Thursday, June 25, 2020

[Actual Play] The Master Sculptor's Workshop

I ran The Golem Master's Workshop as a 1-on-1 game for my wife. I adapted it to a weird historical Edo-period Japan, c. 1700. The setting worked quite well. Instead of the golems, we had a Buddhist master sculptor, who creates automatons, mobile statues. There was historical precedent for this in Chinese sculpture, and in Japan mechanized puppets were also popular.
"...the famous fourth-century sandalwood cart that supported a golden Buddha statue surrounded by mechanical Daoist figures that circumambulated the Buddha and performed other oblations." (Source)
Two characters were rolled up:
Ōi, daughter of a sculptor and herself an aspiring sculptor (Specialist 1), strong but reckless (Strength 18, Wisdom 3...)
Kitsune Oba-san, Ōi's former wet nurse and current chaperone, a wise old woman with some fox spirit blood in her veins (Elf 2)

Rumors circulated in the city of Edo, that Master Unkei (not to be confused with that other Unkei), famed but eccentric creator of mechanized statues, hasn't been seen for a week.
Ōi (not to be confused with that other Ōi) was tasked by her father to go and find out what was going on. He (as a sculptor and a rival of Unkei) feared that Unkei might be working on something so grandiose, that it would leave all other sculptors without commissions.
Together with her chaperone, the wise Kitsune Oba-San, they headed to the artisan's quarter, and, indeed, found Unkei's house and workshop closed and deserted.

Ōi and Kitsune Oba-san visited some nearby shops (a printmaker, a ceramist, a blacksmith) and asked around about Unkei. They learned that the sculptor is an eccentric man (talks to himself, walks around under the rain without an umbrella, "the raindrops glistening on his bald head!"), and hasn't opened his shop or came out of his house for about a week. He sent his apprentice, young Tama, back to his home village to visit his parents. They also learned that by night the quarter is patrolled hourly by a small group of guards.

The "detectives" also visited the local Shinto shrine, where a small rock that fell from the sky was the main relic (both characters made offerings at the shrine, and received a small blessing. I had d20 rolls made for both characters and recorded the result for their "lucky number" - the next time this number comes up on a d20 roll (e.g. attack or saving throw), that roll is considered successful). The local Buddhist temple they visited did not have any statues by Unkei (although he did repaired one of the old images).

Armed with this information, the pair decided to wait for nightfall and then enter the house of Unkei.

In darkness, they approached the main door carefully. There was no sound, so they quickly went in, sliding the door closed behind themselves.

Inside, they found a rectangular room with two doors on the left and a double door painted with golden dragons opposite the main entrance. There was also a wooden stand with documents on it. Ōi lit a small lamp, and started studying the documents (Kitsune Oba-san couldn't help with this, as she was barely literate). There were records of recent financial operations: the last one from about two weeks ago, 3000 yen payment for a commission from a daimyō; and in the expenses column, a hefty sum paid for a shipment of aged hardwood for "a personal project".

They headed for the dragon doors next, slid them open, and entered a big elongated hall. In the far corner, there were several human figures in the dim light - statues set up in a row on a long dais! The hall also had pillows and a low table for accepting guests, but everything was in disorder, misplaced, and there were even broken cups on the floor. There was a door leading to the right, and a trapdoor to the cellar in the far-right corner.

Ōi examined the statues. They were beautifully carved and masterfully assembled from many pieces (the seems invisible to untrained eyes). There were two unfinished statues of Buddha, four small statues of demons cowering on the ground (the types that are usually depicted under the feet of the "Heavenly Generals"), and last but not least, a magnificent statue of a Niō - one of the guardians who are usually set up in pairs at the gates of temples.

Ōi has heard about Unkei's mobile sculptures, so she examined one of the demons in detail. She soon found a little hidden switch, which, indeed, set the automaton into motion, and the demon crawled around on the floor. However, as it was making too much noise, Ōi switched it off. As the noise faded away, some other sounds were heard from the side of the entrance area.

Before going back, they quickly investigated the room that opened to the right from the hall. It was a sleeping room, all in disorder. Among the things, Kitsune Oba-san found a scroll, which she identified as a magic scroll for paralyzing any creature (Hold Monster).

Then they went back to the entrance area, and checked the two other doors. One was sealed. Ōi broke the seal, and the investigators entered what seemed to be an office. However, before they could search the room, out of the dark corners came crawling and leaping --- severed human hands!

The hands caught the investigators by surprise and attacked them. One each latched onto Ōi and Kitsune Oba-san, but more were approaching. The two ladies acted wisely, and fled, sliding the door shut. After some struggle, they successfully broke free from the painful grasps of the hands and crushed them.

Next, they checked out the last remaining door in this area. It was stuck and had to be forced open. It led to a long corridor with two doors - one sealed (leading to the office with the animated hands), and one regular. There were also scratch marks on the floor, showing that something heavy was recently dragged into the second room.

The second room turned out to be a storage, with half-finished statues, barrels, unworked wood. Ōi's attention was drawn to a big statue, that depicted a Niō guard, identical to the one in the dining hall, but with its legs violently broken off. As she leaned in closer, the statue suddenly came alive!!! "No, no, please, don't hurt me!" it begged. And then it regaled the tragic story of master Unkei's experiments...

Not satisfied with just mechanical movement, Unkei turned to magic to bring his statues to life. His latest creation were two twin guardians: one was peaceful, but the other - evil incarnate! The evil twin attacked the good one and tore off its legs, then attacked master Unkei. The sculptor is either dead or dying, perhaps somewhere in this house... And the evil twin is still here, too...

Ōi promised to return and repair the guardian's legs. But first, they set out to explore the rest of the house and the cellar.

Fearing an attack from the evil guardian, they ran to the trapdoor and climbed down the ladder. Down there, it was moist and smelled like wet clay. The floorboards of the cellar were creaky and unstable. Ōi lifted one of the boards and found that there was a storage of wet clay beneath. So they proceeded carefully, so that they don't fall into it.

A nasty surprise came, however. The trapdoor above them slammed shut! Then there was the sound of something heavy being dragged over it. The investigators were now trapped in the dank cellar!

They opened the door to the next compartment of the cellar. By the lamp light, they saw a figure slumped against the wall - master Unkei! The sculptor screamed in fear and shouted some strange commands - and to this, four lumps of clay animated and attacked Ōi and Kitsune Oba-san. Kitsune Oba-san obliterated one clay-mation monster with a precise hit of her umbrella. Ōi managed to convey to master Unkei, that they came to rescue him. The sculptor called off his little clay monsters.

Unkei was badly injured, dying. Still, his first reaction was suspicion, especially when he found out that Ōi was a sculptor's daughter and a sculptor herself. Unkei was sure that she came to steal trade secrets. He was also quite fatalistic, sure that they would all die down here or die by the hands of the evil guardian. He asked the investigators to just go ahead and kill him.

Kitsune Oba-san noticed two more doors in the cellar, one regular and one reinforced with iron. She asked Unkei where those led, but Unkei snapped and told them that they were not allowed to go through either of them. Kitsune Oba-san got fed up with the sculptor's secretiveness and cast Sleep on him...

Ōi eagerly jumped over to the reinforced door. The door had several warnings written on it, like "Stay out!", "Don't much my stuff!", "Deadly!". The door also had an unusual metallic handle. Despite all the warning signs, Ōi grabbed the handle and slid the door open - and at the same time a small needle sprung out from the handle. Ōi could feel the burning sensation of poison through her body and fell unconscious, foaming from the mouth!

Kitsune Oba-san checked the second cellar room, and found several molds for small bronze statues and a clay vessel full of money. She took only 5 yens, but also pocketed a nice mold.

She tried to do first aid on Ōi, but failed. She tried again, but failed, and this time the lamp, her only light source, went out.

So, in the complete darkness, she slowly made her way back to the ladder and climbed up to the trapdoor. With an extreme feat of strength, she managed to push it open and slightly push back the furniture (a chest) that was blocking it. She climbed out - and a spear flew out of the darkness, barely missing her head. Then the evil guardian statue came charging and tried to crush Kitsune Oba-san by pushing the chest against her. The old lady, miraculously, withstood the pressure, and jumped on top of it.

Kitsune Oba-san wanted to use the scroll of Hold Monster, but realized that it was too dark to read it...

She avoided another hit from the statue, and then, like in an action movie, she jumped through one of the nearby walls - a simple paper screen. She made it through unscathed, and, luckily for her, ended up in the courtyard of the house, illuminated by moonlight. For some reason, the statue didn't, or couldn't follow her, but retrieved the spear and threw it at her, missing again!

Kitsune Oba-san unrolled the scroll and uttered the incantations...

But, against all odds, the statue made its save!

Kitsune Oba-san ran out from the yard and circled around the house. On the street, she ran right into the patrol, three city guards with lanterns and clubs. She told them that master Unkei's house was beset by bandits, or rather, one very strong bandit. The master sculptor and his guests were in grave danger.

The guards followed Kitsune Oba-san back to the yard and the house.

The statue wasn't in the room... So Kitsune Oba-san asked two guards to stand ready, while she and the third guard went down to the cellar to retrieve the wounded captives. The guard picked up Ōi's body and went back up - only to find his comrades locked in combat with the evil statue! The statue killed on of the guards with a single blow. The guard with Ōi's body ran out to the courtyard as quickly as possible.

The one remaining guard heroically stood his ground and even managed to chip off a piece of the evil statue.

Kitsune Oba-san made it up the ladder and attacked the statue as well. The guard put down Ōi's unconscious body and re-joined the fight... They fought, and Kitsune Oba-san was taken out by the statue's hit. The two remaining guards valiantly managed to bring down the statue...

Ōi and Kitsune Oba-san woke up at home, tended by a doctor. They were lucky enough to survive. Master Unkei lived as well...