Runequest Thursday #81 - The Crooked, Clipped Cube of Balo, Demon Jester - A Challenge Dungeon for D-Infinity Live!

Clint Staples

Tonight's D-Infinity Live Show is the first in what we hope will be a new series. Every once is a while (once a month was bandied about, but I don't know if that is what will happen) the regular crazies here at D-Infinity and Skirmisher will level a gaming challenge at our fellows in the hopes of getting some cool new stuff going on.

Now, I don't mean challenges like "Betcha won't drink that!" Too many of they them already. I mean challenges that get us thinking about gaming, maybe in a new way, or maybe to a new purpose - all to entertain you folks!

Case in point: Michael O. Varhola issued the first one a week ago - in which we were to choose a completed panel of a game he enjoys - Words With Friends - and create a dungeon, scenario, encounter or series of encounters, even a campaign or world if we wanted to, based on the structure and keywords contained therein, interpreted however we wanted. Tonight on the show, we will unveil and deconstruct our Challenge responses for your edification and entertainment LIVE! Tune in, I'm on the show and I don't even know what is going to happen.

 

I decided, because I am pressed for time and had a Runequest Thursday post to do, to combine these two activities into a single grand meta-post! So I present to you - The Crooked, Clipped Cube of Balo, Demon Jester, The Motley Knight of Chaos!

You can you CCCBDJ,MKC (wow, even the anagram is chaotic as heck) anyway you want, but my inspiration comes from Chaosium's Elric and Stormbringer RPGs, which have always been faves of mine. I recall a scenario,which I cannot find at present, that features Balo, the Demon Lord of Tricksters! I don't remember much about it, and as I said, I could not dig up my copy, so I hope my tribute does not tread too close while giving the feel I wanted.  

Obviously, this scenario would go best in an Elric game (did you know that there was a Runequest Version of Elric made a few years back?), but it could just as easily fit into any game that includes the notion of demons, tricksters, or demon tricksters. I have not statted out all the critters or encounters, I will leave that to individual GMs so they can suit it to their play level. But the rewards and tests are written for Runequest.

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Here is the Words with Friends Panel that I chose to use as the base for my scenario. See if you can find what inspired me, or tune in tonight to get it from the horse's, err, my, mouth!

 

Image of the Star of Chaos is by the talented Joya Elvira.

 

So without further ado, here is:

 

The Crooked Clipped Cube of Balo, Demon Jester, Crooked Knight of Chaos!

Intro:

Eight miles, eights yards and eight inches from the edge of town, on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth years of King Leon, eighth of that name, a crooked cube of black basalt, with one corner sheared away as if by a massive cleaver, appeared at the eighth hour. Each surface bore the eight-pointed star of chaos, eighty-eight feet tall, even the clipped corner which bears a smaller star. On closer inspection, for yes, there were those in town who would more closely inspect even so dire a thing as that black monument, one of the sides had an opening, sized perfectly for the access of men. From eight feet above terra firma, that black hole in the black square of chaos yawned.

No one entered . . . until the lights began: bright, multi-colored flashes, strings of them appeared from the aether, surrounding the portal – an obvious invitation, soon to be accompanied by carnival music blaring from within. The voice of a barker was hardly a surprise, but the words were unintelligible, garbled or too strange to fit in the ears of mortals.

When the champions of King Leon arrived, the organs, lights and voice had been blaring for eight days. After a brief discussion (how long do you think that took?) the champions entered.

 

Within the Cube:

Distances, angles, even sound and direction were strange within the Cube. There is no way to quantify the scale of such a place – other than to say that the dimensions all are factors of 8 in some way (but you already guessed that).

Although there are no “real” directions within Balo’s Cube, we will, for convenience and sanity, equate UP on the map to North.

 

1. The Egress

If the heroes are on guard (and why wouldn’t they be) allow them spot checks (at -20% due to the carnival lights that flash along the corridors) to note the jagged black burn marks on wall as they move toward 1. Listen checks are impossible because of the cacaphonous carnival music and the sourceless voice of the Demon Barker.

The Lightning Demon – Zapdacha:  In an alcove off of the main corridor from the Egress there writhes a whirling wheel of sparks and light. Zapdacha is bound to its duty by a binding sigil upon it and a stone worked into the back of the alcove. When any living things steps beyond the Egress, Zapdacha flares bright, rolls out into the main corridor and expels lightning in all directions. Note that the Lightning extends down the “south” passage for 4 squares.

At the west end of the Egress there is a crack in the stone wall through which the heroes may glimpse the Motley Knight – See 6.

As the heroes move away from the Egress, the sound and lights of the carnival fade but never completely leave, such that there is faint multi-hued illumination and sound throughout the Cube.

 

2. Fate

The Wall of Heroes or the Book of Names: On the East wall, names have been carved, thousands of them, scratched over one another, to the point of illegibility. It takes time to decipher even a few, but they relate to great heroes known and forgotten throughout all the realms of existence. Do the heroes perceive names known to them, (POWx5 for success) such as Herakles or Hector, Achilles, Beowulf, Arthur, or Roland. Or do they see only those forgotten across the multisphere, such as Shining Loek, Brek the Builder, or Sigilion the Watch-Knight. 

Across the oddly shaped room, crouched on a pedestal, is a humanoid demon holding a large book, its lithe black body reflecting the lights from down the hall and the Egress. Each of its two heads watches the approach of the heroes, one grinning toothily, the other with a knowing smile on the face of a goddess. The demon heads introduce itself as Bafanyw, proffer the massive tome and a pen. The goddess head is beautiful and calculating, the demon head is that of a fool or an imbecile.

Each head will address the heroes, offering them the choice: Grinner: will they scribe their names on the wall of Heroes to do great deeds, but risk the oblivion of the Forgotten? Goddess: Or will they enter their names in the Tome and be rewarded with their heart’s desire?

The Wall is the correct answer – Heroes act, not out of desire for fame, but out of necessity, or a certain turn of spirit. Any who choose the Wall see their name immediately etched there (though if they look, they will note it is almost impossible to find, requiring a POWx1 roll to do so). Balo loves the fool, and he sees selflessness as the ultimate in foolery.

Wall heroes have Balo’s Blessing. The Grinning Head opens its mouth wide and spits forth a token – a slim two-edged blade of some unknown metal, red on one side, black on the other, un-hilted, like some strange incomplete throwing knife. The grinning head reveals its 888 teeth and says that these tokens are good for a single reversal of fortune – a Do-Over – if used immediately after a result within the Cube. Beyond the confines of Balo’s Realm, the powers of these demon blades are up to the GM.

Book Heroes are cursed, though they may not realize that for some time. Their names immediately are written in fire on the top page of the Book, where it may be found by sorcerers across the multisphere and used as a part of a binding sigil for the eponymous hero. The hero can now be summoned, commanded, even bound, just as a demon can be. Balo’s “reward” for acquiescing to this cosmic jape is his talisman – a coin that appears in the pocket or purse of the hero (see “Balo’s Coin”).

The Demon of the Book is impossible to affect so long as it holds the book. Any attacks pass through it, and spells fail to find anything to affect. If the book is somehow removed from the demon’s grip, the demon becomes solid and may attack or flee by teleporting away (if so, it may return later at a most inopportune moment for the Heroes).

 

3. Fiction: Dear Enur:

On a writing desk of ornate black enameled wood, there is a letter in a strange hand that is readable to all in their native script. But there is no pen, or writing equipment, nor any chair or bench. Addressed to Enur, there is no other text on the single page. Across the room, there is a large Rune on the wall.

 If read backward, “Dear Enur” spells “Rune Read”.  If the heroes decipher the “riddle” of Balo, and READ “Rune”, they avoid triggering the Shun Rune scribed on the wall.

If they do not read the rune, they are targeted by a spell of Forgetfulness at POW 25.

Forgetfulness: Targets that fail, utterly forget their friends, allies, lovers and children for a span of time dependant upon how badly they are overcome on the test. 

  • Overcome by 20% or less: 1d8 Rounds.
  • Overcome by 21 to 40%: 1d8 Minutes.
  • Overcome by 41% or more: 1d8 Hours.
  • The Spell rolled a Special Success: The target also forgets some great deed of theirs, a matter of faith, or some core tenet of their belief, for the same period.
  • The Spell rolled a Critical Success: The duration is permanent, and can only be undone by a power greater than that of the Demon Jester.

Note: It is possible for the Spell to Special or Critical AND also fit into one of the three precious categories – in which case all results apply.

Also Note: If the heroes have discovered Balo’s Coin and wish to use it to alter the spell’s attack roll (which would affect the result against the entire group), they may do so.

 

4. The Wifemare

The wifemare (at position X) appears to one of the married male heroes in the group: As a harpy if that character’s spouse is normally good-natured. If the spouse is normally unpleasant, their demeanor and appearance are enhanced to such a degree as to be impossible, and extremely tempting. If the spouse is not particular either, the GM can roll randomly, or choose the one that plays upon the chosen character better.

The Harpy: The Harpy immediately lays into the hero verbally, screaming invective and curses, shrieking about the unfairness of him having a life and her stuck doing whatever she is stuck doing, even if the real spouse has exactly the life she wishes for. The wifemare plays upon the guilt of the husband for leaving his wife behind to wander the world as a hero.

The “Ideal” Wife: The ideal Wife is a caricature of the ideal woman, the deepest wish or fantasy of a weak man who is incapable of understanding a complete person. She comes to her husband offering solace selflessly, offering to heal his wounds or removing any lingering conditions if will accept her embrace. The healing is genuine, but the spot will be forever marked by a faint red mark in the shape like that of a kiss.

Note: Regardless of which form the Wifemare takes, only a woman can banish or slay the creature, which she can do the more easily based on the level of her scorn for the this “trick”. If the hero being test by the wifemare actually attacks it, the damage appears upon his own body, and the wifemare is unmarred and unaffected.

 

5. Fool’s Greed

In an alcove there is a large chest, filled with several thousand (or hundred, whatever amount the GM wants really) strange gold colored coins, too light to actually be gold, with some sort of waterfowl depicted on one side and the profile of an elderly monarch on the other. On the adjoining wall there are heavy leather bags, one for each member of the party, including one for any animal companions, familiars, human hirelings, etc. If the heroes can share out the coins absolutely equally they can keep them. Otherwise, the coins pour from their split bags or otherwise return to the chest as they leave the area. There are exactly enough coins that they may be evenly divided by the total number of party members. If any among the heroes ask about something like this, the GM can tell them that, or not if play is still lively.

The coins are completely unknown in the realm of King Leon VIII (or wherever else this scenario is played out). The value of the coins is roughly 60% of the value of the main currency of the land.

 

6. The Motley Knight

Standing in the middle of a sigil on the floor A knight, in ornate gothic armor, gleaming black and red, with a tattered Motley tabard picking out a grinning demon’s face (the same as on the red side of Balo’s Coin, if any of the heroes have discovered theirs at this point). Standing feet widespread, hands resting on the head of a wicked axe planted on the flagstones.

One of the heroes will be challenged at random. If there is a hero who has not been singled out or has stayed in the background thus far, the GM should choose that one.

If the heroes adhere to the offer of single combat, the winner must defeat the Motley Knight without killing it or become the Motley Knight himself. On the death by single combat of the Motley Knight, the slayer finds himself or herself transported into the armor of the Motley Knight, unable to remove it or leave the lonely vigil.

If the heroes attack “En Masse” they are free to do as they wish. This is the acceptable course of action in Balo’s Eyes. If the Motley Knight is overwhelmed by all and slain, he falls and the heroes are all free to continue.

 

7. The Pit

A phoenix sits in a cage on a pillar of stone amid a deep pit. Nearby there is a mechanism, a series of pulleys, a chain and a massive bronze claw (the pliers). The controller can make the claw grip the top of the cage, and lift it off the pillar. He can then drop the bird and cage into the pit, bring it over to him at 7, or move it to release it to either of the x’s marked on the map. Results are as follows:

  • Pit: The phoenix falls and burst into flames as it strikes its own ashes below. It then rises and its aura heals all damage and deleterious conditions, including any suffered in the Cube (like memory loss due to 3 above) except for removing Balo’s Coin.
  • To the Controller: the Phoenix explodes in a fireball, damaging the controller and all nearby targets. Perhaps worse, the phoenix itself is destroyed, with no possibility of rebirth.
  • Either X: Explodes as above, but is too far away to damage the Heroes unless they have moved near to the X in question. The Demon Mouth in 8 is damaged if the western X is involved. If the eastern X is involved, the Sauce in 9 becomes unbearably spicy.

 

8. The Demon Mouth

A massive demonic mouth, with several long, writhing, tentacle-tongues takes up the west wall. The tongues can reach as far as is pictured on the map, but cannot reach the Sauce in (which smells incredibly tempting, even to mortal heroes).

If the Sauce has been affected by events in 7, it becomes Phoenix Sauce and is deadly to the Demon Mouth, which bursts into flames and dies messily. If not, it will heal any damage done by a detonating phoenix in 8. If neither condition applies, the Demon Mouth can be “defeated” by giving it the Sauce. There is no reward for fighting or defeating the Demon Mouth. Balo believes it to be so obvious a threat as to not be worthy of a reward. He is not even terribly amused if the heroes use the Phoenix Sauce to overcome it.

 

9. The Sauce

A large iron cauldron of simmering, spicy, sweet, and savoury, sauce bubbles away, with no apparent heat source.  See the paragraph immediately above for the effect of a Phoenix-ed Sauce on the Demon Mouth. If it is not fed to the demon, the Phoenix Sauce becomes unbearably spicy and inflicts 2d10 Hits of damage directly to the Hit Points of the imbiber, in addition to what is below.

The Sauce is also of potential benefit to mortals however. There are 1d4 drafts for a human (only one demon-sized on though). For each Draft consumed:

  • The imbiber should roll POW x3 to gain 1d4 Permanent POW. If the result is a Critical Success, the imbiber may instead choose another characteristic to raise in the same manner instead. If the result is a failure, the imbiber immediately suffers a Chaotic Mutation. Roll on the Chaotic Mutation Tables: http://d-infinity.net/game-content/oddities-chaotic-mutation
  • A single imbiber taking a subsequent Drafts, has his chance of success reduced to x2, then x1, then O1. But if any of the rolls succeed, they may be used to reverse a single Chaotic Mutation suffered.

 

10. Onward?

This wall is unmarked unless the heroes have interacted with ever station of the Cube. If so, the Demon Jester is sufficiently amused to allow the Champions to leave via a glowing star of chaos that swirls into being in the blank wall. Where do they go from here? That depends on whether any have suffered, or gained, permanently from the events of the Cube. Or if one or more possess one of Balo’s Coins (not tokens, those are single use chits. Balo wants a full-time commitment). If so, the heroes may leave, but are sure to hear from Balo again in future. If not:

  • Another level of the Cube perhaps?
  • Transported to a distant place of adventure, as a reward from the Demon Jester.
  • Tossed into The Grand Contest of Champions – where mortals representing Demon Lords contend for riches and the favour of the Patrons.
  • Transported to a distant realm, possibly not even within the same universe that the heroes hale from.
  • Anything else you think is fun.

 

Appendix:

Balo’s Coin – a two-headed bi-color coin, an unknown red metal on one side, and an unknown black metal on the other, each side marked with a different version of the same three-eyed demon’s head.  On the red side, the demon is grinning maniacally, eyes closed in a paroxysm of mirth. On the black side, the demon’s mouth is grim, or perhaps pouty, its eyes tightly shut. When flipped the demon appears to be winking, or half of its face is in shadow as the red and black begin to blur.

The coin will never leave their presence, always magically appearing there regardless of what is done to stop or destroy it. It allows Balo to scry on the Coin-Bearer wherever they are in space or time, anywhere in the multiverse. It also allows the Coin-Bearer to call on Balo’s Favor.

Balo’s Favor: The Coin-Bearer rolls 1d8 for each POW she permanently wagers (these wagered POW  are lost immediately and go directly to Balo, but the Coin-Bearer may not be aware of this). All d8s are rolled. The result may be added or subtracted to or from any single die roll affecting the Coin-Bearer. This can be a damage roll, a percentile roll, any single roll – that the Coin-Bearer makes, or that affects her. The Coin-Bearer must decide how many POW to Wager before rolling the d8(s) and may not decide to add more after their result is determined. Balo’s favour can affect any roll in the multiverse: even gods and demon lords can be fooled by the Knight Motley.

 

The Tiny Two-Edged Swords of the Motley KnightA slim two-edged blade of some unknown metals, red on one side, black on the other, un-hilted, like some strange incomplete throwing knife.

These are a token of the Motley Knight’s respect for having been defeated in a game of fools. The grinning head reveals its 888 teeth and says that these tokens are good for a single reversal of fortune – a Do-Over – if used immediately after a result within the Cube. Beyond the confines of Balo’s Realm, the powers of these demon blades are up to the GM.