Tuesday, September 12, 2023

The Burning Man


It had been ages since I'd run a session on Roll20, way before VENGER CON.  

After all, I didn't need these infrequent fixes now that I've got a bi-weekly Cha'alt campaign going into its 9th month, and 2 or 3 times a year, I'm a GMing fool at conventions, running shit all weekend long.

Nevertheless, I missed my 90-minute, text only, 18+, virtual sessions that used to be my gaming bread and butter the past few years.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of running Cha'alt: Burning Man for Charles H. (he did a post-game audio clip) and a guy named Paul I found on Twitter who was interested in getting Cha'alt for himself.  So, I said, why not try it out for yourself to see if it fits?  

The characters were a half-human / half-lizardman elemental sorcerer named Nicolo and a Mi-Go type crustacean priest working to bring back Cthulhu named Erka'al.

Usually, when I set these Roll20 sessions up I try to think of a cool sounding name that evokes a simple and gameable concept.  I don't always follow-through with that concept, but it gives me a starting point.  This being Cha'alt, I'm happy to use something topical to get the ball rolling - getting that ball to initially roll is usually the hardest part.

Since the Burning Man festival was in the news, I used that.  And since most of my Cha'alt one-shots start with the PCs wandering the desert, it seemed like a no-brainer!  The PCs stumbled upon some kind of large gathering which turned out to be a ritual with a mysterious purpose.  As I do, the Burning Man idea was conflated with the Wicker Man - PCs saw humanoid slaves caged inside the abdomen of this gigantic man made out of wicker or bamboo.

An elf filled them in before he took off on his reptilian riding spider, giving Nicolo (who had asked if he was holding any drugs) a glass vial of zoth.  A storm was coming, dark purple clouds appeared on the horizon, moving towards the valley where this ritual was taking place.

Various other attendees caught their eye - a man blowing into a translucently violet conch-shell, an insectoid slaver leading three slave girls by their collars down to the wicker man, and a High Priest who drew a sigil into the sand while chanting.  The sigil became a pool of liquid.  The High Priest dipped his tentacle into it and withdrew it wreathed in flame.

As the fire was set at the base of the wicker man and the slaves were yelling for someone to help them, the PCs assessed the situation, trying first to glean more information via Erka'al's psychic abilities.  He discovered that these celebrants were attempting to summon a conqueror worm in order to rid themselves of an otherworldly entity living in a nearby cave.

Nicolo inquired about purchasing a blonde slave who had been flirting with him.  He didn't have near enough gold, but the insectoid slaver told him that if he killed the neza'ateem (that's what they called the thing in the cave... in the ancient tongue it means "something birthed by the unknown"), he could have the slave girl free and clear.  

In old school tradition, Nicolo asked if there was some secret, some scrap of information, a trick or weakness... something to help them slay this neza'ateem.  The slaver gave the sorcerer his necklace, a tentacled entity fashioned out of purple-jade that would hopefully bring him luck.

As the flames licked higher and the storm was directly overhead, the adventurers made their way to the cave (about a mile away from the valley).

Just outside was a stone marker with carvings, the topmost being an eye inside a triangle.  A few humanoids had followed them and gathered outside the cave, waiting to see what fate was in store for them.

They went inside and saw crystals embedded in the rock walls, just up ahead was a body ripped in two and the gruesome remains gnawed at by the beast they were hunting.  The tunnel forked, and the PCs went in the direction that didn't have bloodstains.  They found slabs of stone with bodies laying on them.  This was some kind of mausoleum.  

Nicolo took a purple crystal from wall, drank the vial of zoth, and tried to vision-quest his way into answers.  Being 3rd level and only two of them, it seemed apparent that they needed an edge.

In this vision, the sorcerer saw the entity being cut in twain by a magical sword.  He tried reaching out to locate the sword and Erka'al, who was watching his companion, saw Nicolo's hand extend like a tentacle, going for something beneath a death-shroud laying upon one of the bodies.

It was a sword, and the sorcerer could feel its magic.  The two of them looked around to see if there was anything else they could loot that might help them slay the neza'ateem.  Erka'al found a badass helmet in the likeness of a winged serpent.  it wasn't magical, but it was well-made and mighty to behold.

Without too much screwing around (there wasn't much time before the session was going to end), the creature approached - tentacles, teeth, and bad breath.  It made its way towards them as the priest shot it with his luger.  The bullet went in, spurting emerald-green blood as it did so, but that didn't even slow the beast down.

Charles asked me about Advanced Crimson Dragon Slayer as he was looking for a way to even the odds. I told him he could either spend a point of Divine Favor to get Advantage on his attack roll or call upon one of the infernal lavender moons of Cha'alt, allowing him to do what would normally be impossible.  He chose the latter.

"Just roll a d6," I said.  He did and it came up a 6 - critical success!  I narrated how he swung and hacked into it, the blade going cleanly through, bringing the entity down into two pieces that flowed with green blood.

Afterwards, the adventurers exited the cave, were met with rejoicing and praise, Nicolo got the girl, and someday there might be more to come.

It was a good, solid, and satisfying session.  I was stoked to try out the "epic deed" mechanic for a 3rd time (every bit of playtesting helps).  It worked as intended, a decent chance of overcoming an insurmountable obstacle that makes sense, that's immersive... according to the campaign setting.

The players had fun and want to do it again, so we'll see how our schedules go.  I'm aiming for every other week, as that seems doable.  This session went over by 10 minutes or so, but generally speaking a 90-minute scenario isn't too exhausting in-between my requisite Game Mastering duties.

Thanks for reading!


p.s. VENGER CON III: Revenge of the OSR is open for registration, so get your weekend badge before we're capped at 100 attendees.  Also, hardcover Cha'alt books are still for sale!

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