Tuesday, March 22, 2016

"The Curse of the Derro" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 11

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 11
"THE CURSE OF THE DERRO"

After delivering Droki to Commander Blackskull
The party returned to the Whorlstone Tunnels.
There they encountered a strange group of mushroom men
and chanced upon an old friend...


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.

THEIR FELLOW TRAVELLERS
Ront - Thuggish orc from the surface world. Follows Talorean's commands.
Jimjar - a roguish deep gnome who likes to wager on everything.
Topsy and Turvy - Deep gnome twins who everyone pretty much knows are were-rats.
Buppido - A gregarious derro. Everyone assumes he's an assassin.


NOT PRESENT THIS EPISODE
Virtue - Tiefling paladin and a mysterious wild card.
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.

INTRODUCING
Mister Floop! - A friendly newcomer

AN OLD FRIEND
Soon after encountering the dancing myconids, Virtue received a premonition. Looking around nervously, she muttered something about danger and mysteriously fled with her dragon egg.

Everyone watched her, somewhat dumbounded, as she ran away towards the alchemist's lab. She ran right past Kettle, who was calmly approaching from that same direction.

"Where's she going?" the halfling asked, hooking his thumb towards Virtue.

Pain simply shrugged.

Continuing into the next chamber, they encountered the gruesome stench of decaying bodies. There they found a derro arranging dozens of mutilated corpses into a spiral pattern on the floor.

Buppido looked up from his task as the party entered his charnel abattoir and smiled.

Pain was at first happy to be reunited with a former member of their party, but he was apprehensive, "Uh, Buppido? Buddy?"

"Oh, there you are! I didn't expect you to find me here, with my shrine nearly finished! An power! My faithful are finaly honoring me! Are you...? Yes, I sense that you are ready to receive my truth into your hearts!"

Buppido held his arms wide and looked to the ceiling. In his right hand was the curved drow blade with which he attacked Angolwen.

"And Angolwen! I am happy to see that you have returned so that I can finish what I started!"

Buppido was bathed in a column of purple light emanating from a glowing circle that formed underneath his feet. Tiny motes of energy swirled in the air around him. 
Buppido

"Rise! Rise my faithful worshippers! Rise and do your the bidding of your all-powerful god!"

Various rotting body parts assembled into seven humanoid shapes and rose up from the floor. Each animated corpses comprised of mis-matched parts but all possessing two heads! They animated body parts moved towards the party, brandishing weapons in a threatening manner. 

Pain quipped, "Huh, maybe he really IS the avatar of the god of murder!"

Angolwen shouted, "Let me kill him! Let me kick him in the nards again!"

Kettle yelled back, "No! Don't kill him! There's a reward for his arrest!"

Angolwen looked dubiously at Kettle, "Really? Are you sure?"

Kettle assured her, "Yes! Of course there is! Don't kill him!"

Angolwen gritted her teeth, "Hrumph! Fine!"

The party spread out. Pain rushed in and engaged Buppido. Buppido stabbed Pain with his poisoned dagger, but as a halfling Pain was resistant to its effects. Pain then stabbed Buppido, but stayed his blade so that Buppido might be captured alive.

Soon afterwards, the animated corpses were defeated and Buppido was bound and in custody.

A moment later, a diminuitive ghost arose from the mass of dismembered body parts. The ghost introduced himself as Pelek. Pelek was friendly and interacted with the party, answering what questions he could. He explained that he was a travelling trader from Brlingdenstone on his way to Gracklstugh and that had met Buppido several tridons ago wanding alone in the Underdark. They journed together to the City of Blades. It was then that Buppido murdered the deep gnome and scattered his parts here. He requested the party return his family ring to his relatives in Blingdenstone. Only then would his soul be set free.

The party agreed, only to then learn that the ring is attached to a hand that, only an hour ago, became animated and scuttled out of the room into the caves beyond.

Kettle took a look around and noted the tiny glowing finger-print like tracks left in the magically infused stone of the tunnel.

As they prepared to head out and track the hand, Kettle ordered Ront, as the strongest, to carry the captive Buppido.

Ront looked at Talorean for approval. Talorean shook his head, "No."

Kettle tried again. Ront looked at Talorean again. Talorean, once more, forbade him. Ront was confused. Kettle and Talorean clashed over who should carry the body. Talorean argued that he needed Ront to be unencumbered should fighting break out. Also, Talorean wanted to kill Buppido in the first place. If Kettle wanted to carry him around, then Kettle would have to do it.

Kettle acquiesced in a huff but managed to persuade the myconid Rumpadump to carry Buppido.

THE WHISPERING MESA
Kettle lost the tiny glowing fingerprints in the mushroom forest. Taking a chance, the party went right, following the winding passage as it curved to the left. They found themselves in the cavern containing the single massive stalagmite and the ceiling concealed by a glowing whispering fog.

They climbed the stalagmite to the top where the whispers became distict voices. Angolwen closed her eyes and concentrated, trying to listen for a voice belonging to Commander Blackskull. Soon, she could hear Commander Blackskull's very thoughts. She learned that Commander Blackskull had, indeed, spoken with representatives of the Xarrorn and the Merchants' Guild and that it was safe for Angolwen to reach out to the Merchants' Guild about the miscommunication.

She tried to listen for additional thoughts, but overtaxed her mind, causing a severe headache which caused her to break the link.

Kettle and Pain likewise attempted, but both accomplished nothing more than severe headaches.

They decided to leave the chamber. Having lost the trail of the crawling hand, they returned to the mushroom forest and tried the other route.

MISTER FLOOP
Back at the mushroom forest, they decided to take the left path. Kettle was able to reacquire the trail which they followed past the chamber with the water weird pool and down the long corridor.

Up ahead, they saw a strange creature - a floating fleshy disk with two eye stalks. Dangling below the disk were many gently waving tentacles, like a floating jellyfish.
Mister Floop

The strange creature approached them, calling out, "Hello there! Oh hello! I am in need of assistance!"

The party warily engaged the strange creature in conversation.

The creature introduced itself as "Mister Floop", a "flumph". He said that he was drawn to these caves because of their unique magical nature, which he found quite nourishing, but he has encountered several creatures engaging in most distressing behavior regarding rituals involved with certain infernal extra-dimensional entities. Their activities are spoiling the magical nature of these caves, infusing them with infernal extra-dimensional energies. He enlisted the party to stop their activities before the caves were ruined forever!

The party put aside their quest for the crawling hand to help Mister Floop with his problem.

THE CULTISTS HIDEOUT
The party followed Mister Floop down the long corridor, curving around to the left until it made a sharp left turn. They had arrived at the intersection where they had previously scattered caltrops to discourage a group of shambling two-headed grimlocks. They cautiously entered the previously unexplored side passage, weapons drawn.

No one was failed to notice the concealed pit trap in front of them. They easily moved around it and continued into the dense fungal thicket ahead. As they did so, they could smell campfires ahead and hear the droning chanting of some kind of ritual. The ritual was interrupted as several blood-curdlling screams went up around the party. They had entered a patch of shrieker mushrooms!

The party rushed into the large chamber. The right half of the chamber was elevated from the left by a five foot ledge. There were three burning braziers on the ledge, casting odd flickering light and shadows against the dimly glowing magical walls of the cavern.

Five derro, one wearing fancy robes, were chanting in a circle.  As they chanted, a two-foot statue in the center of the circle began growing a second head! The chanting came to a crescendo with the shouting of a hideous name:

"Demogorgon!"

Upon hearing the shreiker, the derro moved away from the circle and took up defensive positions along the ledge.

Another derro, who had been sitting near a camp fire and several sleeping bags in the lower half of the chamber, stood up and moved to open a large nearby cage. Within the cage was a vicious two-headed dog!

Pain rushed in to re-close the cage. Ront followed to engage the derro.

Kettle ran forth to engage the derro on the ledge.

The derro in the fine robes issued orders to someone out of view in a niche to the right, "Grula-Munga! Arise! Strike down our enemies! Your master, Narrak, demands it!"
Narrak
From around the corner arose a massive hulking two-headed giant, apparently named Grula-Munga!

The Cultist Hideout
Grula-Munga strode forward into view, walked up to Kettle, hit him once with a massive uprooted tree, then smashed into the halfling with a powerful swing from a metal mace! Kettle went flying into a nearby wall with a crash!  The stunned halfling caught his breath with a groan.

DM Note-
Critical hit! 

Talorean rushed forward to support Kettle in his fight with the two-headed giant. Angolwen came around the corner and began hurling spells.


After a thrilling battle, Grula-Munga was finally defeated by a thunderous chromatic orb released high over the creature's heads.

Meanwhile, one of the other derro ran up and re-opened the cage holding the two-headed dog. Pain looked at him in disbelief, "What? REALLY??" The derro smiled with glassy eyes.

Ront and Pain continued to fight the death dog and the two derro with assistance from Jimjar. The remaining two derro withdrew to protect Narrak.

Talorean and Ront, having finished off their foes, began to approach Narrak. Narrak cast a Hold Person spell on Talorean. Ront, seeing magic at play, decided to back off.

Topsy and Turvy ran up to engage the derro protecting Narrak. Upon entering the glowing magic circle, Turvy was overcome by irrational fear and retreated to the safety of the cage that once held the two-headed dog.

Kettle and Pain attempted to fight with Narrak and his bodygards while Angolwen and Jimjar attacked at range with spells and crossbow. Angolwen called for restraint to that Narrak could be captured alive. Topsy, however, showed no restraint and killed the derro savant anyway.

INSUBORDINATION
After the battle, Kettle went to check on Buppido, whom Rumpadump had been dragging along. Kettle was annoyed to find Buppido stabbed to death!

Kettle shouted at Rumpadump, "What happened here? Who did this? And don't you dare tell me we all look alike!"

Rumpadump stoically replied, "Okay." The myconid remained silent.

Kettle, annoyed, said, "Well? Who did it?"

Rumpadump answered, "I don't know. One of the mammals."

Jimjar said, "Yeah, uh, I was trying to tell you earlier."

"Did you do this?"

"Uh, no way! It wasn't me! I'm not gonna say WHO did it. I'm no rat! But let's just say you might want to ask the twins about it." Jimjar hooked a thumb at Topsy and Turvy.


Topy was trying to get her brother Turvy out of the dog cage. Turvy was still in the throes of fear.

Kettle stormed over and began yelling at them. The rest of the party tried to calm him down. Angolwen, however, was ambivalent. On the one hand, she was happy that Buppido, who tried to murder her, was dead. She wanted to kill him anyway. On the other hand, she was annoyed at Topsy for murdering Narrak. She simply shrugged and stayed out of it.

Kettle berates the Twins for Murdering Buppido
Topsy shouted at Kettle, "Bad big-head tried to kill nice elf lady! We saw it! We saw him try to kill her! He would kill all of us! He would try to kill us! We killed him first!"

Kettle was incensed that the bounty he believed awaited him was not lost.

In response, Topsy and Turvy both turned into were-rats and ran off, squeezing through a fissure in the back of the chamber.

THE AFTERMATH
After the drama with the twins had died down, the party began to examine the room.
In the center of the circle they found the two-foot tall statue. The statue was of a stone giant, with a freshly grown second head. The statue was engraved with the profane markings of demogorgon. On its base was the name Dorhun, the stone giant they had met in the Blade Bazaar.

In the rear of the cave, they found several broken two-headed statues in a pile by Narrak's desk. One of the statues had the name Rihuud, the giant they were forced to kill in the Blade Bazaar. The other was named Chthonn, the giant they encountered in the Underdark. When they picked up the pieces of Rihuud's statue, it crumbled to dust. The shards of Chthonn's statue, however, did not crumble. They bundled them up with the statue of Dorhun to return to Stonespeaker Hgraam.

On the desk was a scroll and a book containing ancient dwarven rituals - a book that would take hours to read and comprehend.

Angolwen used the Stonespeaker Crystal to cast a Speak with Dead spell upon the corpse of Narrak. She learned that the savants were sorcerers and kept no spell books, frustrating her attempts to gain new magic.

At that point, Mister Floop came dashing in, telepathically broadcasting, "Ah Hah! Have at thee! Oh, is the battle over?"

He was told that it was. He seemed disappointed. "I'm terribly sorry. I'm having difficulty understanding this concept you call the linear passage of time. I'll try better to participate next time. Well, you certainly have performed a terrific service here! You've brought an end to the corruption these filthy creatures were causing. You certainly are an exciting bunch! Refreshing! Very satisfying! I passively feed off emotions, you see. Would you mind terribly if I were to, say, accompany you on your travels for a while?"

Angolwen rolled her eyes, "Sure. Great."

DM Note-
Angolwen's player had commented the week before that the majority of the rewards in this campaign so far seemed to be additional NPCs. She's not wrong.

Afterwards, they returned to the laboratory of the Grey Alchemist, climbed the ladder back to the Darklake Docks, and took the body of Buppido to the Overlake Hold.
Commander Errde Blackskull of the Stone Guard

They presented the body to Commander Blackskull in the hopes of receiving a reward for the death of the murderer. Commander Blackskull, in her growing paranoia, was concerned that her agents were indeed who they said they were. She informed them of her suspicion that a new breed of doppelganger had entered Gracklstugh, and that these doppelgangers were immune to biological tests! She then used what she called her newly acquired psionic abilities to verify their identities. Having done so, she accepted the body of Buppido and added an additional 50 gp each to their equipment credit when they choose to leave Gracklstugh.

After leaving the Overlake Hold, the party hired a courier to take a message to Clan Cairngorm, informing them of the statues and requesting audience with the Stonespeaker in two shifts.

A MUCH NEEDED REST
The party returned to the Gholbrorn's Lair to rest for a shift. After an uneventful rest, they woke, ate a hearty meal of rothe' stew with mushrooms and tubers, and made their plans for the tridon.

The dour serving wench of the inn brought them a message. They had received a reply from Clan Cairngorm with a pass allowing them to visit.

Stonespeaker Hgraam
They took the pass to the gates and were escorted through the forbidden city to Clan Cairngorm's praxeum. There they were met by Stonespeaker Hgraam. They showed him the statues they had found and recounted the story of the ritual.  The Stonespeaker confirmed that Dorhun had, indeed, suffered a bout of madness during the shift before last, and that he had grown a second head the same as Rihuud. He took the statues, explaining that with the statue he could undo the curse placed upon him. However, because the statue of Chthonn was broken, its effects were permanent. He worried that Chthonn now had two heads of his own.

Stonespeaker thanked the party for their intervention and rewarded them with an emerald the size of a grapefruit!

YLSA'S DEAL
After meeting with the Stonespeaker, the party returned to the Blade Bazaar. They asked several Stone Guard and merchants about meeting with the merchant council to discuss the obelisk. They were directed to the office of Ylsa Henstak, public representative of the council.
Ylsa Henstak
They apologized about the misunderstanding three or four shifts ago. Both sides thought they were engaging the forces of the Grey Ghosts in the laboratory of the Grey Alchemist.

They inquired about the merchant council's interest in the Whorlstone Tunnels. Ylsa did not know about the tunnels. She said that she was investigating possible Derro trade with the surface in violation with exclusive trade agreements and licenses belonging to members of the merchant council.

She then showed the party a collection of contraband items confiscated from the derro: various coins of Overworld pressing, a handful of gold rings, and some necklaces. She pointed out the Overworld provenance of the items, exclaiming that the derro, unfamiliar with their true value, were trading such items in exchange for simple meals!

She went on to relate that the council had learned the Derro Savants had hired the Grey Ghosts for an unknown purpose, and they had learned that Droki had been hired as a courier to deliver items to the Grey Ghosts in an underground hideout. The Xarrorn found the entrance to this hideout and went in to investigate, only to find a group of Overworlders, confirming their suspicions of a connection to the Overworld.

Pain and Angolwen then told Ylsa of the Obsidian Obelisk and its ability to produce items from the Overworld, speculating that this was the source of the items from the Overworld. They offered to take Ylsa and her Xarrorn to the obelisk if she wanted, for a price.

Ylsa was interested and offered the three gold rings as payment for the obelisk.

The following shift, the party escorted Ylsa and a force of Xarrorn and guards from Clan Xardelvar down the pipe into the Whorlstone Tunnels and to the chamber of the obsidian obelisk. There they showed her how to activate the obelisk and produced several random items.

Ylsa was impressed and paid them one of the necklaces. She offered more for Angolwen to demonstrate the teleportation capabilities of the obelisk but, not knowing to where she would teleport, Angolwen declined. Ylsa further offered Angolwen long-term employment activating the obelisk. Angolwen was tempted but declined when she learned she'd have to stay in Gracklstugh for hundreds of tridons.

Pain asked Ylsa if the merchant council had any trips to the Overworld planned. Ylsa said that the caravans are massive affairs and that the next one wouldn't happen for hundreds of tridons. Pain then asked about Blingdenstone instead. She confirmed that they send a lake galley to Blingdenstone once every few dozen tridons. She offered free passage on one should they wish to travel there. The party agreed.

Kettle, having seen the obelisk for the first time, was entranced by its capabilities. He was certain that the obelisk was responsible for the disappearance of his favorite stirring spoons. He asked about the cracks and voids in its metallic surface. Pain explained that the shard they had obtained from the Grey Alchemist would fit perfectly into the void.

Kettle looked sheepish, "Oh, uh, it does?"

Pain became suspicious, "Yes, why."

Kettle admitted, "Because I kind of, um, took it to a blacksmith and asked him to forge it into a new short sword."
Pain Grille'

"What? Really?" Pain exclaimed.

"Um. Yes. Sorry."

"When?"

"Like, three shifts ago, when I took Stool back to the surface."

"Dammit Kettle!"

TO BE CONTINUED...

DM Notes-
One of the things that I loved about this session was seeing the players buy into the paranoia of the city. They're starting to get involved in the plots and schemes and machinations between the various factions, and are beginning to withhold information with an eye towards playing factions against each other!

During the exchanges with Commander Blackskull, they were very careful not to mention the dragon egg or the entire plot happening between the Keepers of the Flame and Themberchaud, or the Grey Ghost theft of the egg for the Derro Savants. They only confirmed that the Grey Ghosts were working for the Derro Savants. Of course, that was driven by Virtue doing a quick subtle head shake to cut that story off in the session before last. Virtue has her own plans for the dragon egg.

Similarly, when they met Ylsa, they failed to mention the dragon egg or any plots involving the Keepers or the Derro Savants, or even the two-headed statues or the cult of Demogorgon. They kept the information about the obsidian obelisk compartmentalized. 

It's that kind of buy-in and interaction with the NPCs as real people and setting as real place that makes me so happy as a dungeon master!