PIGGY IN THE MIDDLE
They were led by armed escort to Pig Manor. This is a 3-story building, all the windows are barred and the front door is made of solid iron. A dozen guards were stationed around the building and another dozen on the roof. The door guards let them in and their street escort stayed behind. They were met by a pair of huge bodyguards and led upstairs through this richly-furnished home – the most opulent thing the party had ever seen in their wretched, squalid lives.
They were led down a long hallway and into a large space dominated by a beautifully carved oak desk with a highback chair behind it. A half-circle of upholstered lounge chairs were arranged facing the desk, and behind the desk, mostly in darkness, was a folding screen that hid the rest of the room from the party’s eyes. What really caught them by surprise, however, were the 4 people chained to the wall opposite the door they came through.
One was the body of Billy Shitheel. One was the body of Tom, the barkeep-turned-arsonist.
One was the still-living Mr Fabulous, who spilled a bit too much info to the party. The last was the still-living “Green Man” – the Druid who sold the party the cursed moonshine.
Yeah. You should have seen their faces.
The heavies close the door and take up guarding positions on either side of it. There is no sign of the Pig. He makes them wait for awhile. They start to grumble and then he makes his appearance.
Mister Nicholas, as his employees call him (to his face) is a middle-aged human, well-dressed in brocaded silk and bejeweled with the profits of a moderately sized patch that he runs for his real boss, Jimmy the Jake, but when dealing with the party he lies and says his boss is “Mr Motley”, or Baba Yaga, as he calls him. I shamelessly stole the accent and cadence of the brilliant Mikael Nyqvist from “John Wick” and playing a Russian gangster was a lot of fun, and I think I did a pretty good job with it (for a change).
Mister Nicholas sat down and stared at each of the party, in turn, for a good ten seconds each, without saying a word. This was deliciously awkward and I would have dragged it out longer, but I could tell the tension was about to snap so I spoke up.
“Do you have any idea the trouble you’ve caused me?”
The Pig began to tick off points on his fingers.
“Killed my men. In the fucking streets, scaring my patch.”
“Snatched my narcotics and then tried to sell them back to my own businesses.”
“Caused one of my establishments to get burned to the ground.”
“Sold tainted moonshine from a fucking Druid to my establishments, killing my customers.”
“Do I have to fucking go on?”
They started to speak up but I cut them off.
“This is what’s going to happen. This Black Phoenix? Dead. You work for me now. You pay me 80% until your debt to me is paid off. That’s paid EVERY DAY, RIGHT HERE, IN PERSON, you understand me? After that, then we can sit down and discuss things like business arrangements for the future.”
This didn’t sit well at all with our young gang leader or his siblings. They balked. “80% is too much”.
I rubbed my forehead.
“You are in no position to negotiate, but I’ll tell you what. Make it 90%.”
4 people in custody right next to them. 2 are dead. 2 huge bodyguards flanking the only way in or out of the office. The bossman himself is sitting right there. What does Archie do?
He stands up to shake the Pig’s hand, sealing the deal. And then stabs the Pig.
I gotta write that again, just to make it real. He stabbed the Pig. In his fortress.
SHITSTORM (YOU’LL GET THE JOKE IN A MINUTE)
Hell breaks loose. The party goes full retard and Kheign starts throwing chairs at the guards as the rest of them focus their rage on Mister Nicholas and Vice ducks behind the folding screen to see what’s back there. He finds a door and tries to open it. The Glyph of Warding on the handle goes off and fries him with electricity. He drops to -9 HP.
Mister Nicholas is not without formidable protections and his Shielding amulet is taking most of the brunt of the party’s attacks and so he retaliates with an Overclocked Wand of Magic Missiles. Overclocking is a conceit I’ve been using since the 2e days, and its a magic item with just a few charges, but the user can spend more than 1 charge at a time. The Pig starts double-casting from this wand. Archie goes down. Violet goes down. Flinch goes down. Kheign goes down.
The party awakens an indeterminate amount of time later and finds that each of them is alive, with 1 HP each. They are separated, and cannot see or hear one another. Each is chained, arms overhead, to a dripping wall, and is standing in a mucky liquid that smells like shit and the ammonia reek of piss. They are imprisoned in “the jakes”, the toilet shafts from the barrack’s privy, and I am going to leave them there for 4 days, releasing them on Titheday. I’ve decided that they are going to lose all the (meager) wealth they had accumulated up to this point, as well as any drugs or other personal possessions, so this will be a problem for the party member’s who require coin wealth to tithe.
I haven’t thought of what to do about this yet. In a normal campaign they would simply be all dead, no question about it, but since this breaks the meta-narrative we have established, I am going to have to be a bit more creative. I don’t want to say that all of this is a lie on their part, because too much happened and I don’t want to take away all their narrative freedom, that conceit was only going to be used when it was part of a smaller set of circumstances (like the fight with the Gorgon).
I know I didn’t talk about “the process” that much in this one, but it was pretty straightforward, and not that much actually happened. Happy to answer questions about the process though.
Next session is on the 26th of March. Thanks for reading and please comment if you enjoyed this or have questions.