Tuesday, May 3, 2016

"Blindgenstone" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 17

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.

Glabbagool

CHAPTER 17
"BLINGDENSTONE"

A rag-tag group of fugitves 
experience one adventure after another
as they travel the Underdark
searching for a way home.

After escaping the drow prison at Velkenvelve,
they witnessed the razing of a kuo-toa village
by the two-headed demon-lord Demogorgon.

They survived weeks of travel in the Underdark
and thwarted a secret demonic cult in Gracklstugh, the city of the Duergar.

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

On their way to Blingdenstone,
the city of the Deep Gnomes known as svirfneblin,
an earthquake trapped them in an ancient temple
overrun by oozes where they met
Glabbagool, the intelligent Gelatinous Cube. 

Now they are on the threshhold of Blingdenstone
where they hope to find the passage 
that will take them back to the Overworld...

THE PLAYER CHARACTERS
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.

THEIR FELLOW FUGITIVES
Jimjar - a roguish deep gnome who likes to wager on everything.
Ront - Thuggish orc from the surface world. Follows Kettle's commands.
Prince Derendil - Elven prince in the body of a brutish quaggoth.
Starshine - A mute female moon elf, an escaped slave.
Mister Floop - a friendly flumph.
Glabbagool - an inquisitive but friendly Gelatinous Cube.
Santaka - a baby red dragon.

THE HIDDEN ENTRANCE
Jimjar led the way to Blingdenstone. He did his best to answer the questions put to him, but he admitted that he hadn't been home in several years.

At a seemingly random spot in the passage, Jimjar stopped and turned around. He put his finger to his lips to silence the party, then walked to his right, disappearing into the wall of the passage. As the others approached, they found a passage to the right, cleverly concealed in the rock. It was not technically a secret passage, just difficult to see. They followed the passage to a large chamber containing a wide set of stairs. The stairs were made for gnomish feet, short and small. A ramp to the right would have allowed for pack animals and carts. A large metal door, intricately carved and inlaid with mithral, stood unguarded at the top the steps. Two clusters of glowing crystals, flanking the doors, provided dim illumination in the chamber.

Eight gnome guards appeared from nowhere. Again, they were not invisible, just camouflaged against the stone. They challenged the party, demanding their identities and their business. Jimjar announced himself and he was known to the guard. Jimjar vouched for the others. Kettle introduce d himself as Warlord Kettleborn and spoke on behalf of the fugitives, introducing each and explaining their story. The guard had also heard the name Warlord Kettleborn and was impressed. They were skeptical of the stranger members of the party, which included a flumph, a quaggoth, a gelatinous cube, and a baby dragon, but were convinced of their good intentions and allowed entry into the city as long as they were escorted and promised to stay out of trouble.

Ront boldly replied, "Ront does not cause trouble, Ront ENDS trouble!"

"Yes, Ront." said Kettle as he patted the orc on the back.

The gates were opened and an escort was assigned. The escort's name was Buddy. Buddy led the fugitives through the outer defenses of Blingdenstone. The first defense was the massive outer wall. The second was a winding maze. The maze dipped and rose and the larger members of the party often had to turn sideways to squeeze through a narrow gap. After a second gate, they passed through a passage that Buddy called the Gauntlet. The walls of the Gauntlet were studded with glowing crystals called Spellstones. Finally, they were allowed through a third gate and into the city.

Buddy turned to the fugitives and nodded, "Welcome, guests, to Blingdenstone."

WELCOME TO BLINGDENSTONE
The fugitives stood in a large chamber, about two hundred feet across. The chamber was dimly lit by glowing crystals and bio-luminescent fungi. Many passages branched off in several directions. One of the passages was blocked off by heavy iron doors.

Blingdenstone
Buddy gave a brief overview. That way was Goldwhisker Warrens. It's been sealed off because of were-rats. That way is the inner city. The way beyond was Rockblight, it's sealed off, and that way has been sealed off because of all the oozes.

Buddy was peppered with questions about the city. The laconic Buddy was hesitant to answer so many questions and suggested that they may direct all inquiries to the king and queen in Diggermattock hall.

Kettle asked about protection from the drow, explaining that they were being chased by Mistress Ilvara.

Buddy confidently asserted that no drow would ever enter Blingdenstone, not ever again, and that they were safe. He also said that this was important information and that he needed to take them to the king and queen immediately. Buddy led the way to Diggermattock Hall.

DIGGERMATTOCK HALL
The figitives were led through a network of connected caverns. Moving through Blingdenstone was like navigating the inside of swiss cheese. Diggermattock Hall was a hive of activity with various deep gnomes discussing, planning, and arguing. Two deep gnomes, a man and a woman, sat at a large table on a raised dais, facing each other. They were each attended by advisors and assistants.

Buddy requested an audience to present the fugitives and the man and woman turned their attention to the newcomers.
Dorbo and Senni Diggermattock
After the fugitives were introduced, the man and woman introduced themselves as Dorbo and Senni Diggermattock, the interim king and queen of Blingdenstone. The duo had a unique way of speaking. Whenever one would start a sentence, the other would finish it. They were like an old married couple, but worse.

They listened to the complete tale told by the fugitives and were impressed. The king and queen informed the fugitives that they were safe in Blingdenstone but that their amnesty and protection came at a price, they must be productive and serve the king and queen as necessary. The fugitives agreed.

The king and queen then entertained any questions the newcomers had about Blingdenstone, describing the enclave's history and current situation. They provided a more in-depth overview of the enclave's geography, reiterating that the Goldwhisker Warrens were where the were-rats were holed up, that the northwest section was overrun by oozes, that the northeast was called Rockblight and was sealed off due to Ogremoch's Bane, and that the southeast was called Inner Blingdenstone and was relatively safe. They urged the newcomers to visit the Caves of Clatter for gear, the Trader's Grotto for trade, and the Foaming Mug for an inn.

The fugitives inquired about the Goldwhisker were-rats. Dorbo and Senni described the situation and it soon became clear that the couple disagreed on a strategy. Dorbo wanted to eliminate them while Senni believed that they could be reasoned with. Senni lamented that recent clashes have made the were-rats distrustful, but perhaps a neutral third party could act as an envoy and deliver a message. Dorbo assessed the strategy and appeared to change his mind, agreeing with his wife on her course of action. Dorbo and Senni looked meaningfully at the fugitives.

The fugitives unanimously agreed to help.

Dorbo and Senni were delighted. Senni said she would draft a message and asked the newcomers to return after they had a chance to rest and acquaint themselves with the enclave.

Jimjar was prepared to part ways with the fugitives but was persuaded to stick around and act as a guide to the enclave. Jimjar accepted and was glad to stick around his new friends a little bit longer.

Kettle, Ficus, Pain, Virtue, Santaka, and Jimjar offered to take care of a few tasks while the others rested at the Foaming Mug. When they turned to Glabbagool, they noticed the gelatinous monster had wandered away from the group, drifting slowly towards the northwest.
Glabbagool

Ficus called out, "Glabbagool!"

[What? Yes! I'm here! Do you all not feel that?]

"What?"

[Nothing. Nothing. A kind of pull, a call. It is hard to describe. I feel a compulsion. It is nothing.]

Ficus eyed Glabbagool with a suspicious glare, "Uh huh. You better stay with us."

THE RUBY IN THE ROUGH
First on the team's agenda was to return Pelek's ring to his family crypt. Jimjar led them to the "Ruby in the Rough", the temple devoted to the Svirfneblin god Segojan Earthcaller. There they met Glyphic Shroomlight, a young acolyte who seemed harried and overworked. Glyphic was too busy with a prayer ritual to help them so he pointed them towards the catacombs.

Jimjar let the others into the cramped catacombs where they were accosted by the ghost of a middle-aged deep gnome named Jadger. Jadger demanded to know what business Overworlders had within the necropolis of the deep gnomes. Virtue spoke on behalf of the fugitives, explaining their desire to return the family ring of Pelek to the crypts of his ancestors. Jadger was satisfied with the answer and allowed them to pass.
Jadger
The fugitives delivered Pelek's ring to his ancestral crypt. The spirit of Pelek momentarily manifested before the Overworlders, thanked them, and crossed over to the great Beyond.

Jadger was so impressed with the Overworlders that he offered them a job. He explained that the unpleasantness with the drow had decimated the ranks of the Burrow Wardens, and although he was training new recruits into the order, they were far too young and inexperienced to be trusted with serious tasks. He asked the Overworlders if they would be available to take on two extra missions. The party agreed.

Jadger gave the fugitives two tasks:

  1. One of the residential warrens was inhabited by an insane poltergeist named Vazuk, preventing its resettlement. Vazuk's soul would never find rest, therefore the poltergeist needed to be destroyed.
  2. The remains of a deep gnome named Udhask were never recovered. They are located in the residential warrens of the dangerous region known as Rockblight. Find his remains and return them to the catacombs for proper interment. 
As soon as Jimjar heard which warren Vazuk was haunting, his face went pale, "That's MY warren!"

The party agreed and set about their tasks.

THE PERNICIOUS POLTERGEIST
Jimjar led Kettle, Ficus, Pain, Glabbagool, Virtue, and Santaka into the residential cavern. Jimjar stood outside the entrance to the small warren declaring, "Here we are!"

The party ducked inside the narrow opening and found a chamber filled with piles of old furniture and belongings.

A haunting ghostly voice shrieked, "Get out! It's mine!"

Jimjar replied, "No way!"

The invisible specter began hurling objects at the intruders. Kettle was able to sense presence of the invisible spirit and directed the others to direct their attention to that spot in the back of the room.

Virtue cast a fireball spell towards the area indicated. The fireball exploded, setting the rear of the warren on fire. Jimjar shouted, "Hey! Stop that!"

The poltergeist engaged the intruders in close combat but was ultimately destroyed by Kettle using his magic sword Dawnbringer.

After putting out the fire, Pain asked Jimjar, "Is all this stuff yours?"

Jimjar replied, "I think so. I don't know. I haven't been here in hun- I mean dozens of years!"

Pain was suddenly suspicious, "Why did you almost say hundreds?"

"I didn't! Who said anything about me being a god of trickery! Shut up! Lies! Anyway, of course It's all my stuff! Sure! Why not?"

SARK AXEBARREL
After ridding the warren of the pernicious poltergeist, Jimjar led the fugitives to the residential cavern located within Rockblight. To his surprise, the passage was blocked by rubble and debris. He led the party to another nearby cavern where they found the entrance to Rockblight barred by heavy steel doors and guarded by eight deep gnomes and four cave badgers.
Sark Axebarrel

One of the deep gnomes identified himself as the commander, Sark Axebarrel, and asked their business. The fugitives relayed their mission and Axebarrel agreed to let them enter. Before he opened the armored door, he warned the party of the dangers that lurked within. He told them of Ogremoch's Bane, describing it as a formless cloud of glittering dust that turned the earth elemental of Blingdenstone against their creators. He also told them to watch out for a medusa! He admitted that he knew little of the medusa, so he offered a reward of 50 gp for useful information and promised a diamond worth 1000 gp for her head!

Sark ordered the gate lifted, revealing a chamber protected by an inner gate. The chamber acted as a lock. Sark provided the fugitives a secret knock to use when they were prepared to exit Rockblight. The fugitives entered the lock, the gate closed behind them, and the inner gate opened ahead of them.

ROCKBLIGHT
The fugitives found themselves in a dark chamber. Kettle drew Dawnbringer but kept her glow to a dim minimum. They navigated around a large pool of water, keeping to the right wall. They entered a large cavern. The wall was pocked with dozens of entrances into residential warrens. As they ventured further into the large cavern, they could hear the sound of a waterfall ahead.

Suddenly, they were attacked by a spectral ghost of a deep gnome. The ghost emitted a haunting wail and portrayed a visage of horror! Glabbagool shuddered quivered like a giant cube of gelatin. The others steeled themselves against the ghost's psychic assault. The party attacked the ghost and the apparition disappeared!

Suddenly, Jimjar's eyes grew cloudy and the diminutive deep gnome prepared to attack. Ficus and Pain leaped into action, striking Jimjar with the butts of their weapons and knocking him unconscious. The ghost suddenly reappeared and was soon set upon by the rest of the party.
An Apparition

Eventually, the ghost cried out "The drow are coming! Everyone must hide!" and fled the battle, disappearing into a nearby warren.

The party cautiously entered the warren. There they found a stone bed. The skeleton of a deep gnome lay on the floor. The skeleton was clutching its chest with one hand and reaching for the foot of the stone bed with the other.

The fugitives examined the skeleton and found a ring identifying it as the remains of Udhask. They also closely examined the foot of the bed and found a box full of gems in a hidden niche.

The fugitives gathered up the bones in a sack to return to the catacombs and took the box. They decided to exit Rockblight and return later in greater numbers.

TO BE CONTINUED.

DM Notes-
I was talking with two of the players (Ficus and Kettle) before the game this week and they expressed their concerns about Out of the Abyss.

Frankly speaking, the campaign as written has its flaws and those flaws were affecting their enjoyment.

Their biggest complaint about Out of the Abyss was also a general complaint about all the campaign books published by WotC so far for fifth edition- namely, PCs were expected to travel on these epic LotR style quests across the world in order to fight a big-bad at the end (Tiamat, Demogorgon, evil elemental cultists, etc.).

They felt that this approach took away one of the aspects of D&D that they enjoyed the most - the sense of place.

Previous campaigns were always played in a confined geographic area, usually a single valley or region. Cities could be visited again and again, NPCs were recurring, over time you built up a familiarity with the locations and people that made it feel like a real place. My players really enjoy that aspect of D&D and felt it was missing from Out of the Abyss. The closest we've come so far was the extended stint in Gracklstugh. But that was marred by the fact that it felt like everyone was out to get them or use them.

Their second complaint was the lack of impact their characters had on the campaign so far.

And they have a point. In Sloobludopp, they witness the rise of Demogorgon who destroys the town. They are expected to flee and not intervene. In Neverlight Grove, they learn that Zuggtmoy has taken over and converted the myconids. They can't do anything to stop her and they must flee.

So far, the only impact they've had was in Gracklstugh, though they didn't even realize it at the time. They only realized that the cult they defeated was responsible for the madness in Gracklstugh when they returned there. Their response was "Oh, we fixed that? Who knew? Good for us, I guess!"

They said that the most fun they've had so far in the campaign was the side story with the Hags on the island, an aside I ad-libbed on the fly.

I gave them some spoilers to try to alleviate some of their fears, telling them that the second half of the campaign will be them leading an expedition to various parts of the Underdark on various missions. They said that addressed their concerns regarding lack of agency but I admitted it did little to add to the sense of place.

Once we finish the Blingdenstone chapter and they escape from the Underdark, we'll be taking a short break from the campaign, during which time I'm planning on running White Star.

After that, we'll decide if we want to finish Out of the Abyss. The two players in question are game to see it through, they just wanted me to be aware of their concerns.