Sparky the Fire Beetle hurried through the endless passages and tunnels of the Underdark looking for help. Sparky was desperate. Sparky's mistress was trapped. The mistress told Sparky to go get help, any help. Sparky wasn't smart like the mistress but Sparky understood the request. Sparky had barely made it out alive. The warren, normally a curious place of exploration and play, was now a dangerous lair for ferocious beasts.
The precocious fire beetle scurried and scuttled as fast as it could, following the ancient scent trail that led to the cavern of the other two-legs like the master. Sparky could only hope that the other two-legs would respond.
Spark unexpectedly came across an entire herd of two-legs travelling the passage. Sparkydid not know these two-legs but they were Sparky's only hope.
Spark got the attention of the two-legs. Sparky turned around, flared its vestigial wings, and shook its glowing abdomen. Sparky blinked its abdomen in the way that the mistress taught. Sparky moved in the direction they were to follow then turned around to assess their understanding. The two-legs stood in momentary confusion. Sparky repeated the intricate dance.
The two-legs spoke amongst themselves then addressed Sparky directly.
"What's the matter, girl? Is somebody in trouble?"
The dance had worked. The two-legs understood. Sparky glowed in appreciation and led the way.
OUT OF THE ABYSS, CHAPTER 29
"THE FIENDISH MENAGERIE OF AMARITH COPPERVEIN"
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.
They are on the way to Gravenhollow,
the fabled library of the Stone Giants,
where it is said all secrets are known.
Their travel was interrupted
by a precocious fire beetle
that looked like it was
trying to get them to follow
it because someone was in trouble...
- Sir Valerius Adeques - (PC) human paladin and hero, defender and champion of the old gods of nature.
- Virtue - (PC) tiefling paladin and warlock, a mysterious wild card of unknown allegiance.
- Santaka - (NPC) a baby red dragon, loyal to Virtue.
- Willow - (PC) Human wizard, her name will possibly change to Willow, she's still in flux.
- Phwee-toop - (NPC) Salix/Willow's owl familiar.
- The Shield Guardian - (NPC) a contribution from Lord Zelraun Roaringhorn of the Harpers.
- Ront - (PC) orc barbarian of the Iron-Thews tribe seeking redemption for his failures.
- Pain Grille' - (PC) halfling thief from Waterdeep, was turned to stone in Blingdenstone but got better.
ADVENTURERS OF THE ORDER OF THE GAUNTLET
Under the command of Ser Valerius
- Thora Nabal - (NPC) human warrior
- Sylrien Havennor - (NPC) human warrior
- Olaf Renghyi - (NPC) human warrior
- Elias Drako - (NPC) human warrior
- Tamryn Tharke - (NPC) human warrior
SCOUTS OF THE EMERALD ENCLAVE
Under the command of Ront
- Brim Coppervein - (NPC) dwarven mounted scout (missing)
- Thargus Forkbeard - (NPC) dwarven mounted scout
- Griswalla Stonehammer - (NPC) dwarven mounted scout
GUARDS AND AGENTS OF THE LORDS' ALLIANCE
Under the command of Pain
- Anzar the Brazen - (NPC) dwarven warrior
- Feral Killmander - (NPC) human spy
- Nazrok Blueaxe - (NPC) dwarven warrior (deceased)
- Kirsil Mantlehorn - (NPC) dwarven warrior (deceased)
- Garganthine Truesilver - (NPC) dwarven warrior (deceased)
- Splinter Darkmorn - (NPC) dwarven warrior (deceased)
- Zilna Oakshadow - (NPC) human spy (missing)
- Hilvius Haever - (NPC) human spy (missing)
THE BLACK CLOAKS OF THE ZHENTARIM
Under the command of Virtue
- Nero Kelvane - (NPC) human thug
- Lenora Hasku - (NPC) human thug
- Gorath Torn - (NPC) human thug
- Lhytris Ilgarn - (NPC) human thug (missing)
- Aligor Moonwhisper - (NPC) human thug (deceased)
- Saliyra Dalnor - (NPC) human thug (deceased)
- Primwin Halk - (NPC) human thug (deceased)
- Iandro Alathar - (NPC) human thug (deceased)
- Derendil - (NPC) a qaggoth, once cursed with a false personality, now fully restored but retaining his unusual gentleness and intelligence, provisional member of the Order of Brilliance.
The fire beetle looked like it wanted to be followed but not everyone was confinced. Virtue and Valerius were skeptical of the beetle. At best, they thought, it was a distraction. At worst it was a trap. Ront, Willow, and Pain decided to lead a small group to check it out.
The expedition followed the beetle back to a passage. At the end of the passage was a wooden sign proclaiming "AMARITH'S MENAGERIE - ADMISSION 5 SILVER COINS". An iron railing and turnstile blocked the way. A metal box with a coin slot was bolted to the railing. The scouts' riding lizards easily scrambled over the iron railing. In the distance they could hear the sounds of screaming. The rest of the group paid their admission.
The passage opened onto a ledge overlooking a cavern. A ramp led down to the floor of the cavern to the left. The cavern ceiling was forty feet from the floor. The entire cavern was eerily lit by strange glowing crystals that looked as if they had erupted from the wall. Dozens of large stalactites hung from the ceiling.
The little fire beetle led the way down the ramp and across the cavern. Ront and the scouts quickly followed.
Without warning, four long tentacles extruded from one of the stalactites. A large red eye blinked menacingly as a round toothy shincter-like mouth opened and closed. It was a roper! The roper was unlike any they had previously encountered or read about. This one was covered in dark red spikes and its eye glowed with an evil power. It was obviously possessed by some demonic force!
|A Roper attacks the party|
Pain activated his magic boots and ran up the side of the wall with alacrity. He grabbed hold of a stalactite on the ceiling and proceeded to attack the creature in what he hoped were its weak spots.
The roper gave some slack to its opponents and focused on Willow. It drew Willow in and bit down hard, its bite draining Willow's life force! Luckily, Willow's Shield Guardian was able to magically transfer life force to its mistress. Ront managed to cut one tentacle which dropped him to the ground with a thud. The other victims followed suit. New tentacles drew forth and attacked again.
Despite its dangerous attacks, the roper was soon destroyed with a combination of Pain's attacks and Willow's spells. The roper's tentacles went limp and everyone held fell unceremoniously and painfully to the ground. The body of the roper quickly decayed into burning ash and writhing worms and maggots.
The party quickly investigated a nearby sunken grotto labelled "UMBER HULK". There was a fading demonic ward drawn into the ground but the pit was otherwise empty.
The fire beetle led the group up a steep passage that passed another ledge overlooking another section of the same cavern. An iron railing protected anyone from falling over the ledge. Ront was surprised as more tentacles reached out and grabbed him. The creature resembled long worm-like squid with writhing tentacles surrounding a beak-like mouth. It was a grick, the largest grick anyone had ever seen! The grick had clung to the rock wall just below the ledge waiting for anyone to pass overhead. Like the roper, the grick was covered in horn-like growths and the inside of its mouth glowed with malevolence.
|Attacked by a Grick Alpha|
Ront stuck his foot on the railing and held fast. Pain ran up onto the railing and attacked the grick. The grick turned its attention to the halfling. Meanwhile, Anzar and Feral had circled around at the bottom of the cave and were firing crossbows at the creature. Willow circled around as well and threw an acid orb at the creature and missed, causing the railing to begin to sizzle and dissolve. After a fierce battle the grick was soon dispatched and the party continued on its way.
DM Note - Goddammit!
It was a this point that I remembered that the place was suffused with faerzress. I reminded myself going forward to implement this rule - roll on the chaos magic table EVERY TIME WILLOW CAST A SPELL!
A FALSE ALARM
The party could go left or right. The sound of panicked screaming came from the right. The beetle seemed uncertain. Ront chose to investigate the screaming.
They passed a grotto labelled "RUST MONSTERS". The pen's bars were little more than decayed stumps. Just beyond was another grotto whose bars were still intact. Within was a cave filled with mushrooms and fungi from throughout the Underdark. A large animated zurkhwood like the kind found in Neverlight Grove, only covered in thorns and with glowing red eye spots, turned around and lunged a the party aggressively. The screaming came from the back of the grotto. Ront frantically searched before concluding, "Shriekers!"
At that moment, a demonically mutated creature emerged from the shadows ahead of the party and another one approached from behind. They were trapped! The creatures had bulbous insectile bodies with a long tail and two long feelers. Ront called out, "Rust monsters!"
|The Grotto of the Fungi|
The other rust monster attacked Anzar's chain mail, turning some of it to dust. Willow backed away and cast an acid orb spell at the rust monster. However, doing so had the unintended consequence of turning everyone but Pain invisible! Pain was momentarily startled and worried that he was left alone, only to have Ront and the others quickly reappear as they attacked their foes.
Willow cast another spell, killing the rust monster but also triggering a fireball centered on herself. Luckily she was far enough away and no one was injured.
The rust monsters were quickly destroyed, soon followed by the animated zurkhwood. As the creature expired it exploded in a puff of spores. Pain and Ront quickly covered their mouths and avoided breathing in the tainted air.
CLAWS OF DOOM
The party retreated and took the passage to the left. Ahead of them they saw a large silhouette tearing meat from an unseen carcass in the dark. As they drew nearer the silhouette became a large crustacean, like a giant crayfish only covered in demonic spikes and possessing glowing red eyes. It was a chuul. The chuul was eating the flesh of a humanoid. It dropped its meal and ran at Pain.
It grabbed Pain in one of its massive pincers and shoved the halfling in its mouth. The demonic chuul proceeded to drain the life force from Pain who screamed in terror. Ront and the others attacked the chuul.
Willow cast several spells at the chuul. A fireball spell proved ineffective so she switched to acid orbs. However, each time she cast a spell she activated another side effect. One spell caused everyone around her to become confused. Another spell caused her to levitate off the ground.
THE CLOAK OF DARKNESS
Willow's shield guardian was affected by the the confusion. It ran wildly down a random corridor where it became surrounded by three creatures. Each creature resembled a large flying manta ray with thin flapping wings like a cloak. Willow cast a fireball spell at the area, protecting her shield guardian from its effects, and two of the manta rays were immediately destroyed!
After defeating the chuul the party turned it attention to the new creature - a cloaker! The cloaker flew towards Pain and enveloped him.
DM Note - Not again!
Pain's player has an amusing history with cloakers. He lost a PC many years ago while enveloped in a cloaker. We kept attacking it, transferrnig damage to him. He kept yelling, "Stop killing me!" and we kept trying new attacks, thinking that maybe bludgeoning would work? How about fire? So this happening to him again was priceless!
As Pain struggled inside the cloaker, Ront grabbed the creature and tried to pull it away. The cloaker's long whip-like barbed tail flailed around trying to attack Ront. The cloaker, like all of the other creature in this menagerie, was tainted by demonic influence. It drained life from from Pain who fell to the ground unconscious!
Ront was able to pull the cloaker off and fight the beast! Pain lay unconscious on the ground and Anzar rushed in with a healing potion to save him. After a harrowing battle the cloaker was eventually defeated.
|Up close and personal with a Cloaker!|
The female dwarf within was at first wary of Ront but immediately recognized the scouts of the Emerald Enclave and was almost bowled over by the affections of the fire beetle, its long proboscis licking her leathery face. "Sparky! You did it! Good girl!"
She introduced herself as Amarith Coppervein. She was accompanied by a winged kobold named Pok-Pok. She explained that she and her partner, the wizard Yungyan, had managed to capture several Underdark creatures that had come under the influence of demonic taint. The creatures were changed, mutated, and driven mad. Her partner was able to bind the creatures. She made a few extra coins charging admission to visitors from Mantol-Derith or Blingdenstone. However, the faerzress had invaded her complex and caused many of the bindings to fail. The creatures escaped and she had to hide in her study. She was saddened to learn of the fate of Yungyan.
Ront suggested she abandon the menagerie as there was still an umber hulk lurking somewhere about. She was advised to be careful, at which point she angrily replied, "NOBODY KILLS A COPPERVEIN!"
She asked about the expedition and Ront, Pain, and Willow explained that they were traveling to Gravenhollow but would eventually return to Gauntlgrym. She also learned of the disappearance of her cousin Brim Coppervein. She was confident that he was still alive and would be found eventually.
She asked to join and was accepted into the ranks of the expedition. She and Pok-Pok gathered some books, equipment, and supplies from their quarters and joined the caravan.
THE PASSING OF SHADOWS
The team rejoined the main expedition and they continued on their way to Gravenhollow. After a long rest, the expedition came across an underground river teeming with albino cave fish. They replinished their supplies of food and water. When they next rested the found that some of their supplies had unnaturally spoiled - the effect of the demonic taint spreading through the Underdark.
After a few more rests, the expedition was navigating a long smooth tunnel of black rock when suddenly a dark ethereal shape flashed from the floor to the ceiling againd of them, passing through solid stone! Another shape darted amidst the expedition. Ront called for a halt. They were not alone.
TO BE CONTINUED...
The Demonic Menagerie of Amarith Coppervein
I allowed my players to build the map for this side-quest dungeon. I had some Dyson Logos maps printed up and ready to use but instead I just put my cavern wall pieces on the table and said, "Build something!" and let the players go nuts. The map below isn't accurate but its the best I could remember, plus some minor additions or changes.
Turnstile with a metal coin box. Wood sign says "AMARITH'S ZOO - ADMISSION 5 SILVER COINS"
A Demonic Roper is indistinguisable from other stalactites on the 40 foot ceiling. The Roper is hanging upside-down with the tip of it's "head" 30 feet off the ground. The binding circle on the ground has weakened due to the growing influence of the faezress within the cave.
3. ROPER PEN (EMPTY)
The bars to this pen are broken open from within and the pen is empty. A sign on the wall reads, "ROPER". The Roper is currently hiding in area 2.
4. CLOAKER PEN (EMPTY)
This bars are busted open from within. A nearby sign proclaims the occupant to be a "CLOAKER". No creature can be seen within. The cloaker is currently lurking near the ceiling in the passageway between areas 8, 9, and 10.
5. GRICK ALPHA
A railing separates the high path from the sheer 35 foot drop-off. A Demonic Grick Alpha is lurking below the ledge and will attack anyone walking past, pulling them over the rails. The sound of painful screaming can be heard emanating from area 8.
6. UMBER HULK PEN (EMPTY)
A nearby sign reads "UMBER HULK" but no creature can be seen inside the unbroken bars.
7. RUST MONSTER PEN (EMPTY)
The bars of this grotto have been turned to powder and the two Rust Monsters are roaming the complex.
8. SHRIEKERS AND AWAKENED ZURKHWOOD
The sound of pained screaming originates from two Shriekers in the rear of this fungal grotto. A Demonic Awakened Zurkhwood infected with Zuggtmoy's spores is trapped within.
 RUST MONSTERS ATTACK
As soon as anyone investigates the grotto, the two Demonic Rust Monsters will emerge from their hiding places and attack. One will destroy the bars of the fungal grotto, freeing the zurkhwood. The zurkhwood will immediately attack.
The dark silohuette of a Demonic Chuul can be barely made out consuming the remains of a male human wizard in the rear of this grotto. Once spotted, the crazed chuul will attack.
A Demonic Cloaker is lurking near the ceiling. It will create two phantasms and create any creature that enters this area.
Amarith Coppervein and her assistant Pok-Pok, a Winged Kobold, are currently barricaded in her study. The study contains two desks, a chest filled with books on Underdark ecology, and a book of Amarith's notes containing her studies of the captured creatures that have been affected by the demonic incursion. Another book contains the holy writing of her partner, the dwarven cleric Jung Ironthews. The book contains incantations and rituals for the binding of demons.
12. LIVING QUARTERS AND STORAGE
This room contains three cots, several cages, a well, and crates of food and supplies.
As per normal creatures with the following modifications:
Size and Type
The creature gains the fiend type. Size is unchanged.
Always chaotic evil.
A fiendish creature retains all the special attacks of the base creature and also gains the following special attack.
- Smite Good Once per day the creature can make a normal melee attack to deal extra damage equal to its HD total (maximum of +20) against a good foe.
DM Note- Extra DAMAGE? I was rolling extra damage DICE! Oops!
A fiendish creature retains all the special qualities of the base creature and also gains the following.
- Damage Resistances cold, fire, lightning; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks
- Damage Immunities poison
- Condition Immunities poisoned
- Darkvision out to 60 feet.
- Magic Resistance The creature has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.