Doug Pirko (waiwode) wrote in roleplayers,
Doug Pirko

Actual Play: Hollow Earth Expeditions

When last we left our intrepid explores they found themselves in a mysterious jungle at the Earth's Core ... and JR Olsen found himself face to face with a hungry Velociraptor!

The Cast of Player Characters:
- Ms Emma Ambrose, Scientist and daughter of the inventor.
- Donis Alvares, trusted family companion and farm-hand.
- Maggie MacPherson, Emma's friend from her days at a "fancy eastern college," who has worked archeological sites in Greece.
- J.R. Olsen, reporter for the Tribune, a man who once sought Fame, but now with orders from his editor (external influence again) is ordered to do a smear-job on the Professor and discredit his work.
- Deputy Tommy Mulvaney, the junior member of Copper County's pair of lawmen.

With them is the investor-partner in the operation, the financier Thurston Howell II.

The action started with JR sitting back and taking a photo of the enraged creature as it lunged at him (Non Combat Skill (Photography) adding +2 dice to his Defence pool). Back in the camp the group hears the enraged scream of the beast, and with their paltry collection of firearms and a couple clubs, they rushed to JR's rescue ... only to be jumped by two more lizards from their flanks! An all out melee resulted, the five PC explorers facing off against the three lizards. Guns blazed, claws shredded shirts and pants (but luckily for the group, never did more than 1 Lethal damage ... this could have been an exceedingly short and mortal combat), but as one of the troika of terrible lizards collapsed the other two vanished into the foliage with preternatural speed. Emma Ambrose (Science Roll) correctly surmised that these are hunter-lizards, not used to brawls but quickly moving in a crippling prey or retreating to try again.

As injuries were assessed and bandages are applied Alvares wondered where (NPC) Howell was? The business-man emerged from the ruined drilling machine with some packs that had been left in storage, and wanted to know what all the firing was about? Exasperated sighs abounded, as the group prepared to break camp, surer than ever that to remain here was folly, and answers to their many questions lay out there, somewhere.

What followed was a gruelling week-long trek through nigh-trackless jungle, following their compass bearing to the only signs of civilization they witnessed ... dark smoke on the hazy up-curving horizon. It was with some glee that they finally emerged and made their way across a plain dotted with scrub and several small packs of duck-billed vegetarian lizards, flanking a snaking silver river. The dark smoke they had tried to follow lay just beyond sight, obscured by a patch of jungle.

Nearer the river they made their next discovery ... a 20'x20' raft rigged up to act like a ferry across the smoothly flowing 100 yards wide water. This was the first sign of actual civilization they had seen! Alvares remained sceptical, especially with his tracking eyes picking out the size of the bare foot-prints, and the height of the steering pole ... whoever owned this raft must be ... almost 9 feet tall!

With the group "pinned " along the river they noticed a pack of a dozen velociraptors closing behind them ... not close yet, but the safety margin wasn't large. They shoved the raft into the river and board, deciding to save ammunition (and the noise) as they tugged on the heavy vines that secured the raft between the shores. Meanwhile the hunting lizards prowled restlessly, but avoided the water.

Having crossed safely, the group walked toward what they hoped was a settlement. Soon they could view a palisade of massive logs, with a ring of sharpened logs jutting outward, and a primitive "falling wall" gate ... all clearly designed to keep the various strange lizards they'd seen at bay. The straightened their ruined clothing, tucked their weapons away, and approached.

Inside they saw a collection of a dozen long-house like structures, each with black smoke rising from the hole at the apex of the crude roof. And the strange denizens ... upright creatures with the forms of men, but covered in coarse black and gray hair, like a gorilla ... creatures fully nine-feet tall! Resolute they raised their hands and approached, trying to look peaceful. However the Hollow Earth is a savage place, and strangers are rarely welcome! One of the Apemen howled a challenge and threw his spear with a mighty cast, it sailed between the group and buried itself deep into the ground. As dozens of the Apemen emerged from the longhouses, each apparently worked into a frenzy, the group was divided. Tommy was sure a peaceful solution could be reached, and urged everyone to prostrate themselves. Alvares unslung his rifle, and readied himself for a shot. Howell lit out as fast as his ruined shoes could carry him. In the end Alvares fired into the air, momentarily pausing the shocked Apemen, and the group ran for the raft.

There they witnessed Howell trying to shove off by himself ... something he's succeeding at! After a short wade through the shallows (and JR Olsen weathering a piranha bite) the group tumbled onto the raft and slashed the vines, so with angry Apemen throwing spears on one shore and a pack of velociraptors stalking them on the other they began to drift down the river, a moment's respite won....

The raft drifted lazily down the river with Howell and our five adventurers trying to steer it. On the left shore a pack of velociraptors slid from cover to cover, cautious of the groups guns. On the right shore a band of Apemen chased the interlopers and raft-thieves, howling in rage, and throwing the occasional spear when the current swept the raft to the right.

Soon the plains turned to jungle highlands, and soon the river had narrowed and gained speed as cliffs rose to either side. The tenacity of the team was tested as rocks loomed inthe water, threatening to dash the raft to pieces. And ahead? A white plume cloud rose lazily into the sky ... a waterfall!

Alvares tied of the end of his lariat, and with the rest of the crew straining on the tiller-pole the raft was swung over to the right ... and a successful toss of the lariat secured a rock outcropping.

The raft was swung into the cliff and began pounding itself apart, waves threatening to wash over the top and pluck people away. Here is where Mulvaney's Inspiration Talent came in handy, as the additional dice in Athletics let everyone make it to the narrow ledge along the cliff-face well before the raft dashed itself to bits.

Carefully picking their way upwards, they came to a plateau over a stunning vista ... the thin falls plummeting 300' to a small lake, with the river and the jungle stretching to the large sea in the distance. And below, along the shore of the lake, was a strange sight ... a "Grecian" temple near trees that had clearly been planted in rows. Along the cliff pterodons circled and gyred, and examination of the cliff revealed an ancient stair carved from the stone.

Maggie MacPherson noticed something else. The plateau they stood on was actually an ancient dias ... and around the dias were carved symbols both enigmatic yet strangely familiar. (Maggie has the Talent Atlantean Language and can therefore make Linguistics rolls to understand this "proto-text." She recited a series of numbers ... and Emma Ambrose (using her Talent Skill Mastery: Science to roll for all sciences with her skill instead of a specific field) made a Science: Astronomy roll to realize that it was a set of co-ordinates ... although what would people who lived deep in the Earth in a land where the sun never set need with co-ordinates for star-gazing?

After a short ponder, led by Howell's curiousity, they decided to follow the stair down, as it seemed to lead to the misplaced temple. (The adventure I cribbed for this presents every switch of the stairs as a separate challenge, seven in all. However I decided that my group would have little patience for this, so I just described some challenges, and had Howell prompt a couple conversations on the way down).

Wading along the shore, the group approached the temple. Howell, attracted by the flash of something golden, and the girls, attracted by the search for truth or curiousity, immediately entered the ruin, while the men looked around outside. Thus it was they who discovered the body. Strangely untouched by insect life (a weird side effect of some strange property of the temple), a man in modern (for the 1930s) safari clothes with a bullet-hole and blood-stain in the small of his back lay face down near the shore, a Luger, already rusting, near and oustretched hand.

A cursor search revealed no identification, however in his pack was a small expedition diary and a hand-drawn map. The diary,in English, didn't mention the man's name. However it did mention that he'd been dropped by submarine off the coast, and travelled to the temple in order to study it for Terra Arcanum ... a name no one had heard before. It was also noted that he had to beat the Nazis to one of the keys of infinity. Nazis? Terra Arcanum? How many drilling machines are there? How much traffic to this inner world was there? Are these questions were raised while the men argued ... and Howell and the women explored the temple.

The temple was in amazing condition. Neither overgrown by plant-life nor crumbling into utter ruin, it had stood the test of time amazingly well. It was clear that a man had set up camp here, and a variety of archeological tools were present. But the most amazing thing was the series of golden rings set into the floor. Each was stamped with a series of symbols, which Maggie identified as numerals. Maggie, ever the curious one, realized that the rings could rotate. Emma got out her notebook and with Howell's help the women set the rings to the co-ordinates written on the dias above the falls. A grinding could be heard, deep under the ground.

The men, still examining the scene near the body, were startled when from all the trees around flocks of birds rose in clouds, calling out in a cacaphony.

Then, to their amazement the waterfall began to split, as a 200' "grecian"
statue of a seated man emerged, with the diverted waterfall falling to either side of him. Between his feet was an open portal.

Soon the entire group had gathered to witness this wonder. And the decision was made to explore, to find what secrets (and treasures!) might lie within. Again the group made their way around the small lake, and stood at the entrance. They took the time to fashion torches, as their electric torches had been abandoned long ago in this world of eternal daylight. But just as they were about to enter the tunnel JR Olsen noticed a party of those tenacious Apemen headed down the cliff stairwell. The group was concerned ... they'd only have about an hour.

What followed was a series of three traps (the original adventure calls for more, but "less is more" for players vs the environment stuff in my book). A deadly pit, a series of crushing stones, and two long chains in a vertical shaft had to be negotiated before the group arrived inthe final chamber, containing a smaller "Greek" statue and a carved life-sized hand made from a single emerald. Knowing it must be trapped the group took a number of precautions, but finally Howell grabbed it. And the water sarted to flood in. Like a good bunch of ex-dungeoneers my players sarted coming up with attack plans right away. They all failed, as the water got higher. This was it. They were trapped, trapped like rats! Were our intrepid exporers going to drown in a Gygaxian tomb built by ancient Atlanteans after voyaging all the way to the Hollow Earth?

Of course not.

Having managed to find air-pockets and hand-hold the group still struggled to find a way out when the water in the tomb "flushed" down through the long vertical shaft. The group shot down, and were buffetted and squeezed and inhaled a couple lungs-ful of water between them all and took 6 dice Non-lethal damage ... no one was knocked out but no-one was in great shape for a fight, before being washed out onto the gravel beach. As the group coughed and choked and floundered on the gravel (Howell still clutching the emerald hand) they heard a man speak.

"I beleef you haff somezing zhat belongs to ze Reich!"

Pulled up onto the shingle was an African Queen style steam-launch, and facing the group were eight Kriegsmarine with rifles pointed in a very no-nonsense fashion and a tall man in a black trench-coat over a golden breastplate, holding a Luger.

Eyes glanced back and forth. Despair reigned, as each character considered their injuries, their numerical inferiority, and most importantly, their short end of the firepower stick. But as hands started to raise in surrender, from behind their would-be captors the group could make out the forms of a dozen raptors darting forward, while along the cliff, their howls masked by the thundering waterfall, the band of Apemen were charging! And the Germans remained oblivious!

Howell pulled the Emerald Hand from his shirt, and stepping forward to hand it to the officer he tripped (himself) and landed, sprawling. And then, as the whole thing suddenly boiled down into a deadly melee Alvares dashed forward to cold-cock the stooping german officer. Here the dice failed. Seven dice, no successes. The player dumped in all of his Style Points ... one success. But the german officer, not taken in by the ruse, batted Alvares' attack away. Before the rest of the party could get embroiled in the fracas, Mulvaney grabbed Alvares and dragged him to the boat while the officer tried to rally his men aagainst the savage assault.

As Emma and Maggie piloted the steam-lauch, the group hunkered down and took stock. They had lost the emerald hand, but they'd learned that they were not alone in the Hollow Earth. Would they find enemies? Would they find friends? The river and the sea lay before them....

This weekend on Voyage to the Hollow Earth, Session 3: Pirates of the Subterranean!
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