Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"The Panhandler Xorn" - Chapter 4 of Dwellers of the Forbidden City

The party faces a dangerous roper and its ballistic offspring, defeats a colony of ants, gets shaken down by a Xorn panhandler, overcomes an illusion, and defeats a force of tasloi guards.

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

Gravy's Something Something
Gravy and his Holy Salmon
Gravy found his way back to the camp after turning away for only a moment. Or was it an hour? Or had it been a day? Gravy was never sure. The camp was empty, his friends had abandoned him. This was not the first time he had been left alone in the wilderness. Or maybe it was. In any case, Gravy picked up his holy salmon and followed what appeared to be tracks in the mud to the bank of a channel. The body of a large sail-backed reptile lie dead nearby. Pteranodons were picking away at the carcass. 

Somehow, Gravy was on the other side of the river. Or channel. Or whatever it was. Or maybe he was somewhere else? Vines and branches wove together to form a face. Huh. That's odd. The branch face challenged him, "What business have you in the forbidden swamp?"

Gravy suddenly realized the branch-face was talking to him. "Huh? Oh, did a bunch of people come through here?"

Another branch-face formed and addressed the first. "He's with the others."

Gravy looked shocked, "I'm what?"

The first face scowled, "Okay. You can pass! But the deal applies to you too!"

Gravy looked confused, "What deal? Huh? Okay, whatever." and continued on.

Gravy found the entrance into the tunnel that passed under the mountainous wall of obsidian that surrounded the forbidden city. He entered. Soon he found the silvery skin of what looked like a massive white catfish draped over the ledge beside an underground pool. Huh.

Days later, or maybe it was minutes, he was standing before a barred gate. The gate was opened. Gravy remembered opening it, but that's impossible, for it was already open. He wandered forward.

As he meandered down the long straight tunnel, he heard voices ahead. They were strange sibilant voices. He approached to investigate. Suddenly, rough hands grabbed him from behind and pulled him into the shadowy darkness. A hand covered his mouth. A calloused finger was pressed against his face and someone in the darkness indicated silence with a "shhhhh."

The shadowy figure held Gravy still until the patrol passed, then dragged him deeper into the mysterious side passage. Once safely away from the tunnel, a dim light was produced. The shadowy figure was an orcine savage with long dreadlocks. He introduced himself as "Duma". Gravy asked Duma if he had seen any others come through. Duma nodded and led him deeper into the natural passage. 

Mister Roper
Meanwhile, our heroes stared down a vertical shaft, the only exit from a dead-end passage deep underground. The shaft looked to descend sixty feet before it opened into a cavern. Suddenly, the loud sound of plate mail alerted them to the approach of someone behind them. It was Duma and Gravy. 

Gravy produced a rope and Inza climbed halfway down the shaft, only to disappear halfway like a magic trick. Suddenly, Inza stepped from the shadows at the bottom of a shaft. The shaft opened into a chamber nearly fifteen feet tall, forty feet long, and twenty feet wide. An exit led away on the far end. The ceiling was covered in stalactites. One large stalactite dominated the room, almost touching the floor. The floor itself was covered in at least a foot of sand. 

Inza scanned the room while Randalf began climbing down the rope. 

Aline, staring mysteriously up the passage from whence they came, said, "I.. I must go." and wandered off into the dark, finally calling back "Don't wait for me." from out of sight.

Gravy and Duma shrugged then turned back to the shaft to continue watching Randalf descend.

As soon as Randalf entered the chamber, long ropy tentacles emerged from the largest stalactite, lashing out at the wizard, grabbing him. The wizard was pulled into the gaping maw that suddenly appeared in the side of the stalactite. A single giant malevolent yellow eye glared at him balefully as he was masticated by the great stony horror!
The Deadly Roper

Randalf screamed in terror before turning into a silvery mist! The wounded wizard was suddenly standing near the exit. 

Inza began punching at the dangling monstrosity as it clung to the ceiling. Duma slid down the rope as fast as he could. As he emerged near the ceiling, the demi-ourk used the rope to swing over to the creature, kicking it free of its roots, causing it to fall to the ground. 

Suddenly, smaller stalactites began falling from the ceiling, landing in the sand with a soft "thud!". One struck Randalf and another Duma! To everyone's shock, the stalactites had tiny grasping feet and single eyes and mouths, like the larger specimen. They were the beast's offspring! The smaller piercers began crawling back up the wall to repeat their plummeting barrage. 

Meanwhile, the large tentacled roper had once again grabbed Randalf, only to have the wizard once more disappear into silvery mist.  

By this time, Gravy had descended the rope and was able to say a prayer of healing to Thumina, goddess of the moon, restoring lost vitality to the aging wizard. 

Eventually, Duma and Inza were able to slay the conical monster and turned to eliminating the smaller offspring while they were helpless on the ground. Soon the room was clear of active threats.

Fearing the attack of other unseen stalactite piercers, they abandoned the room, even though gold coins could be seen mixed in with the sand.

DM Note: The original module called for the ceiling creature to be a carrion crawler. I substituted a roper because a) I like ropers, b) they're tougher than carrion crawlers and made for a more challenging encounter, and c) the ecology fit better with all the piercers, what with ropers now being adult piercers in 5th edition - a genius connection by the way!

The Ant Colony
The company ignored a passage, more of a natural cleft in the rock, that led to the right and continued forward. Ahead of them they could see light filtering from around the bend, perhaps a hundred feet away. They came across a small passage to the left which they took.

Almost immediately, they encountered a group of ants of prodigious size. The smallest ant was the size of a poodle, three of the largest and most aggressive were the size of a wolves! The large ants moved forward to attack the intruders but were soon slain by the company.

The company continued forward, coming to a four-way intersection filled with large ants! There were at least nine of the larger warriors and over a dozen of the workers! Soon these, too, were slain, but at the cost of several painful bites!

Pushing forward, they entered a large chamber filled with workers and over a dozen warriors! At the rear of the chamber was a fat bloated queen sitting atop a brood of leathery oblong eggs, each the size of a watermelon!

The company began slaying ants, but there were so many! Suddenly, Gravy called upon the holy protection of Thumina, a large armored female specter appeared, glowing as if by moonlight, long hair waving slowly. The specter carried a sword with a crescent-shaped guard, and pointed it at the swarming ants. Any ant that came within 20 feet of the spectral warrior died instantly! Gravy advanced through the room swarming with ants, clearing a path towards the queen.

After a pitched battle, the ants were killed and the queen slain, the spectral guardian saluted Gravy and returned from the heavens whence she came.

The company explored the room. Randalf examined the eggs and noticed that four of them were heavy and rattled as if they contained something hard. Inza cut one of the eggs open with his dagger, producing a perfect gem the size of his fist! The gem had to be worth over 1000 gold pieces! Worried that the eggs were somehow magical, cursed, or otherwise meant to give birth to something special, Randalf protected the remaining eggs and put them into his magical shrinking treasure chest.

DM Note: I treated the worker ants as 1 Hit Point minions so that they could be easily wiped out.

The company decided to take a short rest in the safety of the ant colony while Duma harvested their poison glands, eventually managing to milk two doses of poison out of the warriors.

DM Note: I revised the poison harvesting rules from page 258 of the DMG. The rules as written set the difficulty at 20, but if you fail by 5+ you poison yourself. That means if you roll 1-15, you poison yourself! That's harsh! 
My revised rule is this: You need a poisoner's toolkit to even try. The difficulty is 20. Roll Intelligence + Nature. A natural d20 roll equal to or less than the creature's Challenge Rating will result in you poisoning yourself, minimum 1. 

The company explored the remaining passage to the foliage-covered exit to outside then turned around to retrace their steps.

The Pandhandler Xorn
The company took an unexplored passage to the left. Ahead they could hear the sound of heavy smashing and strange basso singing in an unknown language. Inza and Duma reconnoitered using stealth. They found an empty room filled with giant cave corals, stalagmites, and stalactites, many of which had been kicked over and otherwise smashed. There was a cleft to the right, no doubt connecting to the main passage, but no sign of any living being.

Inza formed his hands into several complicated magical hand-signs known to his monastery as "Kuji-in". The effect was to create the illusion of a warrior striding into the center of the room, a distraction and trap for anything hiding within. Alas, the bait was not taken. After waiting long enough to satisfy themselves there was no trap, they retrieved the rest of the company.

They had decided to avoid the room entirely and turned to take the cleft back to the main passage when a strange rotund creature with a large mouth where its head should be, three radial legs, three radial clawed arms, and three eyes spaced equally around its barrel-shaped body, suddenly blocked their path, saying, "Hello there!"

A Xorn Nuisance
They said hello in return. The creature said that it was hungry and was looking for food. It said that it could sense that the company possessed much food on them. It told them that if they wished to pass this way, they would have to give him some of those tasty golden flakes they carried in sacks and pouches.

When asked how much it wanted, it replied, "Oh, not much.. Let's say you give me, uh... twenty-five thousand gold flakes and we'll call it good."

The company balked. The creature's counter-offer of only ten-thousand gold flakes was met with similar rejection. Ultimately, after some haggling, Inza offered the creature fifty gold "flakes" and told the creature that they would lead it to a place where it could find more. The creature agreed.

The creature, which Randalf recognized as a xorn, a strange being from the elemental plane of earth, followed them back to the room of the roper. Along the way, the xorn hummed and made pleasant conversation, saying "I'm glad I didn't have to fight you for the flakes. I wouldn't want to, but I would have if I had to." Inza replied, "I'm glad I didn't have to kill you. Likewise, I would have, but I'm glad I didn't."

When asked how it got here, the xorn said it passed through the portal a day's journey away. It seems that within the ancient daro city of Duirnhold was a gate to the elemental plane of earth, and that the gate was sealed behind seven magical barriers. However, a human wizard named Ezekiel was working on disabling those barriers. He had managed to disable the first three, allowing weak creatures such as xorn and oozes and black oils to come through. Eventually, the final barrier would be destroyed and Ogremoch himself would break through. But the xorn's story was cut short when he entered the roper room and found hundreds of gold coins mixed in with the sand. He hungrily began hurling sand and coins into the maw atop its body, gobbling and crunching away.

DM Note: The xorn was so much fun to role-play! They're also a great tool for exposition. When I mentioned the gate in Duirnhold, the players were like "Oh yeah! That plot hook from the very beginning of the campaign!"

The Reverse Ambush
The company returned to the passage where they were attacked by the giant spider with the intent of returning to the main tunnel and continuing into the forbidden city. Unfortunately, where once there was a passage now they could see only obsidian wall. Duma could not figure it out. He was certain they had come this way.

Randalf the Azure was not so sure. He inspected the wall closely, eventually concluding that magical illusions were at work, a ruse meant to prevent their return. With a wave of his hand, he dispelled the false image.

Inza and Duma stealthily crept forward, sensing trouble. Suddenly, Duma slipped and stumbled forward from the side passage and into the main tunnel. He was surrounded by the simian goblins! He was certain that his stealthy approach had failed!

However, to his surprise and great fortune, it was at that exact moment that one of the simian goblins accidentally dropped a weapon, making a loud wavering clang on the floor, distracting everyone away from the side passage. The leader of the ambush, a humanoid woman with a long dark braided pony-tail, long sinewy fingers, and carrying a large snake about her shoulders, turned to shout at the fumbling creature and failed to notice that Duma had stumbled into full view.

DM Note: Duma's player rolled a 1 on his stealth check. He was certain he was spotted. However, in response, I rolled a 1 on the leader's perception check. So Duma's total was more than hers, so he technically won! It led to a very funny visual image!

Duma took the opportunity to jump back into hiding so that he and Inza could retreat and communicate with the others. The company formed their strategy and the pair stealthily approached again, this time with Gravy and Randalf creating a distraction.

 Duma, crouched, darted like a black panther out of the passage and into the shadows of the tunnel, emerging suddenly behind the leader. She was assassinated before she ever knew that death was upon her!  As she died, she bared serpentine fangs and hissed, her forked tongue ululating in hateful agony!

The primitive goblins shrieked and yipped and fell upon Duma and Inza. One of the wily creatures ran back out the tunnel to the gate, no doubt to summon reinforcements. Another of the creatures tried to run deeper into the tunnel but was stopped by Duma. Meanwhile, Inza was surrounded by over half-a-dozen of the simian humanoids. The shadowy monk fought like a dynamo as hairy arms thrust primitive spears and clutched with sharpened talons. Eventually, all were defeated before the deadly prowess of the adept's twin daggers.

Meanwhile, Randalf cast spell after spell to little avail as the wily creatures managed to avoid the magical necrotic hands he tried to cast at them.

The ambush was thwarted, but more of the foul creatures were coming.