Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"Darklake" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 3

What follows is an illustrated dramatic retelling of my group's play through of the D&D campaign setting, "Out of the Abyss". SPOILERS for anyone wishing to play in this campaign.


The escaped prisoners of Velkenvelve
fled through the caves and passages
of the Underdark on their way 
to the Kuo Toa village 
known as Slubloodop, 
led by the Kuo Toa heretic Shuushar.  

Talorean - Half-drow abandoned at birth to be raised by wolves.
Angolwen - Wizard of mixed human/elven parentage.
Kettle Bearclaw - Halfling baker living among dwarves.
Pain Grille' - Halfling street urchin from Waterdeep.
Virtue - Tiefling paladin and a mysterious wild card.

Ront - Thuggish orc from the surface world. Respects authority and follows Talorean's commands.
Eldeth - Dwarven scout from Gauntlgrym, competent and proud.
Prince Derendil - Elven prince in the body of a brutish quaggoth.
Suushar - Kuo-toa ascetic who has sword an oath of non-violence.
Sarith - Drow guard sentenced to die for murdering a fellow guard.
Buppido - An uncharacteristically friendly Derro with secrets. Everyone assumes he's an assassin.
Jimjar - a roguish deep gnome who likes to wager on everything.
Topsy and Turvy - Deep gnome twins who define word "annoying".
Stool - a myconid sprout that follows Kettle like a pet follows its owner.

Shuushar the Awakened

Fifteen strangers crawled through endless caverns miles beneath the surface on their quest for an exit from the subterranean realm. No one knew how many days had elapsed since they escaped, but they had stopped and rested nine times on their journey. Now the caverns began to slope slightly downward, the air became more humid, and they could smell salt water in the air. Ahead, the cavern widened and opened up onto a vast space. They could hear the sound of lapping water echoing from infinite blackness. 

As they exited the passage, eight bipedal fish-men stepped from the massive stalagmites behind which they were hiding. They were unarmored and each carried a primitive spear. Their leader carried no weapon. All of them were adorned with strange red facial tattoos. 
Shuushar stepped forward to greet his people. He met with the leader and the pair exchanged words in their strange fish-man language that sounded like bubbles popping. It soon became clear that Shuushar had become distressed. The leader of the fish-men then bit Shuushar on the face and slapped him twice, each slap deliving what appeared to be some kind of electric shock! Shuushar fell unconscious to the ground! The leader then ordered the other fish-men to attack the other escapees with a cry of "Leemogoogoo!".

The two sides charged into battle. Talorean, Kettle, Pain, and Ront took the center. The twinds Topsy and Turvy rand around a stalagmite to the right followed by Buppido and Jimjar. Virtue, Eldeth, and Sarith defended the left flank. Prince Derendil stayed in the rear to defend Stool and Angolwen. 

The battle was vicious and several escapees were knocked unconscious by the kuo toa who appeared to be trying to take prisoners. Likewise, the escapees did their best to knock their foes unconscious on the remote chance this was just a misunderstanding and the hope for a later explanation. Despite this, one of the kuo toa was burned alive by Angolwen's fire bolt spells while the leader was chopped by Ront and stabbed to death by Buppido even after the leader was knocked unconscious. Ront grinned a stupid grin but Buppido apologized for his display of unnecessary violence. 
Buppido the Derro
Having survived the ambush, the party decided against interrogating the kuo toa and indeed even left them unrestrained. They continued along the shore of the Darklake towards the direction of Sloobludop. 

Soon they came across another group of kuo toa. This group was traveling in plain view and called greeting. Shuushar approached to offer introduction. Soon the escapees were introduced to a wizened kuo toa wearing the robes and headdress of a priest or holy man. His facial tattoos were blue and of a different shape and pattern than those worn by the previous party.

The holy man passed his hand and offered a ritual incantation and were soon able to understand his language.
Plooploopeen, Archpriest of the Sea Mother

“I am Ploopploopeen, archpriest of the Sea Mother Blibdoolvpoolp. She answers my prayers by delivering you. Help us, and you will be rewarded for your service.”

“The inhabitants of Sloobludop have lived in harmonious service to the Sea Mother for hundreds of years. Oh, there were occasional ‘visionaries’ (glares at Shuushar), but nothing of any great concern.”

“I am Ploopploopeen, archpriest of the Sea Mother Blibdoolvpoolp. She answers my prayers by delivering you. Help us, and you will be rewarded for your service.”

“The inhabitants of Sloobludop have lived in harmonious service to the Sea Mother for hundreds of years. Oh, there were occasional ‘visionaries’ (glares at Shuushar), but nothing of any great concern.”

“A few weeks ago, my own daughter, Bloppblippodd, told me she experienced a powerful vision. She had been chosen as the archpriest of a new god, the so-called Deep Father Leemooggoogoon, proclaiming him the new god of her people. She backed up her claims with miraculous demonstrations of prophecy. She has used these prophecies to turn many kuo toa away from the Sea Mother and into the flippers of her dark cult.”

“Her cult has divided our town, and her followers have been making an increasing number of offerings on his altar – BLOOD sacrifices – from those that resist her powers, then casting bloody chum into the Darklake where is it consumed by… strange visitors to our shore. I know that she has been – preparing – for something, I know not what. My daughter’s behavior and actions lead me to believe that her preparations may lead to the final destruction of Sloobludop and its people, and that I cannot allow.”

“Her prophecies have foretold that something important is going to happen very soon, perhaps before my next rest. It is my belief that she is using some kind of mental power to control her followers.”

“Therefore it has fallen upon me to break her cult but her devotees are too many, and mine are too few. I need your help.”

"I saw that my daughter sent out a raiding party, likely to capture you to use as a sacrifice for tonight's ceremony. Indeed her auguries surely told her the same thing mine told me, that you would be coming. So I decided to lead a group out to stop them. I am glad that they did not succeed."

“I would like you to take part in a ruse. I want you to pretend to be my prisoners. I will present you as gifts to my daughter to be used in her abominable rituals. I will pretend to show interest in joining her cult. She will receive me and I will be able to approach her. Once I am close to her, my followers and I will be able to capture her. Your role will be to protect us from her guards.”

 “For this subterfuge to succeed, you must appear to be unarmed. You will surrender your arms to my whip, Glooglugogg, who is also my son and most trusted aid. He will conceal your weapons in chests, covering them with treasure. You will carry these chests with you as offerings to my daughter. When my trap is sprung, you will brandish your weapons. You may, of course, keep any small weapons concealed on your person.”

“If you do this, you will forever be remembered as the saviors of Sloobludop and you will have my gratitude. In addition, I will pay you a reward. I am prepared to pay you 1000 gold pieces in exchange for your service, half up front, the remaining half upon completion of our stratagem.”

“Should I fail, I would count on you to kill Bloppblippodd and my people from her blasphemy.”

Ploopploopeen led the escapees to the village of Sloobludop, a small village barely 500 feet across nestled between the cavern wall and the Darklake. The village was protected by walls made of fine mesh nets containing sharpened bone hooks. The village contained dozens of structures that looked like poorly made sand castles with pointed spires reaching ten to twenty feet tall. 

The party was stopped at the gate manned by four guards. Two of the guards were adorned with the red tattoos of the Deep Father while the other two wore the blue tattoos of the Sea Mother. The guards with the red tattoos called for the party to halt, claiming that none were allowed to enter. The guards with the blue tattoos berated the other guards for not allowing the archpriest of the Sea Mother to enter his own village. The archpriest led the party through as the four guards continued to argue and shout at each other. 

The party was led through the village. Upon closer inspection, the "sand" structures were made of fine pebbles reinforced by a kind of hardened glue. Shuushar informed them that the pebbles of their nests was bonded by a mucus secreted by all kuo toa that dried to firm hardness. 

He also explained that although the kuo toa are an aquatic species, they were forced to use boats to traverse the Darklake due to the dangerous nature of its waters. 

The party was ultimately led to a large platform shaped like a wide truncated cone, atop which stood a crudely carved statue of a humanoid form with claw hands and the head and antennae of a crayfish. The base of the statue was covered in discarded shells, fish bones, flotsam, and bits of debris, all of which was glued by layer upon layer of dried mucus. As they passed the altar, Ploopploopeen regurgitated a huge spray of mucus onto the base of the statue. Shuushar explained that providing an offering to the Sea Mother was a sign of great respect and suggested they do the same. No one followed suit.

Ploopploopeen led them down a short ramp and into the base of the statue into his personal "nest". The room was round and covered in coarse sand and pebbles. A large chest lay against one wall covered by a net. 

The party was allowed to rest. Food was brought to them in the form of dried kelp flakes in bowls of zurkhwood. Fresh water, a delicacy which had to be imported in barrels, was brought for them. 

Ploopploopeen introduced the party to his son, Glooglugogg. Glooglugogg was then informed of the plan and the party's role in it and was ordered to retrieve several chests and barrels large enough to conceal the party's hand weapons. Axes and pole-arms would be wrapped in netting and carried by loyal kuo toa. 

Glooglugogg reacted with disbelief, “I see no need for outsiders to be involved in sacred matters!”

Ploopploopeen replied, “Nonsense. One must flow with the currents. Our guests are gifts sent by the Sea Mother.” 

Glooggluegogg glared at PCs and left to retrieve the chests, barrels, and nets.

A short while later, an important looking officer wearing red facial tattoos visited Plooplopeen. He was introduced as Klibdoloogut.Ploopploopeen

“I was told you were prepared to offer yourself willingly to the Deep Father?”  

Ploopploopeen replied, “Yes, and I present a gift. These oblations were captured less than an hour ago.”

Klibdoloogut examined the party with approval, “A propitious gift on the eve of the Deep Father’s glorious ascendancy! I will take you to the Deep Father’s glorious heirophant! They will be a welcome addition to our other sacrifice.”

They were led by a group of over twenty kuo toa, some wearing red tattoos, some blue, to the altar of the Deep Father.

The altar of the Deep Father Leemogoogoo was constructed of pebbles held by dried mucus like all the other structures in Sloobludop. However, instead of the natural forms resembling sand castles, this structure consisted of four stacked platforms like a step pyramid. The top platform contained a cruel and abhorrent idol constructed by a large creature like a manta-ray stretched out between four posts. Atop the ray were two cave octopi bound together by wire and hooks. A receptacle captured their slowly draining blood. All three creatures were in great pain and appeared to be near death. 

Next to the altar stood a younger more slender kuo toa dressed in the red robes of the archpriest of the Deep Father. Around her stood nearly a dozen guards and two officers. To her right was what appeared to be a dwarf with dark grey skin, bound and blind-folded, no doubt another sacrifice.

The entire town of nearly 500 kuo toa had turned out for tonight's ceremony. They were told that tonight they would receive the ultimate gift from the Deep Father and many were giddy in anticipation. 

Ploopploopeen, flanked by two guards loyal to the Deep Father, advanced up the platform towards daughter while his "gifts" stayed below.

Ploopploopeen made a speech to his daughter about it being the time for reconciliation, that he was ready to join her new cult. As a sign of good faith, he brought for her not only a gift of the accumulated treasures of the Sea Mother, but these sacrifices that were captured not long ago.
Bloppblipodd, Archpriestess of the Deep Father
Bloppblipodd shouted, “Bring forward the offerings!”

Glooglugogg interjected, “No! It’s a trick! Father is planning to kill you! I’m sorry father, I won’t let you harm my sister!”

Bloppblipodd glared at her father, “Infidel! Perfidious worm! You will suffer for your transgressions!” She then took her ceremonial staff and struck her father. Ploopploopeen reeled from the electric shock delivered from her staff. He then took up his own staff and struck back.

A riot erupted among the populace of Sloobludop as worshipers of both factions attacked each other. The party, eager to provide assistance and protect Ploopploopeen, found it difficult to tell which side was which.

Talorean and Kettle took center. Ront and Sarith took the left flank. Pain, Eldeth, and Prince Derendil took the right flank. Buppido and Jimjar fired crossbows from the rear with Angolwen and Stool. Topsy and Turvy broke ranks and headed into the crowd on a killing spree. 

Talorean and Kettle struggled to advanced up the steps to help Ploopploopeen. They were blocked by Glooglugogg and Klibdoloogut. Ploopploopeen and his daughter exchanged powerful strikes with their electric staves but Bloppblipodd fell first. 

After defeating his daughter, Ploopploopeen tried to calm his people but his throat somehow became stuck and he was unable to speak. The Deep Father guards around him encircled him and began stabbing with their spears. Ploopploopeen fell out of view. So, too, fell Eldeth and Pain.

Meanwhile, the grey-skinned dwarf being held prisoner atop the altar managed to remove his blindfold during the melee. No one noticed as he magically turned himself invisible and escaped. 

The waters around the docks nearest the shrine to the Deep Father became turbulent as large manta-ray creatures congregated en-masse and thrashed about as if in a feeding frenzy. Many began hurling themselves through the air, landing on the shore and striking out at anyone nearby.  

At around this time, there was a great surge in the water and a massive bipedal creature emerged from the lake. The creature loomed over the small village. It had two simian heads and four tentacles instead of arms. It's skin was cracked and the blood that leaked out glowed hot like lava or molten metal.

The fighting in the crowd died down as all eyes turned towards the monstrous demon. Many suddenly went into seizures and fell to the ground, flopping and writhing. Dozens stared in fixation as they began slowly chanting "Leemogoogoo!" in unison. Dozens more fled in abject horror. 
Leemoogoogoo Rises!
The massive bicephalous demon smashed into the docks, pushing ahead of him a wave of water that swamped all the skiffs along the shore and capsized the only cargo craft at the docks. The wave also contained the thrashing manta-creatures who were washed onshore and attacked everything within reach.

The captives, momentarily stunned, returned to their senses as the grey-skinned dwarf ran past, urging flight. Only Angolwen ran forward towards the destruction, helping Talorean heal the unconscious Pain and Eldeth and ordering Ront to carry them to safety. She momentarily thought of rescuing Ploopploopeen but abandoned the thought when the massive demon grabbed the body of the archpriest in one of its four tentacles and, along with a handful of other unlucky kuo toa, were lifted to one of the simian heads, bitten, chewed, and swallowed.

Virtue made the mistake of staring directly at the faces of the mighty demonic monster. She lost herself in visions of demon lords, destruction, pestilence, and corruption. She had to be led away from the destruction by Angolwen.

DM Note- 
Virtue failed her CHA save and suffered temporary insanity - hallucinations! I took Virtue's player into another room and showed him this video, saying, "This is what you see!"

The party, with unconscious survivors in tow, fled the village. They ran along the shore of the Darklake until the shrill voices of the twins calling them from the left. They had found a passage that led away from the Darklake! It was safe! The party followed the twins into the dark twisting cavern and rested there for what they could only guess were many hours.

They waited in that cavern until hunger and thirst forced them out. They warily returned to the village, now wrecked and demolished but finally abandoned by the two-headed monstrosity. 

There were few survivors, but the party was relieved to learn that Shuushar was one of them. The heretic told the party that he would remain here to help rebuild Sloobludop and would most likely serve as the new Archpriest. 

Searching through the wreckage and debris, the party recovered the treasure they abandoned during the escape. They piled it all into the one large chest and were able to carry it between Ront and Derendil using a pole and some netting. Although all food in the village had spoiled and all fresh water turned foul by the mere presence of the demon the night before, they were able to gather two water skins each which would help them in future foraging attempts. 

The party then decided to continue to travel to return Stool to his home in Neverlight Grove. The grey-skinned dwarf, whose name they now knew was Hemeth, a deuregar trader, suggested a stop at his home city of Gracklstugh. There they could purchase equipment and resupply. Buppido seconded the suggestion.
Hemeth of Gracklstugh

Unfortunately, Hemeth's cargo skiff was crushed the night before. If they were to travel the Darklake, his preference, they would have to do so on the smaller kuo toa skiffs. Talorean and Kettle scoffed at that idea, preferring to stay away from the lake which contained that two-headed monster. They decided to take the longer route and stick to the caverns. Buppido said he knew the way and was chosen to be the guide. 

DM Notes-
After the game, a few of the players asked if there was every any chance of saving Ploopploopeen and stopping the ceremony. I told them yes and no. I set it up so that they COULD have saved Ploopploopeen but Demogorgon would have risen and destroyed the city no matter what they did. They rolled their eyes and said, "Wow, what a railroad!"

I agreed. I told them that this chapter was very railroad-y and that, as-written, it was much worse than what I ran. I actually gave the PCs things to do. I gave them a small impact on the outcome - saving Ploopploopeen or not - while the chapter as-written simply had the PCs watch as I read a script. 

In addition, the set-up for this chapter didn't make any sense. No player in their right mind would EVER submit to pretending to be a sacrifice, and no bad guy would allow their sacrifice to keep their weapons. So I re-wrote the introduction to Ploopploopeen with that in mind, adding a little more meat to the narrative, providing a more solid rationale for the PCs to pretend to be captured slaves, and giving them a way to hide their weapons within ready reach. 

In other news, I recently discovered the site called Power Score and their post "Rage of Demons - A Guide to Out of the Abyss". This is a great breakdown of each chapter and I will be consulting this a lot going forward.