Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Secret of Nymph - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 11

The nymph known as Farrah promised to return at dawn the next day with a gift so the A-Team decided to wait for her within the abandoned tower.

They took turns sleeping on the magic bed. They read through the dead wizard's library.  They partook of meals prepared by Mister Popo the genie. All the while, the magical attraction engine continued to radiate weird magical energy.

Marlin had a short conversation with Mona, the quasit trapped within a magical cage of force. Mona asked if Marlin had stolen anything from the genie's hoard. Marlin said no. Mona replied, "Why not? It's not like he can chase you! I tell you what. If you let me out, I'll tell you a secret about the genie!"

Marlin considered the offer and consulted with Auric the priest. Auric told Marlin that it sounded like Mona already let the secret slip. "It's not like the genie can chase you? I'm guessing Mister Popo can't leave the vault." Marlin decided to leave both Mona and Mister Popo alone.

After resting, the warforged guardian Alot Aname awoke covered in accumulated magical dust. He brushed it off of his ceramic plated body and was shocked to discover that the magic dust had changed him! His hands and feet now possessed webbed membranes and a dorsal ridge now ran down his neck and back!

This was intolerable. Alot wanted to destroy the magical attraction engine! The others reminded him that Mister Popo would prevent him. Alot replied, "Well, can we at least turn it off?"

The others were caught short. Could it be that simple? They went back to the vault and asked Mister Popo if they could deactivate the magical attraction engine. Mister Popo shrugged and showed them the lever that turned it off. Shutting down the engine caused the magical energy to disappear. Everything felt normal again!

Suddenly there was a call from downstairs. Farrah had returned.

The A-Team ran downstairs to greet the nymph. She looked disappointed. She told them that she could not retrieve their gift. It was located within a grove of trees she once inhabited nearby before she was captured by the wizard. However, some magical force had corrupted the trees.

She needed their help!

The A-Team:
  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Sorceress from Ket. 
  • Annor Whalerson - Neutral Good, Human Marine and Fighter from Saltmarsh. 
  • Marlin Whalerson - Neutral Good,  Human Seeker and Rogue.
  • Auric Ravenson - Neutral Good, Aasimar Shipwright and Cleric of the Raven King.
With special guest stars...
  • "Amnesia" - Water Genasi Amnesiac Rogue.
  • Alot Aname - Warforged Fighter.

Attack of the Trees
Farrah created a magical portal. The A-Team stepped through and found themselves standing in the courtyard of the keep just outside the tower. It was nearing sunset. The party had completely lost track of time after spending several days exploring the windowless tower. The tower stood nearby, completely visible. It was made of smooth white marble and appeared to be brand new.

Ahead of them was a large willow tree surrounded by several twisted smaller trees. The entire copse of trees were discolored, slowly moving through purple, pink, green, black, and purple again. The tips of the branches were gently swaying to a non-existent breeze.

Farrah pointed to the trees, "In there!"

"Right!" said Aella as she began hurling small bolts of frost magic at the cypress.

The bolts had no effect on the tree other than to cause it to come to life!

The big tree began moving through the ground, not walking exactly, but plowing through the earth. The other smaller trees likewise sprang into motion, charging Aella whom they perceived as a dangerous threat.

A line of smaller trees rushed the party, launching a hail of thorny projectiles at Aella as they charged. Annor and Aname moved forward to intercept them while Aella and Auric remained in the rear.

Marlin, for reasons that remain known only to Marlin, ran away and hid in the collapsed shell of the old stables. As he crept into the stables, he was beset by dozens of bats that swarmed his head. He did his best to shield his face and head from the many bites and scratches as they circled his head and flew away into the darkening sky. Seeing no benefit to be gained from his hiding place, Marlin ran back to rejoin the melee.

Annor and Aname chopped down the first line of skirmishers as a second group of trees, slightly heavier and covered in vines, lumbered towards them in front of the cypress.

Marlin could see the glint of a pulsating crystalline shard of distilled magic embedded in the bark of the tree, encrusted in decades of growth. He attempted to pull it out using a magical cantrip but it was too ensconced in the bark and refused to budge.

The tree got close enough to reach out and slam Marlin, knocking him into the soft ground. Marlin laid there unconscious for but a moment as Auric recited a prayer of healing. Marlin opened his eyes to see a celestial raven standing on his chest. The raven flew away and disappeared into nothingness before his eyes. Marlin grabbed his rapier and rejoined the fray.

Aella cast a Witch Bolt spell on the tree and lightning arced from her hands, exploding the tree in a shower of bark and splinters. Annor followed up with some mighty strikes from his incredibly long sword and the tree fractured and fell to inanimate pieces. The remaining smaller trees were soon destroyed.

Farrah appeared and produced a cloak from the remains of the tree. The cloak appeared to be made of bark. She gave it Marlin, telling him that the cloak protected the wearer and gave them good luck. Marlin in turn supplied the cloak to Aname.

DM Note-
Cloak of Protection, +1 AC, +1 Saving Throws.

Marlin wrapped his hand in a strip of cloth and carefully picked up the glowing shard of crystalline mana at the heart of the tree. He placed it in his backpack in order to return it to his wizard mentor Keledek later.

Night had fallen by the time the battle was over but no one was tired. Their sense of time had been completely disrupted by several days trapped within the tower. Auric created a holy light to appear above Aella's staff and, in spite of the darkness, the party decided to continue upriver towards the rendezvous with the smugglers.

Before they left, they reentered the tower and retraced their steps, avoiding the traps and monsters along the way, in order to pull the lever and reactivate the force barrier protecting the tower. Once that was completed, they returned to the surface and began their journey upriver.

A River Runs Through It
The A-Team trudged through the mud and tall grass of the Dunwater river's left bank all night. The journey was difficult and the party had to cross small tributaries and slippery muddy shoals in the darkness. Amnesia had been their guide and tracker but she was now debilitated by the brain jellies. Aella, as someone with a background of overland travel, volunteered to take point and lead the way.

By the pre-dawn, patience was beginning to become in short supply.  Several people demanding Marlin tell them how much further they had to go. Marlin admitted he didn't know.  His instructions were to travel upriver until they encountered the old chain in the river. This answer did not help. Auric angrily pointed out that no one could see more than sixty feet in the darkness and they could have easily passed a chain in the night. Marlin became defensive and the two began to argue.

Suddenly the party was attacked from below as the very mud below them came to life!

The slimy mud became animated. It formed thick pseudopods which slammed against the members of the party.  Alot sliced at one of the heaving masses of mud with his sword only to have it split into two separate muddy forms.

"Don't slice them!" he shouted to the others.

Marlin disappeared into the grass while his brother Annor changed weapons. He sheathed his flamberge and drew his long-handled warhammer.

Annor swung his hammer at the gelatinous creatures while Alot stabbed at them with his sword. Marlin emerged from hiding and used cooperative tactics with Annor to position the slime creatures for a swift lunge! Meanwhile Auric prayed for celestial ravens to beset the creatures and Aella threw small rays if icy magic at them.

Despite putting up a brutal defense, eventually all the mud creatures were defeated. 

DM Note-
At one point, Aella was getting tired of nickel-and-diming her ochre jelly and was about to hit it with Witch Bolt.  But I recalled how she felt like her Witch Bolt was wasted in the last fight so I said, "Are you sure? Weren't you just complaining about overkill?"  She said, "You're right. Ray of frost!"

I immediately kicked myself! Witch Bold does lightning damage. Each round would have split the ochre jelly into two new ochre jellies. The look on her face would have been EPIC! Oh well. 

The sky was now light enough to see the river clearly. Ahead of them a large iron chain, each link as big as a ten year old boy, stretched across the river, connected to a pylon in its center. To the left were some ancient ruins. Visible just within the tumbled walls of the ruins was a makeshift palisade made of young trees. The smoke of breakfast campfires could be seen rising into the air. There were several boats pulled up onto the muddy bank of the river nearby.

The party approached the camp. The rough-sounding voice of a guard called out, "Oy! Who goes there?"

Rendezvous with Smugglers
The A-Team announced themselves and Marlin acted as their spokesman. Marlin gave the appropriate sign and the party was taken to the leader - a ruffian named Chaswick Headglove.

DM's Note-
You guessed it, I asked the players to name the NPC.

Marlin made small talk with the leader of the smugglers. The party was a day later than expected. Marlin explained that they lost their boat when it was destroyed by the sahuagin.

The leader gave Marlin the package, a crate roughly two feet wide and three feet long.

"Ey, 'Ow you plannin' to git that past the guards at the gate, annywee?"

Marlin smirked, "Like this." He produced a bag that looked large enough to hold a pumpkin at most. He opened the mouth of the bag and placed the crate within. Magically and mysteriously the entire crate disappeared into the much smaller bag.

"Blimey!" replied the leader.

"Oh, and we're going to need one of your boats. One big enough for all of us." demanded Marlin.

"What's this?" responded the leader, incredulously.

Marlin's demeanor became menacing. He leaned forward, "We're not walking back. We're late enough. We're going to take one of your boats, a NICE one."

The leader became flustered and backed down, "Of- of course, sir." He shouted orders for his men to prepare one of the longboats for sail.

DM Note-
Marlin rolled a natural 20 on his intimidation check. 

The Return to Saltmarsh
The journey back to Saltmarsh was uneventful and, thanks to their new single-mast sailboat, was relatively quick. They departed the smuggler camp just an hour after dawn, arrived at the mouth of the Dunwater river by noon, and sailed into port in Saltmarsh by mid afternoon.

During their journey, Marlin and Annor debated the ethics of smuggling. Marlin saw no problem with the practice while Annor felt it was unpatriotic and a violation of both the law and one's fealty to the king of Keoland. Auric, meanwhile, believed the practice to be dishonest and therefore sinful.  Marlin rolled his eyes and agreed to pay the proper taxes upon their return.

True to his word, as soon as they arrived in Saltmarsh with sacks full of gold and silver from the wizard's tower, Marlin reported to the reeve to declare their windfall. He dutifully turned ten percent of their treasure over to the crown. The rest was divided evenly among the members of the A-Team.

Marlin made no mention of the item in his magic bag.

Marlin took his leave of the others and delivered the item he had smuggled in his bag to Gellan Primewater's house. Gellan thanked him and told him to Marlin to meet him on the dock at sunset. Gellan said he needed to show Marlin something important and confidential.

Marlin went to the dock by Gellan's house at sunset. Gellan was waiting for him with the package. They got into a small rowboat and Gellan ordered Marlin to row towards the estuary of the Janustream river. The sun had gone down and it was a dark moonless night. The only light came from Gellan's hooded lantern which shone a beam before them. Gellan directed Marlin to row between the large rocks at the base of the rugged shore beneath the Tower of Zenopus. Marlin was surprised to discover a hidden cave!

Marlin and Gellan maneuvered the rowboat into a winding cave and five hundred feet down a flooded tunnel. They reached a grotto with a sandy beach. There was another rowboat on the beach and two rough-looking men sitting at a table playing cards under a lantern. They stood to attention when Gellan came into view and helped pull Gellan's rowboat to shore and unload its cargo.

Gellan explained to Marlin that he has an agreement with the wizard Keledek. Keledek has secret chambers beneath the ruins of the tower above. Since the Organization recently lost its former smuggling rendezvous in the old haunted house, Keledek has allowed the Organization to use these caves. But Gellan had to pay a price.

Gellan put the cargo on the table. He picked up a nearby crowbar and opened the crate.

Marlin's jaw dropped, "Is.. Is that for Keledek?"

Gellan stepped back, "Yes."

To Be Continued...

DM's Notes-
Well, that's what I said. But the players weren't quite done.
This was actually the point where Marlin added up the value of all the loot and everyone paid taxes.

It's totally funny to me that the players decided to pay taxes entirely on their own. I did not mention it, I didn't force it, I even had to be reminded about it. 

It all started a few weeks ago when Annor confronted Marlin about joining the Organization. Both players really got into the debate about the ethics of smuggling. Annor, the former marine and soldier of the Royal Navy of Keoland, is completely against smuggling and believes it to be illegal and unpatriotic. Marlin, the less scrupulous murderer and treasure hunter, is more flexible on the ethics. Auric also took a negative view of smuggling but for different reasons having to do with deception and sin. Aella and Alot are both neutral while Amnesia sided with Marlin, pointing out that all the taxes go to the king and the corrupt aristocracy and isn't spent anywhere near Saltmarsh.

Amnesia's player then asked Annor's player when was the last time any of his D&D characters have ever paid any taxes. Annor's player conceded the hypocrisy. It's easy to judge when you're not making any sacrifices. 

So the players decided to pay their taxes! Fair and square! Marlin agreed to pay his taxes for no other reason than to serve as cover to deflect suspicion from his other smuggling activities.

After paying their taxes, the players decided to spend some of their money. They each had over 5000 gp worth of treasure!

They went to Captain Xendros and paid their memberships to "Fantasy Costco" and perused her stock of magic items (I roll each week to see what she has in stock). Annor put in a special order for a magical flamberge.

Then they all kind of surprised me. 

Aella bought a house in Saltmarsh and went shopping through the Player's Handbook, furnishing her new home with household goods.

Auric began building a small temple to Tristan near the graveyard.

Annor, meanwhile, purchased some goats and hired an expert cheese-maker and two shepherds. He's expanding the family goat-cheese making operation from one goat to a full herd and turning it into a proper business! 

Aella's player burst out laughing at one point. "You can tell we're all middle aged adults playing D&D when our night of high adventure includes paying our taxes, buying a house, and starting a goat cheese business!"

I then bellowed, "HIGH ADVENTURE!!"

On a final note - when I started this campaign, my plan was to run a loose series of standalone adventures. Players were encouraged to experiment with their characters, swap characters each time, etc. We would then play other non-D&D games between each module. 

Despite my intentions its turning into a full campaign and my players have never been more invested in a location, their characters, or a story. 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Mysterious Laboratory - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 10

Alot Aname descended the stairs into the dungeon beneath the mysterious tower. He had followed the trail left by the A-Team who had left the warforged sentinel in Saltmarsh the previous day. He held aloft his torch and saw to his left a room that appeared to be an ancient armory. The sorceress Aella was standing in the room alone. He called out her name.

Aella shuddered as she emerged from the "Brain Jellies". She was in the armory. The warforged sentinel she had recently met was standing before her, coldly inquiring about her status.

She replied that she didn't know. The last thing she remembered was going into a room piled with carcasses. She led Alot down the hall and to the left to that room. There they found a large owlbear matron guarding two mutated owlbear chublets as they fed on the remains of a recently dismembered otyugh. Bloody footprints covered the floor and led out the exit on the far wall.

The matron was more concerned about protecting her young than attacking so they cautiously made their way around the room without provoking her. They entered a room covered with excavation debris from two tunnels - apparently created by the owlbears. There was also a section of false wall removed to reveal a hidden room to the left. After a brief exploration of the tunnels the pair entered the hidden room and discovered a secret ladder concealed within an iron maiden-style torture implement.

They descended the stairs and found a strange room filled with a vaporous liquid that caused their eyes to sting. Seeing no way around the liquid, Aella climbed onto the warforged back and was carried across the room. Alot's legs were burned by acid but he was able to make it across without difficulty.

They followed the corridor down a winding path to a long room with four keys. They took a left and entered a long corridor filled with open pit traps in the floor. Aella was able to deftly leap to the other side. Alot, who was more clumsy, used a rope. Aella held the other end while Alot swung across to the other side. They discovered that there were six pits that needed to be traversed. On a few of them, Alot and Aella misjudged the swing and Alot fell into the spikes.

They eventually made their way into a room with rounded corners. An open iron chest was in the center of the room. There they encountered the other members of the A-Team. They were in a hallway past the room preparing to open a marble door with an iron key.

The A-Team:
  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Sorceress from Ket. 
  • Annor Whalerson - Neutral Good, Human Marine and Fighter from Saltmarsh. 
  • Marlin Whalerson - Neutral Good,  Human Seeker and Rogue.
  • Auric Ravenson - Neutral Good, Aasimar Shipwright and Cleric of the Raven King.
With special guest stars...
  • "Amnesia" - Human (?) Amnesiac Rogue.
  • Alot Aname - Warforged Fighter.
The Mysterious Rust Monsters of the Infinite Corridor
With the A-Team reunited, Annor decided to open the marble door.

The door opened to reveal another eighty foot long corridor. Before them were three creatures that resembled strange arthropods or crustaceans with strange two-lobed tails and two long feelers covered in fine hairs.

Marlin cried out, "Rust monsters!"

To their further confusion, behind the rust monsters were six humanoids - duplicates of themselves in every way. When Annor moved, the duplicate Annor moved.

Annor turned around and looked behind them. Three rust monsters, identical in every way to the ones before them, had mysteriously appeared in the hall behind them! What's more- the doorway behind them that once led to the room with the trapped iron chest was replaced with another section of hallway with exact duplicates of themselves!

They were in an infinitely repeating corridor!

Knowing the rust monsters' reputation for turning weapons and armor to dust, Annor looked at his ridiculously long sword and winced. He put it back into its scabbard and borrowed Aella's wooden staff. He also moved to the center of the group to protect his expensive plate mail armor.

Alot Aname was an artificial being, a construct made to guard and protect important objects. He was made of ceramic plates with magical rubber muscles but he also had metal joints and a metallic skeleton. He wasn't sure what kind of effect the rust monsters would have on his body. Despite his uncertainty, he bravely charged the rust monsters behind him but was unable to injure it.

Amnesia took out the magical wooden sword found earlier that day in the crypt of Glorian. She rushed the strange insect-like creatures and stabbed it to death.

Aella and Auric did their best to support the others at range with magic spells and holy prayers while Marlin loosed several arrows. Annor eventually ran up and whacked at some rust monsters with Aella's staff.

Alot managed to stab one of the creatures with his short sword but the weapon dissolved to flakes of rust in his hand!

Eventually all of the rust monsters were defeated with only the loss of a single short sword.

DM Note-
We had a short debate about whether a rust monster's attack would lower the AC of the armor plating of the warforged. I argued that his AC would be decremented just like any other character's worn armor. The player argued that his plating wasn't necessarily metal and was therefore unaffected.

Luckily he was never actually hit so the point became moot. But I did some research later and for future reference, in lieu of AC reduction,  a rust monster will do 2d6 damage to a warforged. 

Having defeated their foes, the party was still faced with an infinitely repeating hallway. They tried walking one way to see if it ended. It didn't. They reversed their direction but encountered no end. They split up and met themselves in the middle. They tried pulling and pushing the lever that deactivated and reactivated the force field protecting the tower. Nothing worked.

Amnesia eventually suggested closing the iron door behind them, then closing the marble door before them. They did so. Amnesia then opened the marble door while the iron door was still closed.

The marble door opened into an empty round room, smooth as marble and soft white. The room was magically lit from an unseen source. A wide set of stairs rose in the center of the room and disappeared into the ceiling.

There was cheering.

The Mysterious Living Room
The doorway in which they entered was located in the middle of a round room. There was nothing but empty space behind the doorway. The stairs appeared to ascend towards outside edge of a circular tower. However, when they climbed the stairs they discovered that they were pointing towards the center of the next level. Either the second level was off-set from the lower level or the stairs magically changed direction.

The second level was more warmly decorated than the soft featureless white marble of the entrance.
There were rugs, a bed, an armchair, a desk, a well stocked library, and a standing wardrobe. Four magical globes drifted through the air. Each globe glowed with soft daylight and illuminated the room.

A desiccated corpse, naked safe for a threadbare pointed cap, lay slumped in a chair near the desk. A manuscript lay open on the desk, an old stylus was worn to a nub. The manuscript was filled with writing, legible and orderly at first, but degenerating to mad scribbles and doodles over time.

Marlin jumped at the chance to read the manuscript aloud!

I am a wizard. Nowhere in these notes have I written my name for I am confident you know who I am.
I am infatuated with force magic and residuum and most of my writings is on these subjects.
I had a plan to summon pure residuum from the astral plane but doing so would be dangerous. So I built my tower far from civilized lands in the Hool Marsh.
It was an old ruined keep that was unoccupied for at least three generations and it was built upon the ruins of an even older civilization.
I chose to build my tower here
My tower was made of gleaming white marble and stood out in stark contrast to the ruins around it at that time. The ruins were fairly recent, having resulted from a minor war some sixty years prior that swept the area of civilized occupants.
I was aware that wandering monsters and wandering adventurers would always remain a threat so I made the entrance to my tower quite difficult.
I explored the ruins thoroughly. I hid the entrance to my tower deep underground behind a secret door that itself in a secret room built by the long gone owners of the ruins.
Past that I installed a series of traps that I could bypass with the correct command word, which I obviously won't write down for some fool to find, but were otherwise quite deadly
I also installed a backup procedure by leaving behind a set of spare keys should I ever need them. But they were hidden and protected by skeletons in an ancient tomb that the keep's builders had inadvertently excavated.
I told no one about these keys except this journal so no one would think to look for them.
All in all the tower was extremely well protected. The simple fact that there were no ground level entrances deterred most wandering monsters.
I was aware of the few adventures and marauding orcs that tried to get in because I would find their rotting bodies impaled on my spiked traps or dissolved in my acid pits whenever I left for a few months to get supplies but no one ever made it to the tower itself.
My next step was to create a summoning stone, my masterpiece.
The summoning stone would draw residuum from the depths of space like a powerful magical magnet . The residuum would fall from the sky crashing to earth. I had no way of catching the residuum so I decided to protect my tower and my magical magnet behind a powerful magical wall of force.
The wall of force would be impenetrable. No physical force, no energy, no ethereal being could penetrate the wall. It would be my masterpiece
I would be completely defended from any astronomical impact.
Researching and devising such a spell was a great joy for me. For almost a decade I labored in my tower studying ways to modify and embower a basic wall of force spell.
I needed a permanent version large enough to encase the entire tower and also block the falling stones from the sky.
I also needed a way to control it, turning it on and off
Eventually I devised a spell that would do the trick. I also spent a fortune building a wondrous item to control the spell - a magically enchanted lever.
That lever was placed at the entrance to my tower and I could use it to turn the force wall on and lock myself in the tower
When I wanted to leave I would simply pull the lever and drop the wall of force and secure the traps during my short absence to make sure no one else locked themselves in while I was gone.
I prepared all my materials and readied the lever and began the enchantment process on top of my tower. Over the many days I labored and enchanted until the final words were spoken and my hair stood on end as I felt the massive force wall surge into place.
My tower was completely encased.
I activated my powerful residuum attractor. Now all I had to do was wait for the residuum to fall from the sky.
Triumphantly I went downstairs to test my lever and there I discovered my fatal error.
The lever which was on the wall of the corridor leading into the tower was outside the force wall!
I had made the force wall just a few inches too small!
There was no way for me to turn off the force wall! It was permanent and invulnerable and blocked teleportation and all other spells including mage hand!
I couldn't get to the lever that would turn off my force field!
I'd trapped myself for eternity!
So I will live on trapped in my prison. Eventually I will go made die of old age or commit suicide, we shall see.
Maybe I will find a way out.
(at this point the manuscript degenerates from desperate calculations and theories into unhinged fragments as the wizard slowly goes insane over time)

DM Note-
Marlin's player read my printed manuscript out loud. He did an amazing job reading in the voice of the desperate wizard. He did such a good job that I told him to level up right then and there! 

Afterwards, Marlin investigated the rest of the room. The bookshelf spoke to him as he approached, "What boom would you like?" It was a magical library that produced books as requested, sending them flying to the air to gently land on the desk open to the requested information.

The wardrobe had a dial like a timer set in its centerpiece. The interior was empty save for a few hangers. Marlin put his dirty bloody boots into the wardrobe and set the dial to the beginning. It began counting down seconds. After ten minutes it counted down to zero and went "ding!". Marlin opened the door to a gentle waft of steam and his boots were clean and like new. Everyone took turns cleaning their dirty clothes.

Another set of stairs led to the next level.

The Mysterious Twins
The third level was an experimental laboratory of some kind. There were three large force cages and a control box with three levers. The force cage on the left side of the room contained a female human with long brown hair. She had the desperate look of a prisoner longing for freedom. The force cage contained her exact twin. The third force cage completely enclosed the set of stairs that led to the next higher level.

“Oh, thank goodness you’ve come! Please free me! My name is Farrah! I'm a dryad. I’ve been trapped here for centuries!”

“Don’t listen to her! She’s evil! My name is Mona! Free me and I’ll tell you how to escape!”

Farrah continued, “Please save me! You don’t know what it’s been like in this tower with this – this – this fiend for all these years!”

Mona interrupted, “She’s lying! She’ll lead you to a trap! Let me free!”

Farrah pointed at the control panel with the three levers, “See the control panel? Push the far left
button. It will free me. I will reward you if you free me!”

Mona became agitated “NO! Don’t listen to her! She’ll trap you! Push the middle button. All the others are traps!”

Farrah scolded Mona, “No, they’re not traps! The right button lifts the cage on the stairs, and the left button frees me. You can pass up the stairs if you’d like. But please, free me first!”

Mona desperately begged the party, “Don’t fall for it! She’s evil! Only the middle button isn’t a trap"

After some additional interrogation, Farrah told them that she was a dryad and that Mona was a quasit, a type of demon, who had shape changed into her duplicate to trick them. Mona called Farrah a liar and claimed that she was the dryad and that Farrah was the quasit.

Auric rolled his eyes, "This is one of those 'One can tell only the truth, the other can only lie' situations."

Annor stepped in between the two cells. He looked over his shoulders towards the others, "I got it. Watch this." He turned back towards the cells and whispered, "(quasit say what?)"

Both Mona and Farrah looked confused, "I'm sorry, could you say that again? Did you say 'quasit say what?"

"Yeah, I couldn't quite hear that. What were you whispering?"

Alot Aname approached Farrah and asked her politely, "Farrah, which one of you is more beautiful?"

Farrah replied, "Well, we're identical now, so neither. But when she returns to her true form, she's a hideous demon."

"Mona, same question."

Mona became agitated, "Don't listen to that hag! I'm obviously more beautiful! I'll do whatever you want. I mean it. ANYTHING! Please set me free!"

Alot walked over and pulled the lever on the far left, freeing Farrah, then pulled the lever on the right, releasing the stairs. Mona remained incarcerated in her magical cell.

"What? Seriously!" Mona became angry and released her human guise, once more looking like a twisted demon with horns, claws, and a long thick tail. "This is an outrage! Set me free now! Set me free or I will roast you alive! I will eat you and your entire family!"

Farrah thanked the party and told them that she would return to this spot at dawn the next day with a reward. She then disappeared into thin air!

Mona's angry insults and threats faded as they ascended to the fourth level.

The Mysterious Workshop
The next level was a workshop of sorts. There was a table or workbench with old smashed magical apparatuses, books, measuring devices, etc. Most of them had been destroyed out of frustration. In the middle of the room were two boxes made of magical force. There was a doorway within each portal and a doorway nearby outside each portal. Additionally, there were three doors set in the curved wall of the room.

Aella looked around and mentally estimated the height of the ceiling, "If I'm not mistaken, this should be ground level."

Marlin set about carefully searching the wall opposite the doors for any hidden doors or closets. Meanwhile, Amnesia opened the door in front of a force cage. The doorway magically led to the interior of the force cage. Amnesia walked in and walked out again. Auric watched on while he rested, "What's the point of that?"

Marlin paused in his search and said, "His manuscript said he was doing experiments on dimensional doors inside force cages. He learned he could put a force cage around an existing dimension door but couldn't create a dimension door that would lead outside the force cage protecting this tower."

Aella opened the doors along the wall. The first door opened to an entry foyer like the one at the bottom of the tower. Amnesia volunteered to go through the door. She ran back upstairs, past Mona, and verified it led to the bottom of the tower.

The second door revealed a room full of large rocks. The rocks immediately came to life and began to push their way out of the door. Aella, with Auric's help, quickly shoved the door closed against the weight of the rocks.

"Let's keep that one closed." quipped Auric.

The third door led to an empty closet.

Once they were done, they party looked around the room and scratched their heads. Auric was a bit disappointed, "Is that it? Where's that magical engine thing? There's got to be something else?"

It had been an hour and Marlin had successfully searched half the round tower. He continued along the other half and soon found a concealed door, "A-ha!"

They readied themselves for battle and Annor opened the door.

The Mysterious Genie
Beyond the concealed door was another round room, though this room had an eighty foot ceiling. Along the wall of the room was piled innumerable gold, silver, and platinum coins, gems, treasures, and artifacts. Hovering in mid-air about thirty feet up was a large mechanical device resembling an orrery. A globe of what appeared to be liquid lead was surrounded by multiple spinning wheels, each connected by armatures to smaller globes and smaller spinning wheels, each spinning slowly and all orbiting the larger globe.

Beneath the device, standing in the center of the room, was a short overweight man with pointed ears and jet black skin. He wore a white turban, a red vest, and white loose-fitting pants with a red sash tied around his waist. On his feet were silken slippers with pointed toes.

"Greetings! Welcome to the vault! My name is Mister Popo! How may I help you?"

DM Note-
Marlin's player said to me, "You just make all your genies Mister Popo because you like your Mister Popo mini and you like talking like him!"

I replied, "Lies and slander! I'll have none of it! But yes, obviously."

The party learned that Mister Popo was bound by oath to guard the treasure. He would prevent them from stealing even the tiniest coin. He was a pleasant fellow and said he'd regret doing so, because they seemed so nice and he hated to be rude, but if they tried to take anything from this room, he would end them horribly. He smiled.

The party spent the next half hour interrogating Mister Popo about the nature of the tower, the conditions of his imprisonment, and the extent of his capabilities. Mister Popo did his best to answer the questions. He even offered and provided complimentary treats, snacks, and later dinner, beer, wine, and tea. He never stopped smiling and never stopped being pleasant but he always reminded them of the threat he posed should they attempt to test him.

The party discussed their options. They suspected they could never defeat Mister Popo and they would feel bad even if they did. He was just so nice.

On one hand, the tower would make a perfect base of operations or hideout. The downsides being:

  1. the tower was no longer hidden or protected by the force barrier. Treasure hunters would come knocking.
  2. the magical attraction engine was still working, drawing shards of mana from the astral plane. Eventually a shard would strike the tower and destroy it - exactly the scenario for which the wizard created the force barrier.
  3. sleeping in the tower while the engine was working would likely eventually cause them to develop magical mutations!
  4. Without knowing the secret phrase to disable all the traps, getting into and out of the tower would prove difficult. It really needed a ground-level entrance.

However, if the tower WAS hit by a shard from space, it would destroy the vault and free Mister Popo and they could maybe recover some of the treasure. But there was no way of knowing when that would happen.

Ultimately, the party decided to leave Mister Popo alone and left the vault taking nothing. Everyone stood in the workshop looking at each other. There was no climactic battle. There was no enemy defeated and no glorious treasure won. All they got was a tower that was more trouble than it seemed to be worth.

Auric sighed heavily and shrugged.

To Be Continued...
Next week - a smugglers' rendezvous in the swamp. 

DM Note-
The genie guarding the treasure at the end of the Mysterious Tower is a CR 11 monster in 5e. Even in the original module it was not meant to be fought and defeated. Which leads to a very anti-climactic scene at the end of the module. You don't get to fight a boss, you don't get to take its stuff. 

My players spent maybe 30-45 minutes questioning the genie hoping to find some loophole to free it so they could get the treasure. They wouldn't get the hint that there was no loophole. I eventually just had to tell them, "There is no loophole! Quit trying to find one! The only way to release him from this oath is to kill the genie! Your decision is to fight it or leave."

The players were very unsatisfied by this ending. I was very unsatisfied by their dissatisfaction. In retrospect, I should have replaced the genie with an actual guardian boss monster of appropriate CL and level appropriate treasure.  

I have an idea how I might make it up to them next week and make this right. 

Friday, September 6, 2019

The Mysterious Fields of Force - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 9

Their rest completed and having exhausted all avenues apparent to them, the party retraced their steps to the stairs where they descended. They reluctantly and cautiously explored the corridor that reeked of urine and decay.

They entered into a large room that once contained barred holding cells along the left and right walls. The barred doors to each cell were open. There was a heap of partially eaten creatures piled in one corner of the room. A large monstrosity with three stumpy legs, two long tentacles, and a single eye stalk terminating in three beady red eyes. It took notice of the party's entrance and opened a wide disgusting mouth full of half-eaten carrion and sharp teeth, hissing its displeasure!

The A-Team:
  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Sorceress from Ket. (Absent)
  • Annor Whalerson - Neutral Good, Human Marine and Fighter from Saltmarsh. 
  • Marlin Whalerson - Neutral Good,  Human Seeker and Rogue.
  • Auric Ravenson - Neutral Good, Human (?) Shipwright and Cleric.
With special guest star...
  • "Amnesia" - Human (?) Amnesiac Rogue.


Marlin stepped forward and attempted to communicate with the strange creature, assuring it the party meant it no harm and requesting safe passage through the door behind it. The creature, known as an otyugh, responded by telepathically transmitting images of the party turning and leaving safely followed by images of the party trying to move to the door only to be horribly killed and eaten by the otyugh. Marlin once again tried to negotiate with the otyugh but its response was only more urgent. The otyugh's message was clear - it would not allow the party to pass.

Unable to come to an agreement, Marlin told his brother Annor to do his thing.

Annor grinned, hefted his claymore, and charged the scabrous beast!

The otyugh was surrounded by half-eaten carcasses and body parts which provided difficult footing. Annor slashed at the creature only to be picked up by one of its tentacles! The otyugh bit into Annor, delivering a poison that rendered Annor immobile! The otyugh proceeded to slam Annor into the wall, the floor, and the ceiling!

Marlin and Amnesia moved to flank the otyugh. Marlin was grabbed by the beasts other tentacle and likewise bitten! The otyugh repeatedly slammed both brothers against every hard surface. Amnesia and Auric were ultimately able to destroy the creature.

After the battle, it was obvious that Annor was not feeling well. The poison was still coursing through his body. Auric gave Annor an antitoxin but discovered that the elixir was preventative and was useless. He then offered a prayer to the Raven King to restore Annor's health. Auric's prayers were heard and Annor immediately felt better.

DM Note-I don't think we've had a good otyugh encounter in 5e before now but this was great! It was challenging and the players were really starting to sweat!

The party fighter got grappled then bitten. The follow-up slam attacks are bad news! The first slam stuns the fighter! Because he was stunned, he automatically failed Strength checks and couldn't escape the grapple! So he was slammed again each subsequent turn and kept failing his Constitution saving throws and taking 2d6 +3 damage per round!

When Marlin was grappled, there was a collective gasp of "Oh shit!" but they were able to pull it out in the end.


The door behind the otyugh was barely on its hinges and nearly fell over when opened. The room beyond was filled with debris from two rough tunnels dug into the earth - one to the left and one to the right. Each tunnel was large enough for a bear to crawl through.

Amnesia told the others to wait while she scouted ahead. She stealthily crawled through the tunnel to the right. After about thirty feet, she found a den occupied by a large bear-like creature called an owlbear covered in feathers. The creature was grossly overweight and almost egg-shaped. It was sleeping and snoring.

DM Note-
"(inhale) hoot-oot-oot-oot-oot!"

Worried that she alone could not kill such a large creature even while it slept, she retreated and rejoined the others. The party decided to return to the nearby armory to rest a few hours and regain their strength.

Marlin set up a noise-making trap outside the armory to alert the party of potential intruders. It was activated on two separate occasions but nothing tried to enter the armory itself. As they rested, Marlin's lantern ran out of oil. The only light in the subterranean chamber came from the faintly glowing crystals of the magical residue encrusting the walls. It was not enough to see by but one could just make out the dim outlines of the walls and the silhouettes of the others in the room.

DM Note-
I had each character make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw at the end of the long rest to see if they had received any mutations from prolonged exposure to the magical aura generated by the tower's force field. No one failed their saves so no mutations were had.

The party, now rested, decided to exit the armory and re-enter the chamber of the otyugh. Amnesia once more scouted ahead to the den of the sleeping owlbear. It was gone.

The party decided to travel as a group down the excavated tunnel to the left. Marlin was out of lantern oil and the party decided to keep their torches for emergencies. Auric prayed for light and caused an arrow to become illuminated. Marlin carried the arrow in the darkness.

After a few dozen feet they emerged into a dark chamber. Marlin threw the glowing arrow into the center of the room. The sudden illumination revealed that the chamber was occupied by three adult owlbears!

Each owlbear was strangely mutated by exposure to the magical aura. One owlbear had segmented eyestalks. The other had strangely scintillating feathers that changed colors to match the magical crystal residue. Finally there was the grossly overweight owlbear who drooled from his misshapen beak.

The owlbear with eyestalks and the owlbear with scintillating feathers rushed the entrance to engage with the intruders. A fierce battle ensued. The owlbear with eyestalks was the first to fall. To everyone's surprise, the owlbear's wounds slowly healed and it got back up off the ground to rejoin the fight! This continued - the owlbear would fall to an injury, heal, and get back up again - for several minutes!

The owlbear with the scintillating feathers was the second to fall, though its position was quickly replaced by the overweight owlbear. To Marlin's surprise, his deadly sneak attacks proved ineffective against the owlbear's ponderous bulk. Soon it, too, fell before Annor's mighty steel.

This left only the regenerating owlbear with eyestalks. Auric suggested that fire might be needed to kill it, but no one had any! Amnesia quickly drew a torch and a firestarter. She lit the torch and used it to strike the regenerating owlbear. This time the creature remained dead!

THE NURSERYThe A-Team pushed forward, following the owlbear tunnels deeper into the earth. The tunnel opened into another den. This den consisted of a large owlbear matron guarding two small owlbear chick-cubs (chubs? chublets?).

The party decided to give the matron a wide berth and continued on. Since they made no threatening gesture towards the hatchlings, the matron allowed them to pass unmolested.

They soon came across another excavated den. This time one wall of the den consisted of the edge of the cloaking force field they encountered above-ground. The force field seemed to extend well below ground. Additionally, this close to the field they could see the other side. Within the field was a few inches of dirt and exposed sections of an underground structure - not only the force field but the tower itself extended below ground!

The den was a dead end, however, which revealed no underground entrance into the tower so they retraced their steps past the owlbear matron and into the room with the two tunnels.

Assuming there had to be a secret door in this room, Marlin examined every inch of wall. Indeed he found a concealed door revealing a hidden torture chamber. The torture chamber had not been used in decades. Within the iron maiden they found another secret door revealing a set of stairs descending further down.

THE FORCE FIELD ACID TRAPThe spirals stairs descended into a thirty foot wide by fifty foot long room. The room was divided into four sections by three shimmering transparent force fields. On the right wall before the first field was a lever in the up position. On the left wall in between the first and second fields was a second lever in the up position. A third lever was on the right wall between the second and third fields, and a fourth lever was on the left wall after the third force field. There was an exit on the far wall.

Marlin used a magical cantrip to remotely trip the first lever. The first force field disappeared.

Marlin used the same cantrip to remotely trip the second lever. The first force field reappeared and a caustic liquid sprayed from hidden spigots in the ceiling between the first and second force fields. They watched for a while as the liquid began to fill up. They waited a little more hoping to see when the liquid drained but it never did.

Eventually Marlin remotely tripped the third lever and the second force field disappeared. The caustic liquid spilled into the third area and continued to fill from the nozzles in the ceiling.

The fourth lever was beyond the range of Marlin's cantrip.

Marlin pushed the first lever back up but nothing happened. He remotely pulled it back down and the first force field disappeared, allowing the accumulated liquid to fill into the first section of the room. Everyone quickly backed up onto the stairs to avoid the dark foul-smelling vaporous liquid.

Pushing the second lever back up did nothing. Pulling it down reactivated the first field again but deactivated the second. Pushing the third lever back up did nothing. Pulling it down deactivated the second field again.

The members of the A-Team were at a loss. Nothing they could do could deactivate the third force field or drain the caustic liquid.

Marlin scanned the walls intensely and found a discolored stone on the right wall in between the first and second force fields. By this time the room was filled with at least three feet of caustic liquid.

Auric sprouted two ethereal raven wings from his back and flew over to the wall. He pressed on the discolored stone and all three force fields disappeared. The liquid spilled into the entire room and out the exit on the far side. It eventually stopped spreading at about one foot deep.

After some discussion a plan evolved. Auric flew across carrying Amnesia.

Annor told Marlin to climb on his back so he could carry him. Marlin said, "Okay, agreed. Ready?"

Annor said, "Ready" and turned around to allow Marlin to climb onto his back.

Marlin took off running through the caustic liquid, splashing as he fled. He got thirty feet and swooned. He fell unconscious into the steaming fluid.

Annor rolled his eyes and sighed. He ran through the burning liquid, picked up his unconscious brother, and continued. He eventually joined Amnesia and Auric in the sloped corridor on the other side.

Auric revived Marlin and the party continued.

THE SKELETON KEYSThe corridor curved around to the right before abruptly making a sharp angle to the left, before opening into a strange cylindrical room with a curved wall on the far end. A circle in the floor in the far end of the room showed four small equidistant finger-sized holes. The exit to the room was another shimmering field of magical force.

Marlin examined the holes and deduced that they were key holes.

After much consideration, Amnesia finally shouted, "The skeleton fingers!"

Auric suddenly remembered the key-shaped fingers found on the skeletons in the flying sarcophagi room. The party produced the keys and simultaneously entered them into each hole.

Simultaneously turning each key deactivated the force field and the party continued into the corridor beyond.

YOU CANNOT BREATHEThe party was presented with a room with two doors - one to the left and one to the right - both covered in intimidating arcane sigils. A quick examination by Marlin proved the sigils to be fancy looking gobbledygook with no actual magic. They chose the door to the right. Marlin could find no traps on the door so Annor confidently strode inside.

There was a short corridor that turned left. Annor turned the corner and entered a small twenty foot by twenty foot room. A large smiling mouth was carved in the far wall. There was no exits.

Before Marlin could join him, a heavy iron door slid from the ceiling at the entrance to the room, sealing Annor within.

The mouth on the wall magically came to life. As it spoke the phrase, "You cannot breathe!" it exhaled a colorless odorless gas. Annor began coughing and suffocating. He fell to the floor, unable to inhale.

The heavy door would not budge. There was no special mechanism or hinge, it was just a four hundred pound metal door! Marlin called Amnesia forward to help and both of them did their best to lift the door.

With great effort and the help of a crowbar they were successful in raising the iron door high enough for Auric to reach in and grab Annor. Auric pulled the warrior safely out of the room and the others let the door slam back closed.

Annor was saved but felt weakened. He thanked the others and continued.

THE LONG CORRIDORAnnor, Marlin, Amnesia, and Auric took the left door. It opened into a corridor that turned immediately left and then down a long corridor that disappeared into the darkness. Auric caused one of Marlin's arrows to glow and Marlin launched the arrow down the corridor, revealing an eventual sharp left turn a hundred feet away.

Marlin used a magical cantrip to remotely animate his crowbar. He sent it ahead of the group, striking the floor hoping to trigger any pit traps. In addition, he moved slowly, carefully pressing his weight on one foot with each step while preparing for a sudden drop.

Just over halfway down the corridor was a section of the floor that was obviously discolored. Marlin chuckled at the almost amateurish pit trap but the obviousness triggered further paranoia.

As expected, the obvious pit trap gave way beneath the crowbar revealing a twenty foot deep pit trap lined with sharpened spikes.

Trusting his instincts, he continued tapping the floor on the other side. This time he found another better concealed pit trap just beyond the first. He informed the others to keep their eyes peeled. Whoever designed these traps was trying to be clever.

Made aware of the pits, the party tied themselves together with rope and were able to clear each of the traps with a running jump.

The corridor turned left and continued into the darkness, surpassing even the range of a glowing arrow.

Marlin spotted another obvious trap, but he was wise to cleverness of the designer. He anticipated a better hidden trap BEFORE the obvious one. He was right. Once again made aware of the traps the party easily jumped over them.

The rest of the corridor proceeded uneventfully for almost two hundred feet. Marlin continued his careful inspection of each step in front of him but found no traps.

However, Marlin's paranoia was rewarded when he found another hidden trap a few dozen feet before the corridor turned left again. This time there was no obvious sign. Annor thanked Marlin and leaped over. Marlin cried out for Annor to stop but was too late. Annor continued walking to the bend in the corridor and stepped on a second well-hidden trap. Annor fell through the false floor but was caught by the rope connecting him to the rest of they party. Marlin, Amnesia, and Auric were able to brace themselves as the rope went taut and Annor slammed into the wall of the pit, dangling over the spikes below him. Annor pulled himself up and apologized to the others.

The party managed to clear this third set of pit traps and turned left. The corridor continued for a hundred feet and turned left again. A soft blue glow emanated from around the corner ahead.

"Where ARE we?" mused Annor.

"I HATE Wizard Dungeons!" complained Auric.

Beyond the corner was a rectangular room with soft rounded corners. There was a metal door on the opposite wall covered in arcane sigils, this time for real.

In the center of the room was an iron chest likewise covered in similarly arcane sigils. There was no keyhole and no lock for Marlin to pick. Annor stepped forward and opened the lid to the chest. A small fireball burst from the chest, singeing Annor as he shielded his face with his arm.

Inside the chest was a simple iron key.

THE MYSTERIOUS LEVERThe key opened the door on the far wall. Beyond was a seventy foot corridor that ended in the shimmering force field. A silver band was inset in the floor, walls, and ceiling of the corridor about twenty feet down the corridor. Set in the wall of the corridor mere three inches outside the force field was a lever. Another silver band was set in the floor, ceiling, and walls just outside the lever.

By all accounts, it appeared that the lever was designed to be within the force field but - for whatever reason - was not.

Auric pulled the lever down. The force field disappeared, revealing an ornate marble door.

Marlin opened the door.

To be Continued...