Monday, February 20, 2017

"The Maze Engine" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 41

The expedition continued on their trek through the ancient network of duergar mines known as the Labyrinth.

Ser Valerius Adeques, Master of the Eight Angels, addressed his traveling companion Cordon, Morninglord and Holy Radiant of Lathandor, "So, remind me, what are we searching for?"

"It is called the Maze Engine. Those modron things call it an Orderer."

"What does it do?" inquired the paladin.

"I don't know," said the priest with a shrug, "All I know is that supposed to be able to banish a demon lord or something. I was sent to find it."

"So you know where it is?"

"Sort of. It's in the heart of the Labyrinth. That's what my hierarchs told me."

"Great. How big is it? Can we transport it to Menzobarranzan?"

The cleric once again shrugged and made a sound that made it clear he had no clue.

The Paladin rolled his eyes, "Got it."

They walked on in silence for several minutes.

"Oh! I almost forgot! I need to find it before whats-his-name does. Uh, Baphomet, I think! He's looking for it too. He wants to destroy it!"

"Of course," sighed Valerius.

A minute or so later, Valerius held up his hand and ordered his coterie to stop. He looked around confused.

"What is it?" whispered Cordon.

Valerius looked concerned, "Where are the others?"

OUT OF THE ABYSS, CHAPTER 41
"THE MAZE ENGINE"

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.

Thus far the expedition has managed to acquire
the egg of a purple worm
and the central eye of a dread beholder.
Now they seek the Labyrinth
in search of six wings from six different angels
and the fabled Maze Engine
which could destroy a Demon Lord...

Willow the Not-Witch and Phwee-Toop
THE LEADERS OF THE EXPEDITION
Sir Valerius Adeques - (PC, human paladin 11, male) Defender and champion of the old gods of nature, commander of the forces from the Order of the Gauntlet.
Willow - (PC, human wizard 11, female) "the solution is always fireball!"
Ront - (PC, half-orc barbarian 11, male) Savage orc of the Iron-Thews tribe seeking redemption for his failures.
Pain Grille' - (PC, halfling rogue 11, male) Wily street urchin from Waterdeep, was turned to stone in Blingdenstone but got better, commander of the Lord's Alliance forces.
Cordon - (PC, human cleric 11, male) Morninglord, Holy Radiant of Lathandor the Sun God, on a holy quest to activate the Maze Engine.

THE SURVIVING MEMBERS OF THE EXPEDITION
Thora Nabal - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Sylrien Havennor - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Elias Drako - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Tamryn Tharke - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet), gravelly voiced amazon with the hots for Feral.
Olaf Renghyi - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Feral Killmander - (NPC, human spy, Lord's Alliance), raspy-voiced killer with a hare-lip
Zilna Oakshadow- (NPC, human spy, Lord's Alliance)
Hilvius Haever  - (NPC, human spy, Lord's Alliance)
The Shield Guardian - (NPC, shield guardian) a contribution from Lord Zelraun Roaringhorn of the Harpers.
Phwee-toop - (NPC, owl) Willow's familiar.

DM Note - Valerius and Cordon were absent this week. 

THE HEZROUS
Pain and Feral were on point, scouting ahead of the rest of the expedition including Ront, Willow, Zila, Hilvius, Willow's shield guardian, thirteen modron monodrones, a modron duodrone, and a modron tridrone. They had stopped to rest twice since they left the Gallery of Angels.

Willow looked around, taking notice of the increasing amount of glowing crystals sprouting from the walls and ceiling - an indication of growing Faerzress as they neared the Maze Engine. Her spells would become increasingly erratic.

She then took notice of another development, "Where are Cordon, Valerius, and the Order of the Gauntlet?"

Ront, too, suddenly noticed their absence, "They must got separated! Should we look for them?"

Willow considered the problem, "No. We could get lost here. We better leave a trail for them. They don't have the modrons to lead them to the Maze Engine."

Suddenly, Pain came silently running back. The halfling signalled everyone to stop.

"There's a four-way intersection up ahead. There are three big demon looking things tearing apart an ore cart up."

Ront's eyes bulged, "An ORC HEART?"

"What? No!" Pain sighed and anunciated,  "An ORE CART!"

Ront gripped his greatsword, "We fight!"


Pain held up his hands to delay the orc, "No. They're not paying attention to anything around them. We can probably sneak past. Willow, please tell the modrons to stop stomping and try to march quietly."

Thus the expedition attempted to sneak past three hezrous, demons resembling giant bipedal horned toads, ripping apart an old mining cart. The plan failed when a monodrone got confused and tried walking into a nearby wall. The tridrone had to instruct the duodrone to assist. In addition, Ront stood firm in the middle of the intersection, out in the open, hoping the demons would notice him. Feral stood next to Ront, imploring the orc to move on with a silent glare.

The commotion caused the hezrous to look up. They saw Ront standing in the center of the intersection.

The hezrous attacked! Pain quickly ran back and engaged the demons. The demons turned their attention to the little one, ganging up on Pain and causing him to retreat. Willow blasted them with a spell that created a cone of icy cold. The hezrous took little notice of her magic. Ront waded into their midst, hacking left and right. Feral peppered them with crossbow bolts.Willow began zapping individual hezrous with fire bolts but their resistance to magic continued to protect them.

Eventually all three hezrous were defeated but Pain was grieviously wounded.

Ront inspected the mining cart and, to his surprise, found the dried remains of an orc heart. He took it as a souvenier.

THE FLUMPHS
A few hours later, the expedition came across a group of flumphs emerging from a side passage. The flumphs seemed agitated.



"Whoah! Whoah! Slow down there! What's the matter?" inquired Pain in an attempt to calm them.

One of the flumphs answered, "So much hatred! So much evil!"

The flumph explained that they had encountered a being of unfathomable malevolence, a creature that devoured minds! It was an alien thing from a much deeper region of the Underdark. It was accompanied by a group of white furred quaggoths. The flumph paused and sensed the positive emotions emanating from the expedition. It seemed refreshed by the good intentions.

Ront offered to let the flumph feed on his friendship. The flumph happily attached itself to Ront's head and drew nourishment from Ront's good will. The rest of the party allowed a flumph to feed off them, all except Feral who held up his hand and said, "Pass..."

Once sated, the flumphs continued on their way.

The expedition discussed their options and decided to avoid the danger altogether.

THE SLEEPY BEHIR
After another rest, still with no sign of the others, the party continued following the modrons towards the Maze Engine.



Pain and Feral once again held up the party to report on a danger ahead. A massive behir lay resting ahead. Their path led directly through its resting place and there was no way around it.

No one had fought a behir and, without the priest or paladin to provide prayers of healing, there was no desire for an unneccesary fight.

Pain decided to go forth alone. He entered the cavern with his palms up in a sign of peace. The sleepy behir, a massive blue serpentine reptile with a dozen legs, was curled around a stalagmite. It lifted its head and regarded the halfling with annoyance.

Pain explained in Undercommon that the expedition sought only to pass in peace. They meant no harm.

The behir, not comphrending the language, tilted its head at the halfling in curiosity.

DM Notes- Pain had to make his Persuasion skill checks at DC 20 with disadvantage. Luckily, this is one of Pain's strengths.

The modrons marched through the center of the cavern. The behir's countenance turned to anger. Electricity arced from its eyes.

Pain redoubled his efforts, explaining again, this time in Common, and apologizing for the disturbance.

The rest of the party moved through. The behir began to uncurl itself from the stalagmite.

Pain made his final plea in the only other language he knew: Halfling.

The behir continued to cock its head like a confused dog but held its wrath.

Pain scurried out of the cavern, apologizing obsequiously for the intrustion.

DM Note - despite rolling with Disadvantage. I don't think Pain rolled less than a 10 on the d20 for all three checks.

THE JOURNEY (ABRIDGED)
The trek to the Maze Engine took another four rests.

During their journey, the expedition encountered a series of ambushes and encounters:
  1. a grell ambush
  2. another grell ambush
  3. more hezrous
  4. a pack of pitiful manes 
  5. a band of minotaur hunters
  6. another band of minotaur hunters

DM Note - It was already 9:30pm and I wanted to get to the main event of the evening - the Maze Engine. So I skipped all of the above random encounters, except for the manes. That was creepy and sad. I described them as a bunch of naked fat men with open sores shambling like zombies and crying. The players felt actually kind of bad for them. One fireball put them all out of their misery.

THE MAZE ENGINE
The expedition followed the modron march leading them to the Maze Engine. The modrons turned down a long straight section of wide corridor that stretched for nearly a thousand feet. The corridor ended in a large natural cavern lit by a warm red glow.

The cavern was hour-glass shaped. The floor of the cavern dropped away into a one hundred foot deep sinkhole. A lake of magma bubbled and belched at the bottom of the sinkhole.  The natural ceiling arched forty feet overhead. A narrow ledge, ten to fifteen feet wide, clung to the edge of the chamber.

At the narrowest point in the hourglass rested a large machine. The machine consisted of a metal sphere roughly thirty five feet in diameter. Multiple smaller spheres were connected the large central sphere by articulated connecting rods. A mechanical ring surrounded the sphere. The ring was composed of smaller disks connected to mechanical wheels, cogs, and gears. The entire contraption made of brass, steel, iron, and other more exotic metals and was mounted on a metal framework attached to a disc-shaped mechanical base. Control levers and panels containing switches, dials, and knobs could be seen arrayed around the ring. The thing looked overly complicated and was definitely constructed by modrons.

The Maze Engine was perched precariously between the two ledges. The floor beneath it has fallen away into the magma lake and the contraption looked like it could soon fall as well.

The monodrones stopped marching. The duodrone stood to one side and made a sweeping gesture towards the device as if presenting it to the tridrone. The tridrone followed suit, standing to one side and making a sweeping gesture as if presenting it to Willow.

In previous telepathic communication with the tridrone, Willow learned that the modrons knew how to operate the machine but were prevented from doing so. No modron of less than pentadrone rank could manipulate the device. Willow had pointed out that she was no modron of less than pentadrone rank. The logic was sufficient for the tridrone, so it agreed that it would show Willow how to use the machine when the time came.

The time had come.

There was but one problem. Standing against Maze Engine was a large demon. The demon resembled a bipedal warthog with tiny wings. The prophecy of the angels had warned them that a nalfeshnee named Slaughtertusk awaited them at the Maze Engine.

The nalfeshnee looked like it was sitting around waiting and bored. It was checking its claws and picking its teeth. It looked like it wanted to be anywhere else but here.

Slaughtertusk looked up and saw the expedition standing in the entryway. It jumped to attention and prepared for battle.

It bellowed at the intruders in the common language, "Intruders! My master warned me that others were searching for the Maze Engine. But you are too late! I found it first! And I have already summoned my master! His arrival is imminent and you shall meet your doom!"

Slaughtertusk exitedly pointed down the long corridor, "OBSERVE! HE IMPENDS!"

A massive creature, twenty feet tall, entered the far end of the long straight corridor. It was a great bull-headed beast with a crown of metal protrusions halfway between long horns and antlers. A globe of fire burned over its head, illuminating all around it in flickering light. Its eyes burned with glowing hatred. It carried a gargantuan glaive. It was Baphomet!

Baphomet began charging down the hallway towards the room!

Willow shouted to the others, "Hurry, I calculate that we have just over a minute before Baphomet arrives!"

SLAUGHTERTUSK
They turned to see that Slaughtertusk had used the distraction to summon four more demons. These demons resembled vrocks but instead of demonic vultures, these resembled hideous demonic parrots covered in long spikes.

DM Note- I actually got out my official vrock miniatures plus some home-made ones I created years ago out of plastic parrot toys modified with Warhammer demon and ghoul bits. The players loved the homemade ones and demanded I use them exclusively. They named them Polly, Pretty Bird, Cockatiel, and Beak-and-Talon.

Two of the parrot-vrocks covered the left flank, one covered the right flank, and one accompanied Slaughtertusk next to Maze Engine.

Pain and Ront charged the right flank. Willow blasted the vrocks with a cone-shaped blast of ice and frost but with little effect other than a chaotic side effect that caused Willow to grow a long beard made of feathers. The other vrocks took flight and harassed Willow and her shield guardian.

Slaughtertusk flew over the magma pit to attack Pain. Willow tried to polymorph the demon but Slaughtertusk overpowered her spell.


Willow then turned herself and the tridrone invisible. The faerzress, unfortunately, caused her to become afraid of the tridrone. She panicked and used her flying broom to fly across the cavern.

Meanwhile, Ront and Pain managed to fight their way past the vrocks and their battle with Slaughtertusk had taken them to the outer ring of the Maze Engine.

Willow overcame her fear and was able to locate the invisible tridrone. She grabbed it, picked it up by one of its many wrists, and flew across the sink hole to the Maze Engine.

Baphomet was halfway down the corridor!


Slaughtertusk turned his attention to Pain, causing the halfling grievous injury!
Ront grabbed Slaughtertusk by the tusks, holding on and preventing the nalfeshnee from moving, while Pain moved to the other side of the sphere to drink a healing potion. To Ront's horror, the demon simply teleported out of his grasp and reappered next to Pain. Pain nearly choked as he was guzzling his potion.

Willow, still invisible, asked the tridrone, also invisible, how to activate the Maze Engine. The tridrone replied with a series of blurps and whistles and clanks in its native language accompanied by wild gesticulations and helpful pointers. Despite being able to see the invisible tridrone's gestures thanks to her magical Robe of Eyes, Willow was still unable to understand the tridrone's modron language.

Willow gave up and gave it her best shot on her own, turning knobs and dials, pulling levers, and pressing buttons.

DM Note- Operating the Maze Entine required a DC 15 Intelligence (Arcana) skill check or automatic if demonstrated by an adjacent visible tridrone that you could understand (Willow gave up on that and just opted for the Arcana check). A success provided one random effect from the table in the book. In addition, the engine would rotate 1d6 spaces. I didn't actually rotate the prop. I merely moved the figures around. Being moved away from an opponent did not provoke an attack of opportunity. Willow was trying to roll the magic number that would banish the demons. 

They had twelve rounds from the start of the battle until Baphomet arrived. They squandered the first six rounds battling the vrocks and working out a plan. Willow now had only six tries left!

The Maze Engine came to life with a jittering bang! The entire central sphere began to rotate. Each smaller outer sphere began spinning and rotating. The outer ring began to counter-rotate. The machine began a complicated dance of mechanical motion to the sound of blaring calliope music!

DM Note- I started a playlist of calliope music on my iPad. I let that play for the entire next round! It was fun at first but became tiresome really quick.

Willow, Ront, and Pain began to rotate around the central sphere on the counter-rotating outer ring. The spinning ring moved Pain away from Slaughtertusk and moved Ront back into hand-to-hand combat.

Willow tried again, hoping to activate the machine's demon-baninshing functions. Instead, she Ront, Pain, and the tridrone were bathed in purple light. Afterwards, Willow felt smarter, Ront felt toughter, and Pain felt quicker! Nobody knew how the tridrone felt.

DM Note- the players eyes bulged! +2 to any one stat of your choice to a maximum of 24? Seriously?? Yes, please! Willow and Pain were now super-human (super-halfling?) in their prime abilities!

Meanwhile, Feral, Hilvius, and Zilna were fighting a vrock by the entrance. The vrock had managed to wipe out most of the monodrones and Hilvius had fallen. Zilna dragged him away from the fight and tried to stabilize him.

While she was by the entrance, Zilna took a glance down the corrdor and saw Baphomet charging. The demon lord was less than two hundred feet away! She screamed and broke down into tears at the hopelessness of their situation.

Pain took a moment to leap off the Maze Engine to go help Feral finish off the remaining vrock.

Back on the Maze Engine, things had gotten more dangerous as the machine itself began to spin wildly, its outer ring oscillating up and down, forcing those standing atop it to hold on or be thrown.

Willow, by this time no longer invisible, lost her grip and almost fell. She used her flying broom to pull herself back up.

Ront and Pain had defeated the last two vrocks and had struck a serious blow to Slaughtertusk. The demon squealed in pain and fled, flying under the Maze Engine and disappearing through a hidden escape passage.

Those on the Maze Engine had a brief respite before they noticed that Baphomet was nearly upon them. Suddenly, the magma lake exploded sending lumps of molten rock throughout the chamber. Many of the lumps clung to the ceiling and formed humanoid shapes made of lava. Two dropped down and landed on the rotating platform.

Pain seethed, "Magma mephits!"

Every time Ront would destroy one, it would explode into hot magma, burning everyone around it. Ront and Pain soon found themselves having to keep the outer ring clear of magma mephits so that Willow could concentrate on operating the Maze Engine. Additional mephits were climbing up the walls from the lava lake below.

DM Note- Two new mephits were added to the ring every turn. Each new mephit would appear 1d6 spaces to the left and 1d6 spaces to the right of Ront on the ring.

Baphomet was nearly upon them. Willow took a moment to cast a magic spell to create an invisible force wall over the entrance to the cavern. Willow hoped it might slow Baphomet down. Doing so caused everyone around her to become invisible! Baphomet tried to dispell the wall but the magic held.

The invisibility quickly wore off as Ront continued battling mephits. He was soon rejoined by Pain who climbed back onto the machine while it had temporarily stopped moving.

Willow turned back to the machine and it once more began to rotate and shudder. She threw the lever and a flash of light revealed a glowing magical wand slowly descending to land on the far end of the cavern.

Willow shouted at the others, "Make a note of that! We've got to get that before we leave!"

Ront rolled his eyes and continued fighting mephits.

Suddenly the machine began bucking more violently. Ront was thrown off but held on with his fingers. Willow was thrown clear but grabbed by Pain before she fell.

As they climbed back onto the machine, Ront yelled, "There he is!"

Baphomet slammed into the force wall. His huge bestial face snorted as he tested the perimeter of the magic wall. He looked into the room and made eye contact with the heroes.



The heroes quailed and moved to the far side of the Maze Engine.

Willow tried the Maze Engine one more time. Arcs of electricity danced over the surface, then bolts of lightning struck at everyone standing within thirty feet. Willow swooned but recovered. The modron tridrone was vaporized.

Pain ordered Feral and Zilna to move Hilvius (who was alive and unconscious but now stable) back away from the entrance. The shield guardian followed them.

Pain put the situation to the rest of the team, "What's the plan? Are we going to try to hold off Baphomet while you get this going or are we going to give up and try to make it out of here alive?"

Willow assured him, "Not even Baphomet can break through or dispell that wall. I say we keep trying!"

Baphomet closed his eyes and disappeared.

Ront cried, "What?"

Baphomet instantly reappeared inside the cavern. He had used his demonic magic to teleport into the room!

Ront, Willow, and Pain simultaneously exclaimed their favorite expletives.

TO BE CONTINUED...

DM Notes - Wow, what a place for a cliff-hanger, right? 

My players all said that the Maze Engine was the best encounter so far of the campaign. They loved it! They all felt like it was a tension-filled action movie climax. They could visuallize the rocking machine, the burning magma, the little glowing embers everywhere, the mephits exploding out of the magma and dropping onto the machine, the mephits climbing the wall, hanging on for dear life, the intricate set-piece I constructed, the home-made vrock minis, the warthog toy serving as Slaughtertusk, everything! 

I made some modifications to the encounter as-written of course. In the original encounter, the Maze Engine is wedged halfway down the sinkhole, requires only one roll to activate, and begins to descend once activated. The players then get twelve turns before it hits magma and is destroyed. There is, of course, no Baphomet in the original encounter.

I had foreshadowed Baphomet for several sessions, saying he was searching for the Maze Engine so he could destroy it. What better way to cap off a race to activate the macguffin than to have a LITERAL race to activate the macguffin! So I added the long corridor so the PCs could see Baphomet coming. I didn't tell them exactly how many rounds they had, I said between 10 and 15, so they only had his progress through the passage as a guide.

I'm just really sad that Cordon's player missed this session due to family commitments. This entire quest was his quest! 

Next week- will they stay and keep trying to banish Baphomet (and maybe Yeenoghu) or will they cut and run, leaving Baphomet to destroy the Maze Engine?