Posted on October 14, 2013
Castaway Diary, Day 21Big sarcastic thanks whoever tidied up the chase cards, but not the beer cans. I was going to use one of those things to recount your victories and defeats in the Drugolympics. I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t the fucking beer cans. So now my memory, like that of the castaways who participated in Pezock’s psychedelic stew, is hazy. The first thing approaching roleplaying games I ever played were the “Fighting Fantasy” books released by the two guys that founded Games Workshop. Forest of Doom, Deathtrap Dungeon, Warlock of Firetop Mountain. They did a horror one as well, House of Hell or Hell House or something, that was so fucking terrifying to an 11 year old me that the horror genre does nothing for me any more. Anyway, since they were books and the combat system was easy to fudge, the real challenge in them came from the puzzles. The good puzzles would take a while to pay off, so you couldn’t just stick a thumb in the page and hop back to it, you’d be a good 7 or 8 redirects down the road and your bad choice would come to get you. I like puzzles of one sort or another in roleplaying games. They’re problematic because a player can argue that their high Wisdom should be able to help them figure it out, but if they’re going to do that the GM could argue their high wisdom wouldn’t do that dumb thing they are about to do. At that point a high mental stat character is just an autopilot, making all the right decisions automatically. That’s horseshit and I don’t want to play that game. Anyway, the island they are on is essentially one large puzzle, but I thought I had to give them a different way to get to Aycenia’s hill, given that they aren’t much for exploration. The party tends to pick a place to go to and walk straight towards it. If they knew where the lighthouse was on day one, they would have walked directly towards it. Which is fine and I’m not advocating wandering around aimlessly, certainly not now as their other errands have brought them closer to being equipped and capable. But they’d miss out on some things in the sandbox if it relied on them just wandering around looking at stuff. Again, that’s fine, that’s what sandboxes are for… Participating in this voyage of mental discovery was Uun, Floki, Rolifson, Orny, Percy and Nobody. When we left them, they were hurtling, disembodied, through a blackness punctuated by luminescent blossoms which sped past them. Although they had no physical form they had the distinct impression that they were going somewhere. In the distance they began to see static points of light and each of them turned towards one of these lights. On arriving, they found that the light was a glowing obstacle of some kind – a tangled forest of trees made of light, an unidentifiable creature, a pool of green goop. I think Percy flew through the tangled forest of light-trees and Nobody’s disembodied consciousness moved enthusiastically into the green goop, consuming it in some unknowable way. The two sped on, back into the inky void while the others ground to a halt, slowed by the obstacle in their path. Percy’s next encounter with an island of light in the middle of the darkness turned out to be a hive of neon bees, angry at his arrival. Knowing his goddess could provide him with fire, he used smoke to scare the bees away and he was left alone, whizzing through the dark. Meanwhile, Nobody was dealing with an Angry Snake, whose scales looked like stained glass in front of a low sun, as Uun conjured a rock to scare away a swarm of bats. Floki, having been flummoxed by the unidentifiable creature in his first glowing obstacle was now trading bellows with an incandescent bear that refused to make way for him. The travellers arrived, (albeit at different times, with Percy on top challenge-beating form, and Rolifson and Orny arriving late) in an empty space, but were aware of each other’s consciousnesses. Before them appeared a straight row of three glowing skulls. A woman’s voice, clear and loud, said “One of three”. Then the skulls disappeared. Five skulls appeared before them, in two intersecting rows of three and the voice said “Two of three”. The skulls disappeared again. Nine skulls reappeared, arranged in a 3 skull by 3 skull square. the voice said “Eight of three.” The skulls faded from view again. The voice sounded again, saying “Five of four”. Ten skulls appeared, spinning slowly around each other in a big blob. The party tried moving them around and found the skulls very easy to manipulate into place with thoughts. When placed in rows they snapped neatly into straight lines and wouldn’t permit themselves to be placed in curves. Oh, there was a lot of experimentation, moving the skulls around and trying out long acute angles. Some solutions were found, only to discover they had some extra skulls in there or that whatever led the designer to cry out in triumph couldn’t be repeated on second attempt. I had set a timer and it was almost done by the time Percy had the idea to form a pentagram. There followed a somewhat awkward minute or so as everyone tried drawing pentagrams out of just dots, but they managed to arrange the skulls in five rows of four, with each intersection and point of the pentagram home to a slowly spinning, luminescent skull. The timer had seconds left as they raised their voices in triumph and the skulls burst into flames. As the skulls were consumed by the flames, they resumed their separate, disembodied travel through the darkness. This time each entered some sort of vividly bright city or town – buildings and people milled around and got in their way. They overcame these obstacles or were held up by them momentarily, but as they found themselves leaving whatever had tried to impede them, they found themselves walking out across lush grass into a comfortable and bright hilltop clearing. Everything was a little diffuse and perhaps too colourful, but they felt at ease before a single massive banyan tree that crowned the hilltop. Other trees ringed the edge of the clearing, bowing gently towards the banyan tree in attitudes of respect and deference. The party had bodies again, which was nice. From the folded trunks of the banyan tree stepped a dryad, a beautiful fey creature that embodied the fecundity of nature in her youthful voluptuousness. Naked save for the flowers and vines that wrapped themselves around her, green palm fronds fell around her shoulders, in place of hair. She seemed calm, yet surprised – whether by visitors, the nature of the visitors or the number of them, they couldn’t tell. Yet she introduced herself to Uun, who wouldn’t stop babbling at her. She was Aycenia, the guardian of the island. She guessed correctly that they had been sent by Pezock to secure her as an ally. She had been on the island for a very long time and all the plants that grew on it were her subjects and wards. She remembered the coming of the colonists who wished to build the lighthouse, she remembered that they disappeared somehow, taken by the island. She remembered the later arrival of the ship that bore the crew that would later become the cannibal tribe. The concerns of those castaways are not her concerns, but she does know that the island does something to the people who live on it. She hinted at a corrupting influence, far “beneath her roots”. The party had questions for her, which she answered as best she could. Relevant to their predicaments: The lighthouse was on the highest point of the cliffs on the south shore of the island, in the shadow of the red mountain. The winged creature that had attacked them at the dig site was a voracious predator and drinker of blood. She mentioned that it lived on the red mountain, but didn’t know anything else about it. The berries that Orny knew he had to ask about for Aerys but didn’t remember the name of were Viper Berries. They grow in a spiralling vine, they look like this. She produced a bunch and they look like tiny red berries. Floki tried one and really did not like the taste; like juniper flavoured oven cleaner. Yes, she would be the ally that Pezock wanted for them but there was something they had to do for her first… She told them of the grey islands to the north – two smallish islands connected to Smuggler’s Shiv by a rocky causeway that was tide-washed and only sometimes available. They had been the site of a shipwreck many years ago. A ship full of curious and inquisitive “seekers” wrecked and while they survived for a while, their cargo contained something terrible – the beginnings of a blight that has obliterated normal plant life on those two islands. The length of the causeway has slowed the spread of this blight, but it has begun to spread onto the Shiv. She called the blight “un-plant” in nature and worries that it will continue to spread. There is nothing she can do about it – being vulnerable to that same blight – but the party may be able to get to the bottom of it. They promised they would and she promised to aid them in return. But that would mean they’d have to return from this place, which was difficult. she reached out to the banyan and plucked out a rod of wood with which she traced three interlaced squares in the ground beneath the tree. She gave them the rod and told them that if they could create the same pattern without lifting the rod from the ground and without intersecting any line already drawn. Leaving them to it she cheesecake-wiggle-walked back into her tree. They took turns at drawing the squares, scuffing out their failed attempts with their feet, but eventually Nobody managed to draw it. The three squares he had drawn gained depth and shifted to create a square tunnel down which the party’s consciousness was sucked. No sooner had they translated into the black void as formless beings of mental energy than that formless being was attacked by a thuggish, brutish representation of themselves. Each traveller was rushed by an exaggeratedly oafish version of themselves and several of the party took evasive action to try to get out of their way. It didn’t seem to work, the big, stupid versions of themselves swatting at them like flies or with the weapons they usually carried. Several other party members went on the offensive, Percy thinking the Neanderthal-Percy – or I suppose whatever the equivalent is for bird men, CorviduncePercy? – apart with his mind. It worked – feathers flew apart and the brute diminished. Orny tried putting the NeanderOrny to sleep, which seemed to dim it. Floki thought weapon wounds on NeanderFloki and Nobody zipped inside the head of AttorneyatlawNobody and started blasting his brains out of his ear. The brutish versions tried slapping the disembodied consciousnesses around for a while, but eventually the party prevailed, Percy, Nobody and Orny taking the lead on thinking their opponents apart, one way or another. There remained only one last obstacle to overcome, and though Rolifson was caught by the glowing brambles that appeared out of the darkness, he like all the rest of them woke in the camp they had made with Pezock. Pezock hopped from man to man, spooning a bean stew into their mouths and helping them start chewing it. Within half an hour or so, what passed for consciousness returned to them – Rolifson and Percy felt fine, but Nobody, Uun and Floki were suffering from some dreadful kind of personality vacancy. Their faces were slack and their jaws hung open. Only Orny seemed to have emerged better than he went in – so I think last entry’s assessment of the witch class stands. All that said, none of them had covered themselves in dignity during their trip. Sasha reports with some delight that they were running around on the beach, stripping their clothes off, rolling over boulders and picking fights with fish. Several fish floated lazily in the shallows because Orny’s Slumber Hexes had gone off on them. It appears that during the frivolities someone drank about half of Uun’s fermenting liquor, but Uun strongly suspects himself. Pezock did his best to corral everyone and their discarded possessions so they told him of their intention to set out as they collected these and found their gear/clothes. It was late afternoon so they had about four hours of sunlight left. They struck out west along the shores of the large circular – I can’t decide if it is a bay or a lagoon – bay, I think. Before long they had arrived at the high causeway, a shelf of rock that jutted from the sea, washed by crashing waves from the ocean side. They found the near shore devoid of the usual remarkably green jungle, with the tip of the big island beside the high causeway covered in grey matter. Eerily, the omnipresent sound of tropical birds, with them pretty much from the second they landed on the island, was missing. Only the sound of the waves thundering against the rocks. The “plants” that covered the near shore were fibrous tubes and bramble-like curls, hung with wetly flapping sheets of thin grey fungus. On inspection they could make out that the jungle had been eroded by the grey stuff; the trunks of old palm trees rotted beneath the grey mass. Rolifson cut a bit off and found that the fungus easily expressed a foul smelling oily liquid. It didn’t seem poisonous and didn’t look particularly flammable, given how damp the whole grey mass was. The high causeway was covered in the grey seaweed too – either a different type of grey fungus or just what it looks like underwater. Whatever the provenance of the grey matter, it had destroyed all other life. It didn’t seem to coexist with anything. Even more disconcerting way the way that the grey mass covering the nearest island seemed to sway in the wind, sometimes. Floki and Uun were unable to identify the fungus, it was like nothing they had ever seen before. The party argued about who was going across tied to who. There was an overall reluctance to tie oneself to Uun. They set out across the high causeway, but the trip was harder than it seemed – the wet rocks made even more slippery by the oil released from the seaweed-like fungal growths. Sure enough several party members ended up in the drink, Percy disappearing beneath the waves for a second or two before making it to the rocks and hauling himself to drier land. They arrived in one piece, if damp, on the fungus covered island. Squelching their way up the slope, they proceeded inland through the dense fungus, now chest high to most of them. Suddenly and without warning, the fungus parted all around them and they were faced with a tribe of terrible foes… Vegepygmies!