Monday, January 16, 2023

Dispatching The Serpent Cult -a play report & review

Back at it again, with a bonus episode of "What are the Adventurers Up To?"

Last night's cast:

  • Bonk - fighter
  • Stumbleduck - halfling
  • Fulvus - another halfling
  • Tylenol - cleric, w/ henchman cleric
  • Frederick - thief
  • Jax/Goober - dynamic duo
  • Otto - a new fighter and former merc in town

They started out in town, with a 'favor' asked of them by the local halfling contingent. Would they be so kind as to deliver a wedding gift to port, so that it could be shipped across the inland sea in time for a cousin's fete?

Seemed simple enough, and favors are a good(?) thing. The gift was contained in a heavy iron lockbox. Oh, and drop it off at the dock in Dawold. Because we don't want to pay port fees. Yeah, that's it...

Halflings apparently take their wedding gifts very seriously.

The party reached Dawold without incident, or giant frog attacks. They did check in on their bandit pals along the coast road, chipped in a bit for the local road improvement fund, and learned that a couple of the bandits' number had been lured away by a sketchy priest, some snake cult or something...

They were greeted at the settlement's entrance by the local priest, who did not seem her usual cheery self. She told of a lost fishing boat, and odd individuals lurking around town, setting the locals on edge. She pointed the party to the Smolcic clan, who ran the local dock and several fishing boats, for more information. 

The party met Andre Smolcic, and handed off the wedding gift for transfer. They asked after the occurrences, and Smolcic confirmed that a fishing boat and its crew had been lost, including a cousin. The boat had been found with claw and chemical burn marks down the coast. That said, Smolcic pulled aside a fishing net to reveal a crate of huge blue eggs. These had been found on the beach, and the fishermen were hoping to sell them to recoup the loss of the boat. And yes, they do make an impressive omelet.

About this time, the party notices three hooded figures accosting a local. Confronting the three, the party asked their business, and were given a line regarding the worship "Uma'Kai" who their leader had released from her slumber. Stumbleduck asked several pointed questions and I had to see how many ways could I say it was a hydra without saying it was a hydra... 


The cultists were also searching for her eggs, laid by the 'god' but in need of retrieval before unbelievers found them. Jax almost slipped up and said, "like those the fishermen have?" Anyway, by this time, her sword was buzzing "CHAOS DETECTED." Otto, taking the hint, started goading the cultists, asking about preparation methods for said eggs. Eventually, one of the thugs cracked, and it was on. Otto cracked him over the head with the butt of his halberd, and Fulvus shanked a second one. The third, recognizing that things were going south, beat feet. 

The party turned the badly wounded survivor over to the local headman, and relieved him and his deceased companion of their amulets and robes. 

In the meantime, Fulvus, with his magic boots, and trailed by Goober and Jax, tracked the fleeing cultist. Fulvus was able to spot him entering the temple's hidden entrance in a panic, and pot-shot the cultist as the he slipped inside. Jax and Goober soon arrived, and Jax left Goober on guard with Fulvus, returning to meet the party en route. Fulvus made multiple attempts to command or befriend Goober to no avail, until sufficient treats had been shared.

In the meantime, five more cultists emerged from the portal, in search of the party who had slain their compatriots. They headed towards town, eventually meeting the party. Things got hectic for a bit, and the party was now in possession of several more cloaks and amulets.

Fulvus explained what he had seen at the hidden portal, and the party approached. Tylenol attempted entrance, with success (he did think that entrance required slamming one's head onto the wall, though). Entering the dank temple, they surveyed the interior, with apparent flooded areas to the east, and other rooms to the west. Using reaction rolls from Goober, I explained that he was interested in the west door, and bristled at the east door. Goober has become a useful mechanic for indicating possible foes or environments without telegraphing too much. (Unfortunately, at this time Bonk and Stumbleduck had to bow out, so we armwaved that they were outside the portal, guarding.)

Stealthily entering the west door via a successful lockpick, the party found a bookshelf, salvaging an undecayed volume. As Fulvus listened at the next west door, Tylenol and hench moved the bookshelf to block a third door. Fulvus' listening check was successful in that the door suddenly opened. Fulvus attempted to shank the cultist, but the fellow jumped back at the last moment.

It was on. 

The four brawlers (Fulvus, Otto, and Jax/Goober) charged the room with missile support from Frederick and the clerics. The players lost initiative a few rounds, leading to Goober being temporarily petrified, and Otto and Jax taking a few serious hits from the cultist spellcasters. A mid-battle pause to do math, and we found that Jax was down to 5hp. And then 1hp, bleeding, acid-washed, and smoldering.

Fortunately, at this point, the cultist leader/sorcerer was finally shot down, and the three remaining mooks surrendered on a failed morale roll. Goober shook off the petrification.

The party secured the cultists and found the journals describing the ritual for sealing the chamber of Uma'Kai. Retuning to town with their captives, the party took on some healing form the clerics to get Otto and Jax to the point that they could take a hit, if necessary. Tylenol studied the ritual volume, and they returned to seal the chamber before the hydra could escape again. 

Now, at this point, the adventure module describes finding several plants, making a brew, and pouring it on an alter to seal the temple. Somehow, the party determined that the actual ritual involved incense, candles (melted onto the cleric's armor), chanting, a Buddhist singing bowl, and playing musical wine glasses:


Who am I to deny such an apparently complex and sacred ritual? 

Anyway, Uma'Kai got sealed into the temple, and all was well. The party now has three former cultists to indoctrinate as their own mooks.

After action:

Ok it was fun - this is an excellent little scenario, which I'll discuss more in a bit. It was a full table (7 folks initially), but everyone got to take part and have a significant role in the action. I managed the baddies a bit better than other recent forays, to the point that we had two near-fatalities, and an out-of-action due to a petrifying spell and a couple of dice rolls. 

The above session played through the majority of The Serpent Cult, the second adventure from Dawnfist Games that I have cribbed from. I previously borrowed a monster from The Crimson Monastery for my PCs to ruthlessly slay. 

Like the prior adventure, The Serpent Cult is written for Dawnfist Games' pending "Adventurous" TTRPG. I'm interested in its release, as the module content hints at some interesting mechanics. That said, the module has a high level of inspiration, usability and adaptability for the fantasy RPG that you are playing at your table.

The Serpent Cult clocks in at 15 digest-sized pages. Like Crimson Monastery, the product has an introduction/background, a small area map, a few NPCs of note, random encounters/tables, and a 'timer' of events to occur as the PCs hang around or investigate. There are also a few modest magic items, one of which the party found. 

The setting includes pair of minor side-quests, besides the primary, to fill in the space. I didn't incorporate them in interest of time, and because the party had an established relationship with the townsfolk.

Descriptions and stats of monsters and magic items are at the back of the adventure, statted out for "Adventurous" but easily modified to fit another rules light system. For the spellcasters in this case, I let the head cultist use each listed spell once (equivalent of three spells memorized), and randomly rolled for the mook sorcerers (one spell each, as 1st level). The enforcer mooks threw and meleed with their hand axes, and in the usual chaos of combat rp, I didn't take advantage of their random combat skills.

Descriptions are provided via bullet lists with highlighted details for emphasis. Descriptions are brief and evocative, and give enough sensory information for a gamerunner to provide atmosphere for their players. 

The final 'dungeon' is an eight-room temple with the cultists at one end, and "Uma'Kai" in her abode at the opposite end. There are multiple ways to enter the temple, depending on PC's explorations and detective work. The intent for low-level play is that the hydra would be too much of a match for low-level PCs, especially if she were to escape her lair, necessitating that they find a way to re-seal the temple. Had my PCs spent any time in the lair, the night's attrition would have been... significant. 

My overall prep involved making notes to replace the provided NPCs with my particular locals, adjusting the various baddies for B/X-OSE stats, and adding some treasure to fit the B/X XP model.


Like the Crimson Monastery, this is a solid one-shot product for dropping into a game session. Depending on the outcome, the cultists and/or hydra could become an ongoing threat, and a haunted, windswept coast is always a fun place to hang out...  After all, although the module describes the eggs as unfertilized, enough reptiles utilize parthenogenesis to reproduce, and I'm sure a few eggs were missed...

Again, The Serpent Cult is both an excellent milieu and good resource for inspiration. I highly recommend it. 

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