Welcome to another end of week writeup where we follow our adventurers into the last week of our May adventure. This week we move further up into the mountains near Shuimu and explore the monastery with Shiku as our guide, but also our predator for she is both blessed and cursed with the form of a golden ape that lives within her until the sun sets.
So instead of talking through the whole plot let’s roll on as we investigate what these mountains hold for our players.
Apostle of the Golden peaks
Leaving the cave with their wounds and aches being cooled and soothed by the cold chilled water of the waterfall fed pools – carrying their gear and whatever salvageable loot they began to swim to the far shore of the small pool. The sound of snapping branches and the rustling of bushes indicating life was returning to the forest near by but giving them pause as they floated in the water looking about the fire-fly lit grove of trees that surrounded the rocky pool.
Movement up ahead and the bloop as a small stone hit the waters surface near the party revealed Takeo, still cradling his arm up, nestled in the branches of a nearby tree his face covered in micro-scratches and sweat. As soon as he noticed the party had seen him he gestured for them to be quiet as another crash nearby indicated that something large was moving through the trees, not just the deer and pigs that lived in these forested parts. The creature that was moving was large enough that it was breaking branches in its movement as it searched for something, the worried look on Takeo’s face told the party all that they needed to know – it was searching for him.
Looking up ahead towards their campsite they noticed that the belongings they had left near the fire were scattered around the small clearing and several branches, bushes and even a tree were broken, squashed, shattered and uprooted as what ever was nearby had apparently searched through their belongings in some haste.
The snapping of twigs and branches started to come back closer towards the pool where the party drifted near the edge. A large creature was near by, it’s heavy footfalls and heavy breathing – sniffing out something, could be heard as the party waited, hands on weapons. Suddenly the creature became silent as the sound of rumbling groaning earth and creaking wood reverberated through the stones and still clearing which shook as a sudden large vibration and whoosh of leaves came from within twenty feet of the party. A moment of silence was greeted by the parting of clouds above and the appearance of a nearly full luminous moon which flooded the forest with its last light as dawn approached from the horizon.
A ground quaking howl of rage split the near tranquil silence as a trunk of a tree the size of a battering ram erupted forth from the location of the creature as it flew through the air, exploding against the tree where Takeo was hiding causing the splintered to flutter through the air like autumn leaves. A violent howl of rage or satisfaction was bellowed from the creature as it strode forward on two powerful legs, a cascade of golden fur covered its head, shoulders and back, illuminated by the moonlight.
The creature stepped over the fire revealing it to be a giant ape, larger than anything the party had encountered before of its kind, golden with a long tail curling around what appeared to be a silver blade as it moved towards the tree that it had just shattered. The creature stopped before the tree, sniffing loudly as it searched for its prey and victim before turning around and staring directly at the party as the dawns first light touched its face – the brief moment of recognition of the party members, of Takeo who had somehow made it to another tree closer to the pool (without anyone noticing) and the rising of the sun crossed its eyes. A deep sorrow immediately paling the rage and white hot anger that filled its eyes as it dropped a sharp splinter of wood onto the path before dropping to all fours as it fled up the path, further into the mountains.
Takeo slowly dropped to the ground, his body bruised and battered. “I am not sure what that was, legends have it that these mountains are guarded by a golden beast that has long both terrorised and protected the monastery. I believe we met the beast and soon we will meet the monastery. It is not far ahead, in the direction the beast fled and I fear we are running out of time. Another night in these woods will be suicide.”
getting out of the water and piling some of the splintered, broken green wood onto the fire they were greeted with a smoke filled but warming light that allowed them time to rest, dry off and prepare for the mornings hike ahead – up the mountain in the shadow of the golden beast.
The path leading up to the mountains where Takeo had scouted what remained of the monastery wound around the mountain like the tail of a giant serpent and it climbed ever upwards. Despite their exhaustion from the night before it wasn’t long until the party were looking at the worn but sturdy looking buildings that seemingly was carved from the mountain itself, flowing with great curves and lines that blended with the landscape around it.
Walking forward the shallow wall’s gate lay open, one side obviously repaired but damaged too far to be closed fully.
“You should not be here” a voice called from somewhere near the gate, “it’s not safe in these mountains, not any more” the voice, a females voice, called again.
“We seek the monks that call these halls and mountains home.” Takeo replied, his eyes narrowing at the rafters of the roof that covered the gate. “I believe that these sages, people of wisdom and greater understanding are the only people who can help us unravel the mysteries of the Shadow bruise curse.” he continued as he drew a small thin throwing blade.
“The monks are gone, only the golden beast calls these halls home at night and I during the day, to repair the damage done during the night before, to honour those who once called this place home.” The voice called back but from lower down as a lady with silver hair that shimmered with gold in the sunlight walked between the doors and stood blocking the path into the monastery. “You wont find what you are looking for here, I suggest you leave before it’s too late.
Takeo bowed deeply and turned around as if to go before spinning on his heel and flicking the throwing blade towards the woman. In the blink of an eye a large blue tinged chain flicked out from the sleeve of the woman and slapped the blade into the ground beneath it, the woman movements were so fluid and graceful that the chain moved as if it were an extension of her arm rather than something gripped and wielded in her hand.
“I thought you said all the monks were gone” Takeo said bowing as a sign of forgiveness, revealing the emptiness of his palms.
“they are, I am all that remains, she who protects the history of the monks and tries to protect fool adventurers from getting killer by the golden beast. If you seek the monks wisdom for a cure then you are on a fools errand. The great library has been sealed for years, it also happens to be where the beast has created its den and it is not safe to be as it will hunt down all that trespass into its lair..” she continued. “To seek the wisdom of the monks is to spar with death itself and that is not something I want to be responsible for. So leave now before it’s too late.”
Sighing Shiku withdrew the hook ended chain and recoiled it into her sleeve, “It seems like there is no dissuading you,” she said stepping aside and watching the party led by the injured Takeo, “but heed my warning the beast will return, it does so without fail, and when the last rays of sunlight touch the top of the mountain you better pray that you are off this mountain for when it finds that you have invaded its lair you won’t have a place to hide on these mountains where it wont hunt you.”
“Thank you…” Takeo stopped bowing before the monk and retrieving his throwing knife in a single motion, he still favouring his injured arm.
“Shiku, as you have discovered I am one of the Shuimu’s tail order, the last of the monks here in fact. My brothers and sisters died on this mountain protecting it from a force that we let in to learn some of our kept lore and then they used it against us. I am all that remains and I keep this place safe and well kept in the hope that one day I can atone for my sins.”
Takeo frowned but continued into the plaza beyond the gate. Several small buildings lined a courtyard where bails of straw bound together by cored stood on posts in different poses were lined up – martial arts dummies Takeo smiled as he recognised the training tools from his own youth. As the party stopped to take in the the tiled buildings, caked in vines, branches, roots and grasses that made the entire monastery appear as though it was sculpted from the earth by some giant, or dragon.
“This courtyard used to be filled with monks from my order training, sparring and teaching the ways of our guardian and first teacher, Shuimu. It was a sight to beheld…” Shiku said as her voice trailed off. “This way please, if you insist on ending your life this day then you best all be quick readers.” Shiku walked forward at a painfully slow yet graceful pace that had the adventurers stopping ever now again to prevent themselves from walking into the back of the monk. The party passed a single large building where the front of it wore a scar-like void in place of its door, splintered wood, shattered bricks and broken tiles edged the void like a wound that refused to heal. “The orders sleeping quarters, where we were attacked by the betrayers and where we lost most of our apprentices and novices in the first few moments of the battle. I have not deemed myself worthy to repair the resting place of my family yet and it remains a constant reminder of the lessons I am yet to learn. This way please” she said after a moment of silence as the party was finished staring at the hole, a perfect circle that was twenty feet wide that bore into the centre of the building.
Stopping in front of a building – the large double doors lay in fragments on the steps leading up into the hall beyond – the party stared at what was both the most rundown and the most revered building in the monastery. Shiku turned to the party, her hands buried in her sleeves “Welcome to the Five Tailed library, resting place of the knowledge of generations of monks. Before you enter, I must ask you one question. Answer wisely as if your life depends on it,” she asked staring directly at the face of the adventurers. “what do you seek this knowledge for? What do you believe gives you more right to walk these hallowed halls where dozens have died in the attempt and many have died that night after breaching the halls for their own selfish reasons?”
Nodding, satisfied by the adventurers response Shiku walked the steps and beckoned for them to follow. “The knowledge you seek shall be contained in some of our ancient tomes, I shall bring out the ones I am aware of that mention the Shadow, but unfortunately I don’t know of which tome or scroll contains the answers you are after.” Shiku went off after showing the party to a table in the centre of the library, a few minutes passed and she returned with dozens of books and scrolls. “These are but a few of the many I need to bring forth,” she paused looking at the volume. “I may be able to buy you some time tonight, I shall be able to keep the beast at bay for at least a while so that you may find more time to cure this curse – in doing so it would be a blow against the Shadow and that is a something that I wish and so too does the beast.” She bowed before moving off to return once more with twice as many books and scrolls.
It was quite some time where Takeo and the adventurers were reading the books and scrolls, each of them watching the sun disappear slowly as the day went on until, the suns last rays still touching the peak of the mountain that they could see from the front steps of the Library. A few heart pounding moments passed before where they were waiting for the flash of golden fur, for the massive ape like beast to walk through the doors and into the library but it didn’t come. Sitting down at the table they began to read the last book whilst eating and drinking a meagre meal from their rations when one of the party stood up abruptly “golden fur touched by both dusk and dawn, once plucked by the emissaries of wind and fire can banish the shadow that wounds as if a bruise when drunk as a draught with the water cupped in the lotus flower.” Staring at each other for a moment, their relief and exhaustion after reading for several hours straight and having found the passage that they believe would cure not only the refugees but for Siu – their moment of elation was ended quickly…
Initially it sounded like distant thunder except the water in the cups they had on the table rippled as if a heart beat. Strong, consistent and powerful like that of a drum beating against the very walls of the mountain. Boom, boom, boom, the pounding continued causing dust to fall down upon the adventurers as they looked around the room waiting for some golden nightmare to appear as the last of the suns rays disappeared from the building, plunging the room into shadows. The only light now produced by the lanterns hung about the room by the monk as she departed on her mission to keep the beast at bay. The drumming stopped for long enough for the party to have a glimmer of relief before the silence was shattered by an explosive roar – one of pain, hatred and pure fury as the pounding began quicker. The vibrations now able to be felt through the ground before the crack of stone and rumble of a mountain crying could be heard. A few tense moments later a large crash of stone on stone could be heard from outside and the vibrations stopped.
Leaving the library slowly and cautiously the party crept forward with the scroll that mentioned the cure in hand. Where the outer wall met the gatehouse a large boulder now lay, the dust settling slowly revealed large chains tied around it and a path of destruction down from high in the mountain behind where the monastery was built. Slowly the party noticed a shift in the space around the boulder and their hearts sank into the pit of their stomach as what appeared to be rubble moments before pushed itself up, shaking its rippling golden fur, sending the dust and debris from its massive form shedding the illusion of rubble as a giant golden ape sat up, a tuft of silver hair tinged with gold was shrinking slowly and turning golden as the beast looked up at them, remorse, sadness and fear in its eyes as the silver hair slowly turned golden.
“Hide… quickly… it’s too late to run” Shikus voice came from the ape creature before the last of the silver hair disappeared as the last rays of sun disappeared from the peak of the mountain and the ape closed its eyes.
A moment of silence, perhaps two where the heart beats of the party were the only noise in the monastery before the apes eyes flew open. Gone was the kind caring eyes of the monk they had med earlier that day and they were replaced by fury, hatred and violence. – the tips of now-golden hair from its head glowing for a few moments as they reflected the setting of the sun and the beginning of night.
Suddenly the beast roared, a force so powerful that the party could feel it in the ground beneath their feet as it lunged at them – chains in casing its wrists now only visible as it tried to claw its way towards them the party – the boulder embedded in the wall shifting forward from the power of the beast.
“Run and hide!” shouted Takeo as he sprinted, faster than anyone could have expected from a wounded man – the party moments behind him as the sound of unfettered rage and straining steel rang from behind them.
Areas of note
The Mountains, Shuimu’s ridge – A tall set of mountains to the north of Shuimu, known as Shuimu’s ridge, are the source of many folk tales and stories surrounding nightmarish creatures, strange yet benevolent creatures that take more pleasure in assisting people rather than harming them. Somewhere within the mountains lies a monastery where the monks and sages that call its walls home are both masters in martial arts as well as extraordinary scholars who may know the cure for the Shadow Bruises that are appearing on the crew and passengers of the Dancing Drake.
Shuimu’s tails monastery – Set apart from the rest of the villages and towns in the region this monastery used to be a thriving hub of wisdom and martial arts training. The legends, and apparently they are true, is that the Monastery is guarded by a ferocious golden beast who can only be calmed by a monk of the order – one trained by Shuimu or the masters of the ancients dragons craft. The monastery now lies in a slow decline after an attack left the monastery with only one monk left.
Takeo spends his time assisting the party in searching through the tablets, books and scrolls looking for the answers they seek to cure the shadow bruise curse. When night falls he will constantly be fleeing and finding places to hide, taking a blow from the ape and using the momentum to hide and distract the beast if necessary – his arm is still injured so he realises he cant do much so he does what he can to spare the party in a moment of need.
Shiku – The Guardian of the five tails
Shiku is all that remains of the monastery order known as the Shuimu’s Tails, a order of monks who trained in martial arts under the instruction of the ancestral dragon, Shuimu. These monks are trailed to use spears, whips and Kawanaga and the Kusari-gama – striking swiftly, accurately and with the force of a dragon swiping with its tails.
Able to commune with nature, particularly those aligned with the water spirits that roam the land
Environment and running the adventure
The Temple– see map(s)
Night time is a simple filter over the top then some added light affects. Below the gatehouse closest to where the tall peak would be is the boulder that crashed into the wall – the chains still attached to the boulder where the golden, giant ape would’ve been tied to.
Forest at night – The forest itself isn’t that difficult to navigate, thick hedges of bushes, game paths and trees fill the steep incline down – for those running blindly they may have issues with tripping down the mountain and/or injuring themselves blindly. Luckily, or not depending on your view point, hundreds if not thousands of little luminescent insects fly around the forest, flittering from one source to the next – however they seem to be attracted to heat and have a fondness of blood so you cant stay still for too long or you may become a beacon of sorts.
The shattered wall is all that remains from the apes attack. The missing boulder, likely thrown in a fit of rage by the golden ape, somewhere down the mountain below. Either the victorious emergence of the party or a more sombre appearance from the adventurers after a nightmarish night.
Ah yes, now I’ve said it before I do like the chase mechanics. There is something special about running from or chasing down something as opposed to just chopping it to little pieces.
In this case the parry is our quarry as well give them 60ft head start and the goal is to hide or lose the ape, simple enough right? The cost of failure is that the beast will immediately start combat on their initiative and, this is something that we as dungeon masters need to describe in great detail the power and strength behind this beast, the Party should not want to fight it and we should describe it as a force of nature that no one should ever seek to fight.
Have the beast be initiative 11, mid way but a chance of not being last. Have each party member roll for initiative as normal and then we follow a simple set of rules.
Chase limitations (to be explained)
Firstly our players are only allowed one action and one move. This means that their bonus actions and reactions are not permitted during the chase so we can keep the tempo going forward and to add to that sense of dread of being caught.
Secondly the party members get to ‘dash’ three times plus an additional time for each point in their constitution modifier (a constitution score of 14 means they get to dash 5 times for free during the chase scene!) Each time they dash after that they need to make an endurance check, DC10 Con check where if they fail they gain a level of exhaustion. If they reach Exhaustion 5 then they fall unconscious.
Now, I will add some additional ones this weekend in the final writeup (cant lay all my cards on the table at once) but a chase scene through the streets of a city would have various complications, city guard standing in the way, a cart, barrels, children chasing balls into the middle of the street. At night, in a temple (or out side of it – more on that later) particularly one where you may not know what is between buildings, in them or around them you may find that you run into dead ends or create issues for people following you. An example may be that a character may use a branch, root or vine to climb onto a roof – but the complication in doing so is that the thing they used to climb up breaks and so anyone who was trying to follow them cant follow the same path.
|All||1-5||The Golden beast has thrown something, large, a bail of hay, a tree, a boulder, a wagon, stone or wood work – it blocks the path for anyone who follows the person who rolled the complication|
|Temple||6-10||The player’s mode of escape or movement (ladder, steps, lose boards, vine, root etc.) breaks, the DC to climb, jump or follow them is increased by 5. (or made impossible without help)|
|Forest||6-10||As the party complete their action, the rustling of bushes announces the arrival of something large, a large black bear with a long droopy nose appears and it takes a moment before the party member realises what happens. (the next person to move into this area will have to try and avoid the bear or it will attack defensively)|
|Temple||11-14||Having almost escaped the beast the PC accidently knocks over a lantern, a few heart beats later and a fire has started catching onto some nearby straw and timber that is used for the sparring dummies and repairs – the next character to come this way will need to make a DC14 dexterity check to avoid taking 1d6 fire damage. The sudden light also attracts the beast and any subsequent stealth checks within 20ft of the fire are made with disadvantage.|
|Forest||11-14||The party slips, causing a pile of loose debris, leaves, logs and rocks to start to fall – the ground becomes difficult terrain and any person moving within a 10ft radius of the player who made the small land slide will need to make a DC14 dexterity check or fall prone and slip 10ft down the mountain (to the south of the mountain)|
|Both||15-18||The beast jumps landing in the space the party member just was – the way is effectively blocked|
|Both||19-20||Everything is fine. A noise elsewhere distracts the beast for a moment and they are safe – for now.|
We have a map of the temple grounds but not he buildings, the buildings would be simple (and I don’t really want to go in an design little rooms for them all. Sorry!) so I would have them have one or two rooms where the players can hide – the more people that hide there the easier it will be for the beast to find them – splitting up when hiding in buildings is key. But if they can make it out the gate then there is nothing stopping the party from hiding and running through the woods where there is potentially countless places to hide – and for this I will create one or two more maps this weekend to capture this ability to leave the temple and travel on foot out of there.
If the beast loses the party it will keep looking, but it will give the party between 10 minutes 60 minutes of rest before it comes close to finding them again (roll 1d6 and add a 0 to the result to get the amount of minutes). For every 10 minutes rested in hiding they gain 1 ‘dash’ left and for every 20 minutes rested they can remove 1 level of exhaustion from the chase.
There is one part in the temple where the beast is extremely hesitant to enter or go near – the building without the door (where Shiku’s brothers and sisters were slain) – if the party successfully hide or go in here they automatically count as hiding for 60 minutes. If they are discovered in there then the beast will go in there and attack, but will have disadvantage on all rolls – it will also not use its movement or attacks in any way that will damage the area and will cause half damage in its attacks in its effort to respect the resting place of its human side’s kin.
This part of the forest at night is home to a particular insect that likes to take a sip of blood from people, not enough to deal any damage but they gather in swarms and glow during their flight – this means that any warm blooded creature in the woods can quickly become a beacon if they stay in one place for too long.
If the player is out of sight from the beast at the end of a round they can attempt to roll a stealth check to hide. For us as the DM we would have the beast focused on finding a single person (if they are playing distraction) or if no one has opted to do that heroic move then it would have disadvantage as it tries to track all players (intruders) at once. If all the party members are successfully hidden at the beginning of the round then the chase is over and they get 1d6*10 minutes of rest before the beast comes back to their location for another search.
If they are found again then the chase begins a new – give the beast initiative 1 and the party starts within 30 feet of the beast for terms of spacing. Then go through it again.
Ultimate victory is where the party remains hidden for 3 hours in total (at which point the beast bellows and storms off into the forest / back to the temple if they made it out) or if the beast becomes exhausted (rank 5) in its effort to pursue the party.
In combat it’s a ruthless combatant that will try and knock all party members unconscious, but not kill. Shiku wont let it kill them. If they are all knocked unconscious they are tier 4 exhausted and on 1 HP outside the temple. Pick 1d6 items on each player and they are broken beyond use (magical items included) as they would have suffered enough damage to break during the fight.
If the beast throws a party member pick a random direction (rolling a d8 for North, North east, east, South East and so on) and the PC moves that direction 60ft. That PC can now attempt to begin the chase again and go hide if they choose too. Remember the aim is to get the party members to get out of combat.
If they do beat the beast in combat it will shapeshift into Shiku, mostly naked with modesty hidden (I am a gentleman after all..) and will appear dead – dawns first light will awaken her however and her body wont burn if set alight (part of Shuimu’s gift to her monks).
In human form Shiku is able to understand what the scroll talks bout and cuts off a piece of her fringe – where the silver shifts to gold. In ape form – if the party are able to take a few strands of hair (somehow) then the golden hair remains golden and it glows as if struck by dawn light. Both strands of hair when mixed with the correct lotus leaf mixture this should cure the shadow bruise – Shiku explains in the morning whether she shifts back to human form or is calm as dawn touches her ape form (and speaks) or appears shaken and disorientated but alive (after the shift back from her ape stopped her from dying), that the colour of her hair, and the golden ape itself are blessings from Shuimu – as Shiku was one of her first students blessed with immortality in exchange for the oath to protect the dragons ways and her students. The hair is, in itself born from pure light – the essence of an ancestral dragon spirit and that light, the essence of the dragon spirit is what would cure the shadow bruise.
After the cure is procured the trip back to Shuimu begins with good news, and a bad omen in the form of documents that speak of a plot against the Harimasu family. Dark skies loom on the horizon and the party best be ready for the storm.
Well that’s it for tonight – including a new map of the forest at night – where we run from the golden beast. This following week I will add a bit more content on the descent from the mountain and the discussion with Kyoko so don’t forget to come back for that.
Don’t forget to come back each day this next week and as always, don’t forget to roll with advantage,
The Brazen Wolfe