Monday, March 14, 2016

"The Obsidian Obelisk" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 10

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.
The Black Obelisk


CHAPTER 10
"THE OBSIDIAN OBELISK"

The party has captured the derro courier Droki
and are trapped in the Whorlstone Tunnels.
They must find exit the tunnels and deliver Droki
to the Overlake Hold to fulfill the mission
given to them by Commander Blackskull
of the Stone Guard...

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.

THEIR FELLOW TRAVELLERS
Stool - a myconid sprout that follows Kettle like a pet follows its owner.
Ront - Thuggish orc from the surface world. Respects authority and follows Talorean's commands.
Jimjar - a roguish deep gnome who likes to wager on everything.
Topsy and Turvy - Deep gnome twins. Missing from the group since the cave-in. Possibly were-rats.
Prince Derendil - Elven prince in the body of a brutish quaggoth.
"Moon Elf" - a mute female elf, an escaped slave from Menzoberranzan with no name.

ANOTHER WAY OUT
The party was trapped inside the laboratory of the Gray Alchemist, their exit to the city above cut off by retreating duergar combatants. Since the position was closed off, defensible, and comfortable, they decided to rest there for a few hours.

Pain and Talorean used the time to interrogate their bound captive, Droki the derro courier. Droki's answers contained useless babbling and double-talk, mixed with panicked agitation at being detained from his rounds. From the babble they were able to discern several points -

  1. There was another way out of the Whorlstone Tunnels located in the chamber of the black obelisk - whatever that was.
  2. There was a dragon egg in the chamber of the black obelisk.
  3. That if they wanted a dragon egg, Droki could get them lots of dragon eggs! As many as they wanted! All they had to do was take Droki to the savants. The savants have many dragon eggs!
The party realized that they would never get any rest with Droki constantly writhing and trying to escape, so they rummaged through the Gray Alchemist's lab and found an old sleeping potion which they forced Droki to drink.

The party tried to rest but their dreams were haunted by nightmarish visions and unspeakable horrors. When they awoke, Pain found that he was repulsed by Droki. Droki's mere presence caused nausea and tremors, so Pain kept his distance. Virtue, meanwhile, had become overwhelmed by paranoia and suspicion. Angolwen discovered that she was unable to speak! Luckily, her condition wore off after a few minutes.
Pain Grille'

After getting a few hours of rest, they decided to exit the way they entered, through derro territory in the West Cleft. They bound and hobbled Droki, force fed him a pygmywort mushroom to shrink him to the size of a doll, and stuffed him into a sack for easy transport.

They retraced their steps to the fissure where they found the shield under the yellow mold. There they each consumed a pygmywort and squeezed through. On the other side of the small passage, their way was blocked by a carrion crawler feeding on some mushrooms. The carrion crawler noticed their approach and tried to grab them from within the fissure. Talorean defended the entrance to the fissure while Angolwen attacked the creature with spells. When Angolwen was paralyzed by the crawler's tentacles, her position was taken over by Virtue and her glaive. The carrion crawler was soon so injured that it gave up the attack and wandered away.
Carrion Crawler

The party continued into the pipe through which they entered the tunnels and emerged into the darkness of the West Cleft district. There they quietly sneaked to the gate where they demanded entry into Gracklstugh. The guards expressed skepticism but were swayed when they showed their blackskull badges. They were allowed into the city and escorted back to the Darklake District.


THE SLAVE AUCTION
The party was working their way through a crowded Blade Bazaar with Droki wriggling like a pig in the large sack. Their way was blocked by a herd of "steeders", giant tarantulas used as mounts and beasts of burden, being moved by several duergar drovers, so they took a different route.

They passed a slave auction and Pain happened to overhear that a moon elf was up for bid. He stopped to investigate and found that the moon elf they found in the Underdark was being sold as a slave. Behind her was Prince Derendil and Jimjar! Pain asked one of the Stone Guard why these guests of Gracklstugh were being sold as slaves. The guard informed him that they were prisoners, arrested for disturbing the civic order, and that their punishment was bound servitude.

Pain entered the bidding for Moon Elf and won her, paying twenty-five gold. Prince Derendil, as a quaggoth, fetched a higher price. Pain was sure to outbid all others and paid sixty gold! Jimjar, however, was deemed a less-than-ideal prospect and sold for only twenty gold.

When asked how they came to be incarcerated, Jimjar explained that he was arrested for illegal gambling - a charge that he protested for gambling was natural and in no way illegal! His defense was ignored and he found himself the guests of the Stone Guard for the evening. He was good for the debt, however, and would soon pay Pain back ever coin!

Prince Derendil, for his part, said that he and Moon Elf were simply out walking the grounds, inspecting the wares at the Blade Bazaar, when one of the duergar made demands of the prince as if he were a lowly commoner. The prince demanded the respect and treatment afforded his noble title and personage but was denied. The prince's entreaties brought the attention of the Stone Guard, who claimed that the prince was disturbing something called the "civic order". The prince denied all charges and was arrested! The prince, of course, explained that his noble status made him exempt from such petty laws and made him immune from prosecution. The Stone Guard escorted the prince into custody in the city dungeon. Moon Elf accompanied him, naturally.

After the story, Pain suggested that we couldn't keep calling the moon elf "Moon Elf". He suggested the name "Starshine". The rest of the party agreed. Starshine, as she was now called, simply smiled and passively nodded her assent.
Starshine
When Prince Derendil inquired about Sarith, Pain informed the others of Sarith's recent demise.


THE COURIER IS DELIVERED
Kettle took Stool, Prince Derendil, and Starshine back to the Gohlbrorn's Lair Lair to rest while the rest of the party continued to Overlake Hold to deliver Droki to Errde Blackskull.

They met Commander Blackskull in her office and delivered the shrunken Droki. Commander Blackskull handed the tiny derro off to some guards and thanked her Outlander agents for their service.

Pain then informed Commander Blackskull that they encountered more grey ghosts in the laboratory since they last spoke. Commander Blackskull laughed and informed Pain that she had received a visit from a scion of the Xundorn clan.

The Xundorns said that they had found a secret laboratory and encountered Overworlders working for the Grey Ghosts, providing descriptions that matched Pain and the rest of the party. They were investigating the source of Overworld currency recently found among the derro. The Xundorns have exclusive trade agreements with the Overworld and feared that the Grey Ghosts were somehow facilitating the derro in violating this agreement.

Commander Blackskull then pressed Pain on the subject, suspecting them of collusion with the Grey Ghosts. She demanded that Pain reveal his contacts with the derro savants and what they hoped to achieve. Pain was able to allay her fears by pointing out that they had delivered Droki as promised and had told her the truth on all counts.

Pain then asked if his friends Talorean and Virtue could be made agents. Commander Blackskull was skeptical of their intentions but Pain was ultimately able to convince her of the benefits. She obtained from them their pledges of fealty and gave them each a badge emblazoned with a black skull.

Afterwards, they left the Overlake Hold and prepared to re-enter the Whorlstone Tunnels. Jimjar asked if he could come along and Pain agreed. Suddenly, two voices popped up behind Pain asking if they could come too. Pain jumped in surprise and closed his eyes in frustration. It was Topsy and Turvy. Where THEY came from was a complete mystery!
Topsy

Turvy

"Sure. You can come too."

BACK TO THE PIPE
Although Droki had been captured and delivered, there was still the matter of Virtue's quest to retrieve a dragon egg from the Grey Ghosts, an egg whose existence Droki had confirmed. So the party made plans to return to the Whorlstone Tunnels.

They entered the concealed pipe overlooking the Darklake Docks and proceeded to the secret chamber hollowed out above the laboratory of the grey alchemist. There they found the pipe had been sealed shut.

Pain gave Ront a bigwig mushroom and a crowbar. The orc swelled to gargantuan size and strength and used the crowbar to pry open the sealed entrance to the tunnels below. Rather than use up one of the limited supply of pygmyworts, the party waited in the secret chamber for an hour for the effects of the growth to wear off. Afterwards, the party descended the  ladder inside the pipe and found themselves once more in the secret laboratory.

From there, using a key Pain had found among the Grey Alchemist's effects, they exited the laboratory and closed and locked the door behind them. They took a right and ventured into unknown territory!

SOMETHING WEIRD
The party entered a chamber filled with a pool of water with a dark swirling whirlpool at its center. The path split into two. The left path took a high path, rising around the pool before disappearing in a passage that led to the right. The right path took a low path, curving around the other side of the pool before disappearing into a passage underneath the left path and headed towards the left.

DM Note-
The players sarcastically joked, "Water Weird!" like they always do when they encounter a room with a pool.

The party took the path to the right. As they circumnavigated the pool, the whirlpool became a spinning geyser that approached them. The water curved and smashed into Talorean in a gout like that from a fire hose. They were under attack from a water weird!

DM Note-
The players looked at me aghast, "Wait, for real? It's really a water weird?? We've joked about it for so long, I don't even remember what a water weird does or how to fight it!"

"Me neither!" said another player.

"What do we do??" said a third player.

The panicked looks on their faces was HILARIOUS!

As their weapons had little effect on the weird, Angolwen began throwing spell after spell at the magical creature. The water weird turned its attacks towards the wizard but to little effect. Soon the water weird was destroyed and the dark stain in the water dissipated.

DM Note-
Rassin-frassin. I could NOT roll over a 7 the entire fight!

THE PIT OF DEATH
The passage curved left and followed a straight path for several hundred feet. Ahead of them, they could see a two-headed grimlock, one of the creatures they encountered before their rest, trying unsuccessfully to hide itself among the rock wall of the cavern. The party approached and killed the creature with a single crossbow bolt and fire bolt spell as it tried to flee.

From there they passed a passage to the left, from which emanated a musky odor from live animals. A few yards later, they found a door in a passage to the right. They opened the door and proceeded.

They found a large triangular chamber off to the right. They were standing on a ledge overlooking a fifteen-foot deep pit. The pit was filled with rotting corpses. Many of the corpses were writhing and moving, some were trying to claw their way out of the pit. All of the corpses were horribly disfigured and mutated, some with two heads.

They decided to ignore the pit and continue exploring the passage to the left.

THE MUSHROOM DOOR
The passage curved to the right and continued for several hundred feet. The passage ended at an intersection to the left and right. The left passage was only about a dozen yards and filled with mushrooms of various types. Virtue decided to investigate the mushrooms, looking to replenish their supply of pygmyworts. There he found a large door concealed by the overgrowth.

As he turned around to announce his find, he spotted an unusual distortion. An invisible lurker was among them. He took some crumbled up mushroom and hurled them. They bounced off the invisible watcher who promptly turned and fled down the passage from which they came. The party decided not to give chase.

The door was stuck but was soon forced open and the party continued. The passage beyond wound to the right in a spiral pattern and opened into a large chamber. The chamber was a natural chimney, reaching hundreds of feet up, and was brightly lit from a shaft of sunlight!

THE CHAMBER OF THE OBSIDIAN OBELISK

The chamber was large and lit by a shaft of brilliant light as bright as the sun. The party was standing at the base of a large multi-level mesa, atop which were two natural stone platforms separated by about forty feet but connected by a bridge. On one platform was a red dragon egg. On the other platform was a fifty-foot tall black metal obelisk. Several ramps led up the side of the mesa's various levels.
Pliinki
Standing at the base of the obelisk was a female derro wearing ornate robes and carrying an expensive-looking crook. She was performing a magical ritual that caused the obelisk to flash. The flash, in turn, caused the glowing cave walls to fluoresce and pulse. She reached down and picked up a small object, cackling with glee at her success! She had, as yet, not noticed the arrival of the party.


The party formed up and began stealthily moving up the ramp of the mesa, carefully avoiding the notice of the wizard at the base of the obelisk and the spectator hovering over the entrance.

DM Note-
Unbeknownst to the party, a spectator was hovering over the entrance standing guard. I made a perception check for the spectator with Advantage. A 4 and a... 4. The spectator's vaunted perception was no match for the average stealth check of all nine party members!!! I figured the spectator was watching its master at that moment. 


However, an invisible voice called out from the passage behind the party, alerting the wizard, whose name was apparently Pliinki, and the spectator to the intrusion.

Talorean and Jimjar turned and spotted a derro guard, now visible. Talorean threw his javelin while Jimjar fired his crossbow, killing the derro guard at range.


The party sprang into action, running up the ramps as fast as they could with Jimjar, Topsy, and Turvy lagging behind. The spectator, a fleshy orb with one giant central eye, a massive mouth, and four smaller eyes growing from tentacle-like stalks, flew above the mesa and firing its eye beams at the trio, severely injuring Turvy with its force blast. Turvy, gritting his teeth in pain, was uncontrollably transformed into a wererat. Topsy, sick with grief and worry, held her brother in an attempt to calm him. Jimjar did what he could by firing his crossbow at the hovering beast.

Meanwhile, Angolwen emerged onto the next level of the mesa, crossed under the bridge, and cast a chromatic orb of acid spell at the spectator. The orb burst in an explosion of acid, killing the alien creature in a single attack!
Angolwen brings the BOOM!

DM Note-
Critical hit! 6d8 = Thirty-some-odd damage! BOOM! I was annoyed because the spectator was going to be fun for me. But Angolwen got a hoot out of the massive damage and many high-fives from her fellow players. 

Meanwhile, Pain, wearing Droki's magical boots, and Ront the orc rushed Pliinki the wizard at the base of the obelisk. Pliinki cast a spell and vanished, leaving the pair dumbfounded!

The rest of the party began to catch up, running onto the bridge. Pliinki reappeared and cast a burning hands spell upon Pain and Ront. The spell hurt, a lot.

Pain retaliated with a sneak attack against the wizard, killing her instantly.

DM Note-
The players said, "Well, that was easy. Why did we kill her again?" And the answer was "(Shrug.)"

WHERE TO NOW?
Only after killing Pliinki did the party realize they might want to question her about the dragon egg. Luckily, they remembered that the magical Stonespeaker Crystal given to them by Hgraam allowed them to communicate with the dead. Angolwen produced the crystal and began questioning Pliinki.

Thus they learned that she was one of the derro savants, the leaders of the derro, and that they had employed the Gray Ghosts to steal the dragon egg from the Keepers of the Flame.

DM Note-
Virtue's player's eyes got suddenly wide as the implications dawned on him. "Ah!" he exclaimed as he realized that the egg belonged to the Keepers who wanted to replace Themberchaud with a dragon that could be more easily controlled.

They also learned that a horizontal pipe located behind the mesa led to an exit, providing the derro savants with an alternate entrance and exit. When asked where Pliinki kept her spellbook, she said in a secret place in her quarters.

When asked about the obelisk, Pliinki said that it was created by the derro god Diirinka and that it contained "unimaginable power". She was reassembling it from missing pieces obtained by the Grey Ghosts. It was nearly complete. When finished, she would harness the power to overthrow the duergar and conquer Gracklstugh for the derro! She told them that the obelisk was fueled by magical energy - one could produce effects of greater and greater power depending on the strength of the magical energy sacrificed to it.

Angolwen noted that the smooth metal finish of the obelisk was marred by several missing chunks. One of which matched the size and shape of the chunk delivered by Droki to the Grey Alchemist. She swore at the fact that the missing piece was currently in Gracklstugh with Kettle.

Angolwen cast a Tongues spell and red Pliinki's notebook. It contained many lists of everyday items from the Overworld. The most recent entry was a gold coin. This corresponded with the gold coin placed on the notebook, the very item they witnessed Pliinki produce when they entered the chamber.

Angolwen cast a minor cantrip into the obelisk. It flashed. Lying at the base of the obelisk was a receipt for a deposit at a bank on the other side of Faerun.

DM Note-
The notebook explained that expending a cantrip provided a single object from the trinket table in the PHB. Expending a spell slot teleported them.. somewhere. This gave the players the idea - finish assembling the broken monolith and it probably would teleport them to the surface!

I thought it was a brilliant quest idea and put that aside for later.

Armed with this new information, the party weighed its options.
  • Return the dragon egg to the Keepers of the Flame? 
  • Turn it over to Themberchaud, revealing the duplicity of the Keepers?
  • Keep the dragon egg for themselves and have a pet wyrmling!

Virtue decided to put the dragon egg in a backpack and keep it for now.

The party wanted to investigate the source of the shaft of sunlight, so Angolwen sent her own to fly up to the high reaches of the cave. The owl reported that the light was created by crystals made unnaturally bright by the magic of the obelisk.

Wanting to retrieve Pliinki's spellbook, she next sent her owl to scout the pipe leading to the derro enclave. The pipe led to junctions and intersections. Rather than risk getting lost, she ordered her owl to return.

DM Note-
Angolwen's player scowled at me - "I want that spellbook!"

The party then returned to the door concealed by the mushroom patch. From there they took the unexplored passage. The passage linked up with the upper path in the chamber of the water weird. They turned left and looped around to the right for several hundred feet.

A niche to the right contained a fissure that the Virtue concluded must led to the fissure at the back of the garden. They continued, coming to an intersection that led left or right. They went left, looped around another long passage, and found themselves back in the mushroom forest.

THE LADY'S GIFT
Knowing that the path ahead led to the main passage, the party decided to take the unexplored passage to the left. The passage led to a cavern, at the center of which were a group of vaguely humanoid mushroom men known as myconids.

Four myconids and two quaggoths were dancing and swaying to an inaudible tune. The quaggoths had strange mushrooms growing from their heads. A fifth myconid stood away from the dancing group, warily observing from the edge of the cavern.

Pain and Angolwen approached the lone myconid, who shared with them his communication spores, inquiring about the strange tableau. The lone myconid answered in quiet reserved sentences, explaining that he didn't quite understand and he didn't like it.

At that point, one of the swaying myconids came forward and introduced himself as Voosbur. He told the party of "the Lady's Gift", extolling its virtues and exhorting the party to join with him in receiving her gracious endowment. When asked what all it entailed, Voosbur cryptically said that it was an expansion of consciousness, a joining of shared minds through the Lady's wondrous dream.

The party politely declined the offer to receive the Lady's Gift. Voosbur accepted the answer and cheerfully, indeed giddily, danced with his cohorts into the nearby mushroom forest, where they disappeared.
Rumpadump
The party asked the remaining myconid its name. He answered "Rumpadump". They asked if he knew the way to Neverlight Grove. "Of course," he replied. This alleviated a recent concern that had developed among the party that Sarith was the only one who knew the way to Stool's home.

They asked Rumpadump if he would like to accompany them and lead them to Neverlight Grove. He agreed.

AN OLD FRIEND
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. 
Buppido

TO BE CONTINUED...