Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"Treachery on the Darklake" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 15

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 travelled across the dangerous Darklake
to return they myconids Stool and Rumpadump
to their home in Neverlight Grove
where they discovered a sinister secret!

Neverlight Grove had been taken over
by Zuggtmoy, the Demon Queen of Decay,
who was on the verge of converting
the population of the grove into
her loyal minions.

They helped the remaining unconverted myconids escape
and made their own plans for the next leg of their journey,
taking Jimjar to Blingdenstone
and returning 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

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.

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

Fugitives camped in an alcove several hours away from Neverlight Grove. There they set a watch and rested.

Angolwen, Kettle, Pain, and Ficus awoke in the Garden of Welcome, groggy as if emerging from a dream. They had returned to the moment following their vision of Zuggtmoy, the Queen of Decay. Was this a dream? Was it reality? Was the evacuation of Neverlight Grove all a fantasy? Angolwe, Pain, and Ficus all felt the altered reality of a dream while Kettle felt the reality of the situation. There was no consensus.

They heard the sound of moaning and revelry coming from the nearby cavern of Yggmorgus. They investigated. The ground descended into a bowl forming a swampy moat around the towering mushroom. The slope was covered by a forest of giant mushrooms. All along the spongy ground were large blisters. Within each blister was the dark silhouette of a being. Some contained humanoids, others were occupied by strange creatures of the Underdark: gricks, hook horrors, nothics, etc. Found too were many open craters, the site of former blisters.

Angolwen was inspecting a nearby blister when it explosively burst, covering her with pus and slime. Within the crater was a writhing being, an abominable fusion of drow and fungus. It thrashed and convulsed and cried out in agony before going limp, surrendering to a euphoric bliss.

The cries of the hybrid were met by hundreds more throughout the mushroom forest, like wolves howling in the night. The entire towering body of Yggmorgus shuddered in ecstasy in response to the howls. The howls died and became a chanting drone.

Soon, a throng of hybrid entities of all shape, size, and origin gathered in the swampy lowlands surrounding Yggmorgus. All moaning in chorus as they danced and marched to a silent tune.

To his horror, Pain could hear the melody. He clutched his head in a vain attempt to force it out and resisted the urge to join the dance.

The revelers ignored the fugitives. They began dancing around a mound that had newly risen in the soft ground. Angolwen saw the newly "hatched" hybrid disappear into the crater beneath him only to rise, erect, from the top of the mound at the center of the revelry a few seconds later. At the creatures ascension, the revelers threw up their hands and shuddered an ecstatic welcome.

The fugitives felt a call, an urge, as if summoned into Yggmorgus. As they silently approached the towering fungus, Angolwen and Pain's minds slipped into madness.

The revelers parted to allow the fugitives to enter. They passed through an antechamber dug into the base of Yggmorgus' mighty stalk and entered into a central chamber.

They saw Zuggtmoy hovering in deep meditation, attended by a dozen or more hybrid handmaidens. The handmaidens floated around their queen like grotesque cherubs, singing as they wove her bridal gown out of strands of fibrous lichens. One of the handmaidens tried to shoo the interlopers away.
Zuggtmoy, Demon Queen of Decay
The fugitives ignored the warning. Instead, as if in a dream, they charged to attack! The assault had little effect on the demon queen. Only when Kettle struck with Dawnbringer did the horrible entity open her eyes in annoyance. With a wave of her hand the party were instantly ensorcelled by a powerful charm. Another flick of her long spindly fingers put them into a deep sleep.

After being put to sleep by Zuggtmoy's magic, the fugitives wake up at their camp. They shared their experiences of the vision which all remember save Kettle.
Yestabrod, in case you forgot
Pain, Jimjar, and Ront were still infected by Yestabrod's spores. Other than hearing the haunting silent music and a slight desire to return to Neverlight Grove, Pain and Ront showed no signs of infection. Jimjar, however, began to experience moments of impaired intelligence and judgement. This greatly concerned Pain, who worried that unless the disease was treated, he might eventually die.

The fugitives continued traversing the river passage to the Darklake. When they reached the waterfall where they hid their lakeboat, they asked Jimjar how to travel to Blingdenstone. Jimjar admitted that he was lost. He only knew how to return to his home city from certain locations and this was not one of them. The party would have to return to Gracklstugh and hire a navigator to take them to a location where Jimjar could take over.

Pain likewise expressed his desire to return to Gracklstugh, citing his urgency to remove himself and others of Yestabrod's spores lest they expire.

DM Note- Although this was true, this was also a way to get Virtue back into the story. Virtue's player has reassured me he would return this week. 

The party decided to rest again before embarking onto the lake. Watches were set and the fugitives curled up to sleep on their stolen boat. Pain nervously bit his nails worrying what would become of his health.

DM Note- Pain's player did a great job. I couldn't tell where role-playing ended and where genuine concern over the character's future began. 

Late into the rest, Kettle spied a shadowy figure navigating the rocks along the shore. He called out and woke up his companions. The figure paused and, in a female voice, returned the call in a language no one could understand. Kettle tried again, the figure called back in Draconic, which Ficus could understand.
A Mysterious Stranger

The stranger identified herself as Maven Delve, priestess of Vindislane, and asked for permission to approach the boat. Permission was granted and she came forward slowly.

She was a moon elf from the Overworld. She had light blue skin and purple hair. She carried an ornate staff of zurkhwood and bore a red diamond painted on her forehead. She explained that she was trying to return to her home, a temple on an island in the Darklake, but became stranded on the shore when her previous transport was destroyed. She sought passage and offered her services as a priestess as payment. Pain asked if she could cure diseases. She said that she could but would have to pray to her earth god in her temple.

The fugitives suspected treachery but could detect no malice or deception on the part of the priestess. Nor could they confirm or verify her tale. Pain, seeing the effect of the spores on Jimjar, was desperate to be cured and convinced the rest of the fugitives to take her on.

Once on board, the mysterious passenger cast a spell on the boat and it suddenly moved itself at high speed through the water. She said that the journey would take some time but that they would not have to sleep again before they arrived. Kettle kept a wary eye on the passenger the entire time. He was always at her side and had his hand on his hilt. Ficus engaged the passenger in conversation, asking probing questions in an attempt to get her to trip up and reveal a falsehood. Like Prince Derendil, no one had ever heard of her homeland or of the god "Vindislane", but that was not evidence of falsehood. 

Late into the journey, Ficus noticed that the priestess' arms were not smooth but were in fact bumpy and wrinkled. When asked, she explained that she was polymorphed by an evil wizard.
Prince Derendil
Prince Derendil took immediate interest, asking, "Was it the fiend Terrestor?"

"The very same," answered the priestess.

"But you said you came from a different homeland than Derendil!" said Kettle.

"Indeed, for Terrestor has expanded his reach beyond Nelrindenvane and has conquered other elven kingdoms. Your people need you during this time of trouble, Prince Derendil."

Derendil looked morose while Kettle and Ficus looked on in shock and disbelief!

She said that she was forced to cast an illusion upon herself to hide the frightening appearance forced upon her.

Ficus asked her to drop the illusion, promising to respect her and tolerate her hideous appearance. She complied, revealing her form to be that of a foul withered old crone with green skin, stringy hair, and long claws. Her voice became coarse, wet, and guttural.

Ficus and Kettle looked on with narrowed eyes of suspicion, but since her story thus far had been so convincing and she had made no effort to cause harm to the party, they continued to their mysterious destination.

DM Note- The players, now wise that intelligent monsters could lead to treasure, followed the obvious trap back to the monster's lair. Very clever, those players.

A while later, the boat begins to slow. Soon after, the ruins of an ancient temple come into view at the edge of Dawnbringer's illumination. The temple rises directly out of the lake, the steps leading to the entrance descend into the water. The entire structure is stained with age and moss.

Maven Delve was the first out of the boat, climbing the stairs into the temple antechamber. She signaled the others to follow. She then turned and called into the darkened temple, "Sisters! Sisters! Come quickly! I have brought you a gift!"

"Sisters! Sisters! Come quickly! I have brought you a gift!"

Another wrinkled green creature emerged from shadowed passages deep within the temple, "What have you brought us, sister? Is it tasty?" Only later did they learn that the second sister's name was Nanny Plunk. Plunk's face broke into an evil grin of sharpened teeth when she saw the strangers at her door. "Yes! Yes! Tasty!"

The fugitives immediately attacked Maven Delve. She was overwhelmed by blade and Angolwen's firebolt. She tried to become invisible so that she could retreat but was cut down by Kettle's sun-blade.

Nanny Plunk was joined by a third sister named Dame Spiderwort, but when she saw that Maven was dead, she became enraged and attacked! Nanny Plunk was surrounded became invisible in order to flee. The fugitives directed their attacks at the third sister by the deep well in the back of the temple.

Dame Spiderwort shoved Ront into the well, who fell to the bottom with a thud, then moved towards the rear corner of the chamber by two large rear doors. She was soon surrounded by Pain, Kettle, and Prince Derendil. Pain and Derendil attacked with notable ferocity since their hopes were dashed by the lies of the old crones. Dame Spiderwort then kicked Derendil into the pit, but the quaggoth caught himself on the ledge. Dame Spiderwort was cut down soon afterwards.

Nanny Plunk then re-emerged from invisibility and attacked but was killed by Angolwen's chromatic orb spell which doused the old hag in poison.

DM Note- I was so disappointed that Maven Delve was killed on the second round before I could get all three hags in the same room. The players didn't know it at the time, but had all three gotten together, they could have cast some serious spells! Multiple Hold Persons, Lightning Bolts, Eyebite! I told them later how close they came and they all high fived and were so proud of their good fortune!

After the battle, they checked on Ront. The pit wasn't too deep and Ront was fine.

DM Note- I rolled 2d10 x 10ft to determine the depth of the well. 30 ft. Pfft. What a waste. Ront took only 7 points of damage from the fall.

Ront reported finding treasure at the bottom of the well. Along with a pile of coins and gems, they found a potion of extra healing and a silver arrow.

The fugitives decided to rest in the ruins of the ancient temple. Kettle and Angolwen studied the arrow and determined that it was magic. Simply state the name of a place that you have been to and the arrow would point the way.

DM Note- As far as I know I just made that up. I'm sure its in the DMG or some sourcebook somewhere. As rolled, it was a +1 arrow. Big whoop. I changed it when I learned that Virtue's player had just texted us, telling us he couldn't make it after all. The whole reason for returning to Gracklstugh was gone so I gave them the arrow in case they wanted to go straight to Blingdenstone instead.  Not knowing how far away Blingdenstone was, Pain's player lobbied to return to Gracklstugh anyway so he could be cured of the infestation spores. 

After resting, it beccame evident that Ront had succumbed to the madness of the spores. Ront began to momentarily loose awareness, as if drifting away to a faraway place. Pain's desperation to be rid of the spores became acute.

Desperate for a cure, the party risked exhaustion by taking no rests and pushing themselves to Gracklstugh. 

On the way, they were attacked by four Darkmantles. The octopus-like creatures dropped from the ceiling onto their heads, smothering the victim until they were removed. They darkmantles were soon killed and their skins were harvested for later.

Halfway to  Gracklstugh, they were forced to pass through a tiny passage. They got stuck and could not free their lakeboat. There they sat, worried about what to do. A little while later, another smaller lakeboat approached from behind. The boat was unmanned but obviously under some kind of control. A voice called out to inquire their circumstances. 
Stuck in a small passage
The boat was a small cargo craft belonging to Captain "Bareback Assbreaker" (DM Note- obviously, I allowed the players to make up the name), an obese Duergar wearing no shirt. Captain Assbreaker and his crew of four duergar were returning to Gracklstugh with a cargo of five piles of milled zurkhwood lumber from Menzoberranzan. Since Assbreaker needed to pass through the same passage, he helped them free their boat and accompanied them to Gracklstugh.
Captain (sigh...) Bareback Assbreaker
May or may not be a bear leather daddy.

The fugitives from Velkenvelve, exhausted from constant rowing with no rest, arrived in Gracklstugh in their stolen lakeboat. They were met at the quay by the dockmaster. The dockmaster immediately recognized the craft and notified them that it was the property of the Merchant Council. He asked how they came by it and they said they found the boat adrift in the lake and wished to claim salvage rights. The dockmaster shrugged and told them to take it up with the Merchant Council. In the meantime, he had to confiscate the boat and remove their belongings to the quay. Starshine and Derendil were assigned to oversee the offloading while the rest attended to business in the Darklake District.

There was a visible change in Gracklstugh. No longer did they see evidence of madness and insanity creeping in on the common folk. No longer was there a pervasive sense of dread and foreboding.
Pain Grille'
Pain was desperate to find a priest that could cure him of his disease. They found a holy man of Laduguer. The holy man examined Pain and told him that he was not diseased and neither were Jimjar or Ront.

Pain, shocked, looked at Jimjar.
"Had you goin!"

Pain's expression turned to anger.

"I got out of rowing for two whole days! Ront got out of it for only today."

Ront laughed a deep menacing laugh which unnerved Kettle. 
DM Note- I misread the way the infestation spores worked. I thought he had to keep making saves until he died or was cured. But if he made any of the saves, he was cured. We spent several minutes trying to find "Cure Disease" which apparently isn't a spell anymore in 5th edition. We looked everywhere (almost, more on that in a minute). I re-read the infestation effect and finally found the missing sentence. I was embarrassed. Pain's player was visibly relieved! He liked playing Pain and didn't want to die to a disease. That's when Kettle's player stepped in, playing Jimjar, "Had you going!" and that became the story! It was perfect and hilarious and everyone laughed! My only regret was that I didn't plan it that way from the beginning.

After resting in Grohlbrorn's Lair for a shift, the fugitives went to meet Ylsa Henstak of the Merchant Council so they could discuss their salvage fee. Ylsa was surprised to see them return to Gracklstugh given what their companion Virtue did.

"What did she do?"
Ylsa Henstak of the Merchant Council
Ylsa told them of the events of Gracklstugh since she'd last seen them.

"Since you left, it was discovered that there was a derro cult of demogorgon. The cult was using magic to affect the people of Gracklstugh, driving them insane. When they were destroyed, the cityh returned to normal. However, their destruction led to a derro uprising which had to be put down by the Stone Guard.

"During the uprising, there was a confrontation between the agents of Themberchaud, the wyrmsmith of Gracklstugh, and the Keepers of the Flame, those assigned to protect and control him. Themberchaud himself intervened and turned on his keepers to aid his agents.  The Keepers of the Flame suffered severe losses and Themberchaud became restless, demanding that the Deep King see him in his lair.

"At the same time, your friend Virtue, with the help of the Deep King's agents, the Darkhafts, had exposed the king's consort as a succubus. There was a terrific battle in the throne room and the former consort was forced to flee into the Underdark.

"The Deep King then met with Themberchaud, accompanied by the stone giants of Clan Cairngorm. Themberchaud demanded that the king abdicate his throne and turn control of Gracklstugh over to the himself. The Deep King refused, of course. There was a moment of high tension. The Deep King knew he could not kill the dragon. Gracklstugh needs him to light the forges and without the forges Gracklstugh is nothing. Yet Themberchaud knew that if he pressed the matter and truly threatened the Deep King, the stone giants would fight to defend their ruler and possibly win. The two sides were at an impasse.

"Eventually, they were able to negotiate a settlement whereby the city taxes would be increased to appease Themberchaud's desire for gold. In addition, the Deep King would turn over the baby dragon that Virtue had acquired so that it could be killed. Unsuprisingly, Virtue disappeared with the dragon before the next shift.

"The Merchant Council is very unhappy with this arrangement but we would have been more unhappy had Themberchaud been killed. The current arrangement is temporary and will not stand for long. The answer is a new younger dragon that we could better control. We would pay handsomely for that dragon. If you find Virtue, kill her, and return the dragon to us. You would be rewarded.

"In addition, and hopefully completely unrelated, there has also been a recent outbreak of arouranthropy - wererats - among the derro. We'd pay to have that taken care of also." The party, aware that the wererats Topsy and Turvy were last seen fleeing into the derro enclave, sheepishly declined.

Ylsa then paid the fugitives their salvage prize, 300 gold pieces.

In addition, they asked Ysla for their earlier promised reward - passage on a trade boat to Blingdenstone. She agreed and assigned them passage on a boat - their boat, under the command of its new captain, Flintstone Buttcrunch (sigh).

Before they left, they converted their sacks and barrels of gold and silver into jewels for easy transport. Their boat now had a new captain and a new crew, two Duergar and six human slaves. The fugitives secretly discussed the possibility of freeing the slaves but were concerned what would happen to them alone in the Underdark and were unwilling to protect them if they accompanied their adventures. They reluctantly decided that slavery was the best situation for them, under the circumstances.

While Angolwen rested on a sack of food, she was surprised to discover that the sack wriggled under her head. Upon examining the contents of the sack, she found Topsy and Turvy hiding within. They shusshed her to silence. She whispered to them, asking how they got here. They replied that they were being hunted in the city and didn't know why, so they had to sneak out. Also, the city was full of were-rats!

A tridon passed without incident and everyone was settling into a leisurely passage across the Darklake when, suddenly, one of the human rowers was harpooned and dragged into the water, only to be stopped by the chains securing them to the boat!