Thursday, December 8, 2016

"The Spawning Pool" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 34

Willow thought the deep gnomes were making progress. The wizard had stayed behind the Chasm Bridge to help rehabilitate the two former slaves. When she found them, they were hooded and chained to a wall. They were meek, cowed, and afraid. They were the unfortunate play-things of a human named Mistle, an evil wizard that had hired ogres to collect an exorbitant toll to cross the Chasm Bridge. Willow and her companions had defeated Mistle and sent him fleeing into the Underdark. Since then she had learned that the former slaves were traveling to Blingdenstone when they were captured by the nearby gargoyles and given to Mistle as tribute.

Willow had learned their names: Derilogit and Toroukil. The two deep gnomes were typically dour and circumspect. She had spent days working to rebuild their independence and confidence after their months of forced servitude and indoctrination.

One day, she was sipping tea and having a conversation with the deep gnomes when there was a voice at the entrance to the cavern that Mistle once called home.

"Those belong to me!"

"Excuse me?" said Willow as she carefully put down the cup and stood to face the intruder. The human intruder hobbled into the light of the room.  He wore the robes of a wizard. He was missing his left leg and used a staff as a crutch.

"I am Mistle the Mage and I've come back to reclaim what is mine. Those two there are my slaves. They are mine. This whole place is mine and I have come back to reclaim it."

Willow's eyes narrowed and she tightened her grip around her flying stick, "Over my dead body."

"That can be arranged. Accourding to the rules and traditions of the wizarding guild of Waterdeep, I challenge you to a wizard duel."

"You're on."




OUT OF THE ABYSS, CHAPTER 34
"THE SPAWNING POOL"

Five heroes scour the Underdark
in order to find the ingredients 
of an arcane ritual
that will banish the Demon-Lords
back to the Abyss
from which they escaped.

En route to the Wormwrithings to 
procure the egg of a gigantic Purple Worm
they heroes come across
a large force of Troglodytes
arguing over a sword...

THE LEADERS OF THE EXPEDITION
  • Sir Valerius Adeques - (PC, human paladin 10) Defender and champion of the old gods of nature.
  • Virtue - (PC, human paladin 7/warlock 3) A mysterious wild card of unknown allegiance.
  • Santaka - (NPC) a baby red dragon, loyal to Virtue.
  • Willow - (PC, human wizard 8) "the solution is always fireball!" 
  • Phwee-toop - (NPC) Salix/Willow's owl familiar.
  • Ront - (PC, half-orc barbarian 10) Savage orc of the Iron-Thews tribe seeking redemption for his failures.
  • Pain Grille' - (PC, halfling rogue 10) Wily street urchin from Waterdeep, was turned to stone in Blingdenstone but got better.
THE SURVIVING MEMBERS OF THE EXPEDITION
  • Thora Nabal - (NPC)  human warrior of the Order of the Gauntlet
  • Sylrien Havennor - (NPC)  human warrior of the Order of the Gauntlet
  • Elias Drako - (NPC)  human warrior of the Order of the Gauntlet
  • Tamryn Tharke - (NPC)  human warrior of the Order of the Gauntlet
  • Feral Killmander - (NPC)  human spy of the Lord's Alliance
  • Pok-Pok - (NPC) winged kobold.
  • Sparky - (NPC) trained fire-beetle. 
  • The Shield Guardian - (NPC) a contribution from Lord Zelraun Roaringhorn of the Harpers.
WIZARD DUEL ON THE CHASM BRIDGE
Willow and Mistle stood at opposite ends of the Chasm Bridge. Willow was flanked by her owl familiar Phwee-toop and her the ten foot tall automaton that served as her shield guardian. Mistle supported himself on his crutch behind two duergar fighters wearing brass chain mail.

Willow, Phwee-Toop, and the Shield Guardian
The two wizards stared at each other. A strong wind blew threw the cavern whipping their cloaks and hair. Minutes passed in silence. The duergar became restless.

Suddenly, as if in response to some silent signal, the wizards sprang into action!

Mistle and his Duergar Warriors
Mistle cast an ice storm spell. Willow immediately dismissed the attack with a counterspell and became invisible. She mounted her magic tree branch and took flight. The winds made it difficult to control.

The shield guardian cast a confusion spell that Willow had prepared for it earlier. One of the two duergar stood dumbfounded but the other charged forward across the bridge. Phwee-toop fled the scene and hid behind some rocks.

The first duergar became a giant and engaged the shield guardian in melee combat. The second duergar finally overcame his confusion and joined his companion in charging the other side of the bridge.

Mistle became frustrated at his inability to target Willow. He tried to become invisible himself but suffered another counterspell!

Willow cast a fireball at the charging duergar but was, in turn, foiled by Mistle's counterspell.

The two wizards traded spells in this way. Mistle was eventually wounded by a few of Willow's chromatic orb spells and was forced to order his duergar to retreat. The wizard then disappeared in a puff of silvery mist. The two duergar became invisible and disappeared.

Willow flew down to the passage at the far end of the bridge. She shouted into the darkness, "Eat shit, asshole! Never come back!"

A SENDING
Willow was convinced that she had lost her companions forever. She had no way of knowing where they were or how to find them.

One day her shield guardian shuddered. Its movements became suddenly fluid and natural. It looked at its mechanical hands, turning them over in front of its "face".

The shield guardian ran its hands up and down its body as if feeling its hips and chest and face.

A voice magically emanated from where its mouth would normally be, "Well, hello there! I simply MUST get me one of these!"

The voice emanating from the shield guardian was refined, elegant, and decadent. The words poured languidly over the strange accent in a way that made the listener feel dirty and uncomfortable, like you needed to take a shower afterward. Its movements were serpentine and lithe.

Willow was confused, "Um, hello?"

The shield guardian seemed to be suddenly reminded of why it was here, "Oh, right. You are Willow, correct? I am Vizerian, former Archmage of Menzoberranzan. I have a message for you."

"Go ahead, I guess?"

"Your companions have been to Gravenhollow. There they met me. We are working together to resolve this.. incursion. I have sent them on a quest to gather some necessary ritual components. If you wish to rejoin them, I will instill into this shield guardian the knowledge of how to find them. Simply follow the guardian and you will be reunited with them. Is that understood?"

Willow nodded.

"Good. Now if you will excuse me. I think I will pop off to the Infinity Market to see about acquiring a shield guardian for myself."

The shield guardian shuddered again and was once more its stolid laconic self.

Soon thereafter, Willow packed her equipment and enough supplies for a long journey through the endless caves and passages of the Underdark. She bade farewell to the deep gnomes and strode across the bridge in search of the rest of the expedition.

She followed the shield guardian for dozens of days, if travelling as far as she could before resting as long as was necessary could be called a "day". She eventually reached a region of smooth tube-like passages. A few days later she encountered Valerius Adeques and the warriors of the Gauntlet clearing the rubble of a cave-in. Valerius reported that he had been separated from the expedition by the cave-in which was caused by the passing of a gargantuan purple worm.

After clearing the passage the expedition encountered a group of seventeen dwarves coming from the opposite direction. The dwarves reported that they had escaped from troglodyte captivity and that they encountered the expedition a ways back. DM Note- At this point, I retconned the story of the dwarves they met last week to being escaped prisoners. This revised story ties in better with the upcoming troglodtye encounter. The players liked it much better.

Willow and Valerius, along with their entourage, continued on. They eventually found the remains of Thargus Forkbeard who had been slain by a drow's poisoned arrow. Thargus' bare bones had been picked clean of even the smallest bit of meat and gristle.

They finally caught up to the expedition on the following day. Virtue, Pain, Ront, and Feryl were crouched among some loose rocks and boulders observing the events in a large cavern ahead. Pain noticed the brilliant daylight of Valerius' sun-sword Dawnbringer and quickly motioned the paladin to dim the radiance of the blade. Valerius complied and rolled his eyes at Dawnbringer's subsequent protestation.

At the entrance to the Cavern
Valerius and Willow joined the others in the surreptitious reconnaissance of the events within.

DIVISION IN THE TROGLODYTE CAMP
The cavern beyond was as large, at least two hundred feet deep and four hundred feet wide with a two hundred foot ceiling covered in stalactites. On the right wall of the cavern was a low crater filled with warm water. Steam wafted from the water's surface. The water overflowed the banks of the crater and formed a small river, fifteen feet wide, that bisected the cavern. The stream disappeared into a passage on the left wall. The ground rose to a plateau on the far side of the creek while a small steep hill rose on the near side close to the entrance.

One had to struggle to keep from wretching at the horrible stench that emanated from the room.

Albino reptile-men, so-called troglodytes, were the source of the stench. They were arranged into two factions, each numbering around two-dozen, facing off on either side of the creek. They were shouting at each other in the strange growling hissing language of the subterranean brutes. The group on the far side held the high ground atop the plateau. Their leader was old and fat but held aloft a curved short sword of drow manufacture.

The group on the near side were led by a tall strong warrior that did all the talking. He kept pointing to a large bloated troglodyte lashed to two stone pillars atop the steep hill. He pointed back to the old troglodyte with the sword, then clutched his fist.

Brood Mother
The old troglodtye waved the sword around haphazardly and shouted back defiantly.

The disagreement seemed to stem from the sword. The tall warrior wanted the sword and was holding the female hostage until he got it. The older one refused to five up the sword and demanded the release of the hostage who was apparently a troglodyte of some importance.

THE PRISONERS
Meanwhile, Pain had noticed a small tunnel to the right. The tunnel was barely large enough for a dwarf of halfling to fit through and appared to have been recently excavated. Pain told the others and Willow sent Phwee-toop the owl hopping through the winding tunnel to see where it led.

After about a hundred feet, the owl saw a room filled with crates and captured loot, as well as supplies, carrying litters, and a ten-foot wide hole in the ground. About a half-a-dozen small chains were draped over the edge of the pit and were connected to a nearby wall. A troglodyte walked up to the pit and hauled the chain up hand-over-hand. At the end of the chain was a naked dwarf with bound hands and feet. The troglodyte disconnected the dwarf from the chain and carried the dwarf into another chamber. Willow reported what she saw through the owl's eyes and recalled her familiar.

Troglodyte Cavern
Valerius asked Pain to check the tablet of Garmin. The path to the worm nursery led through the cavern. They could bypass the cavern at the expense of over a dozen more days of travel. Valerius scowled and said, "To hell with that. We're going through."

He stood, held Dawnbringer aloft, and entered the cavern. The magic sword flared and filled the area with the light of day. The two troglodytes immediately ceased shouting at each other as everyone turned to face the interloper. A few nearest the entrance used their arms to shield their eyes from the shining sword.

Valerius addressed the troglodytes in Common, "We want no trouble. There is no need for violence. We will rescue the prisoners held in the pit and leave through that exit over there. If you interfere with us you will die. Do you understand me?"

The large warrior stepped forward and replied in broken Common, "You do not belong here Overworlder. This cave belongs to trogs. You will not pass!"

Valerius pointed his sword at the warrior, "Yeah, no. That's not going to happen."

Virtue intervened, "Look, look. We don't know what's going on here with all," the tiefling indicated the bound hostage, "...this. It's none of our business. But how about we make a deal? How about you let us pass and we kill those guys for you? Would you like to become the new chieftain?"

The Champion of Laogzed
The warrior stood as erect as he could, "NO! This is trog matter! Chieftain is chieftain and we mean chieftain no harm. I am Chosen One of Laogzed! I defeat the drow and take sword! Sword belong to me by right! We have brood mother ripe with eggs. The chieftain will give me sword and we will give brood mother back. We don't want chieftain killed. But we ARE hungry, so we will kill you and EAT you!"

THE MASSACRE 
The warrior shouted the order to attack and two dozen troglodtyes, some nearly as big as ogres, charged. Valerius, astride his celestial lion mount, rode into their midst while Ront charged the right flank. Pain nimbly moved amongst the troglodytes, never staying in one place, stabbing and moving on. Troglodytes quickly swarmed Ront and Valerius, clawing at the celestial lion and trying to take the paladin from his mount.

DM Note - I spiced up the troglodytes with a few "troglodyte brutes" - using stats for an Orog to make a tougher troglodyte. It didn't help much since they were mowed down by the second fireball, leaving one or two to mop up.

The Troglodyte Forces
Feryl and the Gauntlet warriors formed a rear guard and fired crossbows at any troglodytes that approached Willow.


Willow remained behind the rear guard and cast a fireball spell into the mass of troglodytes. Over half of them died outright. Willow's precision shielded Valerius, Ront, and Pain from injury.

Virtue remained just forward of the rear and directed the baby dragon Santaka to kill the brood mother. Santaka leaped onto the rise and engulfed everyone in fiery breath. She then cast her own fireball over the troglodytes eliminating all but the toughest even though her relative imprecision meant injuring her companions.

The battle was over as Valerius, Ront, and Pain mopped up the remaining opponents.

The two dozen troglodytes allied with the chieftain atop the plateau tried to retreat into the safety of an escape passage behind them. Willow took flight on her magic branch and cast a fireball spell into their midst. Another subsequent fireball destroyed any survivors.

THE LARVAE
Ront said to the others, "Ront getting sword." and began wading through the shallow creek that divided the cavern.

Suddenly Ront was beset by hundreds of tiny aquatic reptilian-fish - the larval form of troglodyte young. The creatures looked like a pale white reptilian head and a long fish-like tail. Each was as big as a man's hand. Its mouth was lined with dozens of tiny razor-sharp teeth. The creatures were attracted to the blood seeping from the wounds Ront sustained in the preceding battle.

Ront expressed surprise but the bits were little more than an nuisance. After Ront's initial shock, Pain asked the orc, "Are you okay?"

To which Ront let out a long sigh and replied, "No. Little fish are cleaning Ront. Ooh! That tickled!"

Ront left the stream and climbed the plateau to retrieve the drow short sword while the others explored the side caves in search of the captives.

Ront
CAPTIVES
Valerius, Pain, Virtue, and Willow and the others explored a passage to the right and found the chamber with the pit and supplies.

A troglodyte butcher came walking into the room to investigate the commotion and was quickly cut down. DM Note - I didn't even bother.

Valerius pulled the chained captives out of the pit, finding four dwarves and two drow. All were emaciated and weak. The two drow backed away from the Overworlders and escaped to the main passage. There they encountered Ront carrying his great sword in one hand and the short sword in the other.

They froze. Ront intercepted them and backed them up against a wall, growling. They retreated into the side chamber and were interrogated.

They were members of an expedition hunting for purple worm eggs. Their expedition had been attacked and separated and they were eventually captured by the troglodytes.

The dwarves, for their part, said they were a part of a larger expedition searching for purple worm tailings. The expedition had been captured but seventeen of them managed to escape through a tunnel they dug in the wall.

They gave the captives food and water. The drow refused their help and demanded to be set free. They were allowed to leave.

Ront examined the short sword. It had words engraved on it. He gave it to Valerius. The word were in a dialect of elvish used by the drow. They said, Oloth thu malla, "Darkness be praised". Ront wrinkled his snub nose at the idea of a short sword and gave it to Pain.

The next chamber contained fissures that emmitted scalding steam. A slab of stone nearby was used to butcher the dwarven and drow captives. A vein of precious gems could be seen surrounding the vents. Ront took the pick he acquired from Thargus Forkbear and chipped away a few gems. The fissue suddenly shot him with hot steam, burning the orc. Ront recoiled and said, "Screw that!"
DM Note- Chipping away gets a die roll. There's a 1-in-10 chance of getting scalding steam in the face. Every round you chip away some stones, you get 1d10x10gp worth of gems. On the first round I rolled a steam result. I then told Ront's player the odds. The player weighed the cost benefit and decided to walk away.

THE ROPERS
A dark passage led out of the prisoner cavern. They followed the passage until it opened into another chamber. Water dripped from hundreds of stalactitles hanging from the ceiling. The floor was likewise covered in stalagmites formed by the dripping water. There appeared to be no well-used path through the chamber. They carefully wound their way through many spires. Halfway through the passage Pain spotted what appeared to be the partially eaten remains of a humanoid figure. Before he could check it out he was grabbed by a tentacle and hosted into the air. Ront and Virtue were likewise hoisted aloft by strange tentacles.

They were drawn toward a large stalactitle on the ceiling. A single red eye glared at them as the tentacles moved them towards the large slavering maw of a roper!
Ambushed by Ropers
Valerius blinked and began rummaging through his backpack for a crossbow. Willow took flight on her magic branch and cast a fireball spell on the roper while shielding her companions from the blast. The inferno incinerated the roper's tentacles and everyone fell fifty feet to the ground.

Pain got up and activated his magic boots. He quickly climbed up the side of the wall and held onto a stalactite. He moved from stalactite to stalactite like a gibbon until he was close enough to attack the roper.

DM NOTE- 6d6 sneak attack damage. All ones! It was an epic Yahtzee! 
Epic Ones!

Other stalactites dropped from the ceiling revealing themselves to be piercers! DM NOTE- Piercers are essentially useless at this level.

Suddenly, a second roper extruded its tentacles and began to grab the party off the floor!

Virtue launched a fireball of her own, incinerating the tentacles. Everyone held aloft was dropped.

The first Roper extruded new tentacles and picked up some more victims. Willow cast anouther fireball with by-now predictable results.

Pain finally got another good attack on the first roper. DM NOTE- Natural twenty! Critical hit!

His sword pierced the rocky shell and the roper slid out of its casing. The meaty inside fell to the ground with a wet slap.

A final fireball from Virtue seared the second roper.

Ront stood up and began cutting off chunks of cooked roper, "Mmm, cave oyster!"

Pain investigated the humanoid body. It was a drow escapee. A nearby sack contained two spells crolls and a handfull of coins.

Ront choked on some roper meat and spat out a ring.

DM NOTE-  Gravity did more damage to the party than any encounter so far this entire campaign.

The passage eventually linked with the main cavern behind the plateau. The ground was littered with two dozen badly burned dead troglodytes. The smell was incredibly unpleasant.

Looking down to the left they could see the water-filled crater. It was swarming with tiny troglodyte larvae and water-orb mushrooms.

The party found six giant lizard mounts tied in a nearby grotto. At the rear of the grotto was a small concealed passage, barely large enough for a human to squeeze through.

A SCOUTING MISSION
Pain Grille'

Pain decided to investigate the concealed passage alone. The passage connected to an empty cave with two other exits. The passage to the left led into a room with a warm pool of water fed by a small waterfall  which Pain deduced was fed by the stream in the large cavern. The pool was filled with troglodyte larva like those found in the stream above. He left the pool and returned to the passage on the right.

The other passage crossed several fissures, some as wide as two feet. Glowing lava could be seen at the bottom of the cracks. Pain easily navigated the cracks in the floor but was surprised when a strange serpentine creature made of magma emerged from the nearest crack. The creature was little bigger than Pain himself.

Pain paused, uncertain how to react. The magma creature gave Pain a mischievous grin before spitting fire at Pain. Pain escaped and fled down the passage.
Pain encounters a Maga Mephit
Further down the passage Pain encountered another outlet for the pool in the adjacent passage. Some old zurkhwood planks were laid across the stream to make a makeshift bridge. He crossed the bridge and entered a room filled with old zurkhwood planks - the ruins of some kind of outpost that had long ago been scavenged. The passage ultimately reconnected with the main cavern and Pain rejoined the expedition.

The expedition rested in one of the side caves, away from the stench of the troglodytes, before continuing towards the Worm Nursery.

HANNE HALLEN
The expedition continues towards the Worm Nursery for several more rest cycles. Within a "day" of the nursery, they encounter a cave-in. The cave-in created a void and a huge pile of rubble. As they neared the cavern created by the void, a loud voice declared in Undercommon, "TURN BACK OR SUFFER A DEATH SO HORRIBLE YOU CANNOT IMAGINE! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!"

Pain spotted a young female drow hiding behind a large rock. He told her it was alright and that she could approach.

She stood tall and haughty, "Be warned, Overworlders! I am Hanne Hallen, daughter of Zhora Hallen, who is leader of the famed Dark Hunters! I am a powerful witch and I can spell your doom!"

Valerius waved her off, "Whatever. Let's go."

Ront gripped his greatsword, "Ront will KILL HER!"

Pain stayed the orc's blade, "Who are the Dark Hunters? What happened here?"

She defiantly replied, "The Dark Hunters scour the Wormwrithings for the eggs of the Purple Worm and return them to Menzoberranzan for use in powerful magical rituals! There was a cave-in. I survived with several of my warriors. Then we were attacked by troglodytes and my warriors were killed and captured. I alone managed to escape thanks to my powerful wizard spells!"

"Yeah, we saw some of your warriors. We rescued them after we killed all the troglodytes. They ran like frightened bitches," said Pain, bluntly, "Look, we're headed towards the Worm Nursery. You're free to stay here but you're also welcome to join us if you want."

The defiant performance of the teenaged drow gave way for a moment, revealing a glimmer of hope. She immediately regained the affectation of superiority, "I will allow you to serve as my entourage so that I may complete my mission! So be it!"

Pain rolled his eyes, "Whatever. Come on. You travel with her." The halfling indicated Willow.

Ront growled at the newcomer. Virtue mumbled something about killing at the first sign of... then trailed off.

Several miles later, the tablet of Garmin indicated that they were nearing their destination. There were no side passages. No entrances. Nothing to indicate the presence of the Worm Nursery. Suddenly, there was a massive tremor and the tunnel floor gave way beneath their feet! The expedition slid down a curving chute ten feet wide!

TO BE CONTINUED...