Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"The Nine Trickster Gods of Omu" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 25


Hydra
The five serpentine heads of the hydra loomed over the rowboat. It paused, waiting.

The party froze, anticipating an attack that never came.

Two of the hydra's heads tilted curiously.

Bramble looked around, "Does anyone have anything to feed it?"

Everyone frantically looked through their satchels and backpacks but could find nothing substantive.



Apparently had a sudden realization, "Wait! I've got an idea!"

She had magically summoned two large spirit-bears during their fight with Ras Nsi. The two bears were currently treading water behind the rowboat. She directed one of the bears to swim towards the hydra.

All five heads snapped in the direction of the swimming bear. They dove onto the bear and the two creatures disappeared within frothing water. Argent rowed the boat as fast as he could!



CHAPTER 25, "THE NINE TRICKSTER GODS OF OMU"

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. 
DM Note- As it happened, the bear gambit shouldn't have worked. The bear disappears in a poof once it reaches zero hit points. The hydra would have fought the bear for like one round, the bear would die, and disappear. However, nobody at the table realized this until later, so the hydra got to eat the bear - this time. The party now owes me a hydra fight! 

Escape
The underground lake narrowed to a passage barely ten feet wide. A light was visible past the narrows. Three serpentine archers emerged from a doorway and readied their bows. Arrows slipped into the water.

Bramble called forth the power of nature to direct bolts of sub-zero chill towards the archers while Zeynap cast rainbow hued hexes.



Apparently directed the remaining bear to swim towards the wall of the cavern. Once it reached the side, the bear grabbed the wall and launched itself at the archers in a torrent of water and speed. The archers were forced to drop their bows and draw their scimitars in order to deal with the bear. Meanwhile Xoc-Wik loosed arrow after arrow at their attackers.

The bear killed one of the archers but was quickly dispatched. The remaining archers directed their attacks at Xoc-Wik. The b'alam archer dodged the incoming volley but lost his footing and fell into the water. He quickly made his way towards the other wall, effortlessly climbed out, and dropped back into the boat.

DM Note- To represent the difficulty in fighting on the overloaded boat, I gave the players the option. Any time an incoming attack targeted them:

  • the attacker got advantage on the attack.
  • the defender had to make a Dexterity Save vs. 10 or fall off the boat, losing a turn to get back in. 
The remaining archers were soon defeated and the rowboat continued down the lake.

Once again, the lake narrowed to a ten foot wide passage. They turned a bend and came face to face with another rowboat. This boat was rowed by a humanoid initiate and carried a serpentine archer. The oncoming boat blocked their passage. The occupants of both boats exchanged bowshots. The occupants of the serpentine boat were soon destroyed by one of Xoc-Wik's magical exploding arrows.

Slave Revolt
The party arrived at the southern end of the lake to find several nagini degenerates waiting for them. Suddenly a mob of freed slaves rushed  out of the darkness from behind them and attacked them using clubs, shovels, and pick-axes. The degenerates were beaten down and soon defeated.

The freed slaves were a mixture of Chultans and b'alam. They were led by the Chultan Kanush Natombe, the English bomber pilot Commander Frederick carrying the sick boy Tahvo, the Eusebean watcher Lomar Dral, and the former Chultan pirate Zilla Atazi. With them was the b'alam minstrel Pottery Shard, the red-skinned newt-man Gorvax, and the yellow-skinned pygmy Mung.

To Xoc-Wik's great surprise, the b'alam slaves were the missing members of his tribe back in Bres! His people were alive!



After a brief exchange of pleasantries, it was pointed out that the barred doors wouldn't hold long and that they had best escape. The party, along with the newly freed prisoners and slaves, made their way out the southern passage and to freedom.

They emerged on the east side of the flooded river separating Omu. It was dark, only an hour or two before dawn. They took a risk and used the raised boulevard to quickly return to their camp.

The Nine Trickster Gods of Omu
The party arrived back at the base camp with their new guests as dawn broke over the eastern rim of the valley. Fifty-two days had passed since they left Port Nyanzaru. They found Vinnie Tony tending to the macetail. Eku was absent.

With no imminent sign of a nagina reprisal, the party decided to rest and recuperate. Food and water was provided to the escaped slaves. Newly acquired treasures were examined and appraised.

Zeynap was inspecting the cube he found among Ras Nsi's belongings. One of the escaped prisoners, Orvex Ocrammas, the translator, identified it as the puzzle cube of Obo'laka, one of the nine puzzle cubes of the Trickster Gods of Omu. He had studied the gods prior to the expedition to prepare for Omu. He asked if they wished to know more about them.

The party agreed and gathered around.

Orvex recounted the tale...
Long ago, the god Ubtao hardened his heart and vowed to weep for the people of Omu no longer. The rains stopped, the jungle withered and died, and death swept through Omu.
One morning, a wise zorbo emerged from her hollow tree and spoke to the dying Omuans. To convince Ubtao of their worth, she decided to cook him a stew made from all their good qualities. Catching such virtues wouldn’t be easy, so she asked a wily almiraj to help her. The almiraj snuck recklessness in the pot, which she saw as a virtue, and Ubtao spat out the stew when he tasted it. From that day on, Obo’laka the zorbo and I’jin the almiraj became terrible enemies. 
At noon, a brave kamadan hopped down from her rock. She saw the evil in the Omuans’ hearts and decided to lance it like a troublesome boil. The kamadan fashioned a holy spear, but she left it by the riverbank and a crafty grung stole it. In her rage, Shagambi the kamadan forgot all about the Omuans and chased Nangnang the grung forever across the sky. 
When evening came, a wily eblis stepped from his reed hut. He didn’t like the Omuans, but without them he’d have no one to play his tricks on. The eblis sent a marsh frog to reason with Ubtao, but the frog was angry and decided to wrestle the god instead. This amused Ubtao, so he gave the frog tentacles to make it stronger. When Kubazan the froghemoth returned to Papazotl the eblis, he chased Papazotl into the swamp with his new tentacles.
That night, a su-monster broke into Ubtao’s palace and stole a pail of water for the Omuans. When the god came running to find it, the su-monster hid the pail in a jaculi’s burrow. Ubtao asked the jungle animals where his water was hidden, and Moa the jaculi was too honest to lie. When Wongo the su-monster found out how Moa had betrayed him, he vowed to catch the jaculi and eat him up.
All the while, Unkh the flail snail lived deep under the earth. The noise of the other animals fighting made her slither up to the surface, and when day dawned over her shell, the light blinded Ubtao and made his eyes water. Life returned to Omu, and the people built shrines to honor the animals who’d saved them.
DM Note- Every time the story referenced a creature, I had to describe what that creature was to the players. A zorbo was a "crazy koala". An al'miraj was a "rabbit with a unicorn horn". A kamadan was "a panther with snakes growing out of its shoulders". An iblis was "like a stork". A jaculi was "a rainbow colored snake". And a su-monster was "an evil psychic monkey". 

The party spent the rest of the day looking out over the city below them. They identified specific structures they believed might be temples to the nine gods and made plans to explore the city on the following day.

During their rest, Apparently summoned a spirit-honker - a replacement for Chak'sa, and Argent's deity Bahamut blessed the holy warrior with a magnificent reptilian war-steed

DM Note - Level up! Level 7.  

Princess Mwaxanaré of Omu
On the dawn of the fifty-third day since leaving Port Nyanzaru, the party prepared themselves to begin searching the city for the puzzle cubes. The scream of a young woman in danger followed by the loud cracks of firearms spurred the team into immediate action!

The sounds were coming from some nearby ruins. From their vantage point overlooking the city they could see four crystalline gargoyles attempting to capture some humanoid prey in nets. They quarry consisted of two men wearing the jump suits of Akasanal air-nomads, two aarokan monks, a teenaged Chultan woman, and a young Chultan boy. The sky-nomads were shooting at the crystal gargoyles while the aarokans were defending the young woman and boy.

The party charged down the slope and towards the fray.



Argent, astride his new mount, was the first to engage the crystal gargoyles. Zeynap and Xoc-Wik remained behind and sent arrows and magical attacks towards the gargoyles in flight. After a brief but challenging fight the two surviving crystalline gargoyles fled in retreat, only to be picked off at extreme range by Xoc-Wik's arrows and Zeynap's spells. Unfortunately, one of the Akasanals had been killed by a crystalline gargoyle during the fight.

The group gave thanks to the party for the rescue and introductions were given. The young lady was Princess Mwaxanaré, heir apparent of the throne of Omu. The shy young boy was her brother, Na. Her aarokan companions were her protectors, monks from the mountain fortress of Kir Sabal. The surving Akasanal sky-nomad was named Voluntarily. His fallen companion was named Possibly.

Princess Mwaxanaré explained that she was the rightful leader of Chult and wished to pacify and rebuild Omu. The merchant princes of Port Nyanzaru opposed her. They had sent assassins to kill her in Kir Sabal and she and her brother was forced to flee.

She wished to unite the tribes of Chult to overthrow the merchant princes, but first she would need to legitimize her claim to the throne. For that she needed the Skull Chalice of Ch’gakare.

The Skull Chalice of Ch’gakare was crafted from the skull of a long dead Omuan king and once served as a symbol of office for the royal line of Omu. The legendary Chultan hero Ch’gakare was said to have beheaded the king after escaping the Nine Hells on the back of a mastodon.

DM Note - Accompanied by the wailing of rad guitars and roaring gouts of flame! 

The skull chalice was located somewhere in Omu. She did not know exactly where. She and her aarokan companions had hired an Akasanal skyship to bring them to Omu to find it. The airship was located three leagues to the west. They had seen another airship try to approach Omu two days previous and had observed as it was attacked by crystalline gargoyles and crashed in the city, so they decided to set down farther away where it was safe.

The party liked the young noble-woman and wished to help her in her quest. More importantly, they hated the merchant princes and wished to do anything they could to upset their power in Port Nyanzaru. The party explained that Omu was much too dangerous for her and her group. They offered to find and retrieve the skull chalice for her. In exchange, they asked that the princess and her entourage return to the sky-ship. In addition, they would be joined by the escaped slaves and prisoners. Those who wished to stay would help construct a fortified base-camp outside of Omu.

The party planned to find the chalice and return to civilization aboard the Akasan sky-ship.

The princess and her entourage agreed. The party led them back to the base-camp and explained the plan to the others. 

The Likely Temple
By noon, the party was once more preparing to explore the city. They had identified a likely temple and along the western cliff base.


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. Rope bridges that once spanned the water floated on the surface, tangled with other debris. 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!

To be Continued...!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

"Killing Ras Nsi" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 24


The party crawled out of the slave pits. The room above was empty save for a stack of neatly folded cultist robes and masks and a map of the subterranean complex. The party donned their robes while Bramble examined the map.  Orvex and Commander Frederick offered to come with them but Bramble ordered them to stay behind. He suggested they wait for the signal before they attempted an escape.

"What's the signal?" inquired Fredericks.

"The inevitable fighting and screaming," replied Bramble.



CHAPTER 24, "KILLING RAS NSI"

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. 

Ukurlahmu
The party, disguised as humanoid initiates of Jivantaka, made their way to the entrance. There entrance was now guarded by humanoid reinforcements. The new guards paid no attention as the party made their way to the left.

They found a similar situation in the war hall. A few bored humanoids were distracting themselves with unspeakable amusements in a corner.

They reached the door marked "Armory" on the map. It refused to open.

Apparently said, "Traapantaka" and the door opened

Within was a room filled with khopeshes, scimitars, shortbows, longbows, arrows, and shields. The floor was covered in large bones. A shield made out of a human-sized tortoise shell hung on the far wall. Their weapons and armor lay piled neatly on a nearby shelf.

Before they could retrieve their equipment, a serpentine figure emerged from the shadows. It was the skeletal body of a large snake. The skull was not that of a snake. It was instead more humanlike but with alien dimentions. The armory was guarded by the animated skeletal remains of a naga!

“They will tell us the passphrase! So Ukurlahmu has spoken!”

The party looked at each other, stunned, and replied, "Traapantaka"

"The initiates are not allowed to speak the holy language. The initiates will say the passphrase in their lowly gutter tongue."

"Uh, white feather black mask"

"Does Ukurlahmu look like door? Ukurlahmu does not require the phrase to open the door. The latter portion will suffice. What is it that the lowly initiates need?'

Bramble said that they came for the armor and weapons of the slaves.

"The initiate will tell Ukulahmu why they need the weapons and armor of the infidels."



Xoc-Wik interjected, "We lowly initiates do not understand the reasons. We are simply ordered and must obey."

"That is an acceptable answer. The initiates may depart with the equipment of the infidels."

Argent noticed the magnificent tortoise-shell shield on the wall. "We were also asked to retrieve that shield," he said longingly.

Ukurlahmu spun around and faced Argent menacingly, "That is the shield of Sekelok, the Holy Defender of the Commander of the Fane! It is not for a lowly initiate to touch!"

Argent backed away carefully, "Never mind!"

The party retrieved their belongings and left the armory.

While Bramble and Xoc-Wik gathered the equipment, plus a few quivers of arrows, Argent and Apparently stood in the long collonade inspecting the bas relief sculptures carved into the wall. The walls told the story of the giant serpent-god Jivantaka, coiled around the earth deep under the surface feeding on the nightmares of the world above. The carvings then depicted a Chultan hero wielding a flaming sword and bearing the symbol of the blue triangle. The hero showed the warrior undergoing an alchemical ritual to transform himself into a nagina. The hero later becomes leader of the nagini of Omu and, wearing a magnificent crown adorned with an opal, opens the gate that would free Jivantaka to lay waste to the world above.

The party, now reequipped, donned the loose robes over their weapons and armor and made their way to the great cathedral towards the door marked on the map as Ras Nsi's throneroom. 

The Throne Room
The party entered the "cathedral" where they saw Yahru, the serpentine spymaster, watching the portcullis that led to a room labeled "harem" on the map. Yahru shushed them and directed them towards the next door - a set of large bronze double doors.

"Quickly," he hissed, "Sekelok is distracted in the harem. The door to the throne room is unlocked! Beware the undying guardians!"

The party moved quickly but quietly. They opened the bronze doors and dashed down a fifty foot hallway that opened into the southwest corner of a large audience hall and throne-room supported by columns. A bronze throne sat atop a raised dais along the center of the north wall. The throne was set about five feet away from the wall itself. Large behemoth-skins covered the east wall like hung tapestries. There was a niche cut into the south wall. A silver disk engraved with intricate symbols was set into the floor of the niche.

The party moved into the room and spread out. Suddenly hunched figures with grey-green skin, clawed hands, and gruesome bestial faces emerged from behind the throne. The creatures reeked of decay and emerged one by one as if from a hidden door behind the throne. Six creatures ultimately emerged and spread out throughout the room with the intention of attacking the party.

Argent rushed forward and engaged the undying defenders of the throneroom. Apparently drew her swords and fought at his side. Bramble and Xoc-Wik remained in the hallway and attacked at range.

The ghoulish defenders proved no match for the party and were soon dispatched.

Zeynap, suffering from Brain Fever, tapped Bramble on the shoulder and said, "Be careful, I think there are ghouls nearby."

Bramble searched behind the throne and found a small access door that led to a chute that required one to be on hands and knees to navigate. It was from this chute that the undying defenders emerged. The team got down on all fours and entered the chute one by one.

Ras Nsi
Argent emerged from the chute into an opulent chamber covered in silk pillows and hung with tapestries. Jewels and gold lay strewn about the floor along with rare and expensive objects stolen from across Antara. There was another niche in the east wall set with a silver disk. The walls were adorned with five ancient shields.  Argent moved to the center of the room to allow the others to enter behind him. Bramble immediately summoned a spirit of flame to occupy the niche and the silver disk.

A large snake-human hybrid with the upper torso of a human whose lower torso had been replaced with the tail of a massive snake, lay coiled on a pile of pillows in the far side of the chamber. The serpentine man wore a silk robe with gold adornments. He held a large sword before him, point down on the floor with both his hands resting upon the pommel. The sword's blade was decorated with an iridescent pattern resembling flames.

The serpent-man's face was wrapped in heavy bandages. He appeared weak. His breath was labored. He reeked of illness and decay.

Argent concentrated on the figure before him. He could sense no necrotic energy. The being that rested before him was alive, though Argent could sense his life being drained away.

The individual could be no one other than Ras Nsi, immortal bara of Mezro.



“So, my assassins have returned! This time you have made it thus far without raising the alarm. I congratulate you. I have chosen to forego my usual escape in order to offer you a proposal! I can help you destroy the Soulmonger! Will you hear me out?”

Argent looked at the other members of the party. They were in agreement. Argent replied, "We will entertain your offer."

Ras Nsi continued, “I have been following your progress since Mr. Shiravadakar allowed Bright Mane to escape in Eusebea. My agent, Feldercarb, failed to discourage you all from embarking upon this expedition then and he later failed to assassinate you in Port Nyanzaru! Since then we have tracked your progress through the jungle. You dealt me a major setback when you killed Eth-To in the ancient mine! It was through the sending stones created by Eth-To that my agents were able to report your progress! The sending stones also served as payment for the pirates and smugglers who unwittingly acted on our behalf!

"But I have been played a fool! I have become the victim of my own misplaced trust! But it is not too late to undo my folly!

"You seek the Soulmonger. And here you, too, have been played a fool! For you will not find it here!

"Yes, my nagini servants went to great lengths to obtain the various components of the Soulmonger from the far corners of Antara but they did not assemble it and we do not possess it. You are not surprised? Yarhu must have told you this already. The one you seek is, in fact, the arch-lich known as Acererak!

"We had an arrangement, you see. In exchange for providing him with the various components for the Soulmonger, Acererak promised to help us," Ras Nsi paused to correct himself, "in our eternal fight against the naga." Ras Nsi took a deep breath, "He lied!"

"Instead, the very machine I helped him create is now robbing me of my immortal life! I am slowly withering! I am a pitiful shell of my former glory. So I seek to repay his treachery in kind. I want you to destroy the Soulmonger! I will not stop you. Indeed, I will assist you in any way I can!

"I will give you all the information I know about its location. I will tell you how to gain access to its protected vault. I will even provide you with one of the nine keys necessary to open the vault! In exchange, I ask that you spare my life!

"I offer a truce! Leave this place and do not come back. No nagina under my command shall cause harm to you or your allies so long as you cause no further harm to my nagini while you are in Omu.

"Once you have destroyed the Soulmonger, you will leave Omu and will never return.

"However, Should I die, you will never find the Soulmonger. I am prepared to direct you to the entrance of the tomb in which you can find the device as well as the location of the nine keys required to open the tomb! Without my help, you will never succeed in your quest!"

The party huddled and discussed the offer. Bramble and Argent were against it but decided to capitulate in order to obtain the information they needed.

Argent turned towards Ras Nsi and once more spoke on behalf of the party, "We accept your offer!"

Suddenly, two figures emerged from the secret passage. It was Artus Cimber and Dragonbat. Artus, his eyes wild with revenge, shouted, “No! Ras Nsi- you will die!”

The Revenge of Artus Cimber
Xoc-Wik grabbed Artus' outstretched arm and pulled him aside, appealing to him to stop. Artus ignored the b'alam archer and wrenched himself free while Artus' companion, the saurial named Dragonbait, sliced at Xoc-Wik's arms with his ridiculously long sword. Dragonbait leveled his sword at Xoc-Wik as a warning not to do that again. Xoc-Wik cursed in exasperation.


Ras Nsi sneered when he saw Artus, "Artus Cimber, my old enemy. I thought you would be dead by now. Well, that is no matter. That outcome can be arranged!" The snake-man held aloft his iridescent sword with two hands and it burst into flame!

Argent, who bristled at the idea of striking an accord with the evil snake-man, said, "That's all that I needed!" and charged towards Ras Nsi.

Bramble and Apparently stepped aside. They had no desire to intervene in this conflict and wished to remain neutral.

Zeynap, dazed, said, "Hey, it's Artus and Dragonbait!"

Dragonbait and Argent attacked Ras Nsi, cornering him on one side of the room. Apparently summoned two spirit bears to further  block Ras Nsi in.

The five shields mounted on the wall suddenly flew into the air. They surrounded Ras Nsi, forming a ring that blocked incoming attacks. Xoc-Wik and Apparently began shooting at the shields with their bows. Each time a shield was hit by an arrow, it fell to floor inert.

Artus used his ring to blast the area with magical cold and ice. In his mad fervor to kill Ras Nsi at all cost, he paid no regard to the safety of his allies.

Ras Nsi shouted, "You idiots! I was prepared to aid you! If you do not stop this fool, you will never learn the location of the the tomb! Your betrayal shall cost you dearly!"

The last of Ras Nsi's flying shields fell to the floor. In response, Ras Nsi disappeared into a magical puff of silvery mist. He reappeared next to niche in the far corner of the room. The niche was occupied with a sphere of magical flame, however, so he instead made his escape through the chute.

Artus was the first through the chute after him, followed by Argent and Dragonbait.

Ras Nsi emerged into the throne room and made for the exit. Artus used the Ring of Winter to summon a giant disembodied hand of magical ice. The hand formed a fist that smashed at Ras Nsi. Ras Nsi fell to the ground. Artus drew forth his magical dagger, Bookmark, and began stabbing Ras Nsi.

Ras Nsi was dead.

Artus did not stop. He kept screaming and stabbing at the lifeless body of the evil snake-lord.

Dragonbait looked helpless. Argent Truthsayer consoled the weeping Artus as best as he could.

The mute Dragonbait assisted Artus to his feet. He indicated to Argent that he would take care of the treasure hunter. Artus stopped crying just long enough to say, "I have to go. I- I have to go find her." He used his magic dagger to cut a hole in the air. He and Dragonbait stepped through and disappeared.

Argent picked up the iridescent sword.

Treasure
The party regrouped in Ras Nsi's lair. They quickly made an account of the treasures located within.



There was a flask of Eusebean wine, a bejeweled doublet - also from Eusebea, a fine cloak from Avallonis, a gilded harp from Antumnos, three large cushions covered in silk from Horai, a leather-bound journal, a statuette of a frog god with amethysts for eyes, a clay urn filed with gemstones, and scattered gold and silver coins. The group took what they could wear or easily carry but left the coins on the floor.

Additionally, the party found a palm-sized stone cube with a carving on one side.

"What is it?" inquired Xoc-Wik.

Argent shrugged.

Bramble suggested, "It's obvious. It's one of the nine keys Ras Nsi mentioned. We should find the others."


The Challenge
The serpentine voice of Yahru shouted an alarm near the entrance, "Sekelok! Make haste! I fear someone has attacked the Leader!" The alarm was voiced in such a way as to warn the party that Sekelok was coming rather than to alert Sekelok of treachery.

The party moved to the throne room and prepared for battle. Sekelok and his henchmen appeared in the hallway, "The invaders have returned! And this time they have assassinated the Supreme Leader! They must pay!"

The party was trapped. There were no other exits from the throne room.

Argent and Bramble moved to block the entrance.

Argent stepped forward, "Ras Nsi is dead! We demand to speak to your new Supreme Leader!"

Sekelok looked sternly at Yahru. Yahru called back, "The Supreme Leader designate is in repose. She will not be disturbed!"

Bramble hissed, "I knew it! I told you all! I knew she would screw us!"

Argent then called back, "Then I challenge Sekelok to mortal combat! If I win, my companions and I leave without incident. If I die, my companions will surrender to you!"

Xoc-Wik said, "What??"


Bramble whispered, "Don't worry, there's a secret exit on that wall behind that hanging skin. Go. We'll distract them while the rest of you escape."

"Really," said Argent, "I just want a chance to see that that magic shield does!"

Bramble said, "I don't know. You didn't fight him before. Sekelok is tough. I don't think you'll make it. Let's start thinking of alternatives."

Argent called back, "Come on, Sekelok! You and me! Are you afraid? I'll give you a moment to go get that fancy magic shield of yours!"

Sekelok agreed, "I accept your terms! We shall meet in the Fane in one of your minutes!"

Argent knelt to pray to Bahamut. Bramble rubbed Argent's shoulders to loosen him up in preparation for the fight. "Just remember", the theran said reassuringly, "This is you fault."

The Duel
True to his word as a holy warrior of Bahamut, Argent Truthsayer entered the fane of the Night Serpent a minute later prepared to do battle with Sekelok the Defender.

The gone was struck once. Soon the entire cathedral was filled with nagini - humanoid initiates, hunched degenerates, serpentine warriors, and the more ophidian "masters" of the snake-worshiping cult.

Sekelok bore the shield seen earlier in the armory, the shield made from the shell of a large tortoise. He held it aloft and proclaimed, "I bear the Shield of the Defiler - the Assassin of Eth-To!"

Bramble's eyes grew wide from his position behind the partially closed bronze doors to the corridor that led to the throne room. It was the shell of their former companion Tohaku!

Yahru was to adjudicate the duel. Both opponents would begin on opposite sides of the pool of blood. It was to be a battle to the death. As was the custom of the nagini, the winner would be alchemically transformed into a higher level nagina.

Argent said, "Wait, WHAT?"

"Yes, it is the custom of the nagini. You have challenged a third-stage nagini warrior within the holy fane of Jivantaka the Night Serpent. According to our ways, the winner must undergo the transformation into a higher form."

Argent hesitated, "Got it."

Yahru continued, "Shall we begin?"

Argent looked at Sekelok and nodded. Sekelok nodded in return.

With a subtle wave of Yahru's hand the gong was struck.

Argent turned and ran towards the throneroom. Bramble opened the doors just wide enough to allow Argent to enter.

"What happened to the duel?" asked Bramble.

Argent shouted as he ran past, "They changed the terms on me! Didn't count!"

"Won't your god be displeased?" asked Bramble as he barred the doors closed behind them.

"He'll make an exception. THEY CHANGED THE TERMS!" yelled Argent as he fled towards the secret exit. Bramble followed close behind.



The Grotto
Xoc-Wik, Apparently, and Zeynap found a rowboat on the shore of an underground lake. Zeynap's magic provided the only dim illumination, revealing a chamber with smooth black flowing walls formed by ancient volcanic activity.

They hesitated before getting into the boat. There was only one. Xoc-Wik didn't like leaving Bramble and Argent behind. They'd have no way to get across the lake. He decided to wait for them.

A moment later, Argent and Bramble came running through the exit tunnel.

"Is the duel over already?" inquired Xoc-Wik.

"THEY CHANGED THE TERMS!" was Argent's hurried reply.

The party squeezed onto the small boat and pushed off.

They rowed gently across the placid surface of the black water, heading in a direction that Zeynap had previously described during his exploration of the fungus cavern the day before.

"Wait," said Bramble, "Didn't you say there was a hydra in here?"

A trail of bubbles disturbed the glassy water. A large serpentine head rose from the depths. Then another, a third, a fourth. Eventually five heads reared from the lake. The five heads of the hydra scrutinized them, waiting.


To be Continued...

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

"The Slave Pits of Fenthaza" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 23


Apparently awoke from her brain fever. She had only a vague idea that several days had elapsed. She was in a familiar-looking camp within a walled compound with no roof. The ground was covered in blood. Vinnie was nearby grooming the behemoths. No one else was around. It was morning. Vinnie informed her that the others had left to invade some secret underground warren of snake-people. He told her the sign Bramble would leave for her to follow. She prepared herself and took Chak'sa to join them.

She followed their tracks through the ruins of Omu. She passed the giant lake of boiling lava. She crossed the fallen tree that spanned the river. Every few blocks she'd find a bowl of stew placed on a flat rock with a hand-scrawled sign that read "FREE STEW! EAT ME!" She raised a wary eyebrow and continued on.

She eventually arrived at the entrance to a ramp that led underground. Tracks showed heavy traffic into and out of the tunnel with piles of recently excavated debris nearby. She strung her bow and prepared an arrow, took a deep breath and a sidelong look at her companion Chak'sa, and descended into the darkness.



CHAPTER 23, "THE SLAVE PITS OF FENTHAZA"

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.
  • Vinnie - rough and tumble dinosaur wrangler who wished to learn from Apparently, possibly from 19th century Boston on Earth. 
Violence of Action


Apparently walked past a pair of bronze doors that had been forced open. Just beyond the doors was a pit of snakes. She and Chak'sa jumped across easily. Just beyond were the remains of several degenerate snake-men that had died in battle.

The entrance narrowed to a hallway at the rear. She could hear the sound of battle and shouting in the room beyond.  The battle died down, there was a quick shout, the sound of running, then two lound gongs that echoed throughout the subterranean complex.

She passed through the short hallway and rejoined the party. They were wounded. There were two large bears moving towards a passage to the left. There was a frightened three-horn behemoth.

"Oh, hi Apparently! Feeling better?" asked Zeynap.

She nodded, "What's going on?"

"We're killing snake-men and looking for the Soulmonger. They just sounded the alarm. Ready?"

Apparently soothed the tri-horn with a shush and a gentle touch. She opened the gate so it could leave its small enclosure. "Ready!"

Bramble moved the two large bears into the hallway.

DM Note- Wall of Bears!

The Fane of Blood
The bears pushed through the heavy curtain separating the hall of war from the large chamber beyond. Argent and Zeynap followed closely behind.

The large chamber measured seventy feet long and fifty feet wide. The ceiling was supported fifty feet above the floor by eight slender columns. The southern half of the floor was raised ten feet above the northern half like a stage. The north wall was dominated by five forty-foot stone statues of cobras arranged around a central pillar that formed a balcony forty feet above the floor below. The mouths of the stone cobras were stained with dried blood. A trough at the base of statues that drained into a wide shallow basin in the center of the room was likewise stained with dried blood.

The party emerged into the west wall of the chamber onto a balcony. The humanoid nagina that had recently escaped through the corridor stood near a large gong atop the balcony. The bears immediately set upon the nagina, killing him instantly.  Argent and Zeynap took up position next to the bears overlooking the chamber.

A set of double-doors on the northeast wall opened and out poured a large serpent-man carrying a seven-foot long curved scimitar. The  serpent-man was accompanied by two serpent-headed archers and three clawed degenerates. 

Zeynap cast some hex spells at the newcomers. In return, the archers loosed poisoned arrows at Argent. Argent grimached as the poison coursed through his draconic blood. The scimitar-wielding leader, accompanied by the degenerates, rushed across the room.

Bramble moved past the curtain and summoned the spirits of the sky. The spirits created a wall fo wind around the balcony that deflected the arrows. As a result, the spirit bears disappeared.

Apparently summoned her healing spirit. A translucent archaeopteryx formed and moved onto the balcony.





A group of ten robed cultists rushed through the exit to the south. Followed by three serpent-headed warriors, four strange warriors with thick snakes for arms, and three warriors with humanoid upper torsos and snake tails replacing their lower torsos, and two humanoid warriors carrying spears and shields and wearing leather armor.

Zeynap reported the situation to Bramble in the corridor. Bramble replied that they were out-matched. He called for a retreat. Zeynap immediately moves from the balcony into the hallway to escape.



Apparently directed Chak'sa to the balcony stairs to block the retreat. Several of the newcomers turned back the way they came, obviously to loop around and approach from a different direction.


The robed cultists loosed arrows from shortbows at Chak'sa. Chak'sa emitted sad howls in pain and fell before their assault. The leader, two degenerates, and two armored humanoids rushed the stairs and into the corridor, blocking Argent's escape. Argent shoved the humanoids and moved past them as the humanoids shoved him down with their shields. This gave the serpentine leader an opportunity to move past and block the hallway, trapping Argent.

Argent, having suffered several poisoned arrows, fell before the attack of a degenerate snake-man. The degenerate prepared to rip up Argent's fallen body but was stopped by a command from the leader. The degenerate snarled with displeasure. The two armored humanoids retrieved Argent's unconscious form and carried him away. The leader continued down the hallway after the fleeing party.


Bramble turned into a gargantuan anaconda and grabbed the leader with his tail, pulling him out of the hallway. The leader struggled against Bramble but could not escape. Xoc-Wik paused at the entrance to the complex to loose a few arrows into the leader.


A force of serpentine warriors rushed from the rear of the colonnade to the south. Apparently ordered the tri-horn to block their approach. The tri-horn stopped their advance but soon fell before their onslaught. By that time, Apparently, Zeynap, Eku, and Xoc-Wik had fled up the ramp and back to the surface. 

The serpentine leader finally broke free from Bramble's constricting grip. Bramble transformed himself into a sabertooth tiger and ran away up the ramp towards the exit.  The nagina did not give chase.


DM Note - the retreat was scary and confusing. Players kept second-guessing their actions or hesitating in their retreat. I had to enforce some decision making. I'd ask, "What do you do?" and each player would look at the other players all nervous and uncertain, "What are we doing? Are we retreating? What do I do? Do you need help?" and I'd have to step in and say, "I'm not asking what they're doing. I need to know what YOU are doing, right now! Quickly!" This served to increase the tension and confusion and uncertainty of the retreat. 

Yahru
DM Note - I took Argent's player into another room for some one-on-one.

Argent woke in a dark room surrounded by nagina warriors. An elderly serpent-man with old cracked skin badly in need of a shedding hovered over him.

"Good, you live," said the serpent-man. "You may prove useful."

The serpent-man introduced himself as Yahru. He asked Argent to identify himself and to explain their mission. He asked some questions about the Soulmonger and what he knew of Ras Nsi. Argent answered truthfully and civilly.

Yahru then asked if his companions would be coming back to free him. Argent said that he did not think so and that he had no reason to suspect that they would. Yahru agreed.

"I have use for you, dragon-man. A use that will ultimately result in your freedom. But for now you are a prisoner of the Nagina Samrajya. You will assist Azi Mas in the storeroom. Cooperate and I will set you free. Resist and you will be sacrificed to the god Jivantaka."

Argent was shackled and a muzzle was placed upon his head. He was taken to the storeroom and left alone with a large talking python and a human named Orvex Ocrammas. The python held court over a room filled with supplies and stolen contraband. The python was named Azi Mas and Argent was to be the snake's hands.

Orvex was a translator who had been hired by the wizards in the service of Unglaub the Lich Queen. He didn't like his employers but their money was good. His camp had been attacked by the nagina two days earlier and he had been captured.

Azi Mas, for his part, was talkative for a python. The python was lonely and loved interacting with the slaves assigned to help him. He would speak at length about temple gossip, the invasion attempt from a few hours earlier, and other minor bits of news and information.

"You were one of the invaders from earlier," observed Azi Mas wryly, "That you are alive means old Yahru is up to something. He's probably out trying to recruit your friends as we speak. He's in league with the witch Fenthaza, you see." The python returned to reading his book, "They're probably planning a coup."

Regroup
The party retreated to a spot near the grung compound. The grung made it clear they were not welcome within bow range so the party stayed clear. There they decided to rest and plan their next move.

Three figures came into view just over an hour later. One was a serpent-man with old cracked skin badly in need of a shedding. He carried a staff and wore the robes of a sage or scholar. He was accompanied by the two humanoid guards carrying spears. He introduced himself as Yahru and requested parley. The party warily agreed.

Yahru informed the party that the nagina had captured the dragon-man alive and were holding him prisoner. He had come to inform them that his  mistress, Fenthaza, mistress of nightmares, wished to employ their services as assassins. If they refused the offer, the dragon-man would be sacrificed to Jivantaka. The choice was theirs.

They discussed the options. Bramble and Eku were vehemently against dealing with the nagina. Apparently and Xoc-Wik considered the offer but were ambivalent. Zeynap, at the urging of the unicorn cohabitating within his mind,  spoke passionately in favor of accepting the offer if it meant saving the life of their companion. Zeynap's plea  swayed Apparently and Xoc-Wik. Bramble reluctantly agreed to accompany them.

Eku said she would stay behind.

Zeynap asked Yahru how they would get back inside.

Yahru provided several robes and silver masks, "Wear these. Wrap your weapons in these blankets. It will be assumed that you are nothing more than fellow pilgrims."

Fenthaza
Yahru led the part of "pilgrims" into the temple complex. Slaves were already repairing the sliding bronze doors. Yahru turned down the corridor to the left, past a curtain, and into a door on the left.

The party entered a cramped room. A dense haze of incense hung in the air, masking the foul stench of the serpent men. Ancient murals and fine arabesque lattice work hung on the walls. The floor was covered with throw rugs and cushions. An engraved chest rested in one corner near a stone urn adorned with carvings of serpents.

A creature lounged on the piles of pillows. She had the upper body of a dark-skinned humanoid woman but possessed the lower body of a serpent's tail from the hips down. She lazily drew from a hookah pipe and exhaled decadently.

She was Fenthaza, the mistress of nightmares. She greeted them and offered them wine which they refused. Her voice was languid, drawing out every "s" like a serpent's hiss.

"I have a tasssk for you, if you are interessssted. I wisssh for you to assssassssinate our dear leader, Rasss Nsssssi"

"Ras Nsi was oncccce an immortal human from Mezzzzro who underwent the transsssformation and became one of the chossssen. His power and his immortality made him a valuable assssset and he eventually became leader of this outposssst.

"However, he sssstill longed to regain his humanity and wasss obsessssssed with his lossssst city of Mezzzzro. This hassss made him weak and has led him to make unwisssse choices in alliancessss that are counterproductive to our caussssse of resssstoring the glory of the Nagina Samrajya. He is a poor leader and needsssss to be removed.

"But Sssssekelok defends him, not out of loyalty to Rasss Nssssi, but out of devotion to the authority of the Commander. I cannot make a move against him. If it were known that it wassss I who killed the Master, Ssssekelok the Defender would challenge me and I would lose. Luckily, Sekelok has no ambitttion to become commander himssself.

"An outsider must kill Ras Nsi. YOU must kill Ras Nsi!"



"What do we get if we do?" asked Zeynap.

"Once I am Commander, you have my word that no nagina will cause you harm while you are in Omu. On one condition - so long as you cause no harm to a nagina while you are also in Omu. Once you leave this city, our arrangement will end. You may take your dragon-man and leave with any of Ras Nsi's possessions."

"Where will Sekelok be?" inquired Xoc-Wik.

"When the time comes, I will summon him and away along with the commander's advisssers. This will leave Rasss Nsssi with only his wretched undying protectors for you to deal with."

Zeynap said that if they tried now, they would fail. They needed time to rest and prepare themselves.

"You may rest with the ssslaves. For thisss to work you mussst pretend to BE a ssslave. But only for a day. When it is time, Yahru will open the grates to the slave pens. You will be allowed to exit. Yahru will leave a map to the armory where you can retrieve your weapons. From there, follow the map to Ras Nsi's quarters. He will be vulnerable. But do not take long. I cannot detain Sssekelok and the other advisers indefinitely.

Bramble gumbled, "How can this go wrong?"

Zeynap said, "Whazzat?"

"Nothing" smiled the theran wise man.

Zeynap agreed and the party turned over their weapons. They were disguised as captured prisoners, chained and shackled, and led to the slave pits.

Slaves of the Serpent-Men
The party was led past a chamber containing an evil looking sacrificial altar that collected blood. The altar somehow magically amplified the blood, creating hundreds of gallons from only a small amount.

A portcullis was raised and they were taken into a dank room with four metal grates on the floor. Weak moaning rose from the pits beneath the grates. Zeynap, Apparently, Xoc-Wik, and Bramble were separated and each was thrown in a separate pit.

The pits were filled knee-deep with foul water. Within each pit were other prisoners that had been captured by the nagina.

Zeynap was lucky enough to meet a human named Commander Fredericks. The commander appeared to be an Avallonian who spoke a strange dialect. Commander Fredericks wore a leather coat lined in sheepskin and covered in patches. He wore a strange flat hat with a short shiny bill. An embroidered symbol of an eagle decorated the front of the hat. He described himself as a "bumbar paylit" whose air-ship had crashed in the jungle. He had been found by these dastardly snake-men, captured, and brought here. Commander Fredericks described the other prisoners to Zeynap.

  • Tahvo, a ten year old Chultan boy showing signs of malnourshment. Talvo was constantly rocking back and forth praying to Justica, the protector of the innocent.
  • Sev, a deranged and drooling nagina taken by Monkey Madness.
  • Pottery Shard, a b'alam minstrel from Port Nyanzaru.
  • Gorvax, a strange red-skinned humanoid amphibian.
  • Lomar Dral, a Eusebean and a Watcher from the Erelim. He had been assigned to find and kill Artus Cimber.
  • Mung, a yellow-skinned pygmy from the forest.
  • Kanush Natombe, a Chultan tribesman who came to Omu to prove his bravery and win the hand of his beloved in marriage over his rival.
  • Zilla Atazi, a Chultan pirate who had been thrown overboard by Captain Jaharwon of the Dragonfang.
Soon afterwards, humanoids came and hauled the slaves out to perform their duties. No one paid any notice to the new slaves. Each was given a task.
  • Zeynap was assigned to help Xopal in the venom distillery. Xopal was a humanoid zealot with a bald head and scaly skin. Xopal assigned Zeynap with the task of going into the nearby grotto to gather fungi and slimes, trusting him to go unescorted. "Oh, and look out for the hydra!" warned Xopal. Zeynap gulped but performed his task without incident.
  • Apparently was assigned to clean the nests. While there she overheard two humanoid zealots speaking in common. One informed the other that tomorrow's password was to be "white feather, black mask", which translated into nagese as "Traaapantaka"
  • Xoc-Wik and Bramble were assigned to clean the baths. While there they overheard one humanoid zealot tell another that they had heard that Fenthaza had witnessed a prophetic vision of the Black Opal Crown, a treasure that would release Jivantaka to cleanse the world!
Reunited
After their duties were completed the party was returned to their cells. This time the cells had been drained and food had been provided. There they found Argent waiting for them. 


Argent was amazed to see his companions. "What are you DOING here?" he said in disbelief.

"We've got a plan to rescue you!" replied Zeynap.

"Rescue me? I had a plan to rescue myself!" the dragonid said.

Zeynap explained the plan to Argent. Argent was hesitant. He had not met Fenthaza and was not a party to the arrangement. But he would play along.

Afterwards Argent told the party to Orvex and suggested his possible usefulness to the expedition.

The party was finally able to rest.

Later, after an indeterminate number of hours, they heard the sound of the portcullis being opened followed by the sound of the grates above them being removed. A chain was lowered.

It was time. 

To Be Continued...


RIP Chak'sa
Let's pause for a moment of silence for dear Chak'sa who gave his reptilian life for the team.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

"The Fane of the Night Serpent" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 22


Ambush!
It was an hour or two before dawn and Bramble had the last watch. Tomorrow would be the fifty-first day since the expedition left Port Nyanzaru. They were encamped within the ruined walls of the crumbling gatehouse. Trees grew within the courtyard walls. The well in the center of the courtyard was long dry and filled with grass and vines. The two saurian behemoths drowsed on the far side of the courtyard. The fat raindrops created a constant patter on the canvas tents in which the others slept.

Bramble noticed a snake slithering through the grass. Then another. Then two more. Something wasn't right. He stood and shouted, "Alarm! Alarm! Wake up! Somebody wake up Zeynap!"

The ancient shape-changing serpent-men known as nagina were upon them!


CHAPTER 22, "FANE OF THE NIGHT SERPENT"

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.
  • Vinnie - rough and tumble dinosaur wrangler who wished to learn from Apparently, possibly from 19th century Boston on Earth. 



Eku, sleeping on the ground in the rain, was the first awake. She transformed herself into a mongoose and rushed a snake on the left flank. Bramble moved to the right flank while Zeynap and Argent emerged from their tents. Zeynap immediately began zapping snakes on the right flank with rainbow bolts of magical energy. Each of the three snakes was immediately transformed back into the form of a nagina warrior - a creature with a human body and the head of a cobra!  They were armed with long-bows.

An unseen snake coiled around Zeynap's leg and bit the warlock in the shin. Zeynap fell to the venomous bite. Bramble summoned the healing spirit of the wolf which rendered aid to Zeynap and Argent who had been similarly stricken by an unseen serpent. 

Both snakes were quickly dispatched before transforming back into nagina warriors! The nagina warriors spun their khopeshes and engaged Argent and Zeynap in close combat!


Eku's mongoose killed the snake causing it to transform into a nagina. Eku abandoned her mongoose form and resumed her natural form as a couatl. Argent meanwhile was supporting his comrades with prayers of protection and healing.


Bramble transformed into a gargantuan fifty-foot boa constrictor and coiled around one of nagina to the right. Zeynap fell under the onslaught of the attackers but was revived by Argent.



Suddenly Xoc-Wik emerged from his brain fever and burst from his tent, bow drawn. He begain picking off nagina at range, moving around behind the tents. One heavily wounded serpent-man was pushed away by Zeynap's blast. The nagina turned and fled. The serpent man made it through the outer gate and was escaping into the dark. Xoc-Wik stepped through the gate and loosed an arrow, killing the fleeing serpent-man at a range of nearly a hundred feet. Another serpent-man fled through the inner gate. Xoc-Wik turned and launched an arrow in a high arc, striking the serpent-man in the back and killing him.

Poison Stew
The serpent-men were all killed and the camp was secure. The party regrouped around the campfire.

Argent began coughing. The coughing became hacking. Argent then collapsed to his knees and began wretching and heaving. He regurgitated the stew he had taken from Bag-of-Nails the day before. It had been poisoned! He was feeling better but the poisoned stew took its toll. Argent decided to rest for the remaining hour before dawn.



Unseen to the party, a dark figure rose from a crouch atop the wall of the courtyard. Its feline eyes narrowed. Argent had survived his poisoned stew. Bag-of-Nails turned and disappeared into the rain and darkness.

DM Note- Yeah, the poison was supposed to strike at midnight. I had big notes written all over everything to remind me to resolve the poison BEFORE the ambush. I forgot anyway. Luckily I remembered immediately after the fight and it made for a good scene anyway. Bag-of-Nails made a great Stealth roll and no one saw him in the distance but I described the scene of Bag-of-Nails rising and disappearing into the pre-dawn darkness anyway because it was so cinematic. The players really appreciated it.

Bag-of-Nails Strikes Again!
The night rains ended and the sun rose over the eastern mountains illuminating the mist covering western portion of hte city. The party geared up for a new excursion into the city. They retraced their steps from the previous day, skirting the lake of lava and crossing the river on the fallen tree.

As they crossed the fallen log, a poisoned arrow flew through the air and struck Argent! Zeynap saw Bag-of-Nails leaping to another rooftop for better position. Zeynap ran across to the shore but lost track of the b'alam hunter. A cackling old voice echoed through the abandoned city, "Did I get him?"

"Yes!" replied Zeynap, "But he's not dead!"

"Gah!" came the unseen reply, "I'll try again later!" The feline assassin then fled the scene.

DM Note- the players joked that as they explored the city they would find little bowls of stew left out with a note that said "Free stew!" every few blocks. 



A Token Resistance
The party eschewed the elevated boulevard and traveled with stealth beneath the tree canopy. They reached the entrance to the circular inner wall without incident. As they passed through the arched gate they encountered two nagina archers who were guarding the entrance. Bramble, Argent, and Eku took cover behend the wall while Zeynap and Xoc-Wik eliminated the archers from range. They found not other guards and continued to the tunnel entrance they had found the previous day. Apparently the nagina believed their ambush would take care of the party so no further guard was necessary.

The Bronze Doors
The party entered the descending tunnel that led under the central tower. The tunnel was wide enough for a four-legged behemoth and cart. The tunnel ended at a pair of heavy bronze doors. The doors were embossed with a bas relief of a circular snake devouring its own tail - the symbol of Jivantaka the Destroyer!

There was a closed peep-hole at head level and small circular holes along the the base of the doors. The doors could be neither pushed nor pulled. Only when the Bramble, Argent, Zeynap, and Xoc-Wik all pulled at the doors in unison was there the sound of a chain breaking followed by the doors sliding open on runners.

Inside the door was a nagina warrior and four nagina degenerates! The nagina warrior hissed orders at his degenerate underlings. They immediately rushed forward and removed four grates covering a wide pit just inside the doorway. The pit was as wide as the corridor, five feet across, ten feet deep, and filled with live snakes! The degenerates then formed a line along the pit to prevent anyone from jumping across.

Xoc-Wik loosed arrows while Zeynap created a magical flaming sphere behind the degenerates. The degenerates dispersed to escape the flame and retreated from the side of the pit, allowing Argent to leap across the pit and engage the degenerates in close battle!

The nagina warrior attempted to escape down a side passage and sound the alarm but was dispatched by Xoc-Wik's arrows before he could succeed. The remaining nagina degenerates were soon defeated and the party made its way safely across the defensive pit.

DM Note- Technically, the PCs should not be able to force open those doors. The inability to force them open is meant to force the players to choose disguise or deception to gain entry. However, my players would never give up so I just adapted the rules for forcing open portcullises. Besides, Bramble or Eku could have turned into a snake, slithered in, and opened the door anyway, so the net result would have been the same.

The Hall of War
The passage narrowed to ten feet wide before opening into a sixty foot by eighty foot room supported by four columns. A large cage containing a three-horn occupied the corner immediately to the right. Carts were stored in the corner to the left. A large statue of a coiled serpent was located atop a stone base in the center of the room. Two alcoves were visible in the dim green light along the right wall.

Four nagina degenerates, having heard the battle in the entrance, were prepared. Two of the degenerates held leashes attached to two squat six-legged reptiles with glowing eyes. They were located at the front of the group awaiting the arrival of the party. The other degenerates, as well as their robed human-looking master, stood warily behind the reptiles.



Bramble immediately summoned two large ferocious bears to form a defensive line in front of the reptiles. The bears fought with the reptiles while Zeynap moved his flaming sphere towards the rear. The human master retreated behind the cover of the statue. The human shouted orders as he plucked small gelatinous eggs out of a sack. He ate the soft eggs like a snack, dribbling long trails of slime down his pointed chin from his lipless mouth.



The degenerates dispersed to avoid the flame. Zeynap cast a spell of shattering which not only injured several of the degenerates, it destroyed the statue! The robed human was suddenly without cover and facing the demise of his degenerate guards. The escaped down a passage to the left. 

DM Note - Zeynap's player was so proud he was able to cast Shatter on something inanimate! 


It soon became obvious that the reptiles possessed the magical ability to turn their opponents into stone! The bears were able to withstand this effect long enough to rend the reptiles and advance. The bears were soon able to destroy the remaining degenerates and the room was clear.

DM Note - Bramble's player called the bear strategy "Wall of Bears". It was the second fight he had cast "Wall of Bears" and he noted that it was very effective! It not only kept the basilisks from getting any closer, the bears kicked out a lot of damage!

Suddenly the entire complex echoed with the sound of two loud peals from a large gong. The alarm had been sounded. The complex was on alert!

To Be Continued!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"Imbok and a Bag of Nails" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 21


The Forbidden City
The party woke with the dawn. It was now the fiftieth day since they left Port Nyanzaru. They had spent the night in the walled compound of the gatehouse in the southwest corner of the Forbidden City of Omu. It was sunny, warm, and humid. Feathered reptile-birds darted overhead chasing large insects. Apparently and Xoc-Wik had both contracted Brain Fever during the night. Vinnie volunteered to stay with them as well as watch over the two saurian beasts of burden.

The rest of the party- Bramble, Zeynap, Argent, and Eku - gathered their equipment to begin their exploration of the city. From their vantage point on the raised ledge they could see the waterfall to the northern third of the east side of the city, the circular walls and towers along the middle-third, and the lake of lava on the southern third. They could also see the elevated boulevards that allowed easy but conspicuous travel through the ruins. What were once city streets were now choked with jungle trees and dense foliage. Only the tops of the crumbling buildings rose above the canopy of the trees. They decided to avoid the boulevards and stick to the streets which concealed their travel.

They climbed down the steep slope of the ledge overlooking the city and avoided the ruined buildings. They made their way to the land-bridge connecting the promontory overlooking the lake of lava to the rest of the city.


They parted the palm fronds as they neared the land bridge and saw a group of small humanoid beings. The creatures appeared to be human-shaped but made of blue-gray mold. Each creature was no taller than a man's waist. Two of the mold-men were carrying a green-skinned frog of equivalent size. The giant frog was tied up so that it couldn't move and was gagged. The mold-men were led by a larger leader. They seemed to be a procession taking the frog over the land-bridge to the promontory. This tableau presented only one possible scenario - they were planning on sacrificing the frog to the lava!



CHAPTER 21, "IMBOK AND A BAG OF NAILS"

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.
  • Vinnie - rough and tumble dinosaur wrangler who wished to learn from Apparently, possibly from 19th century Boston on Earth. 
The Rescue
Argent stepped forward and gave a peaceful greeting. He then requested that the pygmy mold-men release their prisoner, offering the blessings of Bahamut over any gift they believed they might receive from the lava.

The chief of the mold-men cocked his turnip-shaped head and spoke in an unintelligible series of hisses and rasps.

"Anybody speak their language? Eku, how about you?" asked Argent.

"I'm afraid I do not." replied Eku.

Argent repeated his offer to the mold-pygmies. The chieftain became visibly annoyed and hissed orders to his compatriots, pointing angrily at the interlopers.

The two mold-pygmies holding the bound amphibian prisoner resumed moving towards the edge of the cliff accompanied by two guards. The chieftain and four others spread out in a semi-circle. They formed slings out of vines growing on their bodies, loaded them with stones, and began spinning.

Argent stepped forward and the slingers let fly. A few ricocheted off Argent's armor with a loud "PANG!" but a few found their mark. Two of the mold-pygmies then formed wooden talons and closed with Argent.

Argent whispered a prayer of protection to provide sanctuary to the bound prisoner. The two mold-pygmiesholding the prisoner began to hesitate.

DM Note- Sanctuary requires anyone who might attack the protected target to need to succeed against a Saving Throw. I ruled that both carriers would need to lose their saving throws in order to throw the prisoner over the side. If one succeeded and the other failed, the prisoner was safe.

Argent had received a few blows and was looking injured. Bramble called out, "How are you doing, Argent?"

"I've felt better!" was his labored reply.

"I'm not a great healer but I can see what I can do!" replied Bramble.

"Don't worry about it," shouted Zeynap, "I'm a great healer! I got this!"

Argent hewed through his foes with his axe. To his surprise, the injuries began to heal!

"Eku! What are these things? How do we kill them?" asked Argent.

"If I recall correctly, I believe their healing ability is curtailed by fire, poison, or necromancy!"

Bramble summoned forth a spirit of flame which harried the mold-pygmies holding the prisoner, forcing them to drop their prisoner and run away from the rolling ball of flame. Bramble then ran up and attacked one of the mold-pygmieswith his staff.

Zeynap created a magical hand of icy necromancy that floated around touching the mold-pygmies. Whatever the hand touched was shocked with powerful death magic.


The chieftain closed with Argent and Bramble. He planted his feet and clenched his fists as if in great physical effort. A bulbous shape worked its way up from the chieftain's core, through his chest and neck, swelling his head, and bursting out of the top of his head in a great explosion of pollen that engulfed both Bramble and Argent. The pair coughed and cleared the pollen out of their eyes but were otherwise unharmed.

The amphibian prisoner had been dropped as the ball of flame chased the mold-pygmies around the circular promontory. The prisoner was sliding towards the edge. Zeynap ran past Argent and Bramble and grabbed the prisoner before he fell over the side into the lava far below.

A mold-pygmy caught Argent off-guard with a sling stone to the head. Argent fell down.

Bramble stared at the fallen form of Argent in disbelief before turning his ire to Zeynap, "What happened? I thought you had this?"

"Uh, I was waiting for the sign." replied Zeynap sheepishly.

"What the hell was the sign?" demanded Bramble.

"Him falling over?" replied Zeynap as he carried the bound frog-man away from the edge of the promontory.

Bramble gritted his teeth and called upon the spirits of the forest to heal Argent. The dragon-man stood back up and continued fighting.

The chieftain was quickly dispatched and the rest of the mold-pygmies were soon defeated.

The amphibian's bindings were removed. He stood up to reveal a humanoid tree-frog with bright green skin. He thanked his rescuers with obsequious bowing and babbling in his native tongue which no one understood.

The little frog-man used a mixture of his own squeaking high-pitched language and pantomime to communicate that his name was "Imbok". After learning the names of everyone in the party, he implored them to follow him. The party agreed. They accompanied the little frog-man, whom Eku identified as a "grung", north along the west side of the lake of lava. The encountered a waterfall where the water that flooded the northeast portion of the city drained into the lava. Imbok took them to a large fallen tree that bridged the draining water about two hundred feet above the falls. He motioned for the party to follow him across.


The Ambush
The fallen tree was ten feet wide and crossing the flowing water proved easy. Something bothered Zeynap, however. He had a bad feeling.

Suddenly Zeynap was struck by a poisoned-tipped hunting arrow loosed from a hidden archer on a rooftop fifty yards away. Zeynap gurgled and staggered backwards clutching the arrow protruding from his shoulder. He looked at his companions who stared dumbfounded at the sight. Zeynap managed to take a deep breath and regain his composure. He was severely wounded but not fatally so. He saw his attacker leap from the roof of the building on the right to the roof of the building on the left. The archer was lithe with a long tail - a b'alam hunter from the continent of Bres!

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Zeynap and the others quickly moved off the tree to the forested bank. They had no line of sight on the attacker. Eku transformed into flying reptile-bird and took flight. She circled over a rooftop to indicate the hidden position of the attacker. A few more arrows flew past as they made their way through the trees.

As they neared the base of the buildings, the party members became wary. They moved cautiously, scanning the rooftops. There was a blur as the b'alam darted from the building on the left to the building on the right across the vine-choked streets in front of them. The b'alam climbed the building on right in a flash. He leaned over the roof and took aim.

Bramble was ready for him. He called upon the spirits of nature and engulfed the b'alam in a glowing nimbus of magical energy. Zeynap cast a powerful attack spell and the b'alam hissed in pain and anger.

The b'alam threw up his hands and called out in Atlantean, "I surrender! I give up!"

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Bag-of-Nails
The elderly b'alam hunter introduced himself as "Bag-of-Nails". It was clear to the party that Bag-of-Nails was a few candles short in his chandelier. Bag-of-Nails would speak a few sentences then forget where he was, then immediately begin speaking about an entirely different subject, then loop back again to the beginning. Sometimes Bag-of-Nails would seem to forget where he was entirely, believing he was back in his homeland of Bres in younger days. Other times he would react to the party as if he had just saw them all over again.

From Bag-of-Nails fragmented non-sequiters they gleaned that he had come here looking for the legendary artifact "the Navel of the Moon" which he planned to use to find his missing son. Bag-of-Nails had never heard of the Soulmonger and could provide no clues to its location. They also learned that he was accompanied by two other b'alam - Hooded-Lantern and Copper-Bell. All three were hunting a gargantuan beast known as the "King of Feathers" - a monstrous enemy that moved like a ghost and could walk through walls. He had attacked the party because he believed them to be rivals who had also come to kill the King of Feathers.

Bag-of-Nails insistently offered to cook the party some stew. They repeatedly declined. Eventually Argent agreed to have some stew so they entered the nearby structure in which Bag-of-Nails was camped.

The structure was formerly the home of a troupe of Omuan actors. Wooden and clay masks were mounted on the walls, many had fallen to the floor and were broken. Zeynap looked around while Bag-of-Nails prepared some stew for Argent. Zeynap found four gem-encrusted masks hidden away, each worth 25 gold coins. He stashed them in a sack to display later.

Zeynap rejoined the party as Argent finished his stew. They thanked the old b'alam for his hospitality and bade him farewell.


Chief Yorb
Imbok led the party onto a nearby elevated boulevard leading east. The party was wary of being so in the open but nothing bad happened. Imbok left the boulevard and turned north, towards the central tower surrounded by a great circular wall. Thousands of black leathery-winged reptiles slowly orbited the tower  giving the impression of swirling dark cloud. Imbok led them around the outside of round walls that surrounded the tower, warily looking in all directions as if he were afraid for his life.


The party circled around the back of the wall and arrived at Imbok's home, the flooded northeast third of the city. Imbok led them to a walled compound surrounded by knee-deep water. The walls were breached in several places, Two monoliths carved like frogs flanked the entrance. Within was a structure shaped like a trapezoid. Its ancient roof was covered in vines and trees. A hadrosaur fed on lake grass nearby.

Dozens of small frog-people crouched in the water, the tops of the heads and eyes peeking above the water. Fist-sized tad-poles swam around Argent's ankles.  Archers on the tree-covered roof appeared and drew their bows. Four orange-skinned warriors emerged from the lake. Imbok intervened and introduced his new friends. A large gold-skinned leader wearing a magnificent headdress emerged and greeted Imbok then addressed the party.

Though they could not understand his words, the party gathered that the chieftains name was Yorb and that he was grateful for the return of Imbok who was some kind of off-spring.

After the offering of thanks, it soon became clear that the two groups could not understand each other. So they stood there in awkward silence with nothing really to say. Argent smiled politely.

Zeynap finally got the hint, "I think we're done here and he's politely trying to ask us to leave."

Argent replied, "Yes, of course. We'll take our leave now."

In Search of the Soulmonger
Having delivered Imbok safely to his people, the party decided to resume their search for the Soulmonger. Their prime target was the tower within the circular inner walls orbited by the dark swarm of black leathery-winged reptiles. They retraced their steps along the outside of the wall until they found an entrance. They passed through the gate and carefully advanced.


The interior of the wall was composed of more jungle-clad ruins. Dozens, possibly hundreds of snakes of all types slithered on every tree branch and surface. Zeynap spun around as three humanoid figures with serpentine heads appeared seemingly from nowhere! The serpent-men were the twisted half-blooded warriors who served as the guards of the dreaded Nagina Samrajya! They had assumed the forms of snakes and were lying in wait with the other snakes in the area. The half-bloods abandoned their serpentine disguises, drew their bows, and loosed poisoned arrows at the party!

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One nagina warrior approached from behind the party. Two others emerged in front of the party. Zeynap engaged the warrior to the rear with magical spells while Argent and Bramble advanced on the enemies in front.

The rear nagina drew an ancient khopesh and rushed Zeynap. Bramble transformed himself into a massive snake and coiled around the nagina to the right, crushing the serpent-man in his powerful coils. Argent challenged the serpent man to the left to a duel. The serpent man threw down his bow and charged Argent with his khopesh.

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The nagina warrior struggled futilely against Bramble's constriction. Frustrated the warrior transformed himself into a snake and the two serpents coiled and twisted in mortal combat!

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Zeynap was able to dispatch the first serpent man and moved to support Argent. Argent warned him to stay away lest he interrupt the duel. Meanwhile Bramble had squeezed all life out of his opponent.

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Eventually Argent was able to defeat his foe and secure the area. They continued their search and discovered a tunnel leading underneath the tower. A foul stench emanated from the tunnel and many tracks showed recent movement into and out of the subterranean lair. The party, however, was exhausted from their exploration of the city and they many battles. They made a note of the location of the entrance and decided to retreat to a safe location to rest.

Exhaustion Sets In
The party returned to the grung compound hoping to rest within its walls. Orange-skinned guards intercepted them before they could enter. The party asked if they could rest within the compound. Chief Yorb, standing behind the guards, smiled blankly. He had no idea what they were saying.

When the party tried to advanced into the compound, the guards blocked their way. Chief Yorb stood resolute, still smiling. His meaning was clear. They were still friends but they were not welcome in the compound. Zeynap sighed and the party discussed their next plan.


The party decided to return to the basecamp from whence they began. It was mid-afternoon. They retraced their steps through the city, circling the outside of the inner wall, traveling down the elevated boulevard, crossing the fallen log, and climbing the embankment to the walled gate house. The route they traveled across the city took about fifteen minutes to traverse. There they decided to rest for the remainder of the day. They would return to the entrance to underground lair tomorrow.


To Be Continued...