Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tomb of Annihilation Mini-Review

I picked up Temple of Annihilation last Saturday and have so far read the first few chapters and skimmed the rest.

My VERY brief non-spoiler review so far: I really like it.

It's set on the tropical jungle land of Chult. So no traditional European fantasy tropes - no elves or halflings or dwarves (at least not traditional ones). The human inhabitants are people of color and the non-humans are interesting and non-traditional.

The land is populated with dinosaurs, undead, and interesting non-traditional monsters from the original Fiend Folio (firenewts, jaculi, kamandas, flail-snails, and other favorites).

The story is somewhat smaller in scope. You don't have to save the world this time. You are hired by a wealthy person to find the artifact that's slowly killing her. She doesn't know how long she has to live but the experts with whom she's consulted say its only a few months. I like that the stakes are smaller.

The campaign is basically an unmapped sand-box setting with a number of interesting locations to explore in your search for clues that will lead you to the macguffin. The PCs explore ancient ruins, lost cities, crypts, etc. filled with Indiana Jones-style traps and puzzles in their search for the macguffin.

Also, it's only levels 1-10/11 so, unlike the other 5E D&D hardcover books, you don't have to plan an entire campaign around this one story. Only half a campaign.

The macguffin makes things a little more difficult for the players. You can't regain maximum hit point loss (from all the undead roaming Chult), death saves are 15+, and Raise Dead is off the table.

My only complaint so far is that the players aren't given a lot of leads at the beginning. They're told, "The Soulmonger is located somewhere in a land the size of Indonesia. Go there and find it and destroy it. BTW- in case you want to be paid, I have only a few months left to live."

That's not a lot to go on. You start off in the region's only city. There's not a lot of clues that point you in the right direction. The campaign assumes you just blindly start exploring cities/ruins looking for it until you come across clues that lead you to the right place. But the players don't know that at the start, so the lack of direction can seem daunting.

There are a LOT of interesting little side-adventures that have nothing to do with the main macguffin. My challenge is to point players towards as many side-adventures as I can without the players feeling like they're wasting time. I might remove the ticking clock aspect and replace it with "somewhere in the ruins of Chult is an ancient artifact that will give me eternal life - even after I die. Bring it back to me and I'll pay you a king's ransom!" That will keep them searching every nook and cranny.

My second complaint is more personal and has spoilers.

The campaign takes characters to an updated version of Dwellers of the Forgotten City (an old AD&D module) and an updated version of Tomb of Horrors (also and old AD&D module). This isn't problematic per se, except that I just ran my OWN version of an updated Dwellers of the Forgotten City in my own dinosaur- jungle campaign setting in 2015! So my players might say, "Hey.... waitaminute!"

My third complaint is the map design, which has a white hexgrid overlaid on top of a map with a lot of tiny detail in it, makes it difficult to read.
The big poster map of Chult
I would have preferred a plain flat color map without the unnecessary detail.

Favorite bits so far:


Dinosaur beasts of burden

Betting on dinosaur races

The blank Player's map of Chult - meant to be filled in as explored.

The default start is in Baldur's Gate with traditional D&D PCs or even existing characters. Syndra Silvane hires them to find the missing relic somewhere in Chult and teleports them to Port Nyanzaru.

I rather prefer starting in Port Nyanzaru with non-traditional PC races from Volo's Guide.

  • Human
  • Tabaxi
  • Aaracockra
  • Warforged
  • Goliath
  • Merfolk
  • Genasi
  • Kenku
  • Dragonborn
  • Lizardfolk
  • Firbolg
  • Shifter

They're not NATIVE to Chult, but they all find themselves in this exotic port of call for various reasons. Has a very Tales of the Golden Monkey vibe.

I'm going to have the characters start in Port Nyanzaru at level 1 and have them do some random exploration adventures PRIOR to hearing from Syndra Sylvane at all. We'll just play D&D in Chult for levels 1-5, having fun with Chapter 1 and 2. Then, once at level 5, the Death Curse kicks in. Twenty days into the Death Curse, only THEN will I have Syndra Sylvane hire the PCs to find the Soulmonger.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Check out Galaxy Pirates

Be sure to check out Galaxy Pirates - Enlightenment Gear Book One: Armor and Weapons  by Evil Robot Games (with help from Atomic Rocket Games).

It is available as pay-what-you-want. It provides eight suits of armor, three firearms, and thirteen armor and weapon enhancements for Pathfinder science fiction.

This is a trial product meant to solicit feedback and will be retooled once Starfinder is released.

Full disclosure: This is not a review. Nor is it a paid endorsement. I am not involved with the production of this book whatsoever but I am long-time friends with both authors Paul Fields and Jim Milligan. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lessons Learned from Out of the Abyss

I have run through the entire Out of the Abyss campaign. If I had to do it over again, I would do things differently:
  1. PCs escape with no gear. I allowed them to rescue their gear from the guard house during their escape. I regret that decision. It lessened the sense of dangerous survival during their flight.
  2. No rests during their escape or during travel unless they spend time and make some survival rolls to create a safe space to rest (Each character - PC and NPC - rolls Survival, total up all the results and divide by 15, that's how many people get a long rest). Just lying down in the tunnel and falling asleep should not count as a recuperative rest.
  3. I'd make an actual map of major passages between locations and enforce them. I did this towards the end of my campaign (see the map above).
  4. Change Sloobloodop and Neverlight Grove chapters to actually give the PCs something to do other than "witness exposition and escape".

    For Sloobloodop, I'd give the players a partial victory condition. They might be able to stop the ceremony from summoning Demogorgon or help the other kuo-toa perform a counter-ceremony to drive Demogorgon away temporarily, or find a scroll with Magic Circle on it. Something.

    For Neverlight Grove, I'd make the wedding ceremony imminent. Even if the PCs can't defeat Zuggtymoy yet, give them an opportunity to delay the wedding until a later chapter. Let them accomplish something rather than just learn about a wedding to be held later then wake up someplace safe.

    The players HATED being un-involved spectators in both Sloobloodop and Neverlight Grove. They wanted to DO SOMETHING. They even commented how Neverlight Grove was essentially a repeat of Sloobloodop structure-wise. Their lack of agency in those chapters fueled the players' disdain for the entire module. They were not fans.
  5. More Faerzress. I kept forgetting about it. There should be madness - all the time!
  6. I'd replace the Ogremoch's Bane encounter with an actual challenge cribbed from the playtest material.
The Hall of Miners
From the Hall of Miners comes a dull rumbling, like large stones rolling across the cavern floors. The low, narrow passage opens, revealing the entrance to the vast hall. A vaguely humanoid form made entirely of rock lurches toward you, arms raised to strike.

Gallus quickly warns, “Do not attack it unless you wish to drive all the elementals in the hall into a killing frenzy!”

Pechs gather in front of you and extend their hands toward the onrushing elemental. The earth ripples forward until it reaches the elemental’s feet. It charges on a few more steps, slows, then stops, its arms falling to its side. It lowers its head, bowing or admitting defeat, then turns and hurries back into the darkness.

The pechs then form a ring around you.

Gallus says, “We can keep the elementals at bay, and we will try to prevent the Raging Spirit from harming you. But when we reach the spirit, holding it back will take all our efforts. You must talk to it, if you can, or rely on your own powers to drive it away from here. Normal weapons will not avail you, but magic might. We promise to aid you any way we can.”

The pechs wait while the adventurers discuss a strategy. Gallus can offer a few more details about Ogrémoch’s Bane.

  • Ogrémoch’s Bane manifests as a cloud of dust, but when angered it is a raging whirlwind of gravel. Entering the whirlwind is likely to be fatal. The pechs can keep it at bay, as long as the adventurers stay within their protective circle.
  • The pechs know of no way to coax Ogrémoch’s Bane to leave the area, but that doesn’t mean no such way exists.
  • As Gallus said before, the pechs believe that the Raging Spirit’s existence is linked to Entemoch’s Boon. The pechs are not willing to help destroy the Boon.
  • If the adventurers suggest taking Ogrémoch’s Bane to Entemoch’s Boon, Gallus realizes that the doing so might render the Bane more vulnerable to attack. He tells the characters this fact. If the characters can lure the Bane to the Boon (see “Talking to the Bane”), the Bane’s presence makes the journey safe. The characters then have to fight the Bane in the Boon’s cavern (see “Fighting the Bane”).
Once the adventurers are ready to proceed, the pechs advance with them into the cavern.

When the characters move on, read:
It takes a few moments for the group to arrive at the center of the cavern. As you near the midpoint, pebbles and dust leap into the air, coalescing into a spinning cloud of debris. The cloud gathers speed and shape, forming into a bloated, humanoid mass with a snarling, bestial visage. Glittering black stones serve as its eyes, which swivel in airy sockets to fix on you.

The monster’s maw tears open, and it roars, “Who dares enter my domain? Kneel! Kneel before me, you insignificant mortals, or face my wrath!”

The pechs lift their hands to create a ward against the Bane. If the characters drop to their knees, the elemental’s curiosity is piqued, and you should use the “Talking to the Bane” section. If the characters fail to kneel, Ogrémoch’s Bane becomes enraged. In this case, go to the “Fighting the Bane” section.

Talking to the Bane
The spirit looms over you, and a deep laugh sounds in the cloud. It then says, “What have we here? Puny mortals, seeking plunder?”

The elemental entertains questions. If necessary, you can call for Charisma checks (DC 11 or 13). Some possible questions and answers follow.

Why are you here? “The gnomes brought me forth when they sought succor and comfort from my master’s hated brother, Entemoch.”

What do you want? “An end to the calling and binding of elementals. The gnomes call up elementals from my master’s service and enslave them. By what right do they do this?”

What will it take for you to move on? “As long as the miserable gnomes profit from Entemoch’s Boon, I will remain. I will undo their works and loose elementals they bind.”

What is Entemoch’s Boon? “Long ago, when the gods were silenced at the beginning of this age of upheaval, the gnomes of Blingdenstone sought wisdom from the spirits of the earth.

They received a blessing from Entemoch, consort to the princess of good earth elementals. This blessing allows the puny gnomes to call forth the elementals and enslave them. The blessing is within a cavern some distance northwest of here. I would destroy it, but I cannot do so without the aid of mortals.”

How can we end the Boon? “Topple the stones of Entemoch’s Boon. Shatter them, and the blessing will end. Only then will I move on. I cannot attack the stones, but I can give you the strength to do so.”

The characters are free to try another approach to persuade Ogrémoch’s Bane to leave Blingdenstone. Use the information presented here to weigh their likelihood of success. Reward creative thinking.
If informed, the svirfneblin endorse no plan to harm or destroy Entemoch’s Boon. Any svirfneblin who learn about the plan try to stop the characters from enacting it.

If the characters go to the Boon, read:  Three twisting columns reach up from the floor of this large, boulder-­‐strewn cavern. Bright runes wind round each pillar, and the earth thrums with energy here.

Each pillar has 100 hit points and can also be broken with a DC 17 Strength check made with disadvantage. Destroying any pillar ends the Boon and banishes the Bane. If Ogrémoch’s Bane is in the cavern of Entemoch’s Boon, it cannot attack the stones, but it can grant a +5 bonus to damage rolls against the stones and eliminate the disadvantage on Strength checks made to break them.

If the Boon is destroyed, the Bane disappears.

Fighting the Bane

The pechs raise a low wall of stone from the cavern floor, and the whirlwind parts around it, unable to pass their barrier. In a moment, the cloud of dust and gravel envelops their entire protective  circle.

Ogrémoch’s Bane has AC 15 and 100 hit points. It is immune to nonmagical weapon damage, and it takes half damage from (has resistance to) any damage not of the force or holy type. In the cavern of Entemoch’s Boon, the Bane loses its weapon damage immunity, but retains its resistance. The Bane cannot be charmed, frightened, put to sleep, or held.

Unable to reach through and harm anyone inside the pechs’ protective ring, the Bane takes no actions other than to whirl around the stone circle.

Flying rocks batter any creature that leaves the pechs’ protection, dealing 1d8 bludgeoning damage each round. Pushing through the ten-­‐ foot area of the whirlwind requires a DC 15 Strength check made as an action. Once per round, the Bane can slam a creature no more than fifteen feet outside the protective circle. The elemental has +4 to hit and deals 1d8 + 4 bludgeoning  damage.

If the characters grow frustrated in fighting the Bane, one of the pechs, grunting with the effort of maintaining the ward, lifts a round stone out of the earth. An instant later, the stone begins to glow, and the pech hands it to the adventurer. This effort causes the ward to falter momentarily, allowing the Bane to deal 1d4 – 1 bludgeoning damage to each character inside the circle. The stone can be thrown as a simple weapon, dealing 1d12 + the character’s Strength or Dexterity modifier force damage to the Bane on a hit. A given pech can create such a stone once per round, at the cost of weakening the ward each time.

Reward the players for creative thinking in this process. Give them 1d6 bonus damage for clever efforts. Increase the bonus damage if the plan requires weakening or leaving the pechs’ ward.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Land of the Magic Cows

painting by Patrick Woodroffe

Way back in 1985, my dad's family lived in a trailer near a pretty pond in the middle of the forest in rural Georgia. I would come visit during the summer and on long boring days I would go exploring around the property with my sister Jennifer when she was like 6 and I was 15.

I made a LARP out of it. We called it "Quest". She was Princess Jennifer. Her father, King Dwayne, had fallen under a magic spell that put him to sleep. Queen Brenda had been taken captive. (our dad worked at night so he slept during the day and Brenda worked at the bank during the day).

Her quest was to explore the realm and find a cure that would wake the King and return the Queen.

She had a backpack with essential equipment, a magic sword, a shield I made out of scrap wood, and some potions. I was the "Quest Master" and I would go wherever she went and narrate what was happening. She'd then act out the fights and challenges I laid before her.

The trailer was the royal castle of King Dwayne and Queen Brenda with a commanding view over all of Roney Valley (my grandfather, who built the pond and road and trailer).

The pond was the Inner Sea. The dock was the Port City. The dirt road was the trade route.

There was a smaller pond choked with weeds and trees that was the Swamp of Death.

My grandfather's memorial was the Necropolis where one might encounter skeletons and zombies.

The steep 10-foot bank next to the pond were the Cliffs of Insanity. There were caves in the cliffs (small dug-out divots) that were inhabited by monsters! A rope tied to a tree at the top allowed one to scale the cliffs.

The swampy area below the earthen dam was called "The Land of the Magic Cows". It was dark and cool and muddy and on the side of the barbed wire fence where cows could go. There was always evidence of cows but we rarely saw them during the day. You could hear them off in the field. So I said the cows were invisible and magic and ruled the forest!

My great-uncle Marion had a workshop up the hill from the pond. That was the tower of the Wizard Marion. The trailer next door was the stronghold of his warrior-defender, Prince John.

My uncle Tim's trailer downstream from the pond was the bandit hideout. Taking that dirt road was fraught with danger and ambush!

The makeshift tree house we built next to the dry creek bed near the trailer was her fortress keep where she could keep watch over the entire Roney Valley.

I drew adventure maps of the domain of King Dwayne and the surrounding realms and dangers. I wish I still had those.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

"Rage of Demons" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 46

Valerius clutched the bars of the prison cell and cried out in fear, "Alas! What shall we do! We are trapped with no hope of escape!"

Pain wept openly into his trembling hands, "I am useless without my trusty lock picks! We are doomed!"

Willow the Not-Witch put her hands on her hips and stood firm, "Worry not, fellows! I'll summon my trusty familiar. HE will save us!"

Ront began to sob.

Pain gasped, "But how? Phwee-Toop is too large to fit through those bars! All hope is lost!"

"Not Phwee-Toop," declared the confident wizardess, "I shall summon my OTHER familiar! BEHOLD!"

With a sweep of her hand a shower of sparkling glitter fell to the floor. Magically, out of thin air, formed a large slug.

"Benji, The Banana Slug!"

Ront tore himself from weeping and stared at the invertebrate with renewed hope.

"Benji," said Willow, addressing the slug, "Go over to that wall and fetch those keys! Only YOU can help us now!"

Benji began to crawl. Slowly. Deliberately.

"Go, Benji, Go!" shouted Pain.

"He can do it! He can really do it!" exclaimed Valerius.

"Ront eat slug!" said Ront as he licked his tusks.

"No, Ront! He's saving us!" admonished Willow.

Benji continued to crawl. He had covered an inch at best.

"Yay! Benji!" cried Pain.

The door opened and in walked a drow guard. He walked across the room and picked up a sword belt draped over a chair.

"Look out, Benji!" warned Valerius.

"Oh no!" cried Pain.

The drow looked at the slug, shrugged, and left the room.

Benji slowly turned his head in the direction of the door, finally ackowledging that someone had entered the room.

"No Benji! Stay on task! Don't get distracted!" cautioned Willow.

Benji moved a quarter of an inch towards the door.

"Benji! The key! We need the key!"

Benji slowly turned back towards the key across the room.

Another drow entered the room holding a roasted fire beetle leg. He walked over to a table and picked up a container of salt. He accidentally dropped the container, spilling some salt onto the floor. He picked up the container, put some salt onto the beelt leg, took a big bite, and left the room.

"Benji! Be careful!" advised Pain.

"He'll never make it! We're doomed!" cried Valerius.

Benji slowly turned away from the salt scattered across the floor a dozen feet away.

"He's doing it," said Willow, "He's really going to make it!"

Benji passed through the bars of the cell.

"Eventually," added Pain.

DM Note- My players made up an entire scene around Benji that pretty much played out like I quoted above, without the drow. 


The Demon Lords have escaped 
their prison in the Infinite Abyss
and have rampaged across the
subterranean realm known as the Underdark.
The surface realm is not safe
as their demonic armies break free
and ravage the countryside.

Five heroes forged an alliance
with the evil wizard Vizerian
and hatched a plan that will
hopefully defeat the demons
and save both worlds...
Ser Valerius Adeques - (PC, human paladin 11, male) Defender and champion of the old gods of nature, commander of the forces from the Order of the Gauntlet.
Ront - (PC, half-orc barbarian 11, male) Savage orc of the Iron-Thews tribe seeking redemption for his failures.
Pain Grille' - (PC, halfling rogue 11, male) Wily street urchin from Waterdeep, was turned to stone in Blingdenstone but got better, commander of the Lord's Alliance forces.
Cordon - (PC, human cleric 11, male) Morninglord, Holy Radiant of Lathandor the Sun God, on a holy quest to activate the Maze Engine.
Willow - (PC, human wizard 11, female) "the solution is always fireball!"
The Shield Guardian - (NPC, shield guardian) a contribution from Lord Zelraun Roaringhorn of the Harpers.
Phwee-toop - (NPC, owl) Willow's familiar.

The expedition escaped Menzoberranzan with the grimoire of Gromph Baenre.

They travelled several leagues through Vizerian's secret tunnel and stopped to rest at one of his several niches built for that purpose.

Valerius looked into the large diamond that contained the tiny form of Pain Grille', trapped within its faceted interior, "Yeah. That town can go to hell! I say we go with the original plan and summon the demon lords in Menzoberranzan. The drow are decadent and evil. Their very existence defies the natural order. They deserve to be punished."

"Right," agreed Ront.

Grinn Oustyll became agitated, "No! You can't! We had a deal! You said you'd find another place!"

"We'll talk about it later," warned Valerius.

After a logn rest, Grinn Oustyll said, "We must hurry. It is five more days travel to Araj. The drow may have found the secret tunnel and followed us."

"Not to worry," said Willow, "I can get us there much faster!"

She cast a spell of teleportation that instantly returned them to Vizerian's hidden home - Araj, the Tower of Vengeance.

"That new?" asked Pain.

"Yep! I've been practicing!" explained Willow.


They walked in on Vizerian wearing a bath robe and sipping a cup of kaeth with a halfling companion, "Oh, you have returned early! Kleeve, resume your form."

The halfling transformed back into a hulking grey slaad.

"Grey slaad can change shape. Did you know that? So useful! Would you like some kaeth? I have it imported from Calimsham. If you'd like to purchase some, I know a guy."

They declined.

"Very well, did you bring the book?"

They produced the book.

Vizerian was pleased. He gently took the leather-bound tome and began flipping through the pages.

"Then we can begin immediately," he breathed, distractedly.

"Wait!" said Willow, We have a request first. One of our number became trapped within a diamond. We were told you could free him."

Valerius produced the diamond containing the miniature Pain.

"Yes, a spell of imprisonment. It appears to be the work of my former pupil, Gromph. Yes. Bring him here."

Vizerian dispelled the magic of the diamond and freed Pain.

"Right, with no further interruptions, I will recap the plan so that there is no misunderstanding."

DM Note- There seemed to be a lot of confusion among the players regarding details of the plan. Some players assumed details that were incorrect, others simply forgot.

"While you were gone, I completed the manufacture of the Dark Heart. Kleeve?" The grey brute left and returned with a large purple gemstone in the shape of a heart. It was larger than a dwarf.

"You will take the dark heart to Menzoberranzan, where this all started. You will also take these bags of salt. You will sprinkle the salt around the perimeter of the city. The salt will create a gargantuan magic circle."

There were several questions and concerns about the salt.

"The salt does not have to form a contiguous line as long as it forms a rough circle! Anyway, take the dark heart to the center of the city. Use this sending amulet to alert me when the dark heart is in place. I will begin the ritual.

"The ritual lasts nine hours, so you can't let anyone disturb the dark heart! Your job will be to defend it, so you'll have to be inside the circle.

"Once the ritual is complete, several rifts shall open within the circle. The demon lords and their retinue on the Prime Material Plane will emerge through the rifts. The Dark Heart will magically compel them to fight each other in order to be the one that possesses the Dark Heart. You'll have to do your best to stay alive during this time because its YOUR job to fight and destroy the demon that wins! Any other questions so far?"

There were no other questions.

"Excellent. You will use the sending stone to tell me when it is done. I will teleport to the amulet so that I can survey the destruction! Is everything clear?"

There were nods of assent.

"Good. And to ensure proper adherence to the letter of the plan, I have taken the liberty of placing your travelling companions under my protective custody. They are safe, for now, and will remain so as long as Menzoberranzan is destroyed per our arrangements."

Vizerian stared at each of the members of the expedition, daring them to defy him.

Grinn began to tremble. He couldn't take it. He was about to break.

Pain interrupted the apprentice, "Valerius! There's like forty bags of salt there! Where did you get all this salt?"

Vizerian cocked an eyebrow, "I have plans that will require a lot of magic circles, so I bought in bulk. I know a guy." The drow wizard rubbed his chin, "In retrospect, I purchased WAY too much. I'm not going to summont THAT many... Why do you ask?"

"We can't carry it all. We're going to need our pack lizards."

"Very well, Grinn, go fetch their pack lizards from the stables."

"Wait up, we'll help you!" said Pain, wriggling his eyebrows at his friends, "ALL- of- us!"

Ront finally perked up, "Uh? Right!" Everyone joined Pain and Grinn in the stables.

On their way to the stables, Ront said to Valerius, "I can kill dat guy, right?"

Valerius, angered by the abduction of his charges, replied, "Oh, he's going to die alright. But not yet. We need him to perform the ritual," he cast a suspicious glance towards Willow, "I guess."

Once they were alone, Grinn blurted, "You can't do it! Please don't destroy Menzoberranzan! I will stop you!"

Valerius grimly replied, "Try it."

Cordon pointed out, "There are too many innocent slaves there. If only there was some way to get them out."

Willow agreed, "No. I have a problem with summoning the demon lords in Menzoberranzan. Despite their reputation, even drow should be considered innocent until proven evil. Individual drow should be judged for their evil acts. We shouldn't punish an entire city en masse."

Valerius considered this, "Where else should we do it, then? Gracklstugh?"

Ront nodded, "Yeah! Screw that town!"

Willow suggested the large quarry where they found the Adamantine Tower.

Pain, who had been patiently listening, finally spoke, "I know the perfect place. Hag island."

Ront pursed his lips in recognition.

"Where's that?" asked Valerius.

"It's a place we found while we were escaping Velkenvelve. It's uninhabited and in the middle of the Darklake. In fact, most people are afraid of it because of the hags that used to live there."

"Used to?" inquired Willow.

Pain grinned, "Yeah. We took care of that. Anyway, I have a magic arrow that can show us how to get there. We'll just need to get a boat in Jewelshine-on-Darklake."

Ront began laughing, "You should seen him! We told him he poisoned! Jimjar and Ront faked it! He believed! Him thought he was going die! SO FUNNY!"

Pain grimaced, "Yeah, hilarious."

Valerius then asked, "But what about the Warriors of the Gauntlet? They're being held hostage."

Pain turned to Grinn, "Okay, Grinn, we're not going to Menzoberranzan, but we're going to need your help."

Once prepared and assembled, Willow transported the expedition to Jewelshine-on-Darklake via a teleportation spell. From there they hired a duergar lake boat owned by their old contact Bareback Assbreaker to transport them to Hag Island.

DM Note- Willow could not teleport them there because she had never been there and it had been more than six months since Ront and Pain had left the location. She did not feel comfortable teleporting them to an unknown location.

Ront, for some reason, negotiated the fare.

"How much?"

Captain Assbreaker considered the request, "Oh, seven gold pieces each should be sufficient I think."

Ront paid the dwarf and turned to Valerius, "Can I at least kill HIM?"

Captain Assbreaker, taken aback by the comment, interjected"Ahem! Now it's seven HUNDRED gold pieces each!"

Valerius rubbed his forehead, "No, I'm sorry. My friend here was joking. We'll pay fourteen gold pieces each for your trouble."

They loaded the lake-boat and proceeded to the destination with Pain's magic arrow pointing the way.

As they neared the island, Captain Assbreaker voiced further concern, "We are entering dangerous waters. Hags haunt this part of the lake. My crew is worried."

Ront asked there had been any hag-related incidents lately. Captain Assbreaker admitted there had been none in many tridons but also said it wasn't unusual for the hags to become dormant for long periods. Ront assured the captain that they had dealt with the hags and that was safe.

A small island became dimly visible at the edge of the light cast from Valerius' sword Dawnbringer. The only structure was an ancient temple complex covered in moss and slime. The steps leading into the temple entrance descended into the black water.

Despite Ront's assurances of safety, the boat dropped the expedition off at the temple steps and left. Captain Assbreaker pledged to return in two tridons to pick them up.

The party disembarked and transported the Dark Heart to the bottom of deep well inside the central building of the temple complex. The well sat directly below an open oculus in the ceiling. Ront and Valerius then spread the salt all around the perimeter of the island.

In addition, Valerius used some remaining salt to create a small magic circle on a spit of land that would protect the party from the coming demons.

Willow used the sending amulet to notify Vizerian that preparations were complete. A hundred miles away, Vizerian began the nine hour ritual.

Time passed slowly.

Hours later, five glowing vortices began to appear over the island. The vortices grew until each was a hundred feet across. Demons of all shapes and sizes poured through the disk-shaped portals. Some demons flew. Some demons leaped to the ground. Some demons resembled giant insects. Some demons looked like humans. The demons instinctively began to attack each other. The island was soon awash in hundreds of demons in a grand melee.

Then the demon-lords stepped through.

Baphomet, the Demon-Prince of Minotaurs, emerged through a gate preceded by the nalfeshnee demon known as Slaughtertusk. The nalfeshnee was leashed to a long spiked chain. Baphomet's forces consisted of dozens of Barlgua and other bestial demons.

Yeenoghu, the Demon-Prince of Gnolls, emerged accompanied by demonic gnolls.

Grazz't, the Dark Prince, appeared with a force of flying humanoid succubi and incubi.

Orcus, the Demon-Prince of the Undead, emerged with an army of demonic undead.

Demogorgon, the two-headed Prince of Demons, crawled through with an army of multicephalic demon warriors and writhing tentacled beasts of chaos.

The demon-lords looked around in momentary confusion. Their bewilderment was short-lived as each immediately focused on the central temple and the prize within - the Dark Heart!

DM Note- I played out the ensuing battle between the demon-lords. I gave each player a demon-lord to control. They rolled off and they picked demon-lords in a draft from highest result to lowest. To give them an incentive to fight, I told them that the winner of the demon battle got to level up their PC before the final face-off. I gave them about fifteen minutes to familiarize themselves with their demon-lord. Then I rolled initiative.

Baphomet immediately charged his hated enemy Yeenoghu. The two traded blow for blow. Baphomet summoned up magical stone in an effort to imprison Yeenoghu but the hyena-like demon was able to claw his way out.

Orcus flew through the air and landed atop a wing of the temple complex. He bellowed as his undead army poured over the building to do battle with the demon horde below. Demogorgon waded through the demons towards his rival. The two-headed demon-lord climbed atop the temple and the pair clashed in an epic struggle!

Grazz't was content to let the other demon-lords fight. Grazz't used his magical powers to teleport across the battlefield. He worked in conjunction with his succubi and incubi. They took on the forms of identical mortal humans and magically disappeared and reappeared at random in order to confuse the other demons. No one was able to accurately track his location throughout the battle.

After Grazz't had decided whom he wanted to fight, he magically appeared next Baphomet and struck a surprise blow. This turned the tide of the otherwise even fight and allowed Yeenoghu to defeat the bestial Baphomet.

Baphomet fell and Yeenoghu cackled in hideous hyena-like laughter. The demon-lord drained the life force of his fallen foe, adding it to his own!

DM Note- Surprise benefit of killing your opponent! You got half your lost hit points back and all your spent automatic saving throws restored. I wanted to keep the survivor "fresh" for the final fight but I didn't want the players to know that when they started the demon fight.

Orcus and Demogorgon traded blow after blow. Grazz't appeared and attacked Demogorgon, giving Orcus the opening he was looking for. Orcus pointed his legendary wand of power at Demorgorgon. Demogorgon collapsed, dead. Orcus then absorbed Demogorgon's power.

Yeenoghu began hunting for Grazz't. Unable to tell one shape-changed demon from another, Yeenoghu attacked every humanoid in sight, destroying them in his search for the demon-lord.

DM Note- I didn't bother with the minor demons. They couldn't hurt the demon-lords and I didn't want to keep track of them. I just threw a bunch of demon miniatures onto the table and described the swirling mass of demons doing battle. Whenever Yeenoghu attacked a succubus, I rolled a 1d6. On a result of 1-2, it was Grazz't. On any other result, the succubus fell dead. 

Yeenoghu's was eventually able to hit Grazz't but the demon-lord simply teleported away again. Yeenoghu ultimately gave up on finding Grazz't and climbed over the central temple building and spun his spiked flail at the Prince of the Undead. Orcus, through invigorated by absorbing the life force of Demogorgon, was still drained and took flight to avoid Yeenoghu's deadly attacks.

Grazz't magically appeared on Orcus' back and attacked the demon. Orcus spun his body around and Grazz't fell to the ground, creating a crater. Grazz't simply got up and teleported once more onto the back of Orcus. Orcus flew too close to Yeenoghu and was struck by his opponent's spiked flail. Orcus fell and Yeenoghu absorbed his power. Yeenoghu picked up Orcus' mighty wand, sniffed it, and threw it into the black waters of the Dark Lake.

This outcome did not bode well for Grazz't. The demonic prince of decadence was out of duplicates. Yeenoghu bore down on Grazz't and quickly killed him, absorbing his energy in the process.

Yeenoghu turned his attention to the lesser demons, eventually clearing them from the island. Now Yeenoghu stood alone. He turned and faced the band of heroes huddled within the magic circle on the small spit of land at the end of the island. He charged the circle berserk with rage.

Ront broke the circle and charged the demon lord. Valerius followed suit astride his celestial lion. Pain likewise moved in to attack.

Willow took flight on her magic broom and began flying in a wide arc around the battle. Her hope was to search for and recover the Wand of Orcus. Meanwhile the shield guardian tended the pack lizards and herded them away from the battle.

Cordon called upon some ineffectual miracles and did his best pray for the health of his comrades. He eventually drew his mace and joined his fellows in combat with the bestial demon-lord.

The fighting was fierce. Though Yeenoghu caused grievous injury to his opponents he was ultimately unable to stand against their combined onslaught. With a mighty strike from his magic greatsword, Ront sliced through the demon-lord, sending the vile beast back to the pits of the Abyss!

The battle was won. The demon-lords had been returned to their prison.

Willow cast spells that allowed her to breathe water and sense magic. Utilizing her magical robe of eyes wich granted her unearthly perception she dove beneath the waves in search of the Wand of Orcus.

While she searched, the others rested. After an hour, Willow emerged from the inky waters with the wand in her hand, her face sneered with a sense of victory and superiority. Her eyes glowed with an intense power.

Valerius heard a voice on Vizerian's amulet of sending asking how the battle went. He told Vizerian that the battle had been won.

"Excellent! I shall arrive shortly to survey the destruction of that vile city!"

Everyone gathered together to prepare for the wizard's imminent arrival. Willow began casting a new spell.

A moment passed and Vizerian and Kleeve appeared out of thin air. Vizerian looked around and became enraged.

"What treachery is this? This is not Menzoberranzan! Perfidy! Deceit! Your underlings shall suffer for your deception!"

Valerius replied, "Nope. We took care of that. Your little apprentice is working with us. Even now he is setting our people free. It turns out he didn't care much for the destruction of his home."

Vizerian screamed in rage and frustration, "Then I shall simply kill you now where you stand!"

Willow quipped, "Nope! Bye now!"

She cast a spell of teleportation and the entire group disappeared.

They reappeared on the surface. It was a sunny spring day.

Pain, who had not seen the sun in nearly two years, collapsed onto the grass and laughed.


DM Notes - The Final Battle
The final battle between the demon-lords started off interesting but quickly became a slog. After each demon-lord's turn, I'd have to stop and ask each player, in initiative order, "Does Demogorgon take any Legendary Actions? Does Orcus take any Legendary Actions?" etc. So each turn became a complete round!

Since the demon-lords were essentially immune to any of the spells the other demon-lords might cast, it quickly bogged down into a slug fest. Each demon-lord, on their turn, would take a multi-attack. At the end of that turn each OTHER demon-lord got a Legendary Action. It quickly devolved into "Tail Lash" to "Claw" to "Tail Lash" to "Claw" to "Tail Lash" to "Claw", repeated ad nauseum.

Frankly, I was surprised Yeenoghu won but I shouldn't have been. Two factors contributed this:

1) Yeenoghu deals a lot of damage with his flail. 

2) Grazz't was a spoiler that did extra damage to Baphomet, causing him to run out of hit points before Yeenoghu did, then did the same with Orcus vs. Yeenoghu. 

The final battle lasted maybe three rounds. Yeenoghu got in some good rampage damage but ultimately couldn't hold out against Pain.

DM Notes - Vizerian
The players were done with this campaign. Frankly, they didn't really like it. They didn't enjoy adventuring in the Underdark and they didn't really enjoy any of the chapters as-written. The parts they enjoyed most were the parts I added or embellished - the Hag Island encounter and the Maze Engine. 

During the last session, I did my best to make Vizerian a jerk. The players REALLY wanted to fight him. But at the end, when Vizerian finally appeared, I asked them, "Do you want to continue next week and fight Vizerian?"

They said, "NO! No more! We're done!"

Next Week - I'll be playing for a while!
One of the players would like to run the game for a while, so I'll be taking a break from logging the events of our campaign. I'll be returning to this blog every once in a while to work on my next upcoming campaign - All That Remain, a D&D campaign set in the waning days of a dying Earth.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"The Tower Sorcere" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 45

Vizerian DeVir

Willow found Vizeran disgusting, debauched, and decadent. She was glad she was nearly finished helping him assemble the Dark Heart.

"I have completed all that you required. May I leave now?" inquired the wizardess impatiently.

"In good time, in good time," said the drow mage, "it will take me several more days while I complete the Dark Heart. Perhaps we should take a break and- well- have you seen my collection of shrunken heads? Many of them were acquired during my tour of the outer planes. They're delicious! Plus they have amazing hallucinatory and prophetic effects!"

Will sighed and rolled her eyes, "No! I'm leaving. I have to rejoin my expedition!"

"Fine," acquiesced the drow, "I'll have Kleve show you the entrance to the secret passage. If you hurry, you might catch up with them."

Willow grabbed her magical flying broom and was outside of the tower in a flash!


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

Having finally acquired all the ingredients.
Now they must deliver them to the drow wizard
Vizeran DeVir who must prepare
a talisman known as the Dark Heart...

Ser Valerius Adeques - (PC, human paladin 11, male) Defender and champion of the old gods of nature, commander of the forces from the Order of the Gauntlet.
Pain Grille' - (PC, halfling rogue 11, male) Wily street urchin from Waterdeep, was turned to stone in Blingdenstone but got better, commander of the Lord's Alliance forces.
Cordon - (PC, human cleric 11, male) Morninglord, Holy Radiant of Lathandor the Sun God, on a holy quest to activate the Maze Engine.
Willow - (PC, human wizard 11, female) "the solution is always fireball!"

Thora Nabal - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Sylrien Havennor - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Elias Drako - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Tamryn Tharke - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet) Gravelly voiced amazon with the hots for Feral.
Olaf Renghyi - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
The Shield Guardian - (NPC, shield guardian) a contribution from Lord Zelraun Roaringhorn of the Harpers.
Phwee-toop - (NPC, owl) Willow's familiar.

Ront - (PC, half-orc barbarian 11, male) Savage orc of the Iron-Thews tribe seeking redemption for his failures.

Ront suddenly began coughing, he tottered a moment, then collapsed.

Jarlaxle looked at the orc with concern, "Is he going to be alright?"

Ser Valerius shrugged, "Yes. He'll be fine. It's called 'Crypt Cough'. It's a chronic condition that flared up whenever one of us has a family obligation or isn't feeling well. We'll just leave him here if that's alright with you?"

"I see. Yes, of course."

The exchange was interrupted when a scout appeared at the entrance to the audience hall, "Sir! We captured an Overworld intruder snooping around the edge of the grounds. We think she is affiliated with the other Overworlders."

"Bring her in."
Willow the Not-Witch

The scout produced Willow, bound and gagged.

Ser Valerius confirmed her membership in the party and she was unbound.

Jarlaxle continued, "Where was I? Oh yes. This is as associate of mine from the Council of Spiders. He will give you some assistance and instructions for entering the Tower."

A young male drow approached the party, "I have prepared for each of you a scroll of invisibility." He stepped past Grinn and provided the scrolls to Willow, "It looks like you may now have someone competent to cast them," he said, passively insulting his former colleague Grinn. "Remember, stay between the guardian statues while you're invisible. The tower is protected by spells of alarm and warding. Speak the password I give you as you enter to disable the spell for one hour. How do you plan to move through the city undetected?"

Ser Valerius explained, "We will wear these piwafwi cloaks we acquired to blend in. If asked, we are Grinn's slaves."

"Excellent." The drow then elaborated on the internal layout of the tower and what they should expect.

So equipped, the party waited until the dimming of massive glowing pillar supporting the ceiling of Menzoberranzan known as Narbondel, a time when the city was darkest and when most drow rested. They moved quickly through the gloom to the city Bazaar.
Grinn Ousstyl

Grinn once more offered his assistance, "I can be an invaluable guide within the tower."

Ser Valerius declined, "No thanks. Willow's got this one. We don't need your help. In fact, you should just stay here and keep out of the way."

Grinn, dejected, sat down on a nearby bench while the others disappeared into invisibility.

The expedition moved swiftly through the city. They each held a piece of string to stay together and Willow had previously cast a spell that allowed them to telepathically communicate with each other. They moved up the center of wide stair to the top of Tier Breche. They gave the guardian a wide berth as they circled to the large spike-shaped tower to the left - Tower Sorcere.

The entrance into the tower was an open passage nearly a hundred feet deep that ended in silver doors. They spoke the password before entering the threshold of the passage. The door beyond was unlocked. The tower appeared to be empty, its residents sleeping. They were in a large gathering hall with a long table. They moved carefully, deliberately, and with stealth towards a stairway in the rear of the hall. The stairway took them to the library on the second floor. Willow stared covetously at the many racks of scrolls and books but stuck to the plan and moved with the others to a second central stairway.

The stairway passed the third and fourth floors and ended at the fifth floor. A vestibule was located outside the entrance to the sanctum of the Archmage, their destination.

DM Note- I used the floor plan from Elven Tower's Guide to Out of the Abyss by Derek Von Zarovich.

Tower Sorcere by Derek Von Zarovich

Pain produced his lock picks and got to work opening the ornate door. He broke a pick on the first attempt but, as his halfling luck would have it, the door opened anyway. Willow sent her owl Phwee-Toop inside to scout ahead. The owl, like the others, was still invisible. The owl flew quickly around the single large office, noting the shelves of scrolls and books, the large table, the smaller desk, and the large statue of a four-armed sword-wielding demon, before it returned to her invisible hand.

There was a flash and a sudden explosion of hot wind as a large bonfire miraculously manifested itself within the room. The fire radiated intense heat and seemed to have a will of its own. The fire elemental had been summoned into existence by the intrusion into the room but now the elemental looked around and saw no immediate cause for its summoning.

Fire Elemental

Pain and Ser Valerius, in spite of the searing heat, took up attack positions around the elemental. Ser Valerius struck! Pain followed up. Cordon, being a priest of the sun god Lathander with a catalog of prayers that generally produced holy fire and blessed radiance, was at a loss for action. Valerius and Pain continued to endure the intense heat as they battled the fiery elemental.

Willow stepped forward and ordered the thing to return to the elemental plane of fire from which it came. The elemental was unable to resist her banishment and it disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving only a bit of scorched floor.

Willow concentrated to maintain her banishment while Pain began to search the large table. He had barely moved some papers when the stone statue came to life, swinging its swords with a sandy scraping sound.

Animated Statue

The statue attacked Pain. The party went into action, distracting the statue and preventing it from attacking Willow. The statue was eventually broken apart and crumbled into dust and sand.

Once Willow was certain the banishment had taken hold, she turned her attention to the room. She closed her eyes and concentrated on any magical enchantments. The only source appeared to emanate from a tapestry hung upon the wall behind the statue.

Willow examined the tapestry but found nothing interesting about it. She pondered its meaning.

"Interesting," she mused, "I wonder what it is about this tapestry that radiates magic."

"It's not the tapestry," exclaimed Valerius, "It's whats behind it!" He tore down the tapestry to reveale a silver door! The door was set into the wall that couldn't make sense. Behind the wall was the open space of the stair well.

Pain once again set his skills to the door, but there was no lock to pick.

Willow confidently said, "I got this." and cast a spell of opening upon the door.

The door slowly swung open to reveal a yawning black nothingness like a black velvet drapery hung over the doorway.

Valerius reached out his hand. It disappeared into the darkness.

"See you on the other side," he quipped, and stepped into the void.

Doorway to Darkness

He was soon followed by Cordon, Willow, and Pain.

Pain found himself in a strange room. It appeared to resemble the inside of a crystal, with transparent faceted walls, ceiling, and floor. The room was barely larger than a bedroom. He was alone. He called out but no one answered. He sat down and took a nap.

Pain Grille'

Ser Valerius was standing in a short corridor. The corridor ended in a three-way intersection on one end and turned right on the other end. Other passages branched off on either side. He began to explore. More turns, branches, and intersections. He was trapped in some kind of labyrinth and he was alone!

Willow was likewise trapped, alone, in a labyrinth. She looked around and quickly spotted a door. She exited the door. Magical glowing crystals provided illumination. She was in a round room with a high ceiling that disappeared in shadow. A female drow was sitting inside a ten-foot wide circle of salt in the center of the room. There were stacks of books piled next to full bookshelves. A podium containing an open book stood near the circle of salt. Thick spider webs were draped over the bookshelves and elsewhere within the room.

A moment later Cordon stepped through the door.

"Maze?" inquired Willow.

"Yup," replied Cordon, "Where's Valerius and Pain?"

Willow shrugged.

The Inner Sanctum
The drow jumped to her feet. She babbled something in drow elvish. Willow and Cordon both shook their heads and shrugged. The drow tried again in broken Undercommon, "You from over! You me help! Me am trapped!"

The drow, using choppy Undercommon, said her name was Y'lara. She was a drow priestess whom Gromph had trapped within the circle. Gromph had planned on providing her as a demonic sacrifice but the ritual went awry and Gromph fled, leaving her here.

She begged to be released and offered to provide assistance. Willow was inclined to help but Cordon was more wary.

A moment later, Valerius entered through the door. Y'lara said something in drow elvish to which Valerius replied, "I can understand elvish."

Y'lara was relieved and continued her plea for release more eloquently using her native tongue.

She explained in more detail how she was a priestess sent by the Matron Mother to investigate Gromph's activities as well as his collusion with the Council of Spiders. She was caught and magically imprisoned within this magic circle, which she correctly pointed out was effective against fey such as drow.

Valerius was highly skeptical of her claim and prayed for guidance. The spirits of nature compelled Y'lara to speak only the truth.

DM Note- I set the timer on my phone for ten minutes, the duration of the Zone of Truth.

Valerius then interrogated Y'lara with a series of questions meant to expose the drow as a demon. She objected to this treatment and became impatient that she had not yet been released. Her avoidance of the question was enough for Valerius to conclude that she was, in fact, not a drow but something else- probably a demon.

The party did their best to ignore the pleas of the trapped prisoner as they began searching the room. Suddenly, six giant spiders descended from the ceiling and attacked! Y'lara begged to be released so that she could help fend off the attackers.

Willow sent a fireball spell into the ceiling, destroying several of the spiders.

DM Note- This was Willow's legit damage rolled on the fireball. Impressive!

That's a lot of sixes!
The spiders were soon dispatched and the webs were pulled away. The search continued, yielding several rare and valuable tomes, a large supply of valuable spell components, the grimoire known as Zhaun'ol'leal - "the Book of the Eight", and a hand mirror in a velvet cover. Valerius also found a large diamond. Trapped within the diamond was a teeny tiny little Pain!

Valerius asked Willow to inspect the diamond. Willow explained that it was a spell of imprisonment. Such a spell represented incredibly powerful magic. Dispelling it was beyond her capability.

Valerius asked Y'lara if she knew how to free Pain from the diamond prison. Y'lara grinned and said that she did. She said that it was, after all, how she was captured when she tried to infiltrate the tower and she had heard Gromph use the password to set her free.

She would share the password if someone from the party would break the magic circle and release her.
Ser Valerius Adeques
Valerius once more declined.

Y'lara became frustrated and finally dropped the pretense. She admitted to being a demon. Her voice became harsh, otherworldly.

Y'lara tried bargaining more directly for her release. Valerius entertained some of the suggestions but ultimately declined all her offers. Willow made the case for her release in order to free Pain. Valerius was adamant in his refusal but did suggest that he wouldn't stand in Willow's way. Valerius' concerns were enough to dissuade Willow from freeing Y'lara.

Y'lara eventually became angry. Her voice became a bestial growl. She began to melt, finally resuming her demonic form. The demon resembled a large viscous yellow mass with one large eye and several reddish tentacles. The demon shuddered in rage and lashed out impotently.

Y'Lara Reveals her True Form

Valerius, Cordon, and Willow took the book, mirror, diamond, and spell components and left the demon. She screamed in outrage as they closed the door behind them.

Willow cast a spell of invisibility upon everyone in the party and they made their way down the stairwell to the exit of Tower Sorcere.

They exited the tower just as the password that protected them from the magical alarm wore off.

The party retrieved Grinn Ousstyl from the bazaar and returned to House Dro'Urden.

They were granted immediate audience with Jarlaxle. Jarlaxle asked for the mirror. They produced it and handed it over. Jarlaxle thanked them.

"And now," he continued, "I must ask you to turn over the grimiore. As much as I dislike the idea of demon lords rampaging across the countryside, I cannot let it fall into the hands of that old lech, Vizerian. That would be even more dangerous! You will find another way to stop the demon-lords!"

"That's not going to happen," said Ser Valerius, "you're going to have to try and take it from us!"

There was a sudden commotion at the entrance to House Dro'Urden. The doors burst open and a group of warriors barged in. They were led by several priestesses and accompanied by hulking draegloth demons. Quenthel Baenre, Matron Mother of Menzoberranzan, stepped forward.

"Brother! I will have words with thee! I know that you currently harbor agents of the Council of Spiders. They are subversive dissidents and are guilty of sedition and treason! Those who harbor them are guilty by association! I demand you turn them over at once so that they may serve as an example to other radicals!"

Jarlaxle refused, "You are wrong, sister! There are none such as you describe here!"

"I will determine that for myself! Search the house and seize that book!"

Jarlaxle drew his sabers, "No!"

In the ensuing battle between the two drow factions, Grinn lead the party out of House Dro'Urden, "Hurry, this way. I know a discreet exit."  They retrieved the nauseated Ront and slipped away while no one was paying attention.

They retreated to the secret tunnel in Westrift and escaped the city of the drow.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"The City of Spiders" - Out of the Abyss, Chapter 44

Thora Nabal respectfully approached Ser Valerius Adeques with a problem.

"Boss, we have a problem," she ventured.

"Is it Tamryn?" the paladin replied.


"What is it this time?"

"She's being obnoxious!" exclaimed the exasperated Thora, "Everything reminds her of that assassin with the hare lip. She keeps looking at things and just... sighing! She'll sit there and just repeat his name over and over again! But that's not the main problem. Apparently everything she sees or hears reminds her of his genitals! She saw a broken stalagmite yesterday and called out his name! I mean, it was annoying when he was still alive and pining over him. But now he's dead and she's practically WAILING!"

"Okay. I'll speak with her. But I'm not sure what I..."

"No, sir. I'm sorry. That's not what I wanted to talk to you about. You see, sir, lately Tamryn has been taking double rations at every meal."

"Oh, that's not acceptable."

"No, sir, that's not- I mean to say, that is, what I'm trying to tell you, sir, is that, um, well, she's ah, she's apparently eating for two!"


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

Having finally acquired all the ingredients.
Now they must deliver them to the drow wizard
Vizeran DeVir who must prepare
a talisman known as the Dark Heart...

Ser Valerius Adeques - (PC, human paladin 11, male) Defender and champion of the old gods of nature, commander of the forces from the Order of the Gauntlet.
Ront - (PC, half-orc barbarian 11, male) Savage orc of the Iron-Thews tribe seeking redemption for his failures.
Pain Grille' - (PC, halfling rogue 11, male) Wily street urchin from Waterdeep, was turned to stone in Blingdenstone but got better, commander of the Lord's Alliance forces.
Cordon - (PC, human cleric 11, male) Morninglord, Holy Radiant of Lathandor the Sun God, on a holy quest to activate the Maze Engine.

Thora Nabal - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Sylrien Havennor - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Elias Drako - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
Tamryn Tharke - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet) Gravelly voiced amazon with the hots for Feral.
Olaf Renghyi - (NPC, human veteran, Order of the Gauntlet)
The Shield Guardian - (NPC, shield guardian) a contribution from Lord Zelraun Roaringhorn of the Harpers.
Phwee-toop - (NPC, owl) Willow's familiar.

Willow - (PC, human wizard 11, female) "the solution is always fireball!"

The expedition began their long trek from Araumycos to Araj, the tower of the archmage Vizeran DeVir. They had acquired all of the components necessary to construct the Dark Heart. Now they needed to return them to the archmage so that he could begin constructing the talisman.

The expedition was escorted to the edge of the lands of Araumycos by an army of myconid and animated zurkhwoods.

Their journey took them to Gracklstugh to repair Ser Valerius' armor. There they encountered an exorbitant toll to enter the city of the duergar. They paid for Ront, Pain, Cordon, and Ser Valerius but  told the others to stay outside with the pack lizards.

Gracklstugh seemed deserted. There was little commerce going on in the streets. The duergar seemed to be staying within the safety of their homes and compounds. Valerius found a blacksmith and arranged for the repair of his damaged armor. The armorer estimated six days. Valerius offered double the pay for three days. The blacksmith agreed.

Meanwhile, Ront was examining some weapons when he overheard several orcs talking. He turned and saw a group of three orcs speaking to each other but in an obviously disparaging way about himself.

He called them out and they repeated their insult that Ront smelled like a human. Ront demanded to challenge their leader for supremacy of the tribe. They called out their boss, Scridmak, outside.

Scridmak was the leader of the mercenary band of orcs currently in the employ of a duergar merchant. Scridmak was annoyed by the interruption and checked on the commotion. Scridmak was prepared to reply to Ront's challenge but a sharp rebuke by his employer, as well as the appearance of dozens of duergar city guard, stayed his hand. Scridmak was forced to back down and endure the taunts hurled at him by Ront as well as the disappointment of his soldiers.

Since they were going to be here a few days, Ser Valerius relented and agreed to let Ront pay for the rest of the expedition to enter the city gates and rest at the inn.

Later, the heroes considered their next moves over a mug of Darklake Stout at Ghrolborn's Lair. The dour serving wench exhaled a heavy sigh. Pain asked what was wrong. She said that with the current situation, there were few merchants in town and business was bad. Pain was curious and was about to ask for more information when Valerius grabbed his wrist.

"No! No more side quests! We're here for three days while my armor gets repaired. I don't care what's going on here! I hate this goddamned city! We're not going to leave this inn, got it? We're not going to talk to anyone, we're not going to get involved! When my armor gets fixed, we are leaving! Am I clear?"

Pain meekly nodded.

Three days passed. Valerius picked up his restored armor. The expedition chartered a lake boat to take them to Jewelshine-on-Darklake.

The voyage to the Svirfneblin outpost was unremarkable. There was a narrow passage with another boat coming the other way but that was resolved by the duergar crew. There was also an attack by cloakers but they were easily overcome.

The stay at Jewelshine was brief. The expedition continued on their way to Araj, bypassing a visit to Blingdenstone.

Ser Valerius, Ront, Pain, and Cordon left Willow with the rest of the expedition and the pack lizards as they navigated the narrow defile leading to Araj, the Tower of Vengeance. They entered the dark tower and proceeded to the top floor. There they met the drow wizard Vizeran DeVir.

DM Note - We joke around a lot about Vizeran and his decadent and exotic epicurean desires. So when they arrived in his audience chamber, they found it empty. Cordon used his magic seeing monocle to look around only to see the invisible Vizeran enjoying decadent carnal pleasures with the death slaad Kleeve. The interruption led to an awkward moment and ruined Vizeran's surprise finish.

They dropped off the accumulated ingredients. Vizeran explained that it would now take ten days to prepare the Dark Heart. In the meantime, the expedition was to travel to Menzoberranzan to retrieve the spell-book of Gromph Baenre, archmage of that city. The book was called Zhaun'ol'leal - "the Book of the Eight". It provided incantations necessary to perform the ritual and control the Dark Heart, plus other important notes.

Vizeran told the heroes that he had created a secret route to Menzoberranzan that would bypass patrols and other distractions. He assigned his apprentice, Grinn Ousstyl, to show them the way and act as guide in the subterranean city. He told them that he had allies within the city and that they should seek out the aid of the Council of Spiders, a group of male dissidents who seek equal representation on the all-female city council. They would help them.

The 72-mile journey from the tower of Araj to Menzoberranzan via the secret tunnel of Vizeran DeVir took six days. The tunnel was smooth and square with chambers and beds for long rests. Grinn remained laconic for the entirety of the journey.

Pain, noticing the drow's reticence, attempted to engage him in conversation. Something about Pain's genial grin and honest demeanor got through to the quiet drow. Grinn opened up to Pain.

DM Note- Pain's player asked, "What's the matter, Grin? Is  somthing wrong?"

Natural 20 on the Persuasion skill check.

I replied, "I'm glad you asked. Let me tell you..."

Valerian's player flailed his arms and interjected, "No no no! We don't care! Ah- Dammit!"

Grinn told Pain that he was once a student at the Academy in the Tower Sorcere. Ousstyl was a minor house but noble nonetheless. He was attracted to the Council of Spiders and joined their ranks. He became careless and his membership was discovered. For his crimes he was banished. This would be his first time back to Menzoberranzan. On the one hand he was happy to be returning home, even under covert pretenses. On the other, he was worried that he would be recognized and executed for violating the terms of his exile.

He then explained that he was specifically concerned about Vizeran's plan to summon the demon-lords to Menzoberranzan. He said that Vizeran had withheld some facts. The Dark Heart could be placed anywhere. Vizeran simply wished to destroy Menzoberranzan as an act of vengeful spite.Although he lived in exile, Menzoberranzan was still his home. He had no wish to see it destroyed.

Pain assured Grinn that they would find another location in which to summon the demon-lords. Menzoberranzan would be spared. Grinn was relieved but warned the others not to inform Vizeran of the change in plans. Vizeran would surely change his mind.

The expedition arrived soon afterwards, emerging from a secret door in the wall of a deep canyon known as Westrift. The bottom of the canyon was a dark carpet of spider-webs. Above was the ceiling of Menzoberranzan high above, illuminated in crimson light. Everyone donned drow cloaks called piwafwi to help blend in.

They climbed the canyon and emerged onto a rubble-strewn plain dotted by the ruined remains of once-great stalagmite homes. They started to make their way towards town when they were accosted by a drow patrol.

Grinn froze. He stammered and fought the urge to run away. Cordon grabbed the drow by the elbow to steady him. Pain stepped forward and answered in Undercommon, apologizing for the tresspass. Pain explained that they were slaves accompanying their master back to Tier Breche. He explained that his master's voice had been damaged in the demon attack and that Pain must now speak on his master's behalf. The patrol accepted the story, and moved on.

They moved through the residential district of West Wall and approached Tier Breche. There they saw the great wide stairs that led to the three towers that dominated all three aspects of drow life - devotion to Lloth, martial prowess, and dark sorcery. The top of the stairs were guarded by two giant statues of spider crafted of jade. Grinn explained that no non-drow could ascend the stairs. Though he had never seen it, the spiders defended the towers. Indeed, the spiders, it was said, could see all things, even invisible or ethereal intruders. Other spells prevented flight and teleportation.

A frontal approach was out of the question.

The party asked about slaves. Grinn admitted that he never really paid attention to slaves but he was sure there were some, perhaps serving below the towers. There had to be a slave entrance but Grinn had no idea where.

The party decided to find a way to sneak in as slaves. Grinn suggested they seek out the seedy part of town where many slaves could be found. Perhaps they could make contact with the black market and be smuggled in through the slave entrance.

"Great," said Pain, "Where's that?"

Grinn led them to Duthcloim, a drow word which, according to Grinn, meant "Manyfolk"

Duthcloim turned out to be a location for merchants, traders, inns, lodging for visitors, etc. It was not, as it happened, at all seedy.

Grinn took them to a pleasant establishment that served "tea" made from the "leaves" of something called a "bush" from the Overworld.

Pain held his face in his palm, "A tea house, Grinn?"

"Yes! Isn't it scandalous! They serve a bizarre concoction here made with Lemongrass. LEMON GRASS! I mean, what IS that? Is it a lemon? Is it grass? It's some kind of wizard's twisted chimera! It's like an OWLBEAR!"

"It's a tea house, Grinn! This is your idea of a seedy part of town? This neighborhood is NICE!"

Grinn admitted that because he was of a minor noble house, this was about as seedy as he got when he went slumming with the other young drow from the Academy. There were commoners here and everything!


The heroes quickly decided on a Plan-B. Since they were in Duthcloim already, they sought out a stonemason.

They found one nearby. Pain asked the stonemason for a pedestal, pointing out that it needed to be delivered to Tower Sorcere, "No questions asked."

"No questions? Oh, is this connected to Council of Spiders?" inquired the mason, conspiratorally.

"Maybe?" replied Pain, hesitantly.

"Well perhaps we could arrange a delivery- no questions asked," added the mason.

Pain's eyes narrowed in guarded confusion, "Yes. We could. That's- what I said."

"Of course," continued the mason, with a long pause.

"Rrrrright," replied Pain.

There was a long awkward silence as the stonemason stared intently at Pain.

The stonemason reluctantly broke the silence and, in a voice of resigned disappointment, said, "Right, well, I supposed I have a nice pedestal made of onyx. It's just the thing. Let me go get that for you."

The stonemason left through an exit in the rear, no doubt to retrieve the pedestal from an adjoining storeroom. He was gone for several minutes. When he finally returned, he was accompanied by two svirfneblin slaves carrying the pedestal which was now wrapped for transport.

"Well, here it is," the mason paused once more, "Are we sure this is- all?"

Pain glanced sideways at the artisan, "I- think so?"

Ser Valerius, growing more and more impatient at the entire exchange, finally interrupted, "Oh for fuck's sake! He's asking for a bribe! Ront! Pay the man 100 gold!"

Ront produced a small pouch with 100 gold coins.

The stonemason picked up the pouch, "Oh, excellent! I'm um- I'm glad we finally came to an arrangement!" The stonemason looked nervously towards the rear exit of his shop.

The svirfneblin slaves looked towards the party for directions. Valerius instructed them to deliver the pedestal to the slave entrance of Tier Breche and that they would accompany them. The svirfneblin shrugged and trotted off.

The party exited the artisan's shop only to encounter a drow patrol.

"Stop! This shopkeeper informed us that you had business with the Council of Spiders! We have orders to take you directly to the Matron Mother for questioning. Come with us!"

The party was taken to the far side of the city and into an imposing castle surrounded by fortifications. They were escorted into an audience chamber and made to wait. They were warned to not speak and to only answer questions when directly addressed.

A herald announced the impending approach of Quenthel Baenre, the Matron Mother of Menzoberranzan. The Matron Mother appeared at the top of a staircase. She descended smoothly as if gliding. She was standing on a carpet of hundreds of large spiders that carried her. She never moved her feet.

The spiders delivered the Matron Mother to a high throne carved from smooth black marble.

Quenthel Baenre told them that they were detained because of their mention of the Council of Spiders. She recognized Grinn and reminded him of his exile. She asked Grinn why he had returned with these Overworlders. Grinn was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Pain and Cordon both sensed Grinn's anxiety but managed to keep him from blurting out everything he knew.

Instead, Pain asked for and received permission to speak on behalf of the group. Pain explained that the group had a plan to destroy the demon lords currently loose in the Underdark. In order to do this, they required a book that belonged to Gromph Baenre. The book was located in the Tower Sorcere. They were simply seeking access to the tower in order to retrieve the book.

The Matron Mother approved of the overall mission but told them they would never be able to approach Tower Sorcere by themselves.

Instead, she offered an exchange. She explained that Gromph Baenre was her brother and that he had gone missing soon after the appearance of Demogorgon in Menzoberranzan. She believed that he had been captured by the Council of Spiders, which is why she brought them here today.

She wished to leverage Grinn's former connection to the Council of Spiders. She commanded them to find out what the Council did with her brother and return that information to her.

In exchange, they could travel freely through Menzoberranzan. In addition, she offered an end to Grinn's exile and she would even grant them access to the Tower Sorcere. The interior of the tower was beyond the reach of her authority. Once they were inside, it was up to them.

"If, the next time I see you, you are not able to tell me where I can find my brother, I will have you all executed as spies! Am I understood?"

They agreed.

DM Note- Our group has a thing they call "the Quest Cart". It's a metaphorical cart where they throw all their quests and objectives. Sometimes, during the course of this campaign, the Quest Cart can fill up as new quests get piled on. 

Valerius' player, in his continuing effort to keep things simple as we head into the endgame of this campaign, ordered that the Quest Cart be covered with a heavy tarp. 

When they were first led to the Matron Mother, Valerius' player asked, "Alright, who lifted the tarp off the quest cart? There's a corner exposed!"

Later, after their audience, Valerius' player said, "Dammit! The entire tarp is gone! Did it just blow completely away?"

Pain's player said, "No, look! Ront's wearing the tarp like a superhero cape!"

Ront's player mimed a heroic pose.

"Dammit, Ront!"

Grinn led them to a safe house he used to frequent when he was affiliated with the Council of Spiders. The safe house was decorated like a hangout for bohemian radicals. It was well stocked with comfortable seating, books and scrolls of forbidden philosophies, games to pass the time, and exotic mind-altering beverages. Grinn made contact with a former friend of his and requested to meet with the Council of Spiders. They were told to wait there.

Eventually, a drow warrior came and asked the party to follow him. The messenger  led them to the moldering ruins of House Dro'Urden. They were led into a large hollow stalagmite and into a dark parlor. There they met a dashing drow with a wide-brimmed hat and an eye-patch. He introduced himself as Jarlaxle, leader of the Bregan D'Aaerthe mercenary company.

"We want to speak with the Council of Spiders," said Valerius.

"Yes, well, I am not they," replied Jarlaxle, "But they ARE clients of mine and they have asked me to represent them. I understand that you are trying to infiltrate the Tower Sorcere. Why is that?"

Grinn couldn't take it anymore. Cordon tried to step on Grinn's foot but he was too late to stop the drow from blurting out, "We need to speak with the Council of Spiders! I have to find out what they've done with Gromph Baenre! OUCH!"

Pain and Valerius hid their faces in their palms and sighed.

Jarlaxle was taken aback, "My brother? What does he have to do with this?"

Since the cat was out of the bag, Pain spelled it out plainly, explaining that they were working with Vizeran DeVir on a plan to banish the demon-lords to the Abyss and that the Matron Mother had tasked them with finding where the Council of Spiders had hidden Gromph.

Jarlaxle chuckled, "Vizeran? I thought that old jackal was dead! I would not trust him if I were you. In any case, I could not tell you where Gromph is currently located. It's a mystery! As for the demon-lords, I can tell you, they have already reached the surface. Even now, they ravage the countryside and gather their demonic armies. It is only a matter of time before they assault the cities and reclaim all of Faerun. I enjoy the surface. I have no desire to see it ruined so. That is why I wish to assist you."

Jarlaxle said that the Council of Spiders would provide them with spell scrolls that would allow them to pass invisibly between the jade spider guardians for they could not sense the presence of invisible intruders within a sixty-foot span directly between them. In addition, they would be told a secret password that would allow them to enter into the tower without activating the magical wards that protect it.

All they had to do was find a hand mirror located somewhere in Gromph's chambers. The mirror would be covered by a cloth. It was imperative they not look into the mirror.

"Will you do this?"

The party agreed to return to Jarlaxle the crystal he described.

DM Note- and another quest was added to the Quest Cart.


DM Notes-

This was a fun week. No fights, all role-playing. Lots of improvisation.

Grinn just kind of worked out to be someone who crumpled easily under the slightest pressure, which made him terrible at keeping secrets. His backstory seems to support that. It also allowed me to redirect all the role-playing to the players. There's nothing I hate more as a DM than having two NPCs interact with each other. NPCs should interact with players only.

I really improvised a lot of the Menzoberranzan political machinations on the spot. In the original book, once the factions know what you are doing, they just decide to help you. That's it. I wanted to make it deeper, more layered. I wanted the factions to be scheming against each other and I wanted the PCs to get caught up in that - or not as they saw fit.

So I added the quest that the Matron Mother is looking for her brother. She believes that her brother was secretly a member of the Council of Spiders and that the summoning of Demogorgon was part of a plot to destabilize the matriarchy. She wishes to interrogate her brother and arrest his co-conspirators and eliminate the Council of Spiders once and for all. 

I also added Jarlaxle's quest for SPOILER reasons. 

We're heading into the end-game. I want the finale to be a full-session battle royale. This means I'm going to pad out the Menzoberranzan schemes for another full session before that. So we're probably looking at two sessions left in this campaign.