TWtNW Prologue: Part 1: Genesis

January 28, 2013

Session 1, January 26, 2013

“I have been looking for you,” said the mysterious stranger. “I have a message.” And then, the stranger attacked. You struggled in vain, your life’s blood spilling from the vicious stab wound. The attacker said, “this is not the end.” In your struggles, you pulled a button or piece of jewelry from your attacker. It was marked with a tower symbol, like a chess rook, with an eye silhouetted against it. And you died.

* * *

It was dark. There was rhythmic noise. Rising and falling, like waves at a beach. There was no sensation of being. Numbness. No heat or cold. In the distance, a high-pitched, keening noise could be heard. A long, sustained not that would have hurt the ears of anyone hearing it. It was unrecognizable, but it was unmistakably the sound of a creature in tremendous pain.

A rough, far away voice was heard. “This isn’t working. It doesn’t care about these small fry.”

Another voice responded, “Perhaps something a bit bigger then…” and it trailed off significantly.

A gurgle and a scream, similar to the first, but deeper and louder could be heard. The scream was interrupted with a gasp and a choke. And the second, angry voice shouted over it.

“Summon it,” the voice was heard to say. “Summon it, now!”

And then, there was a drifting, tugging sensation and a rush of sound, like you were being pulled out to sea by a particularly strong current.

* * *

“Something is wrong,” a voice said. She sounded calm, cool, and collected. And commanding. “We need to get everyone out of here.” Armor rattled and clattered. People moving around. “Get to the surface. Get them out. Out of the city. Tonight.” The voice started to sound forced, as if trying to hold something back. Perhaps to avoid showing an emotion. That’s what it sounded like.

“All of them?” asked a man’s voice with a curt, no-nonsense tone. “Tonight? But there are dozens.”

“You heard me,” said the woman. “All of them. Tonight. They must disappear.”

“Yes, my lady,” said the man’s voice.

You heard more clattering, and then, you heard the woman’s voice say, “Firstleaf, you know what to do next.” And a soft male voice with just a hint of sadness in it answerd, “yes, my lady. I will see it done.”

You felt a rushing sound and a drifting, tugging sensation.

* * *

You lurched. It was as if you awoke from one of those falling dreams, where you jerk awake, feeling an imagined impact. The floor was hard stone, coarse. It was neither warm, nor cold. Apart from the sense of touching it, of gravity pressing you into it, it didn’t feel like anything at all. Slowly, sensation returned to you. Aching, exhausted sensation. You opened your eyes.

The chamber was a broad, irregular circle. The walls and floor were made of natural stone that had a runny, congealed look, like wax that had melted and solidifed. Thick ribs of darker colored stone, wound upward against the walls, less like pillars or columns and more like tentacles. The room was high, and tapered to a point, like being inside a teardrop.

Sam Cornman Windrockdrop.jpgThe entire room was filled with pale blue light that appeared to come from everywhere. Or nowhere. Nothing cast a shadow in the room. Not even you, and this gave everything an odd, unreal appearance. The air had no smell to it and no temperature. It felt neither hot nor cold. It just was. And there were no sounds except those you made, which sounded slightly muffled and far away.

In the center of the room, there was a flame made of blue glass. The artifact stood four-feet tall and it was about two or three feet across at its base and it had the teardrop shape of a candle flame. It appeared to be resting, balanced on its base, perfectly still, but a closer look revealed it was sitting in the air about two inches above the ground. The whole thing appeared to be made out of a hollow lattice of spun, blue glass, smooth and delicate.

Laying next to you, on the ground, you saw yourself. It appeared to be a corpse: lifeless, unmoving, and not breathing, but the expression on its face was not one of rigor mortis. Rather it was blank, slack and expressionless, like someone passed out after having far too much to drink. The corpse was unspoiled, completely uninjured. It had no scars or signs of injury, even scars you may have remembered having. More unusually, the corpse had a strange mark on it.

The symbol was found either on your chest, just below your throat; in the center of your waist at belt height; on the outside of your upper arm; or on the back of your ring finger. It didn’t look like a tattoo. It looked most like a scar, simply a discoloration of the skin, but with no sign of long-healed damage to the flesh. But the symbol was complex, clearly a design or sigil, not a natural blemish.

This prompted an examination of your own body, which appeared to be identical to the strange corpse. Naked, fresh, uninjured, pristine, with the same strange symbol in the same place.

And then, you discovered you were not alone. Four other people seemed to be in the same situation as you.

* * *

There was a doorway that lead from the Chamber of the Frozen Flame, but the strange blue light that created no shadows refused to leave the room. So it appeared the irregularly curved archway was filled with a cloud of utter darkness. Those with darkvision noted that it appeared to lead out onto some sort of balcony that ran off to either side of the doorway, but beyond the low wall that surrounded the balcony, there was nothing but utter darkness.

There were five other bodies in the doorway. Four humans, two men and two women, and one gray elf man. All appeared to be dead, their eyes wide, mouths agape in a frozen moment of horror. The bodies were unspoiled, they had not even begun to rot or putrefy. It is as if they had died seconds before. There did not seem to be any visible injuries that caused their death, but some of their bodies had signs of scars, healed cuts and bruises, and the other trappings of people whose life involves an occasionally scuffle with a cutthroat or violent drunk. All minor.

They appeared to be soldiers or watchmen, they had long, knee-length chain shirts, split down the front between the legs for riding. Underneath, they wore simple rough clothes of dark gray wool. Over their armor, they wore purple tabards, edged with red, and bearing a symbol of three moons and three stars. Each had a spear near at hand, a longsword and a short dagger in their belt.

The soldiers’ corpses were ranged in a rough circle around a pair of tattered, ruined boots, as if they were protecting the boots when they died. The boots themselves surrounded a dark, smeared out scorch mark on the ground. There was no dust or ash, simply a blackened smear on the ground.

The solders had torches and a few coins in their pockets, but no other supplies of note. The torches looked like they had been used only briefly and then carefully extinguished. The cloth wrappings were intact and still smelled strongly of strong lamp oil.

* * *

One of you decided to touch the Frozen Flame. As she reached for it, she felt something brush against her arm, something cold and slick and clammy, like a fish. But the sensation lasted only a moment and did not come again. She discovered that her hand passed right through the delicate glass of the Frozen Flame, but that it could not be seen once it had.

* * *

The balcony ran around the outside of the chamber, which appeared to be at the center of some pitch dark void, like a huge underground chasm. Beyond the edge of the balcony, there was nothing but darkness, even below. The stone had the same congealed, molten look and strange thick ribs and vens shot through it, giving it a hideously organic look. Outside the chamber, the torches provided light as normal.

The air outside the chamber was stale and thin, such as would be expected deep underground, and slightly chilly. A thick layer of dust covered the floor, undisturbed by the still air, and shiny, slimy cave mold grew in patches all about the place. It smelled strongly of mildew and ammonia.

The balcony wound around the outside of the teardrop chamber, spiralling upward. As you climbed, you discovered that there was in fact a ceiling to this massive underground chamber, hung thick with normal, natural cave growths. The chamber appeared to be suspended from the ceiling, like a drop of water on the underside of a leaf, getting ready to drop off. The balcony ran right up to the ceiling and into a sloping tunnel. You realized you still felt weak and exhaused, and you decided to return to the Chamber of the Frozen Flame to rest before exploring the caves.

* * *

One of you decided to press your face into the Frozen Flame, to see if you could see what was “inside.” This was a mistake. Something invisible grasped you and pulled you in. Your companions watched in horror as you disappeared into the Flame. A minute later, your corpse flopped out of it, mangled and crushed, covered with circular lacerations, arms and legs rubbery and limp as something had crushed your bones to powder. Blood gushed from every orifice in your face and your skull was badly mishappen.

Almost immediately, your body began to break down, purtefying, liquifying, and then the liquid turning to dark vapor which drifted like smoke into the Frozen Flame. Almost simultaneously, a cloud of dust began to form on the ground near where you had been reborn, near your other, unspoiled corpse. Your companions seemed to realize you were being reborn again and watched. Eventually they fell asleep. It took an achingly long time, but you were reborn, exactly as you had been the first time.

You reported to your companions that you had seen a blasted, shattered mirror of this chamber on the other side, with its own Frozen Flame within it. Then, you were seized by something. You had a vague brief glimpse of a massive form, tentacles and suckers, and a huge, yellow eye. And then you were crushed to death.

* * *

One of you cast an Arcane magic spell near the Frozen Flame. When you cast the spell, it appeared to work for a moment, but then a tremendous rush of mana – magical energy – flowed through you, overcharging the spell. You tried to stop the spell, to cutoff the flow of magical energy, but you couldn’t do so. You burst into white-hot flames and fell to the ground. Every last bit of you burned away to nothing, leaving a charred black mark on the ground.

You were reborn after a long period of many, uncountable hours, and your companions waited yet again. Sleeping off the fatigue and exhaustion of dying and being reborn.

After you awoke, you remembered a dream. In the dream, you had been holding someone by the scruff of their neck, screaming at them as they moaned and wailed in pain. “Summon it,” you screamed. The strange creature, you remember, seem to have an octopus instead of a head.

You kept this to yourself.

One Response to TWtNW Prologue: Part 1: Genesis

  1. The Angry DM on January 28, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    All right, trying something a little different. Pontificating a little bit about the game for anyone reading this and interested in my inner monologue. This is spoiler free, so my players can freely read it, but there is a little bit of “how the sausage is made” in here, so they might not want to. I invite both my players and any other readers to comment if they want.

    The problem going into the first session of this campaign was that there was no real surprise to it. You would think the whole “you don’t stay dead” thing and the “you get reborn near a mysterious magic artifact” thing would be pretty surprising, but the players knew this stuff going in. It was part of my pitch for the game. So, in involving the players in the world building and planning, I had made a very powerful hook impotent and powerless.

    To make up for that, I decided to make the opening incomprehensible and mysterious. I downplayed the death and rebirth aspects and made sure that all of the other weirdness overshadowed it. The strange visions of odd events, the second corpse for each player, the soldiers. Much of the beginning of this recap is the flavor text from the beginning of the session, emellished and clarified just a bit as this recap also serves as the campaign introduction.

    I am most proud of the subtle shift in language from active voice to passive voice when the PCs were adrift and had no bodies and back to active voice as they were reborn. I did that at the table too, but I’m not sure if they noticed.

    This was a loaded session. I wanted to overwhelm the party with questions and a confused emotional tone to make up for the fact that the rebirth wasn’t a surprise. The disgustingly organic stonework, the timelessness and sensory deprived qualities of the room, the weird disconnect with the strange extra copies of every PC. Everything is a clue to the huge mystery in this campaign and everything also served an ingame purpose. The extra corpses prompted them to examine their own bodies, to discover the healed scars and the strange new marks. The soldiers provided some very basic equipment and clothing. The smoking boots made the room feel unsafe and warned them of a trap.

    I was sad when Miss Too Good for Twitter stuck her face through the Flame, but I suppose it had to happen eventually. I didn’t want them to see what was on the other side just yet. But at least now they are afraid of it. I suppose, as DM, I could have prevented it somehow, or not had her seized by “the horror” and yanked through, but I rolled the random check I had decided on and “the horror” got her. So one cat got out of the bag earlier than I wanted. But I don’t stop my players from doing what they do. As railroading as the beginning was, because it started the deep mystery, from here on out, the players are free to explore the world and the mystery. They are now in a race against time to work things out before what is going to happen happens.

    I was happy when @bigjonmosley used his bard spell and blew up. And even happier when @drumbumrm came up to me after the game and said, “the boots guy had tried to teleport the soldiers out, didn’t he?” I love it when players make those amazing leaps of logic, right or wrong. I can’t say that he was right, of course. But it was a damn good guess and makes perfect sense.

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