Returned Maztica

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
So... let's not talk about Toril's mightiest heroes teaming up to defend the world from an extraplanetary invasion. Instead, let's talk about what happened in Friday's session!

To recap, the PCs have been sent to a village (pop. 250) on the eastern coast of Payit that has fishing and gathering salt from the ocean as its major source of revenue. The village is oppressed by a small group of Dragonborn who took over several generations ago with the blessing of Ancient Scales of Wisdom, but after the death of the dragon some of the villagers have started to organize themselves into a secret society calling itself the "Children of the Long Wave", and they intend to fight back... eventually.

This is a ruse. Both the leader of the Dragonborn and the leader of the Children of the Long Wave have secretly been transformed into Deep Scions (see Volo's Guide to Monsters), and they are secretly cooperating in order to spread the reach of the Kraken cult - and transform any surplus villagers into Sea Spawn (see ditto). An additional goal is to plunder the local batrachian ruins that lie half-submerged beneath the local temple of the salt goddess - but unfortunately, the entrance is warded against "the Changed", which includes Deep Scions, Sea Spawn, and (as one of the PCs found out) shapechanged druids. Thus, the arrival of a trio of self-described adventurers might be useful - they can plunder the ruins for them, and then be relieved of their discoveries.

From the perspective of the adventurers, they arrived in town and witnessed a villager being flogged by the dragonborn - allegedly for "stealing salt", but the humans claim that the Dragonborn just pick someone at random. The monk offered to tread the villager's wounds and did so quite successfully, which earned him and his friends a place to stay. They overheared the son of the man they helped talking about the "Long Wave", and got the impression that the son was eager to fight back. When confronted about this, the young man told them that he might be able to tell them more... tomorrow.

Next morning, they started by hiring a fishing boat and diving to the ruins. They noticed a lot of strange glowing blue symbols and pictographs (batrachian writing), and finally discovered the main entrance to the batrachian complex - which apparently had been cleared of debris fairly recently. The druid got shocked a bit by the ward when he dived down in animal form, but when he spotted some fish swimming into the entrance, they figured out quickly that he would be able to get in while in his normal (gnomish) form. While diving, they also spotted a weird "fishman" watching the entrance from a distance (a Sea Spawn posted as a sentry by the cult), but it swam away.

Then they dove into the entrance and encountered a pool of mud with four Mudmen, which they dispatched of fairly quickly. Pressing onward, they discovered a strange "alchemical laboratory" - the Arcane Trickster deduced that its builders were fairly tall amphibians, but not much more. They also found a 2.5 feet diameter "sphere" with a leathery surface, which they interpreted as an "egg".

They are not very wrong with this - this sphere holds an infant "lutum" in stasis, another servitor creation of the batrachians. The first Spelljammer Monstrous Compendium describes them - they are shapeshifters that can also read thoughts and manipulate emotions (though unlike their original description, I am not going to assume that they prefer "female humanoid" forms).

The PCs considered getting it out there, but considering the sphere's weight decided that they need some better equipment for dragging it out (when they attempt to do so, the lutum will be shocked by the wards at the entrance, which will cause the sphere to break open).

When they swam out of the complex, they spotted the "fishman" again, and this time the druid transformed into a giant squid and swam after it - capturing it by bludgeoning it into unconsciousness. They convinced the fisherman to keep quiet about this and bringing them all to a remote beach where they can examine and/or interrogate it instead of immediately alerting the village.


This is where we broke off for the night. Things to consider for the next session:

- The Sea Spawn - one of the transformed villagers - cannot talk. However, the PCs might still get some useful information out of it in other ways - PCs can get pretty creative in that regard. So how should I portray the Sea Spawn? How much free will or initiative does it have? What motivates it?

- Fairly soon, the cult will notice that one of its Sea Spawn is missing. And if the cult learns that the PCs have hold of it (either because the PCs tell it to the Children of the Long Wave, or because the fisherman blabs about it), they will likely panic - after all, the Sea Spawn is a transformed villagers, and they don't want others to learn of this before it is too late. What are some likely tactics they could use to erase the evidence?
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
What happened in the session:

- The interrogation was futile, since Sea Spawn can't talk - so they eventually released it back into the wild. Later on, the druid heard some kind of "scream" from the ocean - the Deep Scion Psychic Scream ability, with which they can send their memories to their master (among other things). This freaked the PCs out, and they speculated whether something horrible has happened to the creature they released (instead, a Deep Scion just sent information about these latest developments).

- The monk met up with the Long Wave cult and offered to train them in unarmed combat techniques - they accepted, and they spent the rest of the night training and discussing possible strategies. The monk also speculated that "something might happen soon", although he refused to elaborate. When he asked the cultists about "strange sea creatures" the cultist professed ignorance - although the monk got the impression that the leader (secretly another Deep Scion) knew more than he admitted.

- The next day they returned to the ruins and put the "egg" into a large barrel. However, when they attempted to take the barrel against the ward at the entrance, the ward caused the "egg" to burst. They hurried back and placed the barrel into the chamber with the mudmen. The newborn Lutum broke free, and first the monk and then the druid sensed that something was trying to get into their minds - but they made their saving throws. The arcane trickster decided to let this alien mind in, and then the Lutum transformed into his look-alike. After some discussion with the Lutum - which still had only a very limited vocabulary - they determined that it was intelligent but didn't really know anything. They decided to call it "Sven". Getting it through the ward was not possible, so they eventually advised it to look for weak points in the ceiling.

- As they went outside, they saw the leader of the Long Wave watch in fascination as the mud "bubbled up" from the hill it had been imprisoned in (the Deep Scion decided it had better keep an eye on what the PCs were doing in that hill, and getting creatures like the Lutum into his master's clutches was one of its highest priorities). There was an awkward moment as the Lutum transformed itself into a fish-creature with a wide mouth and tentacles sprouting from its head - the true form of the Deep Scion. But the PCs asked if Sven saw this form in the native's mind, and Sven confirmed this - and the Deep Scion claimed he had seen such a creature "out in the ocean", which the PCs bought. The druid was suspicious, but his Detect Magic on the Deep Scion yielded a negative - unfortunately for him, the "human form" of the Deep Scion is his "true form", even if his shapeshifting could be detected magically (which I am not sure about). Thus, his cover is still intact for the moment. The PCs also asked Sven to shapeshift into a form that attracted less attention, and he took on the form of a native woman based on the Deep Scion's thoughts.

- Then the PCs asked him if he knew someone locally who knew much about old legends of the region. The Deep Scion said he knew someone, and would contact them later. His actual plan is to separate the PCs from the Lutum somehow, and stage an ambush for that purpose - using the "old native storyteller" to this end, and then try to convince the Lutum to come with him into the ocean.

Any suggestions for staging such an ambush without telegraphing "this is an ambush"?
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
I am currently contemplating the Plumaweaver as an Artisan subclass. Making them use bows as their primary "attack power" seems appropriate - but I am not sure how to prevent them from being (a) too limited and (b) too similar to the Arcane Archer.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
I wrapped the adventure up yesterday.

The Deep Scion set up a nice ambush, but amazingly the PCs subdued both him and two of the three Sea Spawn nonlethally. Then they fled from the scene with the Deep Scion and left the Sea Spawn behind for the Dragonborn to find.

They then questioned the Deep Scion, who told them that both land and sea were once ruled by the "Elders" (i.e. the Batrachians), and that he and the others served the "Heirs" of the Elders (i.e. the Kraken), and since "Sven" (the Lutum) was created by the Elders, it was his destiny to serve the Heirs as well.

They then argued whether they should kill their captive, but ultimately decided against it after the Deep Scion told them that since his plan had failed, he would go back to the sea and not return to the village. They let him go, though they expressed interest in talking to him or his masters further - then he told them to go to a cliff north of where they were and ring a bell on a New Moon night.

They reported back to Ulatos, but left both this particular tidbit and Sven out of their report.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
So, I asked the players what the characters wanted to do next. The consensus was: "Ask around about more ruins where they can learn more about history."

Here is what I came up with so far: Their contacts in the Turquoise Seekers had plundered a particular ruin in the Coxi Basin some time ago. However, it turned out that some of the items they plundered can be traced to distant ancestors of the ruling clan of Ulatos - and the clain is fairly certain they missed a particular item (perhaps something of pluma weave). The reward is generous, but not quite generous for another full-fledged expedition - so the Turquoise Seekers subcontract this to Our Heroes.

However, since then a cult has taken over the ruins - in particular, a cult to the Star-That-Shines-By-Day. The cult is quite large and well-supplied - including a bunch of human sacrifices. And as the PCs draw closer, they start to summon the Star - every day. Which is unpleasant to be around, so if the PCs want to explore the ruins they'd better do it at night. And over time, strange entities from far-off stars will begin to appear nearby, and the flora and fauna will mutate. The PCs might wish to free the human sacrifices - laudable, but this means that the cult will start kidnapping people from the nearby genasi swamp villages.

Now I need to come up with some ideas for making the ruins special. What is their unique history, and how can I fit it into the larger themes of Maztica?
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
Since we are starting with "Evil Cult worshiping a Great Old One" as the base for the next adventure, I think I will use the Silent Legions RPG and its many, many random tables to fill out the details.

Since I already have a Great Old One, I will skip creating a Pantheon. And this time there isn't any alien race as the focus of the adventure (and even if I used any, I'd stick to established D&D creatures), so I will skip this section as well. However, a "kelipot" - an alien reality that slowly interposes with that of Maztica as the Star-That-Shines-By-Day draws nearer - seems appropriate.

For "Size of the Realm" I pick "World" - it houses a Great Old One, after all.

For Basic Traits, I get:

Terrain (17): Swamp
Element (19): Tides
...is warped this way (7): Is a home for dark things
The Flora is (6): Jewel-colored
The Fauna is (1): Avian or feathered

So... I suppose one of the side effects of the two worlds converging is that there will be alien tides superimposed on the Coxi Basin, with a period of 8 hours (as opposed to Toril's six hours). These should be fairly high. Let's also say that the kelipot is studded with innumerable small, but steep hills where local animals will flee during high tide.

Let's make the local fauna look like fractal crystals - appropriate, as they can reflect the light of the Star-That-Shines-By-Day. As for the fauna, it sounds like I should look for strange bird monsters in D&D. The first one that comes to mind is the Achaierai - is there an official 5e version for this?
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
I probably won't feature any intelligent inhabitants of the kelipot, but let's say that given the feathered theme of the world it is inhabited by aaracokra whose ancestors were inadvertedly abducted from Maztica.

Inspiration (2): Contemporary native land of the PCs

Rigidity (4): Flux. The culture will inevidably alter in drastic ways.

Population (6): A nation. A million or more members of the society.

Material Technology Level (6): Futuristic. Their technology encompasses many of the things we would consider plausible for hard sci-fi.

Magical Prevalence (3): Hidden. Sorcery is deplored and despised, and those who shepherd knowledge of it must hide the fact.

Number of Major Factions (3,4): 5 groups, each with a largely fixed membership consisting of traditional allies and mutual interests.

Ruling Authorities (3): Clan elders. The heads of extended families work together to arrange affairs.

Values prized by the culture (19,18): Loyalty to friends, lieges, and those pledged with it; knowledge and enlightenment shared with all.

Desires of the Rulers or People (4x4,6,8,9 - each of the five different groups should have different values):

- Peace (x2). They desire an end to some terrible conflict.
- Rescue. They want to save themselves or an ally.
- Stasis. They want to stop some threatening change.
- Unity. They want to reunite their fractious people.

Attitude toward outsiders (6): Hospitable. Outsiders are to be greeted and allowed courteous participation in the community.

Cultural flavor (96, 81 - I am using the "effect-cause" chain suggestion): Unique gender roles exist among them because they have an inhuman feature.

That should give me enough to go on, if it becomes relevant. I need to beware of the "futuristic technology", however - knowing typical PCs, they would likely try to establish trade connections between the planes in order to get hold of that sweet stuff, so I need to come up with reasons why this is not possible.

EDIT: I suppose I could make their "technology" into Artificer devices and magic items - these will be considered "safer" than normal spellcasting.
 
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Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
Now let's do the cult!

The Roots of the Evil

When were they founded? (1) In ancient days, in the earliest hours of human civilization.

Who founded it? (8) A sorcerer or occultist who delved into dire truths.

Their most important past event (14): A rival cult nearly destroyed them in a secret war.

Who troubled them most? (2) Rulers, who deplored their atrocities and heinous deeds.

Who were the early recruits? (3) The ruling class, who desired more power than they had.

What motivated the founding? (1) The crazed need to spread an unearthly gospel.

How did they conceal the cult? (6) They burrowed into a military unit and used its discipline.


How it manifests

How crazed are they? (3) They are aiming for a lunatic purpose in a rational way.

Where do they meet? (5) In a wilderness glade or remote rural location.

Special Traits and Quirks (4): All of them have some sort of subtle deformity.

How do they control members? (4) Sorcerous bindings or geases on them.

How is it governed? (5) A high priest is first among equals on a council of others.

What does the cult crave? (6) It wants to destroy a community or a group opposed to it.

What is their strongest tool? (8) They have large funds of blackmail on many people.


Minions and Names

What important NPCs serve? (10) A cold and ruthless mercenary, skilled and willing to hire their services even to monsters like the cultists.

What petty NPCs serve them? (4) A reporter who pretends they're really just investigating.

Possible naming formats (2): Object + Laud + Master

Word Elements for the Cult's Name (1,9,4): Book of the Learned Lady


I think I will sleep over this and see what I can come up with it tomorrow.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
As explained elsewhere, I will probably have to wrap this campaign up within the next few months.

Two sessions ago, the PCs managed to rescue all the captives of the cult, many of whom are now eager to fight back. Last session the cult did a final human sacrifice (using the cultists who guarded the captives and who were knocked out by the PCs as sacrifices). This time, they succeeded in transpositioning parts of the "home plane" of the Star-That-Shines-By-Day, causing growths of crystal flowers. The PCs also discovered an unconscious aaracokra from that world - an Artificer with a "thunder pipe" (a reskinned Gunsmith) who helped them in the subsequent battle.

Shortly after the sacrifice, two of the four remaining priests left for Coxi with 8 guards in order to report on these new findings to their masters. The PCs have realized that they are gone, but are assuming they are trying to capture new sacrifices for the time being - they will only learn the truth after they interrogate more cultists.

They did a neat little ambush by first stealing the remaining boat of the cultists and then attacking the cultists that came looking for it - including one of the two remaining priests. That leaves a priest with 50 followers, who will likely attempt to fortify themselves and hunker down in the hopes that they get relief at some point - the cultists are now basically in a horror movie, with the PCs as their stalkers (it doesn't help that one of the PCs is a Moon Circle druid, and the natives regard shapeshifters as exceptionally powerful beings).

I need some ideas for making the final fight interesting. One thing I can do is have an aachaierai show up - the aaracokra mentioned them being native to his world and called them "madness breathers", and the PCs now expect one to have transitioned to this world along with the aarakora.



And perhaps the remaining priest could summon a servitor entity, although I am not sure what would be appropriate (or perhaps he transforms into some strange creature after death).

After that, the PCs can head to Coxi and root out the cult once and for all.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
Fortunately, I was able to find a suitable summoned creature in Mordenkainen's Tome of Foe - the Star Spawn Mangler. Fortunately for him, the Monk saw this creature coming and managed to successfully use Stunning Fist on it before it had a chance to attack. And when it did manage to attack, it only hit twice (out of six attacks) with its Flurry of Claws. And with some additional attacks by the druids on the remaining cultists they managed to break morale of the survivors - especially when the cultist priest tried to run away and was promptly eaten by the achaierai (it was late, I didn't want the fight to drag on further, and it seemed ironically fitting).

Then the monk picked up an amulet which they discovered was actually a Sending Stone - when he received a massage: "The notes have safely arrived in Coxi. What is your status?" The monk replied: "Everything is in order!"

So now the PCs will go to Coxi and search out the headquarters of the cult - which means that I will have to come up with details for both the headquarters and the city at large until next Friday - using the ideas I rolled up above.


In other news, the final "official" Maztica adventure, FMA1 Fires of Zatal, was re-released as a PDF two months ago - the "Classic" Maztica line is now completely available again.
 
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