Monday, February 15, 2016

"Thrilling Escape!" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 6

Mistress Ilvara
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 6
"THRILLING ESCAPE!"

On their way to rejoin
their companions at the
Cavern of the Crimson Column,
the escapees are confronted
by their drow pursuers...

THE PLAYER CHARACTERS
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
Prince Derendil - Elven prince in the body of a brutish quaggoth.
Sarith - Drow guard sentenced to die for murdering a fellow guard.
Jimjar - a roguish deep gnome who likes to wager on everything.
Stool - a myconid sprout that follows Kettle like a pet follows its owner.

CURRENTLY SEPARATED FROM THE GROUP OR MISSING
Talorean - Half-drow abandoned at birth to be raised by wolves.
Hemeth - Duergar trader rescued from Sloobludopp. Leading the party to Gracklestugh.
Ront - Thuggish orc from the surface world. Respects authority and follows Talorean's commands.
Topsy and Turvy - Deep gnome twins. Missing from the group since the cave-in. Possibly were-rats.
Buppido - An uncharacteristically friendly Derro. Missing since he tried to murder Angolwen.



Shoor the Pretty

THE DROW
At the conclusion of a long rest, while gathering their gear to continue their trek, the party was taken by surprise by their drow pursuers. Their pursuers consisted of a force of four quaggoths and four drow warriors led by Shoor and Jorlan. Near them was Mistress Ilvara and a priestess of Lolth. Ilvara pointed her writhing tentacle lash at the party, "There they are! Capture them!"

The quaggoths charged into the cavern, the drow moved into position to fire their crossbows.  The escaped captives scrambled towards the exit of the cavern, grabbing what they could on the run. 

Kettle brandished his swords, Jelly and Jam, and bared his teeth in preparation for battle, "Let's end this!"

Pain rolled his eyes and ordered Prince Derendil to grab the troublesome halfling and flee through the exit. 

DM Note- I described the frantic nature of their escape. I gave everyone an option: 
1. Grab a full skin of water.
2. Grab a full bag of food.
3. Grab your backpack with your gear.
4. Leave everything and get extra movement.
5. Stand and fight. 

There was a little bit of debate and argument as players made the case that their food would be in their backpack or trying to justify grabbing two items but I reiterated the frantic nature of the flight and pointed out that running is allowable but they have to make sacrifices to do so. 

Virtue's player said they had hard tack rations in their backpack. I pointed out that it had been many weeks underground and that they would have been eaten. We compromised and I rolled 1d10 and said "that's how many days of hard tack you have left". 

Angolwen stood by the exit and prepared a spell, shouting, "Everyone get behind me, now!"

Virtue stood defiant, ready for battle. A few drow used their innate control over light to cast the area around Angolwen into darkness, effectively blinding her. Virtue noticed the darkness and looked back to check on Angolwen standing behind her. Virtue turned back towards the drow and smiled. She was unaffected by the darkness. Her infernal Devil's Sight allowed her to see through even magical darkness as if day. 

Angolwen, though blinded, reiterated her command, "Virtue! Get behind me! NOW!"

Virtue sighed in exasperation, grabbed her backpack, and fled past Angolwen through the exit.

Once everyone was out of the cavern, Angolwen moved through the exit, spoke an arcane word, and pointed her wand at the ceiling. There was a massive shockwave and thunderclap that echoed through the caves of the underdark followed by a cave-in as the ceiling over the exit collapsed, filling the passage with debris and rubble. 

Angolwen turned back towards the others and shouted, "Move!"
Drow Warrior

THE CAVERN OF THE CRIMSON COLUMN
The party knew they were low on food and water so, rather than flee as fast as they could, they decided to trust the cave-in and continue at a normal pace. After climbing and scrambling through six miles of dry river-bed, they emerged into a massive cavern lit with an eerie red glow. The cavern was easily several hundred feet across and several hundred feet tall. The ceiling was supported by a massive glowing column of ruby crystal. The crystal leaked water through many small fissures. The water collected around the column in a shallow pool. There were several entrances and exits. 

Waiting for them was Talorean, Hemeth, and Ront. The two parties shook hands as they reunited. Talorean said "Where have you been? We've been waiting here for days!"

Hemeth warned the others, "Don't drink the water. It's tainted somehow. It's turning anyone who drinks it into crazed lunatics."

Virtue stepped towards the column and stretched out her hand. "It's cursed. It's demonic, infernal. Has it always been like this?"

Hemeth replied, "No, this is recent. The water is usually safe to drink."

Pain and Angolwen told Talorean about their recent adventures. Kettle described their encounter with the hook horrors and the gnolls hunting them, as well as his clever plan to betray the gnoll chieftain. Pain described the dwarves they found with whom Eldeth subsequently departed. Then he described the escaped dwarven slaves and how they died when gricks ambushed them. Angolwen chronicled her attempted murder by Buppido. Talorean said they hadn't seen Buppido since they left. Angolwen also recounted the two rat-things she met while separated from the group. She belately realized that they were probably Topsy and Turvy. 

TOPSY AND TURVY
Topsy and Turvy
Pain mused, "I wonder if they're were-rats."

Two child-like voices asked in unison, "You wonder if who are what?"

Everyone turned to see the deep gnome twins standing with the group as if they'd never left. 

Pain furrowed his brow. "I was just saying, are you were-rats?"

"Are we what?"

Pain repeated, "Were-rats."

Topsy and Turvy looked confused, "We're right here!"

Pain pinched his nose in frustration.

Kettle put his hand on Pain's shoulder, "Hold on. I have an idea."  He then pulled a silver mirror out of his pack, raised it high, and smashed it over Turvy's head.

Turvy grabbed his head in pain while Topsy held her brother in sympathy, "OWWW!!! What did you do that for?"

"It was a test. Did that hurt?"

"Yes it hurt! Why don't you smash it over HIS head and ask him!"

Kettle looked at Pain and shrugged.

Pain asked Turvy to come over to him. Turvy warily approached with Topsy hugging him tightly. 

Pain grabbed Turvy's hand and took out his dagger, saying, "This is a test. If you are what we think you are, this shouldn't hurt." He then drew his dagger across Turvy's palm. Turvy screamed in pain, the pathetic scream of an injured child. Blood emerged from the wound, but within seconds the wound was closed. 

Turvy, sobbing incoherently, collapsed into his sister's arms. Topsy cast a reproachful glare back at Pain, "Why did you hurt my brother? Why are you so mean? He never hurt you! He never did anything bad! YOU are bad!"

Talorean approached and asked, "Were-rat?"

Pain replied, "Were-rat. What should we do?"

Talorean thought about it and said, "She's right. Other than stealing Angolwen's bag, they haven't actually done us any harm. They probably only become were-rats when the moon is full, even though we can't see it. And they seemed smart enough to leave us while they were changed. I guess we don't do anything for now but keep an eye on them. I'm more worried about Sarith and whatever he's hiding."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, he says he wants to return Stool to Neverlight Grove because he feels guilty. I don't believe him. I think he's lying but I don't know why yet or what he really has planned."

Virtue joined the conversation, "I sense the influence of demonic forces in him. It's subtle, but it's there. I'm not sure what that means either. It's possible he's under the influence of Zuggtmoy. She's some kind of mushroom demon. Maybe that has something to do with Neverlight Grove."

Talorean looked towards Sarith. Sairth was standing alone, apart from the group. Talorean pondered the implications, "Hmmm.."


FIRE BEETLES
The escapees continued their journy to Gracklestugh. Every so often, Angolwen would block the route behind them by using her Thunderwave spell to collapse the ceiling. 

DM Note- The normal difficulty to cover their tracks was 16. Pain and Kettle were working hard to cover the party's tracks but often failed. I allowed Angolwen to reduce the difficulty by -2 for each use of Thunderwave.

After another long rest they came across a large cavern with a patch of ten giant trillimac mushrooms! The trillimac were as tall as a man's shoulders. The rest of the cavern was filled with ten giant glowing red beetles, each the size of a medium-sized bulldog! The beetles were highly territorial and defended their ground. The party defeated the beetles after a short fight. 

After defeating the fire beetles, Talorean and Angolwen approached Sarith. 
Sarith
Talorean spoke, "Sarith. Why do you want to return to Neverlight Grove?"

Sarith replied, "I already told you."

"But what's your real reason? What are you hiding?"

Sairth looked at Talorean, annoyed at the line of questioning, "I'm not hiding anything."

Angolwen interjected, "We just want to make sure you're not planning to do any harm to the group."

Sarith glared silently at Angolwen.

"Are you planning to do harm to the group?" demanded Talorean.

"Look, if you don't trust me, I'll leave. I'm leading you to Neverlight Grove because I know the way and I'm the only one who does know the way. I've already told you my reason. That is sufficient."

"That's not good enough!" shouted an increasingly frustrated Angolwen.

"It's obvious you don't trust me. I'll take Stool and leave!"

Kettle, who carried Stool in a backpack, defiantly stepped forward, "You will take Stool over my dead body!"

Sarith stared at the halfling, "I will return Stool to his homeland. If I am not welcome in this party, then I will do so alone."

Kettle narrowed his eyes, "You will not take Stool!"

The drow and the dwarf glared at each other menacingly, waiting for the other to make the first move. 

Sarith finally said, "Fine." The drow then left through the passage by which they entered the cavern.

Later, when the escapees had made camp, they were once again set upon by fire beetles. This time the fire beetles emerged through fissures in the ceiling, dropping on the sleeping escapees from above. The alarm was sounded and the beetles were soon dispatched.

OCHRE JELLY
They journey now relied soley on the pathfinding skills of Hemeth. Without Sarith serving as back-up to lead the way to Gracklestugh, they found themselves getting lost more often. 

During the next rest, while Kettle, Stool, and Prince Derendil were on watch, the party was attached by a large ochre jelly! The jelly went to engulf Angolwen. Kettle ran up and sliced it with his sword, splitting the jelly into two smaller independent creatures!

The rest of the party were awakened. Not knowing how to fight the creature, and worried they'd just make more if they did, they retreated near an exit while Angolwen and Virtue blasted the thing with fire spells, eventually killing it.

OROG AMBUSH 
After resting, the escapees travelled, rested, and travelled again without incident. 

During the following rest, however, they were beset by an ambush!
Virtue
The party had found a ledge overlooking the dry riverbed they were following. The ledge was inside a tall chimney, hundreds of feet high and filled with massive stalactites. They felt safe on their ledge so they decided to rest there. 

It was during her and Sarith's watch that Virtue noticed movement on a cliff forty-five feet above them on the other side of the river bed. She sprang to attention and called the alarm just as a massive javelin crashed into the ledge nearby. Ront stood in awe, whispering, "Orogs!"

"What was that?" demanded Virtue.

"They Orogs! They powerful orcs from Underdark! And smart!" Ront smiled, still facing looking up with reverence at the two massive humanoids high above, 

"Yeah, well, can you talk to them?" Virtue said as another javelin stuck into the stone nearby.

Ront pouted his lips and furrowed his brow. He glanced at Virtue then back up to the Orogs, "I don't think they want talk."

Virtue fired a few eldritch blasts at the brutes while Sarith fired his crossbow, "We need a plan."

Talorean stepped forward and spoke with divine authority, commanding the orogs to approach. 

One of the orogs, in spite of its superior position, dropped a rope and began to descend. The melee fighters of the group, including Kettle and Pain, dropped down into the river bed to prepare to attack the orog when it arrived.

Talorean repeated his command to the other orog and it, too, dropped a rope and descended. 

While the first orog dropped into battle with those below, the other orog realized what was happening and began to climb back up. Virtue and Angolwen were ready and attacked the fleeing orog with eldritch blasts and firebolts. The orog let go of the rope and fell fortyfive feet, landing on the riverbed with a wet thud. The other orog was soon defeated by Pain and the others. 

Pain then climbed the rope to search for the orog lair, only to realize he was unable to see in the total darkness. He called for help and Virtue climbed up and searched the chamber. There they found three gems that the orogs had hidden in a skull. 

THE MAD STONE GIANT
About an hour into their journey after their long rest, the escapees began to notice eerie sounds. The heard cackling hooting laughter, wet tearing sounds, and sounds too awful to describe. The sounds began quietly and slowly increased, eventually becoming unbearable! Several members of the party succumbed to madness! Many started licking and trying to eat Stool! Some simply passed out from the shock. Pain became catatonic, staring madly off into space. 

Those that kept their cool tried to help the others by ushering them into the safety of an alcove when they were approached by a massive humanoid, completely hairless with grey skin and over twelve feet tall. The giant approached warily, its hands and head occasionally twitching. 

The giant cried, "The sounds! The sounds! I can't stand the sounds! I can't.. I can't... the sounds!"

All of Talorean and Angolwen's attempts to communicate rationally with the giant failed. The giant responded with paranoia and suspicion. The giant believed that Talorean and the others were judging him for his failure to find his way out, judging him for his weakness. He accused the party of calling him a coward, for calling him weak!

They managed to talk the giant into not attacking and even asked if the giant would help them escape the noises. The giant agreed, but told them they would have to leave the others. They would wake up and accuse him of weakness. Again, their attempts to reason with the giant failed.

Virtue tried a different approach. She lied to the giant, telling him that she admired his strength and courage, and that she would follow him. The giant was flattered and turned to lead her out of the caverns. Virtue followed a few dozen feet and quietly snuck back to the group

There they waited for the rest of their party to return to their senses and continued on, eventually leaving the region of horrid madness. At about this time, Hemeth, with his ears to the stone, assured the others, "I think we have lost our pursuers."

THE MOON ELF
The journey continued essentially uneventfully for eight long rests. During this time the party met a group of four Duergar traders accompanied by a kavalrachni knight, all riding giant spider mounts called "steeders". Virtue contemplated purchasing one of the trader's carts and steeders but decided against it. The party was once again beset by fire beetles that managed to eat some of their food before being dispatched. They passed three shrieking fungi and worried momentarily about what enemies may have been alerted. Then they set camp in a fungus cavern that turned out to contain several violent fungi. During one rest, they awoke to find a grick eating their food. The grick had eaten ten pounds of food before being killed, at which point it was butchered for its meat as the party was becoming increasingly bored with a diet of dried fungus and fire beetle meat.  

During the eighth rest, their rest was distrubed by the arrival of two figures approaching. The two travellers were Sarith accompanied by a female elf with pale blue skin and dark hair. Sarith said he found her wandering alone in the dark. She was a moon elf from the surface, an escaped slave from Menzoberranzan. She could not speak and had no name. He felt she would be safer with the party than wandering alone. 
The Moon Elf
The party welcomed the new addition and, though his welcome was less than warm, accepted Sarith's return without comment or objection.  The moon elf acted subservient to the others, especially to Sarith. She was told repeatedly that she was free and did not need to act like a slave, but she continued in her habits.

The party continued to travel towards Gracklestugh, encountering a massive chamber filled knee-deep with loose bones and skeletons. They warily passed through the chamber, encountering only fire beetles. 

BLURG THE OROG
A few rests later, they were camping when they were approached by a mysterious lone figure. The figure was an pale-skinned orog, dressed in fine clothes and with the bearing of a noble scholar. The orog introduced himself as Blurg. He explained that he was a member of the Society of Brilliance. He and his fellows were scholars and diplomats, unusually intelligent specimens of each of their respective species and cultures, who sought to investigate and resolve various problems befalling the Underdark. 

He spoke of Y the derro savant, Grazilaxx the mind flayer, Skriss the troglodyte, and Sloopidoop the kuo-toa. He told the party that should they ever encounter these inviduals to mention him and they would be met as allies.
Blurg the Orog
Blurg was currently on his way to investigate a region affected by a mysterious phenomenon he called faerzress. When asked about their travels, the party told Blurg of Sloobludopp and the rising of the demon lord "Leemogoogoo", or as Virtue clarified, "Demogorgon". Blurg was upset by this news and said he must divert his travels to warn his companions.

Before he left, however, he instructed Talorean how to find the signs that point towards Gracklestugh. He told them that he had just left the place two rests ago and that a strange madness had falled over the city. The normally strict and punctilious duergar were becoming mysteriously lax and corrupt. He warned the party to be careful.

When done, Blurg walked behind and large boulder and vanished. 

ARRIVAL AT GRACKLESTUGH
After completing their long rest, the party travelled at a faster pace, covering the twelve remaining miles to Gracklestugh in only eight hours.
Hemeth the Duergar Trader
Thus it was, after their thirty-sixth long rest since escaping captivity in Velkenvelve, the party arrived at the gates outside Gracklestugh. 

Hemeth had forewarned the party of what to expect, so they pretended to be his slaves. Sarith wore a cloak to conceal his identity as a drow. 

They approached the massive stone gate, the path now paved and lit by lamps. 

Several slits opened in the cavern wall revealing several crossbows aimed at the party. A loud metallic sound alerted the party to an armored presence behind them as six heavily armored dwarves with white hair and dark grey skin appeared out of thin air. 

A harsh voice hissed in Dwarvish from a nearby slit, "State your names and business!"

TO BE CONTINUED...


DM Notes-
I'm not gonna lie, this week's session was a bit of a slog!

We completed 17 "days" of travel this session! That's compared to 5 last week and 4 the week previous. 

They arrived at Gracklestugh with 61 pounds of food and 2 gallons of water. However, I re-read the food scavenging rules today and missed that butchered meat spoils after 1 day. All those gricks and fire beetles were a big source of their food supply. I'll remember the expiration day next time.

The escape from the drow was exciting and I didn't think everybody would make it. I liked the idea of blocking pursuit using Thunderwave so I allowed it. 

In retrospect, I should have had Turvy either turn into rat-form and fight back after being cut or have them both get all sullen and quiet and mysterious when the subject came up. I got too caught up in the moment of playing them as Andy and Ollie from Bob's Burgers mixed with Walter and Perry from Home Movies. I forgot to make them serious when they needed to be. 

I had a GREAT time during the role-playing scenes with Sarith. There were some great "teen drama" moments of melodrama. 

I originally wanted to stop at midnight with eight days to go before Gracklestugh, but the players didn't want to end without making it, so we pushed on until 1:30am! Part of that was also my fault. 

The navigation rules say that missing a navigation roll adds only 1d6 hours to the journey. I forgot that and was rounding up to a whole day of travel. With +0 navigation and a difficulty 10, they had a 50% chance of adding a day to their journey every day. Eight days were added to the original 20-day journey due to missed navigation rolls! It really should have been ~28 total hours or 3.5 days.  Oh well, it's what they get for allowing the SAILOR to navigate an overland journey.

I was starting to gloss over some of the less important encounters for time. 1 grick, it stole some food, let's move on. 10 beetles. You kill them and get their meat. Don't worry about it. Let's move on. Etc. 

Now they're in Gracklestugh and this is a very complex section of the adventure. I'll have to read up very closely and study Power Score's Guide to Out of the Abyss.