Welcome back to the adventures of the Phillips siblings. I hope the first part shed some light on my campaign creation philosophy and maybe inspired some ideas of your own. In this part we get to the meat of the story and most of my mistakes during the running of this campaign. When we last left the children they had followed the strange animal, given to them by Cornelius the mute groundskeeper, down into the Enchanted Woods through the Cavern of Flame. They had passed the tests of the ancient priests guarding the gateway to the Dreamlands and were ready for their first adventure there. Let’s continue with the story…
Freedom and Danger
The children emerged from a small cave opening under a large tree in the Enchanted Wood and surveyed the area in a daze. This was like no forest they had ever seen with strange lights and weird animals in the trees. The beaver like creature that had led them there, that they later found out to be a Zoog, formed a bond with Adrian, the youngest boy, and quickly hid under his pajama jacket. I decided against covering the forest in snow so that the Narnia connection was not too obvious seeing as I did not plan on using an analogue for the Witch anyway. What I did plan on was to introduce a character similar to Mr Tumnus, the faun or satyr from Narnia. This I did in the guise of the first sentient creature they encountered in the woods. Lovecraft’s stories include a race of beings very similar, but darker, to the fauns called Men of Leng. They have the same goat legged appearance but have a darker, more twisted feel to them then even the decadent satyrs.
They met a man in a dark robe in the forest. He invited them back to his dwelling using waves of his hands and a lot of pointing. The Zoog seemed afraid of him but they went along with it anyway, hunger and thirst being the main reasons if I remember it correctly. I have always been struck by how creepy Mr Tumnus was while feeding the children sweets so it was very important to me that this scene invoked the same reaction in my players. This strange man bent over backwards to be helpful and kind to them, even with the language problem, cooked them some strange stew full of roots and nuts, so when the children found that they were losing consciousness it struck them all the harder. While they drifted in and out under the influence of some strange herbs he had fed them in the stew he bound Peter´s hands and feet, seeing him as the only real treat, hoised him up on his shoulders, his robe parting to reveal his hoofed legs, and set out into the forest with a strange ritualistic dagger in hand.
Nicholas was quick to wake, having eaten way less than his siblings. He quickly tried to rouse the others and then ran out into the dark forest after his brother and the strange goat man who had him in his grasp. To make sure everyone had something to do the rest of the kids came to shortly afterwards and set out after him. Nicholas came upon the strange half-man where he stood next too a ominous stone slab bearing a crooked five pointed star with a eye in the center. He had positioned Peter next to it on his knees and stood above him with the wicked knife prepared to sacrifice him as the slab rose up from the earth in thunderous cacophony. Scared as he was Nicholas threw his weight into the man’s back, causing him to drop his knife and fall face first against the stone slab. Nicholas was in grave danger from the man, even after his siblings joined the fray and the whole fight was quite frantic. As the fight went on the stone slab stopped moving and Miranda saw the claw and face of some hideous monster lurking in the deep, a vertical toothed maw set between enormous round eyes in the giants face. His strange arm tried to reach outside of his stygian shaft that most likely led to some horrid underworld, an arm that ended in two clawed forearms grasping at the combatants through the limited crack. The odds evened once Michael had picked up the strange man’s knife and cut Peters bonds, allowing him to use his larger frame to even the odds considerably. Many times during the melee the man tried to push the children into the grasping claws of the giant beast from the depths but thankfully he was not successful as that would have surely meant certain death. As Peter delivered a heavy blow to his opponent the man fell forward in a daze. And then the first step towards Michael’s eventual fate happened, suddenly and perfectly foreshadowing the eventual end of the campaign, as Michael stepped forward and swiftly cut the man’s throat as he was trying to regain his footing.
The action was so matter of fact that it stunned his siblings. Miranda did her best to shield Adrian’s eyes from the gushing blood flowing upon the forest floor. The subterranean beast screamed in rage as its servant fell and shortly thereafter the stone slab started to descend back into place with a loud bang. Miranda threw some poorly chosen words at her twin brother and my players shined during the following interactions. The group decided to retire to the strange man’s dwelling as they still felt drowsy from the man’s stew and spent the night there. This is where they woke up in the real world, each remembering only a little of the dream they had, not knowing they had shared it.
The Journey Continues
When they woke up I allowed each a roll to see how many things they could remember from their time in the Dreamlands. Most of the kids had at least a few successes and I allowed them each to pick moments equal to their number of successes to remember from the dream. They spent the day inside as the rain had continued but sometime during the day a discussion emerged where they marveled at how similar their dreams had been, Miranda remembering the most and connecting the dreams. Seeing as Miranda often made up stories the boys didn’t give it much thought and continued with their day. Michael studied the strange paintings in the house that Ambrose Smythe reportedly painted himself and found that two clearly showed something not of this world. A picture of some strange warriors riding upon Zebras was one and the other showed several whalers fighting off a kraken of some sort in an arctic setting with a strange cyclopean city adorning the background of the painting. I inserted the paintings to be able to point towards them if the players thought their dreams too fantastical but also to tie Smythe himself more to the setting as a dreamer. The following night they rose again in the strange hoofed man’s hovel and set out into the world. I remember less of the details of their travels from this point but they first journeyed to the closest city of Ulthar, where no man may harm a cat, where they were taken to the High Priest Atal who quickly deduced that they were true dreamers. This character I cast as Christopher Lee, partly to signify his restraint and wisdom but also so that my players would not instantly trust him. He did help the children considerably and gave them valuable information about the Dreamlands. He showed them a map of the whole of the Dreamlands and told them that they must travel to the mountain Hatheg-Kla to seek the blessing of Hypnos, the God of Sleep. He also taught Michael some of his magical spells, primarily the defensive Elder Sign which Michael remembered as the strange star on top of the stone slab holding the monster underground. The children’s stay in the city felt strange as cats lay about on almost every surface, reminding them of their aunt Lillian, enjoying the sun and frightening Adrian’s little Zoog pet who spent the whole time hiding out under his shirt for protection. Atal informed the children that Zoogs and cats hated each other, having fought many wars in the past over control of the area close to the Enchanted Woods. Miranda found a painting that Atal claimed was of Barzai the Wise but the image reminded her eerily of a painting she had seen in the library of Smythe House, the one of Ambrose Smythe himself. She quickly brushed the feeling away as other matters presented themselves and it was soon forgotten.
At the Mountain of the Gods
Before the children set out from the city of Ulthar towards Hatheg-Kla they once again awoke in the real world and spent another dreary day inside. They did discuss the dreams again and now took them more seriously as more than a few of their experiences lined up and Miranda was no longer alone in thinking this was more than a simple dream. The only significant occurrence that happened during the evening before the children went to sleep was a phone call from the children’s father, first picked up by Adrian, who missed his father terribly, but father soon asked for Peter and had a discussion with him. He seemed wrapped up in his work and told Peter that his work would soon be done, they had already had a successful test and once this work reached its conclusion he would come get them. Peter later realized that the timing of the successful test corresponded with the same night as they first traveled into the Dreamlands and had a greater significance than he realised at the time. I tried to play up the boredom of the house so that travel into the Dreamlands would be preferable for bored children and that worked very well for me. Once back in their dreams Atal sent a squad of Zebra riding warriors who escorted Atal’s acolyte Dalan who was in charge of getting them successfully to the mountain. The trip was rather uneventful but the children got the sense that the soldiers did not care for them that much. When the group reached the mountain Dalan told them that they must climb and confront the dangers of the mountain alone. They did and once they got high up they found a cave that led underground. After journeying in the dark they came upon a vast chamber with a shining temple in the center. Leading out to the temple was a narrow bridge spanning a deep ravine in the darkness. The children would not have seen the bottom if not for the photo-fluorescent protoplasmic being that covered the bottom of this ravine. They later discovered that this was Ubbo-Sathla, a being believed to be the first life on Earth. The columned temple across the bridge looked almost Roman or Greek but shone with with white light.
The children set out across the bridge but were soon set upon by black winged beings that playfully flew past them as if trying to knock them off. Most of the children got across successfully but Michael had some problems and required Nicholas’ help to reach the end. The creatures seemed to serve the gods and did not harass them unless they stepped upon the bridge. Once inside the temple they found statues dedicated to the gods of the Dreamlands, know as the Great Ones. In the center there was a brilliant column of light shining down from the top of the temple and one by one the children stepped inside the column to be judged by Hypnos. As each player was judged I allowed him or her to pick a concept of some sort as his primary focus. Each player had three points of power to spend on these godly domains and they functioned almost as the spheres of magic from Mage the Awakening.
Miranda was first and was judged favorably. She chose Light and Courage as her focus, becoming a shining example for others to follow. He twin brother followed suit but since he had already committed murder in the Dreamlands he became a polar opposite choosing Darkness and Fear as his primary domains. Peter was next and chose the strength of the Earth and the ferocity of Fire. His control of the elements would be a great asset to the group in the challenges to come. Nicholas followed suit and chose the domains of Speed and Lightning that fit his mercurial and swift nature. It all came crashing down when sweet little Adrian stepped into the light and promptly botched his roll to be judged. In a frantic effort to explain why he was the only one judged so harshly by the gods I remembered the little Zoog hiding inside his shirt and a plan formed.
Adrian’s form twisted and morphed inside the light of Hypnos. Gone was the little boy as well as the friendly Zoog creature and left standing was the amalgam of the two, fused together in the form of the hairy and feral Zoogboy. His powers as a dreamer where significantly less but he more then made up for it with his increased senses and physical attributes. His thoughts became more feral as well and he contrasted his more civil siblings very well. This snap decision would pay off immensely but I wish I had put more work into the system with the players dream powers and consider it one of the weak points in the campaign. But more on that later.
We will leave our story here for the week and I hope our journey will continue together in the next part of Sleep of Innocence. Feel free to ask any questions you might have about the campaign below.