Monday, January 11, 2016

"Into Darkness" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 2

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.

CHAPTER 2
"INTO DARKNESS"

Fifteen strangers have banded together
to escape captivity at the hands of the Drow.

Thanks to the help of a duplicitous
Drow lieutenant named Jorlan
they have a means of escape.

Unfortunately, their plans are complicated 
when several flying demonic creatures
do battle at the drow outpost.

THE PLAYER CHARACTERS
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.

THE OTHER PRISONERS
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.

THE DROW CAPTORS
Mistress Ilvara - High priestess of Lolth.
Asha - Her bitter assistant.
Commander Shoor - Ilvara's current lover and current commander of the outpost.
Lieutenant Jorlan - Ilvara's former lover and former commander of the outpost, he was rejected by Ilvara after receiving disfiguring acid scars. He is now the jealous rival of Shoor.

CHAOS REIGNS
Pain woke before the next shift change to watch the guards at the guard post. He saw Jorlan return from the barracks, no doubt returning from some errand. A moment later he saw the guards leave the guard post, returning to the barracks and leaving only Jorland. A moment after that, he saw Jorlan leave the post to return to the barracks. The post was empty. The time was now!
Pain Grille', Halfing Street Urchin
Suddenly, a horrible unearthly screech filled the cavern containing the drow outpost. The horrifying sound was soon followed by terrible buzzing! Pain and Talorean watched in horror as two massive vulture-like demons flew into the cavern chasing four giant insectoid demons resembling massive flies. The vulture demons engaged the fly demons in aerial battle. An alarm was sounded from the drow outpost. Orders were shouted and warriors rushed to the defense of the outpost. One drow called for the release of the quaggoths from their pen. Pain and Talorean held their escape so that a drow warrior could run past their cell, release the quaggoths, and the entire force ran back to bolster the defense of the outpost.

Once the way was clear, Pain opened the unlocked prison bars and the group scurried across the rope bridge to the massive hollowed-out stalactite that served as the guard post. Suushar, the pacifist, decided to stay behind in case there was battle. Virtue decided to stay with him.

The post was empty. He used the keyes he stole from Jorlan to unlock the hatch that led to the armory upstairs. Pain, Ront, Talorean, and Kettle began handing down and distributing equipment among the escaped slaves. Along with various suits of drow armor, several drow swords and hand-crossbows, rope, hammers, and irons, the prisoners were able to recover their own belongings which had been confiscated days or weeks earlier during their capture. Unfortunately, Angolwen's spellbook and more valuable personal effects were being kept in Mistress Ilvara's quarters beneath the shrine to Lolth, demonic spider-goddess of the drow.

THE SHRINE
The party crossed the rope-bridge that connected the hanging stalactite, past the waterfall, to the ledge containing the rest of the outpost. The drow and quaggoths were busy defending the outpost from the demons. Although the demons were fighting each other, their melee was causing severe damage to the outpost. The party was ignored as they crossed a short bridge into another massive stalactite containing the shrine to Lolth and Mistress Ilvara's quarters.

It was in the shrine that they encountered their first resistance. Asha, Ilvara's assistant, was guarding the shrine with the help of two drow warriors and a giant spider. Talorean and Kettle rushed in, followed by Angolwen and Ront. Ront, however, got his axe stuck in the door jamb and blocked the way for the others while he freed it. Kettle engaged Asha and the spider while Talorean fought a deadly battle with one of the drow. Asha cast Spiritual Guardian, causing Kettle to fall while the other drow ran up to Angolwen and cut her down!
Ront the Orc
Talorean slew the drow blocking the entrance and Ront managed to free his axe. Ront and Eldeth rushed in to fight the spider while Pain snuck in. Asha fell to Pain's blade while the others fought a pitched battle against the remaining drow and giant spider. Ront and Eldeth made short work of the spider while Talorean traded blows with the drow. Before he died, the drow told Talorean, "You better hope you die in the Underdark, slave, for Mistress Ilvara will never let you escape! She will hunt you! She will find you! And when she does, you will know pain! Mistress Ilvara will teach you the meaning of agony! She will chase you, and she will never give up!"

The opposition was eventually eliminated but Angolwen and Kettle lay unconscious on the floor. They were soon roused and the group secured the area.

DM Note-
It's early in the campaign, so I ruled their "death" to be "unconsciousness". They were roused using a Healing check and had 1 HP each.

So secured, Suushar and Virtue rejoined the group. There was some talk about desecrating the altar to Lolth but Talorean forbade the desecration of any holy shrine, an act that won him the thanks of Sarith.
Sarith the brooding
A scouting party descended to Ilvara's chamber. Pain found Ilvara's trunk and, using his lockpicks, managed to open it without setting off the poison needle trap. Angolwen reclaimed her spellbook while the others took their personal trinkets and coinage, along with several other treasures that Ilvara had collected.

They continued down to Shoor's quarters where Pain once again opened the locked trunk. Unfortunately, he triggered the trap and was stuck with a poisoned needle. He stuck his pricked thumb in his mouth with worry, but other than a queasy feeling of nausea that soon passed, he suffered no ill effects.

DESCENT
The party contemplated sneaking past the ongoing battle in order to raid supplies from the common area but despite Ront's enthusiasm they decided against it.

DM Note-
You may have noticed, there's no cleric in this party, so healing is at a premium. This party is wisely choosing discretion over valor to keep casualties to a minimum.

They tied off ropes to the ledge and descended to the cavern floor. About thirty-five feet down they encountered a layer of spider webs that acted as a kind of canopy. All of the spiders were currently engaged in the battle with the vulture demons, which had destroyed the demonic flies and were now attacking the drow, so Ront and Talorean cut through the webs and continued to descend.
Talorean, Paladin of Mixed Parentage Raised by Wolves
Talorean, Ront, Kettle, and Virtue reached the cavern floor while the rest of the party still descended the long rope of spider silk. As Valorean touched ground, an injured vulture-demon spiralled from above, crashing in front of them. The demon thrashed about and righted itself. It had apparently broken a leg in the fall. Talorean warily inched sideways along the cavern wall, showing no aggression towards the creature. Ront raised his great-axe to attack but Talorean ordered him to hold. Virtue spoke to the demon in the dark language of the Abyss, telling it that the party meant it no harm. The party continued to descend and inch around the demon, keeping their distance. The demon snapped its beak menacingly, flapped its wings, and took to the air, escaping down a passage.

The party gathered round to discuss their next move. There were three passages: one to the left, one in the middle, and one to the right.

Everyone weighed in:

  • Talorean, Angolwen, Pain, Kettle, Ront, and Prince Derendil, being from the surface - or in the prince's case at least ostensibly, were hopelessly lost.
  • Eldeth was unfamiliar with this area of the Underdark but was trained to survive in this environment.
  • Stool had no idea where he was but wanted to return home to Neverlight Grove.
  • Sarith, having captured Stool in the first place, knew the location of the Grove and said he'd like to help return Stool there.
  • Suushar said that his home city of Slubloodop was only eight days away.
  • Jimjar said he'd like to return to Blingdenstone but he was in no hurry since it was kind of far away.
  • Topsy and Turvy became agitated and annoying at the suggestion of Blingdenstone but would not indicate why they were against it.
  • Buppido said that the Dueregar city of Cracklstugh was the best place to purchase equipment, but admitted that Slubloodop was sort of on the way. 

After some discussion, the party decided they would return Stool to Neverlight Grove, but first they'd go to Slubloodop, and maybe then to Cracklstugh.
Stool the Myconid Sprout
At about that moment, their discussion was interrupted by furious bellowing from the outpost above. The battle was over and Ilvara had become aware of the escaped prisoners far below as well as the death of her assistant and two of her guards. She ordered her men to give immediate pursuit! The slaves must be recaptured at all costs!
The party disappeared into the center cavern as fast as they could.

FLIGHT
The party traveled for days through the labyrinthine tunnels of the Underdark. Suushar led the way with Sarith, who also knew the way, mapping and verifying.

They traveled fast at first, not stopping to forage or cover their tracks, choosing instead to put distance between themselves and their pursuers. When they could walk no more they stopped to rest, eating from what provisions they had in their recovered belongings. A few of them managed to find some pools with drinkable water.

After resting for a few hours, they picked up and resumed their journey. They traveled at a moderate pace in order to spend time foraging. Although they found no food, they did find more water. Wherever they went, Kettle and Pain tried to cover their tracks and erase any evidence of their passing. At one point, Suushar led them down the wrong path and Sarith failed to notice. They were forced to double back and find an alternative route and costing them several hours of travel.

On the third "day", Pain noticed something odd about the air. His head swam as he became dizzy. He told the others and they were forced to alter their course to avoid a gas leak, adding more hours to their journey. That evening they encountered an eighty-food cliff. A rope-ladder was rolled up at the top of the cliff. Not wishing to risk anyone on a free-climb, Virtue attached one of their ropes to a few spikes as a makeshift grappling hook. She hurled the spikes to the top of the cliff and found purchase. Pain easily climbed the rope and let down the ladder. They made camp at the top of the cliff. Although they were able to forage some mushrooms, their food and water reserves were running low so they decided to prioritize rations to those with strong survival and combat skills.
Bupiddo
On the fourth "day", Buppido was beset when he was attacked with surprise by a grey oozing mass. The party doubled their pace for a while in order to flee the grey ooze.  By the end of the day they managed to forage some more food and some water but their supplies were still low so they continued to prioritize their rations.

Lack of food and water was beginning to have an effect on the party, so on the fifth day they decided a slow pace was in order so they could spend more time foraging. The decision paid off as they managed to locate a large supply of edible mushrooms and a few more gallons of water.

It was on the fifth day that they encountered a massive underground rift, miles wide and two thousand feet across. The entire rift was filled with the webbing of giant spiders. They came across two goblins rubbing grease on their bare feet. After a brief stand-off as both parties warily made themselves known to the other, the goblins introduced themselves as Yuk-Yuk and Spiderbait. They were thrill-seeking adventurers looking for excitement. They had spent what must have been months down here exploring the Silken Path, as the rift was known. They offered to act as guides, pointing the party towards the quickest path to Sloobludop, in exchange for four gold pieces. Talorean agreed on the condition that they pay two now and the other two when they arrived. The goblins agreed and showed the party how to rub the grease on their bare feet to avoid sticking to the webs. The goblins then led them across the chasm without incident.

DM Note-
The module called for a random encounter check every five hundred feet. I inferred they intended the total distance to be two thousand feet, so I made four checks. Even at 50% chance, I didn't roll less than 4 on the d6 on all four checks, so no Silken Path encounters.
Angolwen the Wizard
They resumed a normal pace on the sixth day. By now the party had established a routine and were getting better at foraging. After a few hours of travel they encountered a section of tunnel choked with spider webbing. Angolwen used her spells to burn away the webbing. Although she found no spiders, she did find six humanoid figures writhing inside cocoons. Talorean warily cut one of the figures free, revealing an orc raider. The orc was dehydrated and confused. Ront told the orc to surrender. The other cocoons were cut open to reveal the remainder of the orc warband led by an "Eye of Gruumsh". The orcs were intimidated into surrender by Ront and Talorean. The leader of the raiders carried with him four mushrooms called "waterorbs" that carried water like a sponge. Talorean offered a trade for the mushroom. The orc looked confused. Ront said there was no word in orcish for "trade". So Talorean instead offered to let the orc leader "take" some gold and that he would "take" the waterorb. The orc leader agreed and the two groups parted company.

The seventh day saw another set-back as a gas-leak forced them to add an additional day to their journey. The misfortune was off-set by the foraging of some food and a large supply of water.

The eighth day was uneventful. The party managed to find a cavern filled with edible mushrooms and water.

With a surplus of food and the end of their journey near, the party picked up their pace on the  ninth day.

DM Note - 
Good thing, too. Their pursuers were just about to catch up to them!
Shuusar the Awakened
On the tenth day, Shuusar assured them they were nearing their destination. That morning they found a cavern with an underground stream and six waterorbs. Pain went to cut one of the useful mushrooms only to have it transform into a purple mushroom with waving tentacles. The tentacles reached out and lashed Pain, leaving a painful welt as if he'd been struck by poison ivy. Pain staggered back cursing. He used a sword to prod each of the other mushrooms. Each transformed into a violet fungus. Pain retreated and the party fled the cavern.

Later that day, Shuusar told them that it wasn't far, he could already smell the waters of Darklake. Suddenly, they came across a party of threatening-looking Kuo Toa carrying spears and nets. Shuusar approached them to offer greetings, but the Kuo Toa attacked the ascetic and charged the escapees.

TO BE CONTINUED...


DM Note-
I prepared a kind of form to keep track of the travel section. I tracked the "days", splitting each into a period of activity and a period of rest. I had a column on the form to track the Pursuit Level for each day, a column to track how much food they were able to forage, a column for how much water, and a column for random encounters - which I pre-rolled before the adventure.

Each "day" I asked the party how fast they were traveling: fast, normal, or slow. I told them up front the implications of their choice. I also asked them to tell me who in the party was navigating, who was foraging for food, and who was covering their tracks.

The navigators would then make Wisdom (Survival) checks vs. a DC 10. Success meant they stayed on track. A failure meant doubling back, an extra day of travel, and +1 Pursuit level. The navigators had to know where they were going, to Suushar was assigned to navigate while Sarith was assigned to be his back-up after an initial failure.

The foragers would make a Wisdom (Survival) check  vs. a DC of 14+1d6 to find food and a separate check for water. Success meant they found 1d6+WIS modifier in pounds of food or gallons of water. A natural twenty meant 2d6+WIS modifier. Failure meant no food or water was found by that person that day.

Each member of the party had to consume a pound of food and a gallon of water a day to avoid a level of exhaustion. They could carry food over to the next day but could only carry over as much water as they had containers in which to carry. I actually didn't think of this restriction until four or five days into the trip. It was suggested by Pain's player and it was brilliant.

Anyway, it was a bit of "Spreadsheet: the RPG" as rolls were made and resources were carefully tracked. On some days, especially early on, food and water was scarce and had to be rationed. Food and water was apportioned to those with strong survival or combat skills because no one wanted them to be rolling with disadvantage the following day.

Talorean's player later told me that he really enjoyed this section because it really captured the feeling of survival in the harsh conditions of the Underdark.

Pace

Food Foraged

 Water Foraged