Monday, June 8, 2015

"Showdown with Anuran" - Chapter 6 of Dwellers of the Forbidden City

The Bullywug King

The party infiltrates the stockade of the bullywugs, defeats a metric boat-load of frog-men, and captures their king! Aline has a heart-to-heart with Indigo. Finally, the party takes on Anuran, the Demon-Lord of the Crying Swamp, in an epic final battle! Bonus, 5th edition stats for Anuran!

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

Last week, the party had just defeated a caravan leaving the city. The caravan was filled with gold and jewels, like they were leaving to purchase something. They also captured and interrogated Kwairno, a young female wizard and apprentice to Horan the Flesh-Warper, former instructor and evil nemesis of Aline.

The group decided that they needed to pay Horan a visit, but first they would face Anuran, the reason they came to ruins of Sinopia in the first place.

A Stealthy Approach
It was mid-morning, a few days after the spring equinox. The air of the ancient city was warm and humid. The party carefully made they way down the abandoned boulevards past crumbling buildings covered in vines, creepers, and tall grasses. 
Inza the Shadow

They arrived at the edge of an area of the city where no buildings stood. It looked like this part of the city had been blasted outwards, leaving a massive crater. All that remained was a shallow marshy lake filled with black murky water. The entire lake was surrounded by hundreds of feet of muddy marsh and covered by swamp grass, as tall as a grown man. 

A raised path entered the tall grass. The path was formed from gravel and paving stones. The party followed the path into the tall grass. They took a route that would bring them close to the hill Aline saw in her invisible scouting expedition above the city. The hill was surrounded by a stockade of sharpened bamboo. The top of the hill had a bamboo platform with a gong. Several holes were dug into the side of the hill.

The grass had been cleared for a hundred feet around the hill, leaving only mud. The group observed the hill and the bamboo tower from the cover of the tall grass for about ten minutes. They saw only a lone bullywug stretch and return to hiding. Aline cast a spell of invisibility over the entire group. The group held a length of rope to stay together and moved forward towards the stockade. They moved unseen to the edge of the bamboo stockade. 

Aline had tied the rope to her magical flying broom. Still invisible, she ferried the party over the wall one at a time, following the rope back to the next person in line. 

The bullywug on the guard tower noticed something odd. Maybe it was the movement of mud. Maybe he heard something. Or maybe someone strayed outside the effect of Aline's spell for just a second. He looked closer, squinting his bulbous eyes. He saw nothing and returned to his rest.

Once ferried across, the party moved up to the tower. Inza climbed the tower and quickly dispatched the bullywug on duty. He then cut the ropes on the gong and let it fall with a thud into the mud at the base of the tower. 

Into the Lair of the Frog-Men
The party moved to the north side of the hill. The tunnel entrance was small for a full-sized human. They had to crouch or crawl in the mud. The tunnel was dug into the loose dirt and mud and was primitively shored with nothing more than twigs and branches. 

As they come to a split in the tunnel, Inza, who is in front, is set upon by two bullywug guards who were hidden in the mud. Two more accompany two giant frogs in a chamber just to the right. They fight the guards into the chamber where they are ambushed by four more hidden bullywugs. The bullywugs and guards are soon dispatched, even one that tried to flee to warn the others. One in the chambers surrenders.

Aline and Gravy interrogate the surviving guard. Aline dons a magical Helm of Telepathy, allowing her to read the surface thoughts of a target. Gravy puts on a magical Ring of Thought Sending, which allows him to communicate with a creature telepathically without regard to language barrier, but does not grant him access to hidden thoughts. Together, Gravy would ask the question and hear the answer, but Aline would be able to verify the true thoughts of the subject being interrogated.

They asked the guard whom he served. He served great King Groak, king of the bullywugs! An image flashed of a four-armed red frog-man carrying a rune-covered spear. 

When asked where they could find King Groak, he lied saying he did not know, but his thoughts indicated a great chamber just down the tunnel to the right. When asked if he would lead them to their king, he truthfully answered that he would never betray his king!

They asked the guard about Anuran. The frog-man's eyes widened with fear and reverence at the mention of the demon lord. His thoughts flashed images of the frog-god's emergence from the lake at the equinox, attended by his four high priests. The guard was proud that he was able to witness the holy event. When asked to provide more details, the lowly guard truthfully answered that he knew little of the holy mysteries of the great and powerful Anuran. 

They tied the guard up and left him behind. 

They crawled in single file down the winding muddy passage to the right. Inza emerged into a chamber forty feet wide and sixty feet long, shaped roughly like a kidney bean. The chamber had two exits, one on the far end and one to the right. The floor was filled with a dozen six-foot deep pits. In the chamber were twenty five bullywugs who noticed too late Inza's entrance through the small opening in the wall. 

Inza immediately killed the two nearest their tunnel then melted into shadow. He emerged near the far end of the chamber. He ran to the two near the far exit and killed them.

Meanwhile, Gravy, Randalf, and Aline scrambled over each other in the cramped tunnel. Aline emerged first, casting an explosive fireball spell into the center of the room. There was a bright flash and a deafening fiery explosion. Inza, Gravy, and Randalf shielded their eyes as they were buffeted by the heat and wind of the shock-wave. 

The entire room was cleared of all but a handful of bullywugs.

Those that remained tried to escape down the rear passage or side passage, but Inza cut them down before they could make it.

The King of the Frog-Men
The far tunnel was larger than the rest of the tunnels. One could see into the chamber that connected immediately beyond. The light of the dying fires illuminated eight larger bullywugs and a strange red bullywug with four arms and a spear covered in runes that gleamed brilliantly in the dark. It was King Groak, leader of the bullywugs!

The four-armed bullywug began calling out orders to his four guardians. The guardians started beating their spears on their shields and moved into formation in front of their king. 

Aline cast another fireball spell into the far chamber. The resulting explosion took out all but four of the bullywug guards. King Groak made his escape through another tunnel at the rear of his chamber. His retreat was covered by his four remaining bodyguards who followed behind him.

Inza climbed into the tunnel after him and was soon face to face with a bullywug royal guard. He killed him but saw that the way was blocked by the other guards, one after another. He disappeared into shadow and reappeared in front of King Groak, blocking his escape! 

Meanwhile, Aline and Gravy followed Inza into the tunnel while Randalf stayed behind to guard the rear and to search the king's chamber.

Aline and Gravy fought and killed the two remaining guards while Inza wrestled the king into the mud and took him prisoner. 

Afterwards, they noticed a side chamber. The entrance to the chamber was blocked by a large mushroom with  a fibrous purple head and growths that looked like antlers. A standing stone at the entrance proclaimed this chamber, according to Inza, as the "Children of Anuran".

Not taking any chances, Aline cast a small fire-bolt spell at the over-sized fungus, which burst into flame. Suddenly, eight bat-winged creatures swarmed out of the chamber, alarmed by the fire and the smoke. Four flew towards Inza and four towards Aline and Gravy. One even managed to attach itself to Aline. All were killed before they could really hurt anyone. 

After the smoke cleared in the chamber, they could see a pool filled with large wriggling tadpoles, each the size of a cantaloupe! 

Inza asked Aline to set fire to the abominations. Aline declined to destroy the innocent beasts.

They took the bound King Groak back to his chambers and interrogated him as they did the guard earlier. They wished to learn where they could find Anuran and how they could destroy him.

They learned that Anuran lives in a cavern in the lake where he sleeps through winter. He emerges each spring equinox to breed. By ancient pact, the city of Thither provides a sacrifice to be his bride. Anuran takes his bride back to the city, mates with her, and a new generation of bullywugs are born each summer!  

DM Note: At this point, Gravy's player realized what was going on and scrunched his face up in disbelieving horror, "Really? Really? No! Nooooo! Nooooooooo!Awwwww!!!" This made me happy! I said to him, "Yep, where do you THINK bullywugs come from?"

The party tried to coerce King Groak to lead them to Anuran's secret chamber or to help them defeat the god. King Groak, although confident that the demon-lord of the toads would easily defeat the infidel intruders, he was ultimately loyal to the powerful Anuran and would not assist them!

After searching the king's chamber, they found several barrels filled with gold, silver, and jewels, as well as King Groak's magic spear.

DM Note: +2 spear.

A Talk with Indigo
Indigo
After capturing King Groak, Gravy saw to the health and well being of everyone in the party. Indigo, Aline's blue-skinned imp familiar who had been hungrily chewing on charred bullywug legs, indicated that he needed help.

He stuck out his tongue and gestured to his mouth, "Mah mowpf hoords! I boned dah top ub mah mowpf!"

Gravy reached out to lay hands upon the fiendish familiar.

Indigo bit him!

"Ow!"

"Thowwy! Thowwy! Inthinct! I wearry did bone dah top ob mah mowpf dough. Gow ah-gen!"

Gravy reached out a second time.

Indigo bit him!

"Ow!"

This continue for several go-rounds. Gravy, you see, isn't all there and his memory isn't great, and Indigo was taking advantage of that fact.

Randalf angrily glared at the imp, "I really REALLY want to banish him! If he does that one more time, he's gone!"

Indigo fearfully reached out to Aline for protection. Aline took the frightened devil-kin into her arms and looked at Randalf, "No!"

Randalf declared, "I'm telling you, he's evil, and he's working against us. Haven't you noticed how he's always invisible until you call for him? How he always seems reluctant to return when you summon? He doesn't work for you. He's a servant of the Uuani! If you don't believe me, use the crown. Read his thoughts!"

DM Note: The Uuani are the devils of Agartha. The Uuani were the old gods who where overthrown by the Aslak and banished to the nine hells. Randalf's player didn't actually say Uuani, he said "devils", but I'm substituting the correct word here.
Aline held her imp in silence, considering the wizard's words of warning. She looked at Indigo suspiciously.

Eventually, she took Indigo aside and privately she asked, "Is this true? Are you betraying us?"

Indigo was appalled at the notion, "No! Of course not! I serve only you!"

Aline clarified, "Do not lie. I will put on the crown."

Indigo beetled his brow and replied, "DON'T- go there! You- may not- want to know what goes on in here."

Aline sighed and put on the crown.

"Who do you work for?"

Indigo's eyes got wide. He gritted his teeth and shut his eyes tight, squinting and scrunching his face in terrific effort.

"Nggggg- You. I work only for you!"

He thought of nothing but lemures, the wriggling maggot-like souls of hell. Lemures. All he could think of was lemures. Bloated, corpulent, lemures.

Aline, frustrated, took off the crown. Indigo let out his breath and nearly collapsed to the floor.

"Don't- betray us. Just don't." she said, and she got up and re-joined the party.

Indigo stared after her as she walked away.

DM Note: As long-time readers of my blog may recall, she got Indigo when she cast summon familiar. The imp appeared inside her magic crystal ball and forced his way out like a snake emerging from an egg. When she used the crown on Indigo, I gave him a wisdom saving throw vs. her spell save. He made it.


Retreat to Safety
The party took the bound King Groak out the way they came in, encountering no resistance as they left.

Upon leaving the warren, the group discussed what to do with King Groat. Aline felt uncomfortable executing the prisoner but made no effort to intervene when Inza silently got up, picked up the king's magical spear, took King Groat out into the tall grass, and came back alone.

 They retraced their steps to their hiding place in the old bath house. Unfortunately, as they approached they saw that their hideout was swarming with lizard-men. The lizard-men were searching the area, looking for them.

They took a different street and entered a two-story domed building. They found some stairs that led to a second-story mezzanine  under the dome. An oculus in the center in the dome allowed light and a few tropical birds flew away from the intruders.

They rested there for an hour to catch their breath and refocus. Afterwards, they decided it was time to take on Anuran.

They left their hiding place and returned to the lake. Looking across the lake, they could see a stone platform with four stone menhirs,  a match for the one in the guard's thoughts.

The party made their way east around the south bank of the lake until they realized the eastern cliff-face would prohibit access to the platform. They then backtracked and followed the north shore of the lake, passing the bullywug stockade.

Eventually the path ended and the route along the north shore of the lake became one of knee-deep mud and tall grass. They saw all manner of swamp beast. Massive frogs and lazy crocodiles lurked at the water's edge like floating logs. Insects buzzed everywhere. Snakes and frogs scurried away as they forced their way through the marsh.

After about an hour, they arrived at the stone platform.

Showdown with Anuran
The party approached the stone platform from the north. The platform was roughly 65 feet square with a 60 foot diameter raised round dais. Flat trapezoid-shapes radiated from the center of the dais. At each corner of the platform stood a fifteen foot stone menhir, each carved with eldritch runes of power.

At the center of the dais was a plinth, upon which was a giant obsidian frog's head with ruby eyes the size of grapefruits. The look of the stone head was evil and unwholesome.

Stairs led up the platform between each of the radiating trapezoid shapes. Aline, Gravy, and Randalf climbed the stairs and examined the platform. Inza stayed behind in the grass.

The party was immediately met by a booming croaking voice speaking to them telepathically.

"Who are you to defile my sacred fane? What brings you to my holy sanctuary?"

Randalf answered, "We are here to destroy you."
Randalf the Azure

The voice replied, "I recognize you. You are the mammal that inconvenienced me two days ago. You are a pest! You denied me my bride! You have broken the pact! The city on the river has provided me a human bride each year for hundreds of years. Such insolence. Know that after I kill you, I will destroy the city. You will be the catalyst for such death and destruction."

Randalf showed confidence in the face of the evil entity. He said defiantly, "Not if we kill you first."

The booming thought-voice laughed. The telepathic effect was like fingernails on a chalk-board.  "How will you do that, mammal?"

"Like this." Randalf pointed his staff at the stone frog's head, "SHATTER!" With an utterance of the arcane spell, the stone frog's head exploded into a thousand obsidian shards.

The telepathic voice of Anuran was replaced with a very loud, very audible scream.

At the edge of the platform appeared a humanoid, tall, armored, with clammy skin and ranine features. The humanoid figure crossed his arms and suddenly transformed into a gargantuan demon-frog!

The massive Anuran took a deep breath, inflating his ruby-read throat like a balloon, then issued a mighty croak! The croak blew across the party like a blast of steam, scalding everyone in its path, including Randalf, Gravy, and Aline. Gravy and Aline screamed in agony and fell unconscious to the ground. Randalf gritted his teeth and bore the blast.

Afterwards, Randalf ran to Gravy and poured a potion  of healing into the cleric's unconscious mouth. Gravy woke with a start. He immediately regained his senses, stood to his feet, and recited a prayer of healing. Everyone felt invigorated.

Aline immediately stood up and fired a lightning bolt at the gargantuan god. The bolt had little effect.

Meanwhile, Inza was at Anuran's flank, repeatedly stabbing him with the magical spear.

Anuran closed his eyes and summoned the beasts of the lake to his aid. Randalf attempted to counteract the spell but failed. Ten crocodiles and nine giant frogs began swimming towards the platform.

DM Note: Belated realization, I should have summoned beasts first and had them serve as interference.

Aline hopped onto her magicl broom and took to the air. She moved away from the platform but made sure to stay close to the ground to avoid the giant wasps.

Anuran opened his wide maw, revealing six writhing tongues, each ending in a bulbous tip. The tongues shot out at Gravy and Randalf. Gravy was ensnared and pulled into Anran's slimy mouth. Luckily, Gravy was soon able to break free and fell back to the platform.

The beasts, meanwhile, swarmed Randalf, Inza, and Gravy. Aline then cast a fireball spell onto the platform. Although the explosion did not affect Anuran, it destroyed all the frogs and most of the crocodiles. Gravy said another prayer of healing to provide succor to his companions.

Anuran closed his eyes again and his body became engulfed in a numbus of blue gaseous flame, threatening to burn anyone who stood too near or attacked the massive amphibian. 
Gravy the Masticated

He then took another deep breath and exhaled a second blast of scalding steam onto the platform. The blast once more incapacitated Gravy. 

Inza broke from combat and ran over to stabilize the dying cleric. 

Things were looking grim for the party. They came here to kill Anuran, but their spells and attacks were having little effect on the entity and by this time they knew that they would die before they killed the god of the swamp.

Desperate, Randalf executed the fall-back plan. He pointed his staff at Anuran and cast a spell of banishment. 

Anuran struggled against the spell. With all his might, he fought the banishment. He failed.

With an inrush of air, Anuran disappeared from our world, his screams of frustration echoing into the void.

DM Note: Anuran attempted a charisma save with advantage but failed. Charisma was his dump-stat, unfortunately. Is banished to the Overworld. 

Tired and bloody, the party retrieved the ruby eyes from the shattered idol and, with the desperately injured Gravy in tow, made their way back to the ruins.

On their way back, at the edge of the city ruins, they encountered a troop of lizard men who had observed the battle from across the lake. The leader of the lizard men calls out, "Where do you think YOU'RE going?"

TO BE CONTINUED!



Anuran
Gargantuan Celestial, Neutral Evil

Armor Class 20 (natural armor)
Hit Points 318 (16d20 + 112)
Speed 20 ft (leap 40 ft)

STR 21 (+5)
DEX 17 (+3)
CON 17 (+7)
INT 20 (+5)
WIS 19 (+4)
CHA 15 (+2)

Saving Throws Dex +8, Con +12, Wis +9
Skills Perception +12
Damage Vulnerabilities cold
Damage Resistances lightning, piercing and slashing from non-magical weapons
Damage Immunities fire, poison
Condition Immunities charmed, exhaustion, frightened
Senses truesight 60', passive perception 22
Languages all, telepathy 30'
Challenge 17

Amphibious. Anuran can breath air and water

Magic Resistance. Anuran has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Shapechanger. Anuran can use his action to polymorph into a Small or Medium humanoid he has seen, or back into its true form. His statistics, other than his size, are the same in each form. Any equipment he is wearing or carrying isn't transformed. He reverts to its true form if he dies.

Innate Spellcasting. Anuran's spellcasting ability is Wisdom (spell save 20).

At will: detect thoughts,
3/day each: dominate beast, invisibility
1/day: fire shield

Actions:
Multiattack. Anuran makes six attacks with his six tongues, uses Real, and makes one attack with his bite.

Tongue. Melee Weapon Attack: +10 to hit, reach 30 ft, up to six targets. Hit: 9 (1d6 + 5) bludgeoning damage and the target is grappled (escape DC 15). Until this grapple ends, the target is restrained and the number of possible targets of the tongue attack is reduced by one.

Reel. Anuran pulls each creature grappled by him up to 30 ft straight towards him.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: If the target is grappled, automatic, otherwise +10 to hit, one target. Hit: 26 (3d12+5) piercing damage.

Deadly Croak (Recharge 5-6). Anuran exhales a scalding croak in a 60-foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a DC 18 Constitution saving throw, taking 52 (15d6) fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

Legendary Actions:
Anuran can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action can be used at a time and only at the end of another creature's turn. Anuran regains spent legendary actions at the start of his turn.

Scaly Command. Once per day, Anuran can summon and control 6-60 (6d10) unintelligent beasts of the swamp (reptiles or fish). All creatures must be within a half-mile of Anuran to be commanded. Furthermore, no creatures of the above types will ever attack Anuran, whether controlled or not. The command power lasts 70 (2d6x10) minutes and cannot be dispelled. It has no saving throw.

Appropriate creatures include any combination of the following:

  • Constrictor Snakes
  • Crocodiles
  • Giant Frogs
  • Giant Lizards
  • Insect Swarms
  • Swarms of Poisonous Snakes
  • Swarms of Quippers
Anuran is a composite of four creatures. He was one part Pan Lung from the original Fiend Folio (the original monster in the lake), one part Dragon Turtle, one part Ggorulluzg - god of the bullywugs from White Dwarf #39, and one part Yochol - handmaiden of Lolth. He was a tough fight, and the player characters had little chance of defeating him in a straight up fight. They were hoping to honestly defeat him, and Randalf was really holding onto Banish as a last resort. When things started going south, he pulled out Banish and they were able to call it a mostly victory.
More DM Notes: I tried to get into Anuran's head during the fight. Here's what I was thinking.

The first time he banished me, it was a fluke! I was caught off guard! I rolled poorly, and forgot I had Advantage on saves.
The next time, I will have Advantage. I will roll better! I will have initiative!
Ah shit! Did he just destroy my focus?? Well, now I will have to breathe steam on his ass! 
Dammit, he’s still alive. Nobody survives my steam breath!
What? He’s not trying to banish me? He must not be prepared with that spell today! THE FOOL! Now I will have my fun! 
Ah Shit! He DOES have Banish prepared, he was just holding onto it, hoping his friends would kill me first. THE FOOL! Well, at least I have Advantage on my saves! 
(two sucky rolls, and Charisma is my dump stat) Dammit! 
Curse you Randalf the Azure! You may have banished me again, but you have not killed me! I will return! Someday I will return, and I will have my revenge!!