Friday, December 14, 2018

"The Gears of Hate" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 38

The utilitarian service stairwell ended in a small room with a corridor for an exit and a large metal hatch. The corridor, like the stairwell, was illuminated with dim fluorescent glass tubes that buzzed and flickered. The walls were smooth concrete. Grey mucoid slime dripped from small cracks and fissures in the wall and collected into large puddles on the bare concrete floor.

Argent paused and turned to talk with the others behind him, "Should we take the hatch or the corridor?"

Bramble prattled on about both options without providing clear guidance. Apparently boldly suggested they push on down the corridor.

Argent turned and was shocked to see a small girl with long dark hair and wet pallid skin standing in the puddle. A red ball rested at her feet. Here eyes were sunken and dark. Her face betrayed no emotion.

"I'm so lonely. Will you play with me?" said the little girl.

It was the little girl from Argent's dream three days gone.

Argent, still frozen in uncertainty, asked those behind him, "Does anyone else the little girl?"

"The what?" said Bramble behind him, still descending the stairwell.

Argent turned his head and pointed at the girl, "That little girl there!"

"What little girl?"

Argent turned back. She was gone.


  • Bramble Wolf - a theran barbarian wise-man (Wildhunt Shifter Druid) searching for the legendary origin of his tribe, recently transformed into a woman by a magic fountain, slowly becoming a goat due to a curse from a bronze staff. Current bearer of the spirit of the trustworthy god Moa.
  • 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. Current bearer of the spirit of the foolhardy god of froghemoths named Kubazan.
  • 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. Current bearer of the spirit of the nimble god I'Jin.
  • Argent Truth-Sayer - a golden azi knight errant of Bhamut (Dragonborn Paladin) in the service of Bhamut, sent on a holy mission to join the expedition to destroy the Soul Monger. Current bearer of the spirit of the selfish god of wealth Nangnang.
  • Orvex Ocrammas - translator and guide for hire; rescued from the Fane of the Night Serpent.
  • Lukanu - Omuan champion and former personal bodyguard of Queen Napaka; trapped within a magic mirror soon after the destruction of Omu more than 150 years ago.
  • Zaal - goshi (humanoid water buffalo) warrior and best friend of Lukanu; trapped within a magic mirror soon after the destruction of Omu more than 150 years ago.
  • Zorai - vyth (grey-skinned alien) explorer sent to Omu to investigate the massive seismic event that coincided with its destruciton; trapped within a magic mirror soon after the destruction of Omu more than 150 years ago.
Lukanu and Zaal
Moments earlier, as the party prepared to descend the stairwell, Lukanu and Zaal informed Argent that they planned on staying behind. Lukanu had dedicated her life to protecting Queen Napaka. Her queen was dead. In addition, Zaal was too large to fit down the narrow service corridors and stairwell. She vowed to stay behind with her loyal friend and serve as a distraction for whatever forces might harry the party as they descended further into the tomb. Argent nodded and bade them farewell.

Awaken Napaka
Argent ignored the metal hatch to the left and continued forward down the corridor. He hesitated at the puddles of grey slime. Zeynap tapped him on the shoulder and assured the dragon-man that the situation was under control. Zeynap summoned forth a magical sphere of flame composed of coruscating hues. The magical flame rolled down the corridor ahead of the party, turning the slime into blackened crust.

The corridor turned left and, after a passage of thirty feet or so, ended abruptly.

Bramble strode past Argent but paused a few paces away from the fiery orb. Bramble looked back at Zeynap with impatience.

Zeynap looked confused before snapping to sudden realization, "Oh, sorry!" He dismissed the burning sphere, allowing Bramble to examine the dead end.

The wall was false and easily removed, revealing a narrow corridor composed of riveted metal plates. Grey slime slowly dripped from the seams in the walls and ceiling and collected into viscid pools on the floor.

The corridor to the left continued for about sixty feet before bending at a shallow angle to the right.The sound of droning machinery, pistons, chains, and turning metal gears echoed down the corridor from that direction.

A few feet to the right of the secret door, the corridor opened into another wider hall. The wider hall was well lit and led to the left and right. The entryway to the wider hall was covered in cobwebs signifying a dearth of recent use.

Argent led the party to the right and breathed a plume of fire to clear away the cobwebs. Scrawled upon the wall in dried blood was the words

The Eye of Zaltec
The hall was walled with steel plates and was lit by alternating magical glass bulbs every ten feet. The hall sloped from the right to the left.  The upper end of the hall ended in a blank wall about fifty feet to the right. The lower end of the hall was concealed by a curtain about fifteen or twenty feet to the left. The sloped floor was covered in patches of slime that oozed from the seams in the wall.

Argent entered the long hall alone. He examined the lights but saw nothing of note. He opened the curtain to reveal a statue of a large four-armed monster. Three of its hands were held outward and cupped as if awaiting some sort of payment or offering. The fourth hand was broken off and lay tightly clenched on the floor.

Words inscribed on the wall behind the statue read:

Three I need
Then three more
Three more still
Opens the door

Lawrence the Lizard began to panic, expressing great concern at seeing the statue.

Argent backed away and asked what had frightened the lizard.

Lawrence said that he can't remember what it was the statue did but that it was responsible for separating the Company of the Yellow Banner. His last memory was accompanying them as they approached the statue. He told Argent that they believed that the statue held in its hands the fabled Eye of Zaltec.

Orvex Orcammas gasped in disbelief. He explained that the Eye of Zaltec was a lost treasure of an ancient empire from the continent of Bres. He said that it could restore life to the long dead.

Lawrence confirmed that the Company of the Yellow Banner wished to use the Eye to restore life to "the Starfallen", an elioud who had lost her physical form.

Argent gave Lawrence to Zeynap and told the others about the riddle.

"Well, it obviously needs nine of something," was the consensus, "but nine of what?"

DM Comment-
The players spent about ten minutes trying to think of what it might need, guessing wildly. I knew they'd never guess.

As it happened, earlier that night we had joked about allowing microtransactions into D&D. One player asked if they could just buy a clue. I said, "Sure, why not?"

Zeynap's player said, "I'll pay you a dollar for a clue." I said, "sure."

He paid, I said, "gemstones."

It was a funny joke but I gave him his money back later.

Everyone in the party rummaged through their backpacks looking for gems. Bramble exclaimed, "We've found hundreds of gems! Where are they?"

DM Comment - 
No one had any written on their character sheets. Their notes were a mess. I told them if they couldn't find any gems, they were stolen by the doppelganger.

Apparently pulled out a clay jar, "Hey! This small jar contains like thirty gemstones!"

"Where did that come from?" inquired Bramble.

Apparently shrugged.

DM Comment - 
Ras Nsi's lair.

Argent put a gemstone into each of the three hands. the three hands clenched each stone tightly, crushing them to powder. Argent repeated the gift. The gemstones were once again crushed. He gave it three more gems which were again crushed.

The hand on the floor opened to reveal a lustrous ruby the size of a plum. The statue opened its mouth and exhaled a cloud of gas. Argent coughed and fell unconscious to the floor.

The top end of the hall slide into the floor revealing a massive mechanical machine pushing a heavy iron roller before it like a ten ton rolling pin. There was a squeal of machinery and a release of the steam as the machine began rolling down the hallway with gathering speed!

The Stone Juggernaut

Zeynap, standing in the side-hall, hurled a magical witch-bolt of lightning into the mechanical steam-roller.

Apparently shouted, "Move out of the way!" and darted past Zeynap. The blue-skinned demi-jin moved with startling alacrity. Her superhuman strength, enhanced by the spirit of the trickster god Kubazan, allowed her to left up the unconscious dragon-man with one hand, throw him over her shoulder, and grab the Eye of Zaltec with the other hand.

She looked up the sloping hall to see the steam-roller barreling towards her with increasing acceleration. She furrowed her brow and darted back to the side hall a split second before the giant machine rolled past, flattening everything before it.

The steamroller slammed into the statue and wall behind it with tremendous force! It stopped and slowly started backing up the inclined hall.

Bramble looked over Zeynap's shoulder, "Is that it? Is that all it does?"

Zeynap zapped the machine a few more times with his eldritch blasts, "I guess so."

Once the machine reached the top, it rolled down the hall again, once more slamming into the wall at the bottom.

Bramble and Zeynap both shrugged and turned to join the rest of the party as they tended to Argent. The party spent the next hour waiting for Argent to regain consciousness, studying the Eye of Zaltec, and regaining their strength.

Cog of Rot
The party continued down the narrow corridor to the slight bend. The corridor crossed a gap in the floor that opened into a dark space beyond. The gap was wide enough that someone could fit their head through it and look around. The warm humid air of the corridor escaped through the gap into the cold lower pressure outside. Argent looked through and around and saw an underground cavern filled with water and illuminated by small crawling arthropods.

On the other side of the gap was a pentagonal room made of metal. The entrance was located at the vertex of two facets of the pentagon. A metal pipe extended six feet from the floor in the center of the room, terminating in a sprinkler head. A mass of thorny vines covered in ivy grew out of a rotting mass of decaying compost all around the sprinkler head. Grey slime dripped from the seams of the metal plates along the wall. There was a narrow path from the corridor leading along the left wall to another exit at the next vertex to the left. The entire room stank of decaying plant matter and compost.

A ten-foot wide hole in the center of the ceiling opened to a shaft leading upward.

Argent moved through the dense vegetation and investigated the sprinkler head. Foul-smelling grey water dripped from the sprinkler. The shaft over his head rose over a hundred feet. He could see the atrium of the upper levels far above.

Argent rejoined the rest of the party as they navigated the narrow path into the second exit.

Cog of Acid
A narrow passage connected the sprinkler room to another pentagonal room with two exits. The two rooms were separated by another gap through which it was wide enough for someone to stick their head.  This room was decorated with friezes of five serpentine black dragons. The room was bare and possessed a chemical odor. A close examination of the dragons revealed small concealed nozzles in each of the dragons' mouths.

The room was quickly and nervously abandoned as the party moved through the second exit, across another gap, and down a short corridor into a small room.

Control Room
The room was twenty-five feet square. The center of the room was dominated by a large brass control panel. The panel possessed a blue knob and a red knob, a blue button and a red button, and a large level which was capped with a gold star-shaped handle.

A skeleton with a large octagonal key growing from the back of its skull was pondering an array of five groups of three circles illustrated on the far wall. Xoc-Wik disassembled the skeleton with a single bowshot.

Each of the five diagrams consisted of three pentagons arranged in a kind of triangle and five icons - a star, wavy lines, a steamroller, tusks, and a chain. Each pentagon in the diagram contained two open vertices. Beneath each diagram was a  glass bulb. The glass bulb beneath the third diagram was glowing.

Above the diagrams were three pipes.

The party quickly deduced that the diagrams represented the pentagon-shaped rooms through which they recently traversed and that the openings coincided with the exits in each room. They surmised that the third diagram represented the current configuration and that the openings matched their passage through the rooms. They further concluded that the rooms somehow rotated and that the panel in this room controlled their configuration.

Apparently wasted no time. She turned the blue knob to the left. The illuminated bulb switched to indicate the second diagram. She pushed the blue button and the entry to room just behind the control room rotated away to the left.

  Wheels in Motion
 Argent and Bramble observed the rotating rooms from the entrance way. They saw that the pentagonal rooms were situated atop massive rotating cogs rising out of pylons in the underground lake. The cogs turned against each other so that when the closest room rotated clockwise, the center room rotated counter-clockwise, and the far room clockwise.  There was a brief moment when the flat side of the pentagonal room was far enough away from the entrance that one could step out onto the cog and grab onto the exterior of the rotating room.

Bramble and Argent stepped out and climbed atop the closest room. They saw the ceiling of the cavern above them. Massive cogs and gears were driven by huge chains and drive-shafts. Small masked pallid figures climbed on catwalks and dangled from harnesses as they maintained the machinery. The figures noticed the pair standing atop the rotating room but paid them no heed.

They saw three enclosed catwalks atop pilings in the lake. One led to the center room - the corridor they had taken. The other two would connect with the previously unseen third room if the correct configuration was chosen. They also saw a large concrete pillar within which contained the stairwell they used to descend to this level. They saw the outside of the metal hatch. The outside was carved or cast to resemble the green devil face design so prevalent in the Tomb of the Nine Gods. The hatch led to a short dock made of metal grating. Two small rowboats were tied to the dock and an iron cage large enough for a man was suspended over the water by a gibbet.

The room eventually stopped rotating in a configuration matching the second diagram, the diagram that Apparently had chosen.

As they carefully made their way across the roof of the first room, Argent once more saw the little wet girl. She was standing on the water of the lake as if it were solid. She held the red ball in her hands.

Argent and Bramble froze. They could both see her.

The little wet girl communicated telepathically directly into their minds, "Would you play ball with me?"

Argent became stern, "No! Go away!"

The little girl threw her ball at Argent. It bounced with an audible "Tank!" off the outside wall of the pentagon and bounced across the water as if it were a solid floor.

Argent was nearly overcome with the urge to dive into the water to recover the ball. He held fast and shouted at the girl, "Be gone!"

The little girl vanished.

Bramble and Argent cautiously clambered down the side and hopped across to the middle room. He saw that the entrance to the previously unseen third room were open. However, when stopped, the corners of the pentagons nearly met. Since the entrances were located on the corners, the pair found the open entrances blocked by the proximity of the opposite corner of the adjacent room. The gap was large enough to look in, however, so Argent examined the room within.

The entrance was barred by a portcullis. The other entrance was likewise barred. Within they saw five wardrobes decorated by friezes.

DM Comment- 
We had continued to joke all night about micro-transactions in D&D. At this point, Bramble's player, frustrated at the puzzles and logic problems in this level, pulled out his wallet and just threw all his money and credit cards on the table - "How do we make this level go away? Just take it! Take it all!"

They climbed back to the control room. They found that the entrance was covered in slime which was pouring freely out of the three pipes in the control room.

"Wha-a-a-at-?" stammered Bramble.

"Well, we now know that when you pull the gold lever, it activates the slime dispenser!" said Apparently, exasperatedly.

"Wh- Why? Why is there a slime dispenser? And why so much?" said Bramble.

Apparently and Zeynap only shrugged.

The party set about planning possible room configurations that would connect them to the other passages. They knew that the third configuration  would get them to the center room but someone would need to stay behind to set the controls to the first configuration and operate the button. Orvex volunteered but the group overruled, choosing Apparently and Zeynap to stay behind.

Xoc-Wik donned his magical helmet obtained from beneath the arena in Omu. It allowed him to make a telepathic link with Apparently so that they could remain in contact.

Apparently set the rooms to the third configuration. Everyone moved back to the center room. There was a faint chemical smell and the plants were now glistening wet from the sprinkler. Xoc-Wike gave Apparently the signal to activate the first configuration. The room began to rotate. As it did so, the  sprinkler activated, spraying the plants with watered down ooze! The plants began to come alive! The vines writhed and twisted together to form huge woody tentacles!

The room came to a stop. The exits lined up with the third room and a mysterious smaller room. As the exit lined up with the smaller room, poisonous insecticide gas poured out. The gas spread through the room, causing those within to cough and gag.

The plants began to coalesce into animated behemoths. Bramble, coughing, ordered everyone to group up inside the small gas room, forcing the shambling plant-things to fight them one at a time. Argent would hold them off. Bramble said, "Don't worry! I have a plan!"

Zorai and Orvex led Xoc-Wik, who had succumbed to brain fever thanks to the gas cloud, into the small room. Bramble stood  behind Argent. Argent took a defensive position at the choke point.

Bramble called upon the spirits of nature to coalesce into a spinning maelstrom inside the small confines of the room. A massive swirling storm came into being, tearing the shambling plant-things apart with gale winds and torrential rain. Argent held steadfast as the vines could do nothing to abate the hurricane force winds and were eventually shredded into debris.

DM Comment-
There were three shambling mounds but they had a good choke-point. The Maelstrom had dispersed the gas. Only one shambling mound could attack Argent at a time and it could not get past his Dodge actions. After they destroyed the first shambling mound and had reduced the second to half hit points, I just called the fight. There was no point in continuing.

Once the plant-things were reduced to small bits, the party could investigate the small room in which they took refuge. The room contained the body of a male human, an Avallonian by his appearance and dress, wearing the livery of the Company of the Yellow Banner. He was obviously a nobleman and had died from the poison gas when he became trapped in this small room. Lawrence revealed that the man was the leader of the company, Lord Brixton. From the looks of him, he  had died two months ago. The party searched the body and recovered a sword with a pommel shaped like a dragon head and clothing bearing a minor magical enchantment that maintained their cleanliness. He also carried a pack of supplies and a pouch containing six gemstones.

Meanwhile, back in the control room, Zeynap was becoming restless.

"Is it time to turn it?" He inquired impatiently.

"No!" replied Apparently, "I have to wait for their signal!"

The spirit of I'Jin inside Zeynap couldn't take it. Zeynap began tapping his feet. He then sprang to the control panel and started pushing the red and blue buttons.

Apparently shouted for him to stop but it was too late. A heavy iron door slammed shut over the single exit, sealing them in.

"Stop!" she cried.

Apparently used her super-human Kubazan strength to try to lift the door but with no success. "Well, we're stuck."

"What does this red knob do?" inquired Zeynap, bitterly.

"Might as well find out." She turned the red knob.

A telepathic voice spoke to her mind. It was the petulant voice of a young girl, "No, Gorra! No more slime!"

"Um, hello?" said Apparently.

"You're not Gorra! Are.. are you really somebody else? You aren't playing a trick on me, are you Gorra?"

"Who is this?" she inquired cautiously.

"My name is 'Goo-lah-rool'. What's your name? Would you like to play with me?"

Apparently and Zeynap looked at each other in panic. They gestured wildly but were reluctant to communicate any further with the telepathic voice. Apparently turned the red knob back to the opposite position.

"No! Wait! I can help y-" The voice was cut off.

Cog of Blood
The portcullis that once barred entry into the third room was now raised and the party made their way inside.

They found five wardrobes, each decorated and carved with a different theme. The second exit, however, was still barred. Mounted on the wall above the exit were five red glass spheres.

The first wardrobe depicted two inhuman armies clashing. One army consisted of Warlords, Marauders, Crushers, and Dregs from the Scourge of Ji-Go battling armies of Crimson Draconians.

The second wardrobe depicted an old woman with an evil countenance dangling an infant  over her open mouth as if she was about to swallow it whole.

The third wardrobe showed an ornate clock and complicated gears.

The fourth wardrobe depicted masses of screaming tortured humanoids bound by chains.

The fifth wardrobe was carved to depict a scene of ghouls gnawing on bones.

"Here we go." warned Argent as he opened the fourth wardrobe.