Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"Secrets and Spies" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 12

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 12
"SECRETS AND SPIES"

A rag-tag group of survivors
escaped the drow prison at Velkenvelve,
witnessed the razing of a kuo-toa village
by the demon-lord Demogorgon, 
and traveled for 28 days to 
Gracklstugh, the city of the Duergar,
where they have become involved
in the scheming machinations of
the various political factions 
vying for power in this city of madness...


THE PLAYER CHARACTERS
Angolwen - Wizard of mixed human/elven parentage.
Kettle Bearclaw - Halfling baker living among dwarves.
Virtue - Tiefling paladin and a mysterious wild card.

THEIR FELLOW TRAVELLERS
Jimjar - a roguish deep gnome who likes to wager on everything.

NOT PRESENT THIS EPISODE
Talorean - Half-drow abandoned at birth to be raised by wolves.
Ront - Thuggish orc from the surface world. Follows Talorean's commands.
Pain Grille' - Halfling street urchin from Waterdeep.
Rumpadump - A shy and laconic myconid adult.
Stool - A myconid sprout that follows Kettle like a pet follows its owner.
Prince Derendil - Elven prince in the body of a brutish quaggoth.
Starshine - A mute female moon elf, an escaped slave with no name.
Topsy and Turvy - Deep gnome twins who everyone pretty much knows are were-rats.
Mister Floop - a friendly flumph.

VIRTUE'S DRAGON
When Virtue saw Buppido, she was overwhelmed by her manic paranoia. She turned and fled, carrying her seventy pound dragon egg to safety.

She blindly ran through the Whorlstone Tunnels until she came across the chamber of the Whispering Mesa. It seemed a safe defensible location so she climbed.

She sat down at the top of the mesa, surrounded by the whispered thoughts of the people of Gracklstugh, and considered the dragon egg. There she sat with her egg for what felt like days, or possibly only hours, it was difficult to tell in this alien subterranean environment.

While she sat, she caught a snippet of a thought from Themberchaud the dragon, the Wyrmsmith of Gracklstugh. She knew then that if she returned the egg to Themberchaud, the dragon would destroy the egg as a potential rival. She also sensed growing impatience in the dragon, and a growing desire to destroy the Keepers of the Flame, kill the Deepking, and take over the city.

She decided she wouldn't turn the egg over to Themberchaud. She would hatch it herself.

At first she used her own magical flame to heat the egg. Then she downed a potion of fire breathing and exhaled flame over the egg.

The egg cracked.

Out hatched a wyrmling. A sixty-pound baby dragon that burped fire and loudly squawked, "MAA!"

Virtue fed the wymrling what edible mushrooms and rations she had but the dragon was unsatisfied. It needed meat.

He left the dragon momentarily to obtain some more meat from a nearby cavern, but the dragon was still dissatisfied.

DM Note-
Me: "Where will you find any meat?"

Virtue's player: "We've left dead bodies in every room we've been to in this dungeon!"

Me: "Good point."

Virtue gathered up the egg-shells into a sack and loaded the dragon and into her backpack and ventured out of the cavern in search of more food.

THE SPIDER KING
While harvesting some more mushrooms from a nearby patch, she came upon a fissure in the wall. She remembered that this fissure probably connected to the fissure in the back of the mushroom garden of the alchemist's lab. Knowing that the door to the lab was locked and figuring that the lab was a safe place to be, she consumed a pygmywort mushroom and gave one to her dragon.  Tnhey both shrank down to the size of a halfling and ventured into the fissure.

She came upon an split in the tunnel and chose left. At the second split, she realized that she had fallen into a trap. She was surrounded by three giant spiders! The largest one with two heads said something in a language she did not understand. She drew her hex blade.

One of spiders in front of her showered her in sticky webbing. The dragon exhaled fire upon the two-headed spider behind them. The spiders approached, biting with their poisonous fangs. Virtue managed to kill one of the spiders in front of her but ultimately fell to the other's poisonous bite. The spider wrapped up Virtue's fallen body in a cocoon while the baby dragon fought and killed the two-headed spider. Upon defeating its foe, the baby dragon then turned and killed the spider dragging Virtue's body away.

The dragon pawed at the un-moving cocoon, crying, "MAA!" The dragon dragged the cocoon out of the fissure and back to the chamber of the mesa.

SECRETS SHARED
Angolwen

After leading Ylsa Henstak into the Whorlstone Tunnels and the chamber of the Obsidian Obelisk, Angolwen and Kettle decide to head back to the cavern of the Whispering Mesa to ask some more questions while Pain Grille' went back to Gracklstugh to help make preparations to leave.

To their surprise, they find a halfling-sized cocoon and a baby dragon.

"MAA!"

The baby dragon took a defensive posture over the cocoon but Kettle managed to ease its fears and convince it that they were friendly.

DM Note - 
Animal Handling!

Kettle pulled one of his blades and cut open the cocoon. He found the halfling-sized Virtue unconscious and blue. He applied a healing potion and helped her to come around. There they waited for the paralysis to wear off.

Once Virtue regained her senses, she realized that her overwhelming paranoia had finally passed, though some lingering suspicion remained.

The three caught up on the events of the previous tridon (an Underdark "day"): the death of Buppido,  the ghost and the quest to find the missing ring, the thwarting of the derro savants and the cult of Demogorgon, etc. Virtue caught everyone up on his deal with Themberchaud, the duplicity of the Keepers of the Flame, the theft of the dragon egg by the Grey Shadows on behalf of the derro savants, the subsequent hatching of the baby dragon, etc. Then they discussed what they wanted to do next.

DM Note - 
Unbeknownst to them, while they were sharing all their secrets and strategies, they were being observed by invisible agents of Ylsa and the Merchant Council.

ONE LAST MEETING WITH YLSA
They decided they needed more information so they made one more trip back to the Obsidian Obelisk to ask Ylsa some questions about the politics of Gracklstugh, specifically what would happen if various factions were eliminated or made more powerful. On the way, they realized they had a baby red dragon that was in high demand, so Angolwen cast a Minor Illusion spell to make the dragon resemble a large dog.

"MAA!"

Close enough.

Ylsa Henstak

Ylsa was still examining the obelisk when they arrived.

"Welcome back. You weren't gone long."

"We'd like to ask you some questions about Gracklstugh."

She nodded and turned around from her inspection of the obelisk.

"What.. is.. that?" she said with alarm, pointing at the disguised dog.. dragon.. thing.

"MAA!" bleated the roughly canine quadruped.

"It's a.. um.. it's a dog." declared Kettle, hesitantly.

"A what? What is that? Is that some kind of Overworlder animal?"

"Yep! That's exactly what it is!"

"Keep it away from me!"

They asked her some questions about how politics were run in Gracklstugh. Who was in charge? What was the line of succession? Who was the current heir? Who was at odds with whom? What was the relationship between the stone giants of Clan Cairngorm and the Deepking? She shared what she knew.

DM Note - 
After they left, the invisible spy informed Ylsa of everything he had observed. 

CLOSING OUT THE REMAINING QUESTS
Afterwards, they decided to hunt down the crawling hand with the ring they sought. They tracked it to the chamber filled with discarded corpses and two-headed zombies. Angolwen stood on the ledge and safely dispatched all the zombies at range using attack spells. Kettle noticed the hand with the ring crawling in the back of the room. He climbed down and grabbed the hand. The hand fought back. Kettle wrestled with the hand and managed to pull the ring off. He threw the hand across the room and Angolwen zapped it with an Eldritch Blast.
The Crawling Claw

DM Note-
I thought about having the zombies reanimate as soon as Kettle was in the back of the room, but it's kind of a pointless encounter, so I just skipped it. 

On their way out, they investigated an unexplored passage. They found their way blocked by crude bars made of scrap. Within was a mosaic spiral pattern built into the floor surrounded by glowing stones. In the distance were nine large animal cages, several of them filled with cave bears. Two derro were camped in the room, both arguing with non-existent, or invisible, companions. The party decided to leave the room alone and return to Gracklstugh.

DM Note-
Party rolled an average stealth score of 9. The players were certain they'd be spotted. However, the passive Perception of the derro is 7. Nobody saw nuthin.

THE STONESPEAKER HGRAAM
Their first task upon returning to Gracklstugh was to request an audience with Stonespeaker Hgraam. They considered the Stonespeaker to be the only being they could trust in Gracklstugh so they wanted to make sure he was informed of all that was happening in Gracklstugh.
Stonespeaker Hgraam
Stonespeaker Hgraam met them as requested, "I did not expect to see you again so soon."

They told the Stonespeaker about Themberchaud's growing impatience and plans to take over the city, as well as the Keepers' plot to replace Themberchaud. They asked what the stone giant response would be in the event of Themberchaud trying to take over. The Stonespeaker replied that they would fulfill their oath and fight the Wyrmsmith to protect the Deepking. However, if the Deepking were to die, his line would come to an end and Clan Cairngorm would be free of their oath. He also pointed out that the current consort has been unable to produce an heir, a situation that has caused some concern among members of the royal court.

Afterwards, they told Hgraam about the Whispering Mesa and the Obsidian Obelisk. Hgraam expressed alarm and said that they had to take this information directly to the Deepking. He would arrange an audience with the Deep King at once.

AUDIENCE WITH THE DEEP KING
Stonespeaker Hgraam took the trio, along with their strange looking "dog" to the Deep King's hall. Lava poured down troughs flanking the wide boulevard that led into the immensely tall arched entrance. Massive basalt pillars held aloft a soaring vaulted ceiling. At the head of the hall sat the Deep King Horgar Steelshadow V on his heavy throne. His consort stood by his side.
The Deep King Horgar Steelshadow V

Other than the Deep King and his consort, they were completely alone. No guards, no courtiers, no advisers.

Stonespeaker Hgraam introduced the party, informing the Deep King that they had vital information that affected the security and well being of the kingdom. Kettle stepped forward. As the only member of the party that spoke Dwarvish, he spoke for the party.

Kettle repeated his information for the Deep King, informing him of the power of the Whispering Mesa, the Obsidian Obelisk, the involvement of the derro savants in the cult of Demogorgon, and the cult's attempts to destabilize the influence of the stone giants.

While Kettle spoke, Angolwen cast a spell of Comprehend Languages upon herself so that she could follow and provide support if needed. Virtue, remembering a rumor she heard somewhere regarding the possible true nature of the king's consort, observed her closely trying to get a reading on her.

The Deep King thanked Kettle for the information. Then he asked where they obtained the wyrmling. He had seen right through the illusion.

"MAA!"

Kettle replied that it was their dragon and not for sale.

The Deep King offered to purchase the dragon for 1000 gold coins.

Kettle replied that it was not for sale.

The Deep King increased his offer to 2000 gold coins.

Kettle replied that it was still not for sale.

The situation became tense for a short moment. Then the Deep King informed Kettle that, as a reward for the useful information he provided, he would allow them to keep the dragon. However, he warned them to leave the city immediately lest they garner the wrath of Themberchaud the Wymrsmith.

Kettle agreed and the party ended their audience with the Deep King.

UNWELCOME INFORMATION
Hgraam escorted the party back to the gates to the Darklake District. On the way, Virtue told the others that the king's consort was a fiend, probably a succubus, confirming the rumors he had heard.
Virtue

DM Note-
This led to some debate about whether succubi were demons or devils, a detail that changed with each edition. After some research I determined that "fiends" were both demons AND devils and that succubi served both sides. This was important because Kettle's favored enemy is demon. 

Stonespeaker Hgraam was shocked. He said that this was a major allegation and could not be repeated without proof or evidence.

Virtue really wanted to go back and immediately deal with this information. She offered several strategies that allowed her to reveal the consort as an agent of demons. Angolwen and Kettle managed to talk him out of it. They really just wanted to leave the city. They promised they would deal with it later.

At gate, party bade farewell to Stonespeaker Hgraam, who suggested that they should probably not return to Gracklstugh.

PREPARATIONS TO LEAVE
The trio next went to Overlake Hold and chose equipment from the armory, their reward for serving Commander Blackskull. They briefly met with the commander. She was by now almost paralyzed with paranoia. Nevertheless, they told her, too, about Obsidian Obelisk and the Whispering Mesa. She admitted that she already knew this. She has had invisible spies following them for some time. She warned them to never believe for a moment that they were alone, for her spies were likely not alone. Before they left, Commander Blackskull collected her badges and gave them exit passports, allowing them to exit the city.
Commander Errde Blackskull
Afterwards, they went shopping in the Blade Bazaar. Angolwen purchased crates of spell components. Kettle purchased pack lizard and supplies, then picked up his new weapon: a katar made of black glass-metal, made from the missing chunk of obelisk found in the alchemist's laboratory.

DM Note-
As a non-magical bug exceptional blade, I'm going to give it the property of re-rolling damage rolls of 1. 

Virtue returned to the Gohlbrorn's Lair to gather everyone up and prepare them for leaving. She told them to meet down at the Darklake Docks.

Virtue and Kettle met early down by the docks and found Hemeth, the duergar merchant they helped return to Gracklstugh several tridons ago. Hemeth was overseeing the outfitting of his new ship. They chartered his ship to take them to Neverlight Grove. Soon, the others arrive and they began loading their equipment and supplies, as well as their young dragon, on board.

PARTING SHOTS
While the others loaded the ship, Virtue said she had to go take care of some final things and went back to the city.

On her way to the gates, she was waylaid by Gartokkar Xundorn, leader of the Keepers of the Flame. Gartokkar demanded to know where the dragon egg was.

Virtue said the dragon died and gave Gartokkar the egg shells. Gartokkar suspected treachery and demanded to see the dragon's body. Virtue admitted to Gartokkar that Themberchaud employed her as a secret agent to bring the dragon to him to kill. She added that Thermberchaud was growing restless of the Keepers of the Flame and was going to take over the city soon. This Gartokkar knew, of course. The duergar warned Virtue that Themberchaud had other agents. If Virtue had the dragon, the dragon was in danger.

"Other agents? Like whom?"

"Like Hemeth."

Virtue's eyes got large. She suddenly remembered that it was Hemeth that brought her to Themberchaud's lair, and that it was Hemeth that introduced her to the Wyrmsmith. She said, "Oh. Oh that's right. Uh oh. Gotta go!"

As she turned to run back to the ship, she heard the sound of battle. The derro were uprising!
Hemeth

Back on the boat, Hemeth gave a signal and he and his agents drew their weapons. "Capture the dragon! Kill the rest!"

"MAA!"

TO BE CONTINUED

After Action Report - 
We were missing Talorean and Pain Grille' this week. 

Virtue's player really wanted to foment rebellion and strife everywhere she went, which is totally in line with the character's backstory and goals. The other players just want to get the heck out of town. They're ready for Neverlight Grove.

In a way I'm glad that Talorean's player missed this week because it was filled with the types of machinations, plotting, speculation, investigation, and duplicity that he kind of hates. He becomes bored with political drama and "what should we tell to who?" kinds of strategies. He prefers clearly defined enemies and clearly defined goals where anything else is extraneous and to be ignored.

However, this kind of play is right up Virtue's and Kettle's players alleys. They eat this stuff up. It helps immerse them into the world and it gives them a sense of impact in the setting.

Most of this week's game was just Kettle and Virtue and Angolwen talking in character and interacting with NPCs, and they had a blast! 

I'm a little sad Pain's player missed it because he likes this kind of play also. 

Next week- I built a boat for them to fight on and/or steal to take to Neverlight Grove!