We start today’s session with me teaching the kids about the “Five-Man Band” trope, a useful tool for storytelling and playing RPGs when you have a group working together. We didn’t plan it, but by fate of the dice, our merry band of adventurers have fallen into the necessary roles for a “Five-Man Band”.
Veleris (EB) is the sneaky one. Emma Frog (EC) is the weird magical one. Aranna’s (AJ) plays the “face”, the talkative one. Darrak (AB) is the support. And Purple Nurple (OR), plays the strong one, “the tank”. But with Purple Nurple missing IRL today, Orlan (HA) suits up with a full-plate armor.
The “Five-Man Band” trope doesn’t always fit perfectly (after all, we have six in this group) – but if you consume enough TV shows, films and comic books featuring a team… you’ll see the “Five-Man Band” dynamics at play.
Where is Purple Nurple in-game? Aranna suggests he is getting groomed as a dog. Maybe that’s what shape-shifters do for R&R. Get bathed by humans as animals. Ew.
And with that – we return to Lankhmar. Last week, they found a strange key – the Key of the Unwitnessed Sisterhood – and inside it, a cryptic message. Orlan knows of Semrik, a linguist, translator, and cryptographer in the Plaza of Dark Delights. Which is where the party heads…
Spoilers Ahead for Michael Curtis’s “Masks of Lankhmar” (DCC-L)
The Plaza of Dark Delights is like the Richmond Night Market. It’s busy, it’s loud, there are stalls selling questionable wares, some counterfeit, some knockoffs, some outright illegal. On one end, the Fountain of Dark Abundance. The other, Shrine of the Black Virgin. Semrik’s modest pavilion is taken by a high angled table with him hunched over papers and parchments.
Semrik identifies the riddle as Ottishif, a rare Eastern language used by the Mysteries of Djil, a desert sect that came to the city some 200 years ago. Aranna asks, “and?”. Semrik sticks out his hand for payment. The group reluctantly agrees. Money for information. What a novel concept.
Semrik continues. The Mysteries of Djil was a religion of women priestesses who wore gilded masks, and would kiss their followers to absolve them of worldly sins (for a donation of course). But they got too powerful and influential, and they were evicted with great violence, their temple plundered and abandoned. Semrik sticks his hand out again. Aranna drops another 2gp. The others are still suspicious, wondering if Semrik is making stuff up or lying to them.
These gilded masks (worth a fortune) worn by the priestesses were never found. The temple is now a massive tenement of squatters, vagabonds and the homeless. Aranna surprisingly tips Semrik another 2gp.
As they leave the plaza, a robed figure in black sack cloth approaches from the alleyway. Under the phantom’s cowl is black nothingness… genderless, ageless, ethereal. A robed-covered finger beckons to come closer. The group hesitates. In a tortured, nails-on-chalkboard voice, the stranger exclaims, “you’d be dead if I wished. Now, come here!” The party refuses and leaves the plaza… avoiding an encounter with who-knows-what.
Make It Rain!!
The party goes to the tenements south of the Street of the Gods where the temple of Djil once was. It’s like the Kowloon Walled City… or the favelas of Rio de Janiero. Just accretive stacks of shacks and lean-tos. A slum smelling of unwashed bodies, bodily waste, sickness, and rotting food.
Veleris accidentally knocks over a ramshackle hovel. The family comes out screaming at him to pay for the damages. He hands them 10gp. A small child begs Orlan for money, and Emma steps in to give him some money. The party is then swarmed by street urchins who witnessed their generosity. They can’t move, the press of desperate people is suffocating… until finally, Emma throws more money to the ground, distracting the mob from them.
SIDE NOTE: My brother and I once did the math on D&D economics. One gold piece (gp) is about $100 in today’s dollars. Hence, 100gp is $10,000. The amount you’d have to declare when you travel. 10,000gp is $1 million, the price of a house in Vancouver. But kids don’t have a sense of what that really means. Why not give a street urchin $1,000?
Back to our regular programming…
Spider King Gang
They move on, closer towards the temple, when suddenly, a deathly silence. Everyone around our adventurers shutters their homes, hides, disappears. What’s going on? Six large men appear, each with a spider tattoo on their neck, carrying clubs and swords. Next to the leader, a drunken wizard, wide-eyed and frantic.
“Oy, what are you doing here?” shouts the leader. “Don’t you know this is Spider King territory?”
Several of the players begin to shout insults and threats at the gang. I let them retcon that. (Please let it be known that I am still forgiving. Sometimes.) Once they’ve gotten their silly invectives out of their system, they get back to playing the game rationally. Veleris and Darrak come up with a diamond-shaped formation. Orlan, their tank, is in front. Aranna, Emma and Darrak behind him… with Veleris, the weakest one, in the back.
Aranna parlays with Gravak, the Spider King Boss for a bit… while Emma the Frog is sneakily preparing a spell. She attempts to cast magic bulwark to neutralize their wizard. It fails. The Spider King’s sorcerer sniffs the air. He knows magic was attempted. Gravak is angered. “Did you just try to cast spells? Did you? Boys? Did you see that? They tried to cast spells!”
A fight ensues. Later, post-game, the kids would misremember this very moment. They would tell each other that Aranna started this fight with her hot-temper, threats and nocked bow in hand. But this DM remembers. It was my daughter’s failed skullduggery that led to the death of an ally. But that’s neither here nor there. Back to the fight.
Gravak calls to his wizard, “Yohmanus! Pump me up!”. Yohmanus casts enlarge on his boss, turning the six-footer into a 12-foot giant. The fight is ugly. Orlan takes the brunt of damage. Aranna and Darrak take down several of the minions. Emma casts cure wounds on Darrak, but rolls the dreaded “1”, a misfire, and accidentally casts “thick skin” on herself. She’s now immune to cuts and metal. Darrak smacks a minion upside the head and screams, “I like ya cut, G!” Veleris weaves in and out getting what hits he can without taking damage. He throws a handful of marbles under the giant’s feet. Misses.
More Spider King minions show up. The adventurers cry in disbelief. I remind them, they are in their territory. They own this tenement block. It does not occur to them to run. Darrak nocks an arrow. Fires one at the nether regions of one. Everyone laughs. Fires one through the throat of another. Misses. Fires one at the boss. Arranna slays a few. She kills the wizard. Emma uses her thick skin to her advantage. Runs up to the giant and bashes his feet with her staff. Orlan, at one point, thinks it would be amusing to ask if the giant would like to play a game of dice. Gravak is not amused. He smashes his giant sword down on Orlan. Misses.
Darrak gets brave. Sneaks behind the giant, nocks one, fires at his Achilles Heel. Misses. Gravak the Giant brings his sword down on Darrak.
Cuts him in two. Darrak is dead.
More Spider King reinforcements. Emma knows this is over. Runs. Veleris runs, screaming behind his back, “may I have my marbles back?”. Orlan runs. Aranna is resolute. Takes another shot at the giant. Misses. There are eight Spider King thugs against Aranna now. She finally admits defeat and runs too.
Tail between their legs, they flee to the Wyrmskull.
Lane Weaver, Older Twin Brother of Aranna
The group mourn the death of Darrak while his player rolls up a new character. OK, they didn’t mourn. I made that up. They talked about group names instead. Poor Darrak. Nobody missed you. Group names are more important. Candidates include: “Ocean’s 6”, “The Nether Regions”, “Aranna is Annoying”, “Aranna is the Best”… and the winner: The Snack Club. (Because the kids like snacks.)
They rest up at the Wyrmskull for a full week. I ask for intelligence checks… to see if they were careful about laying low, as Igrik is still looking for them. Everyone passes. Sometime in the middle of the week, Lane Weaver (AB), twin brother of Aranna Weaver shows up in Lankhmar to look for his sister. They reconnect and immediately start bickering and poking each other with pencils IRL and laughing uncontrollably. Why?! I tell them to stop. They fight over who’s oldest and resolve that with a roll of the dice. Lane wins.
Afterwards, they plan and scheme again. Is there a way to sneak into the temple of the Djil? Is there a way to avoid the Spider Kings? Can they buy an atomic bomb? Lane asks if he can create a grenade? If you’re willing to spend years inventing it, I tell him. Aranna asks if she could rent the army. I tell them the government of Lankhmar does not care for this slum and would not interfere in it. A little D&D, a little socioeconomic lesson in how intractable systemic wealth inequality is. Because that’s how I roll, everyone. Training the next generation of democratic socialists.
In the end, they finally decide to simply charge in again. I facepalm.
Spider Kings Part Deux
As they enter the tenement, the group gets stares and the people are whispering in hushed tones to each other. It’s clear everyone knows who they are. It should also be clear that they’re passing this intel up the chain to the Spider Kings. But the players don’t note this and walk further in. Ten thugs appear. Aranna says, “we can take them”. Another ten Spider Kings show up behind them. Oops. Gravak comes out, beating the flat of his sword against his hand. “Well, well, well. Look who’s stupid enough to show their faces back ‘ere. You must be a bunch of ijits, all of you.”
They parlay. Veleris says they just want to pay their respects to Darrak. Aranna attempts to loan Emma and Lane to the Spider Kings for passage. Veleris offers a handful of fake jewels. Gravak can’t tell the difference, but is also smart enough to ask for cold hard cash. At the end of the day, the ganglord simply wants money. 600gp of it. ($60,000). For the death of his wizard and six of his men. (He can always recruit more from the slums.)
The party makes up more excuses. They’re poor. They don’t have the money. Gravak looks at the full-plate armor on Orlan and Lane’s back. They’re old and beat-up, Lane says. They’re handed down from family, Aranna says. Nothing works. They have no choice but to go back to the Wyrmskull, sell some of their treasure and pay their way past the Spider Kings.
DM NOTE: Being deferential and paying a small token of respect in their first encounter with the Spider Kings would’ve gotten them past. I guess I need to keep training them to not resort to combat every single time. It only cost them a death and 600gp this time…
The Temple of Djil
As they approach the four-walled, sixty-foot spire, they are confronted with symbols on each wall. A chalice, a chain, a moon and a skull. The poem! The poem! Veleris and Aranna both figure it out right away. They find the hidden door. It’s old and janky. It’s stuck. There’s just enough of a gap for them to go through. The kids pick up on how this is bad. The Spider Kings may see this door ajar and follow them. Time is of the essence.
It’s dungeon crawl time. First floor, nothing. Second floor, haunted robes try to suffocate them. Veleris is surprisingly good at yanking them off his allies. They cut up the robes into pieces. They find wooden masks. They appear to have filters in the nostrils. Aranna, Veleris and Emma are smart enough to put them on. Lane and Orlan choose not to. Third floor, a crypt. There’s a rich, pungent smell in here. Like incense but times ten. There are shrouded corpses on eight slabs. Their necks glitter. They have gem-encrusted collars on. Lane and Orlan (the ones without masks) lean in to pluck the collars off. The fragrance infuses their brain.
Suddenly, Lane Weaver is filled with wrath for Emma Frog’s existence and wants nothing but to murder her. Orlan becomes envious of anything Lane does, which, in this case, means he wants to kill Emma too. Emma casts hallucination and creates a hundred illusions of herself. Clever girl. Aranna tries to knock Lane out with her quiver. Veleris races downstairs to pick up pieces of the cut-up robes. He comes back and tries to strangle Orlan. In the end, they manage to subdue Lane unconscious. Orlan, seeing this and not to be outdone, rams his head into the wall and falls unconscious too.
The remaining three retrieve masks and place them on Orlan and Lane to prevent further insanity. Emma wakes Lane up with cure wounds. She tries with Orlan too, but fails. Aranna stays to guard Orlan. Lane thinks it would be funny to get one last whiff of the spice. He does. Gets another deadly sin to play… but this one, he can keep it a secret.
Veleris, Lane and Emma go up to the fourth floor. Veleris has no problem opening the door using the key they found in Igrik’s vault.
The Seven Deadly Vizards
Inside, they see their prize. The seven Gilded Masks of Djil. Lane’s PC keeps forgetting how the masks were originally used and insists they put them on to kiss the Spider Kings. It’s funny. Or not. Maybe it’s because none of our kids go to church and have no idea what “absolving sins” or “cleansing the followers of worldly sins” means. So I take a small break and explain how these people would get into heaven when they were kissed by the priestesses and their sins are forgiven. Look at that. A lesson in religion as well!
Anyway - Veleris walks into the room. The shadows are weird in this room. They’re not black, but grey, and as soon as Veleris walks into them, he has visions of all the past sins these masks had cleansed. Murders. Robberies. Wrongdoing. And disturbing this flux of transgressions causes the masks to come to life. They float towards Veleris, Emma and Lane. The masks shoot psychic rays into their heads. None of them can resist it.
Lane becomes sloth. He sits down. Doesn’t want to do anything. Veleris stands over Lane and boasts how much better he is with relentless pride. Calling him lazy and useless. Emma just makes moony eyes at Veleris. All three are charmed and lost in their own world. The masks move on.
Downstairs. Aranna hears footsteps. A rival group of thieves had followed them into the spire. They too succumb to the strange fragrance and act out the seven deadly sins. Two manage to evade the insanity. Aranna tries to wake Orlan up, fails, leaves him and rushes upstairs to inform the others. Orlan is stripped of his armor by the thieves.
Upstairs, Aranna too, falls prey to the evil masks. She starts eyeing everyone’s possessions greedily and schemes of ways to steal them. The two thieves come up, nab two masks with thick bags, and runs.
With all five adventurers put out, the remaining Gilded Masks escape into the night… causing immense chaos and damage. Half the city of Lankhmar falls into an uncontrollable riot… as their worst, most base human urges, manifest via the Seven Deadly Sins. It would take three days before the Sorcerer’s Guild and Lankhmar’s army regained order of the city. During this time, the increased bulgary is enough to destroy Igrik, sending him home to the East.
But back in the present –
We Can Do Anything We Want – If We Grow Up
The group come to, out of their delirium an hour after the masks had escaped. They head back to the Wyrmskull, empty handed except for a few gems from the collars. No gilded masks. No real treasure. One dead ally. 600gp lost and an expensive full-plate armor stolen.
Nylokk informs them a young man named Hriseit is asking around for them. Strange. Also - in the corner of the tavern, which is usually empty, sits a shivering man, hugging himself, mumbling to himself. They walk up to the odd man. He’s near incoherent. “The People of the Pit! The People of the Pit! They got all my friends! They’re all dead! And they did this to me!!!” He lifts up his shirt, and there are short tentacles coming out of his belly button. “They’re all dead! They’re all dead!”
Nylokk looks over. Tells them that something’s strange going up north in the Eight Cities. Strange disappearances. People vanished in the night. Sightings of tentacles snatching animals. A 10,000gp prize for anyone who can stop it.
The Snack Club’s Portfolio
Stored in Wyrmskull Vault
(Deposited Year of the Worm, Month of the Eagle, Day of the Fox)
- 23 Ice Necklaces * 200gp = 4,600gp
- 12 Ice Jewels * 150gp = 1,800gp
Chekhov’s Ticking Time Bombs
- Who are the People of the Pit?
- Who is this Hriseit asking around Lankhmar for The Snack Club?
- Thork may be dead, but his wife Aranna isn’t. Her inheritance? 800gp of debt to the cult of Loki.
- Emma Frog and Purple Nurple are fugitives from a neighboring region.
- Two drunes of the Dolmenwood cult of sorcerers were murdered in cold blood.
DM Notes to Myself
So the seven sins caused by the psychoactive funereal spices was quite entertaining. All the players role-played their sins quite well and tried to solve the problem together. Unfortunately, The Snack Club were no match for a second round of the sins when the Gilded Masks of Djil charmed them, allowing the masks to escape and wreak havoc upon Lankhmar.