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Unfathomable! Session 4

 The PCs celebrate the successful resolution of the murder mystery and finally make it to the dungeon!

The Campaign: Operation Unfathomable! and Odious Uplands!, both by Jason Sholtis

The Ruleset: 5e

The Party:

  • Brother Ded, a monk/political shit-stirrer.
  • Mort, a research-minded fighter and fugitive from Imperial justice.
  • Greta, a baby-eating hag-turned-Citizen Lich.
  • Ulther, a ranger and artifact smuggler.
  • Zinee, a wooly neanderthal druid/cosmetologist.
  • Toljin, a magical boy raised by pirates.
  • Doloth, an unwilling-Citizen Lich.

Brother Ded and Doloth, mid-party

This week's session opened on a big party in the Beer Garden, where most of Fort Enterprise's denizens were celebrating the release of their favorite barmaid, Adola. The PCs were plied with ale and stew and rumors. 

Even the wizard Yithreela showed up to see this barmaid that was the center of such a fuss. "Her? But she's ill-proportioned and has tragically combination skin." Yithreela also talked to Greta a bit about the life cycle of Chaos godlings, and related a recent vision:

A vast image out of Spiritus Mundi troubles my sight: somewhere in caves of the Underworld a shape with jumbled body and the head of a madness, gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, is moving its slow thighs, while all about it reel shadows of the indignant cave swallows. The darkness drops again; but now I know that twenty centuries of stony sleep were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, and what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Fort Enterprise to be born?

Adola, anarchist barmaid

Adola, always so shy and sweet, had a chance to do some thinking in the stockade. When asked to give a speech at the end of the night, she gets up on a table and talks about how scared she was when she was arrested and how it nothing seemed to make sense. "I got to thinking about how I almost never understand what's going on, and no one I know ever seems to know what's going on on, and then I thought how one human mind is barely enough to govern one human life... and why should we think the people in authority are any different? And... and maybe to be governed is to be watched, commanded, punished,  condemned, and dishonored by the corrupt and unqualified?" The speech ended with Adola screaming at the top of her lungs: "NO GODS! NO MASTERS! NO GODS! NO MASTERS!" and the crowd starting to pick up the chant.

Anyway, two days of slow hiking through the snow later, the Party finds themselves at a cave mouth in a cliff side, ready to delve into the Underworld. They had a small escort of barbarians, led by Oothu, who looks like Conan and talks like Eeyore and is absolutely convinced that this mission will be the death of him. 

Oothu, depressed barbarian

The barbarians make camp at the cave mouth, and will be there to resupply the Party if... when they re-emerge.

The mouth of the Underworld

At the back of the cave, the Party finds a pit with iron rungs descending into the depths. They drop a torch and cannot see or hear when it lands. So they rope themselves together and begin their descent. It turns out to be a thousand foot descent, so their precautions were wise, and they are completely exhausted by the time they reach the bottom.

They wander around around in the dark for a bit, get attacked by psychic mind-bats, wander a little further, loot a giant's skeleton, and find themselves on Hell's Back Road, a miles-long, rubble-strewn Underworld thoroughfare that is dimly lit by glowing fungi.

Hell's Back Road

And was pretty much it for the session. I indulged in a cutaway scene at the end: back in Fort Enterprise, the Apis Irregulars are being sentenced by Governor Krofax for murder, abetting murder, violent assault with the confines of the Fort, and impeding an Imperial investigation. The sentence for each and any of these crimes is death by beheading... but suddenly! A mysterious stranger appears with an Imperial seal! ""Excuse me, Governor, for interrupting the proceedings. But I suggest a sentence of death by expedition. I would commandeer these miscreants to accompany me to the Underworld. For I am told there, I, District Inspector Reginar Eiffel, may find and apprehend the criminal fugitive Mortimer."

Oh no! It's an antagonist from Mort's backstory! Cliffhanger!


Adola's turn towards anarchy was inspired by the players, most of whom are academics and kept slipping little jokes about political theory into the game. We'll see how her rabble-rousing has evolved when the PCs return from the Underworld.

I typically don't like referencing cinematic effects like the cutaway scene I did at the end. I associate them with authorial GM'ing, where the GM starts to think of the PCs as actors in the GM's story. But I am looking for ways to keep the PCs tied into events outside the dungeon, and remind them of the larger context of their actions. I hope to institute a more diegetic way to do this, soon. 

The last two images in this post are AI-generated, and I'm not sure about posting them here. I'm sharing them in the same spirit as the Heroforge models—which is to say, as sort of production references and not as actual illustrations. But I'm of two minds on whether it's appropriate or not. I'd be happy to hear your thoughts.

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