Monday, February 20, 2017

"The Maze Engine" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 41

The expedition continued on their trek through the ancient network of duergar mines known as the Labyrinth.

Ser Valerius Adeques, Master of the Eight Angels, addressed his traveling companion Cordon, Morninglord and Holy Radiant of Lathandor, "So, remind me, what are we searching for?"

"It is called the Maze Engine. Those modron things call it an Orderer."

"What does it do?" inquired the paladin.

"I don't know," said the priest with a shrug, "All I know is that supposed to be able to banish a demon lord or something. I was sent to find it."

"So you know where it is?"

"Sort of. It's in the heart of the Labyrinth. That's what my hierarchs told me."

"Great. How big is it? Can we transport it to Menzobarranzan?"

The cleric once again shrugged and made a sound that made it clear he had no clue.

The Paladin rolled his eyes, "Got it."

They walked on in silence for several minutes.

"Oh! I almost forgot! I need to find it before whats-his-name does. Uh, Baphomet, I think! He's looking for it too. He wants to destroy it!"

"Of course," sighed Valerius.

A minute or so later, Valerius held up his hand and ordered his coterie to stop. He looked around confused.

"What is it?" whispered Cordon.

Valerius looked concerned, "Where are the others?"

OUT OF THE ABYSS, CHAPTER 41
"THE MAZE ENGINE"

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
the egg of a purple worm
and the central eye of a dread beholder.
Now they seek the Labyrinth
in search of six wings from six different angels
and the fabled Maze Engine
which could destroy a Demon Lord...

Willow the Not-Witch and Phwee-Toop
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
Zilna Oakshadow- (NPC, human spy, Lord's Alliance)
Hilvius Haever  - (NPC, human spy, Lord's Alliance)
The Shield Guardian - (NPC, shield guardian) a contribution from Lord Zelraun Roaringhorn of the Harpers.
Phwee-toop - (NPC, owl) Willow's familiar.

DM Note - Valerius and Cordon were absent this week. 

THE HEZROUS
Pain and Feral were on point, scouting ahead of the rest of the expedition including Ront, Willow, Zila, Hilvius, Willow's shield guardian, thirteen modron monodrones, a modron duodrone, and a modron tridrone. They had stopped to rest twice since they left the Gallery of Angels.

Willow looked around, taking notice of the increasing amount of glowing crystals sprouting from the walls and ceiling - an indication of growing Faerzress as they neared the Maze Engine. Her spells would become increasingly erratic.

She then took notice of another development, "Where are Cordon, Valerius, and the Order of the Gauntlet?"

Ront, too, suddenly noticed their absence, "They must got separated! Should we look for them?"

Willow considered the problem, "No. We could get lost here. We better leave a trail for them. They don't have the modrons to lead them to the Maze Engine."

Suddenly, Pain came silently running back. The halfling signalled everyone to stop.

"There's a four-way intersection up ahead. There are three big demon looking things tearing apart an ore cart up."

Ront's eyes bulged, "An ORC HEART?"

"What? No!" Pain sighed and anunciated,  "An ORE CART!"

Ront gripped his greatsword, "We fight!"


Pain held up his hands to delay the orc, "No. They're not paying attention to anything around them. We can probably sneak past. Willow, please tell the modrons to stop stomping and try to march quietly."

Thus the expedition attempted to sneak past three hezrous, demons resembling giant bipedal horned toads, ripping apart an old mining cart. The plan failed when a monodrone got confused and tried walking into a nearby wall. The tridrone had to instruct the duodrone to assist. In addition, Ront stood firm in the middle of the intersection, out in the open, hoping the demons would notice him. Feral stood next to Ront, imploring the orc to move on with a silent glare.

The commotion caused the hezrous to look up. They saw Ront standing in the center of the intersection.

The hezrous attacked! Pain quickly ran back and engaged the demons. The demons turned their attention to the little one, ganging up on Pain and causing him to retreat. Willow blasted them with a spell that created a cone of icy cold. The hezrous took little notice of her magic. Ront waded into their midst, hacking left and right. Feral peppered them with crossbow bolts.Willow began zapping individual hezrous with fire bolts but their resistance to magic continued to protect them.

Eventually all three hezrous were defeated but Pain was grieviously wounded.

Ront inspected the mining cart and, to his surprise, found the dried remains of an orc heart. He took it as a souvenier.

THE FLUMPHS
A few hours later, the expedition came across a group of flumphs emerging from a side passage. The flumphs seemed agitated.



"Whoah! Whoah! Slow down there! What's the matter?" inquired Pain in an attempt to calm them.

One of the flumphs answered, "So much hatred! So much evil!"

The flumph explained that they had encountered a being of unfathomable malevolence, a creature that devoured minds! It was an alien thing from a much deeper region of the Underdark. It was accompanied by a group of white furred quaggoths. The flumph paused and sensed the positive emotions emanating from the expedition. It seemed refreshed by the good intentions.

Ront offered to let the flumph feed on his friendship. The flumph happily attached itself to Ront's head and drew nourishment from Ront's good will. The rest of the party allowed a flumph to feed off them, all except Feral who held up his hand and said, "Pass..."

Once sated, the flumphs continued on their way.

The expedition discussed their options and decided to avoid the danger altogether.

THE SLEEPY BEHIR
After another rest, still with no sign of the others, the party continued following the modrons towards the Maze Engine.



Pain and Feral once again held up the party to report on a danger ahead. A massive behir lay resting ahead. Their path led directly through its resting place and there was no way around it.

No one had fought a behir and, without the priest or paladin to provide prayers of healing, there was no desire for an unneccesary fight.

Pain decided to go forth alone. He entered the cavern with his palms up in a sign of peace. The sleepy behir, a massive blue serpentine reptile with a dozen legs, was curled around a stalagmite. It lifted its head and regarded the halfling with annoyance.

Pain explained in Undercommon that the expedition sought only to pass in peace. They meant no harm.

The behir, not comphrending the language, tilted its head at the halfling in curiosity.

DM Notes- Pain had to make his Persuasion skill checks at DC 20 with disadvantage. Luckily, this is one of Pain's strengths.

The modrons marched through the center of the cavern. The behir's countenance turned to anger. Electricity arced from its eyes.

Pain redoubled his efforts, explaining again, this time in Common, and apologizing for the disturbance.

The rest of the party moved through. The behir began to uncurl itself from the stalagmite.

Pain made his final plea in the only other language he knew: Halfling.

The behir continued to cock its head like a confused dog but held its wrath.

Pain scurried out of the cavern, apologizing obsequiously for the intrustion.

DM Note - despite rolling with Disadvantage. I don't think Pain rolled less than a 10 on the d20 for all three checks.

THE JOURNEY (ABRIDGED)
The trek to the Maze Engine took another four rests.

During their journey, the expedition encountered a series of ambushes and encounters:
  1. a grell ambush
  2. another grell ambush
  3. more hezrous
  4. a pack of pitiful manes 
  5. a band of minotaur hunters
  6. another band of minotaur hunters

DM Note - It was already 9:30pm and I wanted to get to the main event of the evening - the Maze Engine. So I skipped all of the above random encounters, except for the manes. That was creepy and sad. I described them as a bunch of naked fat men with open sores shambling like zombies and crying. The players felt actually kind of bad for them. One fireball put them all out of their misery.

THE MAZE ENGINE
The expedition followed the modron march leading them to the Maze Engine. The modrons turned down a long straight section of wide corridor that stretched for nearly a thousand feet. The corridor ended in a large natural cavern lit by a warm red glow.

The cavern was hour-glass shaped. The floor of the cavern dropped away into a one hundred foot deep sinkhole. A lake of magma bubbled and belched at the bottom of the sinkhole.  The natural ceiling arched forty feet overhead. A narrow ledge, ten to fifteen feet wide, clung to the edge of the chamber.

At the narrowest point in the hourglass rested a large machine. The machine consisted of a metal sphere roughly thirty five feet in diameter. Multiple smaller spheres were connected the large central sphere by articulated connecting rods. A mechanical ring surrounded the sphere. The ring was composed of smaller disks connected to mechanical wheels, cogs, and gears. The entire contraption made of brass, steel, iron, and other more exotic metals and was mounted on a metal framework attached to a disc-shaped mechanical base. Control levers and panels containing switches, dials, and knobs could be seen arrayed around the ring. The thing looked overly complicated and was definitely constructed by modrons.

The Maze Engine was perched precariously between the two ledges. The floor beneath it has fallen away into the magma lake and the contraption looked like it could soon fall as well.

The monodrones stopped marching. The duodrone stood to one side and made a sweeping gesture towards the device as if presenting it to the tridrone. The tridrone followed suit, standing to one side and making a sweeping gesture as if presenting it to Willow.

In previous telepathic communication with the tridrone, Willow learned that the modrons knew how to operate the machine but were prevented from doing so. No modron of less than pentadrone rank could manipulate the device. Willow had pointed out that she was no modron of less than pentadrone rank. The logic was sufficient for the tridrone, so it agreed that it would show Willow how to use the machine when the time came.

The time had come.

There was but one problem. Standing against Maze Engine was a large demon. The demon resembled a bipedal warthog with tiny wings. The prophecy of the angels had warned them that a nalfeshnee named Slaughtertusk awaited them at the Maze Engine.

The nalfeshnee looked like it was sitting around waiting and bored. It was checking its claws and picking its teeth. It looked like it wanted to be anywhere else but here.

Slaughtertusk looked up and saw the expedition standing in the entryway. It jumped to attention and prepared for battle.

It bellowed at the intruders in the common language, "Intruders! My master warned me that others were searching for the Maze Engine. But you are too late! I found it first! And I have already summoned my master! His arrival is imminent and you shall meet your doom!"

Slaughtertusk exitedly pointed down the long corridor, "OBSERVE! HE IMPENDS!"

A massive creature, twenty feet tall, entered the far end of the long straight corridor. It was a great bull-headed beast with a crown of metal protrusions halfway between long horns and antlers. A globe of fire burned over its head, illuminating all around it in flickering light. Its eyes burned with glowing hatred. It carried a gargantuan glaive. It was Baphomet!

Baphomet began charging down the hallway towards the room!

Willow shouted to the others, "Hurry, I calculate that we have just over a minute before Baphomet arrives!"

SLAUGHTERTUSK
They turned to see that Slaughtertusk had used the distraction to summon four more demons. These demons resembled vrocks but instead of demonic vultures, these resembled hideous demonic parrots covered in long spikes.

DM Note- I actually got out my official vrock miniatures plus some home-made ones I created years ago out of plastic parrot toys modified with Warhammer demon and ghoul bits. The players loved the homemade ones and demanded I use them exclusively. They named them Polly, Pretty Bird, Cockatiel, and Beak-and-Talon.

Two of the parrot-vrocks covered the left flank, one covered the right flank, and one accompanied Slaughtertusk next to Maze Engine.

Pain and Ront charged the right flank. Willow blasted the vrocks with a cone-shaped blast of ice and frost but with little effect other than a chaotic side effect that caused Willow to grow a long beard made of feathers. The other vrocks took flight and harassed Willow and her shield guardian.

Slaughtertusk flew over the magma pit to attack Pain. Willow tried to polymorph the demon but Slaughtertusk overpowered her spell.


Willow then turned herself and the tridrone invisible. The faerzress, unfortunately, caused her to become afraid of the tridrone. She panicked and used her flying broom to fly across the cavern.

Meanwhile, Ront and Pain managed to fight their way past the vrocks and their battle with Slaughtertusk had taken them to the outer ring of the Maze Engine.

Willow overcame her fear and was able to locate the invisible tridrone. She grabbed it, picked it up by one of its many wrists, and flew across the sink hole to the Maze Engine.

Baphomet was halfway down the corridor!


Slaughtertusk turned his attention to Pain, causing the halfling grievous injury!
Ront grabbed Slaughtertusk by the tusks, holding on and preventing the nalfeshnee from moving, while Pain moved to the other side of the sphere to drink a healing potion. To Ront's horror, the demon simply teleported out of his grasp and reappered next to Pain. Pain nearly choked as he was guzzling his potion.

Willow, still invisible, asked the tridrone, also invisible, how to activate the Maze Engine. The tridrone replied with a series of blurps and whistles and clanks in its native language accompanied by wild gesticulations and helpful pointers. Despite being able to see the invisible tridrone's gestures thanks to her magical Robe of Eyes, Willow was still unable to understand the tridrone's modron language.

Willow gave up and gave it her best shot on her own, turning knobs and dials, pulling levers, and pressing buttons.

DM Note- Operating the Maze Entine required a DC 15 Intelligence (Arcana) skill check or automatic if demonstrated by an adjacent visible tridrone that you could understand (Willow gave up on that and just opted for the Arcana check). A success provided one random effect from the table in the book. In addition, the engine would rotate 1d6 spaces. I didn't actually rotate the prop. I merely moved the figures around. Being moved away from an opponent did not provoke an attack of opportunity. Willow was trying to roll the magic number that would banish the demons. 

They had twelve rounds from the start of the battle until Baphomet arrived. They squandered the first six rounds battling the vrocks and working out a plan. Willow now had only six tries left!

The Maze Engine came to life with a jittering bang! The entire central sphere began to rotate. Each smaller outer sphere began spinning and rotating. The outer ring began to counter-rotate. The machine began a complicated dance of mechanical motion to the sound of blaring calliope music!

DM Note- I started a playlist of calliope music on my iPad. I let that play for the entire next round! It was fun at first but became tiresome really quick.

Willow, Ront, and Pain began to rotate around the central sphere on the counter-rotating outer ring. The spinning ring moved Pain away from Slaughtertusk and moved Ront back into hand-to-hand combat.

Willow tried again, hoping to activate the machine's demon-baninshing functions. Instead, she Ront, Pain, and the tridrone were bathed in purple light. Afterwards, Willow felt smarter, Ront felt toughter, and Pain felt quicker! Nobody knew how the tridrone felt.

DM Note- the players eyes bulged! +2 to any one stat of your choice to a maximum of 24? Seriously?? Yes, please! Willow and Pain were now super-human (super-halfling?) in their prime abilities!

Meanwhile, Feral, Hilvius, and Zilna were fighting a vrock by the entrance. The vrock had managed to wipe out most of the monodrones and Hilvius had fallen. Zilna dragged him away from the fight and tried to stabilize him.

While she was by the entrance, Zilna took a glance down the corrdor and saw Baphomet charging. The demon lord was less than two hundred feet away! She screamed and broke down into tears at the hopelessness of their situation.

Pain took a moment to leap off the Maze Engine to go help Feral finish off the remaining vrock.

Back on the Maze Engine, things had gotten more dangerous as the machine itself began to spin wildly, its outer ring oscillating up and down, forcing those standing atop it to hold on or be thrown.

Willow, by this time no longer invisible, lost her grip and almost fell. She used her flying broom to pull herself back up.

Ront and Pain had defeated the last two vrocks and had struck a serious blow to Slaughtertusk. The demon squealed in pain and fled, flying under the Maze Engine and disappearing through a hidden escape passage.

Those on the Maze Engine had a brief respite before they noticed that Baphomet was nearly upon them. Suddenly, the magma lake exploded sending lumps of molten rock throughout the chamber. Many of the lumps clung to the ceiling and formed humanoid shapes made of lava. Two dropped down and landed on the rotating platform.

Pain seethed, "Magma mephits!"

Every time Ront would destroy one, it would explode into hot magma, burning everyone around it. Ront and Pain soon found themselves having to keep the outer ring clear of magma mephits so that Willow could concentrate on operating the Maze Engine. Additional mephits were climbing up the walls from the lava lake below.

DM Note- Two new mephits were added to the ring every turn. Each new mephit would appear 1d6 spaces to the left and 1d6 spaces to the right of Ront on the ring.

Baphomet was nearly upon them. Willow took a moment to cast a magic spell to create an invisible force wall over the entrance to the cavern. Willow hoped it might slow Baphomet down. Doing so caused everyone around her to become invisible! Baphomet tried to dispell the wall but the magic held.

The invisibility quickly wore off as Ront continued battling mephits. He was soon rejoined by Pain who climbed back onto the machine while it had temporarily stopped moving.

Willow turned back to the machine and it once more began to rotate and shudder. She threw the lever and a flash of light revealed a glowing magical wand slowly descending to land on the far end of the cavern.

Willow shouted at the others, "Make a note of that! We've got to get that before we leave!"

Ront rolled his eyes and continued fighting mephits.

Suddenly the machine began bucking more violently. Ront was thrown off but held on with his fingers. Willow was thrown clear but grabbed by Pain before she fell.

As they climbed back onto the machine, Ront yelled, "There he is!"

Baphomet slammed into the force wall. His huge bestial face snorted as he tested the perimeter of the magic wall. He looked into the room and made eye contact with the heroes.



The heroes quailed and moved to the far side of the Maze Engine.

Willow tried the Maze Engine one more time. Arcs of electricity danced over the surface, then bolts of lightning struck at everyone standing within thirty feet. Willow swooned but recovered. The modron tridrone was vaporized.

Pain ordered Feral and Zilna to move Hilvius (who was alive and unconscious but now stable) back away from the entrance. The shield guardian followed them.

Pain put the situation to the rest of the team, "What's the plan? Are we going to try to hold off Baphomet while you get this going or are we going to give up and try to make it out of here alive?"

Willow assured him, "Not even Baphomet can break through or dispell that wall. I say we keep trying!"

Baphomet closed his eyes and disappeared.

Ront cried, "What?"

Baphomet instantly reappeared inside the cavern. He had used his demonic magic to teleport into the room!

Ront, Willow, and Pain simultaneously exclaimed their favorite expletives.

TO BE CONTINUED...

DM Notes - Wow, what a place for a cliff-hanger, right? 

My players all said that the Maze Engine was the best encounter so far of the campaign. They loved it! They all felt like it was a tension-filled action movie climax. They could visuallize the rocking machine, the burning magma, the little glowing embers everywhere, the mephits exploding out of the magma and dropping onto the machine, the mephits climbing the wall, hanging on for dear life, the intricate set-piece I constructed, the home-made vrock minis, the warthog toy serving as Slaughtertusk, everything! 

I made some modifications to the encounter as-written of course. In the original encounter, the Maze Engine is wedged halfway down the sinkhole, requires only one roll to activate, and begins to descend once activated. The players then get twelve turns before it hits magma and is destroyed. There is, of course, no Baphomet in the original encounter.

I had foreshadowed Baphomet for several sessions, saying he was searching for the Maze Engine so he could destroy it. What better way to cap off a race to activate the macguffin than to have a LITERAL race to activate the macguffin! So I added the long corridor so the PCs could see Baphomet coming. I didn't tell them exactly how many rounds they had, I said between 10 and 15, so they only had his progress through the passage as a guide.

I'm just really sad that Cordon's player missed this session due to family commitments. This entire quest was his quest! 

Next week- will they stay and keep trying to banish Baphomet (and maybe Yeenoghu) or will they cut and run, leaving Baphomet to destroy the Maze Engine?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"The Gallery of Angels" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 40


Grisha approached the strangers resting in a private corner of the Filthriddens. Grisha had shown hospitality to the newcomers, going so far as offering an invitation to them to join the "Pack" not once but twice. Both times they refused his invitation. Did they not realize the benefits of Yeenoghu's immortality?

Grisha was worried. The newcomers would not understand the coming "Exultation". They would react with fear and violence. They must leave.

Grisha, accompanied with four of his pack acolytes, approached the sleeping group of newcomers. The orc was on watch. Grisha rolled his yellow eyes.

"I am very sorry. I am forced to rescind my hospitality. You must leave this place at once! You are no longer welcome!"

The orc stood up, clenched his fists, and said, "Make us!"

Grisha tightened his grip on his flail.

The orc suddenly began to shudder. The eyes in its head rolled back. Its lips bared its teeth and tusks. The orc fell to the ground unconscious and twitching.

The orc's companions rose from their slumber to investigate the commotion.

Grisha, horrified, staggered back a step.

"I didn't do anything! Is.. is he okay?"

OUT OF THE ABYSS, CHAPTER 40
"THE GALLERY OF ANGELS"

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
the egg of a purple worm
and the central eye of a dread beholder.
Now they seek the Labyrinth
in search of six wings from six different angels
and the fabled Maze Engine
which could destroy a Demon Lord...

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
Zilna Oakshadow- (NPC, human spy, Lord's Alliance)
Hilvius Haever  - (NPC, human spy, Lord's Alliance)
The Shield Guardian - (NPC, shield guardian) a contribution from Lord Zelraun Roaringhorn of the Harpers.
Phwee-toop - (NPC, owl) Willow's familiar.

DO NOT SAY I DID NOT WARN YOU!
Ser Valerius drew forth Dawnbringer, its blade of sunlight blazing. Grisha shielded his face from the glare with his hand.

Pain checked on Ront. Ront was unconscious but otherwise fine. He had suffered some kind of seizure. Grisha looked on, confused and worried.

"He just started doing that," exclaimed the human!

DM Note - Ront's player was out sick this week, so he suffered CAVERN SICKNESS!

Pain nodded and approached Grisha, "What's this about us having to leave?"

"Uh, yes," Grisha recovered his composure, "You should leave. Immediately."

"Hmm.. Why?" inquired the halfling.

"I have given you multiple opportunities to accept the gift of immortality and join the Pack. You have refused. I can tell you have no interest in our offer. So I must ask you to leave."

Pain put on his friendliest smile, "Look, we have no desire to stay, and we'll leave very soon. But we're all very tired. Can't we stay just a little bit longer? We'll leave as soon as we're rested."

DM Note - Pain used his Rogue-ish powers of persuasion and was able to change Grisha's mind.

Grisha thought about it, "If you must. But know this, the next few hours will not be pleasant for you. Do not say I did not warn you!"

"That's all we ask. Thank you."

Grisha and his acolytes left without further incident, passing through a heavy iron door guarded by other acolytes.

Pain turned back to Valerius and Willow with a cocky grin and a shrug.

A short while later their rest was again interrupted by an echoing cacophony of horrible screeches and howls. The sounds came from behind the heavy iron door. Ser Valerius, now on watch, maintained a wary eye but took no other action. For now, their need for rest overcame their curiosity towards the wailing.

Once they felt rested enough to travel, the expedition donned their armor and packs and loaded their pack lizards. The hall was now silent and Grisha was nowhere to be seen. Pain checked the Tablet of Garmin for the directions to the Gallery of Angels and the expedition bade a silent and awkward farewell to the chamber known as the Filthriddens.

Gash, the poor abused gnoll, bade his farewell. He was going to stay in the Filthriddens. He was revered by Grisha and the others and felt at home so he decided to join the Pack. Grisha welcomed him.

As they left, they could feel eyes peering at them from hidden locations. Grisha and his acolytes stood watch atop a ramshackle structure on the other side of the hall.

THE MARCH TO NOWHERE
Only a few leagues out of the Filthridden, Pain and Feral, serving as the expedition's scouts, heard the sound of a platoon of marching boots ahead. They found a small group of creatures that resembled round automatons with mechanical arms and legs and two vestigial wings. Each of the creatures sported a single large biological eye and mouth in the center of its body. They were modrons! The twelve modrons were being led by another more complicated creature with a pyramid for a body and five arms and legs.

They motioned towards the complicated pyramid modron and got its attention.

The pyramid shaped modron, whom they assumed was a tridrone, began speaking in a complicated series of clucks and bonks. They called the rest of the party forward and had Willow cast a spell of telepathic communication.

The tridrone seemed to be more intelligent than the other modrons thus encountered. It spoke and thought with a greater more exact vocabulary. It explained that it and its companions had become separated from the Great March and that it had been searching for its brethren for some time.

"Confidentially," whispered the tridrone conspiratorially, "Don't tell the monodrones but it's coming up on 200 years."

The task was made difficult when the group lost its duodrones. Tridrones and monodrones do not speak the same language. Normally a tridrone would communicate through a duodrone intermediary. The tridrone had been forced to ineffectually follow the aimless monodrones, occasionally physically herding them as a dog would a flock of sheep.

Luckily, one of the missing duodrones accompanied the expedition, having been rescued from Karazikar's slavery in the Vast Oblivium. The duodrone, as well as the long monodrone encountered wandering the Labyrinth, assumed its position within the modron hierarchy and order was reestablished.

The reformed unit prepared to continue its march but was interrupted by Ser Valerius, who inquired where they were going.

"Confidentially," whispered the tridrone, "don't tell the monodrones, but I have no idea!"

It explained that the malfunctioning Orderer was playing havoc with its ability to navigate back to the Great March.

When it was asked about the location of the Orderer, the tridrone pointed in the precise direction and provided the precise distance. This action was immediately followed by the duodrone then all thirteen monodrones.

Ser Valerius asked if the tridrone could lead them to this Orderer. The tridrone apologetically said that it would be happy to help but that the same interference prevents it from leading them to the Orderer.

Cordon suggested, "We could use them to triangulate the location, narrowing in as we get closer."

Ser Valerius replied, "We're in a LABYRINTH! That would take forever!"

There was a brief argument before everyone gave up the idea as hopeless.

Cordon thought for a moment, "I have an idea. It's a long shot but it might work. I'll ask my god, Lathander, to send someone to help!"

Cordon began a prayer ritual, asking Lathander, the god of the sun, to send a servant to assist them.

Upon completion of the prayer, a point near Cordon began to glow with sunlight. The light grew in intensity until it became too bright to look upon. There was a popping flash like an explosion and a shower of twinkling glitter.

Standing there in the middle of the passage was a shining unicorn.

Pain's eyes grew wide, "It's MAGNIFICIENT!"

The unicorn looked down upon the halfling with a wink and loudly declared, "THAT'S RIGHT! I AM MAGNIFICIENT! MAGNIFICIENT THE UNICORN AT YOUR SERVICE, SIR!"

DM Note - Cordon case "Planar Ally". I had Cordon's player go through the MM and choose a Celestial-type creature that was not an angel. That pretty much left Coatl, Pegasus, and Unicorn. He chose Unicorn. 

"IT'S GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN, YOUNG PAIN! I SEE THAT YOU ARE ONCE AGAIN IN NEED OF MY FABULOUS SERVICES!"

Cordon beseeched the unicorn to guide them to the Maze Engine. Magnificient looked quizzically at the priest and replied that he knew not what that was nor how to lead them there.

He did, however, recognize the chaos emanating from the center of the Labyrinth and that it was causing the the modrons to have difficulty navigating. He offered instead to counter the effect of the chaos. The price for this task would be the expenditure of two gemstones worth 100 gp each. Cordon agreed and supplied the stones from the party treasury.

Magnificient performed the ritual and bid his fond farewells.

DM Note - Cordon's player didn't really understand the limitations of Planar Ally. It doesn't summon a genie that can cast wishes. Nor are all celestial creatures omniscient and all-knowing. However, I gave him a little something to reward him for thinking outside the box. I removed the "curse" I had imposed upon the modrons, which wasn't really in the book to begin with anyway.


YEENOGHU'S HUNT
The expedition carried on led by the march of a platoon of modrons. The way was made difficult by many switchbacks, dead ends, and false routes, despite the help of the tablet of Garmin. They had decided to travel to the Gallery of Angels before searching for the Maze Engine because its location was known to the tablet and it was closer.

After a few hours of travel they began to hear the sounds of yipping and cackling echoing through the mine passages. Gnolls were about. The sounds continued, farther, closer, farther, for over an hour. The tablet of Garmin indicated a narrow passage. The passage continued to narrow until it was less than five feet wide. The pack lizards had to squeeze to fit and the shield guardian had to travel on its hands and knees.

The sound of many gnolls could be heard ahead. Pain and Feral went forward to scout the way. The passage opened onto a small ledge overlooking a large cavern. The cavern was filled with yipping gnolls. The gnolls were observing a brutal battle between a gargantuan demon lord and another horned demon. The two titans fought in a shallow lake that occupied the center of the chamber. Water and blood sprayed and splashed.

They had come across a battle between Yeenoghu, demon lord of the gnolls, and a goristro, servant of Baphomet! Yeenoghu resembled a giant hunch-backed gnoll wielding a massive three-headed flail.

They watched in silence from their perch as Yeenoghu threw the giant goristro to the ground. The dozens of gnolls squealed with glee!


Yeenoghu straddled the demon, pinning it to the ground. The demon lord dropped its flail into the water. The demon thrashed wildly as Yeenoghu grabbed the demon's horns and twisted its head, breaking its neck!


Yeenoghu roared in triumph. The goristro fell limp into the shallow water.

Hyenas approached the dead goristro and began lapping the blood from its many wounds. As they did so, the hyenas were magically transformed into new gnolls! They were immediately met by the brethren and given weapons and primitive armor.

The demon lord was injured and bleeding, its blood boiling away as it hit the water. Yeenoghu retrieved its flail and barked orders to his gnoll army. He turned and led half of them out of the cavern and into a large passage. They continued their hunt for the demon lord Baphomet, the Horned God!

THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS FIREBALL!
Pain stared on in horror and was only broken out of his fear-induced trance when Feral tapped him on the shoulder. The two made their way back and reported on what they had witnessed.

A few moments later, Ser Valerius, Willow, and Cordon crawled through the narrow passage amd rose to stand on the ledge to survey the chamber. The cavern was now occupied by a handful of hyenas, twelve or so gnolls, and a massive winged gnoll - no doubt their leader.

Cordon looked at Willow and Willow looked at Cordon. The two nodded in agreement, the answer was clear. Cordon prayed for a holy fireball which he directed towards the right flank of the room, blasting the winged leader and those around him. Willow simultaneously launched a magical fireball towards the left flank, where the majority of the gnolls and hyenas stood. She shielded the goristro form her attack, however, for fear of ruining its heart. Both fireballs completely wiped out all the hyenas and all the gnolls save one.

The sole surviving gnoll turned and fled down the passage after its demonic lord!

Pain made his way down the ledge and attacked the winged gnoll. The leader responded by flying towards the casters on the ledge. Ser Valerius interposed himself and defended the casters. Pain, meanwhile, activated his magic boots and sprinted up the sheer cavern wall towards the ledge where he caught up with and killed the gnoll leader. Pain missed his hold and almost fell back down but he was caught by Cordon and pulled to safety.

Afterwards, the party was able to make their way into the cavern. The pond's surface was now burning in small patches and the stench of burned gnoll was terrible. They were able to butcher the goristro and retrieve its heart, one of the components of Vizerian's ritual. In addition, they were able to retrieve some of Yeenoghu's blood from the goristro's horns, another component!

THE GALLERY OF ANGELS

The tablet of Garmin, with a few glitches, eventually directed the expedition to a cleft in the side of the mine passage. Through the cleft they found a narrow winding passage that spiraled upward before opening into a natural cavern. The cavern was filled with stalactites, stalagmites, and other natural cave formations. Scattered among the formations were eight humanoid statues made of stone - the petrified remains of fallen angels curse to spend eternity in a prison of perpetual immobility.

The party, wary of such creatures as medusae or basilisks, approached with caution, keeping Cordon out of the room in case he needed to un-petrify anyone unlucky enough to catch the gaze of such a creature.

The room, however, was uninhabited.

Willow recognized the angels for what they were, "They're alive. They're just, trapped."

Ser Valerius asked Willow, "Will their feathers still count for the ritual?"

"I think so," she replied.

They needed six feathers from six different angels. Ser Valerius took it upon himself to break off a feather from each of the angels.

The first angel Valerius approached bore a face forever frozen in anger. The moment Valerius touched the statue to break off a feather, he was overcome by a severe migraine headache. He staggered and caught himself but recovered quickly, feather in hand. To his amazement, the stone feather had reverted to a normal natural feather.

Willow was concerned, "Do you need help?"

Valerius took a deep breath and regained his composure, "No. I will do this. I want to henceforth be known as Ser Valerius, Master of the Eight Angels."

The second angel reached out in offering. Upon breaking off a feather, Ser Valerius was overcome with the urge to slay the other members of his party. He stood, turned, and leveled his sun sword at Willow. He struck at the wizard but a shield spell caused him to miss. Willow screamed at Ser Valerius. The paladin was shaken out of his violent trance. He apologized and moved on to the next angel.

The third angel pointed to a spot on the wall. When Valerius broke off a feather, he was overcome with horrific screaming and madness, little more than a flash of the eternal torment endured by the fallen angel. Valerius staggered and began laughing uncontrollably. Spittle drooled down his chin. He began breathing heavy. He soon calmed himself and regained his composure. He closed his eyes and centered his being, seeking communion with nature.

The fourth angel stood resolute, feet spread and head cast downward. Upon touching the angel Valerius was overcome with one message, "Do not lose hope!" The message buoyed his spirits and improved his confidence.

The fifth angel hid its face in its hands. As Valerius broke off a stone feather, it spoke directly to its mind, "Kill me!"

Valerius, still weakened by the madness of the fourth angel, immediately sliced the angelic statue with Dawnbringer, shattering it into rubble. Valerius staggered back in horror at his lack of control.

Thus it was with caution that he approached the sixth angel. The angel was covering its eyes with its arm and smiling. Valerius broke off a feather and was beset  by a horrific feeling of loneliness and regret. The feeling soon went away and Valerius moved to the next angel.

The seventh angel knelt upon the floor with its face hidden. Valerius touched it and a message flashed into his mind, "What would you know and I will answer?" Valerius asked a question about the Maze Engine but the response was nothing more than another vision of madness. Valerius staggered backwards, grunting and howling. Cordon was rushed forward and was instructed to say a prayer of restoration that cured Valerius of his madness.

Valerius thanked the priest and proceeded to the eighth and final angel.

The eighth angel was frozen in the act of clawing its eyes out. Valerius touched a feather and was immediately in contact with the angel Zarod, floating in an astral nothingness. Zarod instructed Valerius to ask a single question regarding a specific goal to be accomplished in the next seven days. Valerius asked what danger awaited them at the Maze Engine. Zaron answered, "Slaughtertusk the Nalfeshnee. He awaits you."

The vision vanished and Valerius was back in the gallery. He had successfully acquired eight feathers from eight different angels, meaning they had two to spare.

Ser Valerius turned to the others, "We're done here. How far is it to the Maze Engine?"

TO BE CONTINUED...

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

"The Spiral of the Horned King" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 39


Hilvius Haever was never a popular boy.

Hilvius was born into books. As the son of a scribe and a librarian he was always surrounded by tomes, scrolls, manuscripts, ink, parchment, and vellum. He was a voracious reader as a child and was put to work at a young age checking the quality of his father's transcriptions. He never spent much time around other children, preferring instead to read and write.

His favorite books were the sagas. He would spend hours each day reading about the exploits of mythic heroes and evil villains. In his free time he would create his own stories and sagas. His favorite hobby was illuminating the margins of his own manuscripts.

Young Hilvius wanted more than anything to one day become a powerful wizard. He hoped to one day write his own magical grimoires and master arcane energies. As he matured he read everything he could on magic and witchcraft. He followed with great interest the exploits and adventures of all the most powerful mages of the Realms.

When he came of age he enrolled at the Neverwinter Academy with the intent of becoming a mage. Unfortunately, Hilvius showed no aptitude for actual thaumaturgy and was never able to cast even the simplest of spells. He simply lacked the knack for it. He was expelled from the academy of wizardry after only two semesters.

His instructors, however, were impressed at his knowledge and mental recall and made arrangements at the other less well known departments of the academy to continue his education.

The next day Hilvius was approached by a woman named Ketta. Ketta was an instructor in the Academy of Secrets, a hidden school within the Academy that trains spies and assassins for the Lords' Alliance.

There Hilvius received an education in stealth, assassination, and observation. His impressive memory and recall served him well in his studies.

Hilvius was an unlikely recruit for the Academy of Secrets. He was skinny and awkward with poor vision. He as bookish and talked too much. His abrasive personality drove others away. His greasy hair, hawk-like nose, and buck teeth made him the butt of many jokes, and he was never popular with the ladies.

However, his keen memory was his strength. His ability to remember and transcribe, even illustrate, all that he had seen, in addition to his bookish and unassuming appearance, were invaluable assets in his profession.

Upon graduation, Hilvius was recruited by the Lord's Alliance to serve as a spy. He often infiltrated bookkeeping houses, thieves' guilds, and merchant companies by posing as a simple clerk or scribe.

His current mission was unlike any of the others. He has been assigned to an expedition into the depths of Faerun. Their mission is to find a way to save the world from the Demon Lords that roam free through the fathomless bowels of the Underdark.

Unfortunately, Hilvius' skills as a spy have been in short demand on this expedition. There has thus far been little need for military reconnaissance or intelligence gathering and few opportunities to practice his assassination skills. On top of that, he was apparently kidnapped and held prisoner as a mind-controlled slave by an evil beholder and its wizard henchman. It was there that the image of a large eye was tattooed on the center of his forehead. He has been defaced with an identifying mark that has ruined his chances of being assigned future missions.

At least he has the company of his one true friend, Feral Killmander. Feral is the only other spy from the Lord's Alliance that Hilvius feels comfortable speaking to, even though Feral doesn't really talk back. Or seem to listen to or even acknowledge Hilvius at all, really. There's also Zilna, obviously, but she's a girl and, well, that's just, well, you know, she's an, ah, that is to say, a girl. Ahem.

OUT OF THE ABYSS, CHAPTER 39
"THE SPIRAL OF THE HORNED KING"

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
the egg of a purple worm
and the central eye of a dread beholder.
Now they seek the Labyrinth
in search of the wing of an angel
and the fabled Maze Engine
which could destroy a Demon Lord...

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
Zilna Oakshadow- (NPC, human spy, Lord's Alliance)
Hilvius Haever  - (NPC, human spy, Lord's Alliance)
The Shield Guardian - (NPC, shield guardian) a contribution from Lord Zelraun Roaringhorn of the Harpers.
Phwee-toop - (NPC, owl) Willow's familiar.

THE TOWER KEEPS ITS SECRETS
Willow, Ser Valerius, and Ront stood staring at the metal tower. Each of them held their chin in their hands in deep contemplation. Ser Valerius was certain that the tower was an important magical artifact of some kind. Ront wanted to bash the door in. Ser Valerius didn't think it would be possible. Willow was certain that doing so would probably permanently damage the tower. Willow said that she could cast an identification spell on the tower and divulge its secrets. When Ser Valerius asked why this hadn't been done, she replied that such a spell required a pearl, and she had none. Ront chuckled that he had some "cave pearls" for her use. Willow wrinkled her nose in disgust.

Pain the halfling peeked out from behind Ront's kilt and asked if anyone had tried to pick the lock. Ser Valerius explained that the door had no lock.

After a moment of silent introspection, Willow shouted, "Pain! Where did you come from?"

Pain explained that he had been in Blingdenstone with the two human spies, Zila Oakshadow and Hilvius Haever, where they helped free his old companions Angolwen and Kettle from a mind flayer prison.  Angolwen and Kettle continued on their mission to locate the remaining descendants and heirs of King Schnicktick to restore the royal family of the Deep Gnomes. Pain and his henchlings followed the trail the party left and eventually caught up to them.

With no way to enter the tower, the party decided to abandon it and explore the depths of the large sinkhole behind it. Willow descended on her magical flying broom while Pain and Ront climbed down.

THE LABYRINTH
Ront and Pain reached the bottom of the sinkhole only to find that it opened into the ceiling of a larger chamber below. The chamber was massive and Willow had to lower each of them to the floor far below using her broom.

The chamber floor was crisscrossed with iron rails and covered with large piles of chat and tailings - the remnants of a long abandoned mine. The rails led up a gentle slope towards several exit tunnels and converged towards a central mine entrance. The entrance to the mine was decorated in cyclopean duergar carvings. Huge stone blocks were haphazardly stacked in the tunnel entrance, forming a winding obstacle course.

To either side of the mine entrance were two piles of severed heads. The heads were mostly gnolls with a few duergar, drow, and deep gnomes. The stacked blocks were covered in spirals and abyssal sigils crudely painted in dried blood. A foul smell emanated from within.

"Minotaurs," breathed Ront.

GASH THE GNOLL

As they examined the piles of heads, Pain heard pathetic whining from behind the stone obstructions. He called out and placed food in front of the entrance in an attempt to draw out whatever was hiding within.

To their surprise there emerged a gnoll! The gnoll looked beaten and starved. The left side of its hyena-like face was a scarred mess. Its fur was matted and covered in blood. The creature looked pathetic and sad.

They made contact with the gnoll. His name was Gash.

Gash cowered and flinched at every movement. The gnoll had obviously been abused and had escaped its tormentors.

Ront offered to kill the wretch but Willow stayed the orc's sword. Gash thanked Willow and offered to lead the party through what it called the "Spiral of the Horned King" as a guide.

The party accepted his offer.

Willow flew back up to the top and, by casting multiple flight spells, arranged the transfer of the rest of the group from the campsite in front of the tower to the new campsite outside the entrance to the Labyrinth.

The Adamantine Tower would have to keep its secrets a little while longer.

GNOLLS
The expedition once again unpacked and finally rested. During the rest, while Valerius and Ront were on watch, a trio of flumphs emerged from the darkness. Upon spotting them, the flumphs flew in a frenzied line at Valerius and Ront. The flumphs appeared agitated and resisted all efforts at communication. The two heroes were forced to defend themselves. The flumphs were suicidal and exploded, covering the heroes in a foul stench that persisted for hours. Ser Valerius concluded that the flumphs had gone mad from exposure to demonic influence.

After resting the expedition packed their lizards, donned their weapons and armor, and followed Gash through the entrance and into the Labyrinth.

Within they found that what was once Duergar mine shafts and tunnels had been crudely expanded and sometimes walled and blocked off. The minotaurs had turned the mine entrance into a maze of their own design.

Gash led them through twists and turns. He would sometimes double back and take an alternate route. They started to get the feeling he didn't know where he was going.

After a short while navigating thus they came across the sound of hideous laughing. It was a small group of gnoll scouts. Gash suddenly became very afraid and rushed, terrified, towards the rear of the formation. Gash had nothing to fear for the gnolls were quickly dispatched.

If anyone thought it was odd to find gnolls in a minotaur maze, no one mentioned it.

A little time later the formation entered a four-way intersection. The suppressed whispered giggles of gnolls hiding in ambush could he heard around the corners.

Ser Valerius rode his celestial lion mount into the center of the intersection and held his gleaming sword Dawnbringer aloft. The blade, composed of pure sunlight, radiated sunshine all around.

Ser Valerius shouted, "Ront, stand by my side so that the light may protect you!"

Ront charged forward.

"Ront! RONT! Wait.. ugh!" said Valerius exasperatedly as Ront ran off to the right and disappeared around the corner.

There were screams as Ront destroyed the three gnolls in a brutal massacre that painted the walls in a slurry of entrails and blood!




The left flank was soon destroyed by fiery spells and prayers from Cordon and Willow.


The expedition continued, led by the haphazard navigation of the maze by Gash. As they explored they came across a half-eaten body of a gnoll. A little later they found a group of humanoid bones scattered about.

THE CENTER OF THE MAZE
As they journeyed on, Gash became increasingly hesitant and indecisive. He seemed as if he were trying to make a decision regarding his charges. Willow and Pain showed him empathy and friendship, offering him food and kindness. Gash stared at them longingly but seemed resigned to the task that lay ahead. He reluctantly told them that the exit lay through a portal in the direction that he pointed. Willow and Pain refused. Gash begged them to enter. When they continued to hesitate, Gash burst into tears and ran through the portal, sobbing.

They cautiously advanced after him and entered an ancient duergar chamber that had been converted into a smaller maze with makeshift walls made of stacked stones. Many of the walls had fallen over revealing breaches into other rooms and corridors. Several massive columns lay broken and scattered about. A large brass statue of Baphomet stood on a pedestal in the center of the room.


Pain, Ser Valerius, and Ront climbed over the rocks to enter the large breach in the rear corner of the room. Down a halway they encountered a massive green humanoid figure with the massive head of a horned bull! The minotaur wore battle axe blades strapped to his meaty fists like brass knuckles.

The minotaur charged Ront but the orc simply danced aside. The hulking brute was soon cut down by the deadly trio.


A second minotaur suddenly appeared through another breach in the wall and bellowed at the henchmen. The modron duodrone drew javelins from its body and threw them at the beast while the others took cover behind a column.

Willow threw a fireball at the creature while Cordon called down holy fire upon the creature. The minotaur howled in pain and disappeared into the corridor beyond the breach.

Valerius and Pain quickly crossed the room and gave chase only to see the minotaur escape through a hidden door. Ront suddenly found a third minotaur in a corner chamber. Valerius rushed to help Ront slay the beast as Pain took a hidden position in a chamber near the secret door.

A moment later the secret door burst open and a large fourth minotaur with a heavy mechanical arm charged down the hall at Cordon, missing Pain's ambush entirely.

Luckily for Pain the wounded second minotaur soon appeared and charged down the hallway towards Ront and Valerius who were busy dispatching the third minotaur in the corner. Pain struck like a viper from his hiding place and slaughtered the second minotaur as he ran past.




The fourth minotaur with the mechanical arm engaged Cordon in deadly combat! Ser Valerius and Pain soon had the minotaur flanked. Cordon called upon a flaming wall of holy sunshine. The minotaur burst into flames and died in agony.

After the battle, the heroes found Gash in the minotaur's den behind the secret door. The gnoll was whimpering and tears streamed down its hyena-like face. The wretch apologized for his duplicity but the team understood that the gnoll had been tortured and brainwashed. Gash offered to lead to the real exit to repay them for their kindness.

The way out of the area known as the Spiral of the Horned King was uneventful and the expedition continued into the abandoned duergar mines known as the Labyrinth.

THROUGH THE LABYRINTH
They navigated the labyrinth using the magical tablet of Garmin. Unfortunately, the magical device begain revising directions and updating routes. It was as if magic item began encountering interference.

On the first tridon they came across a lone modron monodrone. The monodrone could not speak but it immediately recognized the duodrone. Duodrone explained that Monodrone had, like him, became separated from the Great March of the monodrones. Witht he monodrone's help the pair detected the presence of other modrons in labyrinth. Duodrone expressed a desire to reunite with its brethren. The pair of modrons began marching in synchronized step.

A few tridons later the expedition encountered the sound of people screaming in terror. They rushed around the corner only to discover a patch of Shrieker mushrooms. The shrieking had been triggered by the recent passing of a band of quaggoths. The quaggoths turned and saw the newcomers and immediately attacked. Willow cast a fireball spell into their midst and Ront and Valerius waded through them in a bloodbath of gore and white fur. One quaggoth used some kind of mental power - an ability hitherto unknown for a quaggoth - to heat Valerius' armor and cause serious burns. Valerius quickly dispatched the creature and the effect faded. Soon the quaggoths were defeated and the expedition continued on its way.






FILTHRIDDENS
On the third tridon within the Labyrinth the expedition came across chamber containing a ramshackle village. The village appeared abandoned save for a robed figure offering a sacrifice at a makeshift altar under the watchful eye of two other robed observers. Gash became distressed and hid behind the expedition, whimpering.

The robed figure interrupted the ritual, removed his hood, and greeted the newcomers. He was a human, though gaunt and pale from unknown years spent in the Underdark. He introduced himself as Grisha, a former drow slave that escaped captivity and found his way to the Filthriddens. He showed friendly hospitality to the expedition and offered them the chance to rest. When he smiled he displayed rotten teeth that were filed to points.

As the expedition unpacked to rest, Grisha explained that the Filthriddens was a haven for exiles and escaped slaves. There was a source of drinkable water here and fungus could be harvested from nearby caves.

He explained that there were once over a dozen people that lived in the village. He said that all but a few were killed in a recent attack by minotaur raiders, followers of the Horned God. The minotaurs would have killed everyone were it not for the intervention of the Lord of the Pack.

Grisha said that the Lord of the Pack was hunting for the Horned God within the Labyrinth and that his followers were at war with the minotaurs.

Grisha was so impressed by the Lord of the Pack that he devoted his life to the worship of the powerful warrior-god. In exchange, the Lord of the Pack offered the gift of immortality to those slain by the minotaurs.

Grisha extended an invitation to the guests to join "the Pack" so that they too might enjoy the gift of immortality. The heroes politely refused. Grisha said he understood and allowed them to rest.

During the rest, Grisha offered once more the gift of immortality if they joined Grisha's Pack. Again they refused. Grisha made a final offer a few hours later and again he was refused.

Before end of rest, Grisha apprached the newcomers. He seemed angry and out of patience. He apologized and ordered them to leave at once. They were no longer welcome.

Ront stood up, clenched his fists, and said, "Make us!"

TO BE CONTINUED...



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

"The Adamantine Tower" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 38

Ser Valerius Adeques, Wielder of Dawnbringer
Ser Valerius, human paladin and wielder of Dawn Bringer, and Pain Grille, halfling rogue and street urchin, returned with their entourage after delivering Derendil the erudite quaggoth to Gravenhollow. There they witnessed the installation of Derendil as a member of the Order of Brilliance, an assemblage of sages from the various savage cultures of the Underdark.

After bidding farewell to the white-furred quaggoth, they had planned on reuniting with the rest of their party in the Vast Oblivium, the former home of the tyrannical beholder Karazikar.

They arrived at the Vast Oblivium to find a stone mausoleum built honoring the evil beholder Karazikar and his chief sycophant, the wizard Shedrak. The rest of their party were nowhere to be found.

Instead, carved into the stone at the base of the central vertical shaft that formed the core of the complex they found a message:

SER VALERIUS AND PAIN
WE HAVE DECIDED TO GET
A HEAD START ON THE NEXT
PHASE OF OUR QUEST
AND HAVE TRAVELLED AHEAD
MEET US IN MANTOL-DERITH
WE SHALL STAY THERE
UNTIL YOU ARRIVE

Ser Valerius looked down at his diminutive companion, "I guess we're going to Mantol-Derith."

The halfling thought for a moment, "I think I'll take a detour to Blingdenstone. I'll meet you there."

OUT OF THE ABYSS, CHAPTER 38
"THE ADAMANTINE TOWER"

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
the egg of a purple worm
and the central eye of a dread beholder.
Now they seek the Labyrinth
in search of the wing of an angel
and the fabled Maze Engine
which could destroy a Demon Lord...

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 10, 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
Zilna Oakshadow- (NPC, human spy, Lord's Alliance)
Hilvius Haever  - (NPC, human spy, Lord's Alliance)
The Shield Guardian - (NPC, shield guardian) a contribution from Lord Zelraun Roaringhorn of the Harpers.
Phwee-toop - (NPC, owl) Willow's familiar.

ARRIVAL IN MANTOL-DERITH
Ront, Willow, and Cordon accompanied a caravan of deep gnome merchants into the secret trading city of Mantol-Derith. With them was the blindfolded elven druid Sladis Vadir.  The caravan entered the cavernous underground trading post and proceeded directly to the Svirfneblin enclave.

There was a new fungus garden planted outside the entrance to the enclave. Within the enclave the caravan encountered disorder. There was no appointed leader. Several deep gnomes sat around with nothing to do. Ront demanded to speak to whomever was in charge. When no one volunteered, Ront appointed Corybar, the leader of the caravan, as Chief Negotiator.

After setting in and storing the shipment of gemstone samples, Ront, Willow, and Cordon explored the bazaar ins earch of Cordon's stolen equipment. Upon inquiring with a drow merchant, they learned that the equipment had been sold to a human merchant named Weazel.

They found Weazel in the Zhentarim quarter. The human was wearing Cordon's tabard emblazoned with the symbol of Lathander. Weazel gladly sold the tabard back to Cordon for the exorbitant price of ten gold pieces. Afterwards, Cordon was able to reequip himself with all new essentials using funds from the party treasury. The one item he still lacked, however, was his magical shield.

He soon learned that the shield had been purchased by Ghazrim Duloc, chief negotiator of the Zhentarim delegation. 

YOU ARE OBVIOUSLY UNFAMILIAR WITH THE ZHENTARIM AND OUR REPUTATION
Cordon requested and was granted a meeting with Ghazrim DuLoc based purely on the reputation of his traveling companion Ront. Ghazrim met with the party in the Zhentarim pavilion, providing them with comfortable pillows, olives, and wine from the Overworld.

He politely listened to Cordon's story. Ghazrim confirmed that he now possessed the shield and that it was a valuable addition to his collection. Cordon offered a payment of five hundred gold coins for the shield.

Ghazrim calmly asked, "let me see the coins in question."

Willow produced a normal-sized coin from the party treasury in their magical bag of holding.

"I would gladly take five hundred gold coins, but only if each coin was ten times the size of that one." said Ghazrim. "What else would you offer?"

Willow rummaged through the bag of holding and produced the magical Gem of Seeing, "Would this suffice?"

Ghazrim rubbed his chin and replied, "Yes. Yes, I think we have an exchange."

Cordon interjected, "Wait."

Everyone paused.

"Gem of Seeing AND- an unspecified favor at some point in the future."

Ghazrim quickly countered, "The Gem of Seeing and you perform an unspecified favor for me at some point in the future? Absolutely!"

"No, the other way around. You will perform a favor for us!" Cordon looked resolute.

Ront's jaw fell agape.

For a fleeting second, a flash of anger flared across Ghazrim's face. He took a deep breath in order to return to his normally preternatural calm demeanor.

He smiled and chuckled, "You, sir, are obviously unfamiliar with the Zhentarim and our reputation! I would never agree to such vague conditions, besides," Ghazrim leaned forward and pressed his hands together to make his point, "that I am meeting with you now IS me repaying a favor." He nodded towards Ront and Willow.

Ghazrim stood and imperiously drew his cape about himself, "The deal is off. Our negotiations are over. My shield is not for sale." He clapped his hands and servants removed the wine and olives. Ghazrim stormed out of the pavilion without a farewell.

Willow held her forehead in her hand. Ront glared at Cordon. The priest slowly realized what had just happened.

There was a long silence as each member of the party quietly weighed their options.

Cordon finally broke the silence, "Well, I guess I messed that up."

Willow tried to reassure the priest, "Don't worry. I have a back-up plan. But that means we have to wait for Ser Valerius."

While discussing their options, Sladis Vadir stood at the entrance to the pavilion, looking through the flap. He told the others he had something to do and quietly slipped out. Ront and Feryl surreptitiously followed. The pair subsequently observed Sladis buying spices, being friendly with other merchants, squeezing their arm and shoulder, putting his arms aver their shoulders, and generally being very touchy.

"What he doing?" inquired Ront in a whisper.

"Don't you get it?" replied Feryl, "He's a thief. He's sizing up his marks."

BURNING BRIDGES
The party spent the next  tridons as guests of the deep gnomes. Willow helped to fortify the deep gnome enclave by raising massive stone pylons and walls around their garden. She would occasionally use the Gem of Seeing to look for and frighten away any invisible duergar spying upon their work. Sladis used his druid powers to rebuild the deep gnome fungus garden.


During this time they learned about the trade situation in Mantol-Derith. The duergar and the deep gnomes were still not trading with each other. The chief negotiator of the duergar, Ghuldur Flagonfist, was still angry about the theft of his gem and the deep gnomes were still angry about the subsequent capture and execution of  their wizard Yantha Coaxrock, whom Ghuldur had correctly accused of the theft.

The Zhentarim and the drow had formed an alliance to take advantage of this situation. The alliance conspired to charge high prices and low bids to both sides.

Willow, Ront, and Cordon met to plan their next move. Sladis assumed he was now a part of the team and joined in the conversation.

"So, what's our next move?"

Everyone stopped. Willow cleared her throat. Ront bluntly declared, "You not part of team!"

Sladis was taken aback. "What? What is this? Have I done something to offend you?"

Ront glowered, "Ront not like you! Ront not trust you!"


Willow scratched the back of her head and Cordon looked away and whistled.

"Well," Sladis sputtered, "I- I can certainly see that my skills are not appreciated! There was no need to be so rude! I'll take my leave at once!"

Sladis turned and stormed out of the deep gnome enclave.

After they were sure he was gone, the team continued their deliberation. They needed to continue on to the Labyrinth. To reach it, they'd have to secure transportation across the Darklake to Gracklstugh.

The only boats going to Gracklstugh belonged to the duergar. Ront had earlier inquired about purchasing passage and was told that, due to their earlier involvement with the duergar/deep gnome altercation, the fare would be 100 gold pieces per passenger - an outrageous sum that would nearly deplete their reserve of gold coins.

Willow suggested a plan, "Let's see if we can't end this feud and maybe get us a discount on that passage."

MENDING FENCES
Their next task required them to meet with Chief Negotiator Ghuldur Flagonfist of the duergar enclave. They were denied a meeting at the gate on the grounds that Ser Valerius and Ront had killed many duergar during their last encounter. Flagonfist did agree, however, to meet with Cordon who was not a party to the attack.

Before Cordon entered the duergar enclave, Willow cast a spell that allowed him to stay in telepathic contact with the rest of the party.

Cordon was led to Ghuldur's office. After a brief exchange where Cordon learned the origin of the duergar's antipathy towards the deep gnomes and the rest of the party, the priest came to realize that Ghuldur's obstinate behavior was the result of subtle madness, a lingering effect of the obsidian gem that once held the power of the demon lord Fraz-Urb'luu.

Cordon said a prayer of restoration and cured Ghuldur of his insanity. Ghuldur woke as if from a groggy dream. So cured, Cordon was able to persuade the duergar negotiator to resume trade with the deep gnomes and agreed to a price of 500gp for boat passage to Gracklstugh for the entire party.

A NEW DAWN
Six tridons after they arrived in Mantol-Derith, Ser Valerius arrived. His arrival was heralded by the intense daylight of the sun-sword, Dawnbringer, filling the chamber with daylight.



Drow merchants and guards recoiled from the bright light as Ser Valerius held his shining energy sword aloft. Ser Valerius was riding his celestial lion and was accompanied by his henchmen, a handful of deep gnome guides, and a train of pack lizards.

The rest of the party ran forth to greet him. He told the others that he and Pain had stopped off in Blingdenstone on their way here and that Pain had stayed behind to take care of some business there. They brought Ser Valerius up to speed on what had happened since last they saw him in the Vast Oblivium.

Willow introduced Ser Valerius to Cordon and told him about the effort to retrieve the priest's holy shield, "Ser Valerius, we need your help."

A short while later, they had once more arranged a meeting with Ghazrim Duloc. This time, Duloc kept them waiting and provided no comfortable pillows upon which to sit and no olives or wine while they waited.

The merchant prince eventually came into the pavilion and impatiently asked what they wanted.

Willow explained that they had a new offer for the shield.

"I told you, it is no longer for sale," sighed the merchant.

"We do wish to purchase. We wish to trade. We have an item we believe you may be interested in acquiring for your collection. Would you be willing to trade the shield for the egg of a purple worm?"

Ghazrim froze in mid-thought. He eyed them suspiciously. "Only drow harvest the eggs of the great worms and they do not part with them."

"We have one for trade."

After some incredulous questions, Ser Valerius showed one of their eggs to Ghazrim. Ghazrim's cool demeanor gave way to giddy interest for the briefest of moments before he regained his composure.

"Yes, well, I think we agree to an exchange. The shield for the egg."

They clasped hands to seal the trade. Ghazrim clapped his hands and moments later servants brought the shield and took the egg away.

Thus re-equipped, the party left a message for Pain and set out for Gracklstugh

DM Note - How the heck much does a Purple Worm egg sell for? I dunno! What's their rarity? They seem relative rare but not unobtainable. I figured it was equivalent to a shielf worth 500 gp. I also figured it would be a good addition to Ghazrim's weird collection of pickled creatures. That's right, Ghazrim's gonna pickle that egg!

GRACKLSTUGH
The journey over the Darklake was uneventful. The party was impressed by the duergar locks connecting two lakes of different elevation but they were otherwise unmolested.

During the journey they had the opportunity to learn of the situation in Gracklstugh from the boat's crew. They learned that Themberchaud, the red dragon responsible for keeping the most powerful forges of Gracklstugh alight, had learned of the plot to replace him with another more easily controlled dragon.

Themberchaud believed the Deep King still possessed the hatchling and demanded it be turned over at once. The Deep King tried to explain that no such hatchling existed but Themberchaud refused to accept the Deep King's word. At first the elder dragon demanded more tribute to keep the forges lit. The dragon's demands soon drained the city's depository. Enraged, the dragon refused his services.

The Deep King, in an effort to force the dragon's compliance, sent the Stone Giants  to subdue Themberchaud. Themberchaud retreated into the depths of his lair and collapsed the ceiling.

That was over a hundred tridons ago and the great forges remain unlit. Gracklstugh is getting by using lesser forges fueled by the blood of the Earth.

A reward has been offered for information regarding the location of the dragon. Ront and the others, knowing that the dragon hatchling had bonded to and now accompanied the renegade tiefling Virtue, pretended to know nothing.

The boat approached the docks and they were soon met by customs inspectors. The inspectors recognized Ront and agents of the secret police soon appeared to escort him to their leader Commander Errde Blackskull.

Commander Blackskull interrogated Ront about his presence in Gracklstugh. Ront answered truthfully that they were merely seeking to resupply and continue on to the Labyrinth. He asked permission to enter the city with the secret intent of meeting with the stone giants and possibly resolving the conflict with Themberchaud but his request was denied. 


The party left a message for Pain and immediately set out for the Labyrinth.

DM Note- My players HATE Gracklstugh. They all told Cordon's player what a crappy place it was.

THE ADAMANTINE TOWER
The magical Tablet of Garmin hastened their journey and they arrived at the outer entrance to the Labyrinth in just over a tridon.

The Labyrinth was once a duergar mine that had long since been depleted and abandoned. Now it was a vast network of carved tunnels and passages that formed a complex maze of dead-ends and circuitous routes.

The entrance was covered with the carvings of horned bull heads and decorated with minotaur skulls and crude rock paintings of bulls' heads. The Labyrinth now belonged to the minotaurs.

The gate opened into a large chamber that had once been a quarry of some kind. The chamber was filled with carvings and statues, many half completed or broken to bits.

At the far end of the chamber was a wide pit, once the entrance into the mines. Adjacent to the pit was a tower made of the dark metal known as adamantine. The tower was smooth with no windows. It had a single door on the ground floor and another door in a protruding nodule at its top. The tower looked as if it had been dropped there from some height. The ground around the tower was compressed and flattened. All around the tower and on top of its battlements were crude statues like the others found throughout the chamber.


Ront and Ser Valerius tried to open bottom door with no success. Willow used the Gem of Seeing but could see no illusion. The tower was as it appeared to be. Willow flew Ront up to the top of the tower with her magical broomstick but the upper door was likewise unopenable.

Ront began playing with the statues. He put his hand in its mouth. He slapped it gently. He rubbed its face with his palm.

Suddenly the statue came to life and attacked, biting ront and clawing at him! The statues revealed their true form as gargoyles!

One gargoyle pushed Willow off of roof and flew away. She was caught by Valerius and the two tumbled to the ground. Willow grabbed Valerius and flew him to roof to help Ront. Afterwards she flew to a safe distance.


Ront quickly shattered both gargoyles on the roof with his great sword. Valerius dove off the tower and attacked one on the ground. Willow hurled a fireball which engulfed three of the stony beasts. Cordon called down a pillar of holy fire on one of the gargoyles. The remaining gargoyles ganged up on Cordon, surrounding him and laying into him with bites and claws. Thankfully Cordon was able to hold them off with his holy shield. Ront threw himself off the roof, landing with a hard thud on the ground, and joined the fight. All the gargoyles were soon defeated.



Afterwards, the party turned its attention once more to the impenetrable tower.

"Do you have any spells which might help?" inquired Valerius of Willow.

"Let me think about it," was her reply.

Ront mused, "Should we just skip it and go down hole?"

Valerius looked frustrated, "Not yet. This tower is an oddity. I don't want to just LEAVE it!"

"But what we do?"

Valerius mused.

TO BE CONTINUED...