This was the Fourteenth session of my Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate wuxia sandbox campaign, the Celestial Plume Masters, using the Sons of Lady 87 book, which was just released in print. You can see the first session HERE. You can see the Thirteenth session HERE.
Wei Ziying: A skilled poisoner and physician, with ties to the Relentless Corpse Sect, Wei Ziying is a disciple of the Celestial Plume Masters. He also has a longstanding friendship with Kuo Qingzhao, who wishes to know more about the poisons that killed his wife (poisons Wei Ziying knows the secrets of). Grudge: Ravenous Nun Xuanji (for the murder of Red Eagle)
Wang Haoyang: A master of stealth, Wang Haoyang is one of the Celestial Plume Master disciples. He has a lifelong friendship with Pei Ye of the Vermillion Bird Teahouse, but has attracted the affection of another member of that organization, Fan Zhen'er (he does not return the affection but wishes to avoid creating friction within the Vermillion Bird Teahouse, and possibly creating enemies). Grudge: Guan Nuan (for a duel he escaped, she feels she lost face because he was weaker than her and should have been an easy victory)
Hei Ling: A one-eyed chief in the Celestial Plume Masters, Hei Ling is the father of Li Liang, whom he wishes to cease practicing her Toad Style kung fu because of the physical toll on her body. He had Li Liang with Qixia the candied fruit in his youth and since then Qixia has grown hostile. He has a working relationship with the Wu Sisters. Grudge: Qixia the Candied Fruit Vendor (of Hai'an). Grudge: Qixia (many reasons related to their pre-existing relationship)
Iron Tiger: The newest member of the party, sent by Night Thorn to help them expand. He has a longstanding friendship with Iron Beggar Sun Kang, whom he wants to leave his lap of luxury in the House of Flying Lanterns so he can train with the Nature Loving Monks and improve his Kung Fu. Iron Beggar in turn wants Iron Tiger to leave the Celestial Plume Masters. Grudge: Pei Ye (he murdered her favorite client, Golden Cobra).
WE WILL GO TO LI FAN
Wang Haoyang, Hei Ling, Fan Zhen'er and Iron Tiger discussed their next move. They decided it was important to improve their martial arts before facing the 87 Killers. Relying on their information network, they identified possible places each could learn a suitable technique. Hei Ling wished to learn the feared Leg Maiming Strike Technique from Shen Guan of Stone Palace, in Li Fan. Wang Haoyang wanted to learn from the Skin Wearing Assassins of Dragon Tooth Cavern in Li Fan. Iron Tiger wished to speak with Magnificent Scholar about the disappearance of Tung Lu, and would need to go to one of the southern peaks of the Banyan Mountains in Li Fan.
They agreed to all go to Li Fan, but had just over 20 days to make it back for a rendezvous with Wei Ziying so they could ambush the 87 Killers. After discussion they decided that Iron Tiger would take chariots to Magnificent Scholar, while Hei Ling, Fan Zhen'er and Wang Haoyang would go to Stone Palace before trying to reach Dragon Tooth Cavern.
Wang Haoyang taught Fan Zhen'er his stealth of the Spider Demon technique.
A BOOK AND A CUP
Iron Tiger scaled the peaks along the border of Li Fan and Hu Qin, with his retinue and came to a rope bridge leading to a towering stone hut. Beyond the bridge they saw a giant yak-like figure, with eight arms and a ferocious face. He said he was the god of the mountain, and tasked with guarding it as well as protecting the home of Magnificent Scholar.
"I need to speak with the scholar, may I enter?" Asked Iron Tiger.
Art by Jackie Musto
Iron Tiger nodded and and told his men to go to Yun Hu and report should he not return in a timely manner.
Approaching the hut he found two doors, both wide open. The first led to a bed chamber, which he had no interest in inspecting. So he entered the other door and there he found something odd. There was a set of steps leading up to a second story and a table laid out with a cup of liquid. A strange book lay on the ground. The book was so large, it went up to the ceiling through the floor to the next story.
"Drink this Iron Tiger, if you wish learn what became of Tung Lu." It was Magnificent Scholar speaking from the second floor.
"How do I know you aren't giving me a lethal poison?"
"Drink if you want to know."
Iron Tiger inspected the cup and so no visible sign of poison, so he drank. Then he collapsed into a sleep.*
Wang Haoyang, Fan Zhen'er and Hei Ling took a merchant vessel on the canals to reach Yun Hu (which only took a small number of days). There they went to Stone Palace, a casino, and asked to speak with Shen Guan, the bodyguard of Gambling Butcher, the leader. They were brought into a room filled with men wearing golden robes embroidered with crickets. Shen Guan sat at the head of the chamber flanked by the men and asked what they wanted.
Hei Ling explained that he heard her Leg Maiming Strike was superb and wished to learn it.
"You want to be my disciple?"
"No, I would like to learn the technique from you and perhaps the Celestial Plume Masters can give you something that you wish in exchange."
Shen Guan asked him to speak with her privately outside. They walked the streets while Wang Haoyang stayed and gambled with the Golden Crickets (losing over 1,100 spades in a cricket fight).
Hei Ling asked Shen Guan what an acceptable trade would be, and she informed him that if he were to kill and bring back a member of the Maidens of the Jade Blue Sky so Gambling Butcher could make a stew of the remains, she would teach him her technique. She also said they would need to come to an arrangement where their organizations would never fight, so the technique couldn't be used against Stone Palace. He suggested that she become his adopted daughter. He was much older, so this seemed more appropriate than becoming sworn siblings. She agreed and also asked to learn one of his techniques.
Wang Haoyang, Fan Zhen'er and Hei Ling asked around town to learn where the Maidens of the Jade Blue Sky might be. They discovered that Abbess Jun Bo was seen in Dashen (a village the organization was known to have ties with). They headed there and found her sleeping in a small homestead accompanied by a disciple.
Wang Haoyang and Fan Zhen'er used their Stealth of the Spider Demon to crawl through the windows and assassinate them. The Abbess and her disciple were dead before they had a chance to wake. Fan Zhen'er cleaned up the scene, to be sure no one could learn their involvement**. They buried the body of the disciple then took the body of the abbess with them on the road back to He Yun.
Map of Yun Hu (low res version)
By Francesca Baerald
When they returned to Stone Palace sect with the corpse, Shen Guan was pleased and she informed Hei Ling that she received news that Bone Breaking Sect was after them. One of her informants in Bone Fortress heard that someone visited the sect and told Bone Breaker there was a man using his techniques and trying to rise up in a manner that could make him a rival. The person was Iron Tiger, and since the meeting Bone Breakers men had been looking for anyone affiliated with Celestial Plume Masters.
Hei Ling formally adopted her as his daughter and she addressed him as father from then on.
Iron Tiger awoke in a darkened room lit by a sliver of light shining through a crack under the door. He went out and saw a monk drunk and getting warmed by a brazier. He found the courtyard and saw a man who looked like the descriptions of Tung Lu. He approached the man, who was engaged with a few others in conversation.
"Greetings, are you Tung Lu?"
"Here I am Sunan, and you are Mao Yun."
Iron Tiger seemed to understand and said "Okay very well, but tell me where are we and how do we get out of whatever this place is?"
Tung Lu pointed high to the moon, and Iron Tiger saw the moon was oddly flawed. It was misshapen, and the coloration was wrong. It lurched through the sky and made a shaky path as it did so.
"This is a miniature world, Mao Yun" Sunan winked as he said the name. "We are imprisoned by Magnificent Scholar, shrunk down to the size of thimbles. He has tried to recreate the world of Sunan and Bao during the reign of the demon emperor."
Iron Tiger asked for more information, and tried to get a sense of the scale of the place. From what Tung Lu told him, it was roughly 1,400 square feet, which at their size was more considerable. It was a crude model of the empire during the Era of the Demon Emperor, with small replicas of the major cities (though each city would usually only have ten to twenty people in it, and be quite a simplification of the real thing)^.
"Surely you can escape?"
"Yes but we have been looking for as many skilled fighters as we can to take with us, and we need people with strong Lightness Kung Fu to make the escape more feasible. We also worry about the antidote."
"Well, let's not sit here and wait, let's go find some men and get out of this place as soon as possible."
Tung Lu assented and they began walking to one of the nearby cities. Along the way Iron Tiger introduced himself more formally and explained that he was hoping to learn one of Tung Lu's techniques.
Tung Lu sized him up and said "I can't teach you unless I know more about you, and can be assured you won't use my martial arts for evil."
"I understand," Said Iron Tiger, "But given the circumstances, I may be more helpful if I know the technique. Perhaps you can judge my character from the purity of my form if I demonstrate my style to you."
Tung Lu said "My brother is evidence that perfect form does not reflect perfect character. If I find you are a worthy man, I will teach you, and I am thankful for your contribution to our escape regardless."
Wei Ziying was present as Lady 87 received a box with the head of Night Thorn, otherwise known as Yang Chun, secret leader of the Celestial Plume Masters. He had been ambushed by her men successfully and she was pleased. She then announced that Wei Ziying was to go to Hen Shi Temple and rescue Master Xiong, who had been captured and imprisoned by an imperial secret inspector. He would then bring him here to help them fight their enemies***
"Yes, 87th Lady of the Guan Family," Wei Ziying said, "But Master Xiong is extremely righteous, how will I get him to fight with us against the Celestial Plume Masters. She had her men drag in the carcass of a dead bear and explained she had spread word that the Celestial Plume Masters killed one of his prized animals.
Wei Ziying went with Little Hong Na to Hen-Shi Temple and scouted the area. He saw that it was converted into an Imperial Dehua Temple and had lots of guards. He then went to Tung-On and had the Red Owl Society create a counterfeit order for Master Xiong to be transferred into his custody. He and Little Hong Na dressed as inspectors and went back to the temple.
Gentle Sage, who had been placed in charge of the temple, met with them. He reviewed their order and transferred Xiong to their custody.****
They traveled back to Mai Cun. Master Xiong had been drugged and shackled, but on the journey the drugs wore off. He became rambunctious and demanded to know what was going on. Wei Ziying explained that he was a friend bringing them to Mai Cun to Lady 87.
At first Master Xiong was against going but when Wei Ziying pointed out she had help rescue him, so he should at least hear her out, Master Xiong agreed.
RETURN TO XIA KINGDOM
In Yun Hu, Hei Ling was met by Iron Tiger's men who explained that he had not returned from Magnificent Scholar's hut and they were concerned for his safety. They traveled swiftly to the mountain and Hei Ling spoke with the Mountain God while Wang Haoyang and Fan Zhen'er used Stealth of the Spider Demon to investigate the hut. The Mountain God went to Magnificent Scholar who let Hei Ling approach.
Wang Haoyang snuck up to the top window and saw Magnificent Scholar reading. Magnificent Scholar spoke "Wang Haoyang please enter through the front door."*****
Hei Ling, Wang Hoayang and Fan Zhen'er went in through the front door. There they found the same book that Iron Tiger had seen and three cups on a table.
Art by Jackie Musto
"Drink and you will find your friend," Said Magnificent Scholar.
They refused and stormed up the stairs to attack.
"You think you are worthy to fight me?" Magnificent Scholar said. "You are nothing, defeating you will be too easy."
They sprung into action.
Magnificent Scholar sent several strands of his robe at the party but these were deflected and sent back by Hei Ling's deflecting canopy. Magnificent Scholar was surprised to be wounded.
Fan Zhen'er used her grudge bearing sword strike, which Magnificent Scholar tried to counter with a flaming palm technique. He was unsuccessful and she stabbed him doing considerable damage. Hei Ling then devastated the scholar with Emanating Palm. The following round, Wang Haoyang killed Magnificent Scholar with Blade of the Dancing Fox.
After the scholar's death, they examined the room. The book from the first story rose up through a hole in the floor to the height of their waist. There was also a large iron door with four Zhen Bird figures on it, their limbs pointing in different directions. Wang Haoyang opened the book to read it but it shrunk down to the size of a manual in the palm of his hand. He read the fist page:
"And with his sword, Wang Haoyang slew the nefarious scholar. But what was beyond the mysterious door? Was it a trap bringing death and did it lead to a room full of riches?"
Haoyang observed that each of his actions were recorded in the book and narrated with a strong personality. He tried giving the book to his wife, but this did not work, as it just returned into his possession.
He put concerns about the book aside as they dealt with the door. Fan Zhen'er inspected the cabinets full of medicine and herbs trying to concoct or find a possible antidote to the liquid in the cups below.
Wang Haoyang used a hammer to break open the door, causing shafts of spears to shoot out at him, then the door to sling into the chamber against a stone wall (with the spears still attached). The spears missed him and no one else was in front of the door. There they saw the wall of the room was actually the side of the mountain. On the mountain face was an opening with thin iron bars and above the opening read "Xia Kingdom".
They called below for Iron Tiger.
IRON TIGER IS FOUND
Iron Tiger walked with Tung Lu and his men, beneath the red light of a shoddy mechanical sun that wavered in the sky. He heard the party calling his name from above. But because he was so small he had to use his Neigong to project his voice to respond.
They were able to extract Iron Tiger, Tung Lu and the men he was with. Fan Zhen'er found the antidote gave it to them, restoring their size. They arranged to have Iron Tiger's physician come to the hut and help extract every one else inside Xia Kingdom, using the opportunity to announce to all inside that the Celestial Plume Masters were their rescuers.
Iron Tiger received word that the men he sent out to recruit several masters had found a man willing to work for him named Hu Ba, but he demanded 10,000 spades a day, two servants and a flute player (to 'calm his raging spirit'). Iron Tiger told them to send a message that he agreed to these terms.
This is where the session ended.
*This player is usually very cautious and cagey, so I was not expecting this outcome. I also wasn't anticipating he would come here alone (I thought he would have had Wang Haoyang with him at least, sneaking in to assist). So it was interesting to see where this would go and how the player would react.
**I had her make a relevant skill roll (Wang Haoyang's player has been making her rolls as they are married and she is almost half a PC at this point). She rolled a 10, and this will now be the TN for any roll made by law enforcement or by the Maidens of the Jade Blue Sky to investigate the murder scene. The ten result makes it much less likely anyone will tie it to the Celestial Plume Masters. It isn't impossible but unlikely. The Maidens may still actively ask around to see if anyone knows anything.
***Both these incidents were the results of dice rolls and events in game. The first was a product of Iron Tiger mentioning Night Thorn's name to White Browed Demoness when they met last session. This alerted them to his importance in the organization. I then had one of the players make rolls to see if they found him, which they did. Then I had the player roll to see if they successfully ambushed him, which they did (these were opposed rolls based on Night Thorn and the 87 Killers skills).Then, because the player in charge of Wei Ziying was away from the group and had more time not doing anything, I sent a PM to him, instructing him to run the ambush combat using the stats from both sides. He did so and the outcome was Night Thorn's defeat. The arrest of Master Xiong was a product of the regular sect war shake-up table several sessions ago.
****This was dealt with as a roll by Gentle Sage
*****Magnificent Scholar did not see him as he failed his detect roll, but knew he was there because of the contents of the book he was reading.
^For those interested, the concept of this adventure was inspired by the Eleventh Son and the movie the Vanishing (though I didn't expect any of the players to get shrunk down, figured there was only a small chance of that happening)