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 Behemoth (Dragonborn Paladin) in the service of Behemoth, 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 Behemoth 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, Behemoth, "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 Behemoth.



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...

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

"The Crimson Necromancers of the Lich Queen" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 27


Dawn rose in Omu and the party prepared for another foray into the lost city. Fifty-four nights had passed since they left Port Nyanzaru on this expedition. Eku had returned the previous evening to learn of the party's exploits in and escape from the fane of the Night Serpent. Learning of the escaped prisoners and also of their new ally Princess Mwaxanaré, Eku decided to take her leave of the party. She wished to accompany and protect the escaped prisoners as they built the secondary base-camp outside the city.

The party readied their equipment and gave Tony instructions to watch and care for the macetail and generally watch the camp. They left the protective confines of the gate house and stood on the promontory overlooking their city to plot their route.

They had spotted two structured that were protected by walls. The party assumed that any structure protected by walls was likely a shrine and would therefore protect one of the six remaining puzzle cubes. They had acquired two the previous day using the same logic and they saw no reason to change strategy.

They hiked down the path and navigated along the eastern cliff face. They turned west at a clearing and made their way towards one of the stairways that allowed them to cross the elevated boulevard. They passed an overturned cart with flowers growing all around. It smelled of honey.

"Should we investigate?" inquired Xoc-Wik.

"Do you see any treasure?" replied Bramble.

"No, just flowers. Plus it smells nice." said Xoc-Wik.

"Then it's a trap. Ignore it. We'll check it out AFTER we've got all the puzzle cubes." concluded Bramble.

They crossed the boulevard and arrived at the walled compound. Obelisks flanked the entrance. The foyer was covered in ferns and flowers and overgrowth. Bramble caught a glimpse of a small fuzzy tail scampering nearby. He looked closer and just saw a fluffy creature resembling a rabbit with a single spiral horn disappear into a nearby warren.


CHAPTER 27, "THE CRIMSON NECROMANCERS OF THE LICH QUEEN!"

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.

The Path Least Expected
Carvings and ancient writing decorated the entryway to the shrine.

"Do you thing, Orvex." said Xoc-Wik, getting out the way with a gesture indicating, "After you."

Orvex translated the cunieform writing, "It says, 'I’jin teaches us to take the path least expected.' ” I’jin taught her followers to live unpredictable lives, always changing course and never sticking to a plan.'"

The party opened the stone doors to reveal a corridor ten feet wide and twenty feet long. The floor was covered with two-and-a-half foot wide tiles, four across and eight long. Each tile was embossed with the stylized image of an animal - a zebra, an eagle, a giraffe, a lion, a dragonfly, a wart-hog, a monkey, and an al-miraj - one of the unicorn bunnies glimpsed outside.

DM Note- I put the handout on the table in front of my players.



After some discussion, Xoc-Wik went first, careful to step only on tiles containing an image of an al-miraj. Several darts shot out of hidden ports in the walls and struck him in the chest and head.

"That wasn't it!" croaked the b'alam.

Brable went next, careful to vary the animals with each step. He made it across without incident.

"Is that ALL?" cried Xoc-Wik?

"I think so," replied Bramble.

Zeynap followed Bramble's steps and was likewise unharmed.

DM Note- And only now as I type the above do I realize that I should have penalized Zeynap for following Bramble's "safe" steps. The book says "To cross the hallway safely, a character must avoid stepping on the same animal more than once." At the time I interpreted as any safe path is available for the next character. However, given the clue above "I’jin teaches us to take the path least expected," I should have ruled that no two characters could take the same path. Were I to do it again, I would enforce that each character take a different path.

Argent crossed using a selection of different animals. Orvex and Apparently followed Bramble's path.  Chak'sa was left outside. The landing on the far side was packed and people had to stand aside to let Argent to the front.

Argent forged ahead, finding a winding maze of turns and short corridors. At the first branch, he made a left turn. A giant spinning buzz-saw blade shot out of the wall, narrowly missing the draconian paladin. The corridor ahead was a dead-end.

"Not that way!" said Argent.

He turned and at the next intersection and this time was caught by the slicing blade! Argent howled in pain.



Argent finally arrived at a stone door. He opened it and found a room with a shaft of light illuminating a small stone cube. An al-miraj was carved on one side of the cube. Argent warily took the cube expecting a trap but nothing happened. The party retreated the way they came and exited the shrine.

Four for Four
The party continued to the next likely shrine a few hundred feet north. They arrived at a compound decorated by carvings of monkeys hanging from their tails. Beyond was a courtyard filled with horsetails and arum lilies. Five archways led into the dark interior of the shrine. Above the center arch was a plaque inscribed with ancient Omuan. Orvex translated, "Better to be Wongo’s friend than his enemy."

DM Note- Bramble's player said, "Wait, did we guess right AGAIN? Sweet! Four for four!" High fives were passed around the table.

Xoc-Wik examined the courtyard. He could make out fresh tracks - a human entered each of the five archways yet curiously only animal tracks exited the four flanking passages - a zebra, a lion, a wart-hog, and a vulture. What did it mean?

Argent and Zeynap proceeded down the central corridor. The rest stayed outside. They emerged into a chamber 25' by 25' with a high ceiling. In the center of the chamber was a large statue of a monkey balanced atop its tail. It held each hand and each foot cupped as if waiting to receive an offering. Four carved masks peered from the walls near the entrance, each representing a different animal - a zebra, a lion, a wart-hog, and a vulture.

"It's some kind of puzzle," said Argent, loud enough so the others outside could hear. After examining each of the cupped hands, Argent continued, "I think I have figured it out!"

Argent poured water into the left hand.

A disembodied magical voice proclaimed in an ancient language, "Were ihe a na-agbata n'ọsọ ma kọchaa ndị enyi gị, ma ọ bụ lụọ ụmụ m ka ha kwuo ya. Kedu ihe ị họọrọ?"

"What?" blinked Argent, confused. "Orvex, did you hear and/or understand that?"

The translator called back, "I heard it. I think it's Old Omuan. I can read Old Omuan cuneiform but I've never heard it spoken! Sorry!"

"Uh, could you repeat the question?" suggested Argent.

The voice reiterated, "Họrọ! Nke mbụ ma ọ bụ nke abụọ?"

Argent replied, "Abụọ?"

The voice replied, "E meela nhọrọ ahụ!"

There was a loud sound as a heavy portcullis slammed shut over the entrance. Simultaneously, Argent and Zeynap were momentarily blinded by a magical flash of light. When their vision returned, they saw four evil-looking su-monsters in each corner of the room. 



Zeynap immediately began blasting the nearest su-monster with his hexes. Xoc-Wik ran towards the portcullis while drawing his bow. He immediately loosed two arrows at the farther su-monsters. One arrow missed its intended target but bent its flight in mid-air to strike the second. Argent charged the farther su-monsters and engaged the creatures in deadly melee.

Each of the su-monsters opened their mouths in gaping silent screeches. Though they produced no audible sound, the effect was painfully deafening against its target. Argent and Zeynap managed to clasp their ears in time to sufficiently protect themselves. 

The ensuing fight lasted less than a minute with su-monsters being pulled and pushed around the room by Zeynap's hexes as Xoc-Wik released arrow after arrow. Indeed, Bramble and Apparently remained safely outside the shrine. The su-monsters were soon defeated. 

After the battle, Argent looked around the room but could find no puzzle cubes. "Is that it?"

Confused, Argent poured more water into the left hand of the statue. Once again, he heard the question, "Were ihe a na-agbata n'ọsọ ma kọchaa ndị enyi gị, ma ọ bụ lụọ ụmụ m ka ha kwuo ya. Kedu ihe ị họọrọ?"

He repeated his response, "Again, what?"

The voice once more reiterated, "Họrọ! Nke mbụ ma ọ bụ nke abụọ?"

This time Argent replied, "Nke mbu?"

The voice replied, "E meela nhọrọ ahụ!" 

There eyes of the masks glowed. There was a flash of magical light. Then- nothing. Argent and Zeynap looked at each other in confusion. 



Xoc-Wik finally suggested, "Someone else has been here. They've taken the puzzle cube. My guess is that four people were looking through those four masks and whatever you just did turned them into animals. Luckily, we weren't anywhere near the masks."

Apparently, Zeynap, and Argent together managed to lift the portcullis and exit the room. Outside the shrine, Bramble called upon the spirits of nature to magically find the remaining puzzle cubes. The spirits informed him that one cube resided in a location on a rocky spire in the middle of the lava lake, another was located in the compound of the grung, and three were currently about eight hundred feet east moving towards the compound of the grung.

"Found them. They're on the move and headed towards the grung compound."

Argent leaped to the ready, "The grung are in danger! We have to save them!"

DM Note- Argent's player pulled me aside, "What was I supposed to do with the statue?" I replied, "put water in the left hand, just like you did." "Really?" was his surprised response, "I was just guessing!"  "Nope!" I assured him, "You guessed right!"

Zagmira the Necromancer

The party moved quickly to the northeast. They eventually reached the flooded area of the ancient city. The water was shallow, no deeper than a person's waist, so they moved as fast as they could. Apparently mounted Chak'sa while Argent summoned his celestial reptilian steed. They reached an open area north of the round wall of the royal quarter and saw a caravan of people and animals headed east. The group consisted of eight mercenaries led by a bald woman clad in the red traveling robes of a wizard. She was accompanied by four animals - a zebra, a lion, a warthog, and a vulture.

The mercenaries saw the party approaching from behind them. Word was quickly passed up the line and the mercenaries, a mixture of spearmen and crossbowmen, prepared for battle.

Orvex informed the others, "That is Zagmira, my former employer! The others are mercenaries. They are simply being paid for their services like I was."

The party  approached the new group in peace, hands up and palms out. Zagmira stayed her mercenaries and approached. They were all standing in an open area that was flooded up to their waists.

Zagmira was bald with pale ashen skin. She had blue painted lips and dark eyes. Her most striking feature was that the left half of her face was that of an old crone while the right half was that of a young beauty.

 "Greetings, Orvex. I see that you have survived. Who are your new companions?" said Zagmira in a voice that radiated a combination of disdain and menace.

Orvex described his capture by the Nagina and subsequent rescue by his new companions. He provided introductions and pleasantries were shared.

They learned that Zagmira was an agent of Valindra Shadowmantle, current resident of the Heart of Ubtao, and that she sought the Soulmonger in order to retrieve it and safely study it.

Valindra, as they party secretly was aware, was actually an agent of Unglaub the Lich Queen. Zeynap whispered to Bramble, "I don't like her, she geased me!"

When asked how many puzzle cubes they had acquired, Bramble replied that they had obtained none. In face, the party remained cagey with all of the details of their adventures, denying, for example, ever meeting Ras-Nsi

Argent asked Zagmira if she knew that her patron was a lich in the service of the Lich Queen. Zagmira hesitated as if to think of an appropriate answer before replying that she was not aware of that.

Argent then asked how Zagmira planned on obtaining the next cube. She answered that her agents reported that the cube was within a compound guarded by grung frog-men. She anticipated slaughtering them and retrieving the cube with little difficulty, like she had done with the small tribe of kavritan dragon-halflings the day previous.

Zagmira extended an offer, "Let us work together. I know the location of the hidden entrance to the Tomb of the Nine Gods but I need assistance gathering the remaining cubes. My fellow companions, you see, had been transformed into animals and I know not for how long."

Argent drew his sword and replied "That will never happen. The grung are under our protection. You will give us your cubes and you will depart this city now. You men!" he shouted towards the mercenaries, "Your employer serves an evil lich queen. We have no wish to fight you but we will do whatever needs to be done to stop you from finding the Soulmonger."

Zagmira sneered, "So be it! Men, prepare for battle!"

Both parties withdrew until they were sixty feet apart and prepared for combat.

Zagmira took a position to the rear of her mercenaries whom she arranged in two ranks: spearmen in front followed by crossbowmen.

Argent and Apparently charged the spearmen on their mounts, splashing wildly in the murky hip-deep water.



Zeynap cast a spell that imposed a curse upon the entire area containing Zagmira, her animal companions, and her mercenaries. Zagmira's forces began coughing and wretching and were forced to flee the zone.  Zagmira instantly disappeared in a puff of silvery mist and reappeared outsize the zone.

Argent and Apparently engaged the front rank of spearmen while Bramble called forth spirits of cold to bedevil their adversaries.

Xoc-Wik loosed arrow after arrow at Zagmira and the necromancer fell before she could cast a single spell!

The zebra and the warthog collapsed and expired, instantly transforming back into human wizards wearing the red robes of the necromancers of the Lich Queen. They stood up, assessed the situation, and immediately lauched fire-ball spells into the midst of the party.

Xoc-Wik turned his arrows against the necromancers and, with Zeynap's help, they were soon dispatched.

Apparently and Argent engaged the mercenaries in melee. Seeing their eployers defeated so handily drained any fight remaining in them and the mercenaries began surrendering.  Orvex reassured the mercenaries that his new companions were friendly and that they would be treated well.

Aftermath
Argent searched Zagmira's belongings. He found on her person three puzzle cubes as well as a folded up paper with the rubbing of a stone tablet. The table contained writing in Atlantean and in Old Omuan. Orvex explained that they proclaimed the same message and that, with time, a scholar could decipher Old Omuan.

Bramble recovered the lion and vulture. Both had been sickened and weakened by Zeynap's spell. Bramble said, "Apparently-"

Apparently interrupted, "Yes?"

"- ah, I mean evidently they revert to their true form if their current form dies. I have an idea. You all may not want to watch this part."

Bramble led the animals around a ruined building out of view and slaughtered them. As expected, they reverted back to human form. He explained to them their situation. They were prisoners. They were soon bound and brought back before the group for interrogation.

The two necromancers were named Thazma and Yamoch. Yamoch offered to cooperate and lead them to the secret location of the Tomb of Nine Gods. Argent untied Yamoch and the necromancer immediately began to cast a spell of invisibility.

Bramble was faster, however, and had summoned a nature spirit to illuminate Yamoch in radiant faerie fire. Yamoch tried to flee but was felled by Xoc-Wik's arrows and Zeynap's hex magic.

Argent addressed Thazma, "Did you see what happened?"

She nodded.

"Do you understand that this wiill happen to you?"

She nodded.

Argent nodded towards Bramble, "Take care of her."

Bramble produced a knife and moved to execute the necromancer.

"What are you doing?" cried Argent, aghast!

"I'm- TAKING CARE of her." replied Bramble, confused.

"I meant untie her! Not KILL her!" said Argent in exasperation.

"Oh, OH! Sorry, my bad!" said Bramble apologetically.




To Be Continued...

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

"Beware the Froghemoth!" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 26


The party rounded the jutting finger created by the cliff. Orvex pointed out the compound to the right in which his group had camped when they were attacked and captured by the nagini. They had arrived at their destination.

A rectangular pool of murky water stretched before the vine-draped shrine. Partially submerged docks made of rotten wooden planks sat just underneath the surface. The docks were covered with moss and water plants. The shards of a toppled monolith formed stepping stones to the middle of the pool, where a statue of a stone frog rose above the water.


The party carefully made their way around the left side of the pool. Bramble and Apparently noticed three eyes attached to a long eyestalk the size of a man's arm sticking out of the water. They had barely enough time to alert their companions when the massive bulk of a giant frog-shaped creature heaved itself out of the shallow murk!



CHAPTER 26, "BEWARE THE FROGHEMOTH!"

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.
Froghemoth!


Zeynap reacted quickly by channeling the magical power of his celestial patron into a witch-bolt of electrical energy. Lightning began streaking towards the massive warty enemy. The froghemoth writhed in agony and lashed a tentacle out at Zeynap. Zeynap was caught up and lifted off the ground.  Xoc-Wik moved away from the froghemoth and climbed up the cliff wall behind them. Bramble summoned his "wall of bears" to block the froghemoth's movement.

DM Note- Zeynap getting his witch-bolt started on the first action of the first turn set the stage for this battle. Zeynap's witch-bolt does lightning damage. The froghemoth is resistant to lightning damage but if it does take any electric damage, it suffers -2 AC, half movement, cannot perform its multi-attack, and cannot perform any reactions. When Xoc-Wik moved away, I at first had the froghemoth grab him, but then realized he had no reactions, so I sullenly had to allow Xoc-Wik to escape. 


Zeynap managed to maintain a continuous stream of electricity arcing into the froghemoth. The froghemoth lashed out its long tongue, its bulbous tip slapped onto Zeynap and dragged him close. Zeynap was drawn into the creature's mouth but managed to avoid being consumed.

DM Note- In another strike against the froghemoth, I rolled a 3. Not a good round for Froghemoth!

The froghemoth soon fell to the continuous barrage of Xoc-Wik's arrows, Bramble's bears, and Zeynap's electrical witch-bolt. It exploded, sending blubbery chunks flying and splashing into the fetid pool.

The Stone Key
The door to the shrine stood closed.  A keyhole was clearly visible on the stone door. Rather than try to force the door, the party spent ten minutes poking the floating remains of the froghemoth with sticks hoping in vain to find some sort of key. Xoc-Wik thought about the rotting docks that led, submerged, to the frog statue in the center of the pool and concluded that it must house a hidden key.

Zeynap tried one of the docks with a gentle nudge of one foot. The dock plank was slick and rotten and gave easily under the pressure of his foot. Bramble sent one of the bears onto another dock. The dock gave way beneath the bear. The bear was forced to swim out of the murky pool.

Xoc-Wik positioned himself by the door to the shrine and got a running start. The feline archer hurled his body through the air. He landed against the side of the statue's base, slick with moss and slime, and slid into the water with a scrabble and an angry howl.

DM Note- Xoc-Wik rolled a 3 on his Acrobatics check. We all shared the vision of one of the funny cat videos where the cat tries to leap from one counter to another and fails.

Xoc-Wik managed to climb up the front of the statue. He found a stone key resting in the mouth of the statue.

"Be careful! It will probably try to bite your hand off!" shouted Bramble.

Xoc-Wik nodded and used an arrow to pry the key loose. The statue offered no response. He pocketed the key and swam back to the side of the pool.

Xoc-Wik looked like a wet cat, angry and disheveled. He took a deep breath and a wave of magic swept over him. He was suddenly dry! He held up his thumb and smiled a toothy grin towards his companions. 

Shrine of Kubazan
The party made their way to the entrance to the shrine adjacent to the pool. Two obelisks flanked the stone doors of the entrance. Carved into the lintel above this locked gate was an inscription written in Old Omuan. Orvex was called forward to translate. He informed them that the inscription read “Kubazan urges us to tread without fear and to give back as much as we take.”


Xoc-Wik opened the doors with the stone key. Steps descended to a ledge overlooking a pit of sharpened stakes. An alcove on the far wall held a pedestal with a stone cube resting on it. A relief carved into the back of the alcove showed a monstrous frog with tentacles fighting a crane. Wooden beams radiated from the walls at floor height, with four-foot gaps between them. Carved frog heads extruded from the walls above the beams.

Xoc-Wik suggested that the inscription referred to the cube. They had to leave something of equal size or value. Bramble suggested they leave an equal weight in valuable gems and provided a gem for Xoc-Wik to use.

Xoc-Wik, assuming the wooden poles to be trapped, used his retractable climbing claws to scramble along the walls to the far wall. He exchanged the gemstone for the cube and scrambled back. They retreated from the shrine and closed the doors behind them.

"Well, that was easy!" said Xoc-Wik.


DM Note- I didn't think about how light a gem could be. In retrospect, I regret not doing the Indiana Jones thing and have the trap triggered anyway. 

Shrine of Shagambi
The party retraced their steps and made their way to the next likely shrine - the walled compound located alongside the lava lake.


The party passed the obelisks flanking the entrance to the compound and saw a round stone building. The obelisks were decorated with carvings of jaguars with six snakes sprouting from their shoulders - the dreaded kamadans. Orvex translated the old Omuan inscription: "Shagambi teaches us to fight evil with honor." Reliefs on the monoliths further showed Shagambi overseeing Chultan warriors as they trained with spears and shields.

The entrance into the building was a heavy iron door. No single person could move the door so Bramble ran a rope through the handle. Everyone, including the two spirit bears, grabbed a section of rope and pulled. Together they were able to open the vault-like door.

Steps descended into a fifteen-foot-high, moss-covered room. Four statues of Omuan warriors stood in alcoves to either side, overlooking a barred gladiatorial pit in the floor. Each statue looked like it was meant to hold a spear, but its weapon was missing. On the far side of the chamber, a stone pedestal stood conspicuously bare. A relief on the wall behind it showed a monstrous jaguar
with six snakes protruding from its shoulders, fighting off a squat, frog-like humanoid armed with a spear. To the left of the relief was a narrow tunnel with stairs leading down.

Bramble was the last to enter the building. As he did so, he spotted a kamadan stalking along the roof of the structure. He entered quickly and informed the others. The spirit-bears squeezed in behind him.

Xoc-Wik led the way down the tunnel, followed by Bramble and Zeynap. Bramble assigned the spirit-bears to guard the entrance in case the kamadan entered.

The tunnel descended sharply and curved to the left, eventually opening into the fifteen foot barred chamber they saw in the floor above. Xoc-Wik stepped into the room and heard a clank, followed by the sound of chains and rising portcullises.

"Be ready!" he warned, "I think we're about to have company!"

Fight with Honor
Zeynap prepared to hurl magical hex bolts at anything that emerged from the tunnel on the other side of the chamber. Xoc-Wik clambered up the wall of the chamber and squeezed through the bars of the ceiling to take an archery position on the floor of the room above. Bramble transformed himself into a saber-toothed cat and moved in front of the far tunnel.


Soon the sound of marching feet could be heard from the far tunnel. Around the corner emerged two warriors made of terracotta and animated through ancient magic. Each warrior carried a bronze spear in one hand and a clay shield in the other. Xoc-Wik attacked the first terracotta warrior with two arrows. The first arrow struck home while the second arrow arced behind the warrior and struck another warrior around the corner. 

Bramble held the front but Xoc-Wik and Zeynap had difficulty hitting the target. The terracotta warrior kept striking Bramble and the theran druid was eventually forced to regain his natural form. Bramble then called upon the spirits of nature and transformed his shape into that of a colossal ape!

The massive gorilla completely filled the chamber! Bramble's new form began grabbing and smashing terracotta warriors.

DM Note- Bramble player was LOVING the new mini I made for him. He was also loving the damage his new form could rack out. 


Xoc-Wik leaped onto Bramble's simian back and climbed down, repositioning himself next to Zeynap in the opposite tunnel. From his new vantage point he had better visibility into the far tunnel and had better luck loosing arrows into targets that were previously unseen.


All four of the terracotta warriors were soon defeated. As each was destroyed a bronze spear clattered to the floor.

DM Note- and I JUST realized that the section states that they only leave behind their spears if the warriors are defeated INSIDE the 15' x 15' room. As all of these guys were defeated in the hallway, the spears technically should have disappeared and re-formed when they did. Dang it! 

Zeynap and Bramble collected the bronze spears while Xoc-Wik inspected the source of the terracotta warriors. He found four cells with a warrior slowly reforming within each cell.

They returned to the upper floor and placed the spears into the hands of the statues. There was the sound of mechanical gears and grinding stone. The pedestal rotated and a small stone cube arose from a hidden door. They obtained the cube and decided to take a short rest.

Attack of the Kamadans
An hour later, the party exited the shrine, minus the bears which had returned to the spirit world. The coast appeared clear. There were no apparent signs of the kamadan spotted earlier so  they made their way past some bushes and trees.

A kamadan appeared on the roof of the shrine. The party made haste to escape. A second kamadan appeared from the bushes and exhaled a cloud of white dust. Bramble, Xoc-Wik, and Zeynap turned their heads and covered their faces but Orvex fell unconscious. The other kamadan breathed its own cloud of white dust from the roof but the would-be victims remained unaffected.

Bramble transformed himself into a polar bear and engaged the kamadan in the bushes. The kamadan turned to flee but was brought down by Xoc-Wik's arrows. Zeynap attacked the kamadan on the roof and the creature turned to flee.



Xoc-Wik climbed onto the roof and gave chase. He followed the kamadan to the rear of the shrine and found it cowering under a cart protecting a clutch of cubs. He sighed and took the kamadan's life with an arrow.

Xoc-Wik hopped down and scooped the orphaned cubs into his arms. He brought them back to the rest of the party. Zeynap declared, "Ooh, those will be worth something back in town."

"No," interrupted Bramble, glaring at Xoc-Wik, "They're not for sale. I'm going to raise them myself."



TO BE CONTINUED...