Monday, September 12, 2016

"The Journey to Mantol-Derith" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 25

The mid-wife presented the newborn to the proud parents. The father was a poor farmer. The mother was of stout peasant stock.

The mother cradled the bloody infant in her arms as the midwife cut the umbilical cord. "Look at him, Seamus. He's beautiful!"

"He's got a bit of a harelip." pointed out the father.

"He's perfect!" said the mother.

"I'm going to name him.. Feral."

The mother looked at him incredulously, "Are you sure, Seamus? It seems like such a... an unusual name. Won't the other children tease him?"

"I tell you this- He has a destiny. He will be no farmer. He'll grow up to become a killer of men, a reaver and slayer. No other child will dare tease him. Look at that harelip, mother. Don't you think it looks like a snarl?"

"Well, yes, admittedly. But..."

"No, mother. I have thought about this and I have decided. His name will be Feral. Feral Killmander."

"I see. You know that our last name is Gongfarmer, correct? Not 'Killmander'? Shouldn't his name be Feral Gongfarmer?"

Seamus' eyes were glazed as he beheld the glory of his infant son, "Feral... Feral Killmander."


Demon-Lords have escaped from the Abyss
and are roaming free in the 
subterranean land known as the Underdark.

Five heroes unite to lead an expedition
into the depths of the Earth
to find the underground trading post 
known as Mantol Derith
so that they may learn the way
to Gravenhollow, the fabled library of the Stone Giants
where they hope to find a way to banish
the Demon-Lords back to the Infinite Abyss. 

  • Virtue (PC) - tiefling paladin and warlock, a mysterious wild card of unknown allegiance.
  • Santaka (NPC) - a baby red dragon, loyal to Virtue.
  • Ront Thunderbear (originally an NPC, later a PC) - orc barbarian seeking redemption for his failures.
  • Valerius Adeques (PC) - human paladin and hero, defender and champion of the old gods of nature.
  • Gravy (PC) - scatter-brained human cleric of Selune suffering short-term memory loss, has a big dent in his helmet.
  • Salix (PC) - human wizard, her name will possibly change to Willow, she's still in flux. 
  • Phwee-toop (NPC) - Salix/Willow's owl familiar.

Lord Eravien Haund has assigned us to escort an expedition into the Underdark. There will be 29 or so members of the expedition.

The Leaders of the Expedition
  • Ser Valerius Adeques, a human knight, leader of the expedition I think?
  • Virtue, a demonspawn. I'm not sure where her specialty lies. Also possibly leader of the expedition? She is accompanied by, I jest not, a red dragon! She calls it Santaka! It never leaves her side! I do not trust her.
  • Ront, a filthy orc barbarian. That he is second or third in command sickens me.
  • Silax, a human wizard from Waterdeep. She doesn't speak much. She is protected by some kind of large golem and is attended by an owl. Third or fourth in command. I'm not sure how their command structure works.
  • Gravy, a human priest of the Moon. I'm not certain why he's on this expedition and neither is he. He carries a fish everywhere that he claims is a magic shield. It has yet to rot or spoil so perhaps there is something to his delusion.
The expedition they lead is comprised of elements from several factions.

The Order of the Gauntlet, under the command of Ser Valerius
  • Thora Nabal, human warrior
  • Sylrien Havennor, human warrior
  • Olaf Renghyi, human warrior
  • Elias Drako, human warrior
  • Tamryn Tharke, human warrior

The Emerald Enclave, under the command of Ront
  • Brim Coppervein, dwarven mounted scout
  • Thargus Forkbeard, dwarven mounted scout
  • Griswalla Stonehammer, dwarven mounted scout

The Lords' Alliance, under the command of.. I'm not certain. I thought we were to be commanded by Ser Valerius but he doesn't seem too interested in us.
  • Nazrok Blueaxe, dwarven warrior
  • Kirsil Mantlehorn, dwarven warrior
  • Anzar the Brazen, dwarven warrior
  • Garganthine Truesilver, dwarven warrior
  • Splinter Darkmorn, dwarven warrior
  • Feral Killmander, human spy
  • Zilna Oakshadow, human spy
  • Hilvius Haever, human spy

The Black Cloaks of the Zhentarim, under the command of Virtue.
  • Nero Kelvane, human thug
  • Lenora Hasku, human thug
  • Aligor Moonwhisper, human thug
  • Gorath Torn, human thug
  • Saliyra Dalnor, human thug
  • Primwin Halk, human thug
  • Iandro Alathar, human thug
  • Lhytris Ilgarn, human thug

We gathered in Gauntlgrym and are on a quest to find some Zhentarim trading post deep underground. I'm not sure about the details. There's something about finding a fabled stone giant library and fighting demon-lords.

The first leg of our journey consisted of fifteen days of overland travel from Gauntlgrym to some unremarkable cave in the hills. The entrance to the cave was guarded by some of the black cloaks. As we entered, we encountered someone trying to leave the cave. A hafling.

The halfling said his name was "Pan Gree-yay". He seemed to know Ront and Virtue. The halfling said he had been restored to flesh by some alchemists in someplace called Blingdenstone and that he had finally made it to the surface and to freedom. Ront informed him that they were going back down and needed his help. The look on the halfling's face was awful but hilarious. His hopes were so crushed. He looked so disappointed, and you know that there's nothing more pathetic than a disappointed halfling. It was so cute! In any event, he drooped his shoulders, turned around, and marched back into the cave with the rest of us.

I lost track of the priest known as Gravy. I think he just wandered off.

We entered the cave which became a long passage. The passage descended sharply. We were forced to proceed slowly and cautiously.

The heroes Ser Valerius and Ront took the forward point of our column. They were followed by the Order of the Gauntlet. The wizard Salix and her shield guardian came next surrounded by the dwarven warriors of the Lords' Alliance. Zilna, Hilvius, and I followed closely behind. Behind us were the Zhentarim black cloaks who acted as porters. They carried our supplies on poles over their shoulders. The mounted dwarven scouts of the Emeral Enclave brought up the rear.

I will from this point on no longer be able to record the passage of days or nights. We march until we are tired then we rest until we are able to march again. I will record the cycles of time in terms of marches and rests.

March #1 - Uneventful.

Rest #1 - Uneventful.

March #2 - Uneventful.

Rest #2 - Uneventful.

March #3 - Uneventful.

Rest #3 - Uneventful.

March #4 - Uneventful.

Rest #4 - Uneventful.

March #5 - Uneventful.

Rest #5 - Large glowing insects entered camp. We were told they were fire beetles and were harmless if left unmolested. We captured a few and tied them to leads. They made excellent light sources.

March #6 - We encountered a smaller cave off the passage. The leaders entered into the cave and found a deranged deep gnome who had killed his entire trading party. Virtue said some kind of prayer and cured the deep gnome of its madness. We left it be and continued.

Rest #6 - Uneventful.

March #7 - The rear was ambushed by a massive brown creature the heroes called an "Umber Hulk". It emerged from the ground and took one of the black cloaks. The rest of us stood around dumbfounded as if caught up in some kind of trance. One of the black cloaks showed impressive bravery and dived down the tunnel to save their friend. They were both lost. We eventually overcame our paralysis and continued on, rattled by the experience and the first fatality of the expedition.

Rest #7 - Uneventful.

March #8 - Uneventful.

Rest #8 - Uneventful.

March #9 - The ground opened up behind us and the passage filled with lava. There was a mad panic as we scrambled for safety. There were many casualties and several fatalities.

Rest #9 - Though I was not personally awake, I was informed later that the heroes met a traveller in the passage while the rest of us slept. It was some kind of albino fish man, one of the so-called Kuo Toa. They spoke with the fish man, whose name was Sloopidoop. It asked them several questions and disappeared behind a rock.

March #10 - Uneventful.

Rest #10 - Uneventful.

March #11 - the way was blocked by thick sticky spider webs that made progress slow. Beyond the webs was a large herd of fire beetles that stretched on for hours.

Rest #11 - we never made it past the herd of fire beetles so we were forced to camp among them.

March #12 - The rear was once again ambushed. This time a creature called a "rocktopus" dropped from the ceiling on of the dwarven scouts from the Emerald Enclave. I'm told it was Coppervein. It tried to pull Coppervein up into the ceiling but the thing was quickly filled with crossbow bolts and fell to the ground. One of the other dwarves gathered up the rocktopus into a container. Coppervein bragged that he could not be killed and spoke of the bravery of all Copperveins.

Rest #12 - The dwarf took out the rocktopus to prepare as a meal. The rocktopus was not dead and put up a brief fight before it was smashed to death with a hammer.

March #13 - We came across the ruins of some kind of village. The ruins looked like piles of sand made of cement. I was told it was a Kuo Toa village. It was inhabited by a group of pale Orc raiders. Ront negotiated our passage and we moved past without incident.

Rest #13 - A few of the orc raiders from the Kuo Toa ruins tried to sneak into our camp while we rested. The dwarven scouts of the rear guard were alert and quickly spotted the intrusion. The orcs were repulsed with no casualties.

March #14 - Uneventful.

Rest #14 - Uneventful.

March #15 - Uneventful.

Rest #15 - the forward watch reported encountering a lone drow wandering towards the party. It was shambling and was apparently infected by some kind of brain fungus. Virtue destroyed it with fire.

March #16 - The rear was once again ambushed by an Umber Hulk. It killed Coppervein's lizard mount and disappeared with the body. Coppervein managed to escape unharmed.

Rest #16 - The forward watch reported being attacked by a giant brain with dozens of dangling tentacles and a big beak. It was quickly dispatched by the heroes and destroyed with fire.

March #17 - Uneventful.

Rest #17 - Uneventful.

March #18 - Uneventful.

Rest #18 - The Enclave scouts were on guard duty in the rear when they heard strange clicking echoing through the passage behind them. We were all awakened as two massive insect creatures with massive forelimbs like hooks approached. We formed four ranks - The scouts in the first rank, Black Cloaks in the second and third ranks, and Zilnia, Haever, and myself in the back rank. We peppered the creatures with crossbows. We were able to slay one of the brutes but the other managed to kill one of the scouts and made off with his body.

March #19 - Uneventful.

Rest #19 - Uneventful.

March #20 - We encountered a 70 foot ledge that would have been difficult to navigate. Virtue cast a spell that allowed her to fly and she ferried us down one by one. The equipment was lowered with ropes and the giant lizards easily climbed down.

Rest #20 - Uneventful.

March #21 - Another unending swarm of fire beetles. We encountered fire beetles for hours and hours and were eventually forced to camp among them.

Rest #21 - Uneventful.

March #22 - Uneventful.

Rest #22 - Uneventful.

March #23 - Uneventful.

Rest #23 - Uneventful.

March #24 - Uneventful.

Rest #24 - Uneventful.

March #25 - We were forced to cross a 40-foot wide gap over a 60-foot deep ravine. The only way across was an old rope bridge occupied by a swarm of fire beetles. Once again, Virtue cast a spell of flying and ferried us across.

Rest #25 - More fire beetles.

March #26 - Encountered the ruins of an abandoned duergar village. The ruins were occupied by five goblins who gave us a wide berth.

Rest #26 - Uneventful.

March #27 - A weak section of the ground gave way and I almost fell into a deep pit. I caught the side and was pulled to safety.

Rest #27 - Uneventful.

March #28 - Uneventful.

Rest #28 - Two of the orc raiders once again tried to sneak into the camp while we rested. Their approach was detected by the black cloaks and two orcs ran off into the darkness.

March #29 - Uneventful.

Rest #29 - The forward guard reported that five white-furred bear men came shambling into view during the rest. All were afflicted by the brain spore infestation and all were burned to ash by Virtue.

March #30 - Uneventful

Rest #30 - Uneventful.

March #31 - Uneventful.

Rest #31 - The forward guard reported that six of what were initially thought were stalactites fell from the ceiling and onto the warriors of the Order of the Gauntlet. Several of them were severely injured and a few were killed. The stalactites were some kind of creatures that emerged from their stony shells and tried to feed on their kills. They were quickly killed.

March #32 - Uneventful.

Rest #32 - The forward guard reported that a white-furred bear man approached out the darkness. Unlike the others, this one appeared intelligent and spoke in fine elven. He apparently knew Virtue and Ront and Pain and they spoke at length. His name is Derendil and he has joined our expedition. He is apparently of the same order of scholars as the Kuo Toa named Sloopidoop. I'm told it's called the Society of Brilliance.

March #33 - Uneventful.

Rest #33 - Uneventful.

March #34 - We came across a symbol carved onto a stalactite near a side passage. Derendil said it was the drow symbol of warning. There was a sound of wailing that caused many of us great unease. The leaders debated exploring the side tunnel but ultimately chose to continue on.

Later, during that same march, the Black Cloaks indicated that we were near our destination. They took us into a great rift. We climbed some winding switchbacks. Finally one of the Black Cloaks put their face to the wall as if it kiss it. They covered the sides of their face with their hands so that we could not see what they were doing. The wall opened and revealed a secret entrance!

We entered into a long tunnel. About four hundred feet in a different Black Cloak repeated the same maneuver by hiding their face while kissing the rock.

We were admitted into a different secret door. We emerged into a ditch at the bottom of a large chamber, at least three hundred feet wide and six hundred feet long with a thirty foot ceiling.

We had arrived at Mantol-Derith.


DM Notes - "If we fight Fire Beetles, I'm going home!"

I debated whether or not I was going to run a session of random travel encounters or whether I was going to hand-wave travel and say "After an arduous journey you arrive at Mantol-Derrith!"

I ultimately decided to run the travel encounters for two reasons.

  1. I wanted to instill a sense of distance in travelling to a remote location. I want distant travel to feel distant. Hand-waving travel tends to make long distances feel insignificant and players are more apt to go on distat journeys if there's no perceived "cost".
  2. I wanted the players to get a feel for the members of the expedition. These players tend to ignore their NPCs. They get left behind and are underutilized. I wanted the expedition to feel like an expedition of real people. 
To that end I gave the NPCs to each player to control. Personalities soon arose around their names, with Feral Killmander being a group favorite. They made up the birth of Feral Killmander story pretty  much word for word as I recorded it above. Feral Killmander is a bad-ass sniper and assassin who stays in the shadows. He has a hare-lip, a facial scar, and a permanent snarl. 

The defiant Brim Coppervein is a close second for group favorite. 

It will be fun to see which other NPC pesonalities develop.  In a way its like running a Zero-Level Gauntlet for Dungeon Crawl Classics. 

So anyway, I decided to run the random encounters. I rolled them all ahead of time so it was just a matter of playing down the list.

However, one player said, "If we fight Fire Beetles, I'm going home!"

I laughed because, although there were many fire beetle encounters on the list, I was going to run them as non-combat encounters. Amost terrain encounters. They were just going to be flavor.

The same went for the raiders. The raider encounters posed absolutely no threat to a party of 30+ so those just became flavor.

I also ignored the bookkeeping of food and water or navigation for this leg. I just assumed they were properly equipped and that the Black Cloaks knew where they were going.

In the end, it worked out well. They got a sense of arduous travel. A few of the ambush encounters gave a real sense of horror movie dread by picking off one person and disappearing into the night. The NPCs became real and fleshed out.

I can't wait to start implementing inter-faction rivalries.

Next week - Mantol-Derith!