Anja didn't actually die, of course. Players don't really like when you put them in completely unavoidable death scenarios. Or so I've heard. On her way down, she was caught by Keezekhoni, who had a flying spell in her repertoire.
Keezekhoni landed the two of them safely, and revealed two things: First, the cells weren't the only antimagic location on the Flying Capitol; The entire airship had some sort of magic-suppressing field around it. Second, she had stolen the key to the cell when Leuco dropped her.
So now Anja had everything she needed to free the other PCs, but no way of getting back up to the airship, even with the aid of a powerful NPC Anglican.
She was informed that only one man in New York could get her back onto that airship: Ignatious Knievel of the Steam Demons!
Anja found Knievel at a biker bar, and tried to convince him to climb to the top of the New York World Building, and jump her onto the airship when it came by. He refused to help her unless she was able to accomplish a dare: Beating a Steam Demon champion in a contest of her choosing.
She chose a one-act play contest, and with some creatively selected craft skill points, created an impressive set with moving parts, and a script involving Count Dracula riding a motorcycle.
It was a moment that was pretty obviously crafted to facilitate a great character moment, and the player gladly took it the extra mile. I put in a token performance as her NPC rival, and she acted out her scenery-chewing performance with gusto. Everyone was entertained. It was great. I recommend setting up moments like this whenever possible. I'll probably write up a post about this kind of thing in the future.
Anja won the contest, and Knievel jumped her onto the airship, enabling a quick, easy jailbreak, and setting the players loose on the airship of the biggest, baddest boss in America.
The priority here was to escape. Preferably without any players falling to their deaths. But hey, a plot twist changed all that.
The players made their way to the room that housed the tractor beam, and after overpowering the inventor, they realized that the room from the church that they had been abducted in was still there in the big tractor beam room.
While looking through that room for healing items, they found that the unfinished crystal/bomb thing from the Statue of Liberty was still in there. Nick, the Anglican/robot guy seemed to think that it would be possible to detonate it if it could be completed. He didn't know how much damage it would do, but obviously it had potential to be a pretty good ace in the hole. Unfortunately, in addition to the missing heart, the bomb couldn't even be detonated due to the powerful antimagic field over the whole airship (I know, I know, that's not how antimagic is supposed to work).
The players figured out that the antimagic field was emanating from a nest of affected eagles at at the very top of the airship. There was a pretty good encounter with some spike pits, and some handheld steam tractor beams that were good for forcing characters into the spike pits. Nick was handily killed in the conflict, and in dying, revealed that he had an actual human heart in his chest cavity! "Is it so wrong," he asked, "for a tin man to want a heart?"
Disabling the antimagic was pretty easy. The party opted for a stealthy approach rather than fighting them, which was very effective. I admit, I made it harder on them than I should have, because this was the final proper combat of the adventure, and I sometimes respond poorly when my narrative arc gets disrupted, but hey, who wants to hear about my weaknesses?
On the way back to the big room with the crystal/bomb thing, the PCs unexpectedly ran into Millicent Braincroft; Uncle Sam's wicked psychic with the ability to near-permanently petrify people. Braincroft was intentionally weighted to be far more difficult than the PCs could handle, with teleportation abilities. The only thing the players had in their favor was that she could only petrify one character per turn.
The PCs bolted for the tractor beam room, and a few of them got petrified on the way. When they reached the room, Constantin immediately started working on getting the bomb thing finished/detonated, while the remaining non-petrified PCs barricaded the door. At the last second, when they thought they were safe, Braincroft teleported in, and petrified the last of them. Constantin barely had time to set off the bomb, but when he did, Braincroft was handily reduced to dust, which ended the petrification effect on all the PCs.
Leaving the room, the PCs found the entire eerily airship eerily deserted. I'll spare you the details of the exploration and gradual unraveling, but everything affected was dead. The guards, Leuco the Eagle Man, all the senators and representatives in the legislative branch of the capitol, all the judges in the judicial branch, all of Uncle Sam's most powerful generals, and yes, Affected Uncle Sam himself. The players wouldn't believe it at first, but I let them kill the ominous, massively powerful big bad of the entire campaign offscreen by accident.
After that was mostly wrapup, with the players receiving a few more revelations:
- Ross Douglass, the popular mayoral candidate, was among those on the airship. He had been affected all along. Among the ashes, a painting of him was discovered. For those who haven't read The Picture of Dorian Grey, a Basil Halward painting hides a person's age and true nature by basically aging in place of the subject. In Apocalyptus terms, they also take on mutations. Basically, this means that there are affected in America who are perfectly disguised as regular folks.
- When Millicent Braincroft died, everything she ever petrified came back to life. Considering her habit of petrifying huge monsters and threatening to unfreeze them to hold cities hostage, this is has some really negative implications.
- Uncle Sam has no clear successor for leading the Northern Affected Army. Without him, it will likely fragment. This will probably spoil Lincoln's plan to pit the North and the South against each other.
- With their charismatic leader gone, and no orders, the affected of the north want nothing more than to get revenge on the PCs.
Anyhow, as is probably obvious here, one of my goals for this campaign was to explore what would happen if the players inverted the usual campaign structure, and killed the biggest boss first, with nothing left but the minions. I'll post more thoughts on this later.