Monday, February 1, 2016

"Hunting Horrors in the Dark" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 4

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.


After fleeing the destruction
of the Kuo Toa village Sloobludopp
by the demon prince Demogorgon
the party has gathered what supplies
they could and are following
a series of underground passages
that lead to Gracklstugh, 
the city of the grey dwarves.  

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.

Hemeth - Duergar trader rescued from Sloobludopp.
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.
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.

Fifteen strangers set off from the ruins of Sloobludopp on a long journey through twisting passages to the Duergar city of Gracklestugh. Prince Derendil and Ront carried a pole between them which supported a net filled with a heavy chest full of treasure. The rest carried packs filled with dried mushrooms and a few skins filled with water. It was immensely dark. The only sources of light were the dim green bioluminescent globes carried by Pain and Kettle, the only members of the party unable to see in the lightless cavern. The globes provided only just enough pale light to see the ground around them and the dim silohuettes of the other party members nearest them.

The party managed to travel six miles before stopping for a long rest.

They scouted around and foraged ten pounds of mushrooms, giving them sixteen pounds of food total, but found no water to add to the seven gallons they carried with them. They ate well but gave everyone only half rations of water that night.

DM Note-
With only half rations of water, you make a CON save vs. 16. If you fail, you are exhausted the next day. All skill checks and combat rolls are at Disadvantage. The players rolled for themselves and the NPCs. It was a mixed bag. The players decided that in the future it would be better to prioritize full rations of water to the NPCs with good survival skills and no rations to everyone else. 
Topsy and Turvy

Pain sat with Topsy and Turvy, hoping to learn more about the twins. The pair danced around him and spoke nonsense and babble before breaking into singing chants. Pain rolled his eyes and groaned. He tried again, asking about where they came from. They just started chanting "We'll never go back! We'll never go back! We'll never go back!" while running in a circle. Jimjar joined Pain and said that, like him, they came from Blingdenstone, the city of the Deep Gnomes. Pain asked about the twins but Jimjar only shrugged, admitting that he had never heard of them.

Pain addressed the twins, "So tell me something else. Tell my how you managed to not get hurt when you stabbed by that spear?" The twins suddenly stopped dancing and quietly stared at Pain with a menace. In unison, they whispered, "We'll never tell you that." There was a moment of intense awkward silence, then the twins started dancing around each other again, chanting, "We'll never tell! We'll never tell! We'll never tell!" Jimjar walked away with a dismissive wave of his hand, "Yeah, good luck with that."
Pain Grille'
The party rested for a few hours without incident. Once rested, they gathered up their gear and continued on their journey. Kettle paid attention to Hemeth's navigation, learning the secrets of traversing the Underdark, recognizing the codes carved into the passage wall, identifying tell-tale stacks of small rocks, etc.

After maybe three hours of travel, there was a great rumbling within the Earth followed by upheavals of rock and a collapse of the passage ceiling. Luckily, no one was injured bu the party was separated. On one side of the collapse was Kettle, Pain, Virtue, Eldeth, Prince Derendil, Sarith, Jimjar, Stool, and either Topsy or Turvy - no one could tell which. Sarith was able to communicate with Hemeth through a small gap in the rubble. Hemeth asked Sarith if he knew where to find the Cavern of the Crimson Pillar, 30 miles hence. Sarith said that he did. Hemeth said he knew another passage that led there and that they would backtrack and take it. He told Sarith to continue on and that the two parties would meet there. The two groups parted ways.

DM Note-
We were missing both Angolwen and Talorean's players this week, so I decided to split the party to make it more manageable. 

First the PCs were split, obviously, and Kettle got Stool because he always carried Stool in a shoulder bag. Then I had an NPC draft. The players got first pick. They chose Eldeth for her survival skills. Then I chose Hemeth, just to mess with them. They picked Sarith because he was the only other NPC who knew the way to Gracklestugh. Then I picked Ront. They picked Jimjar. I picked Buppido. They picked Prince Derendil, leaving only Topsy and Turvy. Pain's player narrowed his eyes at me, "Do they count as a single or are we going to get stuck with one of them?" I smiled and said, "Nope, they're separate! I choose Topsy, or Turvy, whichever, leaving you with the other one."

Kettle's player immediately started role-playing NPC Topsy's anxiety being split from her twin brother, "No! No no no no! NONONONONO!" Pain pinched his nose and groaned.

Sarith led the reduced party through the caverns towards the Cavern of the Crimson Pillar. Turvy, or Topsy, no one could tell, began falling back. Constantly looking back from where they left the other party. Pain yelled at the lone twin to catch up. The little deep gnome, looking over their shoulder, replied, trailing off,"Okay! Just a minute! I'll be.. right.." The deep gnome paused, looked back for a second, and darted off into the darkness. Pain shouted, "No! Don't! Come back! Don't.. come.. back! Don't come back!" Then shrugged and continued with the rest.

After another gruelling five or six hours of travel, it was hard to say in the darkness, they decided to once more stop and rest. Each member of the party took turns on watch in pairs. Stool and Kettle took the last watch. Stool heard the approach of strangers. Kettle woke the others. The approaching strangers heard the commotion and stopped, hiding themselves.

The party hid themselves as well and prepared themselves for anything. The strangers called out in a language no one understood. No one but Eldeth, who stepped forward saying, "Those voices. I know those voices! They're speaking Shanatan! They're Shield Dwarves!" She ran forward and introduced herself.
Eldeth Feldrun
Four stout figures emerged from hiding. They were Shield Dwarves! They were a trading party, travelling to all cities of the Underdark with sample wares from Gauntlgrym, hoping to establish contracts with the trade houses of Gracklestugh and Blingdenstone. They were, in fact, the expedition from which Eldeth had been captured! They were glad to see Eldeth again and the five were in good spirits! When they saw that the party was low on food and water they were happy to share enough food and water to last the party two days.

The dwarves asked about the party's destination. The party said they were going to Gracklestugh. The dwarves said they had just came from there and reported strange goings on. The Duergar were acting strangely, as if going slowly mad. When asked, the dwarves said they were on their way to Sloobludopp. When they learned of the cave-in and the destruction of the Kuo Toa city, the dwarves exchanged knowings looks. They thanked the players for the information and said they now had to change their planned destination, perhaps they would head to Blingdenstone, but due to the cave-in they'd have to backtrack and take a different more circuitous route.

The dwarves then accompanied the party back the way from whence they came. The combined party travelled for several hours until they reached a flooded cavern. The cavern was large, the ceiling was covered in tiny bioluminescent dots of moss like stars. A small trickle of water poured from the ceiling and drained through a cave, creating a twenty foot wide pool filled with clean fresh water.

As the group entered the cavern, they started three humans wearing the ragged burlap tatters of slaves. The humans were splashing about in the pool trying to grab blind albino cave fish. One of the humans was eating the fish raw, devouring it like a wild animal. The humans reacted with fear when the dim glow of the party came into view. They had been without light for several days.

The dwarves sighed. "We thought we lost them. They're escaped slaves from Gracklestugh. They've been following us. We were hoping we'd given them the slip."

Kettle, Pain, and Virtue made peaceful contact with the humans. The humans could barely speak more than grunts and simple words.

It was here that the dwarves bade their farewell. They would be taking a different passage, but they pointed the way towards Gracklestugh. They looked at Eldeth and said, "Are you ready?"

Kettle said, "What?"

Eldeth cleared her throat and looked apologetic, "Well, you see, I will be leaving with them. They are my kinsmen, and I must continue my mission. I wish you safe journey and hope you return to the surface. If you ever make it to Gauntlgrym, please find my family and tell them that I am well. When I return, I will seek you out."

They each, with the exception of Sarith, exchanged farewells with the dwarven maiden. As the dwarves prepared to leave the human slaves made as if to follow. The dwarves said, "No! Stay! Follow them!"

Kettle said, "No! They can't follow us! We're going to Gracklestugh. They can't go back there!"

"Well they can't follow us! They can barely feed themselves. They're just dead weight to us."

Pain looked at Eldeth, "Eldeth. Look after them. I'm asking you to not let anything happen to these humans. Help them return to the surface."

Eldeth nodded, "They're coming with us. They're my responsibility." The other dwarves shrugged, and the they left.

The party spent the next few hours eating their fill of blind
albino cave fish. Kettle provided some cooking oil he stole from the drow kitchen and some spicy fire lichen. Virtue was able to produce magical flame from her hand and they fried up the fish in a makeshift frypan. On top of the meal, they drank as much water as they could and filled their water skins to capacity.

After their third rest, the party continued on their journey. After a few hours of scrambling over uneven terrain, they came across a deep cleft on either side of the passage. They were startled when a massive insect emerged from the cleft on the right. The insect moved on its back two legs, like a human or gorilla, and was supported by its front two limbs which resembled massive curved scythe blades. The head of the creature resembled a chitinous vulture covered in hair-like antennae.

The party froze as the massive creature emitted a hissing screech at them and began squeezing into the cleft to the left. To their shock, before the first had disappeared, a second such creature emerged from the cleft to the right. It moved to block access to the cleft on the left and emitted a powerful hissing screech  of warning and took up an attack posture.

"What the hell is THAT?" someone asked.

Sarith replied, "It is a hook horror. Don't let it near you. It will attack you!"

The party held their ground. They could hear a strangle hootling barking sound coming from the cleft to the right and it was getting louder. Virtue moved to an ambush position near the cleft while the giant hulking insect screeched its warning. Suddenly a mangy hyena burst from the cleft. Virtue attacked and killed it.

Several bestial savages emerged from the cleft. They were grotesque cariacatures of men with the heads of hyeneas. They were covered in ratty fur and wore hide armor. They carried short spears designed for thrusting in tight spaces like caves and passages. Sarith shouted, "Gnolls! What are gnolls doing so deep?"

Virtue attacked one of the gnolls in disgust. She was soon surrounded and pinned by two of them as the other two rushed out to attack the hook horror shouting "Sacrifices for Yeenoghu!" in the Infernal language of demons. The two surrounding Virtue spoke in Infernal, "Stay back! This beast is ours to kill!"

Virtue responded by battling the gnolls while Kettle engaged one of the other gnolls that was fighting the hook horror. The hook horror impaled the other gnoll with its scythe-like claw.

Despite orders not to engage the hook horror, Sarith shot it with his crossbow, enraging it. Soon the hook horror was attacking both the gnoll and the halfling. Jimjar, who had been firing at gnolls with his crossbox, nudged Pain with his elbow, "I bet you fifty gold pieces that I kill the hook horror."

Pain responded, "I bet you fifty that I'll kill it!"

Jimjar smiled, "You're on! I'm good for it!"

Pain rushed in to kill the remaining gnoll and engage the hook horror in combat.

The hook horror was surrounded and was defending the entrance to the cleft to the death, and though Jimjar and Pain competed for the kill, it was Sarith that got the fatal blow.

Sarith the Drow Outcast

After killing the hook horror, the party explored the twisting serpentine passages. They soon became lost, sometimes wanding in circles. They could hear more gnolls cackling in the darkness, moving, hunting. The party knew they were being followed, seeing dark shapes dash behind cover at the edge of their darkvision. The party eventually found themselves in a wide chamber with an exit on both ends. There they set a trap for their pursuers, waiting for them to enter, but to their surprise three gnolls stepped forward from behind while two gnolls and a hyena, one of them wearing chain armor and clearly their leader, emerged from ahead of them. They were surrounded!

The gnoll pack leader steps forward and addresses the party in Undercommon, the trade language of the Underdark. Sarith translated. The pack leader explained that they were hunting for the hook horror nest. They hoped to find young to bring back as sacrifice for their demon-god Yeenoghu. The pack leader asked the party if they had seen the nest. He offered a bloodstone in payment for hteir help. Sarith helpfully added that if they didn't help, they would be of no use to the gnolls and would be killed.
Kettle Bearclaw
Kettle stepped forward, telling the pack leader that he would lead them to the nest. Virtue said, "You know, as soon as we show them, they're going to kill us, right?"

Kettle held out his hands, "Don't worry. I've got a plan."

Kettle walked in front of the pack leader, signalling, "Come, this way."

Kettle took a few steps, followed closely behind by the gnoll pack leader. Kettle then spun around and stabbed the gnoll pack leader in the chest!

DM Notes-
Successful Deception check vs Insight! Advantage on the attack roll! Natural-20!!

A fierce battle ensued!

Kettle took on the pack leader while Virtue fought her way forward to help. Sarith, Prince Derendil, Jimjar, and Pain engaged the three rear gnolls and hyena in hand to hand combat! During the battle, Kettle was stabbed by the pack leader and fell. Seeing the defeat of his gnolls, the pack leader made a break for it, running down a passage. Virtue, Sarith, and Pain soon chased the pack leader down and slew him as he tried to run away. Virtue then returned and revived the dying Kettle by laying the miraculous power of her healing hands upon him.

The party took a rest in the chamber and took two bloodstones and a brown tourmaline off the body of the pack leader. In addition, Kettle pulled the rotting yellow teeth of the gnome leader as a grisly trophy. Afterwards, they wandered lost through the passages for a while before finally coming upon a gnoll camp.

The two gnolls guarding the camp jumped to attention at the intrusion, grabbing their weapons to defend themselves. Kettle threw down the teeth and weapons of their leader. Seeing this, as well as the fact that they were outnumbered, removed all fight from the gnolls who fled into the darkness.

The camp was in a chamber that opened onto a larger passage. Sarith identified the markings that lead towards Gracklestugh. The party continued their journey.

DM Notes-
What a fun night! Lots of great role-play. The players really got into role-playing the NPCs. Everyone got opportunities to interact with NPCs. Fun battles with gnolls!

Nobody mapped the Hook Horror lair. Major negative dungeoneering points! They wandered around in circles. It was embarassing. They finally tried to start mapping and did some a crappy job that I had to draw it out for them in frustration! Which of course was Pain's player's plan all along, he  knows how to push my buttons and play me. 

I suddenly became dour, coldly remarking, "This will not reflect favorably on your ability to level."

In the end, they left the lair without ever even trying to find the nest. I told them later that they could have gotten hook horror babies from the nest, and they kicked themselves. 

I got comments after the game that they really enjoyed the survival aspect of Underdark travel. This surprised me. I would have expected them to hate that part as unnecessary detail, but they all said it added realism and danger to otherwise boring travel. They actually enjoyed tracking food and water and deciding who ate and who went hungy or thirsty. It's become a kind of mini-game.

Next week- More travel (at least fifteen more days)! More Random Encounters!