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Summary[]

The party read Shoin's diary and investigate the cavern underneath his lab, discovering walls of caged, drugged kobolds.

This week Zolf is ready to go, Hamid and Skraak harmonize, Cel is marginally less awkward, Azu has a compassion scarf!

Synopsis[]

The episode begins in Shoin’s study, where they are about to look over his diary, and Cel is wondering whether Shoin had a crush on them, back when they “used to chat alchemy.” The diary is hefty. 

Cel looks first at the earliest entries, which are written in a florid Ancient Imperial Japanese mode, clearly meant for publication. These entries are extremely well-dated. Cel then skips to the latest entries, which resemble “a child’s copy of Japanese pictographs.” There are a number of sketches, the latest of which are extremely abstract, and there are no dates of any kind. This turn towards geometric patterns occurs about 2/3rds of the way through. 

The first major transition in the diary occurs at about the halfway point: there is a eureka moment, after which the diary becomes much more technical and detailed, with no fluff. The diary reveals that Shoin was interested in expanding his consciousness beyond the limitations of his material form, and at the halfway point, he succeeds. Rigging himself into the chair at the table in the room they’re currently in, Shoin briefly hooks himself into his entire infrastructure. He describes this transcendent experience very poetically. 

A sketch of Cel, a half-elf. They wear goggles on their forehead and have messy short hair. They are wearing a shirt and jacket. They are looking down at Shoin’s diary, which they hold open in both their hands. Their mouth is in a straight line and their eyebrows are furrowed. There are two beads of sweat running down the left side of their face (right to the viewer). The background is a light peach. They are sketched in orange.

Cel reading Shoin's diary. Art by @sphor_ on twitter. Used with permission.

Cel, as they’re reading, is initially commenting on the diary’s subject matter to the group, but when they get to Shoin’s success, they go very quiet and hold the book up to their face. 

Shoin begins to have some extremely profound alchemical insights, such as drastically reducing brew times, but then abandons alchemy, saying that it’s irrelevant beyond the means to achieve transcendence. Seeking to sustain these consciousness-expanding moments, Shoin places himself in this sealed bubble to protect his body. He mentions discovering a cave system, which solved his “labour problems,” but does not expand on this. He is very aware that because he’s the first person to expand his consciousness in this way, he can control how it will be distributed to the world. 

Later, Shoin succeeds in spending the majority of his time hooked in, only checking into his body occasionally. He becomes increasingly frustrated by his body, which is very inefficient (Cel nods sympathetically at this) and getting thinner. The handwriting starts to degrade from here. 

Shoin has another brainwave: he’s previously been limiting himself to a single static facility, but he wants to create things that can go out into the world, so that he can experience more of it. He uncovers a body (a squid) on the sea bed whose shape Shoin can mechanically model off of. 

(Alex mentions here that Francois Henri appeared in the early days, helping with connecting brains to infrastructure. However, Shoin leaves Henri beyond, considering him “a dim man.”)

Shoin networks the squids using the lighthouse and a “redundant power system.” However, at this point, he’s starting to get a bit bored, and people have started to nose around (there's a brief mention of Cel, as an annoyance.) Shoin’s delegated all of his earthly concerns to minions. So, to pass the time, Shoin has a bit of fun with the people investigating the institute. Using the Harrison Cambell book on his bedside table as inspiration, he designs traps for adventuring parties, of which there are about five or six. However, for the first time in ages (within the last six months), one of the adventurers, a cleric, makes it to the puzzle table. Shoin plugs the cleric in and has a brain-to-brain conversation with him, unaware that the cleric was infected with blue veins. This is the point at which the writing quality degrades steeply. Shoin is afraid of what happening, but manages to halt the infection; the cost is high, but worth it. Additionally, Shoin believes he has the means to transmit his solution across his network, but prays that he retains enough of himself that he might be able to enact this. The remainder of the diary is garbage, including, initially, really poorly drawn high-adventure drawings. 

Cel looks genuinely sad. Meanwhile, Zolf has been hunting for the cleric’s holy symbol; it belong to Hephaestus (the symbol is a crossed hammer & chisel.) Hamid mentions that Grizzop had asked a cleric in Damascus to build a kill switch for the Simulacrum (see episode 120), but that, according to Curie, the Cult of Hephaestus denied all knowledge of this (see episode 127). Zolf says that Wilde mentioned this; Wilde believes that the Cult of Hephaestus “disappeared” the kill switch, though he doesn’t know why (the players, but not their characters, know that it’s because Grizzop made the cleric swear an oath not to tell anyone.) 

The party discusses how Shoin might have transmitted his cure to the infection across his network. Cel suggests that he may have sent it to one of the squids, to make sure it wasn’t destroyed. At this point, Cel also remembers that the “squids” to which Shoin refers would better be translated as “kraken.” Zolf has some knowledge of krakens; it’s widely believed they’re all dead. According to the myths, they can control the weather. Zolf had ruled out the possibility of krakens being responsible for the weather early in his investigation, because there only tends to be one kraken — they’re highly intelligent and malicious (and can be communicated with.) There are a couple of early, pre-Rome accounts of krakens fighting each other, and it’s believed that if krakens did exist, they’ve long since disappeared. Zolf is worried because the krakens that Shoin built are still out there, and Cel suggests that they’re converging on the group right now. 

At that, Zolf declares that they need to investigate the tunnels then get out immediately, to plug in Shoin and get answers out of him. Hamid, Azu, and Cel all argue that they need to sleep, because they’ve been on the go for over 24 hours at this point and are completely drained. Cel suggests a compromise: maybe they can find a secure place in the caves to rest. Zolf wonders whether there’s a way out via the kobold tunnels. Hamid calls for Skraak, who was opening the door that the party hadn’t entered. He asks Skraak about the tunnels below, which may once have belonged to the kobolds. Skraak, trying to remember, looks like he’s trying to get into a space that’s too small for him, but eventually agrees that yes, he’s heard of the tunnels. Skraak leaps from the balcony where he’s standing, flips mid-air, and lands well. 

A digital drawing of Azu, Cel, Zolf, Skraak, and Hamid. In the back are Azu, a Black orc, and Cel, a white half-ling. Azu is in pink plated armor with symbols of roses and hearts all around. Next to her is Cel, who is wearing a purple shirt with green pants and a long blue jacket. They have a brown belt on their waist with green and pink potions in it. They have one clawed hand visible as well as bat wings attached behind them. In front and to the left of the viewer is Zolf, a white dwarf with white hair and a white braided beard. He is in a green chestplate with symbols of doves and shells. He is holding his glavie in his right hand. He is wearing brown pants and his mechanical legs are showing. He has on blue boots. Next to him is Skraak, a red kobold. He is standing with his hands on his chest. He is looking up at Hamid who is next to him. Hamid, a brown halfling, with short brown hair, is wearing a purple suit with a purple cape and brown loafers. He has one arm resting across his chest and he is staring down at Skraak. Azu, Cel, and Zolf are also starring at Skraak. Between Azu and Cel are floating musical notes.

The party and Skraak sing in the lift. Art by @skraak on tumblr. Used with permission.

The whole party gets on the lift, which Skraak activates, and the lift starts to descend, the iris mechanism closing overhead. 

BREAK

As they’re descending, lights turn on at each level (and then turn off when they’ve passed each level). The lift is fixed on three rails, arranged as an equilateral triangle. Skraak sings a little song, with which Hamid harmonizes and Cel provides a beat with their bat wings. Zolf is silent, so Skraak stands closer to him. Cel’s bat form, which has lasted 80 minutes, now goes away. 

Towards the end of the lift, there’s a light change as they enter a huge natural cavern, extending further than they can see, hundreds of feet. There’s a red glow to it coming from lava a couple of hundred feet down; the lava is in a pipe with inspection hatches. The room is uncomfortably warm and filled with steam that smells like hot brine and sulphur. Hamid suggests that he might cast Endure Elements (and Cel pipes up that they can, too), but Azu and Zolf tell them to hold off until they needs to. 

A digital drawing of Skraak, a kobold in a trenchcoat, in two different poses. In the first pose to the left, he is kneeling down on one knee. His hands are on either side of him and his eyes are closed. There’s a spear next to him. The second pose to the right has him curled in on himself, with his tail wrapped around his front. He’s brought his head down and he is covering his face with his claws. The background is a reddish brown.

Skraak breaks down. Art by @HilaSketchCat on twitter. Used with permission.

There are metal walkways (with rails at two different heights) criss-crossing the cavern. Cel tells the group that a cavern this big shouldn’t be able to exist under the sea. The party discusses whether it’s reinforced, possibly with magic. Zolf says not to worry about it, but Cel argues that it might collapse if they turn things off. 

Zolf notices that Skraak’s imploding in on himself: he’s quiet, his ears and shoulders are down, his tail is droopy, and he has a thousand-yard stare; he looks like a dog who knows they’ve done something wrong. Hamid asks Skraak if he’s okay. Skraak says “it’s bad” and that they should “go back up” but doesn’t seem able to communicate anything else. Zolf is frustrated, and tells Hamid to make Skraak give further details, but Skraak cannot talk more.  

A digital drawing of Azu and Skraak. Azu, a black orc, is in pink full plate armor. She is frowning while looking down at Skraak, a red kobold in a trenchcoat. He is curled around Azu’s neck like a scarf. His face is nestled under her chin. She has her right hand gently resting on his neck. The background is black, with lime green dots highlighting the two of them.

The Skraarf. Art by @proximally on tumblr. Used with permission.

The kobold has now dropped his spear onto the lift and is on his haunches, coiling in on himself, making himself as small as possible. Azu picks him up, pats his back, and feels his heart beating very quickly. Skraak coils around Azu’s neck like a scarf (or a skraarf), nuzzling his head into Azu’s armpit to hide more. 

(At this point, they retcon having put the brain orb in a Bag of Holding.) 

The lift arrives at a large metal platform suspended in the middle of the cavern. There are three walkways leading away from the platform to the edges of the room (which are still well beyond the range of their vision.) The party picks one at random and starts walking. The steam obscures their vision a bit, but Hamid notices barely-visible points of green light dotted on the walls of the cavern; he assumes it’s a giant geode, and doesn’t mention it to the rest of the party. As they continue walking, the points of light resolves themselves into pairs of lights, like eyes, stretching up and down all the sides of the cavern, continuing beyond their range of vision in every direction. 

Pressing on, they eventually see that that lining the walls are jail cells with metal bars across the front, stacked one on top of the other. In each cell is a kobold with glowing green eyes (Azu makes sure Skraak can’t see); each cage is just big enough for a kobold to sit and do nothing else. The kobolds are all breathing but otherwise perfectly still, staring dead ahead. Every 3 rows, there is a walkway along the cells, with ladders stretching up the walkways to reach the cells that are between the walkways. 

The green of the kobolds’ eyes is the same green as the liquid powering the mech that the party fought in episode 147; Cel suggests that this liquid might be able to control the kobolds just as it animated the mech. Zolf notices that around the cavern, there are a few kobolds wandering around, performing basic maintenance on cells; they don’t have green eyes like the ones in the cells, and they haven’t noticed the party. Zolf tells Hamid to talk to them, and Cel asks Hamid to be gentle with them. Zolf goes to look for an exit while the others approach some of the maintenance kobolds. 

These kobolds are blank-faced and nearly catatonic, much worse in comparison to the drugged kobolds upstairs. One of them is holding a spanner and the other a screwdriver. They stand, looking at the party as if waiting for orders. Hamid asks what the kobolds’ orders are; the kobolds point to different bits of the cavern. He asks where they go to get orders; the kobolds look at each other and then look up. He asks where they sleep; the kobolds take a while then once again point to different points in the cavern. Cel suggests that the kobolds’ sleeping quarters might be safe places where the party can rest or take some of them. Cel thinks that if they keep the kobolds away from whatever’s drugging them, they’ll start to recover, just like Skraak did. Cel grapples one, ties their hands up, and picks them up; the kobold is very compliant, and Cel reassures them that they’ll be okay. Hamid tells the other one to follow the party. When met with a blank stare, Hamid brings out his claws and repeats the order. The kobolds just continue to look at him with wide eyes. 

Zolf finds a pressure door similar to the ones upstairs, leading past the wall of cells. Zolf calls to the group that he’s found a way out, and as the others make their way to the door, the kobold that Hamid ordered follows behind. 

None of the kobolds have reacted to the party in any way. In the cells are water bottles and feed trays that are maintained through in and out pipes, as well as a drainage pipe at the bottom. Azu says the the party might be able to come back for the kobolds, but right now, they should press on. 

On the other side of the door is a natural stone corridor that has been enlarged to fit medium-sized creatures comfortably. The party heads down the corridor, Cel closing the door behind them. 

Quotes[]

Cel: "So this is just basically, you know, it’s melodramatic trash, I don’t see why anyone would read that kind of thing."
Bryn: "The shade! The shade!"
Ben: "I just look at Azu."
Helen: "Yeah, Azu looks back like."
Ben: "Solidarity."
Helen: "Yeah, we know."
―Cel reads Shoin's diary.

Hamid: "Oh! But Hephaestus…"
Cel: "Oh, I like those folks!"
Hamid: "Grizzop, he..."
Zolf: "Who?"
―Grizzop brought the kill switch plans to the Hephaestus cleric.

Zolf: "Well, yeah, Wilde mentioned it, yeah, before we hooked up, he um…"
Cel: "Oh!"
Zolf: "Not like that."
―Zolf confirms, again, that he and Wilde were never romantically involved.
A scanned drawing of a red kobold in a lab coat. They are sticking both their hands out in front of them. Each hand is giving a thumbs up. Their mouth is open in a wide smile, showing a row of sharp teeth. They have yellow eyes and white horns. They are inside a white circle and around them, starting at the top and going left, is text that reads “mostly made of rubber and enthusiasm”.

# What kobolds are made out of. Art by @tactical-corkscrew on tumblr. Used with permission.


Alex: "Skraak just takes a surprising flying leap from the high balcony, and just flips, and then lands fairly well. Kobolds, you know, they’re bouncy. Mostly made of rubber."
Helen laughs: "Is that canon?"
Alex: "Canon, they’re mostly made of rubber and enthusiasm."
―Skraak leads the party to another door.

Zolf: "Hamid. What’s wrong with Skraak?"
Hamid: "Oh, Skraak? Skraak are you okay?"
Alex: "Nothing from Skraak save a thousand yard stare."
Hamid: "Skraak? Skraak what’s wrong? Skraak? Skraak, it’s okay, you can talk to us, what’s wrong?"
Skraak muttering: "It’s bad."
Hamid: "Have you been here before? Are memories coming back?"
Skraak: "It’s bad."
Hamid: "What’s bad about it, Skraak? What...how is it bad?"
Skraak: "We should go up. Go back up. Go back up, it’s bad."
Hamid: "We’ve got to know, what’s down here?"
Skraak: "It’s bad."
Hamid: "Skraak are you okay?"
Zolf: "What’s wrong?"
Hamid: "He’s not very clear, he seems to be afraid. He seems to think this place is bad?"
Zolf: "That’s too vague."
Hamid: "I know!"
Zolf: "Well, make him tell you!"
Hamid: "Skraak, it’s okay. We’re gonna protect you, but you have to tell us what’s here."
Skraak: "No, it’s bad."
Alex: "Skraak is now on his haunches, his spear is laid down on the lift, and he’s just kind of getting small. He’s coiling in on himself, like a cat that’s ill, or a snake that’s trying to occupy the minimum amount of space."
Helen: "Can I pick him up?"
Alex: "Yes."
Helen: "I would like to pick up the small sad kobold and do a little patty back."
Alex: "As you do so, you feel his tiny little heart a pitter patter fluttering incredibly quickly."
Azu: "I think he’s panicking."
Hamid: "Yeah, he just seems really afraid, but he’s not able to articulate why."
Zolf: "Right, then keep your axe arm free and ready"
Azu: "I only need one hand for that."
―Skraak breaks down.

Dice rolls and Mechanics[]

  • Cel Perception to parse the information from the book: 19
  • Cel Knowledge (geography) to recognise that the cavern should not naturally exist underwater: 22
  • Sense Motive to recognize that Skraak’s not doing well: 13 (Azu), 12 (Cel), 22 (Zolf)
  • Perception to notice the points of light in the cavern: 17 (Azu), 18 (Cel), 30 (Hamid), nat1 (Zolf)
  • Perception to see the maintenance kobolds: 13 (Azu), 27 (Cel), 23 (Hamid), nat 20 (Zolf)

Plot Notes[]

The party acquires Shoin's diary and the brain orb. Two kobolds are added to the party.

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