Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"The Tower Sorcere" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 45

Vizerian DeVir

Willow found Vizeran disgusting, debauched, and decadent. She was glad she was nearly finished helping him assemble the Dark Heart.

"I have completed all that you required. May I leave now?" inquired the wizardess impatiently.

"In good time, in good time," said the drow mage, "it will take me several more days while I complete the Dark Heart. Perhaps we should take a break and- well- have you seen my collection of shrunken heads? Many of them were acquired during my tour of the outer planes. They're delicious! Plus they have amazing hallucinatory and prophetic effects!"

Will sighed and rolled her eyes, "No! I'm leaving. I have to rejoin my expedition!"

"Fine," acquiesced the drow, "I'll have Kleve show you the entrance to the secret passage. If you hurry, you might catch up with them."

Willow grabbed her magical flying broom and was outside of the tower in a flash!


OUT OF THE ABYSS, CHAPTER 45
"THE TOWER SORCERE"

Five heroes scour the Underdark
in order to find the ingredients
of an arcane ritual
that will banish the Demon-Lords
back to the Abyss
from which they escaped.

Having finally acquired all the ingredients.
Now they must deliver them to the drow wizard
Vizeran DeVir who must prepare
a talisman known as the Dark Heart...

THE LEADERS OF THE EXPEDITION
Ser Valerius Adeques - (PC, human paladin 11, male) Defender and champion of the old gods of nature, commander of the forces from the Order of the Gauntlet.
Pain Grille' - (PC, halfling rogue 11, male) Wily street urchin from Waterdeep, was turned to stone in Blingdenstone but got better, commander of the Lord's Alliance forces.
Cordon - (PC, human cleric 11, male) Morninglord, Holy Radiant of Lathandor the Sun God, on a holy quest to activate the Maze Engine.
Willow - (PC, human wizard 11, female) "the solution is always fireball!"


THE SURVIVING MEMBERS OF THE EXPEDITION
Thora Nabal - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Sylrien Havennor - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Elias Drako - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Tamryn Tharke - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet) Gravelly voiced amazon with the hots for Feral.
Olaf Renghyi - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
The Shield Guardian - (NPC, shield guardian) a contribution from Lord Zelraun Roaringhorn of the Harpers.
Phwee-toop - (NPC, owl) Willow's familiar.

NOT PRESENT THIS WEEK
Ront - (PC, half-orc barbarian 11, male) Savage orc of the Iron-Thews tribe seeking redemption for his failures.


THE TOWER SORCERE
Ront suddenly began coughing, he tottered a moment, then collapsed.

Jarlaxle looked at the orc with concern, "Is he going to be alright?"

Ser Valerius shrugged, "Yes. He'll be fine. It's called 'Crypt Cough'. It's a chronic condition that flared up whenever one of us has a family obligation or isn't feeling well. We'll just leave him here if that's alright with you?"

"I see. Yes, of course."

The exchange was interrupted when a scout appeared at the entrance to the audience hall, "Sir! We captured an Overworld intruder snooping around the edge of the grounds. We think she is affiliated with the other Overworlders."

"Bring her in."
Willow the Not-Witch

The scout produced Willow, bound and gagged.

Ser Valerius confirmed her membership in the party and she was unbound.

Jarlaxle continued, "Where was I? Oh yes. This is as associate of mine from the Council of Spiders. He will give you some assistance and instructions for entering the Tower."

A young male drow approached the party, "I have prepared for each of you a scroll of invisibility." He stepped past Grinn and provided the scrolls to Willow, "It looks like you may now have someone competent to cast them," he said, passively insulting his former colleague Grinn. "Remember, stay between the guardian statues while you're invisible. The tower is protected by spells of alarm and warding. Speak the password I give you as you enter to disable the spell for one hour. How do you plan to move through the city undetected?"

Ser Valerius explained, "We will wear these piwafwi cloaks we acquired to blend in. If asked, we are Grinn's slaves."

"Excellent." The drow then elaborated on the internal layout of the tower and what they should expect.

So equipped, the party waited until the dimming of massive glowing pillar supporting the ceiling of Menzoberranzan known as Narbondel, a time when the city was darkest and when most drow rested. They moved quickly through the gloom to the city Bazaar.
Grinn Ousstyl

Grinn once more offered his assistance, "I can be an invaluable guide within the tower."

Ser Valerius declined, "No thanks. Willow's got this one. We don't need your help. In fact, you should just stay here and keep out of the way."

Grinn, dejected, sat down on a nearby bench while the others disappeared into invisibility.

The expedition moved swiftly through the city. They each held a piece of string to stay together and Willow had previously cast a spell that allowed them to telepathically communicate with each other. They moved up the center of wide stair to the top of Tier Breche. They gave the guardian a wide berth as they circled to the large spike-shaped tower to the left - Tower Sorcere.

The entrance into the tower was an open passage nearly a hundred feet deep that ended in silver doors. They spoke the password before entering the threshold of the passage. The door beyond was unlocked. The tower appeared to be empty, its residents sleeping. They were in a large gathering hall with a long table. They moved carefully, deliberately, and with stealth towards a stairway in the rear of the hall. The stairway took them to the library on the second floor. Willow stared covetously at the many racks of scrolls and books but stuck to the plan and moved with the others to a second central stairway.

The stairway passed the third and fourth floors and ended at the fifth floor. A vestibule was located outside the entrance to the sanctum of the Archmage, their destination.

DM Note- I used the floor plan from Elven Tower's Guide to Out of the Abyss by Derek Von Zarovich.

Tower Sorcere by Derek Von Zarovich


THE OUTER SANCTUM
Pain produced his lock picks and got to work opening the ornate door. He broke a pick on the first attempt but, as his halfling luck would have it, the door opened anyway. Willow sent her owl Phwee-Toop inside to scout ahead. The owl, like the others, was still invisible. The owl flew quickly around the single large office, noting the shelves of scrolls and books, the large table, the smaller desk, and the large statue of a four-armed sword-wielding demon, before it returned to her invisible hand.

There was a flash and a sudden explosion of hot wind as a large bonfire miraculously manifested itself within the room. The fire radiated intense heat and seemed to have a will of its own. The fire elemental had been summoned into existence by the intrusion into the room but now the elemental looked around and saw no immediate cause for its summoning.

Fire Elemental

Pain and Ser Valerius, in spite of the searing heat, took up attack positions around the elemental. Ser Valerius struck! Pain followed up. Cordon, being a priest of the sun god Lathander with a catalog of prayers that generally produced holy fire and blessed radiance, was at a loss for action. Valerius and Pain continued to endure the intense heat as they battled the fiery elemental.

Willow stepped forward and ordered the thing to return to the elemental plane of fire from which it came. The elemental was unable to resist her banishment and it disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving only a bit of scorched floor.

Willow concentrated to maintain her banishment while Pain began to search the large table. He had barely moved some papers when the stone statue came to life, swinging its swords with a sandy scraping sound.

Animated Statue

The statue attacked Pain. The party went into action, distracting the statue and preventing it from attacking Willow. The statue was eventually broken apart and crumbled into dust and sand.

Once Willow was certain the banishment had taken hold, she turned her attention to the room. She closed her eyes and concentrated on any magical enchantments. The only source appeared to emanate from a tapestry hung upon the wall behind the statue.

Willow examined the tapestry but found nothing interesting about it. She pondered its meaning.

"Interesting," she mused, "I wonder what it is about this tapestry that radiates magic."

"It's not the tapestry," exclaimed Valerius, "It's whats behind it!" He tore down the tapestry to reveale a silver door! The door was set into the wall that couldn't make sense. Behind the wall was the open space of the stair well.

Pain once again set his skills to the door, but there was no lock to pick.

Willow confidently said, "I got this." and cast a spell of opening upon the door.

The door slowly swung open to reveal a yawning black nothingness like a black velvet drapery hung over the doorway.

Valerius reached out his hand. It disappeared into the darkness.

"See you on the other side," he quipped, and stepped into the void.

Doorway to Darkness

He was soon followed by Cordon, Willow, and Pain.

THE FATE OF PAIN
Pain found himself in a strange room. It appeared to resemble the inside of a crystal, with transparent faceted walls, ceiling, and floor. The room was barely larger than a bedroom. He was alone. He called out but no one answered. He sat down and took a nap.

Pain Grille'

THE MAZE
Ser Valerius was standing in a short corridor. The corridor ended in a three-way intersection on one end and turned right on the other end. Other passages branched off on either side. He began to explore. More turns, branches, and intersections. He was trapped in some kind of labyrinth and he was alone!

Willow was likewise trapped, alone, in a labyrinth. She looked around and quickly spotted a door. She exited the door. Magical glowing crystals provided illumination. She was in a round room with a high ceiling that disappeared in shadow. A female drow was sitting inside a ten-foot wide circle of salt in the center of the room. There were stacks of books piled next to full bookshelves. A podium containing an open book stood near the circle of salt. Thick spider webs were draped over the bookshelves and elsewhere within the room.

A moment later Cordon stepped through the door.

"Maze?" inquired Willow.

"Yup," replied Cordon, "Where's Valerius and Pain?"

Willow shrugged.

The Inner Sanctum
The drow jumped to her feet. She babbled something in drow elvish. Willow and Cordon both shook their heads and shrugged. The drow tried again in broken Undercommon, "You from over! You me help! Me am trapped!"

The drow, using choppy Undercommon, said her name was Y'lara. She was a drow priestess whom Gromph had trapped within the circle. Gromph had planned on providing her as a demonic sacrifice but the ritual went awry and Gromph fled, leaving her here.

She begged to be released and offered to provide assistance. Willow was inclined to help but Cordon was more wary.

A moment later, Valerius entered through the door. Y'lara said something in drow elvish to which Valerius replied, "I can understand elvish."

Y'lara was relieved and continued her plea for release more eloquently using her native tongue.

She explained in more detail how she was a priestess sent by the Matron Mother to investigate Gromph's activities as well as his collusion with the Council of Spiders. She was caught and magically imprisoned within this magic circle, which she correctly pointed out was effective against fey such as drow.

Valerius was highly skeptical of her claim and prayed for guidance. The spirits of nature compelled Y'lara to speak only the truth.

DM Note- I set the timer on my phone for ten minutes, the duration of the Zone of Truth.

Valerius then interrogated Y'lara with a series of questions meant to expose the drow as a demon. She objected to this treatment and became impatient that she had not yet been released. Her avoidance of the question was enough for Valerius to conclude that she was, in fact, not a drow but something else- probably a demon.

The party did their best to ignore the pleas of the trapped prisoner as they began searching the room. Suddenly, six giant spiders descended from the ceiling and attacked! Y'lara begged to be released so that she could help fend off the attackers.

Willow sent a fireball spell into the ceiling, destroying several of the spiders.

DM Note- This was Willow's legit damage rolled on the fireball. Impressive!

That's a lot of sixes!
The spiders were soon dispatched and the webs were pulled away. The search continued, yielding several rare and valuable tomes, a large supply of valuable spell components, the grimoire known as Zhaun'ol'leal - "the Book of the Eight", and a hand mirror in a velvet cover. Valerius also found a large diamond. Trapped within the diamond was a teeny tiny little Pain!

Valerius asked Willow to inspect the diamond. Willow explained that it was a spell of imprisonment. Such a spell represented incredibly powerful magic. Dispelling it was beyond her capability.

Valerius asked Y'lara if she knew how to free Pain from the diamond prison. Y'lara grinned and said that she did. She said that it was, after all, how she was captured when she tried to infiltrate the tower and she had heard Gromph use the password to set her free.

She would share the password if someone from the party would break the magic circle and release her.
Ser Valerius Adeques
Valerius once more declined.

Y'lara became frustrated and finally dropped the pretense. She admitted to being a demon. Her voice became harsh, otherworldly.

Y'lara tried bargaining more directly for her release. Valerius entertained some of the suggestions but ultimately declined all her offers. Willow made the case for her release in order to free Pain. Valerius was adamant in his refusal but did suggest that he wouldn't stand in Willow's way. Valerius' concerns were enough to dissuade Willow from freeing Y'lara.

Y'lara eventually became angry. Her voice became a bestial growl. She began to melt, finally resuming her demonic form. The demon resembled a large viscous yellow mass with one large eye and several reddish tentacles. The demon shuddered in rage and lashed out impotently.


Y'Lara Reveals her True Form

Valerius, Cordon, and Willow took the book, mirror, diamond, and spell components and left the demon. She screamed in outrage as they closed the door behind them.

BETRAYAL IN MENZOBERRANZAN
Willow cast a spell of invisibility upon everyone in the party and they made their way down the stairwell to the exit of Tower Sorcere.

They exited the tower just as the password that protected them from the magical alarm wore off.

The party retrieved Grinn Ousstyl from the bazaar and returned to House Dro'Urden.

They were granted immediate audience with Jarlaxle. Jarlaxle asked for the mirror. They produced it and handed it over. Jarlaxle thanked them.

"And now," he continued, "I must ask you to turn over the grimiore. As much as I dislike the idea of demon lords rampaging across the countryside, I cannot let it fall into the hands of that old lech, Vizerian. That would be even more dangerous! You will find another way to stop the demon-lords!"

"That's not going to happen," said Ser Valerius, "you're going to have to try and take it from us!"

There was a sudden commotion at the entrance to House Dro'Urden. The doors burst open and a group of warriors barged in. They were led by several priestesses and accompanied by hulking draegloth demons. Quenthel Baenre, Matron Mother of Menzoberranzan, stepped forward.

"Brother! I will have words with thee! I know that you currently harbor agents of the Council of Spiders. They are subversive dissidents and are guilty of sedition and treason! Those who harbor them are guilty by association! I demand you turn them over at once so that they may serve as an example to other radicals!"

Jarlaxle refused, "You are wrong, sister! There are none such as you describe here!"

"I will determine that for myself! Search the house and seize that book!"

Jarlaxle drew his sabers, "No!"

In the ensuing battle between the two drow factions, Grinn lead the party out of House Dro'Urden, "Hurry, this way. I know a discreet exit."  They retrieved the nauseated Ront and slipped away while no one was paying attention.

They retreated to the secret tunnel in Westrift and escaped the city of the drow.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"The City of Spiders" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 44


Thora Nabal respectfully approached Ser Valerius Adeques with a problem.

"Boss, we have a problem," she ventured.

"Is it Tamryn?" the paladin replied.

"Yes."

"What is it this time?"

"She's being obnoxious!" exclaimed the exasperated Thora, "Everything reminds her of that assassin with the hare lip. She keeps looking at things and just... sighing! She'll sit there and just repeat his name over and over again! But that's not the main problem. Apparently everything she sees or hears reminds her of his genitals! She saw a broken stalagmite yesterday and called out his name! I mean, it was annoying when he was still alive and pining over him. But now he's dead and she's practically WAILING!"

"Okay. I'll speak with her. But I'm not sure what I..."

"No, sir. I'm sorry. That's not what I wanted to talk to you about. You see, sir, lately Tamryn has been taking double rations at every meal."

"Oh, that's not acceptable."

"No, sir, that's not- I mean to say, that is, what I'm trying to tell you, sir, is that, um, well, she's ah, she's apparently eating for two!"

OUT OF THE ABYSS, CHAPTER 44
"THE CITY OF SPIDERS"

Five heroes scour the Underdark
in order to find the ingredients
of an arcane ritual
that will banish the Demon-Lords
back to the Abyss
from which they escaped.

Having finally acquired all the ingredients.
Now they must deliver them to the drow wizard
Vizeran DeVir who must prepare
a talisman known as the Dark Heart...

THE LEADERS OF THE EXPEDITION
Ser Valerius Adeques - (PC, human paladin 11, male) Defender and champion of the old gods of nature, commander of the forces from the Order of the Gauntlet.
Ront - (PC, half-orc barbarian 11, male) Savage orc of the Iron-Thews tribe seeking redemption for his failures.
Pain Grille' - (PC, halfling rogue 11, male) Wily street urchin from Waterdeep, was turned to stone in Blingdenstone but got better, commander of the Lord's Alliance forces.
Cordon - (PC, human cleric 11, male) Morninglord, Holy Radiant of Lathandor the Sun God, on a holy quest to activate the Maze Engine.

THE SURVIVING MEMBERS OF THE EXPEDITION
Thora Nabal - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Sylrien Havennor - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Elias Drako - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Tamryn Tharke - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet) Gravelly voiced amazon with the hots for Feral.
Olaf Renghyi - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
The Shield Guardian - (NPC, shield guardian) a contribution from Lord Zelraun Roaringhorn of the Harpers.
Phwee-toop - (NPC, owl) Willow's familiar.

NOT PRESENT THIS WEEK
Willow - (PC, human wizard 11, female) "the solution is always fireball!"



RETURN TO ARAJ
The expedition began their long trek from Araumycos to Araj, the tower of the archmage Vizeran DeVir. They had acquired all of the components necessary to construct the Dark Heart. Now they needed to return them to the archmage so that he could begin constructing the talisman.

The expedition was escorted to the edge of the lands of Araumycos by an army of myconid and animated zurkhwoods.

Their journey took them to Gracklstugh to repair Ser Valerius' armor. There they encountered an exorbitant toll to enter the city of the duergar. They paid for Ront, Pain, Cordon, and Ser Valerius but  told the others to stay outside with the pack lizards.

Gracklstugh seemed deserted. There was little commerce going on in the streets. The duergar seemed to be staying within the safety of their homes and compounds. Valerius found a blacksmith and arranged for the repair of his damaged armor. The armorer estimated six days. Valerius offered double the pay for three days. The blacksmith agreed.

Meanwhile, Ront was examining some weapons when he overheard several orcs talking. He turned and saw a group of three orcs speaking to each other but in an obviously disparaging way about himself.

He called them out and they repeated their insult that Ront smelled like a human. Ront demanded to challenge their leader for supremacy of the tribe. They called out their boss, Scridmak, outside.


Scridmak was the leader of the mercenary band of orcs currently in the employ of a duergar merchant. Scridmak was annoyed by the interruption and checked on the commotion. Scridmak was prepared to reply to Ront's challenge but a sharp rebuke by his employer, as well as the appearance of dozens of duergar city guard, stayed his hand. Scridmak was forced to back down and endure the taunts hurled at him by Ront as well as the disappointment of his soldiers.

Since they were going to be here a few days, Ser Valerius relented and agreed to let Ront pay for the rest of the expedition to enter the city gates and rest at the inn.

Later, the heroes considered their next moves over a mug of Darklake Stout at Ghrolborn's Lair. The dour serving wench exhaled a heavy sigh. Pain asked what was wrong. She said that with the current situation, there were few merchants in town and business was bad. Pain was curious and was about to ask for more information when Valerius grabbed his wrist.

"No! No more side quests! We're here for three days while my armor gets repaired. I don't care what's going on here! I hate this goddamned city! We're not going to leave this inn, got it? We're not going to talk to anyone, we're not going to get involved! When my armor gets fixed, we are leaving! Am I clear?"

Pain meekly nodded.

Three days passed. Valerius picked up his restored armor. The expedition chartered a lake boat to take them to Jewelshine-on-Darklake.

The voyage to the Svirfneblin outpost was unremarkable. There was a narrow passage with another boat coming the other way but that was resolved by the duergar crew. There was also an attack by cloakers but they were easily overcome.

The stay at Jewelshine was brief. The expedition continued on their way to Araj, bypassing a visit to Blingdenstone.

Ser Valerius, Ront, Pain, and Cordon left Willow with the rest of the expedition and the pack lizards as they navigated the narrow defile leading to Araj, the Tower of Vengeance. They entered the dark tower and proceeded to the top floor. There they met the drow wizard Vizeran DeVir.

DM Note - We joke around a lot about Vizeran and his decadent and exotic epicurean desires. So when they arrived in his audience chamber, they found it empty. Cordon used his magic seeing monocle to look around only to see the invisible Vizeran enjoying decadent carnal pleasures with the death slaad Kleeve. The interruption led to an awkward moment and ruined Vizeran's surprise finish.

They dropped off the accumulated ingredients. Vizeran explained that it would now take ten days to prepare the Dark Heart. In the meantime, the expedition was to travel to Menzoberranzan to retrieve the spell-book of Gromph Baenre, archmage of that city. The book was called Zhaun'ol'leal - "the Book of the Eight". It provided incantations necessary to perform the ritual and control the Dark Heart, plus other important notes.

Vizeran told the heroes that he had created a secret route to Menzoberranzan that would bypass patrols and other distractions. He assigned his apprentice, Grinn Ousstyl, to show them the way and act as guide in the subterranean city. He told them that he had allies within the city and that they should seek out the aid of the Council of Spiders, a group of male dissidents who seek equal representation on the all-female city council. They would help them.

MENZOBERRANZAN
The 72-mile journey from the tower of Araj to Menzoberranzan via the secret tunnel of Vizeran DeVir took six days. The tunnel was smooth and square with chambers and beds for long rests. Grinn remained laconic for the entirety of the journey.

Pain, noticing the drow's reticence, attempted to engage him in conversation. Something about Pain's genial grin and honest demeanor got through to the quiet drow. Grinn opened up to Pain.

DM Note- Pain's player asked, "What's the matter, Grin? Is  somthing wrong?"

Natural 20 on the Persuasion skill check.

I replied, "I'm glad you asked. Let me tell you..."

Valerian's player flailed his arms and interjected, "No no no! We don't care! Ah- Dammit!"

Grinn told Pain that he was once a student at the Academy in the Tower Sorcere. Ousstyl was a minor house but noble nonetheless. He was attracted to the Council of Spiders and joined their ranks. He became careless and his membership was discovered. For his crimes he was banished. This would be his first time back to Menzoberranzan. On the one hand he was happy to be returning home, even under covert pretenses. On the other, he was worried that he would be recognized and executed for violating the terms of his exile.

He then explained that he was specifically concerned about Vizeran's plan to summon the demon-lords to Menzoberranzan. He said that Vizeran had withheld some facts. The Dark Heart could be placed anywhere. Vizeran simply wished to destroy Menzoberranzan as an act of vengeful spite.Although he lived in exile, Menzoberranzan was still his home. He had no wish to see it destroyed.

Pain assured Grinn that they would find another location in which to summon the demon-lords. Menzoberranzan would be spared. Grinn was relieved but warned the others not to inform Vizeran of the change in plans. Vizeran would surely change his mind.

The expedition arrived soon afterwards, emerging from a secret door in the wall of a deep canyon known as Westrift. The bottom of the canyon was a dark carpet of spider-webs. Above was the ceiling of Menzoberranzan high above, illuminated in crimson light. Everyone donned drow cloaks called piwafwi to help blend in.


They climbed the canyon and emerged onto a rubble-strewn plain dotted by the ruined remains of once-great stalagmite homes. They started to make their way towards town when they were accosted by a drow patrol.

Grinn froze. He stammered and fought the urge to run away. Cordon grabbed the drow by the elbow to steady him. Pain stepped forward and answered in Undercommon, apologizing for the tresspass. Pain explained that they were slaves accompanying their master back to Tier Breche. He explained that his master's voice had been damaged in the demon attack and that Pain must now speak on his master's behalf. The patrol accepted the story, and moved on.

They moved through the residential district of West Wall and approached Tier Breche. There they saw the great wide stairs that led to the three towers that dominated all three aspects of drow life - devotion to Lloth, martial prowess, and dark sorcery. The top of the stairs were guarded by two giant statues of spider crafted of jade. Grinn explained that no non-drow could ascend the stairs. Though he had never seen it, the spiders defended the towers. Indeed, the spiders, it was said, could see all things, even invisible or ethereal intruders. Other spells prevented flight and teleportation.

A frontal approach was out of the question.

The party asked about slaves. Grinn admitted that he never really paid attention to slaves but he was sure there were some, perhaps serving below the towers. There had to be a slave entrance but Grinn had no idea where.

The party decided to find a way to sneak in as slaves. Grinn suggested they seek out the seedy part of town where many slaves could be found. Perhaps they could make contact with the black market and be smuggled in through the slave entrance.

"Great," said Pain, "Where's that?"

Grinn led them to Duthcloim, a drow word which, according to Grinn, meant "Manyfolk"

Duthcloim turned out to be a location for merchants, traders, inns, lodging for visitors, etc. It was not, as it happened, at all seedy.

Grinn took them to a pleasant establishment that served "tea" made from the "leaves" of something called a "bush" from the Overworld.

Pain held his face in his palm, "A tea house, Grinn?"

"Yes! Isn't it scandalous! They serve a bizarre concoction here made with Lemongrass. LEMON GRASS! I mean, what IS that? Is it a lemon? Is it grass? It's some kind of wizard's twisted chimera! It's like an OWLBEAR!"

"It's a tea house, Grinn! This is your idea of a seedy part of town? This neighborhood is NICE!"

Grinn admitted that because he was of a minor noble house, this was about as seedy as he got when he went slumming with the other young drow from the Academy. There were commoners here and everything!

THE PLOY

The heroes quickly decided on a Plan-B. Since they were in Duthcloim already, they sought out a stonemason.

They found one nearby. Pain asked the stonemason for a pedestal, pointing out that it needed to be delivered to Tower Sorcere, "No questions asked."

"No questions? Oh, is this connected to Council of Spiders?" inquired the mason, conspiratorally.

"Maybe?" replied Pain, hesitantly.

"Well perhaps we could arrange a delivery- no questions asked," added the mason.

Pain's eyes narrowed in guarded confusion, "Yes. We could. That's- what I said."

"Of course," continued the mason, with a long pause.

"Rrrrright," replied Pain.

There was a long awkward silence as the stonemason stared intently at Pain.

The stonemason reluctantly broke the silence and, in a voice of resigned disappointment, said, "Right, well, I supposed I have a nice pedestal made of onyx. It's just the thing. Let me go get that for you."

The stonemason left through an exit in the rear, no doubt to retrieve the pedestal from an adjoining storeroom. He was gone for several minutes. When he finally returned, he was accompanied by two svirfneblin slaves carrying the pedestal which was now wrapped for transport.

"Well, here it is," the mason paused once more, "Are we sure this is- all?"

Pain glanced sideways at the artisan, "I- think so?"

Ser Valerius, growing more and more impatient at the entire exchange, finally interrupted, "Oh for fuck's sake! He's asking for a bribe! Ront! Pay the man 100 gold!"

Ront produced a small pouch with 100 gold coins.

The stonemason picked up the pouch, "Oh, excellent! I'm um- I'm glad we finally came to an arrangement!" The stonemason looked nervously towards the rear exit of his shop.

The svirfneblin slaves looked towards the party for directions. Valerius instructed them to deliver the pedestal to the slave entrance of Tier Breche and that they would accompany them. The svirfneblin shrugged and trotted off.

The party exited the artisan's shop only to encounter a drow patrol.

"Stop! This shopkeeper informed us that you had business with the Council of Spiders! We have orders to take you directly to the Matron Mother for questioning. Come with us!"

THE MATRON MOTHER
The party was taken to the far side of the city and into an imposing castle surrounded by fortifications. They were escorted into an audience chamber and made to wait. They were warned to not speak and to only answer questions when directly addressed.

A herald announced the impending approach of Quenthel Baenre, the Matron Mother of Menzoberranzan. The Matron Mother appeared at the top of a staircase. She descended smoothly as if gliding. She was standing on a carpet of hundreds of large spiders that carried her. She never moved her feet.

The spiders delivered the Matron Mother to a high throne carved from smooth black marble.

Quenthel Baenre told them that they were detained because of their mention of the Council of Spiders. She recognized Grinn and reminded him of his exile. She asked Grinn why he had returned with these Overworlders. Grinn was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Pain and Cordon both sensed Grinn's anxiety but managed to keep him from blurting out everything he knew.

Instead, Pain asked for and received permission to speak on behalf of the group. Pain explained that the group had a plan to destroy the demon lords currently loose in the Underdark. In order to do this, they required a book that belonged to Gromph Baenre. The book was located in the Tower Sorcere. They were simply seeking access to the tower in order to retrieve the book.

The Matron Mother approved of the overall mission but told them they would never be able to approach Tower Sorcere by themselves.

Instead, she offered an exchange. She explained that Gromph Baenre was her brother and that he had gone missing soon after the appearance of Demogorgon in Menzoberranzan. She believed that he had been captured by the Council of Spiders, which is why she brought them here today.

She wished to leverage Grinn's former connection to the Council of Spiders. She commanded them to find out what the Council did with her brother and return that information to her.

In exchange, they could travel freely through Menzoberranzan. In addition, she offered an end to Grinn's exile and she would even grant them access to the Tower Sorcere. The interior of the tower was beyond the reach of her authority. Once they were inside, it was up to them.

"If, the next time I see you, you are not able to tell me where I can find my brother, I will have you all executed as spies! Am I understood?"

They agreed.

DM Note- Our group has a thing they call "the Quest Cart". It's a metaphorical cart where they throw all their quests and objectives. Sometimes, during the course of this campaign, the Quest Cart can fill up as new quests get piled on. 

Valerius' player, in his continuing effort to keep things simple as we head into the endgame of this campaign, ordered that the Quest Cart be covered with a heavy tarp. 

When they were first led to the Matron Mother, Valerius' player asked, "Alright, who lifted the tarp off the quest cart? There's a corner exposed!"

Later, after their audience, Valerius' player said, "Dammit! The entire tarp is gone! Did it just blow completely away?"

Pain's player said, "No, look! Ront's wearing the tarp like a superhero cape!"

Ront's player mimed a heroic pose.

"Dammit, Ront!"

BREGAN D'AERTHE
Grinn led them to a safe house he used to frequent when he was affiliated with the Council of Spiders. The safe house was decorated like a hangout for bohemian radicals. It was well stocked with comfortable seating, books and scrolls of forbidden philosophies, games to pass the time, and exotic mind-altering beverages. Grinn made contact with a former friend of his and requested to meet with the Council of Spiders. They were told to wait there.

Eventually, a drow warrior came and asked the party to follow him. The messenger  led them to the moldering ruins of House Dro'Urden. They were led into a large hollow stalagmite and into a dark parlor. There they met a dashing drow with a wide-brimmed hat and an eye-patch. He introduced himself as Jarlaxle, leader of the Bregan D'Aaerthe mercenary company.

"We want to speak with the Council of Spiders," said Valerius.

"Yes, well, I am not they," replied Jarlaxle, "But they ARE clients of mine and they have asked me to represent them. I understand that you are trying to infiltrate the Tower Sorcere. Why is that?"

Grinn couldn't take it anymore. Cordon tried to step on Grinn's foot but he was too late to stop the drow from blurting out, "We need to speak with the Council of Spiders! I have to find out what they've done with Gromph Baenre! OUCH!"

Pain and Valerius hid their faces in their palms and sighed.

Jarlaxle was taken aback, "My brother? What does he have to do with this?"

Since the cat was out of the bag, Pain spelled it out plainly, explaining that they were working with Vizeran DeVir on a plan to banish the demon-lords to the Abyss and that the Matron Mother had tasked them with finding where the Council of Spiders had hidden Gromph.

Jarlaxle chuckled, "Vizeran? I thought that old jackal was dead! I would not trust him if I were you. In any case, I could not tell you where Gromph is currently located. It's a mystery! As for the demon-lords, I can tell you, they have already reached the surface. Even now, they ravage the countryside and gather their demonic armies. It is only a matter of time before they assault the cities and reclaim all of Faerun. I enjoy the surface. I have no desire to see it ruined so. That is why I wish to assist you."

Jarlaxle said that the Council of Spiders would provide them with spell scrolls that would allow them to pass invisibly between the jade spider guardians for they could not sense the presence of invisible intruders within a sixty-foot span directly between them. In addition, they would be told a secret password that would allow them to enter into the tower without activating the magical wards that protect it.

All they had to do was find a hand mirror located somewhere in Gromph's chambers. The mirror would be covered by a cloth. It was imperative they not look into the mirror.

"Will you do this?"

The party agreed to return to Jarlaxle the crystal he described.

DM Note- and another quest was added to the Quest Cart.

TO BE CONTINUED...


DM Notes-

This was a fun week. No fights, all role-playing. Lots of improvisation.

Grinn just kind of worked out to be someone who crumpled easily under the slightest pressure, which made him terrible at keeping secrets. His backstory seems to support that. It also allowed me to redirect all the role-playing to the players. There's nothing I hate more as a DM than having two NPCs interact with each other. NPCs should interact with players only.

I really improvised a lot of the Menzoberranzan political machinations on the spot. In the original book, once the factions know what you are doing, they just decide to help you. That's it. I wanted to make it deeper, more layered. I wanted the factions to be scheming against each other and I wanted the PCs to get caught up in that - or not as they saw fit.

So I added the quest that the Matron Mother is looking for her brother. She believes that her brother was secretly a member of the Council of Spiders and that the summoning of Demogorgon was part of a plot to destabilize the matriarchy. She wishes to interrogate her brother and arrest his co-conspirators and eliminate the Council of Spiders once and for all. 

I also added Jarlaxle's quest for SPOILER reasons. 

We're heading into the end-game. I want the finale to be a full-session battle royale. This means I'm going to pad out the Menzoberranzan schemes for another full session before that. So we're probably looking at two sessions left in this campaign.

Monday, March 6, 2017

"The Fetid Wedding" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 43


Zuggtmoy was prepared. The demon queen had already conquered the mushroom kingdom known as Neverlight Grove, its myconid inhabitants now served her as obedient thralls. Soon she would merge with the great Araumycos, a single fungal life form whose tendrils reached for hundreds of miles in all directions. She already infected the great entity with her poison spores. The spores grew quickly and would soon completely dominate Araumycos' vast consciousness. That moment quickly approached.

Zuggtmoy's vanity would never allow her to simply dominate great Araumycos. She had to make a show of it. She would be joined with the entity in an elaborate public display with a grand wedding ceremony. She had to be seen becoming the ruler of a new world.

She strode forth confidently trailing a lacy train of delicate fungal strands. She was accompanied by her loyal handmaidens who now served as bridesmaids. A throng of her converts lined her procession, dancing and swaying to some inaudible music.

She entered the great chamber at the center of Araumycos. Her "high priest" stood atop a giant mushroom watching as she slowly approached. She saw the thousands of witnesses. A sly grin crept across her rubbery face.

Then she noticed it. Something was wrong. Someone was in contact with her betrothed. Someone was trying to wake Araumycos and warn it! Someone was trying to stop her!

No! Not when she was so close! She halted her procession. The bridesmaids looked at each other, confused. Zuggtmoy closed her eyes. She made telepathic contact with Araumycos. She would have to stop the interlopers herself!

OUT OF THE ABYSS, CHAPTER 43
"THE FETID WEDDING"

Five heroes scour the Underdark
in order to find the ingredients
of an arcane ritual
that will banish the Demon-Lords
back to the Abyss
from which they escaped.

Thus far the expedition has managed to acquire
all the components save for the tinmask mushrooms
from the footsteps of a demon.

But first they must wake Araumycos
a massive fungus the size of several nations
with the mind of a sleeping god,
before it falls under the control
of Zuggtmoy, the demon-queen of fungi, 
in a bizarre wedding ceremony...

THE LEADERS OF THE EXPEDITION
Sir Valerius Adeques - (PC, human paladin 11, male) Defender and champion of the old gods of nature, commander of the forces from the Order of the Gauntlet.
Willow - (PC, human wizard 11, female) "the solution is always fireball!"
Ront - (PC, half-orc barbarian 11, male) Savage orc of the Iron-Thews tribe seeking redemption for his failures.
Pain Grille' - (PC, halfling rogue 11, male) Wily street urchin from Waterdeep, was turned to stone in Blingdenstone but got better, commander of the Lord's Alliance forces.
Cordon - (PC, human cleric 11, male) Morninglord, Holy Radiant of Lathandor the Sun God, on a holy quest to activate the Maze Engine.

THE SURVIVING MEMBERS OF THE EXPEDITION
Thora Nabal - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Sylrien Havennor - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Elias Drako - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Tamryn Tharke - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet) Gravelly voiced amazon with the hots for Feral.
Olaf Renghyi - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
The Shield Guardian - (NPC, shield guardian) a contribution from Lord Zelraun Roaringhorn of the Harpers.
Phwee-toop - (NPC, owl) Willow's familiar.

THE GUARDIANS OF ARAUMYCOS
The overworlders moved cautiously into the great cavern at the center of Araumycos. They were bearing the rapport spores of Sovereign Basidia, the true leader of the myconids, which would allow them to make telepathic contact with the ancient fungal entity. They had been warned that while Araumycos slept he was protected by guardians.

The great cavern was vast, larger than any arena or hippodrome, and filled with fungal life of gigantic proportion. There were side chambers that were hundreds of feet across. Every surface was covered in mushrooms that grew waist to shoulder high with the occasional zurkhwood towering to a hundred feet tall. They all emitted a dim glow which gave the dark chamber a soft luminescence.

They could feel the presence of Araumycos all around them.

In response to their intrusion a giant zurkhwood began to shift and move. It began shambling towards them. With it came seven small zurkhwoods.

Pain stepped forward and attempted to communicate with the larger one. It made no reaction and continued its mindless advance towards them.

Cordon cast a radiant fireball which was directed at the larger defender. Willow followed up with an arcane fireball directed at the zurkhwoods to the left. The larger zurkhwood defender caught fire and collapsed. Its mushroom head expanded with gas and exploded, spraying the area with spores. The defender expired, falling into a burning mass. The other animated zurkhwoods returned to their immobile state.

As the spores descended upon the expedition, they began to feel drowsy. The rapport spores of Sovereign Basidia were communicating with the spores of the dying defender. The overworlders swayed and fell unconscious to the soft spongy ground.

The warriors of the Order of the Gauntlet formed ranks around the unconscious heroes with the myconid allies of Sovereign Basidia forming a defensive outer ring.


The Overworlders found themselves floating in a grey void. All around them floated far away mountains or nearby pebbles, it was impossible to tell distance or scale.

Distinct from the other floating rocks was what appeared to be a smooth white marble hemisphere. They were drawn towards it. As they flew through the void they began to realize that the white marble hemisphere was as large as a mountain. It rotated to reveal a blank human face. The hemisphere was the head of an ancient marble statue. The head was broken and cracked and was missing its jaw. The head revealed itself to be hollow. Mushrooms and lichens grew on the rough interior surface.


At the center of the hollow space inside the marble head was a colossal round mass. The spherical mass was covered with tentacle-like cilia. The cilia waved slowly like undersea grass under gently rolling waves. Willow sensed that this was the "brain" of Araumycos, the center of its being.

On one spot of the spherical mass grew a black patch like cancerous mold, a tumescent corruption with tendrils that reached into the core of the mass. It was the corruption of Zuggtmoy, slowly taking over Araumycos.

The Overworlders began moving towards the spherical core.

There suddenly appeared in their way a humanoid form with wrinkly ochre-yellow skin covered in fungus and lichens. Ront shouted, "Zuggtmoy!"



AGAINST ZUGGTMOY
Several of the Overworlders collapsed in fear and madness. Ront screamed and flew towards the demon queen in a blind rage.

Valerius used his magic sword Dawnbringer to cure the madness afflicting Cordon. Cordon then helped Valerius remove the madness from Willow and Pain.

Ront and Zuggtmoy flew towards each other. The two clashed in mid-air as the sky exploded from Willow's fireball.

Zuggtmoy shrugged off the fireball and laughed. Pain sped quickly through space, making his way towards the black patch afflicting Araumycos' mind. Willow turned invisible and followed but much more slowly.

Cordon created an angelic spirit warrior to aid Ront against Zuggtmoy.

Zuggtmoy moved away from Ront and attacked Willow.

DM Note - Willow's player interrupted, "Don't forget! I'm invisible!" and I replied, gravely, "Yes. I know." She deflated, "Oh...Shit."

Willow disengaged and joined Pain.

Cordon moved forward and healed the injured Ront. Valerius rushed to aid Willow.

Dark tendrils shot out from the black patch attempting to ensnare Pain. Pain nimbly dodged the tentacles and began slicing them away from Araumycos' core.

Zuggtmoy screamed, "NO!" She made one final attack against Willow, lashing at her with a long whip-like tendril.Willow cried out in terror and disappeared!

DM Note- I took Willow's player out of the room and told her she woke up back in the cavern, alive and well. I told her she saw myconids and spore servants and bridesmaids fleeing from a large passage. From the passage emerged a colossal black formless mass! The oozing mass slithered towards Zuggtmoy and began enveloping her.


Pain continued cutting away at the black patch.

Zuggtmoy seemed momentarily distracted. She looked away into the distance and hissed, "Juiblex!"

Zuggtmoy winched as if struck by an invisible blow.

Pain finished cutting the black patch from the mind of Araumycos as yelled "Araumycos! Wake up!". As the severed black tendrils drifted free, the slowly waving strands of Araymycos bolted to attention. A deafening bass thrum crashed through the interior of the hollow marble head.

Zuggtmoy screamed in pain and disappeared as if wrenched away from the dreamworld of Araumycos' mind.

A sudden gust of wind blew Pain, Cordon, Valerius, and Ront. Pain was able to right himself and flee the interior of the hollow head but the others were knocked around within the interior. They exited the head stunned and disoriented.

Pain caught a glimpse of the massive marble head, its eyes beginning to glow. The light from the eyes consumed Pain's vision, blinding him.

Pain woke up in the cavern to the sound of giants fighting. He leaped to his bare halfling feet. The others were still lying on the ground disoriented.

Across the cavern he could see two massive entities locked in mortal combat - Juiblex, demon-lord of slimes and oozes, trying to kill its mortal enemy Zuggtmoy, demon-queen of fungi and lichens!


ENTER JUIBLEX
Pain and Willow stood guard over the party as they lay stunned on the ground. Any wounds they suffered in Araumycos' dream seemed to be purely illusory for they were uninjured. Minutes passed while they lay helpless watching Juiblex fight and defeat Zuggtmoy. The giant black oily mass of Juiblex continued to lash Zuggtmoy until the demon queen fell to the ground. Her last act as she lay defeated was to turn her head to face the demon-lord. Juiblex then moved over Zuggtmoy's fallen form, consuming her. Her hideous scream became a sick gurgle as she was absorbed into the mass of Juiblex's formless interior.


Valerius quipped, "Well, that's another one down. Time to go! We can take care of Juiblex once we've performed the ritual."

Ront pointed towards Juiblex, "No! Look! Jooblix is not done! Jooblix eating Armicus!"

Juiblex had moved over towards the center of Araumycos and had begun dissolving the fungal entity. All around Juiblex the fungus was dying then dissolving, exposing bare rock.

Valerius shrugged, "So?"

Ront spun to face the paladin, "That bad! Armicus is the size of entire country. It lie underneath elven forest. Armicus is tied to surface, which is why Zugma wanted control. If Armicus die, so will surface! We not done! We must Armicus kill!"

Ront charged off through the high fungal growth, screaming an orcish battle cry.

Valerius sighed and summoned forth his celestial lion, "Alright! Wait up!" The paladin, astride his leonine mount, had soon caught up with and had passed the orc barbarian.

"Me too!" shouted Pain as he activated his magic boots and shot past.


Willow hopped onto her magic flying broom and zoomed over the tops of the tall mushrooms. As she drew near she cast a fireball spell at Juiblex. The fiery explosion had little effect on the protean demon-lord.

Valerius and Pain outpaced Ront and reached Juiblex first. They quickly learned that the smell emanating from the oily fiend caused them to wretch and heave with nausea. Pain, as a halfling, had an easier time than the others.

Juiblex finally took notice of the insects attacking it. The demon-lord hurled a blob of mucus at Valerius, covering the paladin and his mount with disgusting slime and impeding his ability to fight. Valerius was forced to stop fighting and scrape the slime away from his face and hands.

Juiblex then threw a blob of acid at Willow. The wizardess screamed in pain and retreated out of range.

Cordon created a giant wall of radiant fire directly behind the demon-lord. Juiblex became gaseous and simply moved away from the fiery wall. The demon-lord reformed and kept attacking Valerius. Now Ront, Pain, and Valerius were trapped between Juiblex and the wall of fire.

Juiblex deemed Valerius the greatest threat and kept focusing its attacks on the paladin. Ront pulled forth a magical amulet of protection against demons given to him by Vizerian, pressed it against Valerius, and activated it. The amulet kept Valerius alive a few moments longer but, eventually, Valerius could take no more and fell to the demon-lord's repeated acid lash attacks.

Cordon dismissed the fiery wall and switched to more dangerous holy prayers. These prayers had little effect. Willow, back on her broom, would fly into range and cast a spell of banishment before flying back again. She repeated this tactic several times hoping to send Juiblex back to the Abyss.

Ront and Pain, meanwhile, kept up their assault on Juiblex. The pair were wounded and their chances were beginning to look grim.

Willow successfully banished Juiblex on her fourth attempt. The demon-lord disappeared!

Cordon quickly saw to the injured, reviving the dying Valerius. Willow, meanwhile, concentrated. She had to maintain her concentration for a full minute for the banishment to be permanent.

After a minute passed, she let out her breath and collapsed with exhaustion!

Juiblex and Zuggtmoy had both been defeated!

DM Notes - Willow and Cordon had worked out the strategy. They had caught on that Juiblex had free successful saving throws. I was an idiot and let slip that he had two more! They used that information to form a tactic whereby I would use up my saving throws on Cordon's spells. Then, once they were gone, Willow would start trying Banish. It was a little meta-gamey but it was a great tactic. I still had advantage on those saves and it took Willow four tries before I failed a saving throw. She was just about out of spell slots. 

After the battle, the myconids infected with Zuggtmoy's spores slowly reverted to normal. Sovereign Basidia was restored as the rightful ruler of Neverlight Grove. The myconids gave their eternal thanks to the heroes from the Overworld.

DM Note - My players joke that most of the rewards in this campaign come in the form of two thumbs up and a "Heyyyyy!"

In addition, there was a message of thanks from Araumycos. The vast entity also bestowed upon the heroes a magical charm of heroism that would grant them extra vitality in a single battle. Finally, Araumycos offered to answer any one question posed to it. The entity was vast and its knowledge was fathomless. Valerius inquired about the location of the spellbook of Gromph Baenre. Araumycos provided Valerius with a vision of the drow city of Menzoberranzan. The vision zoomed in on the tower Sorcere and into the sanctuary of its occupant, Gromph Baenre.

Afterward, Ront and Valerius located some tinmask mushrooms that had sprouted in Zuggtmoy's footsteps. They had obtained the penultimate ingredient for the ritual.

After a long rest, the Overworlders began their long journey back to the Tower of Vengeance.

Their mission was nearing its end.

TO BE CONTINUED...



Monday, February 27, 2017

"The Wrath of Baphomet" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 42


Zilna Oakshadow, the only female spy of the Lord's Alliance to accompany the expedition, huddled with her companions along the wall as the demon-lord Baphomet appeared in the chamber of the Maze Engine.  Of the two other spies, Feral was unconscious and bleeding and Hilvius was barely conscious.

The sight of the bestial monstrosity that was Baphomet struck fear into her soul. The beast was over twenty feet tall and covered in reddish black shaggy fur. Its head was like a goat and adorned with a rack of massive metallic growths that could be horns or could be antlers. A brilliant ball of flame magically burned just above the top of its head. Its eyes glowed like embers. Glowing yellow drool hung from its tusks. It carried in its massive clawed hands a mighty glaive. 

Despite her best effots, Zilna could not help but scream in terror at the sight of the hideous demon!

Baphomet turned its head away from the Maze Engine and glared at the three spies. 

Zilna stood over her fallen comrade Feral, shielding his body. Hilvius managed to drag himself to a standing position. Both spies took aim at the demon lord with their crossbows.

Baphomet brought the glaive Heartcleaver down upon Hilvius, killing the bookish spy instantly. Baphomet let go of his glaive with one hand and grabbed Zilna. He picked her up, bit off her head, and threw her body into the lake of fire at the bottom of the cavern.

Feral lay on the ground, his breathing becoming shallower, shallower. With his last ounce of strength, Feral managed to open his eyes. Baphomet glowered at the dying human. With his last breath Feral hissed, "Pass...." 

Feral went limp and died. 

Baphomet turned and charged the Maze Engine. 

OUT OF THE ABYSS, CHAPTER 42
"THE WRATH OF BAPHOMET"

Five heroes scour the Underdark
in order to find the ingredients
of an arcane ritual
that will banish the Demon-Lords
back to the Abyss
from which they escaped.

Thus far the expedition has managed to acquire
all the components save for the tinmask mushrooms
from the footsteps of a demon.

Before that, they must activate 
the Maze Engine, an ancient modron device
before it is found and destroyed
by the Demon-Lord Baphomet

THE LEADERS OF THE EXPEDITION
Sir Valerius Adeques - (PC, human paladin 11, male) Defender and champion of the old gods of nature, commander of the forces from the Order of the Gauntlet.
Willow - (PC, human wizard 11, female) "the solution is always fireball!"
Ront - (PC, half-orc barbarian 11, male) Savage orc of the Iron-Thews tribe seeking redemption for his failures.
Pain Grille' - (PC, halfling rogue 11, male) Wily street urchin from Waterdeep, was turned to stone in Blingdenstone but got better, commander of the Lord's Alliance forces.
Cordon - (PC, human cleric 11, male) Morninglord, Holy Radiant of Lathandor the Sun God, on a holy quest to activate the Maze Engine.

THE SURVIVING MEMBERS OF THE EXPEDITION
Thora Nabal - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Sylrien Havennor - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Elias Drako - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Tamryn Tharke - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet) Gravelly voiced amazon with the hots for Feral.
Olaf Renghyi - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Feral Killmander - (NPC, human spy, Lord's Alliance) Raspy-voiced killer with a hare-lip. Killed by Vrocks.
Zilna Oakshadow- (NPC, human spy, Lord's Alliance) Killed by Baphomet.
Hilvius Haever  - (NPC, human spy, Lord's Alliance) Bookish spy with an off-putting voice and manner. Killed by Baphomet.
The Shield Guardian - (NPC, shield guardian) a contribution from Lord Zelraun Roaringhorn of the Harpers.
Phwee-toop - (NPC, owl) Willow's familiar.

DM Note - Pain and Cordon were absent this week. 

ESCAPE
Willow, Pain, and Ront had taken shelter on the far side of the Maze Engine and watched in horror as Baphomet killed the spies cowering by the entrance. Pain had fainted from fright at the sight of the Baphomet teleporting into the room. Willow asked Ront how he was doing. 

"Ront knows not fear!" was his defiant reply.

Willow grabbed the unconscious Pain by the arm and mounted her magical flying broom. She carried the halfling down towards the side tunnel Slaughtertusk had used to escape located thirty feet below the Maze Engine. The Shield Guardian retreated past the machine and was climbing down the side of the sinkhole in search of the escape tunnel.

Ront started pulling levers and pushing buttons in an attempt to operate the Maze Engine.  Despite his lack of training in the arcane arts, his random actions caused the device to begin to spin. Suddenly, a purple shockwave flashed from the device, buffeting Ront. Ront managed to hold on and nearly collapsed. He fell to one knee and took a deep panting breath.

DM Note - Ront took 10d6+40 force damage! If the damage reduced the character to zero hit points, the character is distegrated. Altough Ront was reduced to zero hit points, being a half-orc barbarian, he was instead reduced to one hit point! 

Willow reached the tunnel and found, to her amazement, Valerius and the mercenaries from the Order of the Gauntlet, "How did you get here?"

"We were trying to follow your clues and got lost. Are we close to the Maze Engine?"

"It's right there," she yelled, pointing up out of the tunnel's exit, "But we've got to go! Baphomet's here! Can you help Ront?"

Valerius moved to the tunnel's exit and saw Ront up above. The paladin of nature disappeared in a puff of silver fog and immediately reappeared next to Ront. He laid his hands upon the orc and reinvorated the barbarian's will to live.

Baphomet charged the Maze Engine, slamming into it and knocking it from its precarious perch at the top of the hour-glass shaped sinkhole that fell away into a lake of lava. The entire device, wedged between both walls, began sliding slowly down towards the fiery lake.

Ront lost his footing on the device and began to fall. Valerius dropped his shield and managed to grab the falling orc but the paladin lost his own footing and the two plummeted into the lake of lava a hundred feet below. 

Baphomet stood on the edge of the sinkhole and watched the device slide slowly down towards the lake of lava. It was out of his reach but he knew its fate was sealed. The Maze Engine would be destroyed soon enough.

The two warriors hit the viscous lava. The pudding-like consistency of the lava cushioned their fall but their lightweight bodies failed to break the surface tension of the lava's skin. Ronts unconscious body began to burn. Valerius screamed in pain as he, too, caught fire. He heroically grabbed his companion and cast a spell of healing. The spell triggered the chaotic faerzress and teleported Valerius and Ront out of the lava. Valerius quickly grabbed Ront and held onto the side of the rock wall, dangling twenty feet over the lava lake. 

Willow flew down on her broom and took Ront from Valerius. The Maze Engine continued its slide down the sinkhole. Valerius prayed for the spirits of nature for aid but to no avail. The faerzress, however, once again teleported him. Valerius found himself standing in the mouth of the escape tunnel waiting for Willow and Ront to join him.

Willow carried Ront into the tunnel and all three watched as the Maze Engine continued its descent, eventually sinking into the lava with a hissing popping mechanical explosion of screws, cogs, gears, pistons, and compressed gases. 

Baphomet released a howl of victory that shook the chamber and echoed for many minutes through the many tunnels of the Labyrinth. 

Baphomet had won. The Maze Engine was destroyed.

CLEAN UP
Having completed what he came to do, Baphomet beat his chest a few times and left the chamber, returning to the maze of the Labyrinth.

The party waited below in the escape tunnel. Once they were confident the demon-lord had left, Willow hopped on her flying broom and explored what was left of the cavern of the Maze Engine. She retrieved what was left of the bodies of Feral, Hilvius, and Zilna, as well as the remains of the modrons. Their bodies were ceremoniously cremated in the lava below.

Willow retrieved the wand that was summoned forth by the Maze Engine. She later determined it was a Wand of Fear.

Once they were done, the party retreated to the camp where Valerius had left Cordon. He explained that Cordon had come down with crypt cough and needed to rest so he left Cordon and the pack lizards in a safe defensible location.

A VISION FROM BASIDIA
The party rested. Ront had reached the limit of his physical endurance.

While he rested, Ront received a vision. He was standing in a massive cavern filled with softly glowing moss and fungi. He saw Sovereign Basidia, leader of the myconid renegades that had fled Neverlight Grove. Ront had no body, he was not really there.

Sovereign Basidia had established a long-range rapport with Ront, Kettle, and Angolwen, the only surviving members of the party that helped the renegades escape Neverlight Grove.

Basidia explained that the demon-queen Zuggtmoy had left Neverlight Grove and was making her way to the center of the sleeping kingdon-sized fungal entity known as Auromycos. She was planning to join herself to Auromycos in a demonic "wedding" ritual. If she were to do so, she would be able to turn the entire world into a land of fungus and decay.

Basidia needed their help. The myconid needed them to journey to Auromycos and rapport with the entity themselves before Zuggtmoy did. If they could awaken Auromycos, they might be able to convince it to resist Zuggtmoy.

Ront agreed to help. Kettle and Angolwen would have helped but they were too far away.

Basidia thanked Ront and implanted within the orc's mind the location of their next meeting. Ront had to hurry. Zuggtmoy was already en route.

JOURNEY TO AUROMYCOS
The journey from the Maze Engine to the heart of Auromycos comprised a distance of about 360 miles. The tablet of Garmin provided some assistance and allowed the party to cover about twelve miles before needing to rest.

A quarter into their journey, they left the straight mine shafts of the Labyrinth and entered the more natural lava tubes, dry riverbeds, caverns, and grottos of the natural Underdark. A short while later they began to notice yellow slime dripping from the walls. Soon after they they could tell that the walls and floors of the passages were carpeted in lichens, molds, and fungi. The surfaces were covered in mushrooms and fungal growths of all sorts. Valerius felt the presence of an immense life form. Every mushroom and fungus they saw was an extension of a single entity - Auromycos!

Soon after entering Auromycos' domain Ront, who was scouting ahead, returned to report that he had seen a quivering mass of air ahead - a gelatinous cube was blocking the passage before them. It was moving away from them.

They followed the cube for several hours. Like most gelatinous cubes, it moved very slowly. They hoped the cube would take an alternate route. To their dismay, they noticed that it was taking the exact same route as they.

Willow rolled her eyes and cast a fireball spell at the transparent mass. It exploded within the creature causing bubbles of hot gases to boil out of it. It turned and advanced on Ront. Ront slashed at the creature but was able to avoid its attacks. Willow threw small attack spells at the creature and it eventually dissolved into goo.

They advanced and found another gelatinous cube behind it. They sighed and proceeded to destroy the second cube. This continued five more times. It was unprecedented to see seven gelatinous cubes in so tight a formation and curious that they all seemed to be traveling towards a common goal - in the same direction as their destination.

Just over halfway to their destination, the expedition's rest was interrupted by the approach of three hook horrors. Each of the hook horrors shambled slowly. Mushrooms sprouted from their brains. Behind them were a contingent of dancing myconids and sprouts. The myconids offered to share the gift of the Lady with the expedition. They politely refused. The myconids continued on their way.

After resting, the expedition came across three black puddings feeding on Auromycos. The cavern was stripped bare, exposing the naked rock. The party carefully avoided disturbing the puddings.

A few rests later, they encountered a myconid camp, this time accompanied by drow spore servants. The party pretended to be spore servants, shambling and swaying to unheard music. Only Ront failed to convince the myconids of his infection. One of the myconids sprayed its spores onto Ront. Ront sputtered but moved on with the others. Ront was relieved to later learn that he had not contracted the myconid brain spores. 

BASIDIA'S PLAN
After a long journey over hundreds of miles, the expedition arrived at the location indicated by Basidia. There they found Basidia waiting for them. Next to Basidia stood old friends Stool and Rumpadump.

Basidia reiterated the plan. The myconid said that the heart of Auromycos was near, less than a two leagues away. But Zuggtmoy had arrived also and was preparing her ritual. They would have to hurry. Basidia would spray them with his special rapport spores, allowing them to communicate telepathically with the sleeping Auromycos. They had to wake the entity and warn it of Zuggtmoy's treachery. Basidia warned them, however, that while he slept Auromycos was protected by guardians. They would have to be wary!

Before they could continue, the expedition was suddenly attacked by four black puddings! 


Ront charged left, cleaving a pudding into two smaller puddings. Valerius followed him and cut the second pudding into two. 


The other two puddings converged onto Willow. She cast an attack spell, blasting them with a cone of cold and ice, but with no effect. Once Ront and Valerius finished chopping their puddings into tiny bits, they ran to help Willow. 


Soon all the puddings were destroyed.  Basidia commented on the strangeness of so many puddings so close to Auromycos. Valerius told the myconid sovereign of their earlier encounters. The paladin believed that the same demon-lord that created the Pudding King in Blingdenstone was at work here, perhaps in an effort to disrupt the coming union. 

With no time left to lose, the expedition rushed headlong towards Auromycos. 

They entered into a large cavern, larger than the greatest coliseum or arena. The cavern was filled with mushrooms of all sizes and dominated by a great forest of zurkhwoods ahead of them.

They were in the chamber of Auromycos!

Before they could act, tentacles fungal monsters arose out of the spongy floor. They were the guardians of Auromycos that protected him while he slept. 

TO BE CONTINUED...