Well, I finally got them out of the underworld! A series of tragi-comic misadventures involving wizards and mirror men ended up with Team Tsathogga back on the surface, bound into indentured servitude with the Church of the Bright Lady, and sent off to visit some weird islands which had recently appeared off the coast - my own cut-down, heavily-modified version of Venger Satanis' Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence. For centuries, sailors had occasionally glimpsed these weird islands, their beaches streaked with purple slime; but when ships next sailed to the same location, days or weeks later, the islands would be gone. However, since the start of the Starfall (a rain of what appeared at first to be shooting stars, but which actually turned out to be demons in stasis chambers dropping out of orbit), the islands appeared to have become a permanent part of the landscape, and the church wanted the PCs to find out why. And also to find out why their first expedition still hadn't reported back...
Landing on the nearest island, the PCs soon found that its forests were full of highly-territorial ape-men, who threatened to attack if they came any closer. With the aid of a Comprehend Languages spell, the PCs learned that these ape-men were being hunted by humans from the rocky lands to the south, and decided to go and find out who their hunters were. A bit of careful scouting revealed the presence of a small, primitive village to the south, its edges marked by hacked-up apeman corpses hanging from trees. The PCs decided to leave it alone for now.
|Humans hunting apemen? That's barbaric! It should be the other way around!|
Crossing to the far side of the island as night fell, the PCs saw watch-fires burning and headed down the beach, where they discovered the camp of what was left of the church's first expedition. The survivors told a wild tale of how the people of the southern island had sent a gigantic purple cloud-monster to attack them, snapping the masts off their ship and eating many of their comrades; they had rowed to this island to repair their vessel, but after several foraging crews simply disappeared without trace they had retreated to their camp, building a stockade around it and only leaving when absolutely necessary. The PCs spent the night within the stockade, and the following day they went back to their ship, which sailed around the island to bring much-needed supplies to the soldiers there. Their ship's captain, however, refused to evacuate the first expedition until he could return to the mainland with some kind of concrete results to show the church.
Having learned that this purple cloud-monster apparently roamed the islands at will, the PCs hit upon a cunning plan. Approaching the village in the rocks, they used illusion magic to conjure what appeared to be a small version of the monster which had been described to them, and sent it up the hill towards the village's guards; the guards, as expected, retreated into cover, and the PCs seized the opportunity to charge into the village. They found skulls and corpses scattered everywhere, some from ape-men, and some from humans; some of the villagers ran out to attack them, but in the face of some eagle-eyed shooting from the party they quickly turned and fled. The village's chief charged out of his hut waving his scavenged laser sword, but never got to use it: he failed his saves against two successive Command spells ('kneel' and 'prostrate'), and thus just knelt there grovelling while Circe, in full ritual regalia, opened his throat with her dagger and sacrificed him in the name of the Frog God. Seeing the man who had terrorised them for so many years butchered like a calf took all the remaining fight from the villagers, and they surrendered to the party.
|All glory to the Frog God!|
With Circe obviously about to convert yet another hapless community to the worship of Tsathogga, Erin had Hogarth cast Light on him and grabbed up the laser sword, presenting himself as a holy emissary of the Bright Lady come to bring light to their spiritual darkness. A hastily-patched-up compromise between him and Circe led to them inventing a dualistic religion on the spot, with the Bright Lady as queen of the daylit world and the Frog God as the bloodthirsty king of the underworld. Even a half-benevolent religion represented a massive improvement on the psychotic personality cult the villagers had been living with up until now, and they eagerly accepted this new gospel, especially after Jill demonstrated her miraculous powers by healing one of the villagers that Hash had shot down only minutes before. When interrogated, the villagers shamefacedly admitted to having abducted and eaten some of the soldiers from the church's first expedition, but Circe cheerfully reassured them that the gods wouldn't hold this against them.
After using Purify Food and Drink spells to convert some of the stinking ape-man offal around the village into edible supplies, the PCs headed into the forest with the corpse of the dead chief, which they offered to the ape-men as proof of friendship. Happy that the laser-wielding lunatic who had murdered so many of their kinsmen was now dead, they permitted the party to travel through their forests, as long as the area around the ape-man village itself was left alone. Travelling north through the woods, the PCs found a region of hills dotted with weird ruins, but while exploring one they were suddenly set upon by three weird half-man, half-robot creatures, who killed Jill. Her death sent Kroak, the toad-man, into a berserk frenzy: always a bit unbalanced due to all the weird Science Fungoid chemicals he soaked up while still a tadpole, the sight of a priestess of the Tsathogga being killed right in front of him filled him with overwhelming rage, and he led the remaining PCs in butchering the robot-men in revenge. The discovery of a forearm on one of them, still wearing the remains of the church's livery, told them that these creatures had been the source of yet more of the disappearances which had plagued the first expedition.
|Kroak attack! Run!|
Returning to the stockade to bury Jill in what Circe decreed should be a frog-shaped grave, the PCs soon recruited a replacement for her: Tod, the villager whom she had healed earlier, who was shocked by the sudden destruction of the only benevolent spiritual force he'd ever encountered and was keen to avenge her death. He told them that the people of his village regarded the robot-men as demons, but that the bravest of them had gone far enough into their territory to see an ancient building that they went in and out of, full of the sounds of metal and screams. The next day, he, Skadi, and Erin went north to scout it out, and found it hidden in a steep valley, guarded by two more robot-men; they then brought in the rest of the PCs, who concealed themselves halfway up a steep slope before launching a volley of spells and arrows at the guards. One was killed at its post, but the other clawed its way up the slope and was almost upon them when it was brought down by a still extremely angry Kroak. (Circe, not wanting to share the fate of her under-priestess, had run off the moment she saw it coming.)
By this point the alarm had been raised, and two more robot-men burst out of the building, one of them carrying a metal box which projected a holographic green head. In between fits of crazed laughter, the head demanded that they stop killing its minions, and an extremely strange dialogue ensued. The head claimed to be a machine intelligence, which had somehow evolved from (or budded off from) an older machine intelligence in the control tunnels beneath the island: it had fled to the surface to avoid being deleted by its human custodians, upon whom it now sought revenge. They also learned from it that the ruins were left over from an ancient serpent-man empire, which had bred the starfall 'demons' as soldiers, and was destroyed in a great slave revolt a long, long time ago. The islands had come unstuck in time between the first and second starfalls, experiencing only a few years of time passing while centuries went by in the rest of the world; as a result, some of the descendants of the original human slaves were still alive down in the control tunnels, where they had sought shelter during the great war which had brought the serpent-man empire to an end. They now acted as custodians of the secret mechanisms beneath the surface of the islands, and it was they who had attempted to delete the head when it first attained separate consciousness. The head offered to show the party how to get into the control tunnels if they came back with a force of allies capable of routing these custodians. The PCs agreed, and headed back to the stockade to 'recruit' the church's soldiers, all the while secretly planning to betray the head in order to avenge Jill's death.
|Oh, Hologram Head. What have you gotten yourself into?|
Dead PCs so far: Five.
Communities converted to the worship of Tsathogga: Two and a half.
Limits of Circe's ambition: None so far discernable.
Chances of her ever taking off her ritual death-mask: Slim to nil.