Thursday, November 13, 2014

"The Secret Citadel", Chapter 1 of Deception Pass

Absolom rejoins the party and they head into the mountains to rescue Princess Murti, who was captured two months ago by a mysterious flying cyclops with magic powers. There they find an ancient dwarfish citadel where nothing is as it seems!


The party:
Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan parentage (Level 5 Half-Elf Wizard)

Thaddeus, Under-City Scout from Swallow (Level 4 Human Ranger)



Balatan of Clan Brocktaw, Bronze Draconic Priest of Bahamut (Level 3 Dragonborn Cleric)

and Re-Introducing...
Absolom, Justicar (Level 4 Human Cleric)
And Introducing, FINALLY...
Gravy, Priest of Thumn (Level 4 Human Cleric)

Meanwhile, in Flinch...
Their pacification of the lost mine of Elder Flinch now completed, the party contemplated their next move. Valerius had returned to Swallow to attend the trial and sentencing of the Spider. Winterfrost returned to the Feywild. This left Aline and Thaddius. 

Thaddius wanted to take a party of adventurers into the mountains to rescue Princess Murti. Two months ago, Thaddius was a member of the expedition, along with Absolom, Babu, Knott, and Jilani, that undertook the mission to escort Princess Murti through the Defile of Castragon. The expedition was ambushed high in the mountain pass by a cyclops casting spells from a magic wand. The cyclops defeated the party and took them prisoner, Absolom, however, was knocked over a cliff to fall to his doom. They were taken to an ancient abandoned citadel on the slopes of Mount Ignoit. After a few weeks of captivity, Thaddius was able to escape but was unable to free the rest of the party. He vowed to get help and return.

Now Thaddius was in Flinch, recruiting an expedition to free his colleagues. 

Aline and Thaddius' first recruit was Balatan, the draconic priest. While talking to other potential recruits, Absolom walked in!

Absolom was looking healthy, more robust, stronger than he had ever looked before. Thaddius, taken aback, greeted his friend. Absolom explained that he had survived the fall and had been rescued by some monks who lived in a secret temple high atop Mount Pachuat. There he spent a year recovering from his injuries and training in the martial arts of the monks. Thaddius, confused, said that he had never heard of such a temple and that only two months had passed. Absolom explained that space and time did not apply within the temple and that it was a secret, magical place. 

The next day, the party took the ferry across the lake and passed through the massive ruined Eastern Gate into the Defile of Castragon. 

The Shadow of a Man
After a few hours of hiking, they came to the spot where, eight days ago, an enterprising ogre had built a makeshift roadblock only to be defeated by Varis, Fitong, and Braxton. The roadblock had been mostly dismantled, but the ogre's body was now carrion. A strange beast was feeding on the carcass. The beast resembled a giant eagle with the head of a stags. It looked up and beared its gruesome fangs and bloodshot eyes. It let out a whooping call that echoed through the canyon as it took to the air. Thaddius identified the beast as a peryton. 

It was soon joined by two similar beasts who had been sheltered from view. The three beasts swooped upon the party, grasping and clawing with their mighty talons. After a vicious battle, the beasts were defeated.

Almost immediately afterwards, the carcass of the dead ogre rose up as an animated zombie. It lurched towards the party, a puppet controlled by the dark energy of the defile. Absolom turned the vile thing and it wandered away. The party then peppered it with arrows from range, eventually destroying the undead monster. Afterwards, they continued on.

By noon, the party reached the hidden stairs that climbed Mount Ignoit to the secret citadel. There they stopped for lunch. Absolom reached into his bag of holding to retrieve a piece of equipment, only to find a sleeping man!

He pulled the man out of the bag. It was Gravy! Gravy awoke, groggy and disoriented. He adjusted his dented helmet and rubbed his eyes. He had no idea how he came to be located inside the bag. Gravy, of course, never has any idea how he came to be located anywhere, so that was nothing new. Gravy was a wandering priest who often showed up in Flinch before disappearing again for weeks at a time. 

The party was nonplussed by Gravy's sudden appearance, but nonetheless offered him food and asked if he would accompany them on their quest. Gravy absentmindedly agreed. 

After lunch, they began climbing the hidden stairs to the Secret Citadel.

The Secret Citadel
After hours of climbing stairs cut into the side of a sheer cliff, several members were exhausted. Above, they could see large semi-circular stone wall and two towers built into the cliff, the top of one of the towers was heavily damaged. The stairs ended in a short landing in front of a heavy iron door built into the base of the wall. Balatan and Thaddius approached the door and were surprised when it shot out like a piston, hitting them with incredible force and slamming them into the ground. Simultaneously, thousands of steel ball bearings were released onto the floor. They could hear someone running away and slamming an inner door behind them. The outer door piston tried to reset but was old and rusted and became stuck. The party carefully, slowly, and cautiously entered the inner area. 

They found a semi-circular corridor inside the stone wall and a smaller round structure within, the base of one of the towers. A door and several arrow slits were located in the tower base. A large pile of rocky debris formed a mound on one side of the tower, the scree of an ancient rock-slide mixed with tumbled stones from a ruined upper part of the tower. A crossbow quarrel shot out of one of the arrow slits, hitting Thaddius. 

The party, moving slowly over the ball bearings, made their way to the pile of debris, large enough to allow access to the open part of the tower above. As they started climbing, dozens of scorpions began to swarm out of the pile. Alarmed, they retreated quickly, brushing off the scorpions. Swearing off the pile of debris, they moved to the inner door. The door was old and rotten and easily busted off its hinges.

A Fire Giant?
Inside they found three goblins armed with short spears. The goblins were frightened to death and hesitant to fight. As soon as Aline moved to cast a spell on one, they all dropped their weapons and ran away. Thaddius managed to grab one for interrogation. The other two ran down the left-most of three corridors.

The goblin prisoner revealed that he was the slave of a fire giant who would eat them if they disobeyed. When asked in what direction the prison cells lay, the goblin indicated one of three corridors, the one to the far right, but could offer no other information. He was not allowed to go there. When asked about the crossbow quarrel, for there was no crossbow in the tower, the goblin answered that a human guard was normally stationed outside the tower. A moment ago, he came inside, fired his crossbow, then ran off down the middle corridor. The goblin was told to flee down the stairs, which he did.

Thaddius, on hearing of a possible fire giant, began to question their ability to rescue the princess.

A Vampire?
The party cautiously made their way down the far-right corridor, ignoring a passage to the right when they were spotted by two human guards in a room farther down the hall. The guards closed a door with an opening to allow them to fire arrows from cover and began shooting at the party. Aline responded with a magic spell that caused one of the guards to momentarily catch on fire while Absolom called upon the holy power of Justica to close the opening.  While the door was completely closed, the party rushed down the hall. When the remaining guard reopened the door, they fought weapon-to-weapon through the opening. 

The guards were soon defeated but not killed. Thaddius recognized them immediately. They were mercenary caravan guards named Willie and Drew. He had seen them on several of his many smuggling trips through the defile. When questioned, they revealed that they had been captured by a vampire and that the undead fiend had threatened to drain their blood if they tried to escape. They bore no ill will towards the party and simply wished to escape. They told the party that the prison cells were just down the hall to the right. 

Learning of the vampire, Thaddius now questioned whether each of the three corridors was ruled by a different monster or whether they were truly facing the creatures they thought they were facing.

Prison Break
The party made their way down the hall, passing through a storage room filled with assorted junk, and into the dungeon. The dungeon was locked but unguarded. When asked why he didn't remember where the dungeon was after he escaped from them, Thaddius replied that when he escaped, it was completely dark. He made his way out by feel and luck alone and was unable to recognize any of the passages. 

Within the dungeon, they found nine cells. The cells were occupied by Knott, Babu, Jilani, and a gnome merchant named Aro. Princess Murti was nowhere to be seen. When asked, the prisoners said she was taken away by the vampire several hours ago. 

Absolom called upon the aid of his goddess, Justica, to point him towards Princess Murti. He got a sense of her location, somewhere northwest and up from their current position. The party took the rescued prisoners back to the room with the two human guards. Thaddius gave Knott some of the old rusted weapons from the storeroom. They told the guards they were free to go so long as they helped escort the freed prisoners back down the mountain to Flinch. 

Flying Armor
The party then moved in the general direction of Princess Murti. The passed through a great hall that had been blasted by an explosion in ages past. A large mural of a map of the valley was painted on one wall. Arrows and symbols indicating troop movements and plans of attack were drawn over the map, showing a planned assault of Flinch and Swallow. The party kept moving.

They moved into an antechamber with four exits. As they entered the room, the door behind him mysteriously slammed shut. Continuing their pursuit of Princess Murti, they chose the door to the left. Beyond the door was a display room filled with suits of dwarfish armor.

They cautiously made their way through the room. Suddenly, one of the suits of armor flew into the air and fell down crashing to the ground, barely missing from Thaddius. 

"Is that you, master?"
They hastily exited the room down a corridor leading them roughly back to the entrance tower. They came to a large room, a defensive position and intersection of several corridors. They saw three guards, a human, a half-elf, and a dwarf carrying a staff. Thaddius recognized the human as Homer, another captured caravan guard. They had put a table on its side in front of the far corridor, the one that led to the entrance, and were awaiting attack. The dwarf was watching the rear and alerted his colleagues of the party's appearance.

Gravy confidently strode into the room, announcing that the citadel was under attack and that the guards were to go that way, indicating a direction, immediately. Homer was confused, he squinted at Gravy for a moment and asked, "Master, is that you?"

The dwarf next to him looked visibly annoyed, rolled his eyes, and slapped Homer on the back of the head as if to say, "I am your master, idiot!" He then pointed the staff at the party. A cone of ice and snow blasted the party, incapacitating Balatan, Gravy, and Absolom. 

Thaddius rushed into the room to do battle and Aline responded with a fireball spell. The human and the half-elf were taken out immediately. The dwarf, mysteriously, seemed little affected. 

Meanwhile, Gravy and Absolom quickly bounced back from being frozen. They shook off the ice and began healing the rest of the party. 

The dwarf, injured and under attack from Thaddius, flew away down far hallway! As he did so he faded from visibility!

A Mystery Revealed!
Shaken from the attack, the party retreated to the armor room. As they were moving to open the far door, suits of armor were rising into the air and crashing around them. Sooner or later, someone was going to get hurt! 

Suddenly a cyclops became visible in the middle of the room! The cyclops produced a wand and engulfed the party in another icy cone of cold, much as before. The party assaulted the cyclops with spell and blade. Wounded, the cyclops turned invisible and tried to flee. Absolom called forth the power of his goddess to cause the room to fill with sprinkling glowing glitter. The glitter formed the outline of the invisible cyclops. The party then attacked the fleeing invisible cyclops with arrow and spell, slaying it before it could escape.

The monster once more became visible as it died. However, it was no longer a cyclops, but a strange blue-skinned humanoid, twice the size of a man, with yellow eyes and short horns on its forehead. It was wearing dark blue garb like that of a ninja, complete with tabi socks and wrapped arms and legs. 

Thaddius suspicions were correct. They were fighting a legendary oni, a shape-changing ogre magi.

Down the corridor they had left, they heard loud plaintive wailing, like a Japanese Noh singer mourning the death of a comrade. 

The implication was clear. Thaddius gritted his teeth and sighed. There were more.

TO BE CONTINUED.

Deception Pass was an AD&D adventure written by Rich Stump for Dungeon Magazine #23. It was originally designed for 4-7 players of levels 7-9. It's was a good fit for an adventure set in a mountain pass. The pass Deception Pass was in fact very similar to how I imagined the Defile of Castragon and it even featured ogres, sort of.

I'm running the adventure in 5E, using 5E Monster Manual statistics. The original module had two oni disguised as dwarves in the "Is that you, master?" section. After reading "Cone of Cold", I quickly removed one of the disguised oni. I didn't want a TPK so soon.