Wednesday, May 30, 2018

"The Oracle of Orolunga" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 16



It was the night of their eleventh day of travel. They had arrived at the ruins where they had earlier encountered deadly man-eating plants! The ruins were a defensible location and they ensured no man-eating plants were nearby and set up camp.

It was near midnight and Apparently was on watch. It was raining and everyone was gathered under canvas tarpaulins. Apparently scanned the dark forest for danger.

Her attention was drawn to the roof of one of the nearby ruins. A large white-furred simian with four arms leaped onto the roof, its pale face illuminated by the dimly glowing embers of the fire. Then she saw another. She called the alarm.


CHAPTER 16, "THE ORACLE OF OROLUNGA"

THE EXPEDITION
  • Bramble Wolf - a theran barbarian wise-man (Wildhunt Shifter Druid) searching for the legendary origin of his tribe.
  • Apparently Jones - a blue-skinned demijin caravan guide and animal trainer (Air Genasi Ranger) from Akasa, the land of sky mountains. Having failed to find work in Port Nyanzaru as an animal handler, she has joined the expedition to the interior as a scout.
  • Chak'sa - Apparently's honker (parasaurolophus) companion.
  • Xoc-Wik - a b'alam warrior (Tabaxi Fighter) from the jungles of Bres, searching for those responsible for the destruction of his tribe.
  • Zeynap Shiravadakar - a Eusebean smuggler (Human Warlock) bearing the spirit of a celestial unicorn.
  • Argent Truth-Sayer - a golden azi knight errant of Bahamut (Dragonborn Paladin) in the service of Bahamut, sent on a holy mission to join the expedition to destroy the Soul Monger. 
NPCs
  • Eku - a mysterious shape-changing wise-woman from Chult, hired as a guide.
  • Tony and Vinnie - rough and tumble dinosaur wranglers who wished to learn from Apparently, possibly from 19th century Boston on Earth. 

GIRALLONS IN THE MIST


Apparently sprang into action. She ran through the camp shouting for everyone wake up, kicking everyone's tents as she dashed towards Chak'sa. 

Zeynap pulled his blanket over his head and rolled over.

One of the large four-armed gorillas jumped off his perch and landed near Xoc-Wik's sleeping form. He grabbed the b'alam's leg and began dragging him away towards the jungle. 


A second white-furred four-armed gorilla ran forward and grabbed Apparently by the arm. Argent rushed to her aid and engaged the creature.

A third creature approached from the left flank. Bramble called forth the spirits of nature and turned the gentle night rain into a thundercloud hovering over the camp. The thundercloud showered bolts of lightning on the four-armed gorilla.  Eku transformed herself into a bear and engaged the monster in claw-to-claw combat.

Zeynap eventually woke up and took in the scene of battle. Eku's bear form had been beaten by a four-armed gorilla and she had transformed back into the form of a middle-aged Chultan woman. Argent was battling a second four-armed creature while Apparently did her best to harry a third that was escaping with Xoc-Wik's unconscious body.  Zeynap fired rainbow-hued bolts of magic at the monster threatening Eku, knocking it back with each bolt.

The two gorilla-monsters were soon defeated but the third managed to escape with Xoc-Wik. A plan was quickly formed to follow the creature back to its lair to effect a rescue.


RESCUE MISSION
Apparently tracked the creature through the muddy dark. The only illumination was provided by Zeynap's magic.  They followed the creature through shoulder-high undergrowth to a stream by a rocky hill. Beyond was a cave in a bluff. They could hear multiple four-armed gorillas hooting and roaring within, celebrating the capture of their prize.

Zeynap said, "Let's go!" and took off across the creek towards the cave without hearing the others whisper, "Wait!"



He ran towards the cave. The interior was illuminated by the blue glow of his magic. He saw a four-armed gorilla creature and cast several bolts of celestial magic. They exploded in  flashes of pastel.

He lowered his hands to admire his handiwork. Suddenly the four-armed gorilla monster charged out of the cave and bore down on Zeynap. For a split second, Zeynap thought, "Oh, I didn't know they could run that fast!"

Suddenly a second creature emerged from another cave concealed behind some bushes. Two monsters charged towards him. Zeynap looked around for the help of his companions but they were no where to be seen, hidden from view behind the rocky hill, "I've made a huge mistake."

Both four-armed gorilla creatures tore into Zeynap with four slashing claws and a bite to the shoulder. Zeynap fell into a unconscious heap. The two gorillas began fighting over the body. Zeynap's illumination magic faded and it was completely dark.



Bramble sighed and muttered, "Damn it, Zeynap!" He moved laterally away from the rocks to get a clear view and summoned forth Courage Wolf, the spirit of healing. The glowing wolf ran forward and dove into Zeynap's body, restoring life and consciousness to the warlock.

Argent held aloft his axe which began to glow with holy radiance. He ran forward to engage the two gorilla-monsters and to distract them from Zeynap. Unfortunately, the two attacking monsters made quick work of the paladin of Bahamut. The light from his axe failed and it was once again dark. Apparently and Chak'sa fought the gorilla-monsters from the opposite side of the creek but targeting was difficult without light.  Soon she, too, had fallen.

Courage Wolf darted across the battlefield moving into each fallen warrior, reviving them, then moving to the next. Zeynap had regained consciousness and had called on his patron, the Celestial Unicorn of Heaven, to heal his wounds. Once recovered he was able to summon more magical light and reenter the battle where he helped to dispatch the two simian monsters.


A third appeared at the cave entrance. Bramble transformed into a bear and crawled over the rocks. The four heroes quickly defeated the final gorilla monster.

They cautiously entered the caves and recovered the unconscious Xoc-Wik. They also located the bones of others that had been captured as pets. Among their remains was an intact canoe that had been dragged from the river and a vial of poison.



DAY 12 - Return of the Pratras

The late night mission interrupted their rest so the party decided to take a day off. They rested, recuperated, read, and explored the ruins within which they camped. During the afternoon a flock of pratras, the humanoid-pteranodons they party encountered in M'Bala, flew down through the rain and clouds dropping large rocks and javelins on the camp. No one was seriously injured and the pratras few away when they were out of ammunition.


A LONELY VIGIL
On the thirteenth day since they left Port Nyanzaru the expedition resumed their journey to M'Bala. It was a 30 mile journey through the rain but they pushed on to arrive at the base of M'bala in the early evening. They found a cleared campsite at the start of the path that ascended the side of the granite plateau. The campsite was occupied by Nova Scotia Blackman. The undead archaeologist looked ashen and weak. His eyes were hollow. His skin showed signs of contraction. He was happy to see his old friends but it only masked the deep sorrow he felt within.

Argent Truth-sayer brandished his axe and prepared to kill the undying anathema but his hand was stayed by the others.



Nova told the others that a group of ten pratras had returned soon after the Knights of the Circle had occupied the plateau of M'Bala. Apparently the raid on their lair failed to account for a number of pratras who were out hunting or on patrol. The pratras started harassing the soldiers by attacking them with large rocks and javelins. The soldiers were forced to take shelter in the caverns formerly occupied by the pratras.  In addition, pratras attack anyone attempting to climb or descend the single narrow path to M'Bala. No one has been able to enter or leave M'Bala for several weeks.

Nova said that, for some reason, the pratras ignored him. He alone was able to climb and descend the path. He has been ferrying goods and supplies to the top ever since. He said that the knights had arranged for reinforcements to be brought in via Akasian airship in 14 days. He worried that the airship might be vulnerable to pratran attack.

The party discussed the possibility of helping the knights by ridding them of the pratran threat.

Bramble argued against it, "We don't have time to help them. We only came here to deliver these supplies. Nova can carry them up the path and deliver them for us. The knights and the airship will have to take care of themselves."

The party agreed to drop off the supplies and continue to Orolunga.

They left the following goods with Nova Scotia Blackman:

  • 350 man-days of rations
  • 50 gourds of bug salve
  • 2 12'x12' tarps
  • 1 hooded lantern
  • 5 flasks of oil
  • 10 torches
  • 2 waterskins
  • 2 healer's kits


DM Note- I awarded each of the players a free Inspiration Point to spend whenever they wanted as a reward for completion of this mini-quest. 


THE JOURNEY WEST
The party skirted the northern edge of the range of rocky plateaus to which M'Bala belonged.



Day 15
Clear travel, nothing to report.

Day 16
The day was clear and the party made good progress. During the day Apparently called the train to a halt. She sensed the presence of Skion. Bramble sniffed the wind and detected a handful of ghouls moving through a field of rocky debris. The party managed to stealthily avoid the ghouls and continue on their journey without incident.

They set camp near some ancient jungle-clad ruins. Apparently was out foraging when she came across a pair of four-armed white-furred simians like those they encountered previously. She was spotted as she tried to escape but she managed to throw a rock and lead them in a different direction. She used her magical boots of false tracks to hide her trail as she made her way back to the camp.

Day 17
A storm fell upon the party. Rain and heavy winds hampered movement and the party only covered ten miles.

Day 18
It rained during their travels but heavy winds late in the day made it difficult to set camp and prohibited any foraging.

Day 19
They arrived at a river flowing from the north to the south. Eku called it the north fork of the River Tath. Orolunga lay only ten miles beyond. The party spent much of the day crossing the river. Once they reached the other side they encountered a party of fellow explorers - representatives of the Order of Aeon, protectors of the forest. Eku gave them the handshake of the order and the two groups shared a camp as friends. The other group was looking for Orolunga without the aid of a guide. They, too, had taken the quest from Syndra Silvane to find and destroy the Soulmonger.

Bramble encouraged caution amongst his party. He reminded them that the other party were rivals in their quest. they did their best to ask the members of the Order what they knew and what they encountered without revealing too much of their own mission.

The Order of Aeon said they had traveled south and had encountered the Batiri village known as Yellyark. In exchange, Zeynap told the Order about the military encampment atop M'Bala.

The next day the two groups broke camp and went different ways. The Order of Aeon believed that Orolunga was farther south and Apparently did nothing to dissuade them of that notion.

DM - I kept the details about the members of the Order of Aeon intentionally vague. I told my players, "Greetings. We are a mixed group of Rangers, fighters, druids, or wizards. We lack names in case any of us need to replace your fallen characters in the future. We are therefore undefined until you need us."

The rains poured heavily that night while everyone slept comfortably in their tents. Zeynap was on watch when he noticed something rummaging through the camp equipment. He cast a spell of illumination and saw that the camp was beset by a troop of flying monkeys. The monkeys were frightened away but not before stealing some insect-repelling incense, some rope, and some rations.

Day 20 - OROLUNGA
It was raining when the party finally arrived at the lost city of Orolunga. What was once a great city was reduced to crumbling walls covered in vines and trees. Feathered reptile-birds with toothy snouts and resplendent plumage squawked in the trees. Brightly colored flowers and orchids clung to the sides of the crumbling ruins. A single four-level stepped pyramid stood at the center of the ruined city. The party approached it cautiously. The rains stopped as they neared its base.

The first level of the pyramid was covered in dense torny thickets. Two parallel stairs led to the top of the pyramid.

Zeynap explored the base of the step pyramid. He came across one of the tiny spirit creatures they had previously seen in the forest. It was as tall as a man's shin with a body that looked like it was made of black tar. It wore on its head a mask made of alabaster in the shape of a three-horned behemoth. In its hand it carried an orange and black orchid.

DM - DC 15 Perception Check to spot the chiwinga. Failure would have meant an hour of fruitless searching, try again in an hour.

Eku identified the spirit as a chiwinga, one of the benevolent spirits of the forest.

Zeynap tried to communicate with the chiwinga. It simply cocked its head which rotated like the turning of a key until it released in a wild bobbing motion as if attached to a spring. The chiwinga fled from Zeynaps approach and climbed the stairs to the landing atop the first level of the pyramid.



Zeynap began to climb after the chiwinga but thorny vines magically grew around his ankles to impede his progress. He pushed on. The thorny vines squeezed tighter and began to dig into his flesh. He quickly descended. Argent tried to make his way but was soon brought to a halt by the constricting thorns.

Apparently tried to think of a way to levitate to the top or use some kind of grapple. She asked Eku, "How do we get to the top?"



Eku, who had watched their efforts with a detached amusement, replied only, "This is not my test to pass. You must determine that for yourself. Besides, I have no idea."

The chiwinga continued to watch them from the landing while holding its orange and black orchid.

The team began to brainstorm wilder and wilder options when Bramble finally cut in, "Oh for.. Just find one of the orange and black orchids!"

Everyone slapped their heads, "Of course!"

DM - At this point, Bramble's player had to leave.

Zeynap and Apparently, being knowledgeable in such matters, searched for the the orchids. After an hour they had found five orchids between them.

DM - Anyone with Nature skill can spend one hour searching and find 1d4-1 orchids. 

Zeynap, Apparently, and Argent brandished their orchids and climbed the first set of stairs without impediment.

They reached the first landing and examined the second set of stairs. They appeared to be structurally unsound. The slightest pressure caused them to crumble beneath their feet. Zeynap looked around and found another chiwinga. This chiwinga wore an alabaster mask resembling a chameleon. It held an orange-and-black orchid in one hand and a long feature from one of the primitive lizard-birds in the other. It sprang up the steps without a problem.

DM - Another DC 15 Perception check to spot the second chiwinga. Failure would have cost another hour of searching. 

The team released an exasperated sigh and descended the steps. They searched the forest and returned with a collection of long feathers.

DM - Anyone with Nature skill can spend one hour searching and find 1d4-1 feathers. It was now about three in the afternoon. I was keeping time because the oracle was only accessible until sunset around 7pm.

They returned with their orchids and feathers and scrambled up the crumbling steps.

They reached the second landing. The third set of stairs was suddenly covered with thousands of writhing poisonous snakes!

"Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?" muttered Apparently.

They looked around and once more found a chiwinga. This chiwinga wore an alabaster mask that resembled the head of a mongoose. The chiwinga, holding an orchid in one hand and a feather in the other, ran into the writhing snakes. A snake reared up to strike the tiny spirit. The chiwinga stroked the snake with its feather and the snake became docile. The chiwinga then titled up its mask revealing a gaping toothy mouth. It opened its mouth wide and the snake crawled inside, magically disappearing inside the chiwinga. The chiwinga then laid down on its belly and slithered up the steps like a snake.

DM - Another DC 15 Perception check to spot the third chiwinga. Failure would have cost another hour of searching. 

Zeynap balked, "Are you KIDDING me?!?"


Argent stepped forward. A snake reared up. The dragon-man stroked the snake with his feather and the snake became docile. Argent opened his mouth and the snake crawled inside. The snake slithered down Argent's esophagus. The proud dragonid began choking and gagging and was forced to regurgitate the whole living snake. Argent collapsed to his knees coughing and gagging. He had suffered a great amount of pain.

"That's DISGUSTING!" said Zeynap with a wrinkled nose.

"Are you alright?" inquired Apparently.

"I- I'm fine. I must try again." was his reply.

He tried again and once more failed. Zeynap channeled the celestial energy of his patron to heal the dragon man and Argent tried a third time.

This time the snake stayed down. Argent then got down on his belly and slithered up the stairs like a snake.

"No! No! There's no way I'm doing that!" declared Zeynap.

"Well, I'll go next." said Apparently. She tried to pick up a snake but forgot to stroke it with a feather. It reared back and bit her!

"Right!" she exclaimed, holding her wounded hand. She stroked the snake with the feather, opened her mouth, and it crawled down her throat. She laid down on her belly and slithered up the steps.

Zeynap sighed exasperatedly. He picked up a snake. It bit him. He yelped and dropped it. He sighed again, stroked the snake with a feather, and swallowed it whole. He closed his eyes to shut out the humiliation and indignity and slithered up the steps on his belly.

Once on the third landing Apparently turned around and called for Chak'sa to join her on the stairs. Chak'sa began to follow but Eku held the honker behemoth, "What are you DOING?" cried the spirit-talker.



"I'm calling my animal to join me," replied Apparently.

"You will NOT! How DARE you expect this poor beast to swallow a serpent whole! This is YOUR test to pass, not his!" Eku threw her arms around the confused behemoth, "You'd dare endanger this poor beast for your test? You MONSTER!"

"Okay! Okay! Whatever!"

The trio turned and entered the chamber at the top of the step pyramid.

SAJA N'BAZA

A rectangular stone temple covered in maze-like carvings sat at the pinnacle of the step pyramid. It was empty and dark and overgrown with vines and moss. The top of the pyramid stood above the tree canopy. It was raining, hot, and humid. A mountain range rose like a wall a mere twenty  miles to the west. The granite plateaus of M'Bala could be seen twenty to fifty miles to the east. Apparently could swear she smelled incense.

They carefully approached the open doorway. As they entered the threshhold the scene changed to that of a sunny day. The step pyramid was new. It was surrounded by a city of trapezoidal structures. Winged snakes flew around.

Hanging lamps illuminated the darker corners of the room. Incense burners filled it with exotic scents and curling smoke. Cushions and reed mats covered the floor, pots of bloomign flowers lined the plastered walls, and winged snakes flitted from plant to plant emitting a strange sound like the tinkling of crystals or chimes.

An immense snake with iridescent scales rested on a heap of cushions opposite the doorway. It rose slowly to a height of 5 feet. It stared directly into their eyes as it moved. Its face was remarkably humanlike and its toungue flicked as it spoke.

“Greetings, I am Saja N’baza, the Oracle of Orolunga. What do you seek in this ancient place? Speak truly, for I hear your hearts.”

Standing next to them near the entrance was a male human. His pale skin made it apparent that he was not native to Chult. Indeed, it was difficult to discern his nationality based on his appearance and ecclectic attire. He was ruggedly handsome with the bearing of a seasoned explorer, possibly from Avallonis. He carried a longbow and a sword. Next to him was a strange reptilian humanoid with a head resembling a behemoth holding a longsword.

"A Saurial," concluded Argent.

"You must be Dragonbait," said Zeynap, "and that would make you Artus Cimber?"

"Who are you? What is this?" said the man warily. His hand subtly moved to his sword.

The trio introduced themselves. Artus returned the courtesy, "I am, indeed, Artus Cimber, and this is my traveling companion - Dragonbait."

Dragonbait smiled and emitted a pleasant scent.

"Forgive him, he cannot speak Atlantean. His people communicate using odors and scents. He says he is pleased to meet you. My goodness, your skin is blue! How extraordinary! Is your father an air elemental?"

Apparently shrank in embarassment, "That's, ah, private."

"There's a lot of people looking for you, sir!" exclaimed Zeynap.

"Indeed?" inquired Artus.

Zeynap, Apparently, and Argent told Artus of their encounters with the frost giants and with the merchant Zalma Haik. They asked Artus what he stole from the frost giants. Artus replied coyly, "Ah, they believe that I stole the honor of their princess. It is not true, of course."

"And what about Zalma? Why are the Ysians searching for you?" asked Zeynap.

Artus surreptitiously covered his right hand with his left and replied, "They, ah, hired me to retrieve something and I failed to deliver. No other reason."

"Really? That's your story?" demanded Apparently.

Artus shot her a look of warning, "As you say, that's private."

She held up her hands, "Fair enough!"

The iridescent naga interrupted the meeting with a hiss, "If you pleassssse! Doessss anyone have any questionsssss?"

"Oh, right! Excuse me," he paused, "Do you mind if I go first?"

The others stepped back,

"Tell me, what has happened to Mezro? What can you tell me of my beloved?"

"Your beloved lives. Mezzzzro isss- trapped between worlds. It iss neither in Antara nor in the Otherworld. And there it will remain until the world is rid of Rasss Nsssi. Hiss very existenccccce prevents itss return. Eliminate Rasss Nsssi and Mezzzzro will returnnn. You will find him leading the vile cult of Jivantaka in the lossst city of Omu."

"Thank you, I will do whatever it takes to find and eliminate this Ras Nsi," was his reply.

Saja turned to address Apparently, Zeynap, and Argent, "What about you, vissssitor? What do you seek?"

Apparently asked, "We seek any information you can tell us about the Soulmonger."

"Ah- I know little of the detailss, but I know that it is a foul devicce, powered by the trapped essssence of god unborn. The cult of Jivantaka brought the componentsss for one to the lost cccity of Omu. Their exxxxact actions are unknown to me."

Zeynap asked, "Where is Omu?"

"The ruins of what was once Omu are located deep in the southern jungle between the Peaks of Flame and the Valley of Lost Honor."

Argent inquired, "Who is Ras Nsi?"

"Two hundred yearsss ago, Rasss Nsssi was one of the seven original barae, the 'Chosen of Ubtao', holy warriors who protected the cccity of Mezro. Today, he is the only one of the original barae ssstill alive.

"At the end of the great cccivil war between the major tribes of Chult, ssso great was his zeal to protect Mezzzro, that he began a crusade of genocccide to slaughter every last member of the rival tribe in punissshment for their attack on Mezzzro.  For this, he was exxxiled from Mezro by the other sssix barae.

"When the city of Mezro passsed into the world between worlds, the world believed it to be dessstroyed. It was assssumed that Rasss Nsssi was destroyed along with it, as it was prophesized that all the barae would crumble to dust if ever the city were annihilated.

"However, this was not the cassse— Rass Nssi instead joined an ancient cult dedicated to the awakening of Jivantaka, the world ssserpent. Using dark alchemy, he hass transssformed himself into an ophidian nagina and hasss become the leader of the cult of Jivantaka. 

"He currently resssides in the lost city of Omu. 

"Ras Nsi is a foul villain. His beliefs and actionss pose a threat to all of Antara and he must be eliminated. I will reward anyone who undertakess a quessst to rid the world of his evil treachery." 

All three agreed to undertake the quest. As a reward, Saja M'baza bestowed upon each of them a magical charm.

To Argent she bestowed the Charm of Heroism. To Zeynap she bestowed the Charm of Restoration. To Apparently she bestowed the Charm of Animal Conjuring. 

Artus said to them, "Well, it looks like our quests overlap. Do you mind if we travel together?"

Apparently replied, "Not at all. But lets get one thing straight. We need to be more truthful with each other. No secrets."

"We'll see," said Artus with a smile. 

TO BE CONTINUED...



Next week- The players have said they want to take the airship to check out the Heart of Ubtao. 




Thursday, May 24, 2018

"The Tale of Moriganna" - Stories from the B-Team, Part 4

by Trevor Hanson

Sylvia was a dancing girl from Eusebea, stunningly beautiful and skilled at her art. She was sought out by nobles, warlords, and bandit kings alike. She lived the high life of a courtesan for many years until, as she aged, her popularity slipped in favor of younger and newer women. Eventually circumstance dictated that Sylvia marry to secure her future. A dashing ship's captain swept her off her feet and within several fortnights she was wed and pregnant. As it happened she soon discovered that her new husband turned was an otherworldly spirit known as a marid with no plans to loiter within the realm of mortals. Not wanting to live out her days trapped in the watery realm of Hydros, one of an immortal's many hundreds of captive wives, Sylvia fled. Thus a once coveted dancer and ship-setter ended up working as a scullery maid for Machimosian Mercenaries.

Sylvia’s offspring, Moriganna, was tainted by her father’s heritage. She possessed green skin, she could breathe underwater, and she speak with and mentally control fish. This made the life for the pair easier as they could reliably harvest excellent seafood for their hosts.

Sylvia did not want her daughter to become a dancing girl like herself. Even though an exotic green dancing girl would be highly prized she knew where that road ended. She refused to teach Moriganna her arts so the young girl started to glean skills from those around her: the Mercenaries.

MORIGANNA
Moriganna lacked the physical strength that many warriors possess but she was quick enough and her constant swimming provided her with great stamina. She gained skill in the use of the crossbow and began selling her martial services to ship captains that were dealing with pirates, though she was not beyond helping those same pirates escape justice if the price was right. Being able to approach a ship underwater proved a useful talent in her new profession.

Eventually Moriganna's mother, Sylvia, became sick. She sought the services of healers but none could treat the malady. Eventually a wrinkled old bog witch told Moriganna that not only could she cure her mother of the illness, but that her mother would live for many more decades - for a price. All she asked in return was Sylvia's wedding amulet.

Moriganna had long known of her mother’s wedding amulet, an exquisite blue diamond on a silver chain that was an engagement gift from her supernatural father. Moriganna gave it to the witch.

The bog witch performed her magic. Sylvia's body was rid of the disease overnight. However, Sylvia's personality was gone. Sylvia had become a mindless drone. The bog witch had trapped Moriganna's mother within the blue diamond.

Enraged, Moriganna killed the bog witch and retrieved the diamond containing her mother's soul. She delivered her mother's living body to a convent so that nuns could care for and look after it.

Moriganna now had a mission. Moriganna needed to find a high priest capable of releasing her mother's soul. Such a miracle would require sacrificial offerings worth 3000 gold coins as well as the sacrifice of a diamond worth at least 1000 gold coins. The diamond containing the soul of her mother had darkened and internal facets could be seen, thus rendering it valueless other than a few gold coins, not that she would ever sell it, so it was worthless for the purposes of the ritual of resurrection.

A LIFE OF CRIME
Resurrecting her mother would be expensive and her work as a Machimesian mercenary would never raise sufficient funds. Because working for the pirates and smugglers paid more than mercenary work and pirate hunting, Moriganna started down a darker path. Her illicit work led to interactions with people, beings, and cults that she would rather not have known existed. Still, she had the solace and solitude of the ocean when she needed to remove herself from present company.

One fateful day, Moriganna was working as a member of a pirate crew operating out of a hidden base somewhere on the west cost of Chult. The pirates had collected several artifacts gathered from locations across Antara - a live unicorn from Aeon, a crystal lens from Bres, meteoric jade from Plaksha, Residuum from Agartta, and other items. Mysterious robed strangers wearing jade masks had come in a small boat to take possession of them.

She accidentally overheard one of the strangers whisper to another about the “Soul Monger”. Something resonated badly within her at that utterance. Moriganna ignored any lingering concerns she had and instead focused on the potentially valuable objects and artifacts that belonged to the robed strangers and how she might be able to sell them in Fort Belaurian.

She abandoned her crew and followed the masked strangers who had left the Jahaka Anchorange with with their valuable collection. The strangers traveled by small boat and followed the coast of Jahaka Bay east, towards the River Tath. Moriganna did her best to stay far enough away to avoid notice without losing track of the strangers in the perpetual fog of Jahaka Bay. They left their boat at an ancient quay near the waterfall where the River Tath pours into the bay. They climbed an ancient track that led up the river and into the Ataaz Kahakla, the "Gorge of Screaming Death". It was there that she encountered three days of torrential rain and lost the trail.


She consoled herself with the knowledge that many valuable treasures could be found somewhere in the jungles of the Chultan interior. If she could steal one she could easily make the funds required to restore her mother. She made her way back to Jahaka Anchorage. Her plan was to join the crew of one of the smuggler's ships that transported stolen goods to Fort Belaurian to sell. She would make her way from there to Port Nyanzaru, find a guide, hire a team, and find those relics.

Still, something about Soul Monger echoed in the back of her mind.

Character Sheet

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

"Where Would You Like to Go First?" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 15


The expedition was walking south over the hilly grasslands outside Port Nyanzaru. Their guide, a serene middle-aged Chultan woman named Eku, inquired, "Where would you like to go first?"

"We want to deliver supplies to the Knights of the Circle in M'Bala," replied Zeynap, indicating the heavy load of equipment packed onto the back of the eight-ton macetail.

"Is that all? You have already been there. You need no guide to take you there. Where would you really like me to take you?" She asked.

"We'd like to investigate the Heart of Ubtao." said Zeynap.

“Ah, a sacred place. An island that floats hundreds of feet above the jungle. In ancient times the high priests of Ubtao would ride on the backs of leather-wings to gather there. They would perform their most sacred group rituals. 200 years ago, Ubtao abandoned the people of Chult. The priests no longer heard his messages. The priests stopped going there and it was abandoned. Now there are no more priests of Ubtao. If I may ask, why do you wish to visit the Heart of Ubtao?"

Zeynap looked to Xoc-Wik for a reminder. The B'alam archer shrugged. So did Bramble. Zeynap replied, "We don't know, honestly. We thought we might find the Soulmonger there."

"You believe the Soul Monger to be located within the Heart of Ubtao?"

"We're not so sure anymore. All we know is that it is located in Southern Chult."

"The Heart of Ubtao is not in Southern Chult."

"Yeah, we honestly don't know where the Soul Monger is."

"If it is knowledge you seek, you should consult with the ancient Spirit Naga of Orolunga. It will answer truthfully any question you pose of it."

"Where's Orolunga?" inquired Apparently.

"It is an abandoned city to the west of M'Bala."

"Is that where we saw that ziggurat poking above the jungle?" Apparently pulled out her map of the Chultan coast, updated with her notes and observations, "Right about here on the map?"

"Yes, I believe so."

"Does this spirit naga demand a sacrifice? Do we have to sacrifice any children or anything?" asked Xoc-Wik, nervously.

"Oh no. I should think not!" replied Eku.

"Then forget the Heart of Ubtao. After we drop these supplies off at M'bala, we head to Orolunga," declared Zeynap!



CHAPTER 15, "WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO FIRST?"

THE EXPEDITION
  • Bramble Wolf - a theran barbarian wise-man (Wildhunt Shifter Druid) searching for the legendary origin of his tribe.
  • Apparently Jones - a blue-skinned demijin caravan guide and animal trainer (Air Genasi Ranger) from Akasa, the land of sky mountains. Having failed to find work in Port Nyanzaru as an animal handler, she has joined the expedition to the interior as a scout.
  • Chak'sa - Apparently's honker (parasaurolophus) companion.
  • Xoc-Wik - a b'alam warrior (Tabaxi Fighter) from the jungles of Bres, searching for those responsible for the destruction of his tribe.
  • Zeynap Shiravadakar - a Eusebean smuggler (Human Warlock) bearing the spirit of a celestial unicorn.
  • Argent Truth-Sayer - a golden azi knight errant of Bahamut (Dragonborn Paladin) in the service of Bahamut, sent on a holy mission to join the expedition to destroy the Soul Monger. 
NPCs

  • Eku - a mysterious shape-changing wise-woman from Chult, hired as a guide.
  • Tony and Vinnie - rough and tumble dinosaur wranglers who wished to learn from Apparently, possibly from 19th century Boston on Earth. 



DM Note - I created a spreadsheet that pre-determined weather conditions and random encounters for the next 40 days of travel. Three possible encounters a day: travel time, down time, rest time. 

For any given period, there was a 10% chance of heavy rain or heavy wind and a 25% of a random encounter. 

During travel period, heavy rain prohibited travel because of flash floods, mud, and general misery. Heavy wind halved the distance traveled. 

During down time, heavy rain or heavy wind prohibited foraging or downtime activity. They had to dip into their rations.

While they are traveling, I require my players to make DC 10 Wisdom (Nature) checks in order to benefit from a Long Rest. Heavy rain or heavy wind during the night time imparts Disadvantage on that check. 

Day 1 - Frost Giant Checkpoint
Eku called everyone to stop. The expedition was crossing the hilly grasslands atop the plateau overlooking Port Nyanzaru. She pointed ahead at some makeshift barricades built of recently fallen tree trunks. The barricades served as a fence and funneled traffic out of the jungle towards a checkpoint manned by three frost giants. One giant stood atop a tower made of logs giving him an excellent vantage. He was looking away from Port Nyanzaru, watching the jungle.  

Zeynap said, "Hey, we know those guys!"

The expedition approached the frost giants. The frost giants questioned the expedition in an effort to determine if they had seen Artus Cimber or a humanoid saurian named "Dragonbait".

"We have not. What's a 'saurian'?" inquired Zeynap.

The giants looked at each other quizzically, "Um, we're not sure." was the honest reply. 

"Got it." said Zeynap and they continued through the checkpoint into the jungle. 


"I don't think they recognized us," said Xoc-Wik to Zeynap.

"To giants, all us shorties probably look alike." he replied. He turned to Eku, "So, what's a 'saurian'?"

Eku shrugged, "I've never heard of a saurian. Maybe it's from the other world, Earth. Lots of beings cross over from Earth."

"Hunh," concluded Zeynap.   



Day 2
Heavy wind hampered their progress through the jungle. They found setting camp difficult and were unable to forage or hunt. The expedition had to eat from their carried rations.


Day 3 - Su-Monsters
It was raining during the third day of travel. The expedition was following the high ground that separated the drainage valleys of the rivers Soshenstar and Tiryiki, allowing them to avoid crossing gullies and creeks. Apparently was leading the train followed by Argent and Bramble.  Visibility in the dense foliage was reduced to ten feet in any direction.

Apparently saw two strange bald monkeys hanging upside down from a nearby tree only ten feet away. They looked like the evil psychic creatures they encountered soon after leaving the ruins of Fort Righeous. She halted the train and warned the others.

The monkeys watched her curiously. She nocked an arrow in her bow and moved cautiously forward. The monkeys retreated slowly but kept her in sight. It was as if they wanted her to follow them. She called back to Eku, "We hate these things! Is it all right with you if we kill them?"

Eku replied, "Su-Monsters are abhorrent and evil. Eradicate them if you can!"

"Got it!" Apparently replied as she drew back her bowstring and attacked the su-monster nearest her. 

The su-monster opened its mouth in a silent scream. Apparently's mind reeled from the intense pain the silent scream caused within her brain. 

Argent moved forward to defend her. The other su-monster unleashed its silent scream attack against the dragonid holy warrior.


Suddenly two more su-monsters appeared from the brush from behind Zeynap and Xoc-Wik. Bramble transformed into a large bear and engaged the su-monster attacking Xoc-Wik. Xoc-Wik moved quickly out of the way while Zeynap directed his celestial hexes and eldritch blasts at the other.

Eku helped Tony and Vinnie move the macetail to safety while Chak'sa moved forward to protect Apparently.

Xoc-Wik, the master archer, was able to find his targets despite the heavy foliage and cover.

Eventually the su-monsters were sufficiently wounded to cause them to retreat. The expedition regrouped and continued on their journey.

Day 4 - Ochuhuman Ambush
The rain on the fourth day was accompanied by heavy wind which slowed their progress through the jungle. The wind had died down by late afternoon and Xoc-Wik and Bramble split up to go hunting and foraging while the others established camp and tended to the behemoths.

Bramble was just over a hundred feet from  camp when he spotted pale faces peering at him from beneath the undergrowth. Before he could attempt to make friendly contact, five squat albino humanoids sporting pale dreadlocks and pink eyes. They were muscular and stout, unlike the Batiri they had encountered earlier. They seemed primitive and wore naught but animal skins and large leaves. They surrounded Bramble and began beating on him with clubs.

Bramble transformed himself into a bear and escaped the scrum. He ran quickly back to the camp with the five albino dwarfs behind him.

The others, seeing a large bear charging into camp, jumped to attention and grabbed their weapons.

Xoc-Wik, meanwhile, was busy hunting six hundred feet away. He heard the commotion through the jungle and stood from his crouch. He could see nothing but could tell that a large bear, probably Bramble, was being chased by what sounded like a group of four, possibly five, humanoids.

Xoc-Wik drew back his bow and loosed a magically charged arrow in a high arc through the tree canopy. The arrow tore through the leaves and branches and struck one of the albino dwarfs. The dwarf exploded in magical fire and the resulting blast knocked the others off their feet!

DM Note- Xoc-Wik was literally 560 feet away with no line of sight. His player said he was in range and wanted to launch an arrow. I said, "Now wait a minute. How can you possibly justify this shot?"

Xoc-Wik's player said that he could hear the commotion. He targeted the center of the noise and loosed and explosive arrow. I liked the imagery and I tend to allow anything once if its cool enough, so I said, "Roll with Disadvantage."

Xoc-Wik's player rolled two dice. Both were twenties

"Well, shit! The rest of you hear a kind of whistling from the sky and suddenly this guy here just explodes like he just got hit by a mortar! KABOOM!"





The b'alam archer launched several more arrows in a high arc which missed their marks, landing in the ground like a rain of missiles from the sky. Apparently and Zeynap, meanwhile, dispatched two others. The sole survivor skidded to a stop and turned and fled as fast as he could, quickly disappearing into the jungle undergrowth.

Eku raised a hand to prevent further action.

"What was THAT?" demanded Zeynap!

Eku explained that they were known as Ochuhumas. They once lived in the south west coastal mountains but were forced to flee their subterranean homes when a nearby volcano erupted. Now they live a primitive existence as scavengers. They meant no harm and were trying to subdue Bramble to steal his equipment or possibly ransom for the expedition's supplies.

Apparently and Argent pointed out that they had met such a dwarf, a blacksmith in Port Nyanzaru.

Day 5
Heavy rains, no travel.  Nothing to report.

Day 6
Heavy rains, no travel.

The heavy rains continued, prohibiting any travel. That night, Bramble was on watch when he thought he saw one or more humanoid figures observing him from the forests. The figures appeared to be wearing heavy robes covered in camouflaging vegetation. He woke several others. When they investigated they found boot prints in the mud but no sign of the observers. Rather than attempt to track the boot prints in the dark they decided to wait until dawn. The watch was doubled but there were no further sightings of their covert observers.

By dawn the imprints in the mud had been washed away leaving little trace to follow.

Day 7 - Runners
The seventh day saw a light rain with no wind. The expedition packed up and continued their journey.


During the afternoon they heard a swift running sound approaching low from the underbrush behind them. Suddenly a flock of ten bird-like creatures, each the size of a turkey or dog, burst through the brush. Each creature possessed a single long sickle-like talon on each foot and their long mouths were filled with razor-sharp teeth.

The bird-things swarmed Xoc-Wik and one of the macetail's handlers DM Note- Vinnie or Tony, it's not important.

Xoc-Wik quickly disengaged from the oncoming bird-things, moving in between the macetail and Chak'sa. Bramble called upon the spirits of nature to create a magical wall of wind that blew through the raptor-things. The entire flank of five raptor-things were blown away into the forest.


Argent moved forward to engage remaining raptor-things. The dragonid took a deep breath and exhaled fire in a wide swath. Between Argents axe, Zeynap's celestial spells, and arrows from Xoc-Wik and Apparently, the raptor-things found themselves soon dispatched.


Day 8
Light rain, the expedition traveled 20 miles, nothing to report

Day 9
Light rain, the expedition traveled 20 miles, nothing to report

Day 10
Light rain, the expedition traveled 20 miles, nothing to report

Day 11 - Macetail Zombie

The party reached the River Soshenstar on the eleventh day. Here the river descended a few low falls as it drained from the Aldani basin. A few boulders stuck out of the water. The river was about two hundred feet wide and was, at most, five feet deep. It poured swiftly over the step-like falls. Each step was no more than ten feet high.  Crossing it would be challenging but not too difficult.

Bramble transformed himself into an octopus and carried one end of a rope to the other side. When he was a third of the way across he moved over the remains of a deceased macetail. The body was partially decomposed and pressed against some rocks underwater, held fast by the flow of the river.

In response to being disturbed, the decaying semi-skeletal body suddenly heaved out of its niche and reared up out of the water.

Bramble quickly shot out a jet of ink and darted across the river to the other side.

The zombie macetail lumbered towards the shore to menace the rest of the expedition. It was quickly destroyed and the party was able to cross the river without further interruption.

Girallons in the Night
It was the night of their eleventh day of travel. They had arrived at the ruins where they had earlier encountered deadline man-eating plants! The ruins were a defensible location and they ensured no man-eating plants were nearby and set up camp.


It was near midnight and Apparently was on watch. It was raining and everyone was gathered under canvas tarpaulins. Apparently scanned the dark forest for danger.

Her attention was drawn to the roof of one of the nearby ruins. A large white-furred simian with four arms leaped onto the roof, its pale face illuminated by the dimly glowing embers of the fire. Then she saw another. She called the alarm.

TO BE CONTINUED...


Friday, May 18, 2018

Argent Truth-Sayer, Knight Errant of Bahamut

by Jeffery Low


My name is Hesssik Argent, Knight Errant of Bhamut.  Hesssik is the name of my clan, Argent is my proper name.  In case you are not aware how Azi names are presented. 

I have come to Chult at the behest of his noble draconic benevolence, the Celestial King of Golden Xan.  After 283 days aboard ship, I finally see the docks of Port Nanzyaru approaching. The end of one journey.  The beginning of another.  I cannot help think how I have come to be here.

The subjects of the Celestial Kingdom of Golden Xan are divided into rigid castes. The pure-blood golden dragons known as the azata rule the kingdom as nobles. Beneath the azata are the golden dragonids, or azi, such as myself. The golden azi are warriors, aristocrats, and scholars. Humans are treated well within they kingdom but for the most part they are relegated to the caste of merchants, artisans, and craftsmen. Beneath the humans are the minor dragonids, the kavrita. They are menial laborers and servants within the celestial hierarchy. Beneath the kavrita are the indentured servants, debtors, and prisoners of war.

I hail from a clan that derived its wealth and status from its ownership of a silver mine in northern Plaksha. My father is the patriarch of the clan. The clan employs many kavrita miners and dozens of human silversmiths and artisans. We lived comfortably in a remote but cosmopolitan city.

As a child, my mother called me her little Truth-Sayer, as she could always rely on me to tell the truth and never willingly tell a lie.  This trait did not make me popular with my clutch mates, however, and I was typically left out of play.  I spent much of my time among human craftsmen employed by  my father practicing the inlay of silver filigree, hammering steel, working the bellows of the forges, and reading up on human craft and culture.

My father felt that my habitual honesty would be a hindrance when dealing with the upper echelons of the silver industry. My father sent me to the forges of the Knights of Behemoth to work at my first apprenticeship as a silversmith.

As an order, the Knights of Behemoth are more egalitarian than most. Azi are expected to perform all work no matter how menial. More importantly for me, the azi of the Knights of Behemoth were expected to craft and maintain their own armor and weapons.

I was big, strong and was over-joyed to be working for the Knights in their stronghold.  I frequently worked on repairing the equipment of the knights in addition to my normal duties as an artisan inlaying silver filigree.  They appreciated my artistry and the skill that I put into repairing their equipment as well as my zeal for the Dragon King.

Then came that day when I was chosen.

The master of the forge, a former questing knight whose injuries had taken him from the field, had a feeling about me.  The master was an aged azi and had been responsible for the training of my hero, Rhogar Sun-Forger, the Platinum Knight, three centuries bygone.  The master knew that I had my weaknesses but felt that my knowledge of the history of the knighthood, my purity of spirit, and my faith in the teachings of Behemoth were sufficient to give me a chance - to see if I, like the Rhogar before me, had been chosen by Behemoth for greater things than silver-work.

The master of the forge asked me to work late on a masterwork weapon for a new Knight Errant that soon be initiated into the Order.  The master gave me no specifics and said to just let my creativity flow.  I chose the battleaxe, the favorite weapon of Rhogar Sun-forger, from three centuries bygone.  Hours into the job, as my hammer rang in rhythm on the axe-head, the ringing boomed like a thunderclap and, in a flash, I was snapped away to a far-away land.

From high above this unknown land I could see a darkness growing,  destroying every living thing it touched.  Men, women and children of all races, from pauper to king, cheerfully living their lives.  But when the darkness touched them, they turned to ash and blew away in the crimson winds of death.  Then, in the sun, I saw the back-lit silhouette of the Lord of Dragons pointing to a port city on the edge of a jungle, and then he spoke to me.

"In the Port of Nanzyaru,
In the land of Chult
I am sending you,
As my champion."

Suddenly, I was flying down into the city, through the throngs of the citizens, and into one of the inns.  Then faces, indistinct, yet familiar flashed past as he spoke.

"The Seeker from the air,
The Warrior from the jungle, 
The Shaman of beasts,
The Agent of the celestial."

"In this city of men,  
You will become the fifth,
Of the five who are one,
The Knight of the Dragon."

Then I was back in the forge.  As I lifted my hammer from the axe head, I saw the intricate web of filigree radiating out from the last impact of my hammer, the symbol of Behemoth seared into the steel.

Then he whispered into my ear.

"Take up your axe, Argent Truth-Sayer.  Go forth and strike down evil where you find it."


The forge master was impressed with my work and said my vision was a sign from Behemoth himself! As it happened, the weapon was a test and I had passed. On the following day the master of the order presented the axe to me as I was initiated into the Knights of Behemoth .

My first task as a knight was to follow my vision and travel to Chult. There I would find the other four and become the fifth - the Five who are One!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"The Clouds of Death" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 14


The Emerald Eye sailed into Port Nyanzaru forty days after the Brazen Pegasus left to go pirate hunting. Zindar the dragon harbormaster flew out to intercept. He did a reconnaissance flyby at range and saw Zeynap and the others waving hello. He landed on the deck and greeted them.

“Well if it isn’t the heroes of the mutiny of the Karanja! Welcome back!” He looks askance at Captain Moleman, “Moleman, I see you’re coming back with a different ship and crew than what you left with - a known PIRATE ship no less. What happened to the Brazen Pegasus?”

Upon telling the tale, Zindar slapped everyone on the back, “Well done! Well done! I’ll have a payment voucher drawn up for you in my office! As well as paperwork for salvage. Welcome back  to Port Nyanzaru. I wish I could welcome you under better circumstances but these are dark days, I fear! Clouds of death are almost a daily occurrence! They spontaneously manifest, seemingly at random, and through them pour horrid animated corpses with a taste for human flesh!  Anyone caught within the cloud is sapped of vitality! The people are beginning to panic! It is grim, indeed!”

“But I heard that you were working on a solution! Have you any news to report? Any progress?”



CHAPTER 14, "THE CLOUDS OF DEATH"

THE EXPEDITION
  • Bramble Wolf - a theran barbarian wise-man (Wildhunt Shifter Druid) searching for the legendary origin of his tribe.
  • Apparently Jones - a blue-skinned demijin caravan guide and animal trainer (Air Genasi Ranger) from Akasa, the land of sky mountains. Having failed to find work in Port Nyanzaru as an animal handler, she has joined the expedition to the interior as a scout.
  • Chak'sa - Apparently's honker (parasaurolophus) companion.
  • Xoc-Wik - a b'alam warrior (Tabaxi Fighter) from the jungles of Bres, searching for those responsible for the destruction of his tribe.
  • Zeynap Shiravadakar - a Eusebean smuggler (Human Warlock) bearing the spirit of a celestial unicorn.
INTRODUCING!
  • Argent Truth-Sayer - a golden azi knight errant of Bahamut (Dragonborn Paladin) in the service of Bahamut, sent on a holy mission to join the expedition to destroy the Soul Monger.

ARRIVAL
Xoc-Wik told Zindar that they had followed up on some promising leads and had discovered some new information. They learned that the Ophidians of the ancient Nagina Samrajya empire, thought extinct for thousands of years, had returned and had assembled the device known as the Soulmonger. They had brought the components into Chult via the pirate hideout known as Jahaka Anchorage and moved them up the river Tath and into the interior somewhere in Southern Chult. He also revealed that the Ophidians could assume human form and that a cult of human followers served their serpentine overlords. Zindar said he would keep a close eye for any suspicious activity that might be related to the Ophidians and their degenerate cult.

The ship was towed into its berth by macetail behemoths and was the expedition disembarked. It was late afternoon. The party went to the temple of Trapezitam to cash out their payment voucher but there was a line. Dozens of merchants and traders were cashing in their payment vouchers and each transaction took at least an hour. Unsurprisingly, although the priests and acolytes of the temple of Trapezitam were swift in welcoming donations to the god of wealth and trade, they proved inefficient at processing withdrawals. The temple closed with the setting sun and the party left empty-handed.

ARGENT TRUTH-SAYER
The party spent the night, as they normally do, at Kaya's House of Repose and woke feeling rested and refreshed. They entered the common room to find a golden-scaled azi, a member of  the draconic warrior-caste. He wore the raiment and armor of the holy order of Bahamut of Plaksha.

The dragon-man introduced himself as Argent Truth-Sayer, holy knight of Bahamut. He said he had sought out the party for he had heard of their quest to find the Soulmonger. He asked permission to join their mission. After introductions they agreed.

The party spent the day preparing for an extended expedition into the interior.

APPARENTLY'S DAY
Argent accompanied Apparently to the  blacksmith to have the ten ingots of adamantine they obtained appraised. They learned from the stocky pale-skinned blacksmith, a member of the race known as ochahuma,  that it bore the mark of the mine of Hrakhamar in the Kavrita mountains.
The adamantine was unfortunately insufficient to craft into weaponry. The blacksmith would need five times that amount. The diminutive ochahuman smith looked to the south and began to wistfully recount the story of how his people had once left tons of adamantine in the mine when they were forced to abandon it many decades ago.



"Let me stop you right there!" interrupted Apparently, "We already got too many side quests and distractions. Sorry, we don't need another one. How much can we get for this metal?"

The smith sighed, "100 gold coins."

"Deal!" said Apparently. She completed the transaction and left.

She and Argent then visited Ekene-Afa and purchased a number of enchanted arrows and two enchanted gladii.

While they walked down the street, Apparently heard someone shout "Look out!" She barely escaped being crushed as a large stone block fell off an overhead arch cracked the pavement in front of her with a thud. She looked up but could see no cause for the block to have fallen on its own.

Apparently and Argent split up so that Apparently could visit the edge of town. There she was reunited with Chak'sa, her devoted honker, who had been waiting patiently for her in the surrounding jungle. She then stopped by the stables and took on the services of two loyal apprentices who had heard of her skill at handling animals and wished to learn from her.

Meanwhile Argent visited Jobal and arranged for a guide. He selected Eku and paid her advance.

MISCELLANEA
The rest of the team tended to various other duties.

Xok-Wik visited Syndra Silvane to report on what they learned from their trip along the western coast.  Afterwards he sold the final paintings of Hasegawa Tōhaku for two hundred gold coins.

DM Note - I had Tohaku's player make a craft roll and used the rules for criminal activity from Xanathar's Guide as a guideline to determine the amount. 

Zeynap took the bag of magic stones to Wakanga Otomu to be identified. He head each stone identified and learned that all but one was a glyph of warding which exploded if used. Three, however, were  stones of sending. Only the owner of the stone would know which stone was the correct one.  The pirates used the stones to communicate with each other while at sea and coordinate their attacks. Two stones would communicate with the two other ships. The third was a mystery. He also learned that the all of the stones were created by an serpentine wizard from the ancient Chultan city of Hisarii, the City of the Ophidians.

Zeynap delivered the sending stones to harbormaster Zindar so that he could capture the remaining pirate or learn more about how they operated. Zeynap spent the rest of the day purchasing tons of supplies for the expedition - canvas, rope, insect repellent, tents, cooking equipment, etc.

With his leftover personal funds, Zeynap arranged to have payment sent to Eusebea to erase the debt held by his parents. Zeynap's unicorn patron was pleased at this gesture.

Bramble spent five hours in line at the temple of Trapezitam but eventually obtained coinage for the payment voucher. While in line he learned of the random nature of the clouds of death that had begun to strike the city. The run on the temple, in fact, was because everyone was withdrawing their money from the vault and evacuating the city on any ship on which they could book passage.

Zeynap spent the night before their journey celebrating his good deed. He made two new friends among the merchant class of Port Nyanzaru and learned from them two bits of previously unknown information about the jungles of Chult.

DM Note - Used the carousing rules from Xanathar's but with a compressed timeframe. 

THE CLOUD OF DEATH
The party gathered the next morning outside the west gate in the Old City. It was gently raining and mist clung to the muddy ground. The macetail, whom despite Apparently's efforts Bramble refused to name, and the honker Chak'sa bore heavy loads of supplies and equipment. There they met the Chultan guide Eku. A few locals were going about their morning rituals preparing for the day.

Suddenly a black cloud shot through the crackling bolts of purplish energy formed out of mid-air a mere thirty feet away! Eku prepared herself and shouted a warning to the others, "Be aware! It is the cloud of death!"

Several locals were caught within the cloud. They screamed as if they had caught fire then abruptly fell silent as what sounded like animals ripped apart their flesh.

With blinding speed, Xoc-Wik climbed to the roof of a nearby building and prepared to loose an arrow at anything that emerged from the cloud.

Argent Truth-Sayer stepped forward to the edge of the cloud and held his holy symbol high, ready to call upon the blessings of the god of dragons. Suddenly clawed hands with gaunt grey skin appeared from the cloud and grabbed Argent by the shoulder, sinking its claws into the dragon-man's flesh. Argent inhaled sharply and was pulled into the cloud!

DM Note- I had just killed Hasegawa Tōhaku last session. I had previously killed Nova Scotia Blackman. The player was starting to wonder if I had it in for his characters. Now, on the debut of his third character, I paralyze him and drag him into a cloud of death! Everyone thought he was going to die on his VERY FIRST TURN. The irony was commented upon and not lost on me.

A line of animated corpses and skeletons emerged from the cloud and rushed the party. Bramble turned into a bear and engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the skeletons while Eku called on the spirits of the forest to protect Aregent before she transformed into a large winged serpent and took on some zombies. Zeynap and Apparently held their own with hex and sword while Xoc-Wik took aim from his sniper's nest. Chak'sa joined the fight and helped protect Eku while the two animal handlers moved the macetail to the rear. One of the skeletons climbed the building to get to Xoc-Wik. The b'alam archer was forced to abandon his post and climb down. He continued placing arrows into the heads of zombies from range behind the line of combat.

Zeynap managed to find an opening in the line of zombies and skeletons and deftly made his way into the cloud where he was able to find Argent. Zeynap momentarily lost his breath as the cloud of death sapped his very strength and vitality. He could only imagine how Argent might be feeling. He channeled the heavenly powers of his unicorn patron to heal the dragon-man and helped him escape from the cloud.

DM Note - The cloud was 40 feet by 40 feet. Anyone who ended their turn in the cloud lost 1 maximum hit point and had to make a Constitution Saving Throw vs. 13. On the first failure you went Prone. On the second failure you were Restrained. A success ended the Restrained condition but you had to stand up from being Prone.  

Upon defeating the first wave of undead monsters, a second wave appeared from the cloud. A sound of alarm rose up from the city behind them and the gates were closed and barred. By the time a militia of volunteers from the Old City arrived, the incursion had been stopped and the cloud dissipated.

The party was thanked for their contribution to the defense of the city and were rewarded with several gallons of tej - a distilled spirit made from honey - and a potion of healing.

When asked about her shape-changing ability, Eku simply replied that she was a guardian of the forest like Bramble and, similar to his abilities, could change her shape into the creatures of the jungles of Chult.

After an hour of rest and recuperation, Eku stood and inquired, "Excellent. Are we ready to begin? Where would you like to go first?"

TO BE CONTINUED...

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Snake's Head Cave - a side quest for Tomb of Annihilation

INTRODUCTION
The following is a side-quest for Tomb of Annihilation. I originally wrote it back in 2014 for Dungeon Crawl Classics. The characters in my ToA campaign decided to go hunting pirates and they captured the Emerald Eye under the command of Captain Al-Saryak. Captain Al-Saryak had no treasure so I rationalized that of course he wouldn't keep his treasure on his ship, he'd keep it hidden somewhere. So I quickly found my old dungeon and updated it for Tomb of Annihilation. 

The adventure was prepared for four or five 4th level adventurers. Be warned that the Yuan-Ti Broodguard are tough and the Yuan-Ti section is intentionally designed to be difficult. My player characters were forced to retreat from Area 18 and I had the yuan-ti, who themselves were pretty injured, let them leave. It could have easily ended in a TPK. 

HOOK
The players come into the possession of a key and the following mysterious drawing. In my campaign the map was among the possessions of Captain Al-Saryak on the Emerald Eye and indicated the location of his hidden treasure. The map and key could just as easily belong to a dead explorer found in the jungle or sold by a desperate fugitive in Port Nyanzaru. 

The lines inside the snake represent the many branching passages inside the Snake's Head Cave, indicating which direction to take at each branch in order to find the hidden treasure. 


I located the Snake's Head Cave where a mine is indicated north of Jahaka Bay but the caves themselves can be located anywhere in Chult or anywhere in any setting really.


BACKGROUND
The cavern complex known as "Snake's Head Cave" was once a mine that served the Yuan-Ti city of Hisari. The mine was abandoned centuries ago and other creatures have since taken up residence within the chambers and passages.

A few years ago, a yuan-ti wizard named Eth-To took up residence within a part of the cavern. The wizard needed a safe location to conduct his arcane experiments. Taking human form, he struck a deal with the local pirates operating out of Jahaka Bay. He would manufacture and supply the pirates with magical sending stones in exchange for captured slaves. The pirates could use the sending stones to communicate over long distances in order to coordinate their activities. He would transform some of the slaves into Yuan-Ti Broodguard to act as guards while the rest would work to seal off his reclaimed portion of the caverns from the areas still inhabited by wild creatures.



KEY
1. Entrance. The carved snake’s head dates back thousands of years. A few harmless snakes slither about.

 2. Snake Pit #1. The entire chamber descends 20’ at a sharp angle like a funnel leading to a 10’ diameter pit of snakes at the bottom. A swarm of snakes occupies the 10’ diameter area at bottom of the pit. Anyone hugging the wall and inching their way around the outside of the pit at half-speed must make a Dexterity Saving Throw vs. DC 15 to avoid falling into the pit. Strength (Athletics) vs. DC 10 to climb out at half speed.

3 . Snake Pit #2. The entire chamber descends 20’ at a sharp angle like a funnel leading to a 10’ diameter pit of snakes at the bottom. A swarm of snakes occupies the 10’ diameter area at bottom of the pit. Anyone hugging the wall and inching their way around the outside of the pit at half-speed must make a Dexterity Saving Throw vs. DC 15 to avoid falling into the pit. Strength (Athletics) vs. DC 15 to climb out at half speed.

4. Crumbling Pylons. Crumbling pylons of stone rise from the foggy darkness of this seemingly bottomless chamber. Jumping to a pillar requires a success Dexterity (Acrobatics) skill check vs. DC 10. Failure results in a fall of 100 feet. The northeast edge of the largest pylon as well as the landing at the northeast exit is crumbling and will collapse under the weight of any medium-sized creature or larger. Anyone standing on the crumbling area must succeed a Dexterity Saving Throw vs. DC 10 or fall 100 feet. A nearby friend can make a Dexterity Saving throw vs. a DC 10 to catch the character and prevent their fall.

5. Falling Debris. The ceiling of this passage is dangerously unstable. For every 20 feet traversed in the passage, a character must pass a Dexterity Saving Throw vs. DC 10 to avoid 1d6 damage from falling rocks. Anyone with a Passive Perception of 15 or better may attempt the Saving Throw with Advantage.

6. Makeshift Barricade. The human slaves were forced to build this makeshift barricade out of sharpened sticks and rocks to keep the zombies out. It takes 1 hour minus 1 minute per Strength + Constitution to remove the rocks.

7. Slime Passage. Anyone entering this chamber automatically notices that the floor and walls are coated with slime. 2 ochre jellies lurk on the ceiling in the center of the passage.

8. Secret Door. A carved niche shows a blank wall, concealing a secret door that opens outward. No skill check is required to see the door. It is meant to allow an easy escape from the northeast corner of Area 22.

9. Spider Nest. 1d4-2  giant spiders lurking in the ceiling. If no spiders are present, they are out hunting the rest of the caverns (see Optional Encounter #2).

10. Goreto's Sword. An old rusty sword stands upright in an empty cavern filled with sand. Anyone attempting to remove the sword finds it difficult to move. Anyone who wants to remove the sword from the sand must make five Strength (Athletics) skill checks vs. DC 15. If they score three or more failures, they sprain a muscle and take 1d6 damage. If they score three or more successes they successfully remove the sword from the sand. The sword belonged to Goreto whose ghost inhabits Area 30. It is not magical and is useless as a weapon.

11. Pirate Treasure. 30’ deep pool of clear cave water. Captain Al-Saryak’s treasure chest lies at the bottom of water, guarded by 2 giant octopuses. Treasure: 1600 sp, 1000 gp, 40 pp, Box of Perfumed Candles (25 gp), Feathered Talisman (25 gp), Iron Brooch (25 gp), Fine Cloth Sash trimmed with Leopard Fur (25 gp), Copper Cloth Hunter's Cap (25 gp), Silver Cloth Hunter's Cap (25 gp), Spell Scroll (Ensnaring Strike) (common, dmg 200), Potion of Greater Healing (uncommon, dmg 187), 3 x Potion of Healing (common, dmg 187).

Note - The pirate treasure above was a level 4 random treasure hoard from the DMG. However, the initial results didn't seem adequate for a pirate treasure so I multiplied the coinage by 10. All the randomly generated copper became silver. All the randomly generated silver became gold. Gold became platinum. The gems and potions and scrolls remained the same. Generate your own.

12. Cave In. The cave ceiling has collapsed, resulting in a pile of debris. The daily passage of bats from area 13 has covered the debris in bat guano. A medium sized creature must squeeze through the gap. 1 swarm of insects emerges from the debris to crawl over and attack anyone squeezing through the gap.

13. Bat Cave. Floor covered in guano. A swarm of bats reside on the ceiling. They will emerge and attack each creature in the room once before fleeing through area 12.

14. Human Excrement. Floor covered in excrement, both human and yuan-ti, indicating habitation within. Anyone disturbing the excrement gains the attention of the otyugh that dwells within. The otyugh is friendly and will answer any questions about the yuan-ti and human slaves dwelling within. If left undisturbed, the otyugh minds its business and remains hidden.

15. Guard Post. 2 yuan-ti broodguard stand guard. If one reduced to half its maximum hit points, it will disengage to warn the others in area 18.

16. Transformation Chamber. Room where human slaves are transformed into yuan-ti broodguard. There are six writhing semi-humanoid maggot-like beings in mid-transformation, chained to the wall, begging to be killed.

17. Storage Chamber. Area where food and water is stored.

18. Yuan-Ti Chamber. 1 yuan-ti pureblood and 4 yuan-ti broodguard have orders to defend the lair from any intruders.

19. Slave Chamber.  7 Human slaves (commoners) chained to the wall.

20. Yuan-Ti Chamber.  1 yuan-ti anathema, 1 yuan-ti pureblood, and 2 yuan-yi broodguard have orders to defend the lair from any intruders.

21. Guardian Chamber. 1 shield guardian protects the entrance to area 22.

22.  Chamber of the Summoner. The chamber is squared like a proper civilized room. The walls are covered in silk tapestries. A work desk is located in the southwest corner. At the center of the room is a 10' diameter summoning circle containing a bound vrock. The yuan-ti mind-whisperer named Eth-To stands near the desk, in the process of performing a ritual that binds the demon to a rune stone on the desk. The Mind Whisperer summons demons and binds them into rune stones to create the stones of sending. Anyone standing within 5 feet of the vrock who makes and attack action or is attacked must succeed on a DC 10 Dexterity Saving Throw to avoid accidentally breaking the circle and freeing the vrock. If attacked, the Mind Whisperer will call for help. The Shield Guardian will arrive and join the combat on the following round. The yuan-ti from area 20 will arrive and join the combat in 1d4+2 rounds. Once the Mind Whisperer loses half its maximum hit points, it will attempt to disengage and flee through the concealed door, hidden by tapestries in the northern corner of the east wall, into area 8. If that way is unavailable, it will attempt to disengage and flee through the entrance to area 21. Treasure: a matched pair of sending stones.

23. Mushroom Grove. Mundane mushrooms of prodigious size.

24. Mushroom Grove. 2 gas spores and 4 violet fungus hide among the mundane giant mushrooms.

25. Sandy Cave. Floor covered in harmless insects. 1 giant centipede lurks within.

26. Empty Cave. Nothing of interest here. See optional encounters below.

27. Giant Lizard. 1 giant lizard is munching on the corpse of a dead slave.

28. Dumping GroundDumping Ground. The bodies of dead slaves were dumped here. The Death Curse has caused them to spontaneously rise as undead. 6 skeletons and 4 zombies rise from the pile of decaying human remains to attack anyone who enters.

29. Dumping Ground. The bodies of dead slaves were dumped here. The Death Curse has caused them to spontaneously rise as undead. 2 ghouls, 2 zombies, and 4 skeletons rise from the pile of decaying human remains to attack anyone who enters.

30. Ghost Pirate. Goreto, a deranged ghost of a dead pirate killed by Captain Al-Saryak, haunts the chamber in which he was killed. His decayed remains lay on the floor. A successful Intelligence (Investigation) skill check vs. DC 15 reveals that Goreto was stabbed in the back over a year ago. Goreto's ghost will attack anyone that enters the chamber. Returning Goreto's sword from area 10 will placate the ghost. He will become friendly and will answer any questions about Captain Al-Saryak or the pirates of Jahaka Bay.

Optional Encounter #1. If the player characters find the treasure in area 11 and are making their exit from the caves without having previously defeated the vrock, they encounter the injured and lost vrock with half its maximum hit points and having expended its daily stunning screech action. The vrock is lost and looking for the exit. It is frustrated and enraged and will attack anyone it sees.


Optional Encounter #2. If no spiders are encountered in area 9, that means the spiders are out hunting and the player character may encounter the spiders elsewhere.


BY SPECIAL REQUEST
I was asked to include the original map with the snake head at the top, so here it is.