Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"The Oozing Temple" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 16

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.

Me behind the DM screen


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 discovered that Zuggtmoy, the Demon Queen of Decay
had taken over the myconid homeland
known as Neverlight Grove.

After defeating a trio of hags
on an island in the middle of the Darklake
they returned to Gracklstugh to hire
a boat crew to take them to Jewelshine-on-Darklake
where they can take Jimjar to his home in Blingdenstone.
There they hope to find the passage 
that will take them back to the Overworld...

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
Virtue - Tiefling paladin and a mysterious wild card.

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

The fugitives were resting as their lake boat cut through the Darklake, driven by four human slaves. They had been crossing the lake for untold hours and had been staggering their rests as they went. As usual, two of the fugitives were assigned to be on watch at any given time while the others rested. Angolwen scanned the dimly illuminated area around the boat while keeping one eye on the duergar overseer watching the slaves.

Suddenly, one of the slaves screamed as they were struck by a large harpoon attached to a line. The harpoon had been thrown by an unseen attacker, partially submerged in the lake.  The slave was dragged overboard but stopped by the shackles chained to his ankles. The slave's cries turned into gurgling panic as he fell into the water and was dragged along the side of the boat.

Angolwen immediately called everyone awake, stood up, and cast a firebolt spell at the harpoon line, severing it. Somewhere out in the water, at the edge of the illumination, came an inhuman roar of frustration as the merrow attacker dove underwater.

The fugitives rushed to the aid of the slave, pulling him back on board, but it was too late. The harpoon had impaled the poor wretch.

The merrow erupted out of the water alongside the boat and attacked. The fugitives aided the duergar crew in the defense of the boat, eventually driving the  merrow away empty-handed. Ficus volunteered to take the place of the missing slave at the oars.

More hours of boredom passed. The duergar captain called out the sighting of another craft, a small mushroom boat. The craft had two passengers: a female tiefling and a red dragon wyrmling. It was Virtue and Santaka. They were adrift with no oars and few provisions.
I was recently told I've been drawing Virtue wrong. Her horns are apparently much longer.

A line was thrown to the small boat and Virtue was brought on board. Virtue told how she had hastily arranged passage on an outgoing boat from Gracklstugh. The boat was attacked and destroyed. She barely made her escape on the small craft but lacked oars. They had been drifting in the Darklake for untold hours. She was welcomed back among the fugitives with open arms.

Hours later, the resting occupants of the boat were once again awakened by screams of terror as one of the overseers was picked up by a tentacle of water and pulled towards the lake. Unfortunately, no one could reach the overseer in time and he was pulled underwater.

Another tentacle rose up and attacked the occupants of the boat but the fugitives fought back. Angolwen cast a Chromatic Orb spell, dousing the watery appendage with poison but with no effect. The others slashed and stabbed at the elemental force, but only Kettle's magic sword Dawnbringer seemed to have the full effect.

The watery entity was soon defeated but the overseer was never seen again.

DM Note- The random encounter table had a sub-table indicating that the Water Weird was protecting a crypt on the lake's bottom containing a mummy and some treasure. Um, so what? There was no way anyone could know that and no way for them to do anything about it if they did. I'm not sure what the purpose of that sub-table was other than to provide the DM with a secret rationale for a water weird in the middle of the lake. 

Several shifts passed uneventfully. At the end of the third or fourth rest, the captain woke the passengers. They had finally arrived at the tiny outpost of Jewelshine-on-Darklake. The destination was little more than a single jetty next to a hundred-foot tall stone pedestal, atop which was placed a combination trading post and inn. It was here that duergar boats met svirfneblin traders to take on cargo bound for Gracklstugh or unload cargo bound for Blingdenstone.

The fugitives unloaded their pack animals and equipment from the boat. Angolwen helped the two hidden stowaways, Topsy and Turvy, off the boat by disguising them as cargo with an illusion cantrip.

After disembarking, the fugitives stopped at the inn for a meal, their first cooked meal in many rest cycles, and caught up on local gossip, inquiring specifically about the disposition of their final destination: Blingdenstone.

There they learned that Blingdenstone was still being rebuilt after the last war with the drow and that they should expect areas that were still troubled by unwanted monsters and ghosts. Also, the city had recently begun to experience a problem with an infestation of both wererats and oozes, slimes, and puddings.

Half a shift later, the fugitives and their three pack lizards were prepared for a foray into the tunnels of the Underdark. As they set off into the cavern leading to Blingdenstone, Pain, who was bringing up the rear guard, was startled when he was greeted by the shrill voices of the twin deep gnomes, "Hello!" and "Hello!"
Topsy and Turvy

Pain's eyes grew wide, then became hooded slits as he bared his gritted teeth and sighed.

He asked how they got here. They told him that they had to make a fast getaway from Gracklstugh. Not only was the city filled with wererats for some reason, they were being hunted! They had to run away so they hid in the cramped hold of the first boat leaving town. Luckily, that boat reunited the twins with the rest of the fugitives!

The twins annoyed Pain for the next several hours, asking him inane questions and playing childish games.

Eventually they asked Pain where they were going, and Pain told them they were traveling to Blingdenstone.
Pain Grille'

The twins became despondent and threw a tantrum. They grabbed Pain's legs and dragged along the ground, begging to go to any other destination. Pain stopped and asked them why. They let go and crossed their arms and pouted, "That's personal..."

At that moment, there was a great tremor and the earth heaved. The tunnel shook and collapsed, hurling the fugitives into the collapsing void under their feet. They fell and were followed by the boulders and debris from the collapsing ceiling. Starhine and Mister Floop were both critically injured by the collapse but quick action by Angolwen and Ficus saved them when they were able to deliver healing potions to the injured party members.

DM Note- Everyone took 10 points of damage from the collapsing debris. Starshine and Mister Floop were both dead. Earlier in the campaign, I had set the expectation that NPCs had no dying condition. When they reached zero HP they were dead. However, I had forgotten that rule several times and allowed healing to save a dying NPC. Some of the players wanted an opportunity to save their beloved NPCs while others lobbied for stark death. I compromised and asked those who wished to save an NPC to make a DC 10 DEX save. If they succeeded, they could use a healing potion on the NPC. They made it. I liked this because success wasn't guaranteed and it sacrificed party consumable resources. 

The fugitives found themselves dumped into a cavern. Topsy and Turvy were nowhere to be seen, apparently they were separated by the falling cieling. There was barely enough room for them all to fit and they all crowded against each other. A passage led left or right. Kettle, Jimjar, and Ront led the way to the left, the rest of the party followed in a long procession stretching back to the chamber into which they fell. The pack lizards had to be squeezed through the passage, pulled and pushed from either side.
The long train

The passage opened into a room, part of some ancient subterranean complex. As Kettle, Jimjar, and Ront entered the room, the ceiling began to drip on them in large heavy gray globs. The globs were acidic and burned their flesh and armor. Kettle and Jimjar ran through the room into a passage on the right. Ront panicked and retreated into the passage from which they entered, blocking the way for the rest of the long train.
DM Note- This led to a hilarious scene as Ront refused to go forward into the dripping gray acid room, blocking the way and preventing the others from advancing. Pain was bringing up the rear and the train was so long that he was all the way back in the entrance room. Pain's player had us laughing so hard we cried...

"What's the hold up? Is it Ront? GODDAMMIT RONT!" and so forth for like five minutes. I can't repeat everything he said here, but it was a hilarious tirade of frustration. 

Meanwhile, Kettle and Jimjar, advancing into the passage beyond, encountered something entirely new. They stood facing a floating skeleton wearing the armor of a drow scout, surrounded by a dozen floating  coins, bits of chain mail, loose buckles, and a mace of black metal. Floating above the skeleton were two disembodied eyeballs connected to writhing nerves.
A strange encounter

They were staring at the strange floating skeleton for a moment, trying to figure out what to do when the skeleton "spoke" to them telepathically, "Hello. What are you?"

Kettle called back, "Um, Guys? There's a floating skeleton here and it's talking to my brain! What do we do?"

Virtue replied that they were stuck behind Ront who refused to go forward. Kettle gave an exasperated sigh and returned to the doorway of the dripping room. He looked sternly at Ront and shouted in his most commanding voice, "Ront! Advance, now!"

Ront stood at attention, took a deep breath, and moved through the room. The acid once again dripped on him and he collapsed unconscious. Virtue moved into the room, grabbed Ront, and dragged him to the other side where she administered a healing potion to save him. She then directed the dragon wyrmling, Santaka, to breathe fire into the room. The dragon did so and left the room a blackened scorch.

Virtue and Kettle spoke with the floating skeleton. The disembodied voice said that its name was Glabbagool and that it lived here in this passage. The voice was curious and wanted to know more about the intruders and what manner of being they were. It was intrigued by their solid yet pliable bodies, especially their rigid internal skeletons.
Kettle replied that, yeah, that was nice and all but told the skeleton that it was blocking the way and asked if it could move back a bit.

Glabbagool apologized for its lack of manners before observing, "Manners. Is politeness a thing? I've never been polite before, nor impolite. How strange! Yes, I will back up."

The skeleton backed up into a section of passage that widened to fifteen feet. Upon closer observation, Virtue and Kettle could tell that the floating skeleton, coins, and eyes were, in fact, suspended in a large cube of clear gelatinous fluid. Kettle had heard about such creatures and warned the others not to make physical contact.

When asked about the skeleton, Glabbagool admitted that it had no idea from where it came, "It was there before. That is all I know." Glabbagood ejected the skeleton and mace onto the floor. The armor was useless but Virtue took the mace and Kettle picked up the fourteen electrum coins.

Mister Floop was called forward to interact with Glabbagool in the hopes that the two telepathic beings would be able to communicate on a more fundamental level. After introductions and a brief exchange, Mister Floop confided in Angolwen that he was not fond of Glabbagool. Angolwen could tell, however, that the flumph was merely jealous of the newcomer for stepping into Mister Floop's role in the group as curious outsider new to the world.

They asked Glabbagool if there was another exit from this complex. Glabbagool said that it had been from one end of the passage to the other but it had found no other exit.

It was about this time that everyone noticed the floor had become wet. Water had poured from the room ahead of them and, after talking with Glabbagool, had risen half-an-inch.
My home-made gelatinous cube mini
They used the wide hallway to go past Glabbagool and found another room. This room, too, dripped grey ooze from the ceiling and once more Santaka was called forth to scorch the room before everyone proceeded.

The fugitives advanced down a long corridor that turned right into another wide hallway. The hallway was partially collapsed on the left wall, revealing a cleft in the wall large enough for a person to enter. Water was running out of the cleft like a creek. The right wall of the hallway consisted of four parallel corridors.
Angolwen entered the cleft and followed the passage into a natural cavern formed by the collapse of the ceiling. The floor of this cavern was flooded with several inches of water. The water streamed from innumerable cracks in the southern wall.

Angolwen returned to the party and reported her finding. They decided to explore the corridors to the right and selected the farthest corridor.

The walls of the corridor was floored with heavy flagstones and the walls were decorated with bas reliefs of strange swirls, spirals, and concentric circles.

Pain was sent ahead of the party the carefully inspect the way for traps. Pain tapped on the floor and prodded the walls searching for triggers. His search failed to notice that one of the flagstones was made of thin marble that cracked and fell away beneath him. Luckily, he caught himself on the edge and pulled himself up. Ficus, Virtue, and Angolwen rushed forward and helped him out. They saw that the pit was filled with a black pudding-like substance that quivered and reached out trying to grab Pain. Angolwen and Virtue cast fire bolt and hellish rebuke spells to destroy the pudding in the pit.

Pain was able to find the other false floors in the other three corridors and the party was able to leap across. The pack animals, meanwhile, were goaded to squeeze through the corridors and climb along the walls to avoid the pits.

DM Note - From the files of "Don't make the same mistake I made": For some reason, in my mind, I assumed the black puddings were stuck at the bottom of the pit and couldn't get out, so the spellcasters just blasted the thing until it was dead. However, it says RIGHT THERE ON PAGE 36 - "If denied a victim, or if it devours a fallen creature quickly, the pudding climbs up the sides to attack any dangling creatures, or to move into the hallway in search of prey."

In the heat of the game, I forgot this sentence and also forgot that Black Puddings have a 20' climb speed. This would have made the encounter MUCH more interesting! Not running this encounter as intended was a massive missed opportunity and I am so disappointed with myself for misinterpreting it. It didn't occur to me until later when Ficus' player pointed out that the black pudding encounter could have gone much worse since, "...don't they have a climb speed?" and I was suddenly kicking myself at that realization. 

Also, I only just NOW realized that I should have required Animal Handling checks for the pack animals. I mean, what else is the skill FOR???

I might have the black puddings return in a later encounter for some kind of "Final Destination" style revenge.

With water pouring in behind them, they found that all four corridors convered onto a set of intricately carved double-doors. The room beyond was scalloped with seven carved niches. Four of the niches contained statues that looked as if they had melted. Three of the niches were empty. The center of the room contained an ancient fountain with a demolished statue. Some of the niches on the left wall contained fissures from which water flowed, filling the room with an inch of water.

Angolwen cast a fire bolt spell on one of the statues and they suddenly came to life, becoming formless grey masses that oozed around the room towards the intruders.

Ficus, Kettle, Pain, Angolwen, and Virtue soon dispatched the grey oozes and searched the fountain for some means of escape. Instead, they found a hastily hidden sack containing over a hundred silver coins, a few dozen gold coins, three bracelets made of greenish gold, a finely crafted dagger with a spider-web design on the hilt indicating drow manufacture, a potion, and a vial of amber oil.

Having found no exit, they backtracked to the entrance and ventured into the unexplored natural passage. They found a cavern. Fearing another grey ooze, Santaka was once again tasked with scorching the walls. They found no exit. Instead, this room too contained a wall weakened by fissures from which water flowed.

The fugitives were faced with no exits and a difficult decision. The weakened walls obviously held back an underground river. Busting through the wall would grant access to the river and a possible means of escape, or it could mean death by drowning. They decided to take their chances. They returned to the chamber off the hall with the four trapped corridors. After tying themselves together with rope and placing all their armor into Ficus' magical bag of holding, Angolwen cast a fiery chromatic orb spell at the wall. The orb exploded and caused the wall to collapse. Water poured into the room from the river beyond.

They powered through the cascading water, half-climbing and half-swimming against the current. Ficus was the first to reach the river's surface, grabbing ahold of a rock to anchor the others. Everyone slowly made their way against the current. Kettle, Pain, and Virtue helped to pull the rope and haul the others up. Mister Floop popped out with little effort and hovered over the running river. Prince Derendil, Ront, and Starshine had a difficult time but with the help of the others were able to pull themselves out of the river.

A moment later, Glabbagool popped out, floating in the river like a large mass of jelly before retaking the form of a cube. Glabbagool moved to the edge of the river and commented, "How curious!"

Although everyone in the party was able to make it to the surface, the pack animals and the supplies they carried were lost.

Everyone clung to the river's edge wondering which way to go. They gave the magic arrow of direction to Jimjar and asked him to think of Blingdenstone. They followed the direction until they emerged from the river into a side passage, at which point the arrow ceased to function.

"Why doesn't it work?" inquired Angolwen.
"I dunno," said Jimjar, "We've been using it a lot. Maybe it only works so many times a day."

Kettle put his Underdark survival skills to work, finding connecting passages that led back to the path to Blingdenstone. From there they resumed their journey to the city of the Deep Gnomes.

DM Note- Escaping the river was too easy. The book doesn't even give any skill checks or consequences. It just says they do it. I made everyone make DC 10 Athletics skill checks to swim the 30 feet to the safety, meaning they had to make two checks. They all eventually did it, but there were no consequences. My suggestion is to add a penalty for failing the swimming rolls. Say, 1d6 bludgeoning damage from the current and the rocks. That would add some tension to the escape.