Monday, May 16, 2011

Little Encounters - Among the Mighty (Aeon, Pleroma)

This “Little Encounter” is a little a different from the other entries in that it is a series of small and strange events and because it deals with creatures and powers far above the level of the player characters. Use it if the party must cross wild plains or steppes.

Among the Mighty (CR special)

While traveling through the plains the PCs begin to hear disturbing rumors from the locals. Strange and localized earthquakes have hit the region recently and caravans affirm to have seen weird and small annular tunnels dug in the ground. The local fauna also has disappeared and animals encountered by the PCs will be angry and skittish. 

Caravan masters whisper with great fear about “ghost giant worms”, responsible for the holes, a “night demon” that devours the wild herds of the region and, finally, about their dreaded master – the “the Cowled One” – a one-armed giant archwizard dressed in ephemeral robes of “stars and mists”.

Actually, the holes are not caused by “ghost worms”, but by a rogue sphere of annihilation. This particular sphere originated from a pleroma – an extremely powerful aeon devoted to creation and destruction at a cosmological scale – called on old religion texts the Proarkhe (archaic celestial for “Before the Beginning”) and constantly confused both with an older order of divine beings or a rogue demon.

Proarkhe was responsible for overseeing the balance of creational and entropic forces at the PC’s solar system and was grievously wounded in a recent battle at the deepest void against the living planet Ghorth, Herald of Azathoth, whose approximation threatened the local worlds. The aeon managed to banish the apocalyptical menace (which shouldn’t hit this solar system until a few millennia in the future), but due to the wounds suffered, lost control over its destructive aspect, spontaneously a sphere of annihilation out of his right arm.

To worse (yet further) the situation, the epic injury literally shattered the Proarkhe sense of self. The pleroma is half-amnesic, it knows that it lost some essential part of itself, but it can divine exactly what. Proarkhe’s contact with the Monad – the living awareness of the Multiverse that all aeons claim to serve – was also severely weakened. All that Proarkhe managed to do in the last weeks was to its great spellcasting powers to localize the sphere of annihilation in the wilderness region traveled by the heroes, but the outsider now doesn’t know how to proceed, for it not even know what exactly is missing. It has been wandering through the plains since then, creating the rumors about the “one-armed giant wizard”.

The party can face this Little Encounter basically in three ways: a random meeting with Proarkhe; suffer an earthquake caused by the rogue sphere of annihilation; or, the most dangerous, with the sphere itself. I suggest this order: one earthquake encounter, a meeting with a local NPC (for more rumors and confusion), face a local hazard, the pleroma and, then, finally, the sphere itself. Here is a short guideline:

Earthquake: The party is suddenly caught by a small and concentrated earthquake generated by the underground passing of the rogue sphere of annihilation. Use the spell’s rules, with the ground below collapsing and the heroes falling a few feet to opened caves (allow a Refl for half-damage and to resist being pinned below the rubble, adjust the damage and the fall with the group’s level). You can even insert a frightened monster below, running from the sphere, like an ankheg or band of troglodytes. After the initial shock, the party some chance to discover the weird and perfect annular tunnels created by the sphere. If they insist to follow it, you can lead them to a social encounter with a more neutral NPC (maybe a dwarf or goblin). Or you can place a new earthquake or monster to dissuade them to travel underground.

More Rumors: Hopefully you will have caught their attention. Introduce now a traveling NPC that claims to have seem either the pleroma or the sphere, but thought that the latter was a “night demon” that devours rocks and animals. Or the NPC could have seen Proarkhe wandering through the region – the aeon probably looks like more like a giant creepy wraith than a neutral outsider. Maybe it saw the pleroma using its amazing powers to dislodge massive amounts of rock (the aeon just detected the “destructive aura” left by its former right hand and wanted to inspect). The purpose of this encounter is to confuse and frighten the party.

A New Hazard: Create some new obstacle caused by the sphere of annihilation. I suggest a night stampede of animals, maddened by the sudden emergence of the sphere in their middle. If you’re feeling particularly devilish, give the PCs a chance to gaze the sphere moving behind some animals. If your group is low-level (the ideal group for these events in my opinion), your players will probably freak out when they recognize a sphere of annihilation in action.

The Pleroma: After all these circumstances it is a good time to introduce the aeon Proarkhe. A good way to do it is to summon the aeon in the middle of a combat encounter or dire situation. The aeon mere presence can scare any monster and save the party (just remember: do not use both the aeon and the sphere in the same encounter).
Proarkhe is half-amnesic and a little confused by the weakened link the Monad, but it is still an incredible intelligent (and alien) creature. It will not attack unless provoked and if attempts of communications are made, the aeon will use its envisaging to show scenes and flashes of its apocalyptical battle with the rogue planet (you can even require a Will save to resist falling prone and stunned for 1 or 2 rounds, caused by the revelation of beings and things with such a power). 
Any PC seeing the scenes of the battle will note that Proarkhe originally had 2 arms and that one of them held what appears to be a sphere of annihilation. If this information is replied to the aeon, it will instantly summon in the PC’s head its name (“Proarkher”). After that, it will disappear.
If any PC speaks aloud the pleroma’s name, the outsider will appear one round later at its side. By now it should be clear that the aeon wants the party to found its missing arm.
A side note: if any PC starts to toy with the outsider, summoning it without a reason let Proarkhe come the first time. If summoned a second time and the sphere of annihilation isn’t close to the party, the pleroma will use destruction or implosion on the responsible for the vain summon.

Consequences: After the last encounter, the party can attempt to track the destruction caused by the sphere of annihilation. This lead to more encounters, if you as Gamemaster is so inclined and the group is having a good time. Once Proarkhe is summoned in the presence of the sphere, it will spend a full-round action restoring itself. Fully healed, the aeon will recognize the party’s effort by sending to them vistas of gold and relics (power) and of pleasant and bountiful valleys (rest and safety). If the group chose the latter, they’ll be instantly transported to the end of their journey with full hit points, fully rested and with their equipment all mended (magic item recharged). If you’re felling generous, you can also grant a +1 inherent bonus to one stat of each PC. Now, if the group chose the “power” option, the pleroma will probably send them to a far forgotten temple or dungeon, where powerful items and secrets are guarded (together with equally powerful guardians). This last option can be a good excuse to start a new module or special adventure.

Disclaimer (Or why I didn’t wrote a 20th level-encounter): this entry goes against some of the principles I established for the Little Encounters. My original idea was to provide short and “neutral” encounters that could be easily inserted in most game sessions. The thing is that I find that almost impossible to do in high-level games. Usually by this time each campaign is already its own thing, with very unique characteristics and dynamics. Its hard to stay generic for me in this area (and high-level campaigns are also amazingly rare). So I though that using a more neutral (and non-combative) approach would work better here. I sincerely hope you like of some of the ideas and suggestions above.