Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hatsu, R.I.P.

The stereotypes about the sentimentality of stuffed animals and those who play with them are largely true. Anyone hoping to correct this “flaw” may get nothing for their troubles but velveteen-textured bruises.
But nonetheless, most long-time players of D&D agree that character death, or more accurately, the prospect of character death is part of the game. How does a referee make a game suspenseful and meaningful without risking injury to his out-of-game person?
The answer, as always, is hirelings and henchmen. Over time my players get attached not only to their PCs, but to their PCs’ henchman. And because henchman are slightly more numerous than PCs, and slightly less cautious, odds are that when someone’s number is up, the name written next to it will be the name of an NPC. Most recently, that name was “Hatsu,” long-time henchman to Tetsukichi. (Isa Girl-Monkey (who plays Tetsukichi) argued that no, Hatsu was not really an NPC, he was Tetsukichi’s alter ego. Before trying to explain why she was wrong, I remembered the name of this blog. Never argue about who is the alter and who is the ego.)

So what happened? Again, my players get attached to their henchman and so Hatsu wasn’t checking for traps or skipping willy-nilly across the rotten floorboards. His death was not a freak accident. (But it was kinda freaky.)

During the first adventure in the monastery, the party had come upon a little cache of forgotten treasure. In the process of divvying up the bracelets and rings, stacks of coins, Hatsu let it be known that, like Tetsukichi, he would like to save up a nest egg for himself so that he might take a title. (As a DM, I generally don’t enforce training costs on poor characters when they level up. Those who don’t pay are of lower social status, and remain beholden to their teachers. When someone levels up and has the money to pay for it, they are allowed to “take a title” appropriate to that level.) Taking a title was very important to Tetsukichi as it allowed him to be adopted into a local clan and thus to marry Su-Laing. But it had put Hatsu in a strange position. Among Tetsukichi’s new cousins, he was a foreign servant. Among the people of Zipang, Hatsu was serving a foreign master. But if he could take a title himself, then Hatsu could claim a new nationality and find a wife.

Thus there was some bitter irony for Hatsu in contributing his treasure in order to purchase freedom for temple servants. “And then just turn them loose to go who knows where?” The women were grateful for having been rescued from the monastery—was Hatsu not entitled to some “display of gratitude”? Beatriss asked whether he was looking for a wife or a concubine. Hatsu wasn’t sure—if he could choose a servant for now, he would treat her well, and then see what happened.

One of the women, Dandan approached Tetsukichi privately and observed that Hatsu had been injured while rescuing them, and that she and the others were grateful, and that perhaps a room could be provided where she and one or two of the others would be allowed to care for him. Beatriss and Tetsukichi agreed and set aside a room for Hatsu, Dandan, and Jiao.

Perhaps two hours later, Tetsukichi was awakened by a terrible groan, followed by a women’s scream cut short, and another woman’s long piercing wail. Hatsu was “very” dead, Jiao was dead enough, and Dandan was in a state of shock pointing at the open window. Tetsukichi went out to investigate, leaving Dandan with Su-Laing . . .

Things could have turned out really ugly if Beatriss hadn’t awakened, and hearing that Su-Laing was alone with the “survivor,” ran in to check on them. She found two Su-Laings, both of whom claimed that other was an impostor who had tried to kill her. When Tetsukichi returned, he suggested that there was some type of strange power at work, something to do with the Two-Fold Path, and the esoteric teachings imparted to its Temple Servants. Something had gone wrong and causing people to do terrible things that they ordinarily wouldn’t do. One of the Su-Laings encouraged this interpretation and said that there was a terrible force beneath the Monastery that had to be destroyed. This was enough for Beatriss to identify the speaker as dangerous for knowing too much. She sent the “other Su-Laing” (whom she considered the “real Su-Laing”) out of the room so she should ask some more questions.

Due to some confusion about Beatriss’s orders, the interview didn’t last long. Everyone else left the room and Su-Laing’s features shifted to match Beatriss’s. Both Beatriss’s called for help, but when they arrived, one Beatriss asked to be allowed to fight her double alone. And this one proved once again to be very a good fighter, and presumably the “real Beatriss.” Once dead, the “other Beatriss” turned into a featureless, hairless, gray, and anthropomorphic but emaciated and sexless being.

Once the immediate danger was removed, a somber mood fell on the household. Those who could, slept, without taking special precautions. The next morning, they sent for Afu, not to plan another sorite into the Monastery, but to lead a funeral. After the funeral, they asked Afu to confirm that there weren’t any other dangerous being hiding among the temple servants.

When the party did return to the Monastery, they found evidence that it had been visited again in their absence—the bridge over the rotten floor room had been removed. After some trial and error, the party resolved to lower themselves into the pit on a rope and then climb out the other side. But while they were in the pit, the Black Flower gang attacked in force.
The party defended strongly, using their most powerful spells, and the Black Flowers were driven away. On the other side of the pit, the party found a passage that led to the stairs descending to the pits below the Monastery. But considering the dangers that the Black Flowers might regroup for another attack, the party decided to return to the safety of the city and make a new plan before venturing further.

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