Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Ashes of Angels: Down in the Ghoul Market (LotFP Session 2)

Our second Lamentations of the Flame Princess session had less action than the first, but involved a lot more roleplaying and offered some much desired decompression. The group layed low and recuperated for a few days, met the new party members, then traveled to the nearby village of Nonsbeck (poor, doomed, Nonsbeck), buried their dead, and visited the Ghoul Market.

I was very conflicted about introducing the Ghoul Market so early into the campaign. My instinct with these sort of games is to introduce the horrific and fantastic elements slowly, so they remain weird an alien. I was afraid of making the ghouls and devils of the Market too familiar and thus reduce their effectiveness. On the other hand, one of the problems I had with my old D&D 5th Edition game was that I waited too long to introduce all the weird stuff, and certainly Dungeon Crawl Classics doesn’t worry about that sort of thing. In the end, I decided to throw caution to the wind. If the ghouls wind up seeming too much like “people,” then I guess that will just make the real alien horrors even more alien.

Our Cast
  • Belinda Kage: Serpent Blood 1, Midwife. (Starts the session with a broken blade thru her head.)
  • Madeline: Specialist 1, Grave Robber. (Starts the session missing an arm.)
  • Mortimer: Alice 1, Librarian. (Starts the session moderately wounded, but relatively intact.)
  • “Matthew”: Outlander 1, Iriquois warrior and former slave. (New PC)
  • Julius Cervantes: Fighter 1, Former witch hunter. (New PC)


  • Ana Fischer: Rescued witch, secret Satanist. (Starts the session with horrific facial and body burns.)
  • Deacon Girnot: A sleazy weasel of a man, deacon of Nonsbeck's only church

Spoilers for ObsceneSerpent Religion 2 ahead.

The session starts with Belinda, Madline, Mortimer, and Ana tending to their wounds. Once everyone is on their feet, they gather up the bodies of the dead from last session. They pile their enemies’ corpses into a great big pyre. They bury their dead comrades Hector and Tranquilo in the snow so they keep relatively fresh until they can get a proper burial.

As the survivors keep warm by the pyre, Belinda notices Ana gathering up the charred remnants of the book she was to burned with. The accused witch is barely holding back tears and seems distraught. Belinda recognizes the scraps as the remains of a spellbook. She confides in the witch that she too is a spellcaster, and promises to help her recompile her lost spell book. This earns her Ana’s gratitude and (for now) loyalty.

Meanwhile, Julius and Matthew have been traveling together for few days, and notice the warm glow of a fire and the smell of cooking meat coming from the ruins of the old Roman fort. They ride up to the camp and announce themselves. The grizzled Spaniard and dusky-skinned warrior from the New World surprise the group of survivors, but Julius and Matthew are just as surprised by the horrifically mutilated quartet before them. Questions are made and explanations are offered, but eventually the two groups of misfits decide to join forces. PC party reestablished!

The party has pretty decent shelter and plenty of food in the ruins of the fort, so they decide to recover here for a few days until everyone is properly healed up. Belinda’s chirurgy skills help speed this along. While the wounded rest, Matthew and Julius keep watch. On the third day, a rabid bear wanders out of the forest and jumps on a nearby deer (random encounter!). The PCs don’t believe the fort’s crumbling walls will keep the bear out, so they quickly hustle everyone indoors and try to wrangle their horses into a tower. One of the horses gets spooked and breaks free, running off. The rabid bear gives chase!

Matthew and Julius decide the bear is too much of a threat to leave alive so they open fire with their muskets, cycling through extra guns while Mortimer (who’s fully healed at this point) reloads for them. The angry bear charges towards them, making its way through the large gaps in the fort wall. Musket balls hit a few more times, but it gets within melee range before they can completely drop it. Julius’s spear catches the bear as it charges, striking a devastating wound, but the maddened beast will fight to the death! Matthew leaps at the bear with his French tomahawk, and the bear turns on the Iroquois. The beast’s claws and teeth savage his flesh, tearing flesh away from his hand and arm (luckily he makes his poison save, and doesn’t catch rabies).  Desperate, Matthew lashes out with his dagger in his good hand while Julius stabs and stabs again with his spear. Finally the rabid beast falls. Matthew crawls out to join the rest of the convalescing PCs, while Mortimer and Julius drag the diseased carcas away from the fort.

The next few days are peaceful, and eventually everyone is back on their feet. Before they leave the fort, they decide to explore the secret tunnel in the jail cell below. They use Madeline’s pick and shovel to work on widening the tunnel, while the rangy Matthew crawls ahead on his belly with a lantern pushed ahead of him. The outlander discovers that the tunnel connects to an ancient Roman aqueduct, knee deep with cold, clean water. After some debate, the PCs decide not to explore the aqueduct for now and prepare to head east towards the village of Nonsbeck. Maybe they’ll find some work there. They bundle up the bodies of their dead friends and head down the road.

On the road to Nonsbeck, they come across a man pulling a wagon load of dead bodies to a nearby mass grave (random encounter!). Apparently a nearby village (not Nonsbeck) has been recently wiped out by the Red Plague (seting up The Punchline for later). He offers to take their friends’ corpses off their hands (“Plenty of room on the old cart!”) but the PCs decline and give the man their farewells.

Eventually, they make their way to Nonsbeck, a pleasant little village that would certainly never fall prey to demonic terror.  The whole place is decorated for Christmas and seems perfectly pleasant. The hilltop church of St. Margaret is their first stop. They are greeted by Deacon Girnot, a greasy weasel of a character who is not at all pleased to see a bunch of mutilated weirdos on the church’s doorstep. The good priest Father Cristof, however is more friendly to strangers and ushers them into the church. The PCs explain (lie) that they were attacked on the road and two of their friends were killed, and hope the priest could give them a proper burial. Father Cristof is saddened by their tale. Of course he’ll arrange for burial first thing in the morning. For now, they can keep the bodies in the shed where Girnot sleeps. The deacon is not at all pleased to be put out of his room by a bunch of strange corpses.

The party’s next stop is the stable where they meet the friendly stable boy Reiner. They pay him for a week’s worth of stabling in advance, as they plan on staying here for a bit. Then it’s off to the inn for some food and rest. The inn is busy this night. A group of farmers drinks mulled ale and sings Christmas songs. A small group of five soldiers are spending the night here while on their way to Berlin, a merchant and his guards have made this their stop for the night, and two travelling nuns also have rooms. 

The party makes arrangements to rent the last two rooms and settle in to eat. While they are eating, Belinda notices that the soldiers are starting to get “handsy” with Gela, the nice young barmaid. The buxom redheaded serpentblood saddles over to the soldiers and snags their attention away from the younger girl. While the soldiers thusly distracted, Belinda takes some of the opium form her chirurgy kit and spikes the soldiers’ beer. Soon the soldiers are all unconscious, and the inn is a much more pleasant place.

Meanwhile, Julius talks to the nuns. They are on their way to the convent of St. Agnes, about a day away. The men escorting them along the road have abandoned them, and it’s a dangerous world out there. Julius offers the party’s aid in escorting them, if they are willing to wait a few days. The older nun decides that arriving late is better than arriving dead, so they reluctantly agree to wait for the PCs to finish their business.

The next morning, Father Cristoff performs a nice but simple funeral for Tranquilo and Hector. The party springs for a couple of nice headstones (and the money so spent becomes XP for their new characters, Matthew and Julius). While in the cemetery, Madeline notices a large monument bearing a statue of the Virgin Mother. It is clearly old as it is covered in moss and the inscriptions have long worn away. But on the back of this monument she sees a white ankh, the sign of the ghoul market!

The party spends the rest of the day lazing about the town or chopping wood for extra silver. But when night falls, they head back to the cemetery to investigate the marked monument. It’s starless and bible black. The moon is nothing but a thin sliver behind the clouds, and all the lights are out in the village. The only sound is deacon Girnot’s snoring from his nearby shed. They manage to find the monument again, and Madeline works her shovel into a crack in the base. She moves a slab away to reveal narrow, steep stairs descending into the cold earth. Madeline, Beleinda, Mortimer, and Ana head down into the foggy darkness. Matthew doesn’t wish to walk on burial land, and Julius feels guilty about desecrating the dead, so they decide to stay topside and stand guard. We have split the party!

The stairs widen and grow less steep as the quartet descends, but it still takes them 30 minutes to reach the bottom. The stairs lead to a large tunnel filled with low-fog and shards of old bone. They refill their lantern and press on.

Topside, Matthew and Julius grow worried. Their friends have been down there for a half-an-hour or more. The decide that deacon Girnot (that sleazy weasel) must know something. They sneak into his shed and awake him with a sword held to his throat. Girnot looks up in fear. “Did Agamot send you?” Who? The PCs have never heard of this man. After some graphic threats and a failed Morale check, they learn the truth. Girnot stole a book from a wizard in Heidelberg named Agamot. He suspects the wizard has sent people after him. “What’s buried under this cemetery? Who’s buried under the Madonna gravestone?” they demand. Girnot claims he doesn’t know. The grave’s been here longer than anyone remembers. He doesn’t think there’s anything under the cemetery other than more dirt and worms. Matthew and Julius don’t quite believe him, so they grab the deacon and frog-march him to the cemetery and drag him with them as they head down the stairs to the Ghoul Market.

Meanwhile, deep below the earth, the first group continues down the tunnel for an hour before it comes to a large cavern. A wall of skulls stretches across the cavern, and two statues of faceless angels form an entrance arch with their wings. Black-bannered market stalls are scattered among crumbling crypts and mausoleums of ancient design. Green flames burn in large iron lanterns suspended from the ceiling. The smell of rot, spices, and cooking meat fills the air. The dead and damned wander the isles, buying and selling. This is the Ghoul Market!

The PCs walk to the central square. They can feel hungry eyes watching them, but they use the timeless social tactic of “acting like we belong here." Belinda still has a sword blade through her head and rough stiches across her face, and the cenobite look helps sell the illusion. The central square features a dry fountain with a large statue of a nude medusa. Behind that lies Cold Ethyl’s Pleasure House, a desecrated cathedral of black stone with a crucified nude woman writhing and moaning on the cross in ecstasy.  The PCs decide to ignore that for now and follow a road sign towards the Skinsmith.

In the cavern of the Skinsmith, they are greeted by a robed dwarf with a patchwork face, one of the Skinsmith’s minions. Of course they will be able to fix Madeline's arm and repair Belinda and Ana’s scarred faces. Sadly the party does not have enough money. But the dwarf is glad to inform them that the Exchequer will trade them silver for parts of their vital essence (250sp per attribute point permanently sold). The PCs have some scores they aren’t really using, so this sounds like a good deal to them. They chit-chat with the dwarf for a bit before leaving, and find out that a human wizard known as Lord Prospero frequents the Ghoul Market. They file this info for later.

As they leave to find the Exchequer, they run into Matthew and Julius, who have finally arrived in the Market. They have Girnot all tied up so they look like slavers (“so we look like we belong). The party is reunited, so they all head to the Exchequer for some easy money.

The Exchequer has a tent in the main square. He is a hulking creature in dusty yellow robes with a cage of fire where his head should be. The PCs have a new idea. Since Girnot is their "slave" now, his Essence is theirs to sell! Plus, if they reduce his Intelligence and Charisma low enough, he won’t be able to tell anyone what the PCs have been doing (“And if he dies, well, he doesn’t seem like someone anyone will miss.”). The Exchequer pulls silver cobwebs out of Girnot’s face, reducing his INT and CHA to 4 and 3, respectively. The deacon is now very stupid and poorly spoken, and the party is several thousand silver oboli richer.

Pleased with themselves, the party heads back to the Skinsmith. Madeline wants her old arm re-attached, but it’s too far gone. Instead, the great cyclopean demon gives her a new arm covered in green scales and orange hair, ending in a taloned claw (1d4 damage!). Belinda doesn’t quite trust the Skinsmith to remove the blade from her head (and she kind of likes the cenobite look), so she just has him grind the metal down so it’s not sticking out any more. Ana whispers something in the demon’s ear (she’s actually in league with Satan, remember, though the PCs still don’t know this). The Skinsmith nods in ascent. When he’s done with his work, Ana’s hair and skin is replaced. She’s beautiful, but her skin has a weird too-tight almost-artificial look to it.

Next, it’s off to the antiquities and sundries section of the market. Belinda buys magical inks and psychoactives so Ana can begin to make copies of Belinda’s spells. Julius buys a lightweight coat of bone chainmail from a purple woman of Carcosa. Madeline buys a glove to cover her demon hand. It’s here that the PC’s hear a hissing, hungry voice behind them “You look like you’re new to the Ghoul Market, how delicious.” A group of six hungry ghouls have come up behind them. The rest of the market looks on with interest. When the PCs came to the market, there was a 1-in-8 chance of them running into “hungry complications” from the patrons. Each time they went someplace new, this chance went up by 1. They were lucky for a long time, but I finally rolled low enough for the ghouls to make their move. “You don’t have a Writ of Protection,” says the lead ghoul. “That means you’re meat for the taking. But we’ll give you a break, just give us one of your number and leave.”

I fully expected my players to hand over Grinot, but they are craftier than that. “I wouldn’t mess with us! We’re on business for Agamot the wizard.”

“Agamot? Who’s that?”

“He’s a friend of the great Lord Prospero?”

“Oh really?” Says the ghoul, “Well Prospero is right over there. Let’s go ask him.” 

Sure enough,  since they are in the antiquities section of the Market, Lord Prospero is here with his servant Catherwood. Prospero is a decadent Vincent Price sort of wizard, and Catherwood is a stooped old man carrying a large cabinet full of Prospero’s goods. Both wear a scroll around their necks that reads: “The bearer of this writ of protection shall be afforded all the hospitality and safety due a guest of Prince Dracula and his official representatives.”

Prospero is drunk and in a good mood, but he doesn’t corform to the PCs’ lies. “I assure you that amateur Agamot is no friend of mine!” The party quickly explains that Girnot stole one of the rival wizard’s books. “Well in that case, anyone who causes Agamot such irritation is certainly welcome in my company!” He extends his one-time protection to the PCs for the night, and the hungry ghouls slink off disappointed. The party talks with Prospero for a bit. They find the libertine wizard charming, and he finds the adventurers amusing. He invites them to come visit him in his castle sometime “And bring that book of Agamot’s. I will pay you well for it!”

The party has made a new friend and finished their shopping while narrowly avoiding being eaten by ghouls. They decide they’ve pushed their luck enough for one night and leave the Market. The PCs emerge from the cemetery just as dawn breaks over Nonsbeck.

Treasure Gained:
  • Nothing that earned them XP, but..
  • 300sp in Ghoul Market oboli, left over from shopping
  • Carcosan bone mail that protects like chain but encumbers like leather.
  • Friendship... the real treasure.

  • No one new this session!
  • Tranquilo (Fighter 1)
  • Hector (Alice 1)

1 comment:

  1. I think when your first session involves injuries like those, you've already thrown realism to the wind. The ghoul market sounds like fun though, especially if you can get together a party strong enough to beat up some ghouls.