Ch. 3: G’ll-Hoo (The Slums)

Chapter 3: G’ll-Hoo

Our three friends have successfully made it out of the perils of Avon’ri, but find themselves being pulled deeper into danger and intrigue.  Finally reconnecting with two of their lost friends, the newly-completed party sets out to unravel a 80-year-old mystery.

DM’s Note: For the first time, all five players are able to convene together in one session, even if one is only via Skype.  Their characters are still level 2 for this session.

Session Record (January 13, 2013) 

DAY 3:

Having spent the night in a nearby rocky recess, Damash, Tialka, and Alana prepared to begin exploring the greater Yanethlien area.  According to the map from Professor Oort-Ba, the next city quarter was G’ll-Hoo, essentially the slums of the city. Near the very end end of the passageway that connected the districts of Avon’ri and G’ll-Hoo, however, the three travelers began seeing sad cages housing familiar occupants, strung from either side of the ravine. 

Perhaps set as warnings or displays, these skeletons were also missing their faces.  By this time, though, the party had become accustomed to this revelation.

There was a new figure standing at the last cage on the left, quietly contemplating the skeleton before him.  Alana recognized him as Surrn Tashal, one of the three other classmates that had left the Cradle with her on their ill-fated dare.  He still wore the strange twisted serpent ring and carried the eye carved from stone that seemed to form part of a secret personal belief system.

Surrn and their two other friends, Sandy and Marley, had been separated from Alana when the four had been attacked by a manta ray.  The three friends had managed to kill the manta ray; but they had not been able to locate Alana, fearing her lost.  However, the morning after feasting on the manta ray, Surrn had awoken to find both Sandy and Marley dead.  He never discovered if it was food poisoning or something more insidious, and he had spent the last few days wandering in a drunken stupor.  He was more than relieved to find Alana still alive, to say the least, and with new friends that might help him return to civilization.

By coincidence, another familiar figure approached from their rear–Vhankor, fresh from his latest jury-rigging adventures and secretly sent on his way by Professor Oort-Ba.  Perhaps the most striking change about Vhankor’s image was the appearance of a small, friendly sea snake (a benefit of his most recent studies with the enchanted grimoire).

Vhankor’s newest friend

The reason Surrn had originally paused at the last skeleton was a silver medallion he had found hung around the neck, engraved with an arcane writing and the image of an open mouth.  Fortunately, Vhankor could read the writing on the medallion with his recent arcane training; it simply said the word “Message.”  Alana verified this when she picked up the medallion, and the mouth began moving in speech:

This is Strighten expedition’s first
message.  Previous forays carried only
Sending Stones and failed to
communicate reasons for their loss.
We’ll proceed first into G’ll-Hoo.

The five members of the new party (Vhankor, Damash, Tialka, Alana, and Surrn) discussed all they had seen in Avon’ri thus far, but no one could offer any answers, either for Yaneth’lei’s original demise, or to who the “Strighten” expedition was.  They did use comparisons of the relative ages of the medallion and the skeletons (and the fact that no other skeletons wore items of any kind) to deduce that the medallion had been left here by the expedition for others to find.  It was still unknown if the expedition had originally come from the Cradle or from elsewhere in the world, but they guessed it to have occurred somewhere between 20 and 30 years ago.

The group decided to head towards the origin of the Yaneth’lei current, in the eastern-most part.  Status in Yanethlien culture was directly related to one’s position near the source of the “Blessed Breath,” and those further away and farther down led colder, darker lives. The least enviable struggled to survive near where the current emptied into the open waters, literally swimming in the refuse from the rest of the city.  The best places for finding answers would be in the other direction, towards the elevated Royal Quarters. Their first stop was northern G’ll-Hoo, where there was a marked transition between the well-maintained alcoves of Avon’ri and the poorer shantytowns outside.

Northern G’ll-Hoo

The five explorers made their way slowly through G’ll-Hoo, swimming along the alleyways and glancing in windows for signs of life.  Towards the rear of the procession, Surrn caught a quick flurry of movement out of the corner of his eye.  A small, scaled creature had quickly darted across the street, diving in and out of holes in the debris in the blink of an eye.  It had moved with a purpose, and Surrn thought he sensed some level of intelligence behind the actions.

Once alerted, the rest of the party quickly swam down the alleyway.  Intelligent creatures could mean survivors of the apocalypse, who would be a good start for answering questions.  Vhankor again took the lead, his brash courage and fighter training evidencing themselves…and was quickly rewarded for his bravado with an arm full of poison darts.

Luckily, Surrn carried antidote with him as a matter of course, and the darts themselves had not done much damage.  Vhankor’s pride had been hurt more than his body.

A simultaneous “twang” had betrayed the rest of the poison dart trap, hidden behind a barricade of upended tables and stacked furniture.  What intrigued the party was the lack of a tripwire or other such mechanism; instead, the trap had been manually fired by a trigger. Narrow passageways between the debris and the walls of the houses showed how the creature had managed to skulk in, fire his weapon, and get out again safely.  At this point, he could be blocks away from the adventurers; and the passageways were too narrow to admit the adventurers’ larger frames.

Tialka’s university studies had not gone to waste, and she remembered reading about a species of “vermin” that were prolific and common to greater Yaneth’lei but generally eradicated from all but the poorest sections of the city: kobolds.

Kobolds are small but fiesty.

Poor fighters, kobolds were forced to make up for their small stature in other ways.  They bred quickly; and they were very good at trapmaking, ringing their territories with numerous clever and deadly snares.  All that the party had seen so far in G’ll-Hoo pointed to an active infestation of kobolds, though it was unknown if they had caused the city’s demise.

Adventurers often come up with peculiar solutions to problems, and these five were no different.  They did not want to continue using the streets (as there were traps), and they did not want to swim too high (as they could see more flashlight fish in the darkness overhead).  They decided to make a compromise, swimming fifteen feet above the street level and using ropes to dangle rocks enchanted with Light.  If they were lucky, they would appear to be another school of flashlight fish from a distance–a deterrent to all but the least clever animals.

“Hmm,” mused Alana to herself, “only attracting idiots.  Story of my life.”

(Unbenounced to the others, Surrn began feeling strange, unsettling ticklings at the back of his mind.  It felt as if he were in a large building, and there was a group of people speaking loudly several rooms away–close enough to hear, but not enough to distinguish. Uncertain of why he was experiencing this, Surrn said nothing to the others just yet.)

The group’s laborious precautions seemed a bit pointless when they reached an open area, created from the intersection of two larger roads.  Near the center of the space lay a human skeleton, illuminated by a handful of dangling mushrooms.  Something shiny lay underneath the skeleton, and Alana needed no further incentive to break rank and dive ahead.

Not unsurprisingly, there was an audible click as soon as Alana had the item in her grasp. Beneath her, a five-by-ten trapdoor swung away into darkness, and the skeleton sank slowly through the opening.  Alana, however, continued to float unharmed above.

For a brief moment, the party gazed at each other in confusion.  Then, a large mantis shrimp erupted from its home beneath the trapdoor to snag Alana in crushing claws.  A flurry of silt and the click of a re-latching door later, and the crossroads were completely empty.

Surprise!  Did you miss me?

The ensuing battle was a fierce struggle to save Alana’s life.  Damash plunged his spear into the narrow space between the trap door’s leaves and managed to force up a portion with his first thrust.  The device had been expertly constructed by tiny hands, but it wasn’t very sturdy.  Taking his cue, Vhankor bull-rushed the trap door and tore it open with the force of his impact.

The water inside was full of Alana’s blood, and she struggled weakly in the mantis’s grasp. Though she was still barely conscious, the mantis had already taken to eating her while she was still alive.  Her friends quickly rushed to her aid.

Already having some experience grappling with mantis shrimp, Tialka’s squid dove courageously into the fray, attaching itself directly to the mantis’s extended eyestalks. Surprised, the creature thrashed blindly, dropping Alana in the meantime.  Damash failed to hit the beast through the churning water, but Vhankor’s ranseur hit true, striking deep into the carapace.  A well-aimed crossbow bolt and an ear-splitting shout from Surrn later, and the shrimp was twitching dead at the bottom of its pit.

Wisely, Alana decided not to flee blindly into the darkness overhead; instead she pulled herself carefully onto the ground next to her friends.  (Ironically, they would later sell her healing magic in return for her baubles.)  The silver medallion in her hand was still repeating its Message, finally audible after the din:

Brennan ascended to Martyr’s Stand
today.  Whatever he saw still
has him in a coma.
Magellan injured by needle trap.
These abominable vermin are everywhere.

(Underneath the body of the shrimp, the party also found a pair of enchanted boots and armored gauntlets for their trouble.)

The next few minutes were a confusing mess for anyone involved.  Simultaneously, and in no particular order:

  • Tialka and Surrn began casting spells, either to pacify or flush out invisible foes nearby.  Though unsuccessful, the spells did illuminate beady sets of eyes in the nearby stacked debris.
  • The strange emotions lurking at the back of Surrn’s mind suddenly exploded into his brain.  In an instant, he saw himself compared to the total vastness of the city–small, alone, hunted, and very afraid.  Unable to cope with this sudden opening of his mind’s floodgates, Surrn crawled shakily into the nearest empty building, where he huddled in the dark and murmured shakily to himself.
  • Vhankor began tearing one wall apart angrily with his ranseur to get at his hidden foe. Damash, on the other hand, had more luck with a sudden flurry of blows through another barricade.  There was a sudden crack of bone and flesh, and a kobold lay dead in the silt.
  • Surrn, who had only just managed to overcome his panic attack with a secret prayer to his Goddess, emerged in time to see the kobold fall.  This time it was not fear, but rage that now boiled through his veins, and he found himself screaming in abject fury at those around him.  Anger, pain, loss–he felt convinced that his closest friend had just been slaughtered in front of him.  His words meant little to those around him, and they tried pacifying him in several unsuccessful ways.
  • The ensuing argument went in circles and accomplished little.  Voices were raised, fingers were pointed, and Vhankor found himself more vexed with each passing moment.  He finally used the distraction to slip away from the group, intent on carrying on the journey to the Royal Quarter in more quiet surroundings.

It took an embarrassing amount of time for the emotions of all involved to settle, and for Vhankor’s absence to be noticed.  In the end, the party decided to catch up with the wandering mage and leave this entire mess behind them.

It wasn’t long before most of the party noticed a spearhead sticking quite prominently out from a barricaded looking position below them.

A quick spell from Tialka confirmed the presence of a physical snare, and Alana set about disabling the trap.  Luckily, there was no one near the trigger mechanism for the spear, so she could work unhindered.

The diabolical nature of the trap was not apparent until Alana reached to unhook the wire connecting the trigger to the catch and found the entire mechanism covered in a powerful contact poison.  Luckily, a momentary sheen about the device had alerted her, and she pulled her naked hands away before making more than a slight touch.  Even then, the skin on her fingertips swelled up painfully, and she shuddered to think what would have happened had she made full contact.

As she wiped her hands vigorously, she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. She was no longer alone in the space behind the barricade.  Another figure had stepped out of the darkness leading further into the complex of buildings:

“Hey, guys,” Alana called out slowly, “these kobolds are getting more and more fancy.”

After making certain that Alana had seen him, the well-dressed kobold retreated back into the dark interior of the buildings, leaving a silver medallion where he had been standing. The medallion was the third found so far of the Strighten expedition.  The party listened with anticipation to the Message:

Found remains of previous expedition.
Their skulls were vandalized as
well.  Whatever destroyed Avon’ri is
still here, and still alive.
Brennan insists deliriously ‘They’re’ coming.

Surrn, who had felt a moment of comparative peace and confidence with the presence of the kobold “chieftan,” decided to call out a greeting to the reptilians hiding nearby.  He spoke a message of peace in all three spoken languages he knew–the common language of Yaneth’lei derived from Kuo-Toan, Aquan, and a high-pitched barking the others guessed from their studies to be Sahuagin.  He further repeated his message in the secret language his Goddess had taught him–a language that needed no words to speak and no ears to hear.

For the first time, the murmurings hidden in the back of his brain came into clear focus. He felt himself connected simultaneously with thousands upon thousands of tiny minds in the caverns around him.  When they rejoiced, he rejoiced.  When they feared, he feared.  And when they angered, he angered as well.

Surrn had finally solved the riddle of his chaotic emotions; he’d tapped into the empathic hive mind the kobolds all shared.

The kobold netword was not a true hive mind, and was really more a network the species used to quickly share impressions, images, and emotions.  Still, it was far more welcoming than Surrn would have anticipated, and he found himself gaining useful answers to basic questions.

When he pictured the shapes and sizes of his humanoid friends, he received a sense of emptiness–that there were no others like him left in the city.

When he imagined the skulls without faces, he felt a primal sense of terror, and a momentary image of some abomination with things protruding from its face.

When he held the face of Vhankor in his mind, he got a stong impression of mirth.  The kobolds thought something was very funny indeed.

At this point, the kobold “chieftan” reemerged from his place deeper in the buildings, gave the best reptilian version of a friendly smile, and motioned for the party to follow him.  The others had not enjoyed the direct mind-to-mind contact that Surrn had, and they followed behind with a little more uneasy distance.

Vhankor turned out to be rather easy to locate.  Underneath a recently-overturned barricade, a string of angry expletives was steadily issuing.  The kobold “chieftan” pointed underneath the pile of rubble and gave his little strange smile again.  Then, he motioned to a group of nearby kobolds who had been preparing to throw a very mean-looking glass vial to complete their deadlist trap:

Inside the vial were several bright, metallic spheres, suspended in a thick oil.  Although Surrn was unfamiliar with the material, he was very thankful that it had not been used on his friend.  In fact, the “chieftan” made a gift of the vial to Surrn and motioned that it be kept very safe, until such time it was needed.

The adventuring party were both near the end of G’ll-Hoo and the end of the day.  The kobolds helped them find a safe sleeping area in the middle of a building complex, several rooms and well-made traps away from any open water.  Before the end of the day, the group made sure to send their mentor, Prof. Oort-Ba, a quick report on all that had happened that day–or, at least, as much as 25 words would allow.  “Acknowledged.  Stay safe, move carefully,” was the professor’s reply.

(Late that night, those who awoke would see Surrn sitting quietly in the next room over, facing the kobold “chieftan.”  They locked eyes silently for hours, but not a word was spoken.  No one knew what had been shared; but the next morning, Surrn returned to the group with a secret smile and a new, finely-woven cloak over his shoulders.)

DAY 4:

The next morning, the party waved goodbye to the kobolds and made their way up into the next section of the city, Ahu-Y’hloa.  Ahu-Y’hloa was a more middle-class area of the city, revolving around commerce and trade.  Sections including such names as Outfitter’s Lane, Tinker Square, and Alchemist’s Gamble.  The party proceeded first into Beasts of Burden.

Beasts of Burden held a number of large multi-level stables, where helpful animals were reared and trained.  These days it was a sad sight, as not all animals were unstabled when the destruction of Yaneth’lei occurred.  Many stalls were empty, but others held the skeletons of ichthyosaurs or what appeared to be manta rays.

Inside one of the stables.

An unfortunate previous occupant.

The group also found a single Aventi skeleton, complete with adventuring gear.  The body was curled in a corner of a stall, as if crawling away from something.  Its face was missing (as expected), but in its skeletal fist was clutched the fourth silver medallion.  Most interestingly, the age of the bones seemed to coincidence with the date of the Strighten expedition–only 20 to 30 years old, as opposed to the 70 to 80 years-old skeletons of the Yaneth’lei demise.

The medallion held only six words:

my god it had his face

The body held a magically-enchanced spear, a small bag that could hold more than it should, and a peculiar glass vial of a dusty chalk powder.  (The powder acted as if it were housed in a gas or a vacuum–very unusual in an aquatic environment.)  The body also wore a mundane suit of armor and shield.

Some discussion was had as to the meaning of the short message.  Some theories suggested whatever “it” was had taken the face of a friend as a trophy; others suggested “it” was literally wearing the face, like a bloody mask.

The Aventi’s body was not the only member of the Strighten expedition found in that abandoned stable.  In another room, at the far end of the stable, sat the first skeleton to still retain its face.  The room’s entrance had been crudely blockaded with planks and poles, and the frame guarded by a Stone of Alarm that sounded as soon as they had entered.  The skeleton itself huddled as far away from the door as it could, cradling the last of the silver medallions to its mithril chain shirt, like a source of comfort.

Only steam magic can kill
these things.  Magellan gave his
life proving that.  I am
the last; these vermin offer
little help.  Tell Sarah I–

The upcoming day would prove to be very interesting indeed.

Appendix: Yanethlien Kobolds

Yanethlien Kobolds are only superficially similar to those found in other realms. Visitors might recognize the small, reptilian forms and the penchant for trap-making, but here the similarities end. Aquatic kobolds enjoy a psionic, empathic network and are able to share images, impressions, and emotions with all members within a certain distance. This grants them a very rudimentary hive mind, though thought propagation is slow and imprecise.

As they are able to share information with all members of their species over a wide area, Yanethlien kobolds never developed a written language, or even a spoken one. For this reason, most of the humanoids that lived in Yaneth’lei considered them vermin and eradicated them from all but the poorest sections of the city.

Now that the humanoids have left, however, the kobold settlements have grown to prodigious sizes. They are often grouped into “broods” based on locale and proximity to their Story-Tellers (those specially responsible for remembering kobold empathic history), but for all purposes, all broods in Yaneth’lei function as a single, tribal civilization.

Because of their widespread empathic link with most areas of Yaneth’lei, kobolds can be incredibly beneficial to befriend, particularly by psionic users who can tap directly into their network.

Yanethlien Kobolds as a Playable Race

Kobolds are a fun, cunning race of playable characters in a regular Dungeons and Dragons campaign.  Yanethlien Kobolds are slightly different from their more standard counterpart and have the following stats (adjustments are marked):

  • -4 Strength, +2 Dexterity, -2 Constitution.
  • Small size: +1 bonus to Armor Class, +1 bonus on attack rolls, +4 bonus on Hide checks, -4 penalty on grapple checks, lifting and carrying limits ¾ those of Medium characters.
  • A kobold’s base land swim speed is 30 feet.
  • Darkvision Superior Darkvision out to 120 feet.
  • Racial Skills: A kobold character has a +2 racial bonus on Craft (trapmaking), Profession (miner), and Search checks.
  • Racial Feats: A kobold character gains feats according to its character class.
  • +1 natural armor bonus.
  • Automatic Languages: Draconic None. Yanethlien kobolds are empathic and do not normally use a language. Bonus Languages: Common, Kuo-Toan.
  • Favored Class: Sorcerer.
  • Level adjustment +0.
  • Aquatic subtype.
  • One (1) power point (racial).  Being a member of an empathic hive mind, Yanethlien kobolds are naturally psionic.
  • Additional: The following skills are removed from being in-class for any Yanthelien kobold: Decipher Script, -Speak Language.
  • Additional: The following skills are added as in-class for any Yanethlien kobold: +Disable Device, +Search.

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