Eric couldn’t make it to finish up Doom of the Savage Kings, so I asked Rachel and Renee if they would pick up the characters who died in Frozen in Time and play in an idea I had, playing their dead characters in a Hell Funnel.
As with all Dungeon Crawl Classics games I run, I start AP threads remembering the dead, in this case, the dead were already dead but now their souls have become part the infernal flora of hell.
*Rest in Hell*
Elsen the Watchman of King’s Landing, killed by stirge-like apprentices in a wizard’s tower, just off the River Styx.
*Welcome to Hell*
I monologued for maybe too long to set the tone. It might’ve been the longest exposition I’ve ever given to start off a game but hell’s tricky.
The characters found themselves in a 20 by 20 cube, a cage made of iron ribs, on jagged wheels, being pulled by a beast of burden that seemed to be made of the bodies of dozens of sinners, slammed together into a vaguely oxen-like shape, if you were around when oxen were created but don’t really remember or care about the particulars.
There were three comets in the sky, one much lower than the others. The comets stand out specially because the sky seemed to suck light. One was low on the horizon, probably about to crash into the ground.
Everything hurts. Time is odd and difficult to manage. It feels like coming out of a fever dream, the rhythmic creaking of the wheels. The desert sands are bone white. The last thing you remember is dying.
That kinda shit.
When the comet crashed, the devils flying around the cage grew agitated and began to argue in Infernal, which sounds like a mixture of every ugly word in every language and vomiting. They packed up the items the characters had on them when they died and began to leave.
Maze the Thief tried to beg them to let them out before they left. I reckoned that begging a jailer is a skilled roll for a thief. The roll failed and the devils laughed. One spoke common.
“To the west are the mountains, Asmodeus. You could take your chances with him. To the north is Dis; you won’t make it there. To the east are the Drowned Swamps. To the south is the Styx.”
And with that the demons flew away with all of their stuff.
*The Iron Ribs Cage*
It turns out the cage was a Frost Giant an the lock, its head, still talked. I knew the lock talked when I had envisioned the encounter. I really had no idea how or if they were going to get out of the cage cube. Renee’s character, Nanny Millhouse Cromwell was a blacksmith, so I made a personality roll to talk an iron cage into opening for them a skilled roll, due to her familiarity with iron.
A stretch? It is in hell. Wtf.
She talked the lock into opening and she rolled so well that the lock asked to be unscrewed from the cage, to come with them and perhaps lock up something else somewhere.
After a brief discussion, it was decided that any opportunity to see the Styx in-game should be taken. South they went.
I didn’t do much prep. I jotted down some ideas for what was in each cardinal direction and daydreamed some ideas of what encounters are like in hell. It felt like prep I would’ve done when I was 14 and winging it, high on Mountain Dew and youth.
On the Styx was a ferryman, some patches of scalp and hair still clung to its scalp and it was going through a bag, tossing items aside that it didn’t want. In the hold of its barge were a dozen or so souls, newly arrived, just like the PC’s. They were begging.
They overhead the ferryman talk to a cultist in the hold because he spoke Infernal but the ferryman was unswayed. On the ground around it were ceremonial knives, coins, tiny polished stones, boots, flowers – things people might’ve been buried with. It pulled a long noose out of the bag.
The barge was held to shore by a longer noose rope
After Mave the Thief did some sneaking and got his hands on a few knives – one silver and one bronze. They decided to untie the noose and try to get on the boat and into the Styx’s rough current before the ferryman could catch them.
There was rope swinging and stabbing and derring-do. Nanny fell into the Styx and failed her Stamina roll, getting amnesia, no longer remembering dying at all, no longer aware that she was in hell (I figured if she was in the Styx longer she’d lose more and more memory).
The ferryman was stabbed off the rope.
They found themselves on a barge, floating on a fetid, oily river with treacherous currents.
Mave picked up the ferryman’s pole and made a solid Int roll to navigate the river; that turned out to be a big, big deal.
Nanny asked for her love. Mave assured her that her love was fine. “She’s fine because she isn’t here. We’re in hell, actually in Hell.”
Mave found the key to the hold in a bag of silver and freed the other souls. Renee rolled up 3 more characters to add to her funneling.
The ship went down the river for four years, it seemed. No one really talked for those years, too scared to upset a shipmate. It felt like an awkward four years on a boat. The river branched off, one area was a calm cove and the other was rough. When one of the souls suggested that a calm cove in hell must be a trick, Mave aggreed and turned into the white water.
*The Tower and Charon*
They came upon a broken, charred tower that was easy enough to dock at. When people stepped off of the boat, Mave felt a churning in her gut, as if something was wrong. It was her first biological feeling in a long time.
Renee’s new characters, all with pretty posh stats, went ashore to see this tower. It had no doorway but had several oblong oval windows.
There was a stretched skin of an abusive wizard, who said his apprentices must’ve cursed themselves with his magic. He had a long conversation with Elsen the Watchmen, who Renee decided had been from King’s Landing.
When the apprentices buzzed into the tower, Renee’s two characters who were at the foot of the tower, casually turned their back on him and walked back to their own barge.
Elsen died, trying to lead the, Anophelii-inspired, stirge-like apprentices back to the ship. George R. R. Martin would’ve been proud as Elsen of King’s Landing’s blood was sucked dry and he was dragged into the tower to be fashioned into a throw rug to go over the wizard-skin. Renee seemed relieved that her excuse to make Game of Thrones jokes was off the table.
Meanwhile, back on the boat, a ship came out of the mist for Mave. She knew it came for her. Charon walked off of his ship from a plank and boarded Mave’s recently stolen ship.
Charon took the bag of silver that the key was in.
J: Renee, did you take the bag of silver?
R: I didn’t say I did, so I guess I didn’t.
J: Asshole Judging is in effect! The silver is still in the front of the boat. Charon takes it.
Charon explained to Mave that she owned him silver for each of the souls she had transported across the river. She offered the silver knife she had stolen and Charon took that and complimented her river skills.
Charon: Would you like to be unmaksed? (showing a sharpened hooked thumb-bone)
Mave: No, I will remain masked.
After explaining that Mave was to charge one silver for each eye of each passenger, Charon walked away.
“The first eye is mine. The rest is yours.”
Renee: 50%, you won’t find a better deal in all of Hell.
Cage – 2
Ferryman – 3
River Styx – 2
Tower – 3
That was fun and a great way to stay sideways connected to the ongoing game but not moving on without a player. If I could’ve gone back and done a bit more prep, I would’ve had a random encounter table for each direction and a loose map for my own use and inspiration.
I’m excited to find out what life is like for a group of damned souls moving with the Styx’s current, with a anointed ferry-woman leading the way.