Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"The Duma" - Chapter 3 of Dwellers of the Forbidden City

Aline Aflame!
This week, the company encounters a dangerous giant reptile, must appease some troublesome tree spirits, infiltrate the main entrance of the forbidden city, make a new ally while defeating a dangerous aboleth, use stealth to gain entry past a trapped gate, use misdirection and guile to fool a patrol, and finally create a lot of noxious smoke while fighting a giant bloodworm.

The Group:
  • Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan* parentage (Wizard 7)
  • Inza, aka "The Shadow", Human Shadow-Warrior (Monk 6/Sorcerer 1)
  • Randalf Azul, Human Abjurer (Wizard 7)
  • Duma, bestial jungle hunter of half-Human/half-Ourk parentage (Ranger 7)
Not Present this week:
  • Gravy, Human Priest of Thumina (Cleric 7)
  • Lodar, Prairiefolk** Barbarian (Barbarian 7)

When we last saw our heroes, they were following the trail of lizard- and frog-men to their hidden city deep within the Crying Swamp. The team was trapped on an island by the rising tide and decided to rest for the night, a rest that was haunted by the cries and moans of hundreds of swamp-ghosts.

A Giant Reptile
The company woke under a dark writhing cloud of flies. The swarm sounded like a million people constantly exhaling. The cloud hovered at just about 5 feet off the ground, forcing the company to pack their camp while crouched or prone. After eating and packing, the company prepared to follow the trail of the swamp dwellers. Unfortunately, Gravy and Lodar were nowhere to be found. They had wandered off and were probably lost. Nothing could be done, the company was on a schedule, so they decided to press on. But first, Randalf performed a magical ritual that allowed all the members of the company to breathe underwater, should they choose, for the rest of the day. They had no intention of entering the rivers of the swamps, but he felt it was a sensible precaution nonetheless.
Where in the nine hells did Gravy go now?
The company then followed the trail to the edge of a waterway with steep muddy banks. The tracks picked up again on the other side. Off in the distance, they could see the obsidian walls of the forbidden city rising hundreds of feet above the swamp.

Aline loaded Inza on her flying broom and the pair coasted across the yellow-brown channel, leaving Randalf on the bank. Suddenly, a giant sail-backed reptile burst out of the water and up the bank. In a flash, Randalf was caught in its massive jaws!

Randalf Azul
Inza and Aline quickly turned around. Randalf, screaming, disappeared in a puff of silvery mist, reappearing thirty feet away. The great sail-backed beast scrabbled across the loamy bank and grabbed Randalf once more. Inza leaped from the broom and onto the back of the reptilian carnivore, punching it repeatedly before Aline killed it with her magic spells.

Once the creature was defeated, they were able to cross the river without further incident.

Troublesome Tree Spirits
The trail led into a dense thicket of mangrove, vines, and cyprus trees. Here the mangroves grew so close together that the branches intertwined like wicker. Yet somehow, the trail led right through it. When they pushed through the brush, it seemed to grow stronger, weaving around them, actively resisting their progress. Rather than become trapped, they decided to back away.

Aline sent her imp, which she had named Indigo, up above the trees to scout ahead. All he could see was the top of the canopy of trees all around the obsidian walls. She ordered him to descend into the thicket, and he reluctantly complied. However, he soon found himself trapped in the upper reaches of the tree canopy. He cried for his mistress' help.

Inza took out a sword and began to chop his way through the vines. Suddenly, a voice shouted, "Killer! Defiler of the sacred grove! Enemy of the trees! Destroy them!"

The company was taken aback! They dropped their weapons and held out their palms, appealing for calm. The tree branches wove together to form a wicker face, complete with eyes and moving mouth. "How dare you defile the sacred grove?"

DM Note: I formed the branch-face by interlocking the fingers of my hands, using my pinkies as a moving mouth. I gave the branch-face a crass nasal voice, like a bureaucrat. 

Inza, Randalf, and Aline pleaded ignorance and asked for parley. They asked the branch-face of the nature of the grove. The branch-face explained that they were guardians of the forbidden city, that the city was a sacred place of Anuran. The company asked about the lizard-men and the frog-men, hoping that the trees would find displeasure with the creatures. The branch-face responded that the swamp-dwellers were the children of Anuran and were subject to their protection. When asked why they protected Anuran, the branch-face replied "Anuran is a god of the Aslak, sent to punish the wicked city known as Sinopia. He has made the ruins of Sinopia his home."

Aline countered, "Anuran has become corrupt! He feeds upon sacrifices of the city of Thither and provides nothing in return!"

The branch-face dismissed the argument, "The affairs of mortals are of no concern of ours!"

Randalf pressed, "Anuran has been banished from this plane. He no longer resides in Sinopia. Your protection is no longer necessary."

The tree responded, "Anuran is still a god, and he will return! He is to be afforded the honor and deference due to him!"

Inza advanced, "Nevertheless, we must stop the bullywugs from summoning Anuran back to this plane. You must let us pass so that we can fulfill our mission."

"None may pass through the sacred grove! The trees of the sacred grove are inviolate! Noble! Incorruptible!"

A second branch-face formed, interjecting, "Now hold on a minute..."

DM Note: I used the same hand-puppet technique on the other branch-face, but his voice was lower, friendlier, almost like a character from the Venture Bros. I would position the finger-faces in different angles to represent the different speakers.

The first was stopped mid-sentence, "What?  Why do you interrupt?"

The second branch-face addressed the first, "You heard the mammal. Anuran is gone. We've all felt it. What are we protecting? We have a rare opportunity. Perhaps these travelers may be of use to us. Perhaps they have something they can offer..."

The first branch-face sputtered.

Randalf inquired, "What might we offer?"

The second branch-face looked them up and down.

Randalf suggested, "We have magic weapons and treasures..."

The branch-face balked at the suggestion. "We have no need for sharp instruments or baubles. What we could really use is a dryad. Bring us a dryad and we will let you pass!"

Randalf tugged on his beard, "I don't think we can bring you a dryad."

"Then how about a circle of druids? Bring us a circle of druids! They're handy!"

Randalf considered this, "Umm.. anything else?"

The two branch-faces conferred, arguing in whispers. Finally the first branch-face won out, "Yes. The sanctity of the forbidden city has been violated from below by outsiders. They have the bodies of serpents with torsos and arms like your own. They are led by an evil wizard. You must defeat them! If you promise to kill them, we will let you pass. Only by bringing us proof of their destruction will we allow you to leave this city alive. Do you so promise?"

The company deliberated and came to a consensus. "Yes, we will do this for you! But first, there is an imp trapped in your canopy. Please release him to our custody."


And so was the company allowed to gain access through the sacred grove of guardian tree spirits.

DM Note: This interlude was completely ad-libbed and was the result of a randomly rolled encounter. It was a very fun role-playing moment for me and for the players. I was all prepared for a fight vs. animated trees. But the players had a great time interacting with the comic relief tree-spirits. 

Enter the Duma
The company followed the tracks to a wide tunnel carved into the base of the vast obsidian wall. They debated the merits and possible difficulties of a head-on assault through the main entrance versus a stealthy invasion via another more subtle path.

They decided to explore around the wall for a bit. Inza found a climbable path that zig-zagged up the side of the glassy black walls. He climbed to the edge and looked down to see the city below. The sky was teeming with wasps the size of ponies. Nearby was a massive cyprus tree which could be reached with rope and grapples. He also saw a possible path down the opposite wall. He climbed back down to report his finding.

Near the main entrance, they also found a pile of moss covered scree and a small trickling stream emerging from what might be a vine-shrouded cave. They approached cautiously, but the emergence of several animated corpses covered in yellow mushrooms caused them to retreat quickly. The company left the area and the zombies and decided to take the main entrance.

DM Note: Yeah, I screwed up the zombie encounter. The zombies were supposed to wait until after the party walked past them before they got up, forcing the party inside. Instead, I had them get up too quickly and scared the party away.

The main entrance led down a long wide tunnel that sloped down. A wall blocked the tunnel ahead, leaving only a narrow path flanked by a deep underground creek to the left. Inza took the narrow path and somehow lost his footing for he immediately fell into the water!

Randalf lowered his staff to help Inza out but Inza was soon set upon by a massive amorphous grey underwater shape that emerged from a deep pool in a cavern a hundred feet upstream! The water was quickly filled with slimy mucous, like that of a massive hag-fish! There was a brief glimpse of a shiny white tail like that of a gargantuan catfish along with writhing catfish-like barbels or tentacles!

The water became a frothing white mess of muculent bubbles when suddenly, a dark flash dropped from the ceiling to engage the aquatic alien horror!
Inza and the stranger battle the alien menace!
Randalf and Aline were helpless, unable to adequately see the creature to apply magical spells and incantations against it! Inza and the stranger fought the terror hand-to-hand. For several moments, it felt as if their minds were under assault from the alien mentality of the glutinous fish-monster! At one point, the brave newcomer came face-to-face with the three cold dark orbs of alien malevolence that  were the eyes of the subterranean nightmare.

Eventually, the two slime-covered fighters were able to defeat the underwater monster. The bizarre alien creature disintegrated into its own slime once dead, leaving nothing but its limp glistening skin. When they tried to leave the water, only Inza was able to breathe air. The stranger began to gasp and wheeze before he returned himself into the water, which he discovered he could breathe normally. Inza returned to the water to communicate with the newcomer.

The Duma hunts alone!
The stranger introduced himself as Duma. He was a hunter from a clan of jungle-dwellers. He was, himself, the offspring of a human and an ourk, which was common among the primitive tribes in the jungle. Duma had come to the Forbidden City searching for the wizard that had killed his tribe, a story that had become unfortunately (and uncannily) common recently!

After the pair searched the deep pool under the waterfall for treasure, finding several gems and an incense burner, they decided to leave Duma in the watery pool, hoping that the respiratory affliction of the alien creature would wear off in time.

Ahead of them, a narrow path cut was cut into the rock wall behind the waterfall, allowing access to a tunnel entrance at the top of a small bluff. Inza, studying the tunnel carefully, saw shapes moving in the darkness. While Aline and Randalf rode the flying broom to the tunnel, Inza mysteriously disappeared into a shadow only to reappear behind the figures in the tunnel entrance. The figures were in fact frog-men, armed with javelins, and pushing a barrel towards the waterfall.

Inza stealthily dispatched one of the frog-men while the other two threw javelins at the approaching wizards. He soon killed a second.  The third barely survived an attack and tried to run away while the fourth, realizing oil and wizards were a dangerous combination, quickly threw the barrel over the cliff. Inza disappeared into shadow and reappeared in front of the fleeing frog-man who was quickly dispatched while Aline easily eliminated the fourth.

The Main Gate
The tunnel at the top of the cliff was smooth and made by intelligent hands. It led about a hundred feet and around a corner to emerge in the corner of a chamber shaped like a right triangle. In the far corner was a twenty-foot wide barred gate flanked by two stout columns, each with a shuttered window.

Inza the Shadow
Inza told the other two to wait in the corridor. He disappeared into a shadow and reappeared on the inside of the barred gate. He saw a door at the base of each pillar. He stealthily opened one door, revealing two short furry humanoids, like a cross between a chimpanzee and a goblin, lazily playing some kind of game with round stones. He killed them both before either could act or raise an alarm.

He then made his way to the other column, only to encounter one of the furry creatures emerging from the door. He likewise killed the interloper and his companion in the pillar before they could react.

Looking inside each pillar, he could find no means of opening or unlocking the gate. He waved the other two to approach.

Together, they examined the gate. Eventually Randalf pushed the gate open, finding it unlocked. However, doing so caused a concealed spike trap in the ceiling to swing down! Aline and Randalf quickly dodged out of the way, barely avoiding the devious trap!

DM Note: I really screwed up this encounter, but shhh, don't tell the players. They never noticed. I didn't read the room well enough, so I wound up not seeing that there were 12 more Tasloi waiting behind the concealed door! On top of that I read the trap wrong, initially describing it as a pit-fall. I quickly noticed that one and quickly corrected. I also interpreted the gate as a barred gate, which allowed Inza to teleport to the other side. In retrospect I should have made it a stout iron door or something tougher. 

Giant Spider
The trio continued down the wide dark tunnel, eventually encountering a natural cave leading to the left. On a whim, they decided to explore it. A few dozen feet into the rough passage, Aline walked into a mass of sticky webs lain across the floor and draped from the ceiling. Before she could free herself, a spider the size of a large sow crawled out of a hidden niche and moved towards her. The trio attacked the spider with dagger and spell and killed it and its normal sized kin before they could approach closer. Aline proceeded to use a flame touch spell to melt away the webbing that entrapped her.

Stealth and Guile
However, the racket caused something down a branching passage to take notice. Inza thought he heard movement, shushed the others into silence, and directed them to take cover.

Aline ordered Indigo the imp to turn invisible and scout ahead. The diminutive devil complied. The invisible imp soon found himself back in the smooth tunnel in the midst of over a dozen primitive chimpanzee-goblins led by a massive snake with a human torso and arms. The snake creature carried weapons and whispered commands to the chimpanzee-goblins in an unknown language. One of the primitive creatures acknowledged his orders and silently crept forward.

Aline communicated what Indigo saw to Inza. Inza waited for the chimpanzee-goblin to come closer before he grabbed the creature and covered its mouth, killing him silently.

Inza then used the mystic abilities of his monastic order to create an illusory distraction farther down the tunnel, away from their position. The snake-man immediately looked in that direction and ordered his thralls to investigate.

With the successful distraction, the trio moved farther down the natural passage, away from the tunnel.

The Bloodworm
The passage curved around to the left for a few hundred feet then opened into a small round chamber about thirty feet in diameter. Even as they approached the chamber, the trio could smell something odd in the air. Aline and Randalf recognized the smell of flammable oil.

The chamber was filled with water. Three or four dark boulders barely rose out of the water to form a path to an exit on the far side. Inza emerged from a shadow in the farther passage and waved the other two across. Aline and Randalf rode Aline's flying broom across the water-filled chamber.

They were halfway across when the boulders came to life! The boulders were, in fact, the back of a large worm-like creature with a bony exoskeleton resembling stone! The creature was larger than a horse! The worm reared up and knocked Randalf off the broom, grabbing the wizard in its massive clasping mouth parts and pulling him into the water.

Aline responded by throwing a fireball!

DM Note: Tee hee! Tee hee! I even WARNED them about the oily smell! They totally knew what was coming! But Aline's player momentarily forgot, and when I smiled and said, "I choose to fail my save." she suddenly realized and slumped into her seat, saying "Ah, shit! I forgot!"
The oil on the water exploded in a fiery FWOOSH, burning everyone nearby, including Inza, Aline, and Randalf! Luckily, Randalf was able to mitigate some of the damage by keeping his entire body submerged in the shallow four feet deep pool of water!

Inza dove into the water to help save Randalf who was trapped in the worms vice-like grip. A giant sucker-mouth like a leech attached itself to Randalf's back and began draining him of blood. The room was filled with thick white smoke. No one could see the creature in order to attack it with spells! Inza stabbed at the worm with his daggers, eventually killing it and releasing Randalf!

DM Note: I thought this encounter went very well. It was scary and fun and challenging. Randalf's player got a little annoyed and frustrated at not being able to see through the smoke, even though the creature was attached to him, which eliminated all his good spells. There was a tiny bit of "Fine, I give up! Whatever!" but Inza quickly dispatched the bloodworm before really bad things happened.

Afterwards, the trio explored the pool and found a few trinkets, then continued down the opposite passage.

The passage led a hundred feet and stopped at a dead end. A large boulder lay on the floor at the end of the passage. No single one of the trio could move the boulder, so they worked together and were finally able to shift it a few feet, revealing a deep shaft in the floor. Aline sent Indigo the invisible imp down the shaft to investigate.