Wednesday, April 6, 2016

"The Lost Tomb of Khaem" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 13


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 13
"THE LOST TOMB OF KHAEM"

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 rescued a baby red dragon whose existence 
could throw the city into war and rebellion.

They had just chartered a boat
to take them to Neverlight Grove
when Hemeth the boat capatain
betrayed them and ordered his men
to steal the baby dragon
and return it to his master
Themberchaud, the Wyrmsmith....

THE PLAYER CHARACTERS
Angolwen - Wizard of mixed human/elven parentage.
Kettle Bearclaw - Halfling baker living among dwarves.
Talorean - Half-drow abandoned at birth to be raised by wolves.
Pain Grille' - Halfling street urchin from Waterdeep.
Virtue - Tiefling paladin and a mysterious wild card.

THEIR FELLOW TRAVELLERS
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.
Santaka - a baby red dragon.

ESCAPE FROM GRACKLSTUGH
Everyone except Virtue was loading their newly purchased supplies, including four pack lizards, onto Hemeth's lake boat and making preparations to leave. In the distance arose the sound of an uprising. The derro were attacking the Stone Guard of Gracklstugh. Hemeth muttered something under his breath, put his crate down, and shouted orders for his crew, "Capture the dragon! Kill the rest!"
Hemeth the Duergar Trader, Agent of Themberchaud
The duergar crew picked up picks and hammers and moved menacingly towards the passengers. Kettle sprang into action, moving to protect the wyrmling from capture. Hemeth moved towards Angolwen but was waylaid by Talorean. Ront sprung at the duergar and clove his head with an axe. The crew used their innate duergar magic to become giants, causing the boat to rock underneath.

Virtue came running down the steps to the quay and towards the boat shouting for them to cease fighting. One of Hemeth's crewmen on the quay intercepted Virtue. When she was close enough, she cast a magic Suggestion spell on him, saying, "You should gather your men and storm the Keepers outpost to get to Thumberchaud! Now is the time to take the throne while the guards are fighting the Derro! Tell our Master quickly! I will get in the palace by offering the baby dragon to the King so I can attack from within. The all powerful Thumberchaud can breach the palace and eliminate two adversaries at once!"

The crewman nodded and called to the rest of the crew, "Quickly! We have been ordered to storm the Keeper's outpost! Our master is betrayed!" With that, four of the six remaining crewmen left the melee on the boat and ran back towards the city.  The remaining two were quickly dispatched.
Santaka the Dragon
Virtue called to the baby dragon, "Santaka, come!" The wyrmling leapt off the boat and rushed to Virtue's side. Virtue looked at her confused friends on the boat. "I'm sorry. I can't go with you. I have things to do here. Good luck!" She and Santaka turned and ran back towards the city.

DM Note -
Virtue's player has classes on Friday night now so he's dropping out for a while. He gave me detailed instructions for what Virtue did that night and her plans for Gracklstugh during the next several weeks.

While the attention of the Stone Guard and other duergar was turned towards the derro uprising, the remaining fugitives from Velkenvelve untied the boat and pushed off. Kettle looked to Rumpadump, "Which way?"
Rumpadump the Myconid

The myconid pointed towards the left, "That way."

Kettle turned his face towards the dark expanse of subterranean lake before him and said, "That way!"


DEATH IN THE DARKLAKE
The fugitives of Velkenvelve took turns manning the oars in shifts, four rowers at a time. The first shift spent eight hours rowing while the second shift studied, took inventory, or crafted necessary supplies. Then they'd swap. The third shift was spent adrift, with everyone resting.

The rowing was uneventful. The only interesting thing that happened was the time they encountered a low ceiling. The roof of the cavern kept getting lower and lower until everyone had to duck low into the boat. Talorean, however, conked his head on the ceiling.

Pain was on watch during the third shift while everyone else was asleep. Pain heard a small splashing sound. He got up to look and saw four creatures climbing into the boat. Each had a humanoid torso that ended in a long fish-like tail. Their bodies were covered in scaly piscine skin. Each possessed two heads. Each head possessed fish-like features - covered in fins and trailing long tentacles. The arms were clawed and each carried a harpoon in one hand attached to a line.

Pain called the alarm and everyone came awake. The two-headed fish-men climbed aboard, one on each quarter of the boat, croaking "Blood and salt for our abyssal lord!" They stabbed their harpoons at the closest targets. Kettle and Talorean were each harpooned and dragged into the water!

Pain quickly killed the mer-creature that threatened him and rush to the aid of Rumpadump.

Kettle managed to kill his opponent and swim back to the boat, but Talorean faced difficulty. His opponent dragged him deeper and deeper under the inky black water of the Darklake.

After finishing off the third mer-creature, Pain activated his magical boots of speed and dove into the water. Following the sound of Talorean's struggles, Pain soon closed with the combatants, but it was too late. Talorean had ceased struggling and was being dragged down further and further. Pain tried in vain to wrestle Talorean's limp body away from the aquatic creature but failed, ultimately giving up and returning to the surface.

Talorean was lost.
RIP Talorean

The fugitives, wet and forlorn, settled down to mourn their lost friend and complete their rest.

DM Note -
That was the first PC death this campaign and it was pretty brutal! Talorean was resting so he wasn't wearing armor, which made him easy to hit and damage. Dragging him underwater separated him from help and made it difficult to get healing potions to him. Overall, the merrow random encounter was bad-ass and scary! It did a good job of showing how dangerous the Darklake can be.

A CHALLENGE FOR COMMAND
The surviving members of the party were awakened by Ront. Ront followed Talorean, and Talorean was now dead. Ront declared himself leader of the party. Pain, Kettle, and Angolwen objected.
Ront

Kettle stepped up to Ront and tried to intimidate him, but his small halfling stature and friendly demeanor betrayed him. Ront threatened to eat Kettle but the halfling refused to back down. Ront picked Kettle up and tried to throw him overboard, but Kettle's feet found the gunwale and pushed back. Ront tried again but could not throw Kettle over the side. Kettle stabbed Ront with his new black-bladed katar. Ront screamed in anger but backed down. Kettle ordered Ront to man an oar. The brutish orc complied.

A few hours later, Angolwen spotted a strange creature descending through the dark. The shadowy silhouette soon resolved into a bizarre giant brain with a terrible beak. The brain trailed long writhing tentacles. Kettle identified the beast as a grell but knew little about it.

The grell moved over the boat and began to dangle its tentacles towards the party. Angolwen launched a fireball spell high overhead, detonating it above the grell. The fiery shockwave threw everyone to the deck, but the grell's flaming body hit the boat and bounced in the lake.

Thirty-six hours after they left Gracklstugh, they arrived at a waterfall that emerged from a subterranean river about a hundred feet above the level of the lake. Rumpadump indicated the direction. They put the boat ashore, offloaded the supplies, and used the pack lizards to pull the boat out of the water.

The party then climbed the rocky wall to the cavern's mouth. The pack lizards made short work of the rough surface, climbing the wall with ease. Soon they were following the small river into a tunnel that measures about a hundred feet across.


A VOICE IN THE DARKNESS
Kettle, who had learned the secrets of survival and navigation in the Underdark from Hemeth and Sarith, blazed the trail ahead, scouting the easiest path and making easy work of the difficult terrain. He turned what would have been a four day journey up rough obstacle-strewn river into a two-day journey. They made excellent time before resting and encountered no surprises during this time.

Halfway to Neverlight Grove, every member of the party heard a telepathic call for help. A soft feminine voice spoke directly to their mind, "Hello? Is someone there? Oh please, I need your help! I have been trapped in the dark for so long! So very long! Please, won't you help me?"

The party tried to communicate back but found that the voice was one-way. They could not respond.

Fearing a trap, they nonetheless investigated. They could sense the direction of the telepathic voice and followed it into a rift recently opened by tectonic shifts. They followed the voice to an ancient bronze door. The door was covered in bas relief carvings from the ancient Netherese culture.

The party hesitated. They debated the merits of opening the door and decided that the potential rewards outweighed the risks.

DM Note - 
The actual conversation went something like this:

The PCs warily follow the voice and find an ancient sealed door. 

PC 1: "Oh hell no! It's a trap! I ain't going in there! There's going to be undead and traps and stuff! We should move on."

PC 2: "Wait, (to me) just to be sure. Is there an inscription on the door? Any sort of writing?"

Me (the DM): "No. Not really, just some bas relief carvings and some undecipherable hieroglyphs."

PC2: "It sounds dangerous! Let's move on!"

Other PCs: (general sound of agreement and nervousness pointing towards avoiding the side-quest entirely)

Me (getting slightly annoyed): "Wait, there IS an inscription. It says 'ARE YOU FUCKING ADVENTURERS OR AREN'T YOU?' "

They got the point and opened the door.

AN ANCIENT SORCERER
Inside, they found an entrance room. The walls were covered in carved friezes displaying the great deeds of a powerful ancient sorcerer. Stairs led down hundreds of feet into a shrine. The shine appeared to be recently defaced and clawed but the dust of the floor showed no disturbance. 

There were two doors in the shine. The took the exit opposite the entrance. The passage opened into a crypt. Four sarcophagi sat undisturbed, the burial vault of the ancient sorcerer's most trusted servants. Pain moved into the room to investigate a sarcophagus. In so doing, four spectral figures rose and attacked.


Kettle, Pain, and Ront attacked the spectres while Jimjar fired his crossbow. Angolwen attacked with spells from the entrance. Ront was seriously injured and had to withdraw but was saved by Pain and a healing potion. The spectres were soon defeated. Kettle and Pain opened each of the sarcophagi to reveal treasures in the form of burial jewelry and ornaments.

Having looted the crypts, the party was about ready to leave when the disembodied voice once more called out, "No! Please don't leave! You are so close! Please don't leave me here!"

They looked around again, inspecting each corner of the room. It was Kettle that noticed one sarcophagus could be moved, revealing a pit in the floor that opened into a hidden chamber below.

THE TOMB
The party descended by rope into the dark chamber below. There they found a single sarcophagus atop a raised platform. After they entered, a wraith-like apparition appeared. The apparition spoke in a different voice altogether from that of the disembodied voice, cursing and threatening them as it attacked!

"Who disturbs my tomb? Who wakens me from my eternal slumber? I, the great and powerful Brysis Khaem, will destroy you!"

After defeating the ghostly sorcerer, they could still hear the friendly disembodied voice, "Yes! Closer! Within the sarcophagus!"

They opened the sarcophagus to find the mummified remains of Brysis Khaem. Atop the body was a golden sword hilt.

"You have found me! I am free!"

Kettle took the hilt. He tried to ask the hilt questions, but all it would say was that its name was Dawnbringer and that all would be revealed to him who bonded with it.



FALSE TOMB
As they went to climb out of the tomb, the party found that Ront, who had stayed above, had raised the rope. They yelled at Ront, ordering him to lower the rope. Ront considered leaving them to die but eventually lowered the rope and allowed them to climb out.

On their way out, they explored the unopened door. There they found what appeared to be a tomb with another sarcophagi and canopic jars. Angolwen cast a Detect Magic spell on the sarcophagus, sensing illusion and abjuration magic. They opened the tomb and activated the ancient spell. The spell had lost its magic, however, and it fizzled and sputtered.

Angolwen the Wizard
After determining that this final tomb was a decoy, they left the tomb of Khaem and returned to their campsite where they left the pack animals with the non-combatants.

NEXT WEEK - Neverlight Grove!