So it has come to this. The fifth and final chapter of the campaign post mortem is now a reality. It´s been a wild ride and I thank each and every one of you who stayed with me to the end of this story. The trip down memory lane has been at times hard but overwhelmingly pleasant and I have gotten messages from the people that played this with me that they are enjoying this recap as well. But on to it!
When we last left our heroes they had just suffered through the fall of the shining city of Celephaïs and the death of its ruler King Kuranes. In the waking world they also discovered that Cornelius the handyman, Kuranes real world doppelganger, had passed away in his sleep during the night. This affected the children greatly and the next day was one of profound sorrow. Somehow the escapism had lost its charm and the children dreaded going back to the bleak underworld they found themselves in once sleep took them.
Their travels in the underworld where brutal and dark. They still had to evade Nyarlathotep Moon Beast minions but also the threat of roving cannibalistic Ghouls and the occasional giant Gug. The battle with the Gug, the giant four armed, vertical mouth beast they had almost been sacrificed to during their first trek into the Dreamlands, showed them how incredibly far they had come as they brutally dispatched him with their dream powers. They had truly become powerful dream gods in their own right during their travel and even such ferocious creatures posed little threat to them. Still they had to be careful and the death of King Kuranes had installed in them a sense of haste regarding their mission.
The children circumvented a giant stone column stretching up to the dome of the underworld that they knew was connected to The Nameless Rock, a fortress of the Moon Beasts in the middle of the Cerenarian Sea. They would have to pass it to get to where the underworld gave way to the horrid Plateau of Leng and the city of Kadath. Along the way Adrian stumbled upon the sleeping place of one of the lesser gods, the shapeshifter often known as The Sleeper of N´kai, Tsathoggua. Adrian bartered a part of his soul to the foul Old One for a measure of his power to oppose Nyarlathotep as the two are as much opposed to each other as they are to the continuation of the human species. This deal game him game him the Old Ones shapeshifting powers while in the Dreamlands but had detrimental effects to his sanity and greatly increased his gluttony and sloth, this decision would affect him for life.
The New Handyman
In the waking world Claudette told them that her nephew would soon be showing up to take over Cornelius’s duties around the house. The children were excited to meet this new person but some were sceptical, saying that no one could truly replace the old man. When the time came and the but stopped at the gate, same as it had when they arrived at Smythe House. Once the African American man had stepped out of the bus and I described him I could see the revulsion on my players face. For the first time in the campaign there was a person they had first seen in dreams and then in the waking world but not the other way around. The thin dark man had the same face as their hated foe, Nyarlathotep, and went by the name Randall Flagg. Adrian took it especially harshly and instantly fled up to his room, clutching a knife he had stolen from the kitchen. The others held their composure and greeted the man but each had the distinct feeling that he despised them. Was it because they were children or some deeper, darker more dreadful reason?
That night in the Dreamlands they emerged from the underworld in the dead city of Sarkomand, built beneath an icy cliff face leading up to the Plateau of Leng. The cities inhabitants had long since vanished and the children’s emergence into the light was not the welcomed relief they had thought. Having made the long climb from the underworld to the city only to have an even longer climb up tiny frozen steps leading them into the plateau itself. The trek was hard and once the top was reached they had to evade further dangers. Along the path into the plateau was an ancient monastery that still seemed to host some life. Choosing prudence over prowess the children decided to not chance a confrontation with the monasteries lone inhabitant, a large misshapen priest clad head to toe in a robes of yellow. As sneaky as they were the high priest still detected them once they had passed his abode and tried to give chase but Nicholas´s control over swiftness and speed proved invaluable and they managed to outpace him in the snow but not before he gave out a thunderous shout that reverberated into the plateau, likely warning other guardians of their approach. They pushed on until morning across the icy wasteland knowing that the end was in sight.
The next day in Smythe House the new handyman already caused a stir as one of his first acts was to cut down the old tree next to the house, the tree in which the children had constructed their tree house. Flagg claimed that the tree was a danger to the roof of the house if there was a storm soon and set out to cut it down with an axe. The children of course tried to stop him but had little luck against him, especially once Claudette took his side and ushered them away. Afterwards Adrian told the other children that he suspected that Flagg was cutting of the only escape from their room as the tree had in fact been accessible from their window. This was true as I wanted to make the players feel a sense of claustrophobia to set the mood for the last leg of the campaign. The other children chalked it up to how creepy Adrian had been lately and once again did not listen to his cryptic mutterings. It would turn out to cost them dearly. That night Peter had a phone call from his father in Arizona telling him that they were almost done with “The Project” and that he would come get them as soon as the tests were complete. Peter did not truly know what The Project was but he know that Hypnos the dream god had said that its completion foretold the ruin of the world.
Journey in the dark
Back in the dreamlands that night the children prepared for the last push to Kadath through a large dark tunnel leading under the mountains on top of the plateau after passing a large mountain valley choked full with spider webs. They entered into the dark and saw that the tunnel had been worked at some time to expand it and had strange murals on each side. The murals depicted men with hairy legs and hoofs and the children figured out that this must have been constructed by the horrid Men of Leng. Only Michael really studied the murals as they traveled and what he saw unnerved him. I pulled the player aside and explained to him that on one of the murals he saw the ritual that they were there to perform. The only difference was that in the mural another step was added as the flute player finished playing another figure in the mural cut the flute player’s throat. I will never forget my friends face when it dawned on him that he would have to murder his own twin sister. He looked me in the eye and said “You are such an asshole”. Then we both smiled and returned to the group. Later he told Peters player, his real life brother, about his discovery ingame and Peter joined Michael in this horrid plot to sacrifice their sister for the sake of the world.
After a while the group came upon a large rift in the tunnel, with faint light coming from above. This rift seemed to split the entire mountain range down the middle and was too deep to see to the bottom of. Stretching across the gulf and filling up most of the space was an immense spider web, so large that the players could easily walk side by side on its strands. A path of sorts transversed the rift to a mouth on the other side where the tunnel seemed to continue through the rock. The children cautiously set out across the web, wary that such a construction must have a builder. They were halfway across when the webs immense builder appeared, a gigantic spider with the face of a man. Atlach-Nacha the Spider God, whose web bridge, once finished, is said to usher in the end of the world. The children fought their way passed the beast with Peter command over fire and Nicholas´s lightning gun being responsible for damaging parts of the spiders webs, sending it into a frenzy. Once across the gulf the spider gods bulk prevented it from following them and they escaped into the dark. This confrontation made the children, and players, realize the scope of what they faced as the spider god was no easy foe. The rest of the tunnel passed in silence and soon they exited on the other side of the mountain.
Confrontation at the top of the world
As they exited the tunnel they saw that they now stood upon a series of ledges high above a ruined city. All manner of horrid monstrosities lay scattered across the city, as if sleeping off some sordid feast. On the highest ledge, connected to where they themselves stood by tight icy paths, stood the great enemy. Nyarlathotep, in his form as the Dark Pharaoh, cast his gaze upon them and as he raised his hand to cast some dark spell they realized that the end had begun. Peter, Nicholas and Adrian rushed to confront the Crawling Chaos as Michael and Miranda set out to perform the ritual. Michael drew the Elder Sigh to shield them from Nyarlathotep´s powers but Peter also conjured up a stone wall to further block the elder gods powers from harming the twins.
The fight was brutal but most shocking was when Nicholas suddenly started choking, even if the elder god was not focusing his attacks on him. Adrian was the first to figure out why this was and I think i have never seen a reaction as powerful from a player in my twenty five years of running role playing games. As Adrian realized that the new handyman Randall Flagg must be at this time in their room, choking the life out of Nicolas with a pillow the player jumped up from the table, shouting “No” over and over again and ran about my apartment. I thought I broke him but he quickly calmed down and said that the realization had just been a little too much. Again I was lovingly called an asshole and we continued playing with Adrian forcing himself awake and abandoning his siblings to try to tackle things in the waking world so that this would not be the fate that awaited them all.
When he awoke he saw the dark figure hunched over his older brother covering his face with a pillow. He silently drew the knife he had stolen from under his own pillow and crept up behind him driving the knife into the handyman´s back. The man screamed in fury but kept its hold on the pillow, glancing back at Adrian with his eye´s filled with madness and rage. This side by side battle continued as Miranda rushed to finish the ritual by playing the flute. Adrian was unable to stop the grown man and as he looked on Nicholas gave up the ghost. His dream self did keep together but it did remove him from the fight as he fought to keep himself alive as a dream being. Right before Miranda played the last tones Nyarlathotep managed to get ahold of Peter as they fought in a pitched hand to hand battle and crushed his body in his grasp. As the piping sound of the pipes played its last shrill sounds Peter´s dream self perished preventing from ever dreaming again. When the last tone left the flute Miranda’s player was triumphant and then came the dreaded words from Michael “I step up behind her and cut her throat” and the triumph quickly became confusion. Mirandas physical self awoke screaming a horrid scream, the last sound she ever made. That scream sent the gods back into their slumber and shattered Nyarlathotep´s power. His mortal avatar Randall Flagg shifted his shape into some indescribable monstrosity, shattering the wall of the children’s room and flying off into the darkness in its pain, the sight shattering the last vestiges of Adrian’s sanity. Peter awoke from his nightmare to find his sister catatonic and his brother raving about monsters. In the dreamlands Nicholas managed to hold on to his form but became as capricious as the other beings know as Great Ones, the local minor gods. Michael was the only one left above the ancient city, holding his bloody knife, crying softly in the biting frost.
The players had now saved the world but too great cost to their own life and sanity. I allowed each of them to dictate in a way how their characters story continued and they all agreed that in a way Nicholas got the best fate, even if he had died. He had the freedom to be a kid forever in a fantastical world where he could play forever. Others had fates they could deem acceptable such as Michael, who spent his life as an occult investigator of sorts, inspired by John Constantine. Not the best life but a life filled with horror and excitement in equal amounts. And its share of grief. Adrians life mirrored Michaels only much darker, his pact with the Sleeper of N´kai drawing him into the degenerate practices of the cultist where dark deeds are performed. His opposition to other beings such as Nyarlathotep remained and most of his adult life was spent trying to disrupt the workings of cults dedicated to the Crawling Chaos. Miranda ended up in an insane asylum, as did Adrian for a time, but she never again muttered a word only occasionally humming the haunting tune she had played to bind the entirety of the old gods into her own mind. Peter grew up sullen and depressed, never being able to dream for his whole life, he became an insomniac. As an adult he got a job as an orderly at his sister’s asylum and took it upon himself to make sure her life was in some way peaceful. He told himself it was to protect her but in reality it was guilt from knowing she had to be sacrificed and not doing anything about it. What happened to the monster that was Randall Flagg will be the focus of my next campaign but I want to keep it on the down low for now…
So long and thanks for all the fishmen…
All in all this campaign was the most enjoyable role playing experience I have ever shared with anybody. Writing about it has been a blast and even if there are things I would do differently I also see that super solid systems are not a prerequisite for success. None of the players ever mentioned how half baked my system changes seemed or noticed as some half thought out part of the campaign had to be rewritten on the fly to suit a new idea. Remember that the story comes first, just like when Miranda was sacrificed. Her player rolled with it perfectly even if flabbergasted by the action and was in the end pretty satisfied with how it went down. Sometimes I thought I had gone to far with toying with my players emotions but afterwards they all expressed the same sentiments as myself as to the campaigns success. All the players are returning to a follow up campaign starting in early 2018 so I believe I have not completely run them off from playing this type of campaign and I hope I will write a post mortem on that campaign later. Thank you for joining me on this trip down memory lane and I hope your games go smoothly.