Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"Neverlight Grove" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 14

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.


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, 
survived weeks of travel in the Underdark,
thwarted a secret demonic cult
in Gracklstugh, the city of the Duergar,
and made a hasty exit from the city
leaving it on the brink of civil war.

They traversed the Darklake
and were attacked by Merrow,
where they lost the paladin Talorean.
After exploring a lost tomb
and finding a magic sword
they approach the entrance to
Neverlight Grove, fabled homeland
of the mushroom men known as Myconids...

Angolwen - Wizard of mixed human/elven parentage.
Kettle Bearclaw - Halfling baker living among dwarves.
Pain Grille' - Halfling street urchin from Waterdeep.

Ficus Asëa - a lost eladrin traveller, alone in the Underdark

Jimjar - a roguish deep gnome who likes to wager on everything.
Ront - Thuggish orc from the surface world. Follows Talorean's commands.
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.
Mister Floop - a friendly flumph.

Virtue - Tiefling paladin and a mysterious wild card.
Santaka - a baby red dragon.

The fugitives from Velkenvelve were a few miles away from Neverlight Grove when they heard the sound of eerie cackling.  Sensing the need for caution, Kettle dimmed the light of his new sword, Dawnbringer. Dawnbringer objected, asking that she never again be cast into darkness. Kettle argued with his sword. Since the sword spoke to Kettle telepathically, the rest of the fugitives could only see Kettle having an imaginary conversation with his sword. Eventually, Dawnbringer allowed herself to be dimmed.
They stealthily approached and found an eladrin warrior surrounded by three strange hunched-back creatures, each with a single large eye in the center of their heads. They cackled and taunted the lone high elf, circling him.  "Poor lost traveler! All alone! No one to protect him! No one to save him!"  The creatures turned when they noticed the approach of the fugitives. They leered, laughing an evil high-pitched laugh, "The escapees from the drow prison! We know why you are here! You will never succeed! We will kill you first, then we will kill the eladrin!" The two sides charged into battle!

The creatures, identified by Angolwen as nothics, were soon defeated. The eladrin traveler introduced himself as Ficus Asëa. He had been tasked with escorting a group of Underdark inhabitants who were lost in the Overworld back to their homelands. After completing his mission he, himself, had become lost. He had heard that Neverlight Grove may possess a passage to the Overworld and was thus headed there. The fugitives offered to allow Ficus to join their band for mutual protection and safety as they made their way back to the Overworld. He agreed and they continued their journey to Neverlight Grove.

Ficus Asëa
The path left the underground river and followed an ancient dry riverbed higher and higher. They emerged into a massive chamber, nearly half-a-mile wide and over a mile long. The chamber was warm and humid and lit with an eerie phosphorescence. They stood upon a precipice overlooking a vast bowl filled with giant mushrooms, many the size of the largest trees of the Overworld. A lake could be seen to the lower left. Marshy swamps and mushroom forests to the lower right. To the rear of the bowl were clearings and hills and large mushrooms the size of domed buildings. Terraces rose to the left and right, stepping up the walls of the massive cavern. On the far side, a rift in the cavern wall could be barely discerned through the glowing mist, hinting at another chamber beyond.

Rumpadump suggested they go report to Sovereign Basidia and pointed to one of the larger mushrooms on the far side of the lake. They agreed and the myconid led the fugitives down a path into the mushroom forest below.

The fugitives carefully followed the narrow winding path that descended to the forest below leading their train of four pack lizards. Rumpadump led the way as they entered the dense undergrowth of what he called the Fungal Wild.

They passed through a dense area of growth and emerged into a clearing. In the center of the clearing was a mound surrounded by a dozen man-sized mushrooms. One of the mushrooms came to life and approached the party. Rumpadump stepped forward and the two began silently exchanging communication spores. Rumpadump signalled the rest of the fugitives to approach so that they can be exposed to rapport spores. They were introduced to Loobamub, the leader of the circle of hunters.

Loobamub welcomed the fugitives. The hunter answered what questions he could about the "Lady", of whom the myconid had never met, and suggested they meet with Sovereign Phylo in the inner circle.

"Wait, I thought Basidia was the sovereign?" someone asked.

"They both are." was Loobamub's reply.

Loobamub also warned the fugitives that the hunters have been tracking several intruders into the fungwal wilds and to watch out for a grick alpha a "mound monster".

DM Note- I asked the players if they wished to actively hunt the monsters, actively avoid the monsters, or ignore the monsters. If they hunted, I would have asked for a nature check to track it down. If they ignored them, I'd roll a fifty percent chance of a random encounter. They chose to actively avoid the monsters, so I asked for a nature check. It failed, so I then rolled for a random encounter.

As the fugitives made their way through the swampy forest, Pain and Angolwen noticed an upwelling in the spongy terrain. They warned their fellows and prepared for an attack. Suddenly, the ground erupted underneath Kettle's pack lizard. The largest grick anyone had ever seen burst forth, its tentacles flailing around the hapless animal, its beak sinking into its flesh and dragging it underground. The party attacked!

Angolwen cast attack spells which, to her surprise, produced unexpected and chaotic effects. She suddenly found herself teleporting!

The fugitives maneuvered to surround the worm-like monstrosity. Kettle held aloft the new sword, Dawnbringer, and allowed it to flare to full prominence, attacking the foul worm with burning sun-flame.

The newcomer Ficus cast his own attack spells and, to everyone's amazement, somehow summoned a unicorn from the land of faerie!

The unicorn reared up in a flare of magical light! Pain was immobilized with awe, muttering, "It's magnificient!" to which the unicorn boldly replied, "THAT'S RIGHT! I AM MAGNIFICIENT!"

The unicorn surveyed the scene, "I say! Is that beast causing you distress? I, Magnificient the unicorn, will dispatch it forthwith!" and charged the monster.

Meanwhile, Angolwen's next spell created an unwanted cloud of magical fog while the rest of the fugitives, with the help of Magnificient the unicorn, fought and killed the monstrous grick.

After the battle, Pain cautiously approached the shining unicorn, trembling with nervous excitement, "Uh..uh.. mister unicorn?"

"Yes, my diminutive friend?"

"M..m..may I touch you?"

The unicorn considered the young halfling street urchin, "Yes. Yes, of course you may!"

Pain reached out to stroke the shining beast's fur when it began to fade, "Oh no! I'm retuuuurrrrnnnniiinngggg...!" The unicorn faded into a quietly tinkling cloud of glitter.  Pain caught as much glitter as he could and held it to his heart, smiling. The glitter, too, eventually faded. Pain looked at his hands, which were now empty, and sighed with contentment.

DM Note- I have been playing D&D for 35 years, and in all that time I can't remember EVER encountering a unicorn in the game. No one else could either except for Scott (Ficus), who had encountered one once before twenty years ago.

The party continued through the wildes, unassaulted by further threats. Kettle was having a one-way debate with his sword.

The fugitives cleared the wilds and entered a kind of clearing on the far side of the lake. There were two building-sized mushrooms and a tall cliff beyond. Near one of the larger mushrooms was a mound surrounded by dozens of man-sized mushrooms and a ring of zurkhwoods. As the fugitives approached, the tree-sized zurkwhoods came to life and took a defensive posture.

Someone asked Rumpadump if those were myconids. Rumpadump replied, "No. They're more like.. those things," indicating the pack lizards, "to you. They do what we say but they are not myconids."

The zurkhwoods separated and allowed two tall myconids to approach. One was animated and friendly while the other was reserved. The outgoing myconid sprayed his rapport spores all over the newcomers and introduced itself as Sovereign Phylo. Phylo welcomed the fugitives as guests of Neverlight Grove. "You are safe, frienly meat-people. You arrive at a wondrous time, for Neverlight Grove is on the verge of something great, something marvelous! Celebrate, as the day of joy is nigh!"

DM Note- Whenever a myconid sprays his rapport spores, I would make an expansive gesture with my hands and go "Splplplple!" with my tongue and lips like a balloon deflating. It got the point across and the players started wiping the imaginary spores from their faces each time they met a new myconid.

Phylo told the fugitives that they were guests and could stay as long as they wished, inviting them to explore and enjoy Neverlight Grove, so long as they avoid the plateau and the chamber beyond. "The circle of masters is preparing a glorious surprise in the Garden of Welcome.. oh, but I have said too much!" Phylo covered his lower "face" as if to hide a mischievous grin. "Oh, I do hope you can stay for the surprise!"

Phylo was unwilling to answer too many questions about the surprise or the Great Lady they had heard about, saying only, "The Great Lady lives in the chamber beyond the garden. Soon she will answer ALL questions! For you see, that is part of the surprise! Oh! Once again, I have said too much! Tee hee!"

DM Note- My players immediately picked up on the fact that Phylo said "she", using a gender specific pronoun that was inapplicable to the myconids. I'm so proud of my players sometimes. 
Sovereign Basidia
The other myconid was Sovereign Basidia. Basidia was laconic, reserved, and looked embarassed by Phylo's gregariousness. Basidia offered to take the fugitives on a guided tour of the five circles...

"SEVEN! Seven circles!" interrupted Phylo.

Basidia made a gesture like a deep breath and a sigh.

...the seven circles of Neverlight Grove, an invitation that the fugitives enthusiastically accepted.

Sovereign Basidia led the fugitives away from the mound of the inner circle and towards a nearby small marshy pond. Basidia didn't say much but honestly, if somewhat reservedly, answered any questions put to him.

When asked why there were two sovereigns, Basidia explained that he used to be the only sovereign, but Phylo offered to help share some of the sovereign duties, an offer that made sense at the time. Basidia explained that he had come to regret that decision as Phylo has introduced lots of new ideas.

There used to be five circles in Neverlight Grove: the hunters, the growers, the sowers, the builders, and the explorers. Phylo had introduced two new circles: the inner circle and the circle of the masters.

Phylo has also introduced a new concept to the myconids, something called a "see-krit", the withholding of information. Before Phylo, all myconids would meld together, exchanging their rapport spores in a mass meld. Phylo has restricted meldings to each circle and the leader of each circle now melds in the newly created inner circle. On top of that, a few select leaders now meld in an even more exclusive circle of masters, which has been planning this so-called "surprise".

Basidia was not in the circle of masters and had no idea what the surprise was. Basidia had heard of this "Lady" but hadn't met her, nor did he know who she was. As far as Basidia knew, the Lady spoke only to Phylo and the circle of masters.

Basidia didn't say it, but the fugitives could tell that the old sovereign was uncomfortable with Phylo's innovations.

The fugitives were led to the swampy pond. There they saw over a dozen myconids tending to hundreds of small wriggling sprouts, each the size of a potato. Many of the myconids in the circle were constantly swaying and dancing to a silent song. The circle leader sprayed its spores on the group and introduced itself as Yrberop.

Yrberop explained the purpose of the pool to the newcomers. This is where myconid sprouts were spored. Yrberop bragged that under Phylo's direction the circle had begun a program of rapid population growth.

"Hundreds of newly spored sprouts would soon be ready to join the grove in time for the coming joyous surprise. Oh, but I've said too much! Tee hee!"

Yrberop happily greeted Stool, saying that the sprout had grown so big in the past few months! Yrberop explained that Stool was taken from the grove, along with other sprouts, by a drow raiding party looking for a source of slaves. They had harvested dozens of tiny sprouts when they were little more than puff-balls and taken them away.

Throughout the story, Yrberop was constantly interrupted by the tiny wriggling potato-like sprouts wanting attention. The sower would calm them with the spore equivalent of a tune. Yrberop eventually ignored the newcomers entirely, trailing off into a kind of lullaby song.

"Soon the Great Seeder will come
She will wed the Great Body
Every little sprout is invited
She will bring joy to all in the world
below and above"

Basidia led the party away and up a path that climbed the walls of the cavern to one of the terraces high above.

The tour ascended the path to one of the terraces. The terrace featured crude structures made of stones arranged in an imitation of walls and buildings.

The leader of the circle approached Basidia and sprayed his spores all over the tour group.

DM Note- "Splplplple!" 

The circle leader's name was Gasbide. Gasbide was excited to meet the fugitives. Gasbide deduced from their appearance that they were Overworlders and immediately began asking questions about the mythical land above. Gasbide showed a level of enthusiasm for a subject that was atypical for a myconid. The leader asked if anyone of the guests had ever seen a "building". He urgently requested details such as shapes, dimensions, uses, etc. Gasbide boasted that someday he would construct a tower larger and taller than even the mighty Yggmorgus, the massive towering mushroom in the chamber beyond. Gasbide mentioned that with the help fo Araumycos, the tower might reach all the way to the Overworld!

When asked about Araumycos, Gasbide admitted that it was but a name it had overheard. Something to do with the upcoming surprise. "Oh, but I have perhaps said too much! Tee hee!"

Basidia led the tour to a higher terrace.

The highest terrace was home to the circle of growers. The leader of the growers reluctantly sprayed its spores in order to meet the guests.

DM Note- "Splplplple!" 

The leader was named Hebopbe. Hebopbe was taciturn and grumpily dismissed all questions about the recent events in the grove, saying that was none of its business.

Basidia led the tour along a path around the grove. The path passed over the tunnel entrance to the grove and looped all the way around to the other side of the cavern.

The tour was introduced to Rasharoo, the leader of the circle of explorers.

DM Note- "Splplplple!"  By this time, the player characters were miming being annoyed at being sprayed in the face with rapport spores, wiping it away and out of their eyes and spitting it out of their mouths.

Rasharoo was wary of the newcomers but was happy to see Rumpadump. The two melded and Rasharoo's wariness turned into warm trust. Rasharoo explains that Rumpadump was one of the explorers sent out into the Underdark with Voosbur. When Voosbur returned alone, Rasharoo feared that Rumpadump was lost.

Rasharoo was highly suspicious of Phylo and has not joined in any of the meldings with the inner circle. Instead, it appeared that Voosbur had become good friends with Phylo and Rasharoo expected to be soon replaced as circle leader.

Rasharoo had grave doubts about this upcoming surprise. Strange things were happening in the Underdark. The explorer had heard stories of demon lords and evil cults, stories that were corroborated by the fugitives. Rasharoo said that it believed that the grove had fallen under the influence of one of these demon lords and that it had been preparing an escape plan in case anything should befall the grove.

Basidia added that it suspected Phylo of spreading a diseased spore during melding and that this spore originated from the Garden of Welcome. Basidia had not visited the Garden of Welcome and was very curious about what was going on up there with the circle of masters. Very curious. Basidia reiterated that the garden of welcome was forbidden to the guests, but a subtle nod indicated a path that led up the cliff face.

Kettle, Angolwen, Pain, Ficus, Jimjar, Ront, and Mister Floop (who could not be persuaded to stay behind with Prince Derendil and Starshine) reached the top of the path and found a wide plateau, higher than the terraces in the cavern behind them. Soaring zurkhwoods screened the area beyond. They moved through the forest of tree-sized mushrooms and entered a clearing containing a mound similar to those found with each circle. Unlike the other mounds, which were made of soil, rocks, and lichens, this mound was composed of half-buried bodies, some humanoid, some monstrous. The bodies were covered in lichens, molds, and mushrooms. There were no myconids or man-sized mushrooms in sight.

As they neared the mound of horror, they could make out the sound of moaning. The bodies half-buried in the mound were alive! Some of their limbs feebly moved and their heads turned! One of the heads was that of a female drow, calling out in Undercommon. When no one replied, she tried elven, "You... I was... looking for you... Please... for your Overworld gods... kill me!"

The fugitives cautiously moved closer. The drow held out her hand, clutching a spider medallion in the bloated limb that was once her hand, "The Great Seeder... trap... she's here... the Lady of Decay... Zuggtmoy... "

Suddenly, a massive shape burst into the clearing. It was the heaving bulk of what was once a myconid, a disgusting fusion of flesh and fungus covered in fat pustules that burst and emitted clouds of yellow, green, and purple spores. It spoke in a gutteral disgusting croak.

"Welcome travelers! I am Yestabrod! Are you here for the wedding rehearsal? Friends of the bride or her intended? No matter! Let the love of the Great Seeder embrace you as you become one with her chosen, the Great Body!"

The massive bulk was joined by four myconids, all members of the circle of masters, and the bodies of four of the half-buried drow, great mushrooms and lichens sprouting from their decaying heads.

"If you refuse, you will become sustenance for the circle of masters!"

The fugitives did battle with Yestabrod and its (his?) minions. Ficus cast an attack spell at a nearby drow spore servant with the side effect of causing lightning to strike three of them, destroying them instantly!

Yestabrod countered by causing one of the dead spore servants to explosde, spraying all around it with acid, then spraying a cloud of acidic spores over the fugitives.

With the spore servants gone, the fugitives directed their attacks at Yestabrod. Although the monstrous thing tried to delay the inevitable by absorbing another nearby corpse, the behemoth soon fell. As it did so, its corpulent mass exploded into a cloud of spores that caused everyone nearby to begin coughing.

With the defeat of their grotesque master, the remaining myconids fled in terror.

DM Note- I upgraded the encounter, adding two additional spore servants and two additional myconids. I also made Yestabrod's Infestation Spores attack be triggered by his reaching 0 hit points. It made for a nice "F-you" to the party as he died. 

The fugitives paused to search through the half-buried remains on the mound. They were able to remove a suit of studded leather armor, a fine shortsword - the only weapon not affected by rust, and a bag of holding containing two spell scrolls - remove curse and spider climb, forty days rations, and 320 silver pieces.

DM Note- Long after we finished this encounter, I realized a major missed opportunity. I should have had Voosbur from the Whorlstone Tunnels be one of Yestabrod's henchmen! Unless he shows up somewhere else later on that I haven't read yet. 

The fugitives then advanced through a winding defile that separated the plateau of the Garden of Welcome and the chamber beyond. From here they could finally get a sense of the enormity of Yggmorgus, the gargantuan mushroom tower, in the adjoining chamber. They were forced to retreat, however, when they heard the sound of singing and marching coming towards them. They backed out of the defile and hid amongst the fungal growth in the Garden to watch.

They observed a procession of vaguely humanoid creatures - drow, duergar, deep gnomes, orcs, orogs, and other unknown species, all transformed into twisted hybrids of mushroom and decaying flesh. They were all dressed in finery. The twelve females wore long yellow gowns made of lichen, the six males wore dark purple suits with long tentacle-like tails. They all paraded side-by-side, arms locked, in high-stepping fashion, singing the same song in unison:

From rocky bed the toadstool rose
From chaos dark, her love She shows
Wish! Yearn! Laugh! Ha Ha!
The Lady will be wed!
Crave! Hunger! Dance! Ha Ha!
Her joyous spores will spread!
Youth is gone and beauty rots,
Araumycos and Zuggtmoy!
Joined together, heart to heart,
Becoming one ’til death do part!
Hail! Hail! Ha Ha Ha!
The Lady will be wed!
When they reached the Garden of Welcome, the males peeled off to the right while the females to the left, forming a circle around the mound.

A handful of the half-alive drow buried in the mound became animated and awkwardly retrieved Yestabrod's nearby corpse. The corpse was dragged to the summit and held there like a puppet.

The last of the males climbed to the summit of the mound and stood waiting. Soon afterwards, the singing stopped, leaving only the eerie music emanating from no discernable source. The last female, holding a bouquet of mushrooms and lichen, slowly climbed the mound and stood next to the male.

Suddenly, all of the fugitives, observing in secret nearby, experienced a shared vision. 

They were suddenly bodiless and rushing towards Yggmorgus. Below them they could see a moat of ooze surrounding the massive mushroom tower. The ooze was filled with lumps and shapeless masses, the remains of thousands of corpses. On the other side of the moat was a cacophonous dance of thousands of twisted mutated flesh-mushroom hybrids. Among them was Sovereign Phylo, gyrating madly at the insane noiseless music.

They passed into Yggmorgus itself, spiralling up tunnels dug into its fibrous interior. They flashed past more of the strange hybrid creatures they saw in the mock wedding, eventually reaching a massive chamber located inside the cap of Yggmorgus.

There they saw a vision of a huge creature with the form resembling that of a humanoid female. Her hair was a large cap of lichen, her skin the color and texture of fungus, her lower torso appeared to be a massive mushroom with a split cap, from which her upper torso emerged. The monstrous being was wearing a yellow dress and veil composed of delicately woven lichens. She was attended by twelve female flesh-mushroom hybrid creatures.

The foul creature could only be the demon lord Zuggtmoy. She appeared to be in a trance while her thralls fretted over her. Then, as if she could sense their presence, she turned her gnarled brownish-yellow head and faced the intruders. She opened her eyes which flashed with evil. The fugitives experienced a sense of falling and suddenly woke up, as if from a nightmare, back in the dense growth of the Garden of Welcome.

The rehearsal party was gone. They had left the body of Yestabrod to rot on the mound of decay. Angolwen produced the Stonespeaker Crystal and used it to communicate with Yestabrod's spirit, asking it for details of the wedding.

Yestabrod was unable to tell Angolwen when the wedding was scheduled for there was no reckoning of hours, days, weeks, or months in Neverlight Grove. He could only say that the wedding was planned for a future time... later.

DM Note- I had difficulty answering this question. A) Myconids have no concept of hours or days. I had no way of answering this question. B) I couldn't find anything in the module that gives any sort of actual schedule for the wedding, so I had to break the game and say, "I honestly don't know. You're in chapter 5. The wedding is planned for chapter 16. You've got some time."

When asked about Araumycos, Yestrabod said simply that he was the Great Body, the Groom, a king that ruled a region of the Underdark far away, and that he had never met him and knew nothing about him.

Yestabrod did provide the following useful information - very soon the remaining myconids would be rounded up and brought into the Garden of Rot where they, too, brought under the Lady's influence. The plan was, in fact, imminent!

Upon completing the interrogation, the fugitives decided to leave the Garden of Welcome and warn Sovereign Basidia and Rasharoo.

Upon warning Basidia and Rasharoo of the imminent danger, Rasharoo decided to put its escape plan into action. The remaining two dozen uninfected myconids fled Neverlight Grove, passing through fissures in the rock too small for the fugitive's pack animals and equipment.

Kettle bid a touching farewell to Stool, instructing the sprout to follow Rumpadump's example and to stay out of trouble. Stool promised that it would someday mature and become an explorer and an adventurer like its role model Kettle. Kettle wished the sprout well and said goodbye.
My home-made minis for Stool (2nd and 1st)

Basidia then presented the fugitives with a gift of gratitude. The gift was an old chest containing several vaulable gemstones and provided each of them with a gourd filled with healing potions.

My home-made mini for Rumpadump
Kettle then shook hands with Rumpadump and the two groups then parted ways.

Later, once they had reached a safe distance from Neverlight Grove, Angolwen was examining the items they had obtained, including the amulet. The process of examining the amulet caused it to activate. Suddenly, they heard a familiar voice - it was Mistress Ilvara!

"Xinaya? Xinaya, where have you been? I've been trying to reach you for days! I believe the escapees are headed towards Neverlight Grove! Be prepared for their arrival! I am sending forces to reinforce you."
"Warlord Kettleborn"
Kettle's eyes got wide. He grabbed the amulet away from Angolwen.

"Ilvara? Ha ha! This is Warlord Kettleborn!"

"Who? I don't know who that is! I've never heard of you! Where is Xinaya?"

"Xinaya is dead! You'll never catch us! And the next time I see you, you will regret ever enslaving us!"

Ilvara cut the connection. Kettle looked smug.

The chase is back on!


DM Note- I should have been more subtle about not facing Zuggtmoy. The players were all gung ho to storm Yggmorgus and take on Zuggtmoy. I didn't want a TPK so I flat out told the players they weren't ready to confront her. Based on my advice, they left Yggmorgus alone and fled. The entire chapter then felt anti-climactic and it cast a major pall over having to leave with the refugees.

After the session, I re-read the Yggmorgus section and realized that there was a more subtle way to confronting Zuggtmoy without a TPK. I kicked myself over this missed opportunity! I have plans on reincorporating it in an organic way next week.