Actual Play: Heart of Darkness

I don't remember when I ran the first part, sometime in 2010, before October, but I got a chance to finish the adventure up for my players - FINALLY! David Eber's Heart of Darkness.

NOTE: Spoilers below, so if you are or will be a player in the adventure, it is best not to read this. I'm summarizing both sessions into one, and combining two groups, which consisted of a few different characters, for simplicity.

Adventure: Heart of Darkness - David Eber
Available: Free - Fortress of Shadow:
Date Run: 3/18/2011
Thoughts: Overall pretty good, though a somewhat weak hook, and an extraordinarily WEAK end/lack of logical planning for heroic characters

Characters: 2 Ninjas (Cho Sakugi, Terry Aki), 2 Martial Artists (Teros, Wii Dong), 1 Ex-Special Forces (Zao)
Thoughts: No idea WHY they chose like this, but it's interesting from a psychology point of view, as I have all 59 official types plus all the fan types available to my players, and even though they only picked out of the 26 in the core book, two still duplicated other players' choices.

Scene 1: Characters hired by "St. Martin" in Wherever, Hong Kong.
He charters them a flight to Laguerno, from there they would take a riverboat, the Luisa, down the Amazon, to retrieve the Heart of Darkness, a rumored magical football-sized obsidian gem, paying each PC $10,000 per week plus expenses, and researching one avenue of information they desire, to be awarded upon completion of their task.

Scene 2: Laguerno Bar Brawl with DaCosta Thugs, hired by main villain, Xian.
The PCs were overall ready as the thugs approached the bar, at least six of them, looking up to no good, but they remained seated, but quickly flipped tables into the aggressor's faces and broke into action with fists and close weapons, but a dozen more were on their way, and the Luisa's captain urged them out the back door to his boat, as, no matter how good the PCs were, at some point, there just wasn't going to be enough skill to hold off that many. Ninja "Cho Sakugi" pinned Roberto DaCosta's hand to the bar with his own knife and escaped out the back door with the others.

Scene 3: DaCosta Pirate Attack on the River.
The DaCosta's boat, crewed by Juan DaCosta and 10 pirates armed with assault rifles, and the boat being smaller and faster than the Luisa riverboat, requires the Luisa's captain, DeQuerioz, to prepare for combat, unable to outrun the pirates. 2 fast-moving skimmers with outboard motors and holding 4 pirates with shotguns, and 4 jet skis with 1 pilot and 1 submachinegunner each, harry the PC's riverboat. One ninja, Terry Aki, mans the 50 cal mounted deck gun, missing everything he aims at, the entire combat. A few of the Luisa's crew take out a few of the pirates with rifles, shotguns and handguns, and some are also taken down by same - the captain and the first mate are engaged in the combat along with their men, while the pirate captain and his boat stay back out of the fray. One of the martial artists, Wii Dong, leaps from the rail of the Luisa to a passing jetski - and misses, plunging into the river. Undaunted, he bobs back up, and in true action hero fashion, snags the leg of a gunner on a passing jetski, pulls himself up, tosses the man overboard and then also kicks the driver overboard to take the controls, and ramps the vehicle off of another jetski, capsizing two more men, and crashes it into one of the skimmers, sending four more pirates flying into the water. While that is going on, Cho Sakugi has swam to the pirate boat and placed a well-aimed shot at a collection of flammable barrels onboard, causing a mini explosion near the bow that blows a number of men into the water, and sets the rest of the boat on fire. Men come running to the side of the boat but the ninja has already disappeared back underwater. Later, back at the Luisa, which has finally repelled her attackers, the ninja Sakugi and his companions watch as the pirate's boat explodes in a fireball, leaving the PC's freedom to continue down the river.

Interlude: The Netherworld.
The Luisa enters a canopy of trees and eventually rock, even overhead, having asended into the underworld, known only to the Luisa's captain and her crew. In a cavern, an ancient Chinese warship appears and a squeaky voiced figure promises death, then the ship withdraws into the mist as a torrent of bubbles appear off the Luisa's bow.

Scene 4: Death of a Thousand Tentacles.
One of the martial artists, Teros, dumps a barrel of fuel over the front of the ship, much to the captain's dismay, and Zeo, the Ex-Special Forces soldier, places a well-aimed shot, just as dozens of tentacles shoot out of the water and slam onto the ship, crushing wood and bones and dragging people and debris into the water. The barrel's explosion fades as gunfire, swords and other bladed implements flash into action as flaming tentacles writhe around in pain and slam to and fro chaotically. The captain is grabbed by a ropey squid-like appendage the thickness of a man's arm, but Teros slices him free with a bladed fishing spear, then attempts to hault two more barrels of fuel into a fishing net and over the side of the boat but loses his balance and loses precious time, keeping himself from falling into almost certain death in a swirling mass of tentacles below. A stalactite, loosened from the earlier explosion, plummets from the cavern ceiling, smashing into the Luisa's engine, causing a fire and rolling black smoke. One of the ninjas uses his mechanical knowledge to take the power leads from the boat's generator and give the monster an electric jolt, stunning it, allowing everyone a chance to breathe and an extra attack. A few more slices from katanas and large scaling knives and the wounded creature from the depths decided it has had enough with this prey, and the oozing tentacles slither back into the water and disappear into the darkness below, taking one last crewman as it does.

Interlude: Uptaki Village.
Captain DeQuerioz informs the PCs they will have to stop at the Uptaki village to resupply and repair, plus recheck his charts and figure out what to do, since a barrel of fuel was lost (accusing look at the martial artist), but the Uptaki challenge strangers to prove themselves worthy to pass, believing themselves to be the guardians of the realm of the dead - the Captain and his crew have already done so, but the PCs have not. The chieftain and shaman meet the PCs as the ship moors at the village dock, and the Captain translates that at least two tests must be passed if the group is to be allowed to proceed - combat, sorcery or storytelling. The shaman looks disappointed there are no sorcerers among the newcomers to test his abilities, and sighs, his shoulders sagging. Two of the PCs, the two martial artists, choose to participate in the Challenge of Combat, while ninja Cho Sakugi decides to participate in the Challenge of Storytelling. Though normally the Challenges are one-on-one affairs, Teros counter-suggests a team combat. The Chieftain, intrigued and impressed, agreed heartily, and calls his two best champions, armed with swords, while the martial artists are armed with a staff and a pair of nunchaku. The combat actually does proceed more or less as individual fights, as the two pairs never really cross paths, but they both occur simultaneously, something not usually done. The tribe gathers around and sends up chants, cheers and shouts of encouragement in their tongue, while a steady, deep thumping rhythm is kept by drummers, increasing in tempo as the combat goes on.

Martial artist Teros fights his opponent, Tek, up the steps of one of the tribe's Aztec-like pyramids, where he sweeps the man's leg with his staff, sending him to land flat on his back two stories below. Choosing to stay on solid ground in the more traditional center combat ring in the village square, martial artist Wii Dong seems matched with his foe, Tak, to begin with, until he sidesteps behind and gets his opponent in a choke with his nunchaku, then sweeps his leg from behind. But the wily native spins on the ground and also sweeps his opponent, taking him down as well, and the two struggle on the ground, kicking and punching each other. Back at the temple, Tek grabs his sword up and runs back up the steps only to have Teros give him a solid thump on the head with a leaping quarterstaff attack from a dozen steps above him, sending him crumpling backward onto the ground in a heap. The other native champion, Tak, misses with another sweep attack as Wii Dong kips up to his feet, then takes an unstoppable Lightning Fist, immediately knocking him unconscious and ending the fight. The native reaction is a mix of disappointment of their champions losing, and an exciting fight, and the warrior spirits displayed by the newcomers, who have proven themselves.

The ninja, Cho Sakugi, is shortly invited to regale the tribe with his story, for which he chose to use his knowledge of fine art, specifically the antique weaponry and honor and history of the warrior culture of Japan, which suitably impresses and intrigues the tribe, enough that both the shaman and chieftain are willing to talk further with the ninja, who asks about the Heart of Darkness. Through the continued interpreting of Captain DeQuerioz, the chief and shaman relate the Heart of Darkness is a "heap big" pile of bad news and should be avoided at all cost and left where it is - no good will come of having anything to do with it. When pressed further, he will shrug and direct the PCs to the island where it is kept, saying there is a group of "holy men" with their temple there, that are the keepers of the gem, but again, it is there for a reason and should be left alone. The tribe believes it to be immensely powerful, and while not necessarily evil, potentially very dangerous and therefore there's no reason to mess with it. After other small talk, and a day or so of resupplying, resting and healing for both natives and PCs, the crew of the Luisa are free to head on to the island.

Scene 5: The Temple.
The Luisa approaches the island with a small Shaolin monastary in its center; they also hear the sound of fighting. The Chinese warship is anchored near the temple and pirates armed with swords and pistols are fighting a small group of young Shaolin Disciples, who appear to be holding their own, armed only with staves. Captain DeQuerioz refuses to get involved in the battle and instead will pull his boat around to the other side of the island to allow anyone out, and will wait there.
The heroes decide to split up, with the two ninjas disembarking and heading for the temple, while Wii Dong and Zao, rowing to the warship with a makeshift bomb built from materials scrounged from the Luisa, and Teros stays on board the boat. The two in the boat set a short timer and pitch the bomb abovedeck, where it explodes into a small but expansive incendiary, setting the deck and sails on fire, and claiming a few men. Wii Dong focuses his Chi and breaks a hole in the outer hull of the enemy's ship, and the two men manage to clear away enough broken boards to make a hole large enough to fit through. Sighing, the Martial Artist realizes he needs to punch through a secondary interior hull to gain access to the inside of the ship. As he does so, a figure in robes flutters down behind them in mid-air, from the deck, and drives a lightning bolt into the hole. The soldier returns fire but the bullets bounce off an invisible shield - the two recover and decide to return to their rowboat and make their way back to land. The flying robed figure sees his deck on fire but also sees something occurring at the temple, and flies off rapidly in that direction.

At the temple, the ninjas search the structure and finally come to the central chamber, intricately carved and decorated with mirrors, chimes, bells and other decorations obviously designed in an incredibly complex system of feng shui interposition. At the center of the room they see a football sized chunk of black obsidian, and feel waves, like magnetic pulses, almost physical, emanating from the object. As one approaches the gem, a short, wizened asian man in the robes of a Shaolin master steps from behind the pedestal, where they had checked more than once, his arms folded behind his back calmly. He asks them their business there and when told they are there to protect the Heart from those there to take it, he smiles and says he appreciates it, but he is the Guardian and is specially appointed to that task himself. They ask if he would let them take it for safekeeping, to which he says no. Cho Sakugi, deciding the gem is too powerful to risk falling into the hands of either villains or even corrupt neutrals, such as the people that hired them, decides to open fire on it with his automag. But the Shaolin Master's speed is deceptive, and he walks into the path of the bullets - but uses uncanny reaction and his silken robes to slightly deflect the trajectory. The bullets, though they still strike the Heart, do not impact it directly, but spin it off its perch and send it rolling across the floor, causing a wave of disorienting energy to rush outward as it impacts the temple floor.

Terry Aki grabs the gem up, barely fighting off a wave of nausea as he makes contact with the object. The Master grabs quickly for it and also gets his hand on it, and fends off Cho Sakugi's bare handed strike. In the doorway, a robed figure flutters to a landing from the sky and walks in, throwing streams of fire at everyone. The two ninjas turn their attention to the newcomer, as ninja Terry Aki thrusts the gem at the Master, who, surprised, loses his balance a moment, but recovers his footing. Gunfire and martial arts attacks are mostly met with arcane energies that deflect them by Xian, the short, pot-bellied eunucn sorcerer with the squeaky voice. "This will be the death for all of you!" he shrieks shrilly, throwing lightning at ninja Terry Aki, who is driven back into a stone column but recovers. Wii Dong and the soldier show up in the door and the sorcerer is surrounded, as the Master takes the gem and begins running around the interior of the chamber like an ancient football player, using the stone stone beams as steps, avoiding the sorcerer. Xian, enraged, casts a spray of acid, hitting two of the heroes, but Teros shows up announced in the doorway behind the sorcerer and strikes him twice in the back of the head with a wooden staff, sending him to the floor, unconscious. The Master, being in proximity of the powerful gem too long, is overcome by its properties and loses consciousness, falling heavily to the floor from a height, the tough jewel skittering to a halt near Terry Aki, who stoops to retrieve the gem but as he touches it, his eyes flutter and he falls to the floor unconscious.

Everyone mutually decides the initial assessment was correct, that the gem is too dangerous to be allowed to exist, and a chaotic rain of destruction of hand weapons, barefisted martial arts and firearms attacks pulverizes it. Terry Aki retrieves a small fragment and the group decides to retreat at the temple itself, and the cave over the entire island begins to shake and collapse, stalactites falling dangerously close. As the heroes near their boat, they see a group of four betentacled, slithering, spined abominations advancing on the Luisa, and waste no timing diving into combat, to get it taken care of so they can get out before the whole place comes down around their ears. Although the grotesque beasts are fearsome looking and very strong, they are ungainly and inept, and present little challenge for the impatient heroes, who tear through them, slicing off tentacles and arms alike; even Captain DeQuerioz makes a one-in-a-million shot from the deck of the Luisa, sending a bullet into the eye and brain of one of the creatures, previously unharmed, killing it instantly. With a last strike, the heroes board the Luisa, whose engines roar to life and the boat speeds back into the tunnels and caverns on its way out of the Netherworld and to the Amazon.

Conclusion: Laguerno.
The heroes return to meet with St. Martin in Laguerno, delivering only the fragment, claiming that was all there was of the fabled Heart of Darkness. The British man looks at the tiny shard, then at the heroes, and frowns severely and suspiciously. "Are... you sure...? This doesn't... seem right. You found nothing else? This is the Heart of Darkness?" The heroes all nod in agreement. St. Martin sighs and looks at them through narrowed eyes. "Very well. You have performed your services as requrested. Here are your rewards, as promised." He nods to two thick bodyguards in his office, who open attache cases, as another opens a case to receive the fragment of the Heart. Money and folders of information for each hero are given over, and St. Martin adds, before everyone leaves. "Oh, also, I offer you the hospitality of a two week vacation in my own condo in Rio - all expenses paid of course, in extra appreciation for your services. A sampling of my gratitude." He smiles thinly and awaits their answer. Terry Aki looks briefly at Cho Sakugi and the others before answering. "Well... that is most appreciated, but we will have to unfortunately decline, all the same. Lot of things to do, information to follow up, money to spend. We have a lot of more Shui to Feng, but thanks again. Have a good day." St. Martin nods unreadably as the heroes file out of the office and a guard closes the door behind them.

Coolness - finally got round to reading this due to house being remodelled.
Love the, "we have a lot more Shui to Feng" line. Man I could do with 2 weeks all paid for in Rio.

Hell, I'd take 2 days in Skegness.