Slugsworth bravely volunteered to climb the chains back to the surface and return with help. Loaded down with food, water, rope, and a surprising number of jewels and ingots, the slugling began a slow and perilous ascent, one link of oily chain at a time.
The remaining party members were:
Cazael the spiderling fighter. Known for constantly shouting, "Get behind me, friends!" and then accidentally hitting an ally with his next attack.
The Paladin, a beetle-ling hermit, wanderer, and servant of the Authority. His name is Kino, though I'm not sure he's told anyone in the party.
Wonderwood Strongbow the Elf thief. Keeps a collection of unusual "things" in flasks. Sad to leave her orphan choir behind.
Bill the wormling Orthodox Wizard. Has antlers and telekinesis thanks to strange potions.
Swainson, the hawkling Garden Wizard. Sensible and worried.
Klaus the Barbarian. A hammer-wielding mercenary from an adjacent (but still foreign) country, not that it matters underground...
Side Note: in my system, players who reach level 5 can "retire to safety". They get to exit the campaign to a well-deserved retirement, spending their loot on nearly risk-free background endeavours, but no longer affecting the plot in any meaningful way. Slugsworth retired. If you want to know, they reached the surface after many days of climbing, took the rest of the party's loot and hirelings, and rode back to civilization. 7 of Slugsworth's 135 children survived to adulthood.
The Map: Session 1 of the VeinscrawlMaps in the Veins of the Earth are conceptual. Distances are nebulous. Relationships between locations can vary. This map was drawn by one of the players. I'll include hex key references for my upcoming Veinscrawl.
Starting in the top left:
1. The PCs left the elevator. After squeezing through a narrow passage, they climbed a waterfall of stone to reach a vast tomb-complex. (05.03). The walls of the cave were lined with 12' gigantic basalt coffins. Each coffin contains an animated chained skeleton. The Paladin was deeply disturbed.
The PCs also found a wandering Weasel-ling Bell Exorcist named, appropriately enough, Christen Bell. She had been part of a massive crusade into the Veins, targeting some half-understood undead nation. It failed miserably. The crusaders awoke a vein of "burned creatures, like living stone". Christen had run for weeks.
While climbing over a 25' coffin, Klaus accidentally fell and tipped the coffin on top of him. Luckily, he slid through a crack in the coffin's ancient back. Unluckily, he was trapped inside with a giant crowned skeleton. The Paladin rushed to his aid and commanded it to DIE. Relieved and only slightly injured, Klaus crawled free. The party resumed their wandering, searching for a safe place to rest and recover.
2. They found disco pigs instead. Faceless meat explosions with dubstep accompaniment. The herd was driven along by a very surly and indescribably filthy human named Clothild. His only clothing was a backless leather apron. He spoke a very distorted version of Renish (the Latin of my setting). Luckily, several party members could translate.
Clothild farmed pigs for Jeswick, a local lord. He offered to lead the PCs to Jeswick's fortress if they promised to obey his instructions, keep their hands to themselves, and avoid bothering his pigs. The party took one look at the horrible grunting creatures and agreed.
3. In the next cave, Clothild was captured by a giant spider. The sonic pigs panicked, ran around, and made the party shit themselves. When the chaos finally ended, the party decided to negotiate with the spider. It spoke in a distorted, child-like voice, and bartered from a position of relative safety on the ceiling. After a bit of debate, the party killed two pigs and trader them for a bloodless and drugged pig-herder.
4. The party revived Clothild. He promptly fell off some stairs and broke his neck. Sighing wearily, the party searched his body and found a book daemonic pacts and vile deeds. Clothild, despite all appearances, was a horrifically depraved and evil person. The Paladin decided to keep the book until a safe means of disposal could be found. A few minutes after Clothild's death, fiery fissures opened in the stone. Blacked clawed hands reached up and dragged the swineherd's body directly into Hell.
5. Fleeing clouds of sulphur and infernal screams, the party arrived in the half-real village of Lendal (04.04). The village and its inhabitants only existed in the dark. The party's lanterns illuminated a large empty cave; extinguished, they could feel stairs, buildings, and polite if distracted villagers. They traded gold and tales of the surface for mushroom soup, slept, and got directions to Jeswick's fortress. The Paladin found one sonic pig.
6. The party, following their directions, passed by a mysterious indigo-lit cave. They did not explore it.
7. After a long and worrying abseil downwards, the party found a crucified ghoul tied to two bent speleothems (04.03). Ghoul Captain Szoban, fully rational but very condescending, had lead a failed raid into "hostile territory" to "protect vital national interests." His soldiers lay scattered around him, neatly butchered. "The perfidious Olm" had left him alive as a warning to the others.
He promised to lead them to Jeswick's fortress if freed. He knew of the humans; they farmed pigs for the Olm in return for protection. "Vile collaborators," he called them. The party freed the Ghoul Captain, but bound his clawed hands. With the aid of Kibeth, the Walker, Christen marched him along in perfect safety.
The Olm attacked. Bill got one through the throat with a crossbow bolt and the rest retreated. The party looted the corpse and, at Captain Szoban's insistence, dragged it along for a meal.
8. The party negotiated access into Jeswick's fortress and climbed the trick-spike wall. Only some paths and pitons were safe. Others could be pushed out or retracted by hidden mechanisms. They reached the top and entered a remarkably small village. Jeswick, a scraggly youth in a rotting fur coat, resembled an algal compost heap. His subjects were little better. The party returned one sonic pig and was offered a reward for more.
Ghoul Captain Szoban, released from Christen's bell, devoured the Olm corpse and fled into the darkness.
The session ended with the party learning the fundamental law of the Veins: 1gp = 1 ration = 1 hour of light. In their own way, each PC began to adapt to life underground.
GM NotesI've been running the Veins with pitch-black humour. It's not quite a bleak struggle for survival, but the party will happily debate the relative deliciousness of hirelings or the best way to destroy a peaceful community. The writeup doesn't carry a lot of purple prose or visual imagery. There's more detail at the table.
The players really like it so far. The first session introduced a few significant ideas:
-the underground world follows very different rules
-the Veins are a 3D maze full of nightmares
-there is plenty of loot
In session 2, things really went sideways.