Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"The Solution is Fireballs" - Chapter 5 of the Dwellers of the Forbidden City

Inza, the Shadow
The party defeats a force of tasloi with a fireball. The party encounter some tough Yuan-Ti. Aline is impaled by a giant wasp and almost dies. They finally get a chance to rest. The next morning, Aline does an aerial reconnaissance of the city while invisible and the party encounters a departing caravan. Fireballs ensue.

The Group:
  • Inza, aka "The Shadow", Human Shadow-Warrior (Monk 6/Sorcerer 1)
  • Randalf Azul, Human Abjurer (Wizard 7)
  • Gravy, Human Priest of Thumina (Cleric 7)
  • Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan* parentage (Wizard 7)
  • Lodar, Prairiefolk** Barbarian (Barbarian 7)
Not Present this week:
  • Duma, bestial jungle hunter of orcine*** parentage (Ranger 7)
* Elf
** Halfling
*** Half-Orc

An Unknown Encounter
Aline's eyes shot wide open as if waking from a nightmare.

She was sitting cross-legged in a cavern, her fingers joined in the complicated knot-work used to enter meditative trance. Indigo, her blue-skinned imp familiar, stood near her. He flapped his leathery wings and helped her stand.

She looked around. Lodar, the diminutive barbarian from the northern plains, stood panting and sweating with his back against the wall of the cave. He stared glassy eyed into the distance. He looked as if he'd stared fear itself in the eye. He calmed down and regained his senses.

"What just happened?" Aline asked.

"I.. I.. what?" replied Lodar as he blinked and looked around the cavern, as if only now conscious of his surroundings. "I.. how did I get here? What's going on?"

Aline looked at Indigo. The devilish creature merely shrugged.

Aline said to Lodar, "We should probably rejoin the others." She gathered up her things and the trio left through the only exit.

The Charge
In the wide corridor that served as the subterranean entrance into the Forbidden City of Sinopia, Inza, Randalf, and Gravy prepared to receive the oncoming charge of dozens of short hair humanoids, a primitive cross between chimpanzee and goblin, and their ophidian masters.

Duma had run off down a side passage on his own private quest. Suddenly, Aline and Lodar appeared from that same side passage. Aline asked Inza what was going on.

Inza answered, "Same as always."

"That bad, huh?" was Aline's response.

DM Note: Not really, but that line is just too awesome not to ret-con in. 

The charging mass had emerged from their hiding place four hundred feet down the passage and were running at top speed. When they were within a hundred feet, the first rank threw javelins that clattered harmlessly around the party.

Aline prepared a spell and launched a flaming orb into their midst. The orb exploded with fiery death, killing most of the hairy humanoids instantly.

Inza ran as fast as he could at the remaining force, then stepped into a shadow and appeared near the female spell-caster in the rear. Lodar charged off after him, screaming the bloodthirsty battle yell of his people. He engaged the remaining primitives and the serpentine warriors that accompanied them.

A short battle ensued but the entire oncoming force was soon defeated.

The Final Defense
After the battle, the party continued up the corridor, which made a 30-degree bend before climbing some stairs and opening to daylight. The party emerged from the corridor into a wide entrance covered in vines and foliage but whose entrance was kept clear. A ruined city stretched before them. Crumbling buildings, toppled monuments, cracked columns, walls with no roofs, and wide paved boulevards were encircled by a three-hundred foot wall of obsidian and stone. Massive trees rose in the distance.

It was late afternoon and the city seemed quiet, hushed. The only sound heard was that of the dozens of giant wasps, each the equal of a pony, that patrolled overhead.

The party cautiously emerged and crossed the stone platform to descend some ancient stairs to the boulevard below.

Suddenly, they were set upon by hidden attackers! Four hideous cross-breeds, part man and part serpent, attacked from hiding. Each was more hideous than the last. The first was human but covered in snake scales. The second was human with the head of snake. The third possessed two snakes for arms. The lower body of the fourth was replaced with the long sinewy tail of a giant snake!

Two engaged Lodar while a third fought Inza. The fourth remained disengaged and fired arrows from a bow. One looked deeply into Lodar's eyes as if trying to hypnotize the demi-man. Lodar ignored the stare, screamed his barbarian war-cry, and attacked with greater zeal!

Meanwhile, a fourth managed to mesmerize Inza, ordering him to kill Lodar. Inza then set his deadly sights on the tiny barbarian, using his knives to stap Lodar in several key pressure points, stunning him. Lodar was then grabbed by one of the serpent-men hybrids while two others attacked.

The fourth tried to cast a spell of darkness over the wizards of the party hoping to eliminate their spell-casting ability, an arcane stratagem which Randalf was quick to dispell.  The same serpent-man hybrid moved to engage Randalf and Gravy while Aline used her broom to fly up and out of the cave.

Aline cast an attack spell on the guard controlling Inza and managed to break the serpent-man's concentration. Inza shook off the effects of the beguilement and attacked, freeing Lodar from the constriction grip of the serpent-man with no legs. They soon made short work of the three they were fighting.

Meanwhile, Gravy engaged in hand-to-hand combat with their attacker, like some kind of myrmidon or something!

Soon all four of the serpent-men were killed. The party was just beginning to take stock of their situation when Aline's body jerked as if seized by a great spasm. She looked down to see the tip of the stinger of a giant wasp protruding through her torso! For just a moment, her brow furrowed in a quizzical expression of confusion, "Huh..."

She fell limp from the sky, landing on the cracked paving stoned with a wet thud.

DM Note: Failed Awareness check followed by a critical hit from the wasp stinger! BOOM! Aline was at -23 Hit Points and was very nearly dead-dead. It made for a fantastic scene, as I described it exactly like above!

There were two of the giant wasps. Gravy grabbed the silver medallion in the shape of a crescent moon he wore and prayed to Thumina, the lunar goddess of healing. Suddenly, everyone in the vicinity were healed of many of their wounds.

DM Note: And Gravy for the save. Good job Gravy!

As the party prepared to do battle, Aline, now restored to consciousness, raised herself on one arm and said, "No. They're mine!"

She extended a finger at the two wasps, who as it happened were in more or less a straight line, and a bolt of lightning crackled into the sky. The peal of thunder echoed from the great cliffs that encircled the city for some time as entire flocks of birds took wing from their hiding places in the crumbling buildings.

DM Note: Great comeback by Aline, but subtle she ain't.

The two wasps were killed.

If the party was hoping to make a covert entrance into the forbidden city, they had failed.
Uh, did I just save everybody?

Camp for the Night
The party explored the nearest boulevard, taking the first side street to the left. The party made camp in an abandoned structure, possibly an ancient bath-house, as the sun set beyond the high rim of the crater that surrounded them.

The night was filled with the sound of croaking frogs, roaring predators, tropical birds, and the occasional snippet of strange chanting far far away, but was otherwise uninterrupted.

The party talked about their goals and discussed their plans.

Indigo kept trying to talk Aline into donning the Crown of Urgence Evergreen, a suggestions he declined. Randalf, annoyed with the impudent fiend, offered to destroy the imp. To that offer Aline also declined.

Invisible Reconnaissance 
The next morning, Randalf gathered everyone and performed a magical ritual that endowed them all with the ability to breathe water for the rest of the day.

Aline then magically turned herself invisible, sat on her flying broom, and flew above the city, staying clear of any patrolling giant wasps.

She made a circuit of the city, noting the large marshy lake to the northeast, the hills surrounded by a bamboo palisade nearby, an area of town that appeared to be constructed of junk, a massive tree, what was once a city park now filled with jungle-like flora, and a wealthy manor house in good repair. She returned to report on the findings.

The party decided to check out the manor-house. They donned their gear and proceeded to walk down the wide open boulevard to their destination.

The Caravan
As they neared an intersection where another boulevard joined theirs at a 30-degree angle, the sound of a large caravan could be heard from around the corner. Gravy managed to find cover in an abandoned building but the rest were too slow and were caught out in the open as a large caravan came onto their street.

The caravan consisted of thirty frog-men, perhaps sixty of the primitive simian goblins, a handful of lizard-men, two bald women with skin like snake scales, and a human woman wearing wizard robes! The caravan included half-a-dozen carts pulled by giant lizards. The carts were laden with boxes and barrels and tarp-covered cargo. The entire procession was making its way to the gate from which the party emerged the afternoon before, on their way out of the city.

The snake-skinned women shouted orders and the frog-men began leaping towards the exposed party. Likewise, the simian goblins charged forward, hooting and screeching.

Aline cast a fireball spell at them. The center of the simian goblinoids exploded in fiery death, leaving their burning corpses littering the boulevard.

Lodar engaged the frog-men while Inza ran to engage the snake-women. Gravy emerged from his abortive hiding place and joined the fray. Even Randalf ran forward to be within range of the spell-casters.

Meanwhile, the lizard-men and non-engaged frog-men were ordered to save the cargo. They began retreating with the carts and grabbing what crates and barrels they could carry and leaping and running away.

Aline called out to Inza, "Capture some alive! We should question them!" Inza sighed and incapacitated the two snake-skinned women and the human wizard.

Lodar killed the remaining frog-men that guarded the retreat of their companions. The rest of the caravan managed to escape with most of the cargo.

The cargo that remained seemed to include several infant hybrid creatures of a magical nature in cages and crates. Also included were some containers of treasure: coin and jewels, as if intended for payment.

The Interrogation
The party took the three prisoners back to their hiding place in the ancient bath-house. The prisoners were blindfolded and gagged. Gravy used his ring of telepathy to read the thoughts of the prisoners as they were asked questions.

The two bald women with snake skin were not entirely helpful. They revealed that her people were called the Yuan-Ti. Their base lay in a ravine in the southwest of the city and that they wished to return the world to the control of the Nagina Samrajya, the empire of the great serpents! They had shape-changing agents in positions of power in various cities, plotting to overthrow the kingdoms of the mammals!

The human woman, they learned, was named Kwairno. She was a student of alchemy and transmutation, apprenticed to the wizard Horan.

Aline froze at the name. Horan was her teacher at the Wizard's College in Yon. Horan was a pompous jerk who made her life hell. She managed to have Horan expelled from the collegium when she learned that he was conducting forbidden experiments, a fact that she exposed only after barely escaping his secret laboratory where she, herself, as about to be transformed into a grotesque hybrid.

Kwairno explained that her master came here, where no one would interfere with his work. Also, he had a ready source of experimental subjects courtesy of Anuran, the god of the swamp.

Aline the Recently Impaled


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"The Panhandler Xorn" - Chapter 4 of Dwellers of the Forbidden City

The party faces a dangerous roper and its ballistic offspring, defeats a colony of ants, gets shaken down by a Xorn panhandler, overcomes an illusion, and defeats a force of tasloi guards.

The Group:
  • Inza, aka "The Shadow", Human Shadow-Warrior (Monk 6/Sorcerer 1)
  • Randalf Azul, Human Abjurer (Wizard 7)
  • Duma, bestial jungle hunter of orcine* parentage (Ranger 7)
  • Gravy, Human Priest of Thumina (Cleric 7)
Not Present this week:
  • Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan** parentage (Wizard 7)
  • Lodar, Prairiefolk*** Barbarian (Barbarian 7)
* Half-Orc
** Elf
*** Halfling

Gravy's Something Something
Gravy and his Holy Salmon
Gravy found his way back to the camp after turning away for only a moment. Or was it an hour? Or had it been a day? Gravy was never sure. The camp was empty, his friends had abandoned him. This was not the first time he had been left alone in the wilderness. Or maybe it was. In any case, Gravy picked up his holy salmon and followed what appeared to be tracks in the mud to the bank of a channel. The body of a large sail-backed reptile lie dead nearby. Pteranodons were picking away at the carcass. 

Somehow, Gravy was on the other side of the river. Or channel. Or whatever it was. Or maybe he was somewhere else? Vines and branches wove together to form a face. Huh. That's odd. The branch face challenged him, "What business have you in the forbidden swamp?"

Gravy suddenly realized the branch-face was talking to him. "Huh? Oh, did a bunch of people come through here?"

Another branch-face formed and addressed the first. "He's with the others."

Gravy looked shocked, "I'm what?"

The first face scowled, "Okay. You can pass! But the deal applies to you too!"

Gravy looked confused, "What deal? Huh? Okay, whatever." and continued on.

Gravy found the entrance into the tunnel that passed under the mountainous wall of obsidian that surrounded the forbidden city. He entered. Soon he found the silvery skin of what looked like a massive white catfish draped over the ledge beside an underground pool. Huh.

Days later, or maybe it was minutes, he was standing before a barred gate. The gate was opened. Gravy remembered opening it, but that's impossible, for it was already open. He wandered forward.

As he meandered down the long straight tunnel, he heard voices ahead. They were strange sibilant voices. He approached to investigate. Suddenly, rough hands grabbed him from behind and pulled him into the shadowy darkness. A hand covered his mouth. A calloused finger was pressed against his face and someone in the darkness indicated silence with a "shhhhh."

The shadowy figure held Gravy still until the patrol passed, then dragged him deeper into the mysterious side passage. Once safely away from the tunnel, a dim light was produced. The shadowy figure was an orcine savage with long dreadlocks. He introduced himself as "Duma". Gravy asked Duma if he had seen any others come through. Duma nodded and led him deeper into the natural passage. 

Mister Roper
Meanwhile, our heroes stared down a vertical shaft, the only exit from a dead-end passage deep underground. The shaft looked to descend sixty feet before it opened into a cavern. Suddenly, the loud sound of plate mail alerted them to the approach of someone behind them. It was Duma and Gravy. 

Gravy produced a rope and Inza climbed halfway down the shaft, only to disappear halfway like a magic trick. Suddenly, Inza stepped from the shadows at the bottom of a shaft. The shaft opened into a chamber nearly fifteen feet tall, forty feet long, and twenty feet wide. An exit led away on the far end. The ceiling was covered in stalactites. One large stalactite dominated the room, almost touching the floor. The floor itself was covered in at least a foot of sand. 

Inza scanned the room while Randalf began climbing down the rope. 

Aline, staring mysteriously up the passage from whence they came, said, "I.. I must go." and wandered off into the dark, finally calling back "Don't wait for me." from out of sight.

Gravy and Duma shrugged then turned back to the shaft to continue watching Randalf descend.

As soon as Randalf entered the chamber, long ropy tentacles emerged from the largest stalactite, lashing out at the wizard, grabbing him. The wizard was pulled into the gaping maw that suddenly appeared in the side of the stalactite. A single giant malevolent yellow eye glared at him balefully as he was masticated by the great stony horror!
The Deadly Roper

Randalf screamed in terror before turning into a silvery mist! The wounded wizard was suddenly standing near the exit. 

Inza began punching at the dangling monstrosity as it clung to the ceiling. Duma slid down the rope as fast as he could. As he emerged near the ceiling, the demi-ourk used the rope to swing over to the creature, kicking it free of its roots, causing it to fall to the ground. 

Suddenly, smaller stalactites began falling from the ceiling, landing in the sand with a soft "thud!". One struck Randalf and another Duma! To everyone's shock, the stalactites had tiny grasping feet and single eyes and mouths, like the larger specimen. They were the beast's offspring! The smaller piercers began crawling back up the wall to repeat their plummeting barrage. 

Meanwhile, the large tentacled roper had once again grabbed Randalf, only to have the wizard once more disappear into silvery mist.  

By this time, Gravy had descended the rope and was able to say a prayer of healing to Thumina, goddess of the moon, restoring lost vitality to the aging wizard. 

Eventually, Duma and Inza were able to slay the conical monster and turned to eliminating the smaller offspring while they were helpless on the ground. Soon the room was clear of active threats.

Fearing the attack of other unseen stalactite piercers, they abandoned the room, even though gold coins could be seen mixed in with the sand.

DM Note: The original module called for the ceiling creature to be a carrion crawler. I substituted a roper because a) I like ropers, b) they're tougher than carrion crawlers and made for a more challenging encounter, and c) the ecology fit better with all the piercers, what with ropers now being adult piercers in 5th edition - a genius connection by the way!

The Ant Colony
The company ignored a passage, more of a natural cleft in the rock, that led to the right and continued forward. Ahead of them they could see light filtering from around the bend, perhaps a hundred feet away. They came across a small passage to the left which they took.

Almost immediately, they encountered a group of ants of prodigious size. The smallest ant was the size of a poodle, three of the largest and most aggressive were the size of a wolves! The large ants moved forward to attack the intruders but were soon slain by the company.

The company continued forward, coming to a four-way intersection filled with large ants! There were at least nine of the larger warriors and over a dozen of the workers! Soon these, too, were slain, but at the cost of several painful bites!

Pushing forward, they entered a large chamber filled with workers and over a dozen warriors! At the rear of the chamber was a fat bloated queen sitting atop a brood of leathery oblong eggs, each the size of a watermelon!

The company began slaying ants, but there were so many! Suddenly, Gravy called upon the holy protection of Thumina, a large armored female specter appeared, glowing as if by moonlight, long hair waving slowly. The specter carried a sword with a crescent-shaped guard, and pointed it at the swarming ants. Any ant that came within 20 feet of the spectral warrior died instantly! Gravy advanced through the room swarming with ants, clearing a path towards the queen.

After a pitched battle, the ants were killed and the queen slain, the spectral guardian saluted Gravy and returned from the heavens whence she came.

The company explored the room. Randalf examined the eggs and noticed that four of them were heavy and rattled as if they contained something hard. Inza cut one of the eggs open with his dagger, producing a perfect gem the size of his fist! The gem had to be worth over 1000 gold pieces! Worried that the eggs were somehow magical, cursed, or otherwise meant to give birth to something special, Randalf protected the remaining eggs and put them into his magical shrinking treasure chest.

DM Note: I treated the worker ants as 1 Hit Point minions so that they could be easily wiped out.

The company decided to take a short rest in the safety of the ant colony while Duma harvested their poison glands, eventually managing to milk two doses of poison out of the warriors.

DM Note: I revised the poison harvesting rules from page 258 of the DMG. The rules as written set the difficulty at 20, but if you fail by 5+ you poison yourself. That means if you roll 1-15, you poison yourself! That's harsh! 
My revised rule is this: You need a poisoner's toolkit to even try. The difficulty is 20. Roll Intelligence + Nature. A natural d20 roll equal to or less than the creature's Challenge Rating will result in you poisoning yourself, minimum 1. 

The company explored the remaining passage to the foliage-covered exit to outside then turned around to retrace their steps.

The Pandhandler Xorn
The company took an unexplored passage to the left. Ahead they could hear the sound of heavy smashing and strange basso singing in an unknown language. Inza and Duma reconnoitered using stealth. They found an empty room filled with giant cave corals, stalagmites, and stalactites, many of which had been kicked over and otherwise smashed. There was a cleft to the right, no doubt connecting to the main passage, but no sign of any living being.

Inza formed his hands into several complicated magical hand-signs known to his monastery as "Kuji-in". The effect was to create the illusion of a warrior striding into the center of the room, a distraction and trap for anything hiding within. Alas, the bait was not taken. After waiting long enough to satisfy themselves there was no trap, they retrieved the rest of the company.

They had decided to avoid the room entirely and turned to take the cleft back to the main passage when a strange rotund creature with a large mouth where its head should be, three radial legs, three radial clawed arms, and three eyes spaced equally around its barrel-shaped body, suddenly blocked their path, saying, "Hello there!"

A Xorn Nuisance
They said hello in return. The creature said that it was hungry and was looking for food. It said that it could sense that the company possessed much food on them. It told them that if they wished to pass this way, they would have to give him some of those tasty golden flakes they carried in sacks and pouches.

When asked how much it wanted, it replied, "Oh, not much.. Let's say you give me, uh... twenty-five thousand gold flakes and we'll call it good."

The company balked. The creature's counter-offer of only ten-thousand gold flakes was met with similar rejection. Ultimately, after some haggling, Inza offered the creature fifty gold "flakes" and told the creature that they would lead it to a place where it could find more. The creature agreed.

The creature, which Randalf recognized as a xorn, a strange being from the elemental plane of earth, followed them back to the room of the roper. Along the way, the xorn hummed and made pleasant conversation, saying "I'm glad I didn't have to fight you for the flakes. I wouldn't want to, but I would have if I had to." Inza replied, "I'm glad I didn't have to kill you. Likewise, I would have, but I'm glad I didn't."

When asked how it got here, the xorn said it passed through the portal a day's journey away. It seems that within the ancient daro city of Duirnhold was a gate to the elemental plane of earth, and that the gate was sealed behind seven magical barriers. However, a human wizard named Ezekiel was working on disabling those barriers. He had managed to disable the first three, allowing weak creatures such as xorn and oozes and black oils to come through. Eventually, the final barrier would be destroyed and Ogremoch himself would break through. But the xorn's story was cut short when he entered the roper room and found hundreds of gold coins mixed in with the sand. He hungrily began hurling sand and coins into the maw atop its body, gobbling and crunching away.

DM Note: The xorn was so much fun to role-play! They're also a great tool for exposition. When I mentioned the gate in Duirnhold, the players were like "Oh yeah! That plot hook from the very beginning of the campaign!"

The Reverse Ambush
The company returned to the passage where they were attacked by the giant spider with the intent of returning to the main tunnel and continuing into the forbidden city. Unfortunately, where once there was a passage now they could see only obsidian wall. Duma could not figure it out. He was certain they had come this way.

Randalf the Azure was not so sure. He inspected the wall closely, eventually concluding that magical illusions were at work, a ruse meant to prevent their return. With a wave of his hand, he dispelled the false image.

Inza and Duma stealthily crept forward, sensing trouble. Suddenly, Duma slipped and stumbled forward from the side passage and into the main tunnel. He was surrounded by the simian goblins! He was certain that his stealthy approach had failed!

However, to his surprise and great fortune, it was at that exact moment that one of the simian goblins accidentally dropped a weapon, making a loud wavering clang on the floor, distracting everyone away from the side passage. The leader of the ambush, a humanoid woman with a long dark braided pony-tail, long sinewy fingers, and carrying a large snake about her shoulders, turned to shout at the fumbling creature and failed to notice that Duma had stumbled into full view.

DM Note: Duma's player rolled a 1 on his stealth check. He was certain he was spotted. However, in response, I rolled a 1 on the leader's perception check. So Duma's total was more than hers, so he technically won! It led to a very funny visual image!

Duma took the opportunity to jump back into hiding so that he and Inza could retreat and communicate with the others. The company formed their strategy and the pair stealthily approached again, this time with Gravy and Randalf creating a distraction.

 Duma, crouched, darted like a black panther out of the passage and into the shadows of the tunnel, emerging suddenly behind the leader. She was assassinated before she ever knew that death was upon her!  As she died, she bared serpentine fangs and hissed, her forked tongue ululating in hateful agony!

The primitive goblins shrieked and yipped and fell upon Duma and Inza. One of the wily creatures ran back out the tunnel to the gate, no doubt to summon reinforcements. Another of the creatures tried to run deeper into the tunnel but was stopped by Duma. Meanwhile, Inza was surrounded by over half-a-dozen of the simian humanoids. The shadowy monk fought like a dynamo as hairy arms thrust primitive spears and clutched with sharpened talons. Eventually, all were defeated before the deadly prowess of the adept's twin daggers.

Meanwhile, Randalf cast spell after spell to little avail as the wily creatures managed to avoid the magical necrotic hands he tried to cast at them.

The ambush was thwarted, but more of the foul creatures were coming.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Blatant Plug: Exiled in Eris now available for purchase!

Exiled in Eris, my latest RPG, is now available for purchase at all OneBookShelf online stores!

I'm charging "Pay what you want" until the end of May, then I'll set the price at $5

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Story of Aline

Aline the Thaumaturge

A short write up by Aline's player, Lucinda.

Aline comes from a fairly cosmopolitan and urbane town. Her parents were both half-Sylvan artisans making a comfortable, but not wealthy, living. Then they had six kids and there wasn't enough money to go around. At about the time #5 came along, Aline was 14 and showing distinct signs of magical abilities - setting woodstacks on fire, tricking her friends with shocking handshakes, that sort of thing - so when a representative of the wizards' college offered her a scholarship to study there, she and her parents agreed that it was a good idea.

Aline studied more or less diligently at the college for about 6 years but grew frustrated at the slow pace at which knowledge was doled out. There was some element of having to prove your dedication before being admitted to eldritch knowledge, which is annoying, and as at any university, what you get to learn is determined to some degree by who you know. She hungered after knowledge but did not have the charisma or patience to play politics well.

One day, she was reading a tome in a seedy off-campus tavern when she saw an old classmate roll in. Her classmate had left the university a couple years before. She regaled Aline with tales of hardship and near-death - but also of encountering wondrous magics, accruing enough gold to afford more spells for her spellbook than her scholarship had allowed and being refreshingly free of the academic hierarchy. They went out to a farmer's fallow field and she showed Aline a couple of the advanced spells she had learned. "Well fuck this then," said Aline. She returned her library books, mailed her few important possessions back to her parents, and headed off to Swallow. The rest you know. She does not take naturally to hardship the way some of us do, and would rather sleep in an inn than a cave any day, but she is learning so much nifty stuff that it's worth it. She is super excited about all the various ways there are to make things explode.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"The Duma" - Chapter 3 of Dwellers of the Forbidden City

Aline Aflame!
This week, the company encounters a dangerous giant reptile, must appease some troublesome tree spirits, infiltrate the main entrance of the forbidden city, make a new ally while defeating a dangerous aboleth, use stealth to gain entry past a trapped gate, use misdirection and guile to fool a patrol, and finally create a lot of noxious smoke while fighting a giant bloodworm.

The Group:
  • Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan* parentage (Wizard 7)
  • Inza, aka "The Shadow", Human Shadow-Warrior (Monk 6/Sorcerer 1)
  • Randalf Azul, Human Abjurer (Wizard 7)
  • Duma, bestial jungle hunter of half-Human/half-Ourk parentage (Ranger 7)
Not Present this week:
  • Gravy, Human Priest of Thumina (Cleric 7)
  • Lodar, Prairiefolk** Barbarian (Barbarian 7)

When we last saw our heroes, they were following the trail of lizard- and frog-men to their hidden city deep within the Crying Swamp. The team was trapped on an island by the rising tide and decided to rest for the night, a rest that was haunted by the cries and moans of hundreds of swamp-ghosts.

A Giant Reptile
The company woke under a dark writhing cloud of flies. The swarm sounded like a million people constantly exhaling. The cloud hovered at just about 5 feet off the ground, forcing the company to pack their camp while crouched or prone. After eating and packing, the company prepared to follow the trail of the swamp dwellers. Unfortunately, Gravy and Lodar were nowhere to be found. They had wandered off and were probably lost. Nothing could be done, the company was on a schedule, so they decided to press on. But first, Randalf performed a magical ritual that allowed all the members of the company to breathe underwater, should they choose, for the rest of the day. They had no intention of entering the rivers of the swamps, but he felt it was a sensible precaution nonetheless.
Where in the nine hells did Gravy go now?
The company then followed the trail to the edge of a waterway with steep muddy banks. The tracks picked up again on the other side. Off in the distance, they could see the obsidian walls of the forbidden city rising hundreds of feet above the swamp.

Aline loaded Inza on her flying broom and the pair coasted across the yellow-brown channel, leaving Randalf on the bank. Suddenly, a giant sail-backed reptile burst out of the water and up the bank. In a flash, Randalf was caught in its massive jaws!

Randalf Azul
Inza and Aline quickly turned around. Randalf, screaming, disappeared in a puff of silvery mist, reappearing thirty feet away. The great sail-backed beast scrabbled across the loamy bank and grabbed Randalf once more. Inza leaped from the broom and onto the back of the reptilian carnivore, punching it repeatedly before Aline killed it with her magic spells.

Once the creature was defeated, they were able to cross the river without further incident.

Troublesome Tree Spirits
The trail led into a dense thicket of mangrove, vines, and cyprus trees. Here the mangroves grew so close together that the branches intertwined like wicker. Yet somehow, the trail led right through it. When they pushed through the brush, it seemed to grow stronger, weaving around them, actively resisting their progress. Rather than become trapped, they decided to back away.

Aline sent her imp, which she had named Indigo, up above the trees to scout ahead. All he could see was the top of the canopy of trees all around the obsidian walls. She ordered him to descend into the thicket, and he reluctantly complied. However, he soon found himself trapped in the upper reaches of the tree canopy. He cried for his mistress' help.

Inza took out a sword and began to chop his way through the vines. Suddenly, a voice shouted, "Killer! Defiler of the sacred grove! Enemy of the trees! Destroy them!"

The company was taken aback! They dropped their weapons and held out their palms, appealing for calm. The tree branches wove together to form a wicker face, complete with eyes and moving mouth. "How dare you defile the sacred grove?"

DM Note: I formed the branch-face by interlocking the fingers of my hands, using my pinkies as a moving mouth. I gave the branch-face a crass nasal voice, like a bureaucrat. 

Inza, Randalf, and Aline pleaded ignorance and asked for parley. They asked the branch-face of the nature of the grove. The branch-face explained that they were guardians of the forbidden city, that the city was a sacred place of Anuran. The company asked about the lizard-men and the frog-men, hoping that the trees would find displeasure with the creatures. The branch-face responded that the swamp-dwellers were the children of Anuran and were subject to their protection. When asked why they protected Anuran, the branch-face replied "Anuran is a god of the Aslak, sent to punish the wicked city known as Sinopia. He has made the ruins of Sinopia his home."

Aline countered, "Anuran has become corrupt! He feeds upon sacrifices of the city of Thither and provides nothing in return!"

The branch-face dismissed the argument, "The affairs of mortals are of no concern of ours!"

Randalf pressed, "Anuran has been banished from this plane. He no longer resides in Sinopia. Your protection is no longer necessary."

The tree responded, "Anuran is still a god, and he will return! He is to be afforded the honor and deference due to him!"

Inza advanced, "Nevertheless, we must stop the bullywugs from summoning Anuran back to this plane. You must let us pass so that we can fulfill our mission."

"None may pass through the sacred grove! The trees of the sacred grove are inviolate! Noble! Incorruptible!"

A second branch-face formed, interjecting, "Now hold on a minute..."

DM Note: I used the same hand-puppet technique on the other branch-face, but his voice was lower, friendlier, almost like a character from the Venture Bros. I would position the finger-faces in different angles to represent the different speakers.

The first was stopped mid-sentence, "What?  Why do you interrupt?"

The second branch-face addressed the first, "You heard the mammal. Anuran is gone. We've all felt it. What are we protecting? We have a rare opportunity. Perhaps these travelers may be of use to us. Perhaps they have something they can offer..."

The first branch-face sputtered.

Randalf inquired, "What might we offer?"

The second branch-face looked them up and down.

Randalf suggested, "We have magic weapons and treasures..."

The branch-face balked at the suggestion. "We have no need for sharp instruments or baubles. What we could really use is a dryad. Bring us a dryad and we will let you pass!"

Randalf tugged on his beard, "I don't think we can bring you a dryad."

"Then how about a circle of druids? Bring us a circle of druids! They're handy!"

Randalf considered this, "Umm.. anything else?"

The two branch-faces conferred, arguing in whispers. Finally the first branch-face won out, "Yes. The sanctity of the forbidden city has been violated from below by outsiders. They have the bodies of serpents with torsos and arms like your own. They are led by an evil wizard. You must defeat them! If you promise to kill them, we will let you pass. Only by bringing us proof of their destruction will we allow you to leave this city alive. Do you so promise?"

The company deliberated and came to a consensus. "Yes, we will do this for you! But first, there is an imp trapped in your canopy. Please release him to our custody."


And so was the company allowed to gain access through the sacred grove of guardian tree spirits.

DM Note: This interlude was completely ad-libbed and was the result of a randomly rolled encounter. It was a very fun role-playing moment for me and for the players. I was all prepared for a fight vs. animated trees. But the players had a great time interacting with the comic relief tree-spirits. 

Enter the Duma
The company followed the tracks to a wide tunnel carved into the base of the vast obsidian wall. They debated the merits and possible difficulties of a head-on assault through the main entrance versus a stealthy invasion via another more subtle path.

They decided to explore around the wall for a bit. Inza found a climbable path that zig-zagged up the side of the glassy black walls. He climbed to the edge and looked down to see the city below. The sky was teeming with wasps the size of ponies. Nearby was a massive cyprus tree which could be reached with rope and grapples. He also saw a possible path down the opposite wall. He climbed back down to report his finding.

Near the main entrance, they also found a pile of moss covered scree and a small trickling stream emerging from what might be a vine-shrouded cave. They approached cautiously, but the emergence of several animated corpses covered in yellow mushrooms caused them to retreat quickly. The company left the area and the zombies and decided to take the main entrance.

DM Note: Yeah, I screwed up the zombie encounter. The zombies were supposed to wait until after the party walked past them before they got up, forcing the party inside. Instead, I had them get up too quickly and scared the party away.

The main entrance led down a long wide tunnel that sloped down. A wall blocked the tunnel ahead, leaving only a narrow path flanked by a deep underground creek to the left. Inza took the narrow path and somehow lost his footing for he immediately fell into the water!

Randalf lowered his staff to help Inza out but Inza was soon set upon by a massive amorphous grey underwater shape that emerged from a deep pool in a cavern a hundred feet upstream! The water was quickly filled with slimy mucous, like that of a massive hag-fish! There was a brief glimpse of a shiny white tail like that of a gargantuan catfish along with writhing catfish-like barbels or tentacles!

The water became a frothing white mess of muculent bubbles when suddenly, a dark flash dropped from the ceiling to engage the aquatic alien horror!
Inza and the stranger battle the alien menace!
Randalf and Aline were helpless, unable to adequately see the creature to apply magical spells and incantations against it! Inza and the stranger fought the terror hand-to-hand. For several moments, it felt as if their minds were under assault from the alien mentality of the glutinous fish-monster! At one point, the brave newcomer came face-to-face with the three cold dark orbs of alien malevolence that  were the eyes of the subterranean nightmare.

Eventually, the two slime-covered fighters were able to defeat the underwater monster. The bizarre alien creature disintegrated into its own slime once dead, leaving nothing but its limp glistening skin. When they tried to leave the water, only Inza was able to breathe air. The stranger began to gasp and wheeze before he returned himself into the water, which he discovered he could breathe normally. Inza returned to the water to communicate with the newcomer.

The Duma hunts alone!
The stranger introduced himself as Duma. He was a hunter from a clan of jungle-dwellers. He was, himself, the offspring of a human and an ourk, which was common among the primitive tribes in the jungle. Duma had come to the Forbidden City searching for the wizard that had killed his tribe, a story that had become unfortunately (and uncannily) common recently!

After the pair searched the deep pool under the waterfall for treasure, finding several gems and an incense burner, they decided to leave Duma in the watery pool, hoping that the respiratory affliction of the alien creature would wear off in time.

Ahead of them, a narrow path cut was cut into the rock wall behind the waterfall, allowing access to a tunnel entrance at the top of a small bluff. Inza, studying the tunnel carefully, saw shapes moving in the darkness. While Aline and Randalf rode the flying broom to the tunnel, Inza mysteriously disappeared into a shadow only to reappear behind the figures in the tunnel entrance. The figures were in fact frog-men, armed with javelins, and pushing a barrel towards the waterfall.

Inza stealthily dispatched one of the frog-men while the other two threw javelins at the approaching wizards. He soon killed a second.  The third barely survived an attack and tried to run away while the fourth, realizing oil and wizards were a dangerous combination, quickly threw the barrel over the cliff. Inza disappeared into shadow and reappeared in front of the fleeing frog-man who was quickly dispatched while Aline easily eliminated the fourth.

The Main Gate
The tunnel at the top of the cliff was smooth and made by intelligent hands. It led about a hundred feet and around a corner to emerge in the corner of a chamber shaped like a right triangle. In the far corner was a twenty-foot wide barred gate flanked by two stout columns, each with a shuttered window.

Inza the Shadow
Inza told the other two to wait in the corridor. He disappeared into a shadow and reappeared on the inside of the barred gate. He saw a door at the base of each pillar. He stealthily opened one door, revealing two short furry humanoids, like a cross between a chimpanzee and a goblin, lazily playing some kind of game with round stones. He killed them both before either could act or raise an alarm.

He then made his way to the other column, only to encounter one of the furry creatures emerging from the door. He likewise killed the interloper and his companion in the pillar before they could react.

Looking inside each pillar, he could find no means of opening or unlocking the gate. He waved the other two to approach.

Together, they examined the gate. Eventually Randalf pushed the gate open, finding it unlocked. However, doing so caused a concealed spike trap in the ceiling to swing down! Aline and Randalf quickly dodged out of the way, barely avoiding the devious trap!

DM Note: I really screwed up this encounter, but shhh, don't tell the players. They never noticed. I didn't read the room well enough, so I wound up not seeing that there were 12 more Tasloi waiting behind the concealed door! On top of that I read the trap wrong, initially describing it as a pit-fall. I quickly noticed that one and quickly corrected. I also interpreted the gate as a barred gate, which allowed Inza to teleport to the other side. In retrospect I should have made it a stout iron door or something tougher. 

Giant Spider
The trio continued down the wide dark tunnel, eventually encountering a natural cave leading to the left. On a whim, they decided to explore it. A few dozen feet into the rough passage, Aline walked into a mass of sticky webs lain across the floor and draped from the ceiling. Before she could free herself, a spider the size of a large sow crawled out of a hidden niche and moved towards her. The trio attacked the spider with dagger and spell and killed it and its normal sized kin before they could approach closer. Aline proceeded to use a flame touch spell to melt away the webbing that entrapped her.

Stealth and Guile
However, the racket caused something down a branching passage to take notice. Inza thought he heard movement, shushed the others into silence, and directed them to take cover.

Aline ordered Indigo the imp to turn invisible and scout ahead. The diminutive devil complied. The invisible imp soon found himself back in the smooth tunnel in the midst of over a dozen primitive chimpanzee-goblins led by a massive snake with a human torso and arms. The snake creature carried weapons and whispered commands to the chimpanzee-goblins in an unknown language. One of the primitive creatures acknowledged his orders and silently crept forward.

Aline communicated what Indigo saw to Inza. Inza waited for the chimpanzee-goblin to come closer before he grabbed the creature and covered its mouth, killing him silently.

Inza then used the mystic abilities of his monastic order to create an illusory distraction farther down the tunnel, away from their position. The snake-man immediately looked in that direction and ordered his thralls to investigate.

With the successful distraction, the trio moved farther down the natural passage, away from the tunnel.

The Bloodworm
The passage curved around to the left for a few hundred feet then opened into a small round chamber about thirty feet in diameter. Even as they approached the chamber, the trio could smell something odd in the air. Aline and Randalf recognized the smell of flammable oil.

The chamber was filled with water. Three or four dark boulders barely rose out of the water to form a path to an exit on the far side. Inza emerged from a shadow in the farther passage and waved the other two across. Aline and Randalf rode Aline's flying broom across the water-filled chamber.

They were halfway across when the boulders came to life! The boulders were, in fact, the back of a large worm-like creature with a bony exoskeleton resembling stone! The creature was larger than a horse! The worm reared up and knocked Randalf off the broom, grabbing the wizard in its massive clasping mouth parts and pulling him into the water.

Aline responded by throwing a fireball!

DM Note: Tee hee! Tee hee! I even WARNED them about the oily smell! They totally knew what was coming! But Aline's player momentarily forgot, and when I smiled and said, "I choose to fail my save." she suddenly realized and slumped into her seat, saying "Ah, shit! I forgot!"
The oil on the water exploded in a fiery FWOOSH, burning everyone nearby, including Inza, Aline, and Randalf! Luckily, Randalf was able to mitigate some of the damage by keeping his entire body submerged in the shallow four feet deep pool of water!

Inza dove into the water to help save Randalf who was trapped in the worms vice-like grip. A giant sucker-mouth like a leech attached itself to Randalf's back and began draining him of blood. The room was filled with thick white smoke. No one could see the creature in order to attack it with spells! Inza stabbed at the worm with his daggers, eventually killing it and releasing Randalf!

DM Note: I thought this encounter went very well. It was scary and fun and challenging. Randalf's player got a little annoyed and frustrated at not being able to see through the smoke, even though the creature was attached to him, which eliminated all his good spells. There was a tiny bit of "Fine, I give up! Whatever!" but Inza quickly dispatched the bloodworm before really bad things happened.

Afterwards, the trio explored the pool and found a few trinkets, then continued down the opposite passage.

The passage led a hundred feet and stopped at a dead end. A large boulder lay on the floor at the end of the passage. No single one of the trio could move the boulder, so they worked together and were finally able to shift it a few feet, revealing a deep shaft in the floor. Aline sent Indigo the invisible imp down the shaft to investigate.