Tuesday, May 17, 2016

"Neheedra's Lair" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 18


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 18
"NEHEEDRA'S LAIR"

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.

They have finally arrived in Blingdenstone,
the city of the Deep Gnomes known as Svirfneblin,
where they undertake a series of tasks
in order to gain the trust of the local inhabitants
so they can find an escort to lead 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, loyal to Virtue.

THE FOAMING MUG
Angolwen, Prince Derendil, Starshine, and Mister Floop approached the Foaming Mug, Blingdenstone's lone inn. The sign outside was carved from stone, a rough approximation of the kind of sign found outside any pub on the surface, though carved by someone who obviously had never seen one.

Inside, they found a lone svirfneblin, sitting at a table, bored and reading a book. One of them cleared their throat and the deep gnome turned around. His demeanor immediately turned to excitement as he noted the tall strangers from the Overworld, "Ah! Newcomers! Welcome! Welcome! Please, sit! Let me grab you a drink! On the house! We import Darklake Stout all the way from Gracklstugh! Please! Please! Be comfortable! My name is Tappy Foamstrap, I am the proprietor of the Foaming Mug."

Tappy was overjoyed to see the overworlders. He plied them with free drinks and food and delivered a continuous string of inquiries regarding their origins and destinations.

Angolwen spoke on behalf of the motley assortment, recounting the tale of their escape from Velkenvelve and journey to this place. She sniffed the Darklake Stout and politely asked for something different.

The overworlders were soon joined by a group of local miners and excavators coming off their shift. The locals seemed perturbed by the presence of the outsiders and did their best to avoid them.

Angolwen listened, noting the following conversations.
  • Blingdenstone's ghosts have gotten worse, with spirits and poltergeists haunting the residential warrens.
  • Remember that crazy svirfneblin that used to lurk around the old royal caverns? What ever happened to him? 
  • Stoneheart Enclave is closing in on a solution to Ogremoch's Bane in Rockblight.
  • The deep gnomes argued and debated about what to do with the Goldwhisker wererats. Some wanted to wipe them out, others saw them as potential allies with a legitimate claim to their part of the warren.
  • One merchant bragged about his Overworld coins he obtained recently in Gracklstugh.
  • One caravan merchant encountered a parade of dancing myconids, reportedly traveling to a wedding celebration somewhere. 
DM Note- Players playing NPCs
Kettle and Pain's players began role-playing the local deep gnomes arguing about strategies for dealing with the Goldwhisker were-rats. Since their characters weren't in the room at the time, it gave the players something to contribute to the scene and it added some extra atmosphere. They did an amazing job. 

The small group of fugitives was soon joined by Virtue who had left the others when they entered Rockblight. Virtue, also, politely declined the Darklake Stout and asked for anything else.

They were joined about a "bit" (an eighth of a shift - equivalent to an hour) later by the rest of the group, having defeated the ghost of Udhask in Rockblight.

As soon as Jimjar walked in, all conversation came to a stop. Every deep gnome was staring intently at Jimjar. A chair squeaked backwards as one deep gnome stood up.
Jimjar
"You've got a lot of nerve showing your face around here, Jimjar!"

Jimjar smiled and showed his palms apologetically, "I'll, ah, just wait outside. Heh!" before exiting the inn.

Kettle and Pain asked the other deep gnomes what happened. They explained that when Jimjar was last in Blingdenstone, he introduced the Overworld concept of gambling. Many deep gnomes lost a lot of money, some even lost their homes. The animosity towards him drove him out of town. He was not welcome in Blingdenstone.

Kettle asked if there was any way Jimjar could get back into their good graces.

The spokesperson said he'd have to go a long way to make up for the trouble he caused.

THE TRADER'S GROTTO
The renited fugitives from Velkenvelve, minus Prince Derendil, Starshine, and Mister Floop, left the Foaming Mug and made their way to the Trader's Grotto in search of Kazook Pickshine. There they planned to deliver the sack of gemstones they had obtained from Werz Saltbaron in Gracklstugh.

They arrived to find a medium-sized cavern with a dozen or so deep gnomes trading food, gems, goods, and services. Smaller burrows in the walls led to more private stalls. There were five passages leading out of this cavern. One to the left was blocked by debris. Another on the far side of the cavern was sealed with a large metal door.

Suddenly, one of the deep gnomes screamed and was lifted into the air, surrounded by a shimmering aura. One of his nearby companions shouted "Mev!" Mev was in the grips of a gelatinous cube!

Kettle quickly ran across the cavern to help the poor wretch. The other traders and miners fled in panic as three more gelatinous cubes squeezed through the collapsed rubble of the blocked passage, followed in short order by two smaller cubes. Kettle was surrounded by cubes!

Surrounded by Gelatinous Cubes!

DM Note- So Many Gelatinous Cubes!
This encounter originally called for two gelatinous cubes. I decided to increase the difficulty to four gelatinous cubes. 

I own seven gelatinous cube minis. Six are home-made, one is an acrylic cube I purchased at TAP plastics. Of the home-made ones, four are large-sized, two are medium-sized. They are all made with Castin' Craft clear resin poured into a simple cube-shaped mold made for the aforementioned acrylic cube. 

When I put out all of my large-sized minis, I said, "These are all my gelatinous cube minis!"

Then one of my players said, "No they're not! What about the babies? Put the babies out!"

So I acquiesced and put out the babies too. Babies have one-quarter the hit points of an adult. 


The spellcasters take position on the far side of the grotto

The cubes moved around slowly, forcing those in combat to retreat. Another deep gnome trader, Ronni Gemtooth, was caught up in one of the cubes. Kettle, Pain, and Ront engaged the cubes in melee combat. Kettle tried to rescue Mev while Pain and Ront tried to rescue Ronni. A series of fireball spells were cast and the cubes were destroyed! Although they were goth seriously injured by the attack, both Ronni and Mev were saved!

KAZOOK PICKSHINE
Kazook recognized his old apprentice Ficus across the grotto and the two exchanged pleasantries. When Kettle and Pain brought up Werz Saltbaron and the gems they were asked to delivery, Kazook shussed them and waved them into his private burrow.
Kazook Pickshine has a secret!
Kazook explained that he was bypassing the miner's guild and purchasing cheaper stones from outside sources like Werz. If this was common knowledge, he'd be banned from the trader's guild.

Pain entertained the notion of blackmailing Kazook for only the briefest of moments. Instead, Pain gave Kazook the bad news that Werz had been imprisoned by the Stoneguard and that Kazook's source for cheap gems was gone.

Kazook paid them the promised 50 gold coins for delivering the gems, honoring the promise Werz made back in Gracklstugh.

Kazook offered them more money to travel back to Gracklstugh to acquire more gems, an offer that was vehemently and unanimously rejected based on the vehement and unanimous dislike of Gracklstugh.

RETURN TO ROCKBLIGHT
After resting a bit, the fugitives gathered their gear and set forth towards Rockblight to hunt a medusa. They passed through the staging area and were greeted by Sark Axebarrel who gave them the secret knock for this tridon.
Sark Axebarrel
The gates were opened and the hunters delved into the abandoned caverns of Rockblight.

They had no sooner re-entered the empty residential cavern when they were set upon by six giant spiders, emerging from the empty warrens dug into the cave wall. Five of the spiders were promptly dispatched while the sixth retreated into its cave. Pain and Kettle gave chase, cornering the arachnid and finishing it off.

THE CRYSTAL GARDEN

The fugitives made their way to the left, passing through a short tunnel and into a large cavern lit by massive glowing crystal formations. Near one of the crystals was the statue of a crouching deep gnome clutching the shards of a broken crystal.

Ficus examined the statue for clues and determined that the gnome was trying to hold a crystal in front of its eyes when he was turned to stone. Pain then broke off a chunk of crystal large enough to hold in front of his face as a precaution.

DM Note- The Crystals
Holding the crystal over your eyes refracts the gaze of the medusa, giving you Advantage on your saving throws vs. petrification.

The far end of the cavern descended into a lower level. To the right, two pits in the floor led to stairs descending into passages. Pain explored a small cleft in the wall to the left allowed tight access to a passage that ended in a collapsed ceiling.

The explorers crossed the cavern and descended to the lower level.

THE STEADFAST STONE
At the center of the lower area with a tall menhir. The menhir was covered in sockets, each large enough for a spell gem. The walls of the lower area resembled roughly humanoid shapes formed in stone - Ficus deduced the presence of earth elementals embedded in the wall.

The explorers carefully made their way back up to the crystal garden and into the pit on the left. They descended quietly and carefully.

NEHEEDRA'S LAIR
The passage was narrow and could only be navigated single file. Kettle went first, followed by Pain, Ront, Jimjar, Virtue, Angolwen, and Ficus, with Glabagool guarding the pit outside the cavern  in the crystal garden.

They entered a room decorated in drow fashion, with zurkhwood tables and racks of fine clothing made of delicate spider webs. A female drow priestess sat alone in a granite throne in the center of the room facing the entrance. She looked up at the intruders coldly inquiring, "Who dares distrub the accursed reverie of Neheedra?"

She stood to face them. Her white hair began to writhe, revealing it to be comprised of dozens of thin white snakes!

Kettle shouted, "We do!" and charged!
Ficus moves to flank Neheedra

Kettle closed to melee and attacked, throwing caution to the wind.

Pain entered next but was immediately turned to stone in spite of holding a crystal to refract the medusa's gaze.
Ront and Jimjar charged and joined the melee.

Virtue cast a spell of magical darkness, blocking visibility to and from the vile medusa. Only Virtue, by nature of her demonic vision, was able to see through the impenetrable blackness.

Angolwen and Ficus advanced but stayed within the darkness

Virtue cast a spell of Suggestion, ordering the medusa to close its eyes until the end of the fight.

Neheedra complied and fought blindly while the others attacked with impunity. Ficus then ran forward and joined the melee.

DM Note- Viritue's Cheating Ways
I had Virtue's player read Suggestion out loud so that we all knew what its effects were. He read it, I said, "Huh, okay, she closes her eyes."

At the end of the round, I thought to myself, "There's got to be some additional saving throw or something vs. Suggestion. It can't be that powerful." So I looked it up and read it myself.

I angrily slammed the book shut and shouted at Virtue's player, "Goddammit, Trevor! You mother fucker! Read the last goddamn sentence of Suggestion! Read it out loud!"

He read it out loud.

"If you or any of your companions damage the target, the spell ends. Oops."

"Yeah! Yeah that's right! That spell was over immediately after casting it!"

Instead of re-doing the entire round, I went with it. I told them that the last round happened as described, but Neheedra would get her revenge. Everyone would now make their saving throws vs. petrification with Disadvantage for the following round!

I don't think Virtue's player was intentionally cheating. Virtue's player has a long history with a bad habit of reading everything except for the last sentence of a spell or effect, even as a DM. So this was nothing new and we make fun of him for it. It's something I do on occasion as well. 

Finally, Virtue's player just, like just now, three days later, admitted that he also read another sentence wrong. You can only cast Suggestion on a target you can see. He couldn't cast Suggestion from within the darkness. He offered to make a saving throw or be turned to stone next Friday.

Angolwen moved out of the protection of the magical darkness. She cast a fireball spell into the corner of the room but glanced at her companions in melee combat with the medusa in order to shield them from the effects of the blast. Unfortunately, she caught a glimspe of Neheedra's eyes and was turned to stone!
Neheedra's Deadly Gaze!
Kettle was the next combatant to look into the eyes of the medusa. He froze in place and was instantly turned to stone as well.

The rest of the combatants avoided her gaze and fared poorly as a result. Only Ficus trusted his luck and attacked the accursed creature with all his prowess.

Eventually, Neheedra was defeated. Her head was cut off and thrust into a sack for transport.

DM Note- Monster Hit Points
I once again increased the challenge of the encounter by doubling Neheedra's hit points. I did this so she would last longer in the fight and have more opportunities to use her special abilities and attacks. I wanted to tax the player's resources and tactical skills. 

I've noticed that a lot of the opponents so far in 5th edition are underpowered for hit points. They go down too quickly and provide little challenge for the players. So I've reintroduced the concepts of Elite and Solo monsters from Fourth Edition, doubling or quadrupling the hit points, and giving Solo monster special area effect versions of their attacks, or attacks that push opponents away or cause temporary conditions.

DM Note - Removing Magic Items from Petrified Characters
Petrification turns any non-magic items to stone. Magic items are safe, but may be difficult to recover.

  1. Worn items like belts, armor, boots, etc. can be removed. Any stone items outside the armor such as backpacks or cloaks can be easily broken off without harming the person inside.
  2. Items carried in backpacks or pouches can likewise be removed without harming the person inside.
  3. Potions and scrolls are damaged and thus destroyed in the removal.
  4. Hand-held items CAN be removed with a successful Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check vs. 14. Failure will damage the person's fingers or hands. 


THE SPEAKING STONES
Jimjar and Virtue left the others in Neeheedra's lair. Those who remained began the process of removing what magical items they could salvage from their fallen comrades. Jimjar and Virtue returned the medusa's head to Sark Axebarrel, who gave them their promised reward - a diamond worth 1000 gp.

Knowing that Glyphic Shroomlight, the acolyte in charge of the Ruby in the Rough, was insufficiently trained to pray for the restoration of their petrified comrades, they went to the Chamber of the Speaking Stones, where they met Gurnik Tapfinger, head priest of Callarduran Smoothhands.

Unfortunately, Gurnik admitted that he, too, was unable to say the requisite prayers. However, Gurnik was shocked to learn that Virtue and Jimjar had made their way into the abandoned region of Rockblight. He asked the adventurers if they would be willing to help reconsecrate the temple known as the Steadfast Stone by installing a special spell gem into the menhir located there. They accepted this task and returned to their companions.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Next week: Jimjar is promoted to sixth level Deep Gnome Rogue player character, the party will likely make the aquaintance of a Human Bard (probably), plus a mystery guest!!!