Sunday, February 11, 2024

Maintenance and Preservation - Session Six

The earthquakes were getting worse. Something under Clearmountain was causing them. Central Services needed to pinpoint the source of the disturbance before they could do something about it.

Pepper and John Benson had a job to do: place three sensors in the southeast region of the underground. One in the old church crypt, one in the cult stronghold and one in a complex of buried ruins. With only two people to do the job, Pepper decided to call for backup. She called up the Explorers of the Furthest Realms and asked if anyone wanted to go on a delve into the undercity. 
The Explorer Gunnie met them at the central services building. She had the Death Knight Hildegrin's armor on, stripped of the gold damascening that adorned the matte black plates. She didn't make any clanking sounds stomping around, and the explorers noted a yellow scarf around her neck, the only adornment on the dark armor. Benson asked where she got the suit of plates, and she explained it came off a dead body in the underworld. She was excited to get into the undercity, and suggested the group use the entrance at the club downtown, under the old textile mill, which would put them within walking distance of their objectives.
The line outside the club was long, but the one-eyed woman guarding the door let Gunnie and her plus two pass without incident. Inside, the dance floor was dwarfed by an enormous sign, and a graduated cylinder filled with viscous red fluid, backlit by a floodlight.
At the counter under the giant sign, patrons inserted shunts into the insides of their elbows, tapping veins and donating blood in exchange for drinks served by a slack-jawed barkeep. At least they were using sterile needles.

Gunnie ignored the foolishness and showed the group the NOT A FIRE EXIT door behind the kitchen. The ruins under the club were burnt, melted and fused, like something very hot scorched its way through the area. A magic book lying on the floor, untouched by the blaze, proved to actually be a lure from a very dead angler turtle, a dangerous underworld beast killed by the fire. Pepper took the giant turtle's skull. It was easy to hide the sensor module where it wouldn't be disturbed, leaving two more to be placed elsewhere in the dungeon.

A set of welded doors blocked the group's path, forcing them to go around. They met the same witch cat that John Benson encountered on his first trip into the underworld, accompanied by its owner: the witch herself. She warned the team that this area of the undercity was infested with pissed off angels, and they needed to leave quickly. John Benson asked her if she wanted to meet up later to trade magical secrets. She probably got the wrong idea what he was asking for, but agreed anyway. Gunnie disappeared during the encounter and came back immediately after, to complain about what a "showoff" the mage was.

Another welded door blocked the team's progress, but Benson was able to shoulder check it open. Inside was the burnt remains of a survivalist's hideout. Something bored through the door into the room and roasted the dead man lying on the ground. His shotgun was still in working condition, the heat treated steel parts withstood the burning but none of the ammo was salvageable. Pepper grabbed the scattergun and the team continued on their way. The tunnels led to a room filled with grime and sludge, the top layer of which was fused into glass. Gunnie crawled on the surface to distribute her weight. She skewered a giant leech with her dagger when it swam too close to the surface.

A man burst into the room with a gun. His mouth was a round sucker filled with concentric rings of teeth. Gunnie told him to relax and he put up the gun, then signed something to her. Gunnie told Lloyd the Vampire (who the maintenance team recognized as the barkeep from the club) that she was doing fine, she was going to juke the angels and come back with treasure. He signed something to her that the city workers couldn't understand, then left.

That was the last obstacle that stopped the team before they reached the old church crypt. It had an ossuary similar to the other tombs they had explored in the undercity. John Benson tried to hide the sensor in among the bones and a skeletal hand snatched it from his grasp, pulling it out of view. The team considered this a job well done, and went looking for a path to the final area that needed a detector: the cult stronghold of the Urban Druids.

Singing echoed from the passages ahead in a dozen languages, the same song as the explorers heard in the Angel Tomb on the third level. Gunnie scouted ahead of the group, practically disappearing before their eyes. She came back almost immediately, running very fast. There was a room filled with religious objects and a spiral staircase that presumably led up to the church, and there were four people descending the staircase. They wore sashes and armbands blazoned with crosses, and carried a mix of clubs and electroshock weapons.

Benson marched in to greet them. They asked if he had ever done nothing while another came to harm. He said he had not. They didn't believe him, and invited him to accompany them into the next chamber, where the singing was loudest.
The room was a bloodcourt. Cultists like the ones escorting Benson lay on the floor in an abject display of proskinesis. Victims of Angelic justice were displayed around the large chamber. One impaled on a spike, one pressed beneath boulders, one dead on a gibbet, and one still alive on a cross. The man on the cross was Johnny Boy, John Benson's uncle. At the center of the room, the two headed bird who put him there stopped singing and turned both beaks to regard John Benson. It asked if he had ever, through inaction, allowed another to come to harm.

From her hiding place in the previous room, Gunnie read from a scroll. The angel was polymorphed into a large frog before it could smite the maintenance man. John Benson ran to the cross and used his toolkit to remove the nails, hauling his uncle out of the chamber before the cultists and transformed amphibian could catch him. Their clubs and the electrodes of their tasers all missed and he got away with the middle aged man carried on his back. Pepper distracted the rest of the cultists and got ready to run. Gunnie thumbed to the next scroll on her clipboard and cast a wall of ice, entombing the oncoming fanatics.

Benson fled into a chamber where an enormous skeleton sat by a fire. The undead giant looked up from his repose, shouted at the pursuing fanatics in Yiddish and cast hold portal on the tunnel, sealing them off. The ancient hermit was not interested in the religious war raging outside his door. He was here first and these momzers had no right to pester him about nonsense. Benson thanked the hermit for his assistance and went on his way, looking for a route back to the surface and a hospital for his uncle.
Gunnie shoveled religious treasures into her loot bag while Pepper went the long way around the church crypt to meet up with Benson. She passed a group of cultists guarding a barricade that led further into the dungeon, who didn't notice her sneak behind them. Based on the map, the tunnel they were watching was the druidic den, the last location the maintenance team needed to place a sensor at. There would be time for that later.
John Benson entered a reliquary, where the still-living eye of a dead saint tracked his movement through the room. He picked up the eye from its cabinet, felt a powerful sense of misfortune and put it down again. The dungeon area looped around at the end of the tunnel, reuniting the maintenance crew. A storeroom for religious paraphernalia proved hazardous when an unseen force animated a disused confessional, almost dropping it on top of Pepper. The group hastily pressed onward through an old maintenance tunnel, which led back into the abandoned subway station.

The sound of singing indicated that the pursuers had picked up the trail again. Benson ran ahead with Johnny Boy to lead them away, while Pepper hid in a supply closet. The cultists and a constellation of two-headed lesser Angels followed Benson and were bowled over by an oncoming ghost train, which the maintenance man dodged by pressing himself to the wall of the tunnel. He made it to the surface before they could catch him and demanded the railway workers on the surface yard retrieve an AED and call an ambulance. Down below, Pepper waited in the supply closet for the cultists to disperse, then ran for the surface after the others. Gunnie was waiting for her, and showed off a cool treasure she found: a strange trishula with a lightless black orb floating at the tip. Pepper told her to be careful, Gunnie inadvertently depressed the firing stud and shot a crackling blue radiation beam into the air. She blinked and carefully replaced the fork in her loot bag.

Gunnie had no further interest in dungeoneering that day, having spent two valuable scrolls but recovered a bunch of cool loot. That left Benson and Pepper to place the remaining sensor module in the druidic stronghold. The old suburban entrance they used previously was finally filled in with concrete, the property management company didn't trust the police to stop trespassers after last time. That left the necropolis as the closest underworld entrance.

The necropolis was closed off with police tape. There was a chalk outline on the ground, indicating the militia had made good on their threat to shoot someone for violating the tombs of their ancestors. The maintenance crew peered into the unsealed crypt before descending. At first they worried their flashlight was malfunctioning - the hole remained black and featureless under the beam.

Then an eye formed in the surface. Then several.

Adrian Bush

The blob spoke to the adventurers, imitating whatever they said. After a moment, a pair of faces formed in its mantle, imitating their own. They decided the beast was unlikely to harm them and descended the steps into the tomb. The blob formed a cast around them, not touching their skin but coming as close as it could. Then it withdrew. When the maintenance team looked back, it had separated into two piles of cytoplasm, which were now shaped like them. They weren't interested in dealing with that, so the group continued into the dungeon. 

A blue light lit the tunnel ahead of them. Pepper hid behind a pile of coffins while Benson went to parlay with the visitor. It was a floating skull, animated by evil blue energy, flanked by a pair of zombified Ponda Ray greaseballs carrying pistols. John Benson had heard about this guy, Tombherd the Lich. He stepped forward and asked the lich to teach him the secrets of life and death. Tombherd cast a spell on Benson, who fell to the ground dead and rose almost immediately as a Revenant. Thankfully his good looks survived intact, though that would only last so long before he was dried up and rotting. Tombherd lost interest and floated away before Benson could ask further questions.

Beyond the crypt was the bomb shelter, then the underworld frontier. The group had visited this place before, but not explored the entirety of the area. The lich or one of his subordinates had painted over the tags in the graffiti room, with a skull in a horned leather caps and the words BONE MACHINE. There was clear evidence of lich activity in the unexplored rooms. A bunch of corpses dangling on hooks, police and mobsters and normal people, which reanimated and opened fire on Pepper with their handguns - leaving John Benson out of the line of fire. Pepper got through the door before they could hit her, and they used up all their bullets shooting at nothing. Then a bookcase that looked promising, but proved to be a mimic when Benson poked it with his wrench, which the monster almost ate. A room full of giant bones, like the ones belonging to the old hermit, which reanimated and attacked the one living member of the duo. Pepper used the snapping turtle head to bite through the wrist of a giant hand that grabbed her, and the other pieces of the skeleton couldn't do much to harm her.


The tunnel to the druidic zone was lit blue by fungus growing on the walls. It opened up into a wide room with a floor covered in dangerous slime, across which a narrow chain of stepping stones promised passage. A pair of Druids guarded a barricade of logs at the opposite end, the kudzu and hyena robed guys the team previously met in the trashed Ponda Ray hideout. They shouted a warning to Pepper: there was a zombie right on her tail! Hyena robe lifted his hand and blew Benson's leg off with a flaying spell, sending him plummeting into the slime to be burned for additional damage. Pepper hauled him out and they explained the situation to the Druids: Benson wasn't a mindless servitor of Tombherd, he was an intelligent undead interested only in the proper placement of sensor modules. The Druids didn't like admitting a zombie, but would permit a quick in and out operation to drop off the detector. Benson grabbed a giant shin from the animated bone room and tied it to his thigh, where it formed a serviceable peg leg.

The druid hideout was besieged on both sides, one by Tombherd and one by the Angels at the church, so the maintenance team worked fast. The rooms were lit by magic carvings in the ceiling that simulated sun or moonlight and allowed plants to grow. They scuttled through a flower filled room where giant mason bees gathered pollen and honey, then placed the sensor in the wall of a dirt filled chamber where root dryads slumbered.

On the way back out, the dangling corpses shouted curses at Pepper, telling her to commit suicide. One of them threw his empty revolver at her, which she pocketed rather than returning to him. This proved handy a few rooms later, when the group encountered a giant salamander with a ruff of flame. The beast wasn't interested in any of the metal tools Benson threw from his toolbox, but it happily accepted the handgun, slurping it up and regurgitating it with the walnut grips and other flammable parts completely consumed. This distraction allowed the duo to pass, and in no time they were back on the surface, stopping only to swap out the giant peg leg for a more modest skeleton leg that fit Benson better. Tombherd the Lich stared up at the sky in the cemetery while his pair of goons waited impatiently, allowing the maintenance crew to make their escape.


The group reported their progress to the one legged boss, who didn't have a cool skeleton prosthetic like John Benson but had the advantage of being still alive. Then the two split up to engage in personal pursuits.
  • John Benson visited his uncle in the hospital. The old man's religious experience of punishment at the hands of an Angel put him off further mafia activities, the kind of conversion a goombah gets from a near-death experience and typically lasts about a week before he returns to his old tricks. But it would at least stop him from pursuing further gang war activities against the Red Caps, Ponda Rays or the church.
  • After the visit, John Benson met the witch in the Tree Park. She was immediately turned off by his new undead visage, but he explained that his earlier interest in exchanging tomes was sincere rather than a pretext for a hookup. Encouraged by her familiar, the witch drove a hard bargain, and Benson only obtained a scroll of Speak With Dead by parting with the giant leg he recovered from the dungeon.
  • Pepper broke into Gunnie's apartment and stole the radiation trident and silver goblets which she had appropriated during the expedition. The Explorers only frowned on loot hoarding in the dungeon, once you got the stuff back to the surface the theft was fair game. She donated the cups to Eddie's museum, but kept the trident for herself.


  1. I like the little description of John Benson’s meet with the witch after the adventure. A potential hookup turned sour by the presence of undeath but rescued by John by bargaining a giant bone leg for magical knowledge is very gonzo and sort of encapsulates Esoteric Enterprises in my view.

    Another reason I enjoy reading these play reports is the vocabulary used. I had to look up proskinesis, momzers, and trishula. I updated my journal.

    I am curious about Tombherd the Lich’s motivations though. Why would it be staring at the sky in the cemetery seemingly oblivious to the escaping characters and lose interest in John Benson immediately after making him a Revenant? Either the Lich has important plans in mind or maybe is a little too old?

    1. It's possible John Benson is a Manchurian Candidate that Tombherd is only pretending to ignore, so that he can be "activated" later in the most inconvenient possible circumstance. It's also possible the Lich was sincere in his "gift" of corpsehood, believing that anyone who wishes to pursue magic should be given a chance.

      As for the night sky, Tombherd might have been thinking about a celestial intelligence he had once communed with, or a Great Work in progress which hinged on some alignment of the heavens. In his ravenous madness, he may have believed the flickering blue lights overhead were the winking eyes of other skulls like himself.