Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"The Oozing Temple" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 16

What follows is an illustrated dramatic retelling of my group's play through of the D&D campaign setting, "Out of the Abyss". SPOILERS for anyone wishing to play in this campaign.

Me behind the DM screen


A rag-tag group of survivors
escaped the drow prison at Velkenvelve,
witnessed the razing of a kuo-toa village
by the demon-lord Demogorgon,
survived weeks of travel in the Underdark,
thwarted a secret demonic cult
in Gracklstugh, the city of the Duergar,
and discovered that Zuggtmoy, the Demon Queen of Decay
had taken over the myconid homeland
known as Neverlight Grove.

After defeating a trio of hags
on an island in the middle of the Darklake
they returned to Gracklstugh to hire
a boat crew to take them to Jewelshine-on-Darklake
where they can take Jimjar to his home in Blingdenstone.
There they hope to find the passage 
that will take them back to the Overworld...

Angolwen - Wizard of mixed human/elven parentage.
Kettle Bearclaw - Halfling baker living among dwarves.
Pain Grille' - Halfling street urchin from Waterdeep.
Ficus Asëa - a lost eladrin traveller, alone in the Underdark
Virtue - Tiefling paladin and a mysterious wild card.

Jimjar - a roguish deep gnome who likes to wager on everything.
Ront - Thuggish orc from the surface world. Follows Talorean's commands.
Prince Derendil - Elven prince in the body of a brutish quaggoth.
Starshine - A mute female moon elf, an escaped slave with no name.
Mister Floop - a friendly flumph.
Santaka - a baby red dragon.

The fugitives were resting as their lake boat cut through the Darklake, driven by four human slaves. They had been crossing the lake for untold hours and had been staggering their rests as they went. As usual, two of the fugitives were assigned to be on watch at any given time while the others rested. Angolwen scanned the dimly illuminated area around the boat while keeping one eye on the duergar overseer watching the slaves.

Suddenly, one of the slaves screamed as they were struck by a large harpoon attached to a line. The harpoon had been thrown by an unseen attacker, partially submerged in the lake.  The slave was dragged overboard but stopped by the shackles chained to his ankles. The slave's cries turned into gurgling panic as he fell into the water and was dragged along the side of the boat.

Angolwen immediately called everyone awake, stood up, and cast a firebolt spell at the harpoon line, severing it. Somewhere out in the water, at the edge of the illumination, came an inhuman roar of frustration as the merrow attacker dove underwater.

The fugitives rushed to the aid of the slave, pulling him back on board, but it was too late. The harpoon had impaled the poor wretch.

The merrow erupted out of the water alongside the boat and attacked. The fugitives aided the duergar crew in the defense of the boat, eventually driving the  merrow away empty-handed. Ficus volunteered to take the place of the missing slave at the oars.

More hours of boredom passed. The duergar captain called out the sighting of another craft, a small mushroom boat. The craft had two passengers: a female tiefling and a red dragon wyrmling. It was Virtue and Santaka. They were adrift with no oars and few provisions.
I was recently told I've been drawing Virtue wrong. Her horns are apparently much longer.

A line was thrown to the small boat and Virtue was brought on board. Virtue told how she had hastily arranged passage on an outgoing boat from Gracklstugh. The boat was attacked and destroyed. She barely made her escape on the small craft but lacked oars. They had been drifting in the Darklake for untold hours. She was welcomed back among the fugitives with open arms.

Hours later, the resting occupants of the boat were once again awakened by screams of terror as one of the overseers was picked up by a tentacle of water and pulled towards the lake. Unfortunately, no one could reach the overseer in time and he was pulled underwater.

Another tentacle rose up and attacked the occupants of the boat but the fugitives fought back. Angolwen cast a Chromatic Orb spell, dousing the watery appendage with poison but with no effect. The others slashed and stabbed at the elemental force, but only Kettle's magic sword Dawnbringer seemed to have the full effect.

The watery entity was soon defeated but the overseer was never seen again.

DM Note- The random encounter table had a sub-table indicating that the Water Weird was protecting a crypt on the lake's bottom containing a mummy and some treasure. Um, so what? There was no way anyone could know that and no way for them to do anything about it if they did. I'm not sure what the purpose of that sub-table was other than to provide the DM with a secret rationale for a water weird in the middle of the lake. 

Several shifts passed uneventfully. At the end of the third or fourth rest, the captain woke the passengers. They had finally arrived at the tiny outpost of Jewelshine-on-Darklake. The destination was little more than a single jetty next to a hundred-foot tall stone pedestal, atop which was placed a combination trading post and inn. It was here that duergar boats met svirfneblin traders to take on cargo bound for Gracklstugh or unload cargo bound for Blingdenstone.

The fugitives unloaded their pack animals and equipment from the boat. Angolwen helped the two hidden stowaways, Topsy and Turvy, off the boat by disguising them as cargo with an illusion cantrip.

After disembarking, the fugitives stopped at the inn for a meal, their first cooked meal in many rest cycles, and caught up on local gossip, inquiring specifically about the disposition of their final destination: Blingdenstone.

There they learned that Blingdenstone was still being rebuilt after the last war with the drow and that they should expect areas that were still troubled by unwanted monsters and ghosts. Also, the city had recently begun to experience a problem with an infestation of both wererats and oozes, slimes, and puddings.

Half a shift later, the fugitives and their three pack lizards were prepared for a foray into the tunnels of the Underdark. As they set off into the cavern leading to Blingdenstone, Pain, who was bringing up the rear guard, was startled when he was greeted by the shrill voices of the twin deep gnomes, "Hello!" and "Hello!"
Topsy and Turvy

Pain's eyes grew wide, then became hooded slits as he bared his gritted teeth and sighed.

He asked how they got here. They told him that they had to make a fast getaway from Gracklstugh. Not only was the city filled with wererats for some reason, they were being hunted! They had to run away so they hid in the cramped hold of the first boat leaving town. Luckily, that boat reunited the twins with the rest of the fugitives!

The twins annoyed Pain for the next several hours, asking him inane questions and playing childish games.

Eventually they asked Pain where they were going, and Pain told them they were traveling to Blingdenstone.
Pain Grille'

The twins became despondent and threw a tantrum. They grabbed Pain's legs and dragged along the ground, begging to go to any other destination. Pain stopped and asked them why. They let go and crossed their arms and pouted, "That's personal..."

At that moment, there was a great tremor and the earth heaved. The tunnel shook and collapsed, hurling the fugitives into the collapsing void under their feet. They fell and were followed by the boulders and debris from the collapsing ceiling. Starhine and Mister Floop were both critically injured by the collapse but quick action by Angolwen and Ficus saved them when they were able to deliver healing potions to the injured party members.

DM Note- Everyone took 10 points of damage from the collapsing debris. Starshine and Mister Floop were both dead. Earlier in the campaign, I had set the expectation that NPCs had no dying condition. When they reached zero HP they were dead. However, I had forgotten that rule several times and allowed healing to save a dying NPC. Some of the players wanted an opportunity to save their beloved NPCs while others lobbied for stark death. I compromised and asked those who wished to save an NPC to make a DC 10 DEX save. If they succeeded, they could use a healing potion on the NPC. They made it. I liked this because success wasn't guaranteed and it sacrificed party consumable resources. 

The fugitives found themselves dumped into a cavern. Topsy and Turvy were nowhere to be seen, apparently they were separated by the falling cieling. There was barely enough room for them all to fit and they all crowded against each other. A passage led left or right. Kettle, Jimjar, and Ront led the way to the left, the rest of the party followed in a long procession stretching back to the chamber into which they fell. The pack lizards had to be squeezed through the passage, pulled and pushed from either side.
The long train

The passage opened into a room, part of some ancient subterranean complex. As Kettle, Jimjar, and Ront entered the room, the ceiling began to drip on them in large heavy gray globs. The globs were acidic and burned their flesh and armor. Kettle and Jimjar ran through the room into a passage on the right. Ront panicked and retreated into the passage from which they entered, blocking the way for the rest of the long train.
DM Note- This led to a hilarious scene as Ront refused to go forward into the dripping gray acid room, blocking the way and preventing the others from advancing. Pain was bringing up the rear and the train was so long that he was all the way back in the entrance room. Pain's player had us laughing so hard we cried...

"What's the hold up? Is it Ront? GODDAMMIT RONT!" and so forth for like five minutes. I can't repeat everything he said here, but it was a hilarious tirade of frustration. 

Meanwhile, Kettle and Jimjar, advancing into the passage beyond, encountered something entirely new. They stood facing a floating skeleton wearing the armor of a drow scout, surrounded by a dozen floating  coins, bits of chain mail, loose buckles, and a mace of black metal. Floating above the skeleton were two disembodied eyeballs connected to writhing nerves.
A strange encounter

They were staring at the strange floating skeleton for a moment, trying to figure out what to do when the skeleton "spoke" to them telepathically, "Hello. What are you?"

Kettle called back, "Um, Guys? There's a floating skeleton here and it's talking to my brain! What do we do?"

Virtue replied that they were stuck behind Ront who refused to go forward. Kettle gave an exasperated sigh and returned to the doorway of the dripping room. He looked sternly at Ront and shouted in his most commanding voice, "Ront! Advance, now!"

Ront stood at attention, took a deep breath, and moved through the room. The acid once again dripped on him and he collapsed unconscious. Virtue moved into the room, grabbed Ront, and dragged him to the other side where she administered a healing potion to save him. She then directed the dragon wyrmling, Santaka, to breathe fire into the room. The dragon did so and left the room a blackened scorch.

Virtue and Kettle spoke with the floating skeleton. The disembodied voice said that its name was Glabbagool and that it lived here in this passage. The voice was curious and wanted to know more about the intruders and what manner of being they were. It was intrigued by their solid yet pliable bodies, especially their rigid internal skeletons.
Kettle replied that, yeah, that was nice and all but told the skeleton that it was blocking the way and asked if it could move back a bit.

Glabbagool apologized for its lack of manners before observing, "Manners. Is politeness a thing? I've never been polite before, nor impolite. How strange! Yes, I will back up."

The skeleton backed up into a section of passage that widened to fifteen feet. Upon closer observation, Virtue and Kettle could tell that the floating skeleton, coins, and eyes were, in fact, suspended in a large cube of clear gelatinous fluid. Kettle had heard about such creatures and warned the others not to make physical contact.

When asked about the skeleton, Glabbagool admitted that it had no idea from where it came, "It was there before. That is all I know." Glabbagood ejected the skeleton and mace onto the floor. The armor was useless but Virtue took the mace and Kettle picked up the fourteen electrum coins.

Mister Floop was called forward to interact with Glabbagool in the hopes that the two telepathic beings would be able to communicate on a more fundamental level. After introductions and a brief exchange, Mister Floop confided in Angolwen that he was not fond of Glabbagool. Angolwen could tell, however, that the flumph was merely jealous of the newcomer for stepping into Mister Floop's role in the group as curious outsider new to the world.

They asked Glabbagool if there was another exit from this complex. Glabbagool said that it had been from one end of the passage to the other but it had found no other exit.

It was about this time that everyone noticed the floor had become wet. Water had poured from the room ahead of them and, after talking with Glabbagool, had risen half-an-inch.
My home-made gelatinous cube mini
They used the wide hallway to go past Glabbagool and found another room. This room, too, dripped grey ooze from the ceiling and once more Santaka was called forth to scorch the room before everyone proceeded.

The fugitives advanced down a long corridor that turned right into another wide hallway. The hallway was partially collapsed on the left wall, revealing a cleft in the wall large enough for a person to enter. Water was running out of the cleft like a creek. The right wall of the hallway consisted of four parallel corridors.
Angolwen entered the cleft and followed the passage into a natural cavern formed by the collapse of the ceiling. The floor of this cavern was flooded with several inches of water. The water streamed from innumerable cracks in the southern wall.

Angolwen returned to the party and reported her finding. They decided to explore the corridors to the right and selected the farthest corridor.

The walls of the corridor was floored with heavy flagstones and the walls were decorated with bas reliefs of strange swirls, spirals, and concentric circles.

Pain was sent ahead of the party the carefully inspect the way for traps. Pain tapped on the floor and prodded the walls searching for triggers. His search failed to notice that one of the flagstones was made of thin marble that cracked and fell away beneath him. Luckily, he caught himself on the edge and pulled himself up. Ficus, Virtue, and Angolwen rushed forward and helped him out. They saw that the pit was filled with a black pudding-like substance that quivered and reached out trying to grab Pain. Angolwen and Virtue cast fire bolt and hellish rebuke spells to destroy the pudding in the pit.

Pain was able to find the other false floors in the other three corridors and the party was able to leap across. The pack animals, meanwhile, were goaded to squeeze through the corridors and climb along the walls to avoid the pits.

DM Note - From the files of "Don't make the same mistake I made": For some reason, in my mind, I assumed the black puddings were stuck at the bottom of the pit and couldn't get out, so the spellcasters just blasted the thing until it was dead. However, it says RIGHT THERE ON PAGE 36 - "If denied a victim, or if it devours a fallen creature quickly, the pudding climbs up the sides to attack any dangling creatures, or to move into the hallway in search of prey."

In the heat of the game, I forgot this sentence and also forgot that Black Puddings have a 20' climb speed. This would have made the encounter MUCH more interesting! Not running this encounter as intended was a massive missed opportunity and I am so disappointed with myself for misinterpreting it. It didn't occur to me until later when Ficus' player pointed out that the black pudding encounter could have gone much worse since, "...don't they have a climb speed?" and I was suddenly kicking myself at that realization. 

Also, I only just NOW realized that I should have required Animal Handling checks for the pack animals. I mean, what else is the skill FOR???

I might have the black puddings return in a later encounter for some kind of "Final Destination" style revenge.

With water pouring in behind them, they found that all four corridors convered onto a set of intricately carved double-doors. The room beyond was scalloped with seven carved niches. Four of the niches contained statues that looked as if they had melted. Three of the niches were empty. The center of the room contained an ancient fountain with a demolished statue. Some of the niches on the left wall contained fissures from which water flowed, filling the room with an inch of water.

Angolwen cast a fire bolt spell on one of the statues and they suddenly came to life, becoming formless grey masses that oozed around the room towards the intruders.

Ficus, Kettle, Pain, Angolwen, and Virtue soon dispatched the grey oozes and searched the fountain for some means of escape. Instead, they found a hastily hidden sack containing over a hundred silver coins, a few dozen gold coins, three bracelets made of greenish gold, a finely crafted dagger with a spider-web design on the hilt indicating drow manufacture, a potion, and a vial of amber oil.

Having found no exit, they backtracked to the entrance and ventured into the unexplored natural passage. They found a cavern. Fearing another grey ooze, Santaka was once again tasked with scorching the walls. They found no exit. Instead, this room too contained a wall weakened by fissures from which water flowed.

The fugitives were faced with no exits and a difficult decision. The weakened walls obviously held back an underground river. Busting through the wall would grant access to the river and a possible means of escape, or it could mean death by drowning. They decided to take their chances. They returned to the chamber off the hall with the four trapped corridors. After tying themselves together with rope and placing all their armor into Ficus' magical bag of holding, Angolwen cast a fiery chromatic orb spell at the wall. The orb exploded and caused the wall to collapse. Water poured into the room from the river beyond.

They powered through the cascading water, half-climbing and half-swimming against the current. Ficus was the first to reach the river's surface, grabbing ahold of a rock to anchor the others. Everyone slowly made their way against the current. Kettle, Pain, and Virtue helped to pull the rope and haul the others up. Mister Floop popped out with little effort and hovered over the running river. Prince Derendil, Ront, and Starshine had a difficult time but with the help of the others were able to pull themselves out of the river.

A moment later, Glabbagool popped out, floating in the river like a large mass of jelly before retaking the form of a cube. Glabbagool moved to the edge of the river and commented, "How curious!"

Although everyone in the party was able to make it to the surface, the pack animals and the supplies they carried were lost.

Everyone clung to the river's edge wondering which way to go. They gave the magic arrow of direction to Jimjar and asked him to think of Blingdenstone. They followed the direction until they emerged from the river into a side passage, at which point the arrow ceased to function.

"Why doesn't it work?" inquired Angolwen.
"I dunno," said Jimjar, "We've been using it a lot. Maybe it only works so many times a day."

Kettle put his Underdark survival skills to work, finding connecting passages that led back to the path to Blingdenstone. From there they resumed their journey to the city of the Deep Gnomes.

DM Note- Escaping the river was too easy. The book doesn't even give any skill checks or consequences. It just says they do it. I made everyone make DC 10 Athletics skill checks to swim the 30 feet to the safety, meaning they had to make two checks. They all eventually did it, but there were no consequences. My suggestion is to add a penalty for failing the swimming rolls. Say, 1d6 bludgeoning damage from the current and the rocks. That would add some tension to the escape. 


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"Treachery on the Darklake" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 15

What follows is an illustrated dramatic retelling of my group's play through of the D&D campaign setting, "Out of the Abyss". SPOILERS for anyone wishing to play in this campaign.


A rag-tag group of survivors
escaped the drow prison at Velkenvelve,
witnessed the razing of a kuo-toa village
by the demon-lord Demogorgon,
survived weeks of travel in the Underdark,
thwarted a secret demonic cult
in Gracklstugh, the city of the Duergar,
and made a hasty exit from the city
leaving it on the brink of civil war.

They travelled across the dangerous Darklake
to return they myconids Stool and Rumpadump
to their home in Neverlight Grove
where they discovered a sinister secret!

Neverlight Grove had been taken over
by Zuggtmoy, the Demon Queen of Decay,
who was on the verge of converting
the population of the grove into
her loyal minions.

They helped the remaining unconverted myconids escape
and made their own plans for the next leg of their journey,
taking Jimjar to Blingdenstone
and returning to the Overworld...

Angolwen - Wizard of mixed human/elven parentage.
Kettle Bearclaw - Halfling baker living among dwarves.
Pain Grille' - Halfling street urchin from Waterdeep.
Ficus Asëa - a lost eladrin traveller, alone in the Underdark

Jimjar - a roguish deep gnome who likes to wager on everything.
Ront - Thuggish orc from the surface world. Follows Talorean's commands.
Prince Derendil - Elven prince in the body of a brutish quaggoth.
Starshine - A mute female moon elf, an escaped slave with no name.
Mister Floop - a friendly flumph.

Virtue - Tiefling paladin and a mysterious wild card.
Santaka - a baby red dragon.

Fugitives camped in an alcove several hours away from Neverlight Grove. There they set a watch and rested.

Angolwen, Kettle, Pain, and Ficus awoke in the Garden of Welcome, groggy as if emerging from a dream. They had returned to the moment following their vision of Zuggtmoy, the Queen of Decay. Was this a dream? Was it reality? Was the evacuation of Neverlight Grove all a fantasy? Angolwe, Pain, and Ficus all felt the altered reality of a dream while Kettle felt the reality of the situation. There was no consensus.

They heard the sound of moaning and revelry coming from the nearby cavern of Yggmorgus. They investigated. The ground descended into a bowl forming a swampy moat around the towering mushroom. The slope was covered by a forest of giant mushrooms. All along the spongy ground were large blisters. Within each blister was the dark silhouette of a being. Some contained humanoids, others were occupied by strange creatures of the Underdark: gricks, hook horrors, nothics, etc. Found too were many open craters, the site of former blisters.

Angolwen was inspecting a nearby blister when it explosively burst, covering her with pus and slime. Within the crater was a writhing being, an abominable fusion of drow and fungus. It thrashed and convulsed and cried out in agony before going limp, surrendering to a euphoric bliss.

The cries of the hybrid were met by hundreds more throughout the mushroom forest, like wolves howling in the night. The entire towering body of Yggmorgus shuddered in ecstasy in response to the howls. The howls died and became a chanting drone.

Soon, a throng of hybrid entities of all shape, size, and origin gathered in the swampy lowlands surrounding Yggmorgus. All moaning in chorus as they danced and marched to a silent tune.

To his horror, Pain could hear the melody. He clutched his head in a vain attempt to force it out and resisted the urge to join the dance.

The revelers ignored the fugitives. They began dancing around a mound that had newly risen in the soft ground. Angolwen saw the newly "hatched" hybrid disappear into the crater beneath him only to rise, erect, from the top of the mound at the center of the revelry a few seconds later. At the creatures ascension, the revelers threw up their hands and shuddered an ecstatic welcome.

The fugitives felt a call, an urge, as if summoned into Yggmorgus. As they silently approached the towering fungus, Angolwen and Pain's minds slipped into madness.

The revelers parted to allow the fugitives to enter. They passed through an antechamber dug into the base of Yggmorgus' mighty stalk and entered into a central chamber.

They saw Zuggtmoy hovering in deep meditation, attended by a dozen or more hybrid handmaidens. The handmaidens floated around their queen like grotesque cherubs, singing as they wove her bridal gown out of strands of fibrous lichens. One of the handmaidens tried to shoo the interlopers away.
Zuggtmoy, Demon Queen of Decay
The fugitives ignored the warning. Instead, as if in a dream, they charged to attack! The assault had little effect on the demon queen. Only when Kettle struck with Dawnbringer did the horrible entity open her eyes in annoyance. With a wave of her hand the party were instantly ensorcelled by a powerful charm. Another flick of her long spindly fingers put them into a deep sleep.

After being put to sleep by Zuggtmoy's magic, the fugitives wake up at their camp. They shared their experiences of the vision which all remember save Kettle.
Yestabrod, in case you forgot
Pain, Jimjar, and Ront were still infected by Yestabrod's spores. Other than hearing the haunting silent music and a slight desire to return to Neverlight Grove, Pain and Ront showed no signs of infection. Jimjar, however, began to experience moments of impaired intelligence and judgement. This greatly concerned Pain, who worried that unless the disease was treated, he might eventually die.

The fugitives continued traversing the river passage to the Darklake. When they reached the waterfall where they hid their lakeboat, they asked Jimjar how to travel to Blingdenstone. Jimjar admitted that he was lost. He only knew how to return to his home city from certain locations and this was not one of them. The party would have to return to Gracklstugh and hire a navigator to take them to a location where Jimjar could take over.

Pain likewise expressed his desire to return to Gracklstugh, citing his urgency to remove himself and others of Yestabrod's spores lest they expire.

DM Note- Although this was true, this was also a way to get Virtue back into the story. Virtue's player has reassured me he would return this week. 

The party decided to rest again before embarking onto the lake. Watches were set and the fugitives curled up to sleep on their stolen boat. Pain nervously bit his nails worrying what would become of his health.

DM Note- Pain's player did a great job. I couldn't tell where role-playing ended and where genuine concern over the character's future began. 

Late into the rest, Kettle spied a shadowy figure navigating the rocks along the shore. He called out and woke up his companions. The figure paused and, in a female voice, returned the call in a language no one could understand. Kettle tried again, the figure called back in Draconic, which Ficus could understand.
A Mysterious Stranger

The stranger identified herself as Maven Delve, priestess of Vindislane, and asked for permission to approach the boat. Permission was granted and she came forward slowly.

She was a moon elf from the Overworld. She had light blue skin and purple hair. She carried an ornate staff of zurkhwood and bore a red diamond painted on her forehead. She explained that she was trying to return to her home, a temple on an island in the Darklake, but became stranded on the shore when her previous transport was destroyed. She sought passage and offered her services as a priestess as payment. Pain asked if she could cure diseases. She said that she could but would have to pray to her earth god in her temple.

The fugitives suspected treachery but could detect no malice or deception on the part of the priestess. Nor could they confirm or verify her tale. Pain, seeing the effect of the spores on Jimjar, was desperate to be cured and convinced the rest of the fugitives to take her on.

Once on board, the mysterious passenger cast a spell on the boat and it suddenly moved itself at high speed through the water. She said that the journey would take some time but that they would not have to sleep again before they arrived. Kettle kept a wary eye on the passenger the entire time. He was always at her side and had his hand on his hilt. Ficus engaged the passenger in conversation, asking probing questions in an attempt to get her to trip up and reveal a falsehood. Like Prince Derendil, no one had ever heard of her homeland or of the god "Vindislane", but that was not evidence of falsehood. 

Late into the journey, Ficus noticed that the priestess' arms were not smooth but were in fact bumpy and wrinkled. When asked, she explained that she was polymorphed by an evil wizard.
Prince Derendil
Prince Derendil took immediate interest, asking, "Was it the fiend Terrestor?"

"The very same," answered the priestess.

"But you said you came from a different homeland than Derendil!" said Kettle.

"Indeed, for Terrestor has expanded his reach beyond Nelrindenvane and has conquered other elven kingdoms. Your people need you during this time of trouble, Prince Derendil."

Derendil looked morose while Kettle and Ficus looked on in shock and disbelief!

She said that she was forced to cast an illusion upon herself to hide the frightening appearance forced upon her.

Ficus asked her to drop the illusion, promising to respect her and tolerate her hideous appearance. She complied, revealing her form to be that of a foul withered old crone with green skin, stringy hair, and long claws. Her voice became coarse, wet, and guttural.

Ficus and Kettle looked on with narrowed eyes of suspicion, but since her story thus far had been so convincing and she had made no effort to cause harm to the party, they continued to their mysterious destination.

DM Note- The players, now wise that intelligent monsters could lead to treasure, followed the obvious trap back to the monster's lair. Very clever, those players.

A while later, the boat begins to slow. Soon after, the ruins of an ancient temple come into view at the edge of Dawnbringer's illumination. The temple rises directly out of the lake, the steps leading to the entrance descend into the water. The entire structure is stained with age and moss.

Maven Delve was the first out of the boat, climbing the stairs into the temple antechamber. She signaled the others to follow. She then turned and called into the darkened temple, "Sisters! Sisters! Come quickly! I have brought you a gift!"

"Sisters! Sisters! Come quickly! I have brought you a gift!"

Another wrinkled green creature emerged from shadowed passages deep within the temple, "What have you brought us, sister? Is it tasty?" Only later did they learn that the second sister's name was Nanny Plunk. Plunk's face broke into an evil grin of sharpened teeth when she saw the strangers at her door. "Yes! Yes! Tasty!"

The fugitives immediately attacked Maven Delve. She was overwhelmed by blade and Angolwen's firebolt. She tried to become invisible so that she could retreat but was cut down by Kettle's sun-blade.

Nanny Plunk was joined by a third sister named Dame Spiderwort, but when she saw that Maven was dead, she became enraged and attacked! Nanny Plunk was surrounded became invisible in order to flee. The fugitives directed their attacks at the third sister by the deep well in the back of the temple.

Dame Spiderwort shoved Ront into the well, who fell to the bottom with a thud, then moved towards the rear corner of the chamber by two large rear doors. She was soon surrounded by Pain, Kettle, and Prince Derendil. Pain and Derendil attacked with notable ferocity since their hopes were dashed by the lies of the old crones. Dame Spiderwort then kicked Derendil into the pit, but the quaggoth caught himself on the ledge. Dame Spiderwort was cut down soon afterwards.

Nanny Plunk then re-emerged from invisibility and attacked but was killed by Angolwen's chromatic orb spell which doused the old hag in poison.

DM Note- I was so disappointed that Maven Delve was killed on the second round before I could get all three hags in the same room. The players didn't know it at the time, but had all three gotten together, they could have cast some serious spells! Multiple Hold Persons, Lightning Bolts, Eyebite! I told them later how close they came and they all high fived and were so proud of their good fortune!

After the battle, they checked on Ront. The pit wasn't too deep and Ront was fine.

DM Note- I rolled 2d10 x 10ft to determine the depth of the well. 30 ft. Pfft. What a waste. Ront took only 7 points of damage from the fall.

Ront reported finding treasure at the bottom of the well. Along with a pile of coins and gems, they found a potion of extra healing and a silver arrow.

The fugitives decided to rest in the ruins of the ancient temple. Kettle and Angolwen studied the arrow and determined that it was magic. Simply state the name of a place that you have been to and the arrow would point the way.

DM Note- As far as I know I just made that up. I'm sure its in the DMG or some sourcebook somewhere. As rolled, it was a +1 arrow. Big whoop. I changed it when I learned that Virtue's player had just texted us, telling us he couldn't make it after all. The whole reason for returning to Gracklstugh was gone so I gave them the arrow in case they wanted to go straight to Blingdenstone instead.  Not knowing how far away Blingdenstone was, Pain's player lobbied to return to Gracklstugh anyway so he could be cured of the infestation spores. 

After resting, it beccame evident that Ront had succumbed to the madness of the spores. Ront began to momentarily loose awareness, as if drifting away to a faraway place. Pain's desperation to be rid of the spores became acute.

Desperate for a cure, the party risked exhaustion by taking no rests and pushing themselves to Gracklstugh. 

On the way, they were attacked by four Darkmantles. The octopus-like creatures dropped from the ceiling onto their heads, smothering the victim until they were removed. They darkmantles were soon killed and their skins were harvested for later.

Halfway to  Gracklstugh, they were forced to pass through a tiny passage. They got stuck and could not free their lakeboat. There they sat, worried about what to do. A little while later, another smaller lakeboat approached from behind. The boat was unmanned but obviously under some kind of control. A voice called out to inquire their circumstances. 
Stuck in a small passage
The boat was a small cargo craft belonging to Captain "Bareback Assbreaker" (DM Note- obviously, I allowed the players to make up the name), an obese Duergar wearing no shirt. Captain Assbreaker and his crew of four duergar were returning to Gracklstugh with a cargo of five piles of milled zurkhwood lumber from Menzoberranzan. Since Assbreaker needed to pass through the same passage, he helped them free their boat and accompanied them to Gracklstugh.
Captain (sigh...) Bareback Assbreaker
May or may not be a bear leather daddy.

The fugitives from Velkenvelve, exhausted from constant rowing with no rest, arrived in Gracklstugh in their stolen lakeboat. They were met at the quay by the dockmaster. The dockmaster immediately recognized the craft and notified them that it was the property of the Merchant Council. He asked how they came by it and they said they found the boat adrift in the lake and wished to claim salvage rights. The dockmaster shrugged and told them to take it up with the Merchant Council. In the meantime, he had to confiscate the boat and remove their belongings to the quay. Starshine and Derendil were assigned to oversee the offloading while the rest attended to business in the Darklake District.

There was a visible change in Gracklstugh. No longer did they see evidence of madness and insanity creeping in on the common folk. No longer was there a pervasive sense of dread and foreboding.
Pain Grille'
Pain was desperate to find a priest that could cure him of his disease. They found a holy man of Laduguer. The holy man examined Pain and told him that he was not diseased and neither were Jimjar or Ront.

Pain, shocked, looked at Jimjar.
"Had you goin!"

Pain's expression turned to anger.

"I got out of rowing for two whole days! Ront got out of it for only today."

Ront laughed a deep menacing laugh which unnerved Kettle. 
DM Note- I misread the way the infestation spores worked. I thought he had to keep making saves until he died or was cured. But if he made any of the saves, he was cured. We spent several minutes trying to find "Cure Disease" which apparently isn't a spell anymore in 5th edition. We looked everywhere (almost, more on that in a minute). I re-read the infestation effect and finally found the missing sentence. I was embarrassed. Pain's player was visibly relieved! He liked playing Pain and didn't want to die to a disease. That's when Kettle's player stepped in, playing Jimjar, "Had you going!" and that became the story! It was perfect and hilarious and everyone laughed! My only regret was that I didn't plan it that way from the beginning.

After resting in Grohlbrorn's Lair for a shift, the fugitives went to meet Ylsa Henstak of the Merchant Council so they could discuss their salvage fee. Ylsa was surprised to see them return to Gracklstugh given what their companion Virtue did.

"What did she do?"
Ylsa Henstak of the Merchant Council
Ylsa told them of the events of Gracklstugh since she'd last seen them.

"Since you left, it was discovered that there was a derro cult of demogorgon. The cult was using magic to affect the people of Gracklstugh, driving them insane. When they were destroyed, the cityh returned to normal. However, their destruction led to a derro uprising which had to be put down by the Stone Guard.

"During the uprising, there was a confrontation between the agents of Themberchaud, the wyrmsmith of Gracklstugh, and the Keepers of the Flame, those assigned to protect and control him. Themberchaud himself intervened and turned on his keepers to aid his agents.  The Keepers of the Flame suffered severe losses and Themberchaud became restless, demanding that the Deep King see him in his lair.

"At the same time, your friend Virtue, with the help of the Deep King's agents, the Darkhafts, had exposed the king's consort as a succubus. There was a terrific battle in the throne room and the former consort was forced to flee into the Underdark.

"The Deep King then met with Themberchaud, accompanied by the stone giants of Clan Cairngorm. Themberchaud demanded that the king abdicate his throne and turn control of Gracklstugh over to the himself. The Deep King refused, of course. There was a moment of high tension. The Deep King knew he could not kill the dragon. Gracklstugh needs him to light the forges and without the forges Gracklstugh is nothing. Yet Themberchaud knew that if he pressed the matter and truly threatened the Deep King, the stone giants would fight to defend their ruler and possibly win. The two sides were at an impasse.

"Eventually, they were able to negotiate a settlement whereby the city taxes would be increased to appease Themberchaud's desire for gold. In addition, the Deep King would turn over the baby dragon that Virtue had acquired so that it could be killed. Unsuprisingly, Virtue disappeared with the dragon before the next shift.

"The Merchant Council is very unhappy with this arrangement but we would have been more unhappy had Themberchaud been killed. The current arrangement is temporary and will not stand for long. The answer is a new younger dragon that we could better control. We would pay handsomely for that dragon. If you find Virtue, kill her, and return the dragon to us. You would be rewarded.

"In addition, and hopefully completely unrelated, there has also been a recent outbreak of arouranthropy - wererats - among the derro. We'd pay to have that taken care of also." The party, aware that the wererats Topsy and Turvy were last seen fleeing into the derro enclave, sheepishly declined.

Ylsa then paid the fugitives their salvage prize, 300 gold pieces.

In addition, they asked Ysla for their earlier promised reward - passage on a trade boat to Blingdenstone. She agreed and assigned them passage on a boat - their boat, under the command of its new captain, Flintstone Buttcrunch (sigh).

Before they left, they converted their sacks and barrels of gold and silver into jewels for easy transport. Their boat now had a new captain and a new crew, two Duergar and six human slaves. The fugitives secretly discussed the possibility of freeing the slaves but were concerned what would happen to them alone in the Underdark and were unwilling to protect them if they accompanied their adventures. They reluctantly decided that slavery was the best situation for them, under the circumstances.

While Angolwen rested on a sack of food, she was surprised to discover that the sack wriggled under her head. Upon examining the contents of the sack, she found Topsy and Turvy hiding within. They shusshed her to silence. She whispered to them, asking how they got here. They replied that they were being hunted in the city and didn't know why, so they had to sneak out. Also, the city was full of were-rats!

A tridon passed without incident and everyone was settling into a leisurely passage across the Darklake when, suddenly, one of the human rowers was harpooned and dragged into the water, only to be stopped by the chains securing them to the boat! 


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"Neverlight Grove" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 14

What follows is an illustrated dramatic retelling of my group's play through of the D&D campaign setting, "Out of the Abyss". SPOILERS for anyone wishing to play in this campaign.


A rag-tag group of survivors
escaped the drow prison at Velkenvelve,
witnessed the razing of a kuo-toa village
by the demon-lord Demogorgon, 
survived weeks of travel in the Underdark,
thwarted a secret demonic cult
in Gracklstugh, the city of the Duergar,
and made a hasty exit from the city
leaving it on the brink of civil war.

They traversed the Darklake
and were attacked by Merrow,
where they lost the paladin Talorean.
After exploring a lost tomb
and finding a magic sword
they approach the entrance to
Neverlight Grove, fabled homeland
of the mushroom men known as Myconids...

Angolwen - Wizard of mixed human/elven parentage.
Kettle Bearclaw - Halfling baker living among dwarves.
Pain Grille' - Halfling street urchin from Waterdeep.

Ficus Asëa - a lost eladrin traveller, alone in the Underdark

Jimjar - a roguish deep gnome who likes to wager on everything.
Ront - Thuggish orc from the surface world. Follows Talorean's commands.
Rumpadump - A shy and laconic myconid adult.
Stool - A myconid sprout that follows Kettle like a pet follows its owner.
Prince Derendil - Elven prince in the body of a brutish quaggoth.
Starshine - A mute female moon elf, an escaped slave with no name.
Mister Floop - a friendly flumph.

Virtue - Tiefling paladin and a mysterious wild card.
Santaka - a baby red dragon.

The fugitives from Velkenvelve were a few miles away from Neverlight Grove when they heard the sound of eerie cackling.  Sensing the need for caution, Kettle dimmed the light of his new sword, Dawnbringer. Dawnbringer objected, asking that she never again be cast into darkness. Kettle argued with his sword. Since the sword spoke to Kettle telepathically, the rest of the fugitives could only see Kettle having an imaginary conversation with his sword. Eventually, Dawnbringer allowed herself to be dimmed.
They stealthily approached and found an eladrin warrior surrounded by three strange hunched-back creatures, each with a single large eye in the center of their heads. They cackled and taunted the lone high elf, circling him.  "Poor lost traveler! All alone! No one to protect him! No one to save him!"  The creatures turned when they noticed the approach of the fugitives. They leered, laughing an evil high-pitched laugh, "The escapees from the drow prison! We know why you are here! You will never succeed! We will kill you first, then we will kill the eladrin!" The two sides charged into battle!

The creatures, identified by Angolwen as nothics, were soon defeated. The eladrin traveler introduced himself as Ficus Asëa. He had been tasked with escorting a group of Underdark inhabitants who were lost in the Overworld back to their homelands. After completing his mission he, himself, had become lost. He had heard that Neverlight Grove may possess a passage to the Overworld and was thus headed there. The fugitives offered to allow Ficus to join their band for mutual protection and safety as they made their way back to the Overworld. He agreed and they continued their journey to Neverlight Grove.

Ficus Asëa
The path left the underground river and followed an ancient dry riverbed higher and higher. They emerged into a massive chamber, nearly half-a-mile wide and over a mile long. The chamber was warm and humid and lit with an eerie phosphorescence. They stood upon a precipice overlooking a vast bowl filled with giant mushrooms, many the size of the largest trees of the Overworld. A lake could be seen to the lower left. Marshy swamps and mushroom forests to the lower right. To the rear of the bowl were clearings and hills and large mushrooms the size of domed buildings. Terraces rose to the left and right, stepping up the walls of the massive cavern. On the far side, a rift in the cavern wall could be barely discerned through the glowing mist, hinting at another chamber beyond.

Rumpadump suggested they go report to Sovereign Basidia and pointed to one of the larger mushrooms on the far side of the lake. They agreed and the myconid led the fugitives down a path into the mushroom forest below.

The fugitives carefully followed the narrow winding path that descended to the forest below leading their train of four pack lizards. Rumpadump led the way as they entered the dense undergrowth of what he called the Fungal Wild.

They passed through a dense area of growth and emerged into a clearing. In the center of the clearing was a mound surrounded by a dozen man-sized mushrooms. One of the mushrooms came to life and approached the party. Rumpadump stepped forward and the two began silently exchanging communication spores. Rumpadump signalled the rest of the fugitives to approach so that they can be exposed to rapport spores. They were introduced to Loobamub, the leader of the circle of hunters.

Loobamub welcomed the fugitives. The hunter answered what questions he could about the "Lady", of whom the myconid had never met, and suggested they meet with Sovereign Phylo in the inner circle.

"Wait, I thought Basidia was the sovereign?" someone asked.

"They both are." was Loobamub's reply.

Loobamub also warned the fugitives that the hunters have been tracking several intruders into the fungwal wilds and to watch out for a grick alpha a "mound monster".

DM Note- I asked the players if they wished to actively hunt the monsters, actively avoid the monsters, or ignore the monsters. If they hunted, I would have asked for a nature check to track it down. If they ignored them, I'd roll a fifty percent chance of a random encounter. They chose to actively avoid the monsters, so I asked for a nature check. It failed, so I then rolled for a random encounter.

As the fugitives made their way through the swampy forest, Pain and Angolwen noticed an upwelling in the spongy terrain. They warned their fellows and prepared for an attack. Suddenly, the ground erupted underneath Kettle's pack lizard. The largest grick anyone had ever seen burst forth, its tentacles flailing around the hapless animal, its beak sinking into its flesh and dragging it underground. The party attacked!

Angolwen cast attack spells which, to her surprise, produced unexpected and chaotic effects. She suddenly found herself teleporting!

The fugitives maneuvered to surround the worm-like monstrosity. Kettle held aloft the new sword, Dawnbringer, and allowed it to flare to full prominence, attacking the foul worm with burning sun-flame.

The newcomer Ficus cast his own attack spells and, to everyone's amazement, somehow summoned a unicorn from the land of faerie!

The unicorn reared up in a flare of magical light! Pain was immobilized with awe, muttering, "It's magnificient!" to which the unicorn boldly replied, "THAT'S RIGHT! I AM MAGNIFICIENT!"

The unicorn surveyed the scene, "I say! Is that beast causing you distress? I, Magnificient the unicorn, will dispatch it forthwith!" and charged the monster.

Meanwhile, Angolwen's next spell created an unwanted cloud of magical fog while the rest of the fugitives, with the help of Magnificient the unicorn, fought and killed the monstrous grick.

After the battle, Pain cautiously approached the shining unicorn, trembling with nervous excitement, "Uh..uh.. mister unicorn?"

"Yes, my diminutive friend?"

"M..m..may I touch you?"

The unicorn considered the young halfling street urchin, "Yes. Yes, of course you may!"

Pain reached out to stroke the shining beast's fur when it began to fade, "Oh no! I'm retuuuurrrrnnnniiinngggg...!" The unicorn faded into a quietly tinkling cloud of glitter.  Pain caught as much glitter as he could and held it to his heart, smiling. The glitter, too, eventually faded. Pain looked at his hands, which were now empty, and sighed with contentment.

DM Note- I have been playing D&D for 35 years, and in all that time I can't remember EVER encountering a unicorn in the game. No one else could either except for Scott (Ficus), who had encountered one once before twenty years ago.

The party continued through the wildes, unassaulted by further threats. Kettle was having a one-way debate with his sword.

The fugitives cleared the wilds and entered a kind of clearing on the far side of the lake. There were two building-sized mushrooms and a tall cliff beyond. Near one of the larger mushrooms was a mound surrounded by dozens of man-sized mushrooms and a ring of zurkhwoods. As the fugitives approached, the tree-sized zurkwhoods came to life and took a defensive posture.

Someone asked Rumpadump if those were myconids. Rumpadump replied, "No. They're more like.. those things," indicating the pack lizards, "to you. They do what we say but they are not myconids."

The zurkhwoods separated and allowed two tall myconids to approach. One was animated and friendly while the other was reserved. The outgoing myconid sprayed his rapport spores all over the newcomers and introduced itself as Sovereign Phylo. Phylo welcomed the fugitives as guests of Neverlight Grove. "You are safe, frienly meat-people. You arrive at a wondrous time, for Neverlight Grove is on the verge of something great, something marvelous! Celebrate, as the day of joy is nigh!"

DM Note- Whenever a myconid sprays his rapport spores, I would make an expansive gesture with my hands and go "Splplplple!" with my tongue and lips like a balloon deflating. It got the point across and the players started wiping the imaginary spores from their faces each time they met a new myconid.

Phylo told the fugitives that they were guests and could stay as long as they wished, inviting them to explore and enjoy Neverlight Grove, so long as they avoid the plateau and the chamber beyond. "The circle of masters is preparing a glorious surprise in the Garden of Welcome.. oh, but I have said too much!" Phylo covered his lower "face" as if to hide a mischievous grin. "Oh, I do hope you can stay for the surprise!"

Phylo was unwilling to answer too many questions about the surprise or the Great Lady they had heard about, saying only, "The Great Lady lives in the chamber beyond the garden. Soon she will answer ALL questions! For you see, that is part of the surprise! Oh! Once again, I have said too much! Tee hee!"

DM Note- My players immediately picked up on the fact that Phylo said "she", using a gender specific pronoun that was inapplicable to the myconids. I'm so proud of my players sometimes. 
Sovereign Basidia
The other myconid was Sovereign Basidia. Basidia was laconic, reserved, and looked embarassed by Phylo's gregariousness. Basidia offered to take the fugitives on a guided tour of the five circles...

"SEVEN! Seven circles!" interrupted Phylo.

Basidia made a gesture like a deep breath and a sigh.

...the seven circles of Neverlight Grove, an invitation that the fugitives enthusiastically accepted.

Sovereign Basidia led the fugitives away from the mound of the inner circle and towards a nearby small marshy pond. Basidia didn't say much but honestly, if somewhat reservedly, answered any questions put to him.

When asked why there were two sovereigns, Basidia explained that he used to be the only sovereign, but Phylo offered to help share some of the sovereign duties, an offer that made sense at the time. Basidia explained that he had come to regret that decision as Phylo has introduced lots of new ideas.

There used to be five circles in Neverlight Grove: the hunters, the growers, the sowers, the builders, and the explorers. Phylo had introduced two new circles: the inner circle and the circle of the masters.

Phylo has also introduced a new concept to the myconids, something called a "see-krit", the withholding of information. Before Phylo, all myconids would meld together, exchanging their rapport spores in a mass meld. Phylo has restricted meldings to each circle and the leader of each circle now melds in the newly created inner circle. On top of that, a few select leaders now meld in an even more exclusive circle of masters, which has been planning this so-called "surprise".

Basidia was not in the circle of masters and had no idea what the surprise was. Basidia had heard of this "Lady" but hadn't met her, nor did he know who she was. As far as Basidia knew, the Lady spoke only to Phylo and the circle of masters.

Basidia didn't say it, but the fugitives could tell that the old sovereign was uncomfortable with Phylo's innovations.

The fugitives were led to the swampy pond. There they saw over a dozen myconids tending to hundreds of small wriggling sprouts, each the size of a potato. Many of the myconids in the circle were constantly swaying and dancing to a silent song. The circle leader sprayed its spores on the group and introduced itself as Yrberop.

Yrberop explained the purpose of the pool to the newcomers. This is where myconid sprouts were spored. Yrberop bragged that under Phylo's direction the circle had begun a program of rapid population growth.

"Hundreds of newly spored sprouts would soon be ready to join the grove in time for the coming joyous surprise. Oh, but I've said too much! Tee hee!"

Yrberop happily greeted Stool, saying that the sprout had grown so big in the past few months! Yrberop explained that Stool was taken from the grove, along with other sprouts, by a drow raiding party looking for a source of slaves. They had harvested dozens of tiny sprouts when they were little more than puff-balls and taken them away.

Throughout the story, Yrberop was constantly interrupted by the tiny wriggling potato-like sprouts wanting attention. The sower would calm them with the spore equivalent of a tune. Yrberop eventually ignored the newcomers entirely, trailing off into a kind of lullaby song.

"Soon the Great Seeder will come
She will wed the Great Body
Every little sprout is invited
She will bring joy to all in the world
below and above"

Basidia led the party away and up a path that climbed the walls of the cavern to one of the terraces high above.

The tour ascended the path to one of the terraces. The terrace featured crude structures made of stones arranged in an imitation of walls and buildings.

The leader of the circle approached Basidia and sprayed his spores all over the tour group.

DM Note- "Splplplple!" 

The circle leader's name was Gasbide. Gasbide was excited to meet the fugitives. Gasbide deduced from their appearance that they were Overworlders and immediately began asking questions about the mythical land above. Gasbide showed a level of enthusiasm for a subject that was atypical for a myconid. The leader asked if anyone of the guests had ever seen a "building". He urgently requested details such as shapes, dimensions, uses, etc. Gasbide boasted that someday he would construct a tower larger and taller than even the mighty Yggmorgus, the massive towering mushroom in the chamber beyond. Gasbide mentioned that with the help fo Araumycos, the tower might reach all the way to the Overworld!

When asked about Araumycos, Gasbide admitted that it was but a name it had overheard. Something to do with the upcoming surprise. "Oh, but I have perhaps said too much! Tee hee!"

Basidia led the tour to a higher terrace.

The highest terrace was home to the circle of growers. The leader of the growers reluctantly sprayed its spores in order to meet the guests.

DM Note- "Splplplple!" 

The leader was named Hebopbe. Hebopbe was taciturn and grumpily dismissed all questions about the recent events in the grove, saying that was none of its business.

Basidia led the tour along a path around the grove. The path passed over the tunnel entrance to the grove and looped all the way around to the other side of the cavern.

The tour was introduced to Rasharoo, the leader of the circle of explorers.

DM Note- "Splplplple!"  By this time, the player characters were miming being annoyed at being sprayed in the face with rapport spores, wiping it away and out of their eyes and spitting it out of their mouths.

Rasharoo was wary of the newcomers but was happy to see Rumpadump. The two melded and Rasharoo's wariness turned into warm trust. Rasharoo explains that Rumpadump was one of the explorers sent out into the Underdark with Voosbur. When Voosbur returned alone, Rasharoo feared that Rumpadump was lost.

Rasharoo was highly suspicious of Phylo and has not joined in any of the meldings with the inner circle. Instead, it appeared that Voosbur had become good friends with Phylo and Rasharoo expected to be soon replaced as circle leader.

Rasharoo had grave doubts about this upcoming surprise. Strange things were happening in the Underdark. The explorer had heard stories of demon lords and evil cults, stories that were corroborated by the fugitives. Rasharoo said that it believed that the grove had fallen under the influence of one of these demon lords and that it had been preparing an escape plan in case anything should befall the grove.

Basidia added that it suspected Phylo of spreading a diseased spore during melding and that this spore originated from the Garden of Welcome. Basidia had not visited the Garden of Welcome and was very curious about what was going on up there with the circle of masters. Very curious. Basidia reiterated that the garden of welcome was forbidden to the guests, but a subtle nod indicated a path that led up the cliff face.

Kettle, Angolwen, Pain, Ficus, Jimjar, Ront, and Mister Floop (who could not be persuaded to stay behind with Prince Derendil and Starshine) reached the top of the path and found a wide plateau, higher than the terraces in the cavern behind them. Soaring zurkhwoods screened the area beyond. They moved through the forest of tree-sized mushrooms and entered a clearing containing a mound similar to those found with each circle. Unlike the other mounds, which were made of soil, rocks, and lichens, this mound was composed of half-buried bodies, some humanoid, some monstrous. The bodies were covered in lichens, molds, and mushrooms. There were no myconids or man-sized mushrooms in sight.

As they neared the mound of horror, they could make out the sound of moaning. The bodies half-buried in the mound were alive! Some of their limbs feebly moved and their heads turned! One of the heads was that of a female drow, calling out in Undercommon. When no one replied, she tried elven, "You... I was... looking for you... Please... for your Overworld gods... kill me!"

The fugitives cautiously moved closer. The drow held out her hand, clutching a spider medallion in the bloated limb that was once her hand, "The Great Seeder... trap... she's here... the Lady of Decay... Zuggtmoy... "

Suddenly, a massive shape burst into the clearing. It was the heaving bulk of what was once a myconid, a disgusting fusion of flesh and fungus covered in fat pustules that burst and emitted clouds of yellow, green, and purple spores. It spoke in a gutteral disgusting croak.

"Welcome travelers! I am Yestabrod! Are you here for the wedding rehearsal? Friends of the bride or her intended? No matter! Let the love of the Great Seeder embrace you as you become one with her chosen, the Great Body!"

The massive bulk was joined by four myconids, all members of the circle of masters, and the bodies of four of the half-buried drow, great mushrooms and lichens sprouting from their decaying heads.

"If you refuse, you will become sustenance for the circle of masters!"

The fugitives did battle with Yestabrod and its (his?) minions. Ficus cast an attack spell at a nearby drow spore servant with the side effect of causing lightning to strike three of them, destroying them instantly!

Yestabrod countered by causing one of the dead spore servants to explosde, spraying all around it with acid, then spraying a cloud of acidic spores over the fugitives.

With the spore servants gone, the fugitives directed their attacks at Yestabrod. Although the monstrous thing tried to delay the inevitable by absorbing another nearby corpse, the behemoth soon fell. As it did so, its corpulent mass exploded into a cloud of spores that caused everyone nearby to begin coughing.

With the defeat of their grotesque master, the remaining myconids fled in terror.

DM Note- I upgraded the encounter, adding two additional spore servants and two additional myconids. I also made Yestabrod's Infestation Spores attack be triggered by his reaching 0 hit points. It made for a nice "F-you" to the party as he died. 

The fugitives paused to search through the half-buried remains on the mound. They were able to remove a suit of studded leather armor, a fine shortsword - the only weapon not affected by rust, and a bag of holding containing two spell scrolls - remove curse and spider climb, forty days rations, and 320 silver pieces.

DM Note- Long after we finished this encounter, I realized a major missed opportunity. I should have had Voosbur from the Whorlstone Tunnels be one of Yestabrod's henchmen! Unless he shows up somewhere else later on that I haven't read yet. 

The fugitives then advanced through a winding defile that separated the plateau of the Garden of Welcome and the chamber beyond. From here they could finally get a sense of the enormity of Yggmorgus, the gargantuan mushroom tower, in the adjoining chamber. They were forced to retreat, however, when they heard the sound of singing and marching coming towards them. They backed out of the defile and hid amongst the fungal growth in the Garden to watch.

They observed a procession of vaguely humanoid creatures - drow, duergar, deep gnomes, orcs, orogs, and other unknown species, all transformed into twisted hybrids of mushroom and decaying flesh. They were all dressed in finery. The twelve females wore long yellow gowns made of lichen, the six males wore dark purple suits with long tentacle-like tails. They all paraded side-by-side, arms locked, in high-stepping fashion, singing the same song in unison:

From rocky bed the toadstool rose
From chaos dark, her love She shows
Wish! Yearn! Laugh! Ha Ha!
The Lady will be wed!
Crave! Hunger! Dance! Ha Ha!
Her joyous spores will spread!
Youth is gone and beauty rots,
Araumycos and Zuggtmoy!
Joined together, heart to heart,
Becoming one ’til death do part!
Hail! Hail! Ha Ha Ha!
The Lady will be wed!
When they reached the Garden of Welcome, the males peeled off to the right while the females to the left, forming a circle around the mound.

A handful of the half-alive drow buried in the mound became animated and awkwardly retrieved Yestabrod's nearby corpse. The corpse was dragged to the summit and held there like a puppet.

The last of the males climbed to the summit of the mound and stood waiting. Soon afterwards, the singing stopped, leaving only the eerie music emanating from no discernable source. The last female, holding a bouquet of mushrooms and lichen, slowly climbed the mound and stood next to the male.

Suddenly, all of the fugitives, observing in secret nearby, experienced a shared vision. 

They were suddenly bodiless and rushing towards Yggmorgus. Below them they could see a moat of ooze surrounding the massive mushroom tower. The ooze was filled with lumps and shapeless masses, the remains of thousands of corpses. On the other side of the moat was a cacophonous dance of thousands of twisted mutated flesh-mushroom hybrids. Among them was Sovereign Phylo, gyrating madly at the insane noiseless music.

They passed into Yggmorgus itself, spiralling up tunnels dug into its fibrous interior. They flashed past more of the strange hybrid creatures they saw in the mock wedding, eventually reaching a massive chamber located inside the cap of Yggmorgus.

There they saw a vision of a huge creature with the form resembling that of a humanoid female. Her hair was a large cap of lichen, her skin the color and texture of fungus, her lower torso appeared to be a massive mushroom with a split cap, from which her upper torso emerged. The monstrous being was wearing a yellow dress and veil composed of delicately woven lichens. She was attended by twelve female flesh-mushroom hybrid creatures.

The foul creature could only be the demon lord Zuggtmoy. She appeared to be in a trance while her thralls fretted over her. Then, as if she could sense their presence, she turned her gnarled brownish-yellow head and faced the intruders. She opened her eyes which flashed with evil. The fugitives experienced a sense of falling and suddenly woke up, as if from a nightmare, back in the dense growth of the Garden of Welcome.

The rehearsal party was gone. They had left the body of Yestabrod to rot on the mound of decay. Angolwen produced the Stonespeaker Crystal and used it to communicate with Yestabrod's spirit, asking it for details of the wedding.

Yestabrod was unable to tell Angolwen when the wedding was scheduled for there was no reckoning of hours, days, weeks, or months in Neverlight Grove. He could only say that the wedding was planned for a future time... later.

DM Note- I had difficulty answering this question. A) Myconids have no concept of hours or days. I had no way of answering this question. B) I couldn't find anything in the module that gives any sort of actual schedule for the wedding, so I had to break the game and say, "I honestly don't know. You're in chapter 5. The wedding is planned for chapter 16. You've got some time."

When asked about Araumycos, Yestrabod said simply that he was the Great Body, the Groom, a king that ruled a region of the Underdark far away, and that he had never met him and knew nothing about him.

Yestabrod did provide the following useful information - very soon the remaining myconids would be rounded up and brought into the Garden of Rot where they, too, brought under the Lady's influence. The plan was, in fact, imminent!

Upon completing the interrogation, the fugitives decided to leave the Garden of Welcome and warn Sovereign Basidia and Rasharoo.

Upon warning Basidia and Rasharoo of the imminent danger, Rasharoo decided to put its escape plan into action. The remaining two dozen uninfected myconids fled Neverlight Grove, passing through fissures in the rock too small for the fugitive's pack animals and equipment.

Kettle bid a touching farewell to Stool, instructing the sprout to follow Rumpadump's example and to stay out of trouble. Stool promised that it would someday mature and become an explorer and an adventurer like its role model Kettle. Kettle wished the sprout well and said goodbye.
My home-made minis for Stool (2nd and 1st)

Basidia then presented the fugitives with a gift of gratitude. The gift was an old chest containing several vaulable gemstones and provided each of them with a gourd filled with healing potions.

My home-made mini for Rumpadump
Kettle then shook hands with Rumpadump and the two groups then parted ways.

Later, once they had reached a safe distance from Neverlight Grove, Angolwen was examining the items they had obtained, including the amulet. The process of examining the amulet caused it to activate. Suddenly, they heard a familiar voice - it was Mistress Ilvara!

"Xinaya? Xinaya, where have you been? I've been trying to reach you for days! I believe the escapees are headed towards Neverlight Grove! Be prepared for their arrival! I am sending forces to reinforce you."
"Warlord Kettleborn"
Kettle's eyes got wide. He grabbed the amulet away from Angolwen.

"Ilvara? Ha ha! This is Warlord Kettleborn!"

"Who? I don't know who that is! I've never heard of you! Where is Xinaya?"

"Xinaya is dead! You'll never catch us! And the next time I see you, you will regret ever enslaving us!"

Ilvara cut the connection. Kettle looked smug.

The chase is back on!


DM Note- I should have been more subtle about not facing Zuggtmoy. The players were all gung ho to storm Yggmorgus and take on Zuggtmoy. I didn't want a TPK so I flat out told the players they weren't ready to confront her. Based on my advice, they left Yggmorgus alone and fled. The entire chapter then felt anti-climactic and it cast a major pall over having to leave with the refugees.

After the session, I re-read the Yggmorgus section and realized that there was a more subtle way to confronting Zuggtmoy without a TPK. I kicked myself over this missed opportunity! I have plans on reincorporating it in an organic way next week.