Better Than Any Man: Imminent Doom

Warning: BTAM spoilers ahead!

Perhaps the aspect of BTAM I’ve enjoyed the most is how open it is – a true sandbox, but with a pressing time constraint (that Swedish Army isn’t hanging around). Like all good sandboxes, it’s never worth looking much more than a session ahead as the players can choose where to go and what to do. Sometimes that means they get themselves into situations that seem… irredeemable. The circumstance they now find themselves in is one such; I was fully expecting to end BTAM with a TPK, after all they were in the heart of Goblin Hill fighting The Mother (a vile sorcerer and fortunately silenced), her monstrous Creature and her cultists, with hundreds of other cultists banging on the door behind them, baying for their blood. Right, a TPK… it has to be. Although I should never have expected anything less, the players surprised me with their creativity and may yet survive…

UntitledWe started the session mid-combat in a room with 2 exits (one magically held), the adversaries mentioned above and a huge stinking cloud. Ingrid was armless, having both appendages ripped off by the creature and attached to its own gruesome body. But the battle was far from over; a carefully placed Magic Missile from Hemming saw The Mother devoured by gnashing skulls, only her head remaining afterwards, a look of agony and disbelief cast on her leathery face. The remaining cultists flew into a frenzy, but were no match for the Black Dogs who destroyed them and the creature, Miklos stepping through and striking off it’s head. Sadly during the combat Ingrid could no longer stand the pain of her terrible wounds and fell to the floor. Throughout all this the much larger mob of cultists were trying to bash down the magically sealed door and it looked like they could succeed at any moment.

Knowing they had not a minute to waste the adventurers push through the other door into the corridor beyond to find a further corridor with a door at its end straight ahead and another door to the right. How could they bar the door into this corridor behind them to slow down the cultists and buy them some time? Of course the obvious solution was to block it with the stack of bodies that they had ‘acquired’… these were propped against the door and Ingrid, suffering from blood loss and her end imminent volunteered to push her weight against the door to further hinder the cultists. As she leant against the door and the stack of corpses wedging it shut a cry was heard beyond and a crack of wood as the outer door was breached by the cultists. It only took a moment before they were banging on this door!

With time running out and the breath of the Grim Reaper’s scythe felt on their necks Miklos and Hemming investigate the room ahead, desperate for a further exit, perhaps a hidden door, while Balock investigates the room to the right (but having no torch is only greeted by a wall of darkness).

the makerThe Cleric and Magic-User have found The Mother’s quarters and find a large bed and a table on which rests a slightly rotting severed head, two spellbooks and the remains of meal, with some uneated human body parts. Briefly the PC’s consider who the head once belong too, perhaps Gabriele Bauer, the 8th sorcerer from Karlstadt? A large chest is pushed against a far well – perhaps it holds significant wealth – but in light of the current circumstance, it is ignored. Taking the spellbooks, as they leave the room Miklos hears a faint ghostly voice “help us”, “we’re trapped”, which seems to come from below the ground. With a very real sense of preservation he ignores the potential distraction and focuses on the problem at hand – how to escape the cultists who are banging ever harder on the door.

dragonborn1Leaving The Mother’s chambers the party gathers in the room to the right and finds a huge mirror which they search and inspect along with the rest of the room… all the while, cultists banging on the door to the corridor outside. Balock pulls the large chest through from The Mother’s room, and after searching for traps picks the lock. Lo! The lockpick is successful, but he didn’t spot the trap and feels a small prick in his thumb. A numbness starts to spread over his hand and he can feel an icy cold crawl through his veins… but this is Balock, and he hasn’t come this far to be killed by some crappy poison needle trap! He grits his teeth and resists, and before too long feeling returns to his hand and the chill fades (he made his saving throw!). Inside the chest are a stack of copper coins, a valuable gold ingot and a treasure map, showing the location of a horde of gold not far from Goblin Hill!

Frustration growing, and beginning to realise there is no other way out of Goblin Hill, Hemming decides to try to hit the mirror with the Leg Bone of St Burchard – perhaps this will activate some obscure magic in the mirror, a portal or some such, allowing them to escape. If only. The bone shatters the mirror and it’s fragments fall to the floor, making a tinkling chorus that sounds like it is mocking them…

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And so a further plan is formulated. Perhaps by using the head of The Mother and some clever disguise techniques one of the Black Dogs could convince the cultists that the ‘intruders’ are dead, killed in the battle outside. With that somewhat crazy and ambitious plan agreed as the way forward, they rush back into The Mother’s chamber. Balock wraps himself in a cloak from The Mother’s wardrobe, hunches and places her head on his shoulders, hood up to hide the detachedness of the head… perhaps the dim light in here will help them. Esmeralda, Genevieve, Miklos and Hemming lay on the floor as though slain in the combat outside.

Eventually Ingrid’s strength fails and she is no longer able to keep the door closed; taking her final breath she smiles, hoping she has given her companions enough time to find a way out. The cultists push through the door and before too long one of them tentatively opens the door to The Mother’s chamber. Balock puts on an amazing performance as The Mother, convincing the cultists that the intruders are dead… and even when one of them points out her creature is dead, he handles it like a pro, telling them “I can summon another one”… and the cultists take their leave to clean up the mess.

enchanted2Hardly believing that scheme would work, they come up with the boldest part of their plan yet. Assuming many of the cultists haven’t actually seen them, they believe they could just walk out of Goblin Hill, only attacking when forced to. Waiting a while for things to settle down they do just that, passing cultists who nod at them and others who have a slightly puzzled look. They engage in conversation with a couple of women they pass, and eventually find their way to the main entrance which is guarded by at least half a dozen unarmed and hooded cultists.

Here they have a choice; head back into Goblin Hill and try to find a further way out, or charge into the cultists at the gates, trying to clear the way. Of course they chose the later, so getting as close as they can to these guards, they charge in and the slaughter begins once more…

Can the Black Dogs survive and escaped Goblin Hill? Will they be able to kill these guards and open the big external doors before reinforcements arrive… and even then will they be able to get clear of the cultists once and for all…

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