Thursday, October 11, 2018

"The Devil Face" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 31


Ahead of them was a hallway filled with moss and vines. Daylight and rainwater filtered down through long narrow artificial fissures in the ceiling. Tracks revealed others had passed this way several weeks previous. The end of the hallway terminated in two passages, left and right. At the center of the "T" was the carved image of a smiling horned devil face. The interior of the smiling mouth was an impenetrable dark blackness.

The iron door began to slowly rise.

"Quickly! Get everyone inside! Don't get separated!" shouted Argent.

Argent, Zeynap, Bramble, and Apparently  moved into the mossy hall to allow room for Chak'sa and the mercenaries to enter.

As they did so they absent-mindedly stepped on pressure plates that filled the corridor with a deadly hail of poison darts launched from small concealed holes in the walls. It was a massacre!

All five mercenaries and Chak'sa fell dead. Argent, Zeynap, Bramble, and Apparently were badly injured but managed to avoid the poison.

Orvex, crossing over the slowly rising door, called out, "Whoah! Whoah! Whoah! Shtop moving! Nobody move! There'sh no need to rush! Look! Shee? This door will take like an hour to closhe!"

Argent slapped his head with his scaled palm.

Orvex continued, "Okay, there'sh shomething you should know. I'm not jusht a transhlator. I do have certain.. shkills." He bent down and examined the floor, "Shee? Pressure plates. Let me jusht..."Orvex took out some small tools and hammered a small wedge under the floor. "There. Thish one'sh dishabled."

He crawled upon the floor on his hands and knees. He found and disabled three more pressure plates.

"There, that should take care of that. Now what's she doing?"

He pointed at Apparently, who was bent over examining the dark void inside the devil face's mouth.

She was muttering, "In darkness, it hides." She stuck her head into the mouth to look around.

She was suddenly pulled into the mouth, her legs kicking! She disappeared!


CHAPTER 31, "THE DEVIL FACE"

THE EXPEDITION
  • Bramble Wolf - a theran barbarian wise-man (Wildhunt Shifter Druid) searching for the legendary origin of his tribe.
  • Apparently Jones - a blue-skinned demijin caravan guide and animal trainer (Air Genasi Ranger) from Akasa, the land of sky mountains. Having failed to find work in Port Nyanzaru as an animal handler, she has joined the expedition to the interior as a scout.
  • Xoc-Wik - a b'alam warrior (Tabaxi Fighter) from the jungles of Bres, searching for those responsible for the destruction of his tribe.
  • Zeynap Shiravadakar - a Eusebean smuggler (Human Warlock) bearing the spirit of a celestial unicorn.
  • Argent Truth-Sayer - a golden azi knight errant of Bhamut (Dragonborn Paladin) in the service of Bhamut, sent on a holy mission to join the expedition to destroy the Soul Monger. 
NPCs
  • Orvex Ocrammas - translator and guide for hire; rescued from the Fane of the Night Serpent.
Um, What Just Happened?
The unfortunate death of the five guardsmen was momentarily forgotten as Bramble, Argent, Zeynap, and Orvex stared dumbfounded at the impenetrable darkness within the gaping mouth of the green devil face.

"Where'd she go?" asked Zeynap.

"Give her a second," said Bramble.

They watched the mouth. Bramble called out, "Apparently? Do you need any help?"

There was no answer.

The four adventurers exchanged a worried glance.

Bramble sprung into action, "Zeynap, pull out your rope."

As Zeynap dropped his pack to procure a length of rope, Bramble closed his eyes and summoned forth three brown bears from the spirit world. Bramble then directed the others to tie the rope around one of the bears.

At Bramble's direction, the bear crawled into the gaping mouth.

The rope barely let out five feet. Nothing happened.

Bramble pulled the bear back out, "I don't like it. I'm going in."

The bear was confused but otherwise unmolested. Bramble removed the rope from the bear and tied it around himself. He handed the other end to the dragon-man, "Argent, hold the rope. When these bears out here disappear, that means I'm being attacked. If that happens, pull me back!

He took a deep breath, grasped his staff, and ducked into the devil's mouth.

There was darkness.

The Demon of Darkness
Apparently stood in absolute darkness. It was the deepest most profound most oppressive darkness which she had ever experienced. She called for help but heard nothing. There was no sound. She could not even hear the sound of her own breathing. As a creature of the air and sky who was averse to enclosed underground spaces, this was almost too much to bear. The complete lack of stimuli was disorienting. At least she could feel the ground beneath her feet. She reached out her arms in search of- anything.

Something sharp tore at her arms. She recoiled and back into a solid surface. She drew her short sword and swiped blindly into the darkness.

What was that? She brushed against something! It was- furry? Could that be her attacker?

Another slash tore at her from the opposite side. She cried out in silence. The furry thing was gone.

She reached out again, grasping in the dark. She found hands, human hands. The hands were velvety and clawed. Human-ish hands.

The hands were likewise searching the darkness. Both hands grasped each other. She was being pulled. Her unseen attacker slashed at her again, raking down her shoulder and back.

Sight and sound had returned! She was lying on the ground with Bramble. Both the beast-man and Apparently had sustained grievous injury while in the darkness.

Bramble stood up and moved away from the devil face. He summoned a healing spirit and bathed in its regenerative presence. Apparently got up and did likewise.

Argent stood holding the rope, "The bears disappeared so I pulled. What happened?"

Suddenly a dark figure emerged from the blackness of the mouth. It was a black ethereal silhouette, humanoid from the waist up but trailing into a long train of shadow below. It sported dark bat-like wings.

It was a demon of shadow! The demon clawed at Argent, then retreated quickly into the devil's mouth.

Argent's axe sliced through the demonic shadow as if it were made of smoke.

Argent and Zeynap prepared themselves for another attack. This time, when the demon emerged from the mouth they were ready. Zeynap blasted the demon with eldritch blasts. Argent called upon the holy vengeance of the draconic god Bhamut and smote the demon with a mighty axe stroke. The demon squealed in pain and once more retreated into the devil face. It did not return.

DM Commentary-
I'm very proud of how this scene played out! Here's how it worked.

At the beginning of the fight I had these sheets printed up that allowed me to communicate with Apparently's player in secret. I took the player into a different room and explained how this worked. I didn't want separate the player from the table. I wanted her to still sit with everyone and socialize and have fun. But she couldn't tell them anything about what was happening inside the darkness.

I told her I would write down what happened to her that turn and she would choose a course of action, writing down skill and to-hit rolls and damage on the assumption she had hit as well as her current Hit Points. 

So while everyone outside was standing around figuring what to do, Apparently's player and I were passing a sheet of paper back and forth.

At one point, Zeynap's player said, "Are you having her fill out 'Mad Libs' or something?" That she was forced to fill out Mad Libs inside the darkness became a running gag.

Anyway, on round 1, she performed the search action, hoping to pinpoint her enemy so she could attack it. She found nothing.

The demon attacked her!

On round 2, she attacked blindly. She missed.

The demon attacked her again!

On round 3, the bear entered the room. I rolled randomly to see whom the demon would attack. It attacked Apparently. Scoring a critical hit! Apparently was down to 6 Hit Points!

On round 4, Bramble entered the room. I took Bramble's player into a different room and explained the rules to him. He got his own sheet. 

This time, the demon randomly chose to attack Bramble, scoring a critical hit. Bramble was down to 3 Hit Points!! This caused Bramble to lose his concentration and the bears outside the room disappeared. This was Argent's signal. Bramble searched for Apparently.

On round 5, Apparently searched and found Bramble. The demon got one final attack. I rolled randomly and got Apparently. Uh oh! However, I kid you not, I rolled only 5 damage! 

Apparently was pulled out of the mouth with only 1 Hit Point. Bramble had only 3 Hit Points. It was a nail biter! 

It was fantastic! I had so much fun! The players had so much fun! Everything about the way I did this encounter was original and unique! I was worried about how this would play out but it worked out so well!  

The Tomb Keeper
The group quickly moved away from the devil face and basked in the comforting aura of Bramble's healing spirit wolf. The hallway opened into the center of a wall of a large atrium. The atrium rose over a hundred feet up. Thin beams of sunlight made their way through tiny cracks in the ceiling far above. Vines and roots dangled down. The walls were covered in carvings of skulls and devil faces of various sizes, creating an uneven surface. Roots and vines and lichens clung to the edges.

A ten-foot wide mezzanine ran around the wall of the atrium. Stairs descended on the far wall to the left. There was another dark corridor on the opposite side of the atrium. There were smaller hallways on the near side of the left wall before the stairs and on the far side of the left wall at the end of the mezzanine.

Bramble looked down and saw that the atrium descended another four levels, each with its own mezzanine.

For a brief second he caught glimpse of a humanoid figure on the next lower mezzanine - a pallid hunched creature wearing a green devil-face mask. The creature was laden down with pouches and tools. The figure was short, about waist-high to Bramble. The figure looked up and made momentary eye contact with Bramble. It then dashed towards the right and out of Bramble's sight.



Bramble pointed out what he saw to the others but made no attempt to follow or track the strange figure.

Don the Mask or be Seen
The party moved away from the atrium and carefully made their way past the green devil face. The bodies of the five mercenaries lay in the trapped hallway. Orvex used Zeynap's ten pitons to prevent the inner door from rising. However, the trap floor beyond was open revealing the spike-filled pit.

The corridor past the devil face featured a metal grate in the floor covering an opening from which one could hear slowly flowing water. The corridor ended just beyond in a large gothic window revealing a darkened room on the other side.

Argent and Orvex moved towards the window. Orvex inspected it for traps but found none. The window did not open.

Argent held up his shield, which was enchanted by Zeynap to glow and provide illumination. On the other side of the window he could make out a stone sarcophagus and a room lined with several niches. He could just discern two dark shapes on the far wall.

"Are you going to bust through?" inquired Bramble.

"No, its a sacred space." replied Argent reverently.

"Are you kidding me? This entire place is a death trap! Bust through the damn window!" countered Bramble, impatiently.

Argent sighed and swung his axe at the window. It bounced off the thick glass with a loud reverberating "BONG!"

"See?" he said.

Xoc-Wik rolled his eyes, "Get out of the way!"

Everyone stepped aside and Xoc-Wik sent several magically charged arrows into the window. The arrows exploded, shattering the glass and destroying the window frame.

Bramble took a look around. The beast-man's excellent night vision could see that the two large shapes on the far side were massive zorbos - Chultan beasts that resembled aggressive looking koalas. The zorbos were holding a five foot diameter bronze disk covered in eyes. He noticed that the eyes, although metal, were blinking and looking around the room.

Along the walls were six niches, two on each wall. Each niche contained a throne occupied by the desiccated of an ancient Omuan warrior. Each held a sword and wore a wicker mask.



Apparently reminded everyone of the words from the warning at the entrance, "Don the mask or be seen."

"Right. We need to get those masks. Stay close to the wall. Move to the right," said Bramble as he directed the others.

Bramble and Argent hugged the wall and moved right towards the closest niche. Argent reached out to take the mask. The desiccated body sprang to life. It shoved Argent's hand away and lunged out of its throne with its sword. Argent dodged away.

Bramble, Argent, and Zeynap attacked the animated corpse, quickly destroying it. Bramble picked up the mask and put it on.

The remaining five corpses rose out of their thrones and attacked, two on Argent and Zeynap, the remaining three on Apparently and Xoc-Wik.

As the animated corpses attacked, they would grab at the target's chest, clutch, and pull as if draining the defender's soul from their body. Luckily, none of the party succumbed to the parasitic attack.

On the premise that the bronze disk covered in eyes was controlling the animated attackers, Zeynap directed towards it an eldritch blast. The blast knocked it out of the grasp of the two zorbos. The disk fell upon the floor leaning up against the wall. The animated foes continued to attack!

Bramble noticed that he was completely ignored by the attacking corpses. As additional corpses fell one by one, Bramble instructed the others to don the masks of the fallen.

The remaining corpse guardians were soon defeated and everyone was wearing a mask.

The Spirit of Obo’laka
Upon defeating the tomb guardians, the party closely examined each niche. Bramble found that the wall behind the niche on the right wall was false and could be opened. Apparently found the same on the opposite wall but the wall was stuck tight.

Argent moved in and gave the wall a big push. Something metal on the wall scraped along the ground creating a spark. The area behind the wall exploded. The wall acted as a shield and protected Argent from the shockwave and heat but the force of the blast threw the wall and Argent into the middle of the tomb.

After the smoke cleared the party could smell the acrid aroma of some kind of flammable gas in the dark passage beyond. Additionally, they could hear the sound of slowly running water. They made note of this and turned their attention to the sarcophagus.

Orvex surmised that this was the resting place of Obo'laka himself.



Argent was unwilling to desecrate the sacred burial site and had to be convinced to open the sarcophagus. He removed the lid to reveal the ashes of a long-dead zorbo. A ring lay among the ashes.

Argent picked up the ring and put it on.

In response, the ashes rose from the interior of the sarcophagus, swirling in mid-air as if controlled by some kind of glowing ethereal energy. The glowing ashes took the shape of the menacing zorbo. The apparition tried to move into Argent's body but seemed blocked. Argent curled his draconic lips into a sneer. The apparition hovered before Argent as if waiting for him to make a decision.

Argent said, "We apologize for disturbing your resting place."

The apparition made no sound, it only looked at Argent impatiently.

There was an awkward silence.

Argent finally commanded the spirit, "Begone!"

The spirit dissipated and did not return.

The Rusty Statue
The party decided to explore the opposite passage. The corridor was narrow and allowed only single file transit. The corridor opened ahead. Argent led the way.

Argent looked into the opening and saw a long gallery. The gallery extended thirty feet to the right before narrowing to another corridor. The gallery also extended thirty feet to the left and ended in a niche containing the rusting statue of an armored knight. Shards and flakes of rusted metal covered the floor around the statue's feet. Argent could feel a powerful magnetic force tugging him towards the statue. He gripped the edge of the wall and backed away from the gallery.



Bramble and Xoc-Wik, wearing no metal armor and carrying no metal weapons, moved into the room to investigate. Xoc-Wik bore metal tipped arrows and two silver daggers. Xoc-Wik could feel the magnetic pull against these items but was able to withstand the force. He touched the statue with one of his daggers, confident in silver's ability to resist corrosion. To his surprise, the dagger immediately turned into rust and fell to the floor in large flakes. Xoc-Wik looked angry, "Hey!"

Bramble charged his wooden staff with the power of the spirits of nature and took a swing. The staff struck the statue with magically amplified force, severely denting and bending it. He continued to strike the statue in this way until it was disassembled and lying in several parts on the floor. Only after the statue was destroyed did the others move through the gallery.

The Magic Fountain
The party continued past the gallery, exploring the passage as it continued on the opposite side.

They found a round room containing a fountain crusted with moss. Three marble maidens stood in the fountain holding jugs from which water slowly poured.

Bramble said, "Well, obviously its a magic fountain! I'm going first!"

Before anyone could object, he plunged his face into the water and took a big drink.

He emerged with a puzzled look. He suddenly fell to the floor, convulsing. Argent rushed to his aid.

Bramble's flesh began expanding and contracting as if inflated and deflated by internal balloons. There was a release of steam and light. The steam cleared. Bramble lay on the ground - transformed.

Bramble  was now a female theran!



"What the-?" said Argent.

Bramble coughed and stood up. Argent asked how he felt. Bramble said she felt fine and asked why everyone was staring at her. Argent explained.

"Oh, well. Okay then. I'm going to go again!"

"Wait!" cried Argent as Bramble took another drink. Nothing happened.

Bramble sighed, "Darn. Who's next?"

Argent gulped and stepped forward. He took a drink. He immediately fell to the floor in a nasty seizure. He began coughing up blood and bile. His face looked gaunt and pale. He finally rose from the floor weakened and ill. He looked as if he'd been touched by death itself.

"Well that's no good! Apparently?"

Apparently held up her hands, "No thanks! I already did my stupid thing for the day!"

Zeynap and Xoc-Wik likewise demurred.

The party decided to spend an hour resting and recuperating.

They eventually left the chamber and took a left down the third exit from the gallery.

DM Commentary- 
Bramble's player was downright GIDDY at the magic fountain. It's such a classic dungeon staple. He was very disappointed others didn't give it a try. He wanted to know what the other two results were.

Wandering
The passage took a hard right and returned them to the atrium, left of the previously explored passage and next to the descending stairs. The party took the previously explored passage past the devil face. They noted that the outer door had now closed, sealing them within. The spiked pit now formed a kind of moat between the inner door and the closed outer door.

They also noted that the broken glass has been swept up and the site had been removed of debris. They returned to the tomb. The secret doors had been replaced.

Bramble wondered aloud, "That strange figure I saw earlier must be some kind of caretaker. He's re-setting everything."

They took the hidden door to the left. They found an underground stream and could smell the building gas. They decided to leave without exploring further and returned to the atrium.

The Wind Tunnel
The party circled around the mezzanine intentionally ignoring and not even looking down the large passage.




Xoc-Wik's player said, "What's down there?"

I said, "Do you look?"

Bramble's player interrupted, "No! No, don't even look! Let's just walk past! Ignore it! Don't get distracted!"

They stood outside the smaller passage. The passage was only five feet wide and fifty feet long. The passage was blocked about thirty feet in by huge fan blades. The walls of the passage were adorned with bas relief carvings of thousands of small birds flying towards the blades.

Bramble transformed herself into a small bird and flew down the passage, passing between the immobile fan blades. She transformed back into theran form at the end of the hall.

The passage opened into a large crypt. Immediately inside the entrance was a deep rectangular pit at the bottom of which rested a stone sarcophagus. The sarcophagus appeared to be one solid block of stone. The top was decorated with a carving of a screaming su-monster holding a mace with a large flat rectangular head. The mace head formed a flat surface in the center of the top of the sarcophagus.

On the other side of the room three human-sized coffins rested on raised platforms. One coffin was made of black onyx, one was made of rusted metal, and one was made of bright silver.

Bramble climbed across the pit and approached the black coffin. It was unlocked. There was a key inserted in a mechanism on the inside of the lid. The key could not be removed. She said to herself, "The keys turn on the inside only." She considered the meaning of the clue and climbed inside the coffin and closed the lid. The key turned but the lid would not open while the key was turned. She turned the key back and opened the lid.

She called for the others.

Zeynap looked at Argent, "You know as soon as you head down this corridor the fan blades will start spinning, right?"

"Yes," was his reply.

Zeynap handed him a crowbar from his pack, "Take this. Try to jam it."

Argent held the crowbar in one hand and took a few deep breaths. He sprinted down the hall.

The fan blades started spinning up, slowly at first but quickly gaining speed. He reached the fan blades and jammed the crowbar between the fan blade and the wall. The blade sliced the iron crowbar in half!

"Well, that's not good!" Argent muttered to himself. He called back to Zeynap who had followed him down the hall, "It's tougher than we thought!"



Zeynap shouted over the rising sound of the rushing wind, "I've got a plan!" The Eusebean called upon his celestial patron and cast a spell of shattering upon the blades.

The spell had no effect!

"Oh shit!" was his response. "Sorry Argent!" He disappeared in a puff of rainbow hued mist and reappeared next to the entrance of the crypt.

Argent gritted his draconic teeth and leaped through the whirling blades. He emerged on the other side suffering several deep lacerations and bleeding profusely. He was grievously wounded but he survived.

DM Commentary - 12d10 slashing damage, yikes!

While Bramble tended to Argent's wounds, Zeynap took his time and destroyed the spinning fan with multiple eldritch blasts. Once it was safe, Orvex casually strolled down the hallway and into the crypt chamber.

The Tomb of Wongo
At Bramble's direction, Zeynap climbed into the onyx coffin, Bramble climbed into the rusty coffin, and Argent climbed into the silver coffin. Each turned their respective keys.

Orvex called out, "Hey! Shome buttonsh jusht appeared on the sharcophagush!"

"Push them!" was Bramble's reply.

Orvex pushed all three buttons.

Zeynap was bathed in life-draining energy. It was uncomfortable but he gritted his teeth and suffered no ill effects.

DM Commentary - no damage on a successful saving throw.

Bramble felt a slight tingle but suffered no harm.

DM Commentary - Bramble, as a druid, has no metal.

Argent was flash frozen and barely survived the ordeal!

DM Commentary - 10d8 cold damage! He made his save and took half damage. 

Orvex called out, "Shomething's happening! The sharcophagush is opening!"

The three adventurers reset their keys and opened their coffins. The lid to the sarcophagus had opened, revealing the desiccated remains of su-monster named Wongo, trickster god of Omu!

In Wongo's simian hands was a large heavy mace.

Wongo's mummified remains sat up and looked around. His eyeless face blindly scanned the room. It opened its mouth and emitted a silent scream.

To Be Continued





Monday, September 24, 2018

"The Tomb of the Nine Gods" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 30


The party was stuck on an island surrounded by a lake of lava. Large crystal gargoyles orbited the skies overhead, preventing Bramble from transforming into a flying leather-winged reptile to carry the others to safety. Thus the party found themselves clambering down the north side of the island. Large fragments of what was once a land-bridge connecting the island to the rest of the lost city of Omu lay tumbled in the molten lava. The party was able to jump from one fragment to another. However, they soon reached a sixty foot gap, too far to jump.

"Are you sure this is the only way?" asked Apparently. Her apprehension was clear.

Bramble assured her, "Don't worry, you've got this." The bestial theran tied his rope around her waist. "Okay, can you levitate?"

Apparently closed her eyes and began floating in the air. In her home country of Akasa, her demijin heritage made her an outcast. Right now, her in-born ability was an asset.

Bramble stepped away and addressed Argent. "Okay, give her a push."

The humanoid dragon stepped forward and gave Apparently a good shove. She floated out over the lava. The other end of the rope was tied around his own waist. He quickly picked up the slack so that it didn't fall into the lava.

Apparently opened her eyes, she was slowly drifting a few feet over deadly lava. She quickly closed her eyes again and held her breath.


CHAPTER 30, "THE TOMB OF THE NINE GODS"

THE EXPEDITION
  • Bramble Wolf - a theran barbarian wise-man (Wildhunt Shifter Druid) searching for the legendary origin of his tribe.
  • Apparently Jones - a blue-skinned demijin caravan guide and animal trainer (Air Genasi Ranger) from Akasa, the land of sky mountains. Having failed to find work in Port Nyanzaru as an animal handler, she has joined the expedition to the interior as a scout.
  • Chak'sa - Apparently's honker (parasaurolophus) companion.
  • Xoc-Wik - a b'alam warrior (Tabaxi Fighter) from the jungles of Bres, searching for those responsible for the destruction of his tribe.
  • Zeynap Shiravadakar - a Eusebean smuggler (Human Warlock) bearing the spirit of a celestial unicorn.
  • Argent Truth-Sayer - a golden azi knight errant of Bhamut (Dragonborn Paladin) in the service of Bhamut, sent on a holy mission to join the expedition to destroy the Soul Monger. 
NPCs
  • Orvex Ocrammas - translator and guide for hire; rescued from the Fane of the Night Serpent.
  • Five Mercenaries - two archers and three spearmen, formerly employed by agents of Unglaub the Lich Queen, who switched sides when the agents were defeated.

Crossing the Lake of Lava


Apparently could barely hear her companions through the heat and noise of the lava, "Okay! You're good!"

She opened her eyes again and touched down on a massive boulder. She turned around and braced herself. Argent and the mercenaries pulled the rope tight on their end. 

Bramble said, "Here goes!" and climbed hand-over-hand across the rope. Apparently strained against the weight but kept the rope tight. 

Once he was across, Bramble helped Apparently hold the rope on her end. Each member of the party then climbed across the rope one at a time in turn. Orvex, then the mercenaries, and Xoc-Wik. Finally only Zeynap and Argent remained. 

"Okay, my turn!" said the celestial warlock. 

Zeynap grabbed Argent in an awkward hug. There was a peal of thunder as a bolt of lightning struck them both, creating an explosion of rock and debris. Instantaneously, another bolt of lightning struck the far side. Instead of an explosion, there was only a puff of smoke. The smoke cleared to reveal Argent, still in Zeynap's awkard embrace. They had magically teleported across the span. 

Once on the other side, the party scaled the sheer bank and were back in the city.

DM Note- Here's how this whole sequence went.

Step 1- Everyone had to make a DC 10 Athletics Check to climb down. 1d6 damage on a failed climb. 

Step 2- Push hovering Apparently across the span, no roll. 

Step 3- Both ends of the rope had to make a Athletics Check vs. DC equal to the Constitution of the person climbing across. A failure meant lava damage! Apparently made one roll. Argent had help from the mercenaries so he had Advantage.

Step 4- Repeat for each NPC. Bramble was able to help Apparently so she got Advantage. 

Step 5- Eventually only Zeynap and Argent remained, but Zeynap's player had a plan. Zeynap grabbed Argent and cast Thunder Step. 

Question- How did Chak'sa get across? Umm, he found a secret tunnel somewhere. Whatever! Shut up! 

Locating the Tomb
"Okay, now what?" asked Zeynap. 

Apparently said, "I think I know how we can find the Tomb."

"What have you got?" inquired Bramble.

"I am trained to locate and destroy creatures animated by necrotic energy. I can sense their presence. If there's a lot of necrotic energy in one place, I can sense it." explained Apparently.

"Do it!" replied Bramble.

Apparently closed her eyes and concentrated. She reached out with her senses. She could smell death, lingering death, a corpse animated by necrotic force. It was nearby, very close. It was a group of corpses animated by the spores of a plant. 

She reached further. She could sense small pockets of animated corpses and ghouls wandering the city. 

There. A great stench of death and decay. A powerful force emanated from the northern part of the city. It had to be there.

She told the others, informing them also of the nearby threat. 

"That has to be the place." said Bramble. 

"It's not in the royal palace?" asked Zeynap, "I really believed it was going to be in the royal palace!"

"Me too," said Bramble. They looked at Xoc-Wik. The jaguar-man had the blank vacant stare of brain fever. He would remember nothing of this day or this conversation. Bramble sighed, "Its exactly where Xoc-Wik thought it would be." He looked back at Zeynap, "Whatever you do, don't tell him he was right. We'll never hear the end of it."



A Vision of the Past
The party followed the western cliff face around the outside of the city, avoiding encounters wherever possible. At the base of the waterfall they found a strange obelisk made of black glass. When the party neared the obelisk they each received a strange vision.

They could see the city of Omu in ancient times, a bustling metropolis of trade, art, and craft, where man peacefully coexisted with humanoid oxen. At that time the city was not sunken but was was a part of the surrounding environment. Suddenly, a black globe appeared in the sky over the south-west quadrant of the city. The globe expanded in a flash, engulfing the southern quarter. A shockwave burst out, destroying the city. The entire area collapsed and the city descended two hundred feet. Buildings toppled. Thousands died. The vision came to an end.

Showdown with Sekelok
The party made their way back to the amphitheater. It was mid-afternoon and they were in no shape to take on any tombs. They went about fortifying the amphitheater into a new base camp. They hoped the lingering fear of the King of Feathers would keep most opponents away. 

Bramble set off alone to forage for food and water while Apparently explored the passages and chambers beneath the amphitheater seats in search of the scythe-claw eggs. 

Argent prayed for forgiveness while Zeynap oversaw the work of the mercenaries. It was lightly raining.

Argent's reverie was interrupted by a booming shout that echoed throughout the city, "I HAVE COME FOR YOU, COWARD!"



It was the serpentine warrior, Sekelok. He stood in the center of the muddy boneyard that faced the amphitheater. He carried a thrusting spear and shield made from a large tortoise shell. It was, in fact, the shell of Hasegawa Tōhaku, former member of the expedition.

Sekelok was accompanied by two humanoid nagini. Two other nagini warriors wielding long bows stood a few dozen feet behind at the edge of the tall grass. They were spaced far apart. 

Argent stepped forward. "What do you want?"

"I've come for you, coward. You have to finish what you started!" His voice boomed like that of a titan.

"Your priest changed the terms of our duel, invalidating it. I have no wish to become one of you."

"Then let me offer you new terms. We are in need of slaves to continue digging for the black opal crown. You stole ours! We lost several good warriors to your couatl companion when we tried to retake them. She is a formidable opponent! So I challenge you! If I win, I take your slaves." He indicated the mercenaries. The mercenaries shuffled their feet at the offer. "If you win, we will leave this city."

Zeynap shouted, "What do you need slaves for? Why don't you dig for the black opal crown yourselves?"

The two humanoid nagini looked at each other in shock, offended a the mere suggestion they perform manual labor. One of them shouted back, "We didn't undergo the ritual to become one of the ancient noble ones so we could dig in the earth like a worm!" A stern glance of rebuke from Sekelok silenced his entourage. 



Argent looked back at the mercenaries. They were ready to fight. He turned towards Sekelok, "I'm not going to do that," was his reply.

"Then we'll just have to kill you all and enslave the survivors!"

"I'd like to see you try!"

Sekelok hissed and charged, slithering through the mud and rain towards Argent. His two humanoid companions split left and right, creating wide flanks. The archers in the rear released their arrows at Argent and Zeynap.

Chak'sa blew out three long loud blats. They could be heard across the city. Apparently heard it under the amphitheater. Bramble heard it hundreds of feet away.

Argent ordered the mercenaries to form a line behind him. Zeynap was at his side. 


Zeynap directed his witch-bolts at the archer to the left while Chak'sa charged the archer to the right. Sekelok closed with Argent. The dragon-man planted his feet and held his shield high as he received the onslaught of spear thrusts from the towering Sekelok. 



The mercenary archers directed their attacks at the archers to the rear while the mercenary spearmen protected them from the humanoid nagini charging from the flanks.

Bramble transformed himself into the form of a saber-toothed cat and ran quickly through the city. Apparently made her way out of the passages as quickly as she could.


Chak'sa engaged the archer to the right. The two humanoid nagini fought with the mercenaries to either flank.

A nagina warrior appeared as if from nowhere. Zeynap shouted in surprise, "Where'd HE come from?"

Argent, grunting against the attacks made upon his shield, replied, "He was probably a snake. You didn't even notice him."

Apparently suddenly appeared from the underground passages beneath the amphitheater and engaged with the nagina warrior.

Zeynap called upon the magical power of his patron, Bright Mane the celestial unicorn, and summoned forth a rainbow hued stream of lightning directed at Sekelok.

Almost simultaneously, Bramble appeared at the edge of the muddy battlefield. He transformed back into human form and held his staff aloft. A small stormcloud coalesced out of the light rain and a bolt of lightning struck Sekelok.


Sekelok became enraged and turned his attention from Argent to Zeynap. Sekelok's focused attack almost sent the celestial warlock to the ground but, with some magical healing from Apparently, Zeynap stood fast and maintained his arcing multicolored lightning bolt. Sekelok could take no more. His body began to convulse from the massive electricity coursing through him and he fell to the ground, shuddering, dead.

Chak'sa fought bravely but was no match for the poisoned weapons of the nagina. The saurian honker soon fell dead. The nagina fiend was soon dispatched, however, by Zeynap's colorful eldritch blasts.

The remaining nagini fanatics fought on despite the death of their master. They pressed the attack against Zeynap. Zeynap, still weakened by Sekelok's attack, fell to the ground. Argent shifted his position to aid his companion while Apparently called forth her healing spirit - an ethereal feathered reptile-bird. The reptile-bird moved restored Zeynap's vitality and the warlock was soon back in the battle - only to quickly fall again to nagini arrows!

The nagini then turned their attacks at Apparently, forcing her to direct her attention to her defense and causing her healing spirit to vanish! Argent stepped in to aid Zeynap with his own holy healing prayers.

The remaining nagini were finally defeated after a grueling protracted battle. The party was finally able to rest and pray and recover. Apparently walked up to Chak'sa's lifeless body and began the ritual to bring it back to life.

DM Note - That fight was UH-MAZING! 

Bramble was six rounds out so he changed form to make it five rounds. Apparently was only three rounds out. 

Zeynap and Argent showed a spectacular level of tactics. The players were challenged and had a great time. The outcome of the fight was by no means foregone. Zeynap had 3 hit points left when Sekelok went down. Had I not missed as much as I did - in one round I rolled 1, 1, and 20 - and had Bramble not showed up on the round he did, it would have gone very badly for the group! 

I did forget that thugs had two attacks per round. I informed the players after the fight and apologized. Had I known that, I would have added more bad guys!

So, milestone reached, Level up! 8th level!

The Tomb of the Nine Gods


It was the morning after the fifty-seventh night since leaving Port Nyanzaru. The party had rested in the chambers beneath the old amphitheater and eaten small game foraged Bramble along with some hard tack. Argent continued to pray. The others patiently waited by the paladin sought forgiveness for his transgressions. Not until noon were they ready to search for the entrance to the tomb.

As they walked past some abandoned buildings, Bramble noticed that they were being watched. Small humanoid dragons, barely waist high to a grown man, were observing their movements through the city. Bramble covertly spread the word so that the others could be ready but the humanoid dragons did nothing but watch from afar.

The party explored the base of the north cliff face and eventually found a fifteen foot tall obelisk of black stone covered in weeds and vines. The stone was engraved with the following words.
Fear the night when the forsaken one seizes death’s mantle and the seas dry up and the dead rise and I, Acererak the Eternal, reap the world of the living. Those who dare enter take heed: 
The enemies oppose.
One stands between them.
In darkness, it hides.
Don the mask or be seen.
Speak no truth to the doomed child.
The keys turn on the inside only.
Ahead of them was a dark passage cut into the cliff's base. A smaller passage was cut into the base to the right. Zeynap held a glowing stick to illuminate the darkness and saw that the larger passage ended in a stone slab with eight square niches, each large enough to hold a puzzle cube.

"There's only eight. Something's not right."

Bramble said, "Look for the ninth. It's probably down that passage to the right."

The narrow passage to the right contained eight ceremonial statues standing in concave niches carved into the walls. Each statue represented one of the trickster gods.

  • Moa the jaculi stood opposite Wongo the su-monster.
  • I’jin the almiraj stood opposite Obo’laka the zorbo.
  • Papazotl the eblis stood opposite Kubazan the froghemoth.
  • Nangnang the grung stood opposite Shagambi the kamadan.
  • There was an empty  niche at the end of the the hall.


"Who's missing?" asked Argent.

"Unkh the flail shnail," answered Orvex.

Bramble examined the empty niche at the read and noticed that it rotated on a pivot. The entire niche spun around to reveal a hidden statue of a flail snail. Around the statue's neck was a necklace and pendant in the shape of a human eye.

Bramble gave the necklace to Argent to examine. Argent put it on and studied it closely. He walked around and noticed that the pendant did not hang plumb. It seemed to be attracted to an area of dense undergrowth to the left of the obelisk. He cleared the undergrowth to find another large passage. The second passage appeared to have been home to animals seeking shelter. Additionally, humanoid footprints indicated others had passed through this entrance no sooner than several weeks ago.

The party joined Argent. Zeynap, carrying the puzzle cubes, saw a stone slab with nine cut niches.

"Hold on," said the warlock, "I have an idea."




Zeynap inserted the puzzle cubes in the niches with opposing trickster gods on opposite sides and Unkh the flail snail in the center.

The stone slab rose, revealing another short length of hallway ending in an iron wall. The wall was decorated with a bas relief skull with an open gaping mouth staring down menacingly at a mechanical lever. While they were watching, a small mechanical arm extended from the open mouth of the iron skull. The mechanical arm held a small hourglass. The arm rotated and sand began to fall.

DM Note- I started counting down from 10, asking "What do you do?" after each number.

Apparently rushed forth and examined the mechanical arm. She pulled the lever.

The floor split open and fell away, revealing a pit filled with acid and sharp spikes.

Apparently held on with the lever and dangled above the pit! She took a deep breath to calm down. She drew upon her demijin heritage and began  to hover in mid-air.

She pushed the lever back up. The floor closed. She pulled the lever. It opened. She pursed her lips and reset the trap again.

She waited while the sand poured out. When all the sand was in the lower bulb of the hourglass, the heavy iron door sank into the floor with the sound of turning gears and chains.

The Devil Face
Ahead of them was a hallway filled with moss and vines. Daylight and rainwater filtered down through long narrow artificial fissures in the ceiling. Tracks revealed others had passed this way several weeks previous. The end of the hallway terminated in two passages, left and right. At the center of the "T" was the carved image of a smiling horned devil face. The interior of the smiling mouth was an impenetrable dark blackness.

The iron door began to slowly rise.

"Quickly! Get everyone inside! Don't get separated!" shouted Argent.

Argent, Zeynap, Bramble, and Apparently  moved into the mossy hall to allow room for Chak'sa and the mercenaries to enter.

As they did so they absent-mindedly stepped on pressure plates that filled the corridor with a deadly hail of poison darts launched from small concealed holes in the walls. It was a massacre!

All five mercenaries and Chak'sa fell dead. Argent, Zeynap, Bramble, and Apparently were badly injured but managed to avoid the poison.

Orvex, crossing over the slowly rising door, called out, "Whoah! Whoah! Whoah! Shtop moving! Nobody move! There'sh no need to rush! Look! Shee? This door will take like an hour to closhe!"

Argent slapped his head with his scaled palm.

Orvex continued, "Okay, there'sh shomething you should know. I'm not jusht a transhlator. I do have certain.. shkills." He bent down and examined the floor, "Shee? Pressure plates. Let me jusht..."Orvex took out some small tools and hammered a small wedge under the floor. "There. Thish one'sh dishabled."

He crawled upon the floor on his hands and knees. He found and disabled three more pressure plates.

"There, that should take care of that. Now what's she doing?"

He pointed at Apparently, who was bent over examining the dark void inside the devil face's mouth.



She was muttering, "In darkness, it hides." She stuck her head into the mouth to look around.

She was suddenly pulled into the mouth, her legs kicking! She disappeared!

To Be Continued...(!)

DM Note- Seriously, that's exactly where I said "To be continued." I told them, no more questions, no more description, until next week. They were dying! 

Unfiortunately, both Apparently and Zeynap will be absent next week so we may have to cancel that session. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

"The Final Cube" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 29


They team made their way back across Omu as the sun set behind the mountains in the west. They returned to their camp site in the gate house. Something was wrong.

They opened the gate and found carnage!

The mace-tail was dead and dismembered. Their equipment had been stolen.

Tony's body was  strung up on a wooden post like a scarecrow. He had been tortured and eventually killed with a dozen nagini arrows. His flayed skin was stretched flat and nailed to a nearby wall. On it was scrawled the message.

FACE ME COWARD!

Apparently covered her mouth in horror. Xoc-Wik's mouth hung open in shock. Thazma beamed behind her gag and hopped up and down in excitement.

Argent bared his draconic teeth, "I'll take care of this. Don't wait for me."

He left the camp and returned towards the city.

DM Note- Full disclosure, the illustration above greatly overstates the emotional impact Tony's death had upon the player characters. I'm not sure the players even noticed.


CHAPTER 29, "THE FINAL CUBE"

THE EXPEDITION
  • Bramble Wolf - a theran barbarian wise-man (Wildhunt Shifter Druid) searching for the legendary origin of his tribe.
  • Apparently Jones - a blue-skinned demijin caravan guide and animal trainer (Air Genasi Ranger) from Akasa, the land of sky mountains. Having failed to find work in Port Nyanzaru as an animal handler, she has joined the expedition to the interior as a scout.
  • Chak'sa - Apparently's honker (parasaurolophus) companion.
  • Xoc-Wik - a b'alam warrior (Tabaxi Fighter) from the jungles of Bres, searching for those responsible for the destruction of his tribe.
  • Zeynap Shiravadakar - a Eusebean smuggler (Human Warlock) bearing the spirit of a celestial unicorn.
  • Argent Truth-Sayer - a golden azi knight errant of Bhamut (Dragonborn Paladin) in the service of Bhamut, sent on a holy mission to join the expedition to destroy the Soul Monger. 
NPCs
  • Eku - a mysterious shape-changing wise-woman from Chult, hired as a guide.
  • Tony - rough and tumble dinosaur wrangler who wished to learn from Apparently, possibly from 19th century Boston on Earth. Killed by Sekelok the snake-man.
  • Orvex Ocrammas - translator and guide for hire; rescued from the Fane of the Night Serpent.
  • Thazma - a Crimson Necromancer in the service of Unglaub the Lich Queen, reportedly knows the location of the entrance to the Tomb of the Nine Gods. 

Change of Plans
A few seconds later Argent returned to the camp, "Wait! Better!"

He asked Bramble if he could summon an animal to take a message to Sekelok. Bramble summoned a small flying reptile to deliver the message. The message was, "Minions who failed their master are beneath concern.  I have greater evils to hunt but if we cross paths, we’ll duel." The reptile flew off into the night.

Fearing further reprisals from the Nagini, the party gathered what they could salvage and moved their camp. Apparently chose a spot in the south of the city, a place once known for its beautiful vista and marked with an ancient stone carved with the image of two lovers in an embrace. The mercenaries piled some rocks up into makeshift barriers which would hide the light from their camp fires.

With supplies running low Xoc-Wik left the new camp to go foraging for food and water. Zeynap decided to travel to the secondary camp at the Akasanal airship to warn them of possible Nagini attack. Eku flashed a grim smile and said she welcomed the attempt.

Back at the camp, Argent had loosened Thazma's bonds and removed her gag so that she could eat. Argent eyed the crimson necromancer warily. He did not trust her. He did not like her. He felt only regret that they relied on her to guide them to the secret entrance of the Tomb of the Nine Gods. As soon as she was done eating, he cut off any attempt she made to interact with others by restoring her gag and tightening her bonds.

It grew late. The party and the mercenaries prepared to bed down. Zeynap came into camp, weary from the three-hour hike to the second camp and back.

A wave of odor washed over the camp - the putrid smell of decomposition!  Gaunt figures came running up the hill, darting back and forth through the small trees. Ghouls were attacking the camp!



Xoc-Wik returned to the new campsite carrying a collection of small game and tubers. He saw the silhouettes of ghouls approaching the camp. He dropped the game and drew his bow and nocked an arrow.

A group of ghouls rounded some trees to the right. Another group approached up the middle and pounced upon Zeynap. Zeynap was paralyzed by their rending claws.

The mercenaries sprang up and grabbed their clubs. They moved to block the ghouls approaching from the right flank. Bramble summoned forth two spirit bears who raced forward with the honker named Chak'sa to defend Zeynap.

The leader, a more sophisticated ghoul known as a ghast, wore robes and was taller and stood more erect. It directed the two in the rear to turn around and charge Xoc-Wik.

Argent moved to the right and called upon Bhamut to banish these shambling anathema to true life! A flash of holy radiance caused several of the ghouls to cower and shield their faces. They turned to flee. With the mercenaries' help, Argent made short work of those who remained.

Meanwhile the bears ripped and tore the ghouls attacking Zeynap, rending them to tatters of putrid flesh. Zeynap in turn regained his senses and began zapping the remaining ghouls with eldritch bolts.



Xoc-Wik quickly eliminated the two ghouls attacking him and turned his arrows to the ghast. The ghast charged Xoc-Wik but was likewise soon destroyed.

The battle was ended. The campsite was secured and the entourage once more settled down to rest.

It began to rain.

Bag of Nails
The rain continued through the night, making for a miserable evening without tents or blankets. With the gray wet light of day the party gathered their equipment and set off once more into the ruined city of Omu. Fifty six nights had passed since they left Port Nyanzaru.

The party hiked east towards the lake of lava in the southeast quadrant of the city. They circled around the  massive pit towards the waterfall where the flooded city drained into the lava. They made their way up to the fallen log that crossed the draining water.

Bramble warned everyone to be on guard for the senile old hunter named Bag-of-Nails.

Argent held his shield up and moved forward onto the log shouting, "I'm here, Bag-of-Nails! Come and get me! I'm right here!"

Xoc-Wik, who had heretofore not met Bag-of-Nails, kept an arrow nocked and drawn, ready to loose at any target that made itself visible. He scanned the roof-tops looking for the hunter.

An arrow flew out of the sky and thudded into the fallen log with a "THOP-P-P-P!"



Xoc-Wik looked frantically about but could see no attacker!

Another arrow splashed into the water. Another arrow hit the log. Xoc-Wik saw him! An elderly b'alam moving into hiding on a rooftop over three hundred feet away! Xoc-Wik loosed an arrow into the old hunter. The arrow struck Bag-of-Nails and magically sprouted vines, ivy, and thorns which grabbed into the surrounding stone.

Bag-of-Nails responded with an arrow into Xoc-Wik. The younger b'alam grit his sharp teeth against the poison. The elder b'alam strained against the vines, scratching and tearing at his flesh! Xoc-Wik lost his target again.

Xoc-Wik scanned the rooftop. He found his quarry. Bag-of-Nails had dropped his bow and was frantically pulling at the vines and thorns.

Xoc-Wik loosed an arrow.

The arrow flew straight at its target. Time slowed down. Bag-of-Nails looked up and, for a brief second made eye contact with Xoc-Wik. The look of confusion, frustration, and fear on Bag-of-Nails face disappeared when he saw the younger b'alam. He saw Xoc-Wik and his fear was replaced with recognition and pride. He silently mouthed the word, "Son?"




DM Note- Bag-of-Nails rolled a 1 and dropped his bow. He bent down to pick it up. Xoc-Wik aimed and took another shot. His player rolled to hit. 17- a hit! 

Before he could roll damage, I said, "You loose your arrow. It flies straight and true. Before it hits, Bag-of-Nails looks up and, for a brief second, makes eye contact with you. He silently mouths the word - 'Son?'"

The player froze. The look on the player's face was PRICELESS! He said, "GODDAMMIT!"

I offered the player the option to spend an Inspiration for Disadvantage, re-roll and hope for a lower result. 

The player hemmed and hawed and had a tough time making up his mind. He eventually cursed aloud, "GODDAMMIT! GODDAMMIT! GODDAMMIT!" Before he could change his mind, he picked up the d8, and rolled damage. 

Bag-of-Nails had five hit points left.

The arrow struck Bag-of-Nails in the heart. The elderly hunter collapsed onto the roof, out of sight.

Xoc-Wik immediately regretted his action. He darted at full sprint across the log and towards the building. He threw himself up the sheer wall and dashed towards the rooftop where Bag-of-Nails fell.

Bag-of-Nails was gone.

In his place was a bowl of stew and a note- "Good shot, son! I'm proud of you! Have a bowl of stew, no poison! You've earned it!"

Xoc-Wik crumpled up the note and kicked over the bowl of stew, "Not a chance, old man."

DM Note- The player immediately regretted shooting Bag-of-Nails. He dashed at full speed to try to save him. While he did so, I rolled death saves in secret. I don't normally roll death saves for NPCs but I make an exception sometimes of the players request it. The difficulty is 15. I rolled 17, 18, and 20. Bag-of-Nails survived with 1 hit point and escaped. 

The other players were holding their breath during the entire sniper duel. It was amazingly tense. When I told them about the note and the stew, there were cheers and high fives. It was a fantastic encounter!

Jaculis
The party continued to the edge of the lake of lava. A large island of rock stood like a spire in the lake. A squat shrine stood atop the island. The remains of what looked like a land bridge lay in huge collapsed chunks in the lava below. Many were close together and could be climbed. The widest gap, however, was sixty feet - a seemingly insurmountable chasm. After discussing several options, Bramble transformed himself into a massive flying reptile as large as a giraffe. He picked up each member of the party and ferried them across one by one, depositing them at the entrance to the shrine compound. As he carried across the final mercenary a flock of crystal gargoyles began to converge on their location. He landed and transformed back into his theran form as the gargoyles circled in the sky above. "Well, guess I'm not doing that again anytime soon."

DM Note- Yeah, I totally forgot about the gargoyles attacking anything that flies until after I let them get across. I later remembered and said that the sky was now full of gargoyles which would make getting back across tough. 

Argent raised his shield and carefully advanced past the twin obelisks that formed the threshhold into the compound. There were dense trees and foliage flanking both sides of the overgrown paving stone that led to the shrine entrance. Argent signaled Zeynap to join him.

Suddenly a fifteen foot long snake shot out of the tree like an arrow! The snake slammed against Argent's shield and fell to the ground. The snake had metallic blue scales and a cobra-like hood made of several short spikes. The snake coiled up and quickly returned to the trees.

"WHAT - THE - HELL?" cried Zeynap!



More snakes launched themselves out of the trees at Argent.  Apparently, and Xoc-Wik launched ranged attacks at the creatures from outside the threshold. Each time the snakes would retreat to the trees. Zeynap and Argent managed to kill a few of the snakes and eventually the attacks ceased. Zeynap and Argent advanced to the entrance.

The Shrine of Moa
Ancient Omuan cuneiform adorned the entrance. Zeynap called back, "Orvex, you're up!"

Orvex ran forward to provide translation, "Moa teaches us that secrets hide the truth."

Ahead of them was a corridor. The walls were carved with bas relief serpents. There were three  narrow openings on each wall, each about a foot tall and a hands-width wide. The floor was covered in cobwebs. No one had entered this corridor in quite some time. There was a room behind with a mosaic on the floor and a pedestal illuminated by a single shaft of magical light. A hand-sized cube floated, suspended in the shaft of light.

Argent inhaled deeply and exhaled a blast of his draconic fire into the hallway, burning it clean of all cobwebs. He then got on his hands and knees and closely examined the floor. He gently pushed on the floor and saw that it moved ever so slightly but was stopped by a mechanical barrier. "It's trapped." was his assessment.

"You think?" was Bramble's sarcastic reply. "Can you disable it?"

Argent stood and shrugged, "I think it might already be disabled." He tested his theory by picking up a dead snake and tossing it into the corridor. It landed with a meaty thud. Nothing happened. He turned and looked at the others.

"Who's going first?" inquired Zeynap nervously.

Everyone looked at Xoc-Wik.

"Don't look at me!" said the jaguar-man.

"But you're the fighter! Isn't this your job?" asked Bramble.

Xoc-Wik held up his bow for emphasis, "Not that kind of fighter!" was his defensive retort.

After an awkward silence Argent took a deep breath, "I'll go."

Argent boldly strode down the corridor. Nothing happened.

The others soon joined him inside. The mercenaries, along with Chak'sa and Thazma, stayed outside the compound.

Aside from the mosaic and the pedestal, the room contained twelve statues of ancient Omuan archers with arrows nocked and drawn, ready to attack anyone who might take the hovering cube.

Argent, Orvex, Apparently, and Zeynap examined the mosaic on the floor. It depicted the serpentine god Moa in battle with the simian Wongo. Moss grew over some writing. Argent peeled away the moss and Orvex translated, "Death rewards a thief deceived. Truth comes from the serpent’s mouth."



Bramble examined the hovering cube, "Nobody take this. It's a trick!"

"Obviously," said Argent, "Everyone, look around for a 'serpent's mouth'.

None of the statues depicted anything like a serpent's mouth.

Argent borrowed a spear from one of the mercenaries. He used the spear to chip away the mosaic stones of the god Moa. He found nothing but concrete.

"Hey," said Apparently, "Maybe the corridor is the serpent and the entrance is the mouth!"

The party moved outside the shrine and closely examined the entrance but could find nothing.



Apparently looked in the corridor and remembered the openings. She looked into an opening and saw a hidden room on the other side of the wall. Within the room was a statue of a large serpent.

"Found it!"

She looked in the other windows just to be safe. It was the mirror image of the other room with a statue of a large serpent. However, its head had broken off and lay on the floor. A cube rested near the remnants of the head.

"Oh, wait!" she cautioned.

"Check both statues," said Bramble, "Look for a secret door."

Working in pairs, the party quickly found small hidden shafts concealed by false facades. Apparently entered one room while Zeynap entered the other. Apparently picked the cube up off the floor. Zeynap examined the serpent's mouth and found a second cube.

"Which is the real cube?" wondered Argent.

Apparently shrugged.

As they exited the shrine, Apparently's cube disappeared. Only Zeynap's cube remained. "I guess this one," he said.

The Judgement of Thazma
The party gathered outside the shrine. They stood on an island of rock a hundred feet above a lake of lava. The rain was pouring.

Argent ordered the mercenaries to produce Thazma. Argent removed her gag. Her eyes open wide. Her teeth were apart in a disturbing open-mouthed smile.

"We have all nine puzzle cubes. Are you prepared to show us the entrance to the Tomb of Nine Gods?"

Thazma hesitated before enthusiastically answer, "Yes! Yes, absolutely!"



Argent's green draconic eyes narrowed in a mixture of distrust and revulsion. He closed his eyes and called upon the power of his god, Bhamut, "You will speak only the truth!"

DM Note- Argent cast Zone of Truth. Zeynap's player said, "Wait, let me, let me test it. Thazma, who was the better Sherlock Holmes - Nigel Rathbone or Benedict Cumberbatch?"

I answered, "Trick question- the correct answer is Jeremy Brett!"

Zeynap gave the thumbs up, "It's working!"

Thazma was overcome by the compulsion of Argent's holy command, "I- I am pretty sure I almost definitely know where I think it is- might be- probably."

Argent was overcome with rage, "YOU DON'T KNOW???"

Thazma recoiled, "Zagmira was the only one who knew for certain. You killed her! When Yamoch refused to cooperate, you killed him! I was next! What would you expect me to say? Besides! I really think I know where the entrance probably is!

Argent screamed, "You are useless!" The dragon-man brandished his axe, "We should have executed you on the spot!"

Thazma flinched.

Xoc-Wik said, "Now wait a minute!"

Argent glowered at Xoc-Wik. Xoc-Wik backed down. He looked at Bramble for guidance. Bramble put up his hands, "Don't look at me. I don't care what happens to her."

Argent spun back to Thazma. His eyes flashing green hatred. "While you are my prisoner, I am honor bound to let you live."

Thazma relaxed just a little.

Argent cut her bonds, "Therefore I release you. You are no longer my prisoner."

Thazma's eyes grew wide in panic. She backed away and prepared to cast a spell of flight in order to escape.

Argent cut her down in one strike.

Lightning flashed and thunder rolled across the valley of Omu.

Regrets
"Well," said Zeynap, "That escalated quickly."

The mercenaries shuffled uneasily and whispered among themselves. Argent leveled his bloody axe at them as a silent warning. "She was evil. She deserved to die."

One of the mercenaries replied, "No question, she was evil. But did she really deserve it? Was she really threatening you? You may have cut her bonds but she was unarmed and trying to run away. What does your order say about killing enemies in retreat?"

Argent stared down at his bloody axe. What had he done? He immediately began to regret his actions. He had murdered her. He had violated his oath as a knight of Bhamut.



Argent whispered to himself, "I have made a mistake."

The mercenary interrupted his reverie, "So, um, what's your plan now for finding the entrance to the Tomb of Nine Gods?"

Argent continued to stare at his axe, wet with rain and blood.

Bramble replied, "Well, I can't fly you all back across because of the gargoyles. So we're kind of stuck. Our first priority is food." He looked in the direction of the ruined royal palace. Black leather-winged reptiles continued to orbit the tower. "I can transform into a small flying beast and go forage enough food for a few of us. The gargoyles seem to ignore small creatures. In the meantime, the rest of you use these rain-catchers to collect some fresh water. And maybe butcher some of those snakes we killed."

Zeynap said, "I have a good idea that the entrance to the tomb is located inside that tower."

Bramble nodded, "Possibly. Lots of snake-men in there. That could be trouble. In the meantime, rest, collect water, and eat. We'll figure out a way to get off this island tomorrow."

Argent silently walked away from the group. He knelt down at a spot overlooking the lake of lava, placed his axe on the ground in front of him, and began to pray for forgiveness.

The mercenaries picked up their former employer and tossed her into the lava.

To Be Continued...

DM Commentary- I have to admit, I did not see that coming.

Argent murdering Thazma came out of left field. I was all set to end the evening with Thazma leading them to the general area of the entrance to the tomb. She had become a plot device. 

But her murder was an emotional ending to a great session of high drama. The sniper-duel with Bag-of-Nails was riveting. The solving of the Shrine of Moa then ramped up frustrations even more. I can see how Argent's player might have been keyed up by that point.

I also got a little angry with Argent's player when he did that. But I took a deep breath. I told Argent's player I was getting frustrated with that course of action and apologized up front. I tried to calm down and let the player do his thing. I did warn him, however, that this course of action would lead to a violation of his oath as a paladin.

At first he objected. He argued that slaying an evil person is within his mandate. We then read the paladin's oath together, out loud. I also pointed out that, to a good-aligned paladin, there are only a few circumstances that warrant killing someone - 

1. They pose an imminent threat to your life.
2. They pose an imminent threat to someone else's life.
3. (optional, depending on order) Vengeance.

I pointed out that Thazma posed no imminent threat to his or anyone else's life. 

He asked "Has she killed anyone?"

I said, "Not that you know of." 

He agreed that he had violated his oath and agreed that his paladin should face some sort of repercussion for his rash action.

According to the player's handbook, there are two options.

1. If the paladin is unrepentant, then they can only take additional levels in Oathbreaker Paladin or another class.

2. If the paladin is repentant, then they can fast for a number of days to atone for their crime. That basically means taking on some levels of exhaustion. Now I need to decide how many levels is sufficient. 

Also, they're stuck on an island with no food and they have no idea where the entrance to the Tomb of Nine Gods is located.

I told the players - I have given you three, THREE, NPCs who have offered to help you find it. You have killed or have allowed to be killed each one. I'M DONE! From this point forward THERE ARE NO MORE BACK-UPS! YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN!  

They've just added one or two more sessions before entering the tomb, which is frustrating. I'm curious to see what they come up with. I'm curious to see what I come up with!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

"The King of Feathers" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 28


After defeating the crimson necromancers of the lich queen and interrogating their new prisoner, Thazma, the party continued to the compound of the grung. They trudged through the waist-deep, sometimes shoulder-deep water past the ruins of the royal palace to the right. The tower of the palace was slowly orbited by hundreds of dark flying leathern-winged reptiles.

They arrived at the grung compound and were met by nearly a dozen archers and warriors, some with red skin some with orange. The gold-skinned chieftain emerged from the flooded compound flanked by two orange-skinned guard to greet the party and their newly acquired mercenaries. He inflated his throat sac in a display of intimidation and spoke in his native language.

"Orvex, get up here and translate!" called Xoc-Wik.

Orvex Orcammas translated the words of the chieftain.

"I am Chief Yorb. Why have you returned to this holy sanctuary? Although we thank you for saving our precious offspring-" the chief paused to consult a guard on the name of his offspring before continuing, "-our precious one hundred eightieth offspring Imbok, you were politely informed that as an outsider you were not welcome here and would be sacrificed to Nangnang should you retrun."

Imbok waved excitedly from the wall. Zeynap waved back.

Zeynap said, "We apologize for our unanticipated return. We were unable to understand your words the last time we were here. We have returned with an interpreter to translate so that we may ask you a great favor."

Chief Yorb's bulbous eyes narrowed, "What is this favor?"

Apparently Jones blurted out, "We need to go inside that shrine!"

Zeynap winced and inhaled through his teeth.

Chief Yorb replied, "Absolutely not! This is a sacred place! You may not enter without first offering a suitable gift to great Nangnang!"

Zeynap diplomatically inquired, "What kind of gift may we provide?"

Chief Yorb once more consulted with his guard. He turned back to make his proclamation, "Go to the something-something and slay the great beast known as the King of Feathers!"


CHAPTER 28, "THE KING OF FEATHERS"

THE EXPEDITION
  • Bramble Wolf - a theran barbarian wise-man (Wildhunt Shifter Druid) searching for the legendary origin of his tribe.
  • Apparently Jones - a blue-skinned demijin caravan guide and animal trainer (Air Genasi Ranger) from Akasa, the land of sky mountains. Having failed to find work in Port Nyanzaru as an animal handler, she has joined the expedition to the interior as a scout.
  • Chak'sa - Apparently's honker (parasaurolophus) companion.
  • Xoc-Wik - a b'alam warrior (Tabaxi Fighter) from the jungles of Bres, searching for those responsible for the destruction of his tribe.
  • Zeynap Shiravadakar - a Eusebean smuggler (Human Warlock) bearing the spirit of a celestial unicorn.
  • Argent Truth-Sayer - a golden azi knight errant of Bahamut (Dragonborn Paladin) in the service of Bahamut, sent on a holy mission to join the expedition to destroy the Soul Monger. 
NPCs
  • Eku - a mysterious shape-changing wise-woman from Chult, hired as a guide.
  • Tony - rough and tumble dinosaur wrangler who wished to learn from Apparently, possibly from 19th century Boston on Earth. 
  • Orvex Ocrammas - translator and guide for hire; rescued from the Fane of the Night Serpent.
  • Thazma - a Crimson Necromancer in the service of Unglaub the Lich Queen, reportedly knows the location of the entrance to the Tomb of the Nine Gods. 
The Something-Something
"The 'something-something'?" inquired Zeynap dubiously.

Orvex replied, "I didn't know that word. What's a 'gombuke'?"

"Whatever, what's a 'King of Feathers'?" asked Xoc-Wik.

"It is a great beast that walks on two feet with a large horn growing from its nose. It is covered in the most radiant plumage. For too long the King of Feathers has preyed upon our kind and we have been helpless to stop him! Do this and I will consider your favor."

"Where is this.. 'gombuke'?" inquired Zeynap.

"It is one hundred great leaps towards the rising sun," was Chief Yorb's answer.

Zeynap blinked in confusion, "How big is a 'great leap'?"

Chief Yorb explained, "Ten hops," he stretched his arms wide to indicate distance, "a hop!"

Argent did some math, "So, twenty-five hundred feet that way."

"That corresponds with the amphitheater," suggested Xoc-Wik.

"Got it," said Zeynap, "Chief Yorb, you've got a deal!"

DM Note- I couldn't say "Go to the Amphitheater". A grung has no idea what an "amphitheater" is. I even told the players I was stuck in how to describe where they had to go. So I came up with "gombuke". Then I realized that a grung wouldn't know what a "foot" or "meter" was. I thought, "what unit of distance would a grung use?" so I came up with the "great leap" of 25 feet and a hop of "about 3 feet.

The Shambling Mound
 After once more crossing the flooded swamp in the center of the city, the party decided to take a short rest outside some ruined buildings on the northern edge of town.

While they rested, a massive tendril of vines and roots reached out from a nearby ruin and grabbed one of the mercenaries revealing an ambulatory vegetative mass. Apparently and Argent rushed to his aid, cutting him free, while Xoc-Wik loosed arrows from across the street. Zeynap unleashed a barrage of eldritch blasts. The mercenary archers formed a line and loosed volleys into the shambling mound. The now freed mercenary joined the other spearmen and formed a line to protect Chak'sa.

The mound turned its attention to Argent and the spearmen rushed in to attack and the shambling plant-thing was soon destroyed.

DM Note- Random encounter to add some spice. I thought about throwing a second shambling mound but I didn't want to go overboard on a random encounter.

The Amphitheater
The party traveled around the northern edge of the great elevated boulevard and arrived at an open area covered in shoulder-high grass. Two-hundred yard away a stone amphitheater rose above the grass and small trees. The amphitheater was a semi-circular structure of step-like seats. Three large stone pylons faced the seats of the amphitheater. They lacked entrances or windows. Shards of what appeared to have once been massive statues lay broken in the grass.

DM Note- The players asked me "What are those buildings?" 

Because I couldn't tell from the map and I didn't have a ready answer, I turned it to them, "What do you think they are?"

They started throwing out ideas. Somebody asked, "Is there a door? How about windows?" 

My answer was, "You tell me. Does it have doors? Are there windows?"

Using this method, the players described them as giant pedestals for statues that have toppled over and lay in heaps of rubble in the muddy grass. 

It's always good to let players come up with uneccesary details. Plus it clues them in that those structures aren't important and gives them the ability to be creative or come up with something useful for them.

They advanced slowly through the tall grass towards the amphitheater. Apparently spotted large five-foot wide tracks made by a three-toed creature sunken into the muddy ground. Their gait indicated a creature of immense size, at least thirty-feet tall. The tracks occasionally disappeared mysteriously. Perhaps the King of Feathers flew?

The area within the semi-circle formed by the amphitheater was devoid of grass and muddy. There was no sign of the King of Feathers.

The muddy area was strewn with the bones of hundreds of dead animals and humanoids. There was no sound, no insects, no birds, no wind. The silence was eerie.

From here they could see nine tunnels leading underneath the seats of the amphitheater. No doubt mighty gladiators once emerged from those tunnels to do battle. Each tunnel was topped by the statue of a different trickster god of Omu.

Argent pointed at the stands, "The archers will be positioned there and there. Chak'sa and the mercenaries will watch Thazma way over there. Chak'sa will honk his horn if he sees the King of Feathers." He pointed towards the fourth tunnel in the center of the semi-circle, "We'll wait in there for the King of Feathers to return."

The Terror in the Dark
They cautiously entered the tunnel beneath the stands of the amphitheater. A stone ramp led down to a room containing stone benches and an ancient dry fountain. Shards of glass from hundreds of broken bottles littered the floor. Mud tracks from a clawed foot the size of a man's hand led into and out of the tunnels.

"Do you think its young live down here?" inquired Zeynap.

"Maybe," replied Apparently.

"Good," said Argent grimly.

They advanced cautiously. Zeynap created a magical light to illuminate the stone corridors in scintillating rainbow hues.

There was the sound of claws running on the stone floor. The sound echoed down a series of corridors that disappeared into the darkness. There was a flash of movement. The tip of a tail disappeared around the corner. Suddenly a feathered face of a reptile with a head the general size and shape of a  medium sized dog appeared around the corner.

Zeynap launched an eldritch blast into the darkness after a partially obscured creature.

One of the creatures burst out of the darkness. It was bipedal with legs like an large bird, a long whip-like tail, and a dog-like head filled with tiny teeth. Each clawed foot ended with a long curved scythe-like talon. The creature bolted forward, leaped, and pounced on Zeynap, its teeth snapping inches away from Zeynap's face. Zeynap repelled the beast with his eldritch blast.

Everyone attacked the creature and it was soon destroyed. Another creature appeared and pounced upon Argent. After killing the second beast, the sound of more could be heard in the darkness.

Argent called out, "Retreat! We didn't come here to fight these! We'll figure something else out."

The party turned to exit the tunnel. They heard the sound of Chak'sa's honking warning them of danger.

They emerged from the tunnel and saw a massive bipedal creature with a long tail,  two muscular legs, tiny arms, and a head the size of a boulder. It was covered in brilliant plumage. A single large horn grew from its nose. Its mouth, large enough to swallow a man whole, was filled with dagger-like teeth.

The King of Feathers had returned!

All Hail the King
The King of Feathers saw intruders within his home territory. He lifted his head and roared.


The King was still in the area of tall grass almost two hundred feet away. It started charging towards the intruders.

The team moved into position. Argent moved out of the tunnel. Apparently summoned two spirit bears to intercept the King of Feathers about sixty feet away.

DM Note- According to Apparently's player, the bears are now named "Hydra Bait" and "Snake Bite".

Zeynap moved out of the tunnel and towards the right. Apparently, Xoc-Wik, and Orvex stayed in the entrance to the tunnel.

From his safe vantage point, Xoc-Wik was able to launch an arrow into the King of Feathers that burst into magical energy. Vines and thorns and roots burst from the ground to wrap around the King's three-toed feet. The King lifted its feet from the entangling mass in annoyance, roared, and disappeared in a poof of silvery mist!

Xoc-Wik's player- "Are you shitting me?"

Argent's player- "It's a BLINK DINOSAUR!! That's awesome!!" 

The King of Feathers continued its charge but everywhere it moved its feet became once more entangled in vines and thorns. The mercenary archers in the stands sent arrows towards the monster but all missed or bounced off its feathered plumage. Zeynap sent his most powerful witch bolt into the feathered monster. Electric energy arced through the air in a continuous stream, causing the King of Feathers great agony.



The King angled around the bears but the bears moved to intercept. Argent rushed out to meet it. To Argent's surprise, the King simply blinked past him, appearing near Zeynap.

The feathered beast opened its great maw and bit down onto Zeynap. He lifted Zeynap off the ground and and exhaled a swarm of angry wasps from deep within its lungs!

Everyone- Because of COURSE it does!



The King then blinked away with the warlock in his mouth, leaving behind a cloud of angry wasps to harass Argent!

Meanwhile, three of the smaller creatures appeared from within the tunnel to harrass Xoc-Wik, Apparently, and Orvex. They were forced to deal with the distraction from behind while Zeynap and Argent battled the King of Feathers.



Argent attacked the King of Feathers with his axe. Zeynap gritted his teeth as the dagger-like teeth ripped into his flesh. Through a herculean effort the warlock was able to maintain his focus and continue sending electric energy into the King of Feathers!

The King of Feathers shuddered and fell, its plumage singed and smoking!

DM Note- I did like 40+ points of damage to Zeynap! The DC for his Constitution Save was over 20! He rolled a 20! Thanks to Argent's bless spell giving him a +1d4, that asshole rolled a 26! It was a pretty epic save!  Zeynap's player described Zeynap, in the mouth of a T-Rex, sending electrical energy all over his enemy like Emperor Palpatine vs. Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi. 

They had defeated the King of Feathers!

Aftermath
Argent dismembered the King of Feather's remains both to make easier transport of the head and to prevent it reanimating as a walking corpse. Apparently and the mercenaries set to work building a travois to transport the King of Feather's boulder-sized head.

Xoc-Wik and Zeynap explored the now empty tunnels beneath the amphitheater, finding a golden death mask, a fancy helmet, and a serving platter engraved with images of Omuan feasts.



The Shrine of Nangnang
The party transported the head of the King of Feathers back across the swamp to the shrine of Nangnang. This time they were met with croaks of celebration and the adulation of Chief Yorb and his grung attendants. Chief Yorb allowed them entrance into the holy shrine.

They entered the squat truncated pyramid and found another heavier door overlooking a tile mosaic in the floor. Magical torches illuminated several irregular side chambers, revealing piles of gold coins and bars, goblets, statuettes, and other treasures.

Zeynap began to salivate but the glowing bump on his forehead reminded him of his obligation to Bright Mane, his celestial patron. "I'm not going to touch it!"

"Me neither," agreed Xoc-Wik, "Nobody touch nothing!"

The others nodded in agreement.

They examined the tile mosaic. It depicted a grung  beating a kamadan. Cuneiform inscriptions were woven above and below the combatants. Orvex said the images showed Nangnang the grung fighting against Shagambi the kamadan. He translated the cunieform as "Nangnang teaches us to serve only ourselves.”

"Okay," said Argent dubiously. The Azi dragon-man carefully stepped around the mosaic and tried to open the door. There were no handles, only an inscription that read, " Whoever among you is the richest, bring me your gifts."

He pushed. It would not budge. Others helped but it would not open.

Individuals tried presenting their belongings and valuables as gifts. Still the door did not open. They paused to consider their options.

Apparently had an idea. She scooped up a pile of gold coins off hte floor. The others shrugged and stepped back. She walked up and the door opened.

"Got it!" she said. 



Beyond the door was a small chamber containing the puzzle cube hovering gently in the air in a shaft of magical light. She took it and gave it to Zeynap to add to the collection. They now had eight of the nine puzzle cubes necessary to open- something. They knew not what.

They exited the shrine, the coins tuned to rusted tin in Apparently's hand, "Thought so." She tossed it back into the shrine.

A Rude Surprise
They team made their way back across Omu as the sun set in the west. They returned to their camp site in the gate house. Something was wrong.



They opened the gate and found carnage!

The mace-tail was dead and dismembered. Their equipment had been stolen.

Tony's body was  strung up on a wooden post like a scarecrow. He had been tortured and eventually killed with a dozen nagini arrows. His flayed skin was stretched flat and nailed to a nearby wall. On it was scrawled the message.

FACE ME COWARD!

Apparently covered her mouth in horror. Xoc-Wik's mouth hung open in shock.

Argent bared his draconic teeth, "I'll take care of this. Don't wait for me."

He left the camp and returned towards the city.



To Be Continued...