Friday, January 12, 2018

The Planets Minerva: Episode 1: The Beach

The burly warrior, Armigus, sits at the bar table waiting for his friend, a tenant of the inn, to join him. The ales have gone to his bladder and so he rises and heads for the back door which leads to the outhouse. He’s aware that folk are glancing his way, eyes drawn to his pronounced mandible and slightly exposed canines. Not all in the city of Renown are entirely accustomed to the presence of orcish half-breeds.

He shoves open the door, feels the cool breeze of late evening and steps over the threshold. His momentum carries him forward even as he loses consciousness.

Gu’ro’Baen has a similar toothy countenance with a slighter, but still sturdy, build. He gallops down the stairs of the inn and as he passes through the doorway to the common room he meets the same blackening fate.

Catherine de Montreard had stepped through a threshold of her own, she is now recalling, and though her mind is fuzzy, as if awakened from a long sleep, plagued by the strangest dreams, she is confident that her locale has significantly changed. The evening sky is still dim but everything else is wrong.

She is without clothing and standing barefoot in warm sand with the sound of lapping waves beside and behind her and before her a cliff face at least a hundred feet high. More immediately before her there is a sword partly buried vertically in the sand and pooled around it is an ample quantity of grey-brown fabric.

She turns to see a wide horizon of sea and sky beyond the threshold from which she no doubt emerged: a scintillating metallic rectangle of little or no substance; perhaps only the glimmer of a portal in the act of vanishing; a tool of some great sorcery no doubt. Through this portal no sign of her origin is visible; only this new sea and sky.
To her right another portal glimmers some fifty feet away and before it stands a naked man and before him an apparent welcome package alike her own; sword and cloth. For miles beyond that lies more vacant beach and cliff side, concluding at some far promontory, and beyond that the reddish glow of setting sun.

To her left lies a similar sight; a similar headland in the distance, well beyond another glimmering framework and another man. Further on she spies a fourth station; no living person but just a framework and another arrangement she presumes the same as that in front of her which she now moves swiftly to. She pulls free a hooded robe; only slightly smaller than her ideal, and dons it. There is no belt. She clutches it closed with one hand while examining the sword in her other hand. It is smaller than her own sword and engraved on the hilt are the words Saint Montreal.

The men have likewise equipped themselves and converge on her now and as they approach she recognizes their telltale orcish features. They recognize one another and call each other by name: Armigus and Gu’ro’Baen. They seem as slow and dazed as she feels but attempt an introduction with her which she ignores and instead marches away toward the unattended portal.

She pulls up short though, when a chittering sound alerts her to a presence emerging from the water at her side. The culprit is some unpleasant beast resembling a lobster in some ways and in other ways something insectile or even lizardish. She prepares to defend herself with the sword as the men come swiftly her way. But the creepy insectile chittering noises amplify and suddenly more and more of these creatures begin appearing from out of the sea.

“This way!” cries one of the men. “There appears to be a break in the cliff wall.” And so they flee the chitterers, jogging toward the sun. At the break in the cliff face they find a wide alcove with steps hewn into the rock and earth, arcing upward to the top. They climb these while the sea creatures gather on the sand, clicking and waving their claws. But they do not ascend.

At the top they find themselves on a savannah-like plain. To the west there stands a rocky solitary hill topped by some sort of stronghold and to the north a larger walled community. As they stand taking this in, they grow more unsettled at this unexpected journey and bizarre destination. The air is so much warmer than it should be and It seems like the sky is slowly growing brighter, not darker, and less blue, and more red.

The adventure is inspired by Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and this introduction to the campaign comes from the book The Drawing of the Three wherein portals on a beach draw Roland Deschain’s companions from another time and place. The “lobstrosities” come from this same source, modified little. As per D&D convention I assigned these Chitternids all the necessary statistics to conform to the D&D Monster Manual: hit dice, armor class, attack and damage details, alignment, morale etc. As it happened, no battle or further interaction occurred but that doesn’t rule anything out for the future. The players are about nine episodes ahead of us already (by thoroughly arbitrary measurement) and have already encountered beaches several more times.   

Other features from King’s epic series will be borrowed, but the plot is very different.

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