Wednesday, January 11, 2017

"The Vast Oblivium" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 36


Valerius Adeques held the sun sword "Dawnbringer" aloft, its brilliant light illuminated the long dark tunnel ahead of them. The tunnels of the Wormwrithings were smooth and round and mostly straight, the trails left by the burrowing of gargantuan purple worms.

"Pain, where to next?"

Pain Grille' consulted the flat rectangle of smokey black glass. Glowing runes indicated their current position and the location of their next objectives.

"The tablet of Garmin says the next closest objective is located in the Vast Oblivium, only four leagues down this tunnel!"

"What's the objective?" asked the armored paladin.

"Um.. it's the central eye of a beholder," the halfling thief winced.

"We better rest first. The worm nursery was exhausting!"

The expedition unloaded their packs and lay down in the tunnel to rest.

Somewhere on a nearby stone wall, a large glassy eye opened and looked around. No one noticed.

OUT OF THE ABYSS, CHAPTER 36
"THE VAST OBLIVIUM"

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.

After defeating the purple worms
at the worm nursery 
and obtaining six purple worm eggs
the expedition now travels 
to the mysterious Vast Oblivium
in order to harvest the central eye
of a dangerous beholder...

THE LEADERS OF THE EXPEDITION
Sir Valerius Adeques - (PC, human paladin 10) Defender and champion of the old gods of nature.
Willow - (PC, human wizard 10) "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.


DM Note - before we started, Willow's player showed off a new book she had printed with her spells. The outside resembled the cover of a spellbook and the inside was a printed spreadsheet with all her spell details. I was very impressed. That was enough to make up for all the weeks she missed in November so I caught her up with everyone else level-wise. 

PARANOIA
It was during the third watch and the orcish barbarian known as Ront was lazily keeping his one good eye on the dark passage. He could hear the human female Tamryn Tharke perform her bizarre human mating ritual at the human male Feral Killmander. Ront rolled his eye and sniffed as Feral continued to reject the woman's lurid advances. The human brood mother was obviously in heat. Ront's natural orcish fecundity became momentarily aroused but he pushed the impulse away. Ront had rejected the orcish ways. He would not succumb to his bestial nature.
Ront

Suddenly Ront saw a large eye the size of a halfling's head open in the rock wall and look around. Ront stood up and approached the eye. It closed and disappeared!

"Wake up! Wake up!" He roused the leaders of the expedition and recounted what he saw. Willow examined the wall and detected the rapidly disappearing afterglow of magic, like the fading heat of a hand that had touched a cold surface.
Pain Grille'

The halfling Pain expressed doubt that Ront had seen anything. Ront was offended and the pair began to argue.

By this time everyoen was awake and sufficiently rested so the expedition decided to pack up and continue on to the Vast Oblivium

Ront saw another smaller eye about a league into their journey. This eye was smaller and appeared on the back of Pain's head. The eye peered around. Ront got close and made eye contact before poking the eye with his finger. Pain cried out at the sharp jab and the loud argument recommenced.

By the second league everyone had the distinct sense they were being watched. After three leagues even Pain admitted that he had seen a mysterious eye appear and disappear.

Eventually the tablet of Garmin indicated their arrival at their destination. A second tunnel branched off the main tunnel at a right angle. This tunnel was likewise round and smooth but was too smooth to have been dug by a purple worm. Steps led down into the darkness.

TURNED AWAY
The expedition left the pack animals and the Order of the Gauntlet at the main tunnel. They descended into the side tunnel. The smooth walls gave way to hundreds of small round nodules carved into the walls. Each nodule resembled a stylized eye with a hole in the center. Pain Grille' examined the holes and caught the acrid whiff of a flame trap.

They continued until they entered a spherical foyer. On the far end of the foyer was a round entrance with twin brass doors. An emaciated dwarf stood near the door. He was bound around the neck to a chain attached to the wall. He had glassy eyes and a slack mouth.

Without looking or otherwise acknowledging the newcomers the dwarf rasped in Undercommon, "Who approaches the Vast Oblivium?"

Pain stepped forward and spoke for the party, "We are explorers from the surface. We wish an audience with the lord of this realm."

The dwarf continued to stare blankly at the ceiling, its mouth speaking the words of another, "My lord Karazikar does not entertain visitors. What do you offer in tribute?"

Ront, Willow, Valerius, and Pain quickly exchanged panicked glances. Pain quickly decided, "We bring for him the fresh egg of a purple worm."

The voice was silent as it considered the offer. A moment later it replied, "That is insufficient. Your true motives are clear and you will not succeed. You are not welcome here. You will leave immediately or I will activate our defenses."

Another voice hissed a whisper from the wall, "Pssst. PSSSTTT!"  Against the wall hid a deep gnome, perfectly camouflaged against the rock wall. It was Peebles, the beholder hunter from Mantol-Derith! "You're, ah, not going to get in that way. Meet me back in the main hallway. I gots an, ah, proposition!"

Peebles the Deep Gnome
DM Note- I described Peebles as the disheveled deep gnome wearing a leather satchel over his shoulder. You once saw him cut off beholder eye stalks and put them in his satchel.

My players suddenly realized the joke, "No, are you telling us the satchel is..."

"That's right. It's an over-the-shoulder beholder holder."

"GROAN!!!"

A BACKUP PLAN
Peebles was a skinny disheveled svirfneblin with a leather satchel. He was a collector of beholder eyes for a mysterious master. Rumor had it that his master was a beholder who somehow surgically grafted to their body the eyes of other rival beholders. No one trusted Peebles and Ront wanted very badly to kill him on principle.

"Look, ah, it's not really safe to speak here."

Willow intervened, performing a ritual that allowed everyone on the team to communicate telepathically.

"So, I, ah, I can speak and nobody can hear me?"

"No, Peebles. You don't have to speak out loud. Just think what you want to say."

"Right, so I think it and say it."

"No! Just think quietly!"

"Got it. I say what I need to say and then think about it quietly."

This went on for some time until Peebles was finally able to communicate silently with the rest of the party.

"So, ah, does this mean I'm a part of the team? Is there an initiation? Do I get a nickname? Oh, what's our team name?"

"Peebles! What is your plan?"

"Oh, right, ah, the plan. Okay. You're here to kill Karazikar, right? I get it. I'm with you. I'm here to kill him too, if I can. Only, you're not going to get in the front door. You see, he, ah, he already knows everything about you and why you're here."

He paused before continuing, "But, ah, see, I know a back way in. Only, it's, ah, it's not easy and I can't do it alone. I need your, ah, your help. It's what you might call, ah, guarded. I can show you the way. All I ask is for some, ah, alone time with Karazikar after you're done. I just want a few eye stalks for, ah, for reasons."

The party deliberated and agreed to Peeble's plan.

Peebles led the expedition to a spot a few hundred feet away from the entrance to the Vast Oblivium. There they found a hidden alcove. Within the alcove was a round vertical shaft. Peebles said the shaft dropped down about a hundred feet. It was a secret escape tunnel for Karazikar.

The expedition dropped ropes and descended the tunnel, leaving the Order of the Gauntlet behind to guard the pack animals. While the others clambered down ropes, Willow gently descended on her flying broom.

Ser Valerius, Ront, and Pain dropped into a round room with a single exit and moved out of the way of those still descending. Suddenly, Ser Valerius and Ront were attacked by an invisible force! It was as if the air itself hammered against them. As the invisible force struck Ser Valerius, the paladin lashed out with a counterattack. The counterblow caused the invisible force to emit an unearthly and bloodcurdling scream. Ser Valerius followed up with another attack, striking the empty air before him and killing his invisible foe.

Meanwhile, the other invisible assailant attacked Ront once and fled down the sole exit in a gust of wind.

THE VAST OBLIVIUM
The expedition followed the invisible attacker down the corridor that opened onto a one hundred foot deep vertical shaft. Other corridors and openings were cut into the walls of the shaft which were connected by rope ladders and rope bridges. Pain sniffed the breeze and determined that the attacker fled down another passage.

The chase led them to an even larger vertical shaft. This shaft was easily over a hundred feet wide and six hundred feet deep. The corridor opened about a hundred feet below the top of the shaft. The top of the shaft was a huge convex carving of the likeness of a beholder. The pupil of its central eye formed a smaller vertical shaft in the ceiling. The smaller eyes were opaque glass hemispheres that glowed, providing dim illumination throughout the shaft of dark stone.

Ten concentric ledges were built into the outside wall of the shaft. Each ledge was connected to the next below it by stairs. Each ledge allowed access to a different horizontal corridor cut into the wall of the shaft.

As the Ront, Pain, and Ser Valerius stood in the entrance to the corridor examining their surroundings a voice called out from the corridor on the next lower ledge ring. It was the voice that greeted them at the entrance.

"Who dares invade the sanctity of Karazikar, the Lord of Eyes? Infidels! For your blasphemous tresspass, you will suffer my harshest punishment, for I am none other than my lord's greatest hierophant, Shedrak of the Eyes!"

The man wore the robes of a wizard and carried a staff topped with a moving eye encased in a glass sphere. The man's bald head was adorned with tattoos of eyes with a large central eye on his forehead.

Shedrak cast a fireball spell at the party. Willow stepped forward and dismissed the spell with a gesture. Shedrak glared at her!

Willow then reached out her hand at Shedrak and the wizard's staff flew from his hand. It moved slowly through the air towards Willow's waiting grasp. Shedrak shouted, "Fiends! Infidels! You will pay for this outrage!"

Shedrak produced a scroll and cast a spell of invulnerability which would render Willow's magic harmless against him. Pain ran down the stairs towards the wizard with his shortsword drawn. The wizard turned and fled back down his passage but Pain gave chase. Using his magical boots of speed, the halfling rogue easily caught up with the wizard and dispatched him out of sight of the others.

Ront ran forward down the stairs but was once more beset by the invisible attacker. Ront swing wildly at the air as the invisible combatant retreated after each attack.

KARAZIKAR THE EYE TYRANT
Suddenly a voice boomed from the small shaft in the center of the carving in the ceiling, "Fools! I know why you are here! You will fail in your mission! The modron is mine! You will never find the Maze Engine! Only I will possess its power!"

Pain sent a confused glance at Ser Valerius. The Paladin shrugged. Pain replied to the others, "Anybody know what that is?" Everyone shook their heads.

A large spherical form descended from the shaft, hovering twenty feet above the uppermost ring. It was Karazikar the Eye Tyrant! His spherical body was ten feet wide and possessed a single large eye and a wide toothy mouth. Its skin was thick and scaly. Ten short tentacle-like stalks, each topped with a single round eye, writhed and waved. Each eye was a different color.

The beholder cast the gaze of its large central eye on the group at the entrance. All magical and magical items within the beholder's gaze was rendered inert. The sword Dawnbringer winked out. Magical armor became heavier and bulkier. Meanwhile, it turned one of its smaller eyes towards Pain. Pain found himself charmed by the gaze of the eye, he could take no action to harm the beholder. Feral Killmander was likewise struck by a deadly eye ray and almost died. He was pulled back and ordered to stay behind the rest of the party.
Willow
Willow knew that the gaze of the central eye of a beholder could cancel out all magic within its view so she sprinted down the stairs to escape its effects.

Willow turned and case a polymorph spell on the beholder. The beholder barely spat out, "Your puny spell will never work on-" before he turned into a goat!

The goat hung motionless in mid-air for a moment as it realized what happened. It then fell five hundred fifty feet and crashed into the floor far below!

DM Note- Karazikar's saving throw is +7 vs this. So of course I rolled a 4! The goat had, I dunno, 10 HP. It fell, took damage, and the remaining damage went to the beholder. I did some quick math. 520 feet fall = 52d6. 52x3.5 = 182 damage, -10 from the goat = 172 damage. The beholder had 8 HP left!

Willow peered down into the darkness. Ser Valerius sword burst once more into brilliance. He held it over the side of the ledge. The momentary silence was cut short by a croaking voice echoing from below, "How dare you! You will never take my modron!" They could barely make out the shape of the injured beholder far below flying into a side passage.

DESCENT
Ser Valerius, Pain, Ront, and Willow began their descent down each ring. Feral and Peebles stayed behind on the top level. Their way was constantly hindered by grabbing tendrils every minute or two. In addition, several spots on the wall opened into small eyes and blasted a member of the expedition with one of the beholder's magical eye rays.

The expedition reached the fourth level down when Karazikar and the surviving invisible stalker reappeared from below.

A long fight ensued as Karazikar used his disintegration beam to destroy a section of floor beneath the expedition. He then maneuverd to hover fifteen feet over a section of ledge about sixty feet away.  Ser Valerius found himself trapped on the far side of the gap. Ront and Pan were on the near side and charged at the beholder. Willow fell through the gap, landing badly on the next level down.

The beholder pointed the anti-magic gaze of his central eye at Willow and stayed out of reach of the orc and halfling who were skilled hand-to-hand fighters but ill equipped for ranged fighting.

The invisible stalker would harry Ront only to retreat after each attack.

Ront and Pain found themselves being constantly charmed, paralyzed, or petrified by the beholder's smaller eye stalks in addition to the occastional death ray, enervation, or disintegration beam.

Pain was charmed and unable to attack the beholder so he quickly developed a plan. He ran away to get some distance then turned and charged at Ront. He then used Ront's shoulders as a springboard to launch himself at Karazikar. Pain grabbed the hovering beholder in mid-air, grasping him in a tight hug.
Pain vs Karazikar
Pain wrestled with Karazikar to maneuver in front of the central eye. Despite Karazikar's struggling and writhing, Pain succeeded and stared squarely into the beholder's central eye. The anti-magic gaze of the beholder's central eye also cancels the effects of the beholder's own magic, so Pain was no longer charmed! Pain smiled, drew his short sword, and began stabbing the beholder.

DM Note- I liked the ingenuity of the solution. I had Pain make a DC 20 acrobatics check to leap onto the Beholder, then had him make contested Acrobatics checks to scramble around to get on the beholder's central eye, all of which played to Pain's strengths.

The beholder screamed in pain and moved out over the chasm. Pain ignored the danger and stabbed again, killing the beholder. The dead beholder plummeted 160 feet to the floor with Pan holding on for dear life. The beholder and Pain hit the bottom of the shaft with a loud wet impact.

DM Note- Pain's player realized his dillema too late. Luckily he had the HP for it. I described the impact as the loud echoing "TANK!" of a dodge ball hitting cement.

Pain got up wheezing. He began cutting out the large central eye while the others ran down the stairs to join him. Peebles appeared out of nowhere and began cutting off eyestalks. Ront and Pain, in an effort to prevent Peebles from adding more power to his master, crushed the other eyestalks under their feet. In the end, Peebled managed to gather four eye stalks and ran away into the darkness shouting, "Thank youuuuu....!"

AFTERMATH
In the aftermath of the battle, several dishevelled figures began to appear from the various side tunnels. They were a mixture of dwarves, humans, a few elves, some drow, some quaggoth, some orogs, and some goblins. Many were disoriented as if waking from a long sleep. They ranged in age from the very young to adulthood. They were the slaves of Karazikar, magically dominated by Shedrak of the Eyes.

Shockingly, a few of the faces were familiar to the party! They were the members of the expedition that had mysteriously disappeared! They had been captured by invisible stalkers and brought here to act as slaves. They had no memory of where they are or what they were doing here.

These included:
Lhytris Ilgarn of the Black Cloaks of the Zhentarim. Zilna Oakshadow, Hilvius Haever, and Anzar the Brazen of the Lord's Alliance. Brim Coppervein and Thargus Forkbeard of the Emerald Enclave. Olaf Renghyi of the Order of the Gauntlet. Also found were Derendil and Amarith Coppervein.

Amarith and Brim hugged each other in a warm embrance, tearfully shouting, "NOBODY KILLS A COPPERVEIN!"
Amarith Coppervein

Brim Coppervein

Derendil

Willow then took Pain through the shaft in the ceiling where they located a treasure room filled with piles of gold and platinum as well as a magical Robe of Eyes, a Gem of Seeing, and a Necklace of Adaptation.

A large round vault door was sealed shut and eluded Pain's attempts to open so Ront was brought up to force it open. The orc barbarian easily pulled the door open. Inside they found a strange creature. It had the body of a cube cut into two horizontal halves. The bottom half had to spindly legs. The top half had two spindly arms and wings as well as large eyes and a friendly mouth. The thing looked almost mechanical.

It spoke only in chirps, buzzes, and whistles and did not seem to be able to understand the language of its emancipators. When presented with the treasure room it immediately began neatly and efficiently sorting and stacking all the coins.

Willow knew the creature was a modron and that they came form the plane known as Mechanus but little else.

What did Karazikar want with the Modron? How can they speak with the Modron? What is the Maze Engine?

Find out next week!

TO BE CONTINUED...

DM Notes - I had a lot of fun with this encounter. I modified it to make it more of a challenge as well as add plot details to integrate it more with the campaign. The players later told me that this was a really fun encounter and that it was appropriately challenging. 

I'm glad. I was worried that a) it would end in a TPK, which it might have had I not halved the beholder's HP, and b) it would have ended in the first round with a polymorph, which it almost did! Luckily the beholder had enough HP to survive (seriously, PURE LUCK there!) and my giving him half HP for the second half of the fight was just the right amount. 

Also - Level up! Everyone is Level 11 now!