So I finished the He Who Watches Crocodilopolis adventure and I was burning to try it out. Another year had passed since I last played D&D.
I've described already how I am shy about, or positively averse to, playing D&D with just any stranger. What if they are boorish? What if they don't care about history? What if they want everything to have an aesthetic like a Naruto anime? What if they want everyone to be steampunk gnomes who wear goggles and fire machine guns from hang-gliders? What if they are obsessed with crap like railways powered by magic, steaming through cities filled with magical streetlights and telephones? FEH!
I REALLY appreciate the perspectives of my friends, some of whom are new to D&D and ALL of whom have interesting artistic, analytical, and intellectual proclivities.
But, unfortunately, it's harder to get middle-aged people with 170%-jam-packed lives together than it is to herd cats into an inflatable bouncy castle shuddering and jolting with shrieking 5-year-olds. This is, of course, not much of a surprise.
After undertaking an e-mail odyssey, I finally got confirmation from Antonin and Zahra, as well as from Lindsey, who hadn't played with us before, that they were in town, not working, not hosting visiting relatives, and were free to meet on June X at my house.
We played my adventure set in Late Ptolemaic-era Crocodilopolis, Aegyptus: He Who Watches.
We used pre-generated characters I had made. I told people they could change 'em, but they didn't. People liked picking out a character from a list, rather than having to spend the time and creative power to roll their own. They ended up with a cleric and two thieves. They were going to have to get hirelings and NPCs to join them, the latter of which happened after a little while.
The party found themselves entering the city during the peak of Pilgrimage Season. The city guards admitted people in groups so that merchants and touts and townspeople could line the street on either side and strew petals on people, give them a Ptolemaic Egyptian, non-necklace equivalent of Hawaiian leis, offer accommodation, hawk pilgrim's supplies, sell cheap maps. The players rolled dice for an "eye-contact" gauntlet undergone by their characters. I was inspired to write the gauntlet into the adventure because of the receiving lines encouraged by Ricardo Montalban's Mr. Roarke: "Smiles, everyone, smiles! We must welcome our guests...to FANTASY ISLAND!" as well as by a scene in the 1990 film Henry and June, which Zahra once said resembled her experience walking into a college party in 1989 and having to decide whether to fend off, or respond to, the offers and entreaties of every single person at the party.
The players decided to fend off some people in the gauntlet, and engage the others in additional conversation. They ended up with a pilgrim's map, cheap but full of advertisements for religious goods shops. They fended off the innkeepers and their agents, and ended up following the advice of a friendly young pilgrim, who gave off a vibe like a Phish fan, 2000 years in the past: they slept for free outdoors in the Agora.
HERE COME THE SPOILERS- READER BEWARE!
Temple officials sought the party out. Two of the players chose to have their characters join the temporary army doing the easy job of guarding the new Son of Sobek crocodile at his hours-long coronation ceremony. This earns them the esteem and trust of the Archpriest of Sobek the Crocodile God, who summons them for an additional job offer in private: 1. Investigate and eliminate, without any publicity whatsoever, whatever threat is absconding with pilgrims who are "incubating", sleeping naked in search of visions, in tunnels dug from the side of Sobek's Tomb. 2. Find out if this is related to whoever or whatever assassinated the late Son of Sobek crocodile in his pen at the beginning of the holy Pilgrimage Season.
Meanwhile, Lindsey's thief is hanging out with Showshenq, the hippie-like pilgrim. The thief accepts "Mummy Dust" and has confusing, disturbing visions. While the thief is slipping in and out from under the influence of the drug, agents of the Priestess of Bastet discreetly summon her into a quiet enclosure on the edge of the Agora. The world-weary, brittle, high-cheekboned, beautiful Priestess complains about the unfounded hatred the Sobek-obsessed locals harbor against her and Bastet's cult, but says that there are rumors of something that threatens EVERYONE making away with incubating Sobek pilgrims. The Priestess says she and her known associates would not be able to join the incubating pilgrims and find out what is happening, but she would paid Lindsey's thief to do so. The thief accepts the job, is curious about incubation anyway.
While she recovers the next day, the rest of the party have successfully guarded the new Son of Sobek at his coronation and have been offered their commission, which they tell her character about. Lindsey decides not to have her character try to get this assignment as well, but instead to have her character incubate in the tunnels dug into the side of the Tomb of Sobek. There is a chance for pilgrims to do this, with fanfares and crowds, every sunset in Pilgrimage Season, so she does it that evening, and smuggles weapons and tools into the tunnels surreptitiously. The tunnels go on for much longer than they are supposed to, and some of the excavation, seen by the light of her smuggled-in lamp, seems recent and brutally rough. She encounters the vast bulk of a titanic crocodile mummy, oozing white goo from tears and wounds, and thrashing back and forth. The thief decides to attempt a run and a jump over the crocodile mummy to a doorway past the jerking, gigantic body. Lindsey rolls over her DEX. Deadly. Her thief is rolled over on and crushed.
I would have given Lindsey another character to play, but she decided at this point to go home and feed and walk a dog she was taking care of.
Splitting the party - I didn't recommend it, but it happened. Antonin and Zahra were patient, however. Now they were on deck. They bought supplies from outfitters, and went to a converted pyramid tomb outside of the town walls, where they bought torches, lanterns, and flasks of flammable lamp oil- "Oil. Lots and lots of oil!" Their thief and magic user, along with 2 plainclothes men-at-arms sent by the Temple of Sobek, obtained a secret blessing from the Archpriest which "turned off" all the door curses (at least those installed by the Temple). They descended into the catacombs, which are linked with the Tomb of Sobek and (unbeknownst to the pilgrims) the pilgrims' incubation tunnels. The thief declined to loot the tombs, the same as the magic user and the men-at-arms, as was more expected. He said he had a job to do and was going to get paid to do it, not to defile the tombs.
A certain magic item found on the corridor floor was fair game, though, they thought. They played with it and various weird things, some of them very loud, occurred. Screams and moans which were distant before came closer, attracted by the noise they had made.
The party was attacked by three animated corpses wearing mummy cerements and spewing white goo. The thief and magic user whipped open lamp oil flasks at their feet. The thief tried to keep them at bay with his ten foot pole. One of the men at arms helped the thief by striking at the mummies with his long khopesh, and the other set threw the torch he was carrying at the creatures. The mummies made some hits on the thief and the man at arms with the khopesh, but the uninfected made their saves and weren't splashed too badly with the animate white goo. Choking smoke filled the catacomb halls and made it harder to fight, but luckily the burning oil, dart throws, dagger throws, and khopesh blows wore down the enemy.
Stumbling out of the smoke, the party smashed through sealed doors into another chamber. A mummified baboon announced that it would answer one question and then be silent for 100 years. The magic user asked who had assassinated the last Son of Sobek, and received an answer blaming the Priestess of Bastet, the Cat Goddess.
The party decided to beat a quick path back to the surface, amidst more screaming and moaning sounds approaching. They made a discreet beeline to the Captain of the Temple Guard, who had employed them for the coronation-guarding gig and arranged their introduction to the Archpriest. When they told him what the mummified baboon said, he, like most other locals they talked with, vehemently disparaged the Priestess of Bastet and her arrogant attempts to distract pilgrims and visitors from Sobek in the city named after him and his sacred animal. The Captain excitedly whipped up guards and a large mob of townspeople, who attacked the Chapel of Bastet, killed everyone in it, and burned it down. The party stood on the edge of the mob, and were rewarded with some of the charred, bloodstained items looted from the Chapel.
I thought the players might do some moral questioning of their actions, but especially without Lindsey present, whose thief had met and talked with the Priestess of Bastet, they just took the bloodstained booty without qualms.
The thing in the catacombs, shrieking, moaning, making away with incubating pilgrims, remained. Maybe they would persuade the Temple of Sobek to arm and equip them again for another foray.