Friday, May 22, 2020

The Story of Patriarch Ul-Lon

I was once a warrior-priest of Heironeous in Seaton. I was always fascinated by dragons and I was tasked with protecting an ancient book called Liber Draconis - the Book of Dragons. Although I was its sworn protector I was forbidden from ever reading the book. 

One day I met and befriended a scholar named Mordrin and his friends Orgmond and Thalon. I soon became very good friends with Mordrin and his companions for they shared my fascination with and knowledge about dragons. Indeed, as scholars their knowledge far exceeded my own.

Mordrin knew all about the Liber Draconis. He told me that the book was filled not only with information about the different breeds of dragons, their capabilities and weaknesses, their cultures and customs, it revealed their true power! You see - he told me that dragons were in fact manifestations of godlike power! No, it is true! 

Mordrin told me that the book could unlock secrets of power for those who study it. 

Mordrin told me that the book could teach us to communicate with the spirits of dragons long dead, and that they could reveal even more secrets hidden within!

Mordrin said that the book contained prayers and rituals useful for invoking the powers of the dragon spirits through a living dragon that could act as a conduit. You see, Mordrin knew much about these draconic spirits. He and his companions were already well versed in the secret rituals to invoke the power of the dragons. He said that those who knew the secrets could one day become dragons themselves! He offered to teach me.

Mordrin’s offer intrigued me. I became obsessed with it. I wanted badly to become a dragon. Mordrin offered me an invitation but said I had to first pass an initiation. I had to steal the Liber Draconis. 

Thus did I steal the book and abandon my holy vows! Mordrin said I had passed the first test on my path to invoking the power of the dragons.

Mordrin, Ogmond, Thalon, and I fled Seaton. We needed a living dragon to serve as our conduit to the spirits. Mordrin knew that the black dragon Aulicus had survived the war against Sakatha over a hundred years ago so we sought him out. Aulicus was old and injured. He could no longer fly and leaving his lair was difficult. But even in his elder infirmity he was a truly magnificent specimen! 

The tribes of lizard-men who lived in the Drowned Forest worshiped him as a god, but theirs was a primitive totemic awe of a powerful being. They brought him offerings and sacrifices which kept him fed and happy. The lizard-men did not revere the dragon spirits the way we did.  

We found Aulicus and were afraid he would consume our flesh as was his right. But he spared us. He saw in us useful supplicants - for we possessed the Liber Draconis. Aulicus wanted us to use a ritual within the book to transfer his soul into an unhatched dragon’s egg. He would be reborn! He made us an offer - he would spare our lives and act as our spiritual conduit if we could perform the ritual. 

So it was that we moved into the ancient underground temple complex located beneath the lair of Aulicus. This was a year ago. I was tasked with procuring supplies for the ritual so I left our new home and traveled about, gathering what we needed. Along the way I acquired more books and more information. I even recruited several new members into our order. 

When I returned Mordrin informed me of grave news. Mordrin, Orgmond, and Thalon now served a being known as Sakatha. 

You see, the lair of Aulicus was located at the entrance to an ancient underground temple complex  built by a sophisticated culture of reptilians in ancient times - a kingdom from which modern lizard-folk are but primitive descendants. 

Located far beneath this complex was a mausoleum containing the remains of Sakatha - a monument built by his slaves after his death over a hundred years ago. 

Mordrin said that Sakatha was still alive and that he sought revenge against the descendants of those who defeated him. Sakatha wished to build an army and once again rule over the region as a king - not a leader of a tribe of lizard-folk, but as a true human king!

Mordrin said that I was to continue my work in reincarnating Aulicus. I would train and initiate my new recruits. We would study the Liber Draconis and perform rituals to the dragon spirits. We built a new shrine on a nearby island to offer burnt sacrifices to the dragon spirits.  I even managed to locate the unhatched egg of a black dragon. Unfortunately the smugglers who were to deliver it to me stole it. 

Aulicus united the disparate tribes of lizard-folk who worshiped him and tasked them with retrieving the stolen egg - he called it his heir. Aulicus instructed his lizard-folk worshipers to follow the command of Sakatha as their new leader. Any tribal leader who resisted was overthrown or assassinated.

Meanwhile Mordrin began building an army for Aulicus. He hired mercenaries initially. He took the mercenaries down into the lower levels - the areas belonging to Sakatha - the areas from which I was forbidden to enter. The mercenaries returned with ashen complexions and glazed stares. They served Sakatha blindly. The mercenaries increased their ranks by raiding and capturing the bandits who dwelled within the Hool Marsh.  They too were converted into thralls of Sakatha. I never really got along with the mercenaries or the thralls. They lived in barracks near the entrance to the complex. Perhaps you encountered them? 

Mordrin needed to equip his growing army so he began raiding the caravans and selling the stolen goods to the smugglers in Saltmarsh in exchange for weapons and armor.

Two months ago - during the height of the raids on the caravans - he learned that the Merchant Guild of Saltmarsh was planning on hiring someone to investigate the raids. I’m not sure how he learned this. I believe he has gained access to some method of scrying upon far away people or places. Mordrin took one of my acolytes and converted him into a thrall. He then armed the acolyte with a magical gemstone - a gemstone empowered with a prayer that would strike dragon-flame down upon the infidel. The acolyte was to take the gemstone and use it to destroy Anders Solmor - descendant of one of the villains who overthrew Sakatha. 

The attempt to mete out draconic justice apparently failed. The merchant guild hired some vile assassins. Aulicus sent some of the lizard-men who served Sakatha to intercept these assassins at the Dreadwood River bridge. When that failed Mordrin assigned some thralls to misdirect them towards the hag Siren Diabla. Indeed any thrall captured by the enemy was instructed to do the same. That ploy likewise failed. The assassins were able to find a guide - a thrall from one of the local villages that managed to escape Mordrin’s “process” - and managed to gain entry into the lair of Aulicus. 

Aulicus defeated them, of course, killing all but two. But great Aulicus was weary and he finally succumbed to death. Mordrin’s soldiers managed to capture the two survivors - the metal man and the half-elf sorceress. They were converted into thralls and allowed to return to Saltmarsh. There they would act as spies and provocateurs. 

Eventually the caravans stopped so Mordrin turned to raiding the villages surrounding the Drowned Forest, taking prisoners and turning them too into thralls of Sakatha. He purchased magical armor and weapons for the captains and lieutenants of his small army from the devil woman in Saltmarsh. We have also used some of the prisoners as sacrifices to the dragon spirits. We have lost our physical conduit so only the offering of human souls will appease them now. We have also lost our control over the lizard-folk tribes of the Drowned Forest. Those still loyal to Sakatha were taken into the lower levels.

Thus far I and my acolytes have been spared from the secret process that creates the thralls. Indeed, Mordrin has forbidden me from delving deeper into the complex. Whether it is to protect me from Sakatha or to protect Mordrin’s power I do not know. 

Thursday, May 21, 2020

An Unexpected Ally - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 38

The B-Team was exhausted. They rested in the comfortable chamber of their recently defeated foe - Patriarch Ul-Lon of the draconic cult dwelling in a secret complex buried beneath a large hill surrounded by the Drowned Forest.

Ul-Lon lay unconscious only a few feet away. Baylore had cleaned his clock just an hour ago. Ul-Lon was unbound. Baylore had placed upon the patriarch's finger a magical ring that would ensure Ul-Lon's cooperation and assistance. 

Ul-Lon roused. He was a small man in his forties with prominent bulging eyes. He wore greenish-black plate armor decorated with dragon wings. He wore a dragon's tooth around his neck like a cherished holy relic. He was completely clean shaven - even his eyebrows were missing. In battle his countenance would have been severe and off-putting. Now he was weak and exhausted.

Baylore touched Ul'Lon's forehead. Ul-Lon felt better - refreshed. He rubbed his eyes and looked around. He was surrounded by enemies.

"What is this? Who are you? Why did you invade my sanctum and attack me?" he demanded.

Baylore waved his hand, "We are your friends. You have nothing to fear. We didn't attack you, it was some trolls. We chased them off."

Ul-Lon looked confused and rubbed his aching head, "Oh. Of course. Trolls. Many thanks, sir."

The magical influence of the ring Ul-Lon wore caused him to unconditionally believe anything Baylore told him. Indeed, Baylore could alter Ul-Lon's entire philosophy or belief system with a few simple sentences. If Baylore said "up is down" then, as far as Ul-Lon was concerned, up would be undeniably and incontrovertibly down. 

Baylore said, "We are seeking Sakatha. You were going to bring us to him."

"Oh no," said Ul-Lon apologetically, "I am but the humble patriarch. I oversee the acolytes. I ensure they are properly trained. I am not allowed to lay eyes upon Sakatha. Only they who are my masters may do that."

"Where are they?"

"They dwell in the forbidden lower levels." Ul-Lon cheerfully exclaimed, They emerge from behind the altar to escort newly acquired prisoners  to the secret chamber to become thralls."

"Behind the altar?" inquired Baylore.

"Oh yes, there are secret passages behind the tapestry. They are forbidden."

"Will you show us?"

"Of course!" said Ul-Lon, helpfully. He grinned, revealing teeth chiseled to serrated points. 

The B-Team:
  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Storm Sorceress from Ket, daughter of the king of the sea elves, Deck Sorceress of the Sea Ghost.
  • Alot Aname - Neutral Good Warforged Fighter, ancient sentinel of a wizard's fortress, spent several decades deactivated underwater, Bosun of the Sea Ghost.
  • Captain Baylore - Neutral Human Pirate and Pugilist (Monk), Captain of the Sea Ghost.
  • Brenna "The Sea Witch" Myrasdottir - Chaotic Good Human Sailor and Divine Soul Sorceress, long-lost daughter of Whaler, First Mate of the Sea Ghost.
  • Bordar Graniteshaper - Lawful Good Dwarven Bearer of Grudges (Barbarian), exiled from his clan, Ballast of the Sea Ghost.
  • Bruma - Neutral Good Human Swamp Guide (Ranger) for the smuggling cartel known as "the Organization", given a mission to find and kill Sakatha the Lizard King.
The Poisoned Chest
Bruma ran his hands along the wall opposite the altar. The wall was not square with the rest of the room. He soon discovered that a section of the wall was removable. He pulled it open revealing a hidden storage space behind. Within the storage space were two small ornately carved ivory scroll cases and a large chest. 

Bruma turned around, "What's in the chest?"

Ul-Lon narrowed his eyes in anger and frustration. "That is no concern of yours!"

Baylore used his magic ring, "No, he's a friend of mine. You WANT to tell us what's in the chest."

"Ah, I- uh- I see. The chest is the treasury of the acolytes. It is used to purchase books for the library and fund our studies."

Bruma examined the chest. "It's covered in some kind of thick grease. I'm afraid to touch it."

Baylore asked Ul-Lon, "What's the grease?"

Ul-Lon explained, "Oh, it's a contact poison of my own design. I'm rather an expert on poisons, you see. Anyone who touches it dies an agonizing death."

"Can you remove it?"

"Oh, of course. It wouldn't be very useful as a treasury if I couldn't access the funds, now could it. Yes. I have an counter-acting agent hidden away beneath the altar."

Baylore directed Ul-Lon to apply the counter-acting agent to the chest and open it. Ul-Lon happily complied.

The chest contained several thousand coins of gold and platinum. The two scroll cases contained identical scrolls containing incantations useful for warding off demons. Baylore dumped the coins into his magical bag of holding. 

DM Note-
We had to stop and check to determine the volume of 7000 coins . A quick Google revealed that 36-40,000 coins could occupy one cubic foot, so there was plenty of room in the bag. 

The Secret Corridor
Ul-Lon led the B-Team out of his chambers. The bodies of his acolytes lay dead on the floor in the corridor beyond. Baylore explained that the trolls had killed them which displeased Ul-Lon. Baylore reminded Ul-Lon that they were hunting these trolls to avenge the acolytes. He told Ul-Lon that the trolls had escaped down to a lower level using a secret passage. Ul-Lon took them to the altar chamber with a large tapestry hanging on the back wall.

The tapestry showed a lizard king bearing a trident and a golden scepter. The Lizard King wore a golden crown of human manufacture on his head. The figure stood atop a pile of fallen victims. Behind the lizard king rose an ominous black figure of a dragon - its wings outstretched to envelop the battlefield. Above the dragon was a strange symbol composed of five dragon heads in a spiral pattern. 

"The tapestry tells the story of how Sakatha the Lizard King smote his enemies and ruled over an entire kingdom with the aid of the black dragon Aulicus." 

"Yeah, but didn't Sakatha die like a hundred years ago?" inquired Alot.

"Possibly," replied Ul-Lon, "But he is reborn! He has returned to reclaim his throne as king."

"What happened to Aulicus?" asked Bruma, "I hear he was killed recently." Baylore glanced at Aella. She had brain jellies and offered no response to his comment.

"Aulicus was old. He was recently defeated. But he will be reborn." Ul-Lon's eyes glazed over in reverent emotion, "He will come again!"

Baylore cleared his throat to interrupt, "Ahem, the secret passages?"

"Yes, of course. Those whom I serve always emerge from behind the tapestry. I am forbidden to go there."

Baylore pulled aside the tapestry on the right to reveal a hidden corridor. Bordar looked behind the tapestry to the left and found another corridor. 

Bordar said, "Hey, there are two corridors!"

Baylore and the others were already disappearing into the one on the right, "Come on. We're going this way. Catch up!"

The False Door
The corridor turned right, then left, then left again and ended in a door. Bruma examined the door for traps but found none. The door was unlocked. It opened revealing a small room with two identical doors, one on the left and one on the right. 

Bruma approached the door on the left  and reached out to examine it. 

To his shock, Bruma's hand adhered to the door. A fanged mouth formed in the center of the door!

Bruma shouted, "Mimic! Mimic-door!"

DM Note-
My players always get super excited when they fight a mimic. It is perhaps their favorite of the iconic monsters. They usually assume everything is a mimic but were genuinely surprised this time.

Bruma drew a handaxe and chopped at the the door. The hand axe bit deep but held fast. 

Alot ran in and joined Bruma in fighting the door. He stabbed it with his shortsword which likewise stayed affixed to the door. 

Brenna cast a spell and acid flew across the room onto the door. The acid simply poured off the door onto the floor with no effect.  Baylore pointed a finger at the door and bolts of fire streaked into the mimic. 

Alot grabbed a dagger off of Bruma's belt and plunged it into the door. The door shuddered and thrashed violently. Alot let go of the dagger and backed away. The door melted like thick mud onto the floor. The mimic was dead. The creature had lost its adhesive properties as it died and the weapons were easily retrieved.

"Okay, other door," said Bordar. The dwarf pulled on the door but it would not budge. "Ah," he said and pushed it with similar lack of effect. Even with Baylore's help they could not get the door open. Alot and Bruma then gave it a try but with no luck. Bordar set about hacking the door with his axes. In ten minutes the door was in splinters and it was evident that the door was a decoy placed against a bare wall. 

Baylore massaged his forehead with his left hand, "Someone please look for a secret door."

The Hidden Stair
Bruma soon found that a section of the back wall could be opened to reveal a thirty-foot corridor. The corridor ended in another bare wall. 

Bruma got down on his hands and knees and closely examined the floor and walls as he crawled forward. In the middle of the corridor he found that the floor could be raised like a hatch revealing a ladder and a staircase. 

The staircase was long and straight. It descended indefinitely into the gloom - far beyond his ability to see in the absolute darkness. He examined each step carefully. The fifth stair was at a slightly different angle than the others. 

Bruma gathered all the rope in the party and spliced them together. He then tied the rope around his torso and handed the other end to Alot. He lit a torch and descended the stairs, careful to avoid the fifth step. He carefully descended over two hundred feet and still couldn't see the bottom. He tossed the torch down the stairs. It bounced and rolled and came to a stop. The stairs ended in another hundred feet or so. 

Bruma returned to the top and informed the others. He told them not to touch the fifth step. He had a feeling it was trapped. Thus did everyone tie themselves together and follow Bruma down the stairs, carefully avoiding the fifth step. 

DM Note-
I used the guidelines in Classic Modules Today - I2 Tomb of the Lizard King. It said:

Receding Stair Slide/Fire Pit(p. 25): Triggered by walking on the 5th stair. DC 15 passive Wisdom (Perception) check to spot, or DC 13 Wisdom (Perception) check if actively searching. DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check to determine how to disarm, followed by a DC 15 Dexterity check using a tool(sword, thieves tool or other to jam) to disable it. When triggered, a creature on the stair failing a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw slides steeply for 30’ then falling into a 60’ fire pit takes 6d10 bludgeoning damage from falling, and takes 4d10 fire damage per round. Creatures in the fire that succeed on a DC 15 Strength (Athletics) check, with disadvantage, climb the 60’ up and out

Bruma's passive Perception is 15 and he was searching for traps, so he saw the trapped step fairly easily. At the time, I thought "Well, there's no need to disarm. Just skip the fifth stair! How hard cna that be?" I had everyone make DC 1 Dexterity saves to avoid the step.

In retrospect, I should have had the trap START with the fifth stair and continue for like ten or twenty feet - FORCING them to deactivate the trap or teleport or fly or spider climb.  

The Underground Lake
The stairs ended on a platform suspended over a vat of alchemical liquid ready to burst into flame. 

They emerged from the side of a cavern wall. The cavern before them was vast - far wider than they could discern using their dark vision. The ceiling was concealed by the gloom of total darkness a hundred feet overhead. Two sets of stairs led down to the left and right of the platform. They were on the shore of a vast underground lake. There were two large mounds of packed earth - one to the left and one to the right. 

The party split up to investigate the mounds. Both contained hollowed out warrens filled with broken bones - crushed by powerful jaws. The warrens had been abandoned for a long time. Whatever had lived in them had not returned in a long time. 

Brenna approached the lake. She knelt down and cupped her hand in the water. She raised the water to her lips and tasted it.

There was no water. 

She poured the water out of her hand but nothing spilled. The water was illusory and insubstantial. 

She looked at the lake. It vanished. The spell had been broken. She stood up and saw before her a dry riverbed that bisected the cavern from left to right. In the distance she could see a dozen campfires around which sat hundreds of lizard-men. The light of the campfires illuminated the far side of the cavern hundreds of feet away and revealed the silhouette of a large structure to the left - a truncated pyramid made of stone. The trapezoid-shaped structure was twenty feet tall. Atop the structure was an obelisk - apparently some kind of memorial. 

She told the others what she saw. She helped each of them to break the spell and see the reality before them. 

Bruma kept a close eye on the lizard-men. They had apparently noticed the intruders but paid them no heed. 

The team formed up in a tight group in order to cross the dry riverbed. They were headed towards the memorial structure. 

The Barrows
Brenna led the procession. She walked ten feet and held her hand up. She could not feel the fine gravel river bed under where she was about to place her left foot. She stepped back and closed her eyes. When she re-opened her eyes she could see before her a pit filled with acid. She informed the others.

The party went to the right and carefully advanced. They encountered no further traps and crossed the riverbed safely.

They cautiously approached the truncated pyramid memorial structure. They could now make out the shapes of a dozen dome-shaped mounds of packed earth, each ten feet wide and ten feet tall, in front of the structure. 

When they approached within ten feet of one of the mounds, the top of the mound burst open. A long dead lizard-man clad in ancient armor and bearing a sword and a bow emerged. The face of the lizard man was gaunt and pale with sunken cheeks and eye sockets. The eyes of the lizard man warrior glowed green. It hissed a dry rasping call. In answer, the tops of the other eleven mounds burst open and eleven other lizard-man wraiths emerged. 

The Guardians of the Tomb
The undead lizard-man warriors positioned themselves to defend the tomb. Half of the warriors moved to intercept and surround Alot and Bordar. The other half loosed arrows from their bows. Unlike the lizard-men of the swamp these warriors were clad in sophisticated - if somewhat decayed - chain mail and armed with metal weapons of human design. One wight grabbed Bordar with a glowing green hand and squeezed. Bordar clenched his teeth as his life energy was drained from him! 

Baylore and Bruma joined Alot and Bordar in the melee with the guardians while Brenna and Ul-Lon kept their distance  and attacked with ranged spells. Once the melee had attracted half of the guardians around them Baylore called for Ul-Lon's assistance. Ul-Lon said a short prayer and became surrounded by a swirling vortex of glowing green miniature black dragons. He waded into the throng and the dragons ripped and shredded the reptilian wights. 

One wight who had been peppering the group with arrows threw down its bow and ran around the group in an attempt to flank Brenna and Aella. In response, Brenna ran into the swirling vortex and stood next to Ul-Lon. The pursuing wight was caught up in the maelstrom and shredded by the dragons. 

Baylore left the scrum and charged the wight archers standing atop their barrow mounds. He was soon followed by Bruma. As Baylore defeated one wight he would move to the next. Bruma, who had depleted his supply of arrows, began retrieving arrows from the quivers of fallen wights and using them against the undead enemies.

The last handful of wights put up a terrific fight but they too were eventually defeated.

DM Note-
After two turns of Ul-Lon's spirit guardians ripping undead shit up, I remembered that Ul-Lon's spirit guardians do necrotic damage - against which the wights take half damage. To make up for this, I doubled the hit points of the remaining wights. 

The Entrance to the Mausoleum 
While the party examined the crypt Bruma took a good look at the lizard-man camps. They had watched the battle against the wights but showed no interest in interfering or responding. With that assurance Brenna took a close look at the large brass double-doors at the base of the mausoleum. 

Each door was twelve feet tall and five feet wide. Even in the dim visibility of darkvision she could see ornate bas relief panels in the door. 

Most of the panels depicted small scenes of everyday life among the lizard men. The topmost panels on each side showed a great Lizard King wielding a fearsome trident in battle against humans, or receiving sacrifices of humans and other slaves. Other depictions of the Lizard King in some of the panels showed him with lightning bolts and fireballs leaping from his fingertips.

Brenna tried the doors. They were locked. 

Alot offered to rip them open but Brenna asked him to wait. She was tired and was nearly depleted of magical energy. It had been a long day. 

The party decided to retreat to one of the abandoned barrows by the entrance. It was apparent that the lizard men paid them no heed so there they hoped to find a few hours of rest. 

They would crack open the mausoleum soon enough.

To be Continued...

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Patriarch of the Dragon God - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 37

A lone spearman fled the battle - the sole survivor of the B-Team's assault against the bandits hiding within the Tomb of the Lizard King. The spearman went around a corner and through a door. 

The B-Team formed up outside the door. Baylore checked in on everyone, "How's everyone doing? Any injuries? Are we ready? Good, let's go!"

They opened the door and were met by four swordsmen. The room beyond contained a table and some chairs and was lit by a lantern hanging from the ceiling. The door on the opposite wall was open. 

Suddenly, from around the far corner of the hallway outside the room came a trio of attackers - two swordsmen and a captain wielding an ornate trident! 

The B-Team:
  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Storm Sorceress from Ket, daughter of the king of the sea elves, Deck Sorceress of the Sea Ghost.
  • Alot Aname - Neutral Good Warforged Fighter, ancient sentinel of a wizard's fortress, spent several decades deactivated underwater, Bosun of the Sea Ghost.
  • Captain Baylore - Neutral Human Pirate and Pugilist (Monk), Captain of the Sea Ghost.
  • Brenna "The Sea Witch" Myrasdottir - Chaotic Good Human Sailor and Divine Soul Sorceress, long-lost daughter of Whaler, First Mate of the Sea Ghost.
  • Bordar Graniteshaper - Lawful Good Dwarven Bearer of Grudges (Barbarian), exiled from his clan, Ballast of the Sea Ghost.
  • Bruma - Neutral Good Human Swamp Guide (Ranger) for the smuggling cartel known as "the Organization", given a mission to find and kill Sakatha the Lizard King.
The Captain
Bordar killed one of the two men blocking the entrance into the room. Bruma pushed his way past and made his way into the room. Bordar and Bruma cut a bloody swath as Brenna entered behind them. Soon all five of the guards in the room lay dying on the floor.

Meanwhile, outside in the hall, Aella found herself confronted by two swordsmen and their captain wielding an ornate trident. Alot was once again stricken with brain jellies so Baylore moved in between the captain and Aella. Aella cast a chaos bolt spell at one of the swordsmen. It burst into acid and disintegrated him. The bolt bounced off him and struck his companion with poison. 

Alot shook off his brain jellies and joined the battle. The captain put up a terrific fight. Eventually even he fell before the combined might of Aella, Alot, and Baylore. 

Careful Advance
The B-Team made their way carefully down the corridor from which the captain emerged. They explored a door on the right almost directly opposite the door to the officer's room with the table. Within they found quarters with two beds. A quick search revealed nothing of interest. 

The next door on the right were more quarters, larger than the previous but housing only one bunk and with spare furnishings. 

As they moved farther down the corridor Bruma took the precaution of destroying each of the lanterns hanging on hooks on the wall.

A door on the right turned out to be a store room filled with chairs, some broken. 

The corridor took a 45-degree angle to the left. Bruma reconnoitered. He found a room featuring a large idol of a black dragon flanked by two fonts filled with water. The floor was splattered with blood as if spilled in sacrifice. A large tapestry hung from the wall displaying the triumphant black dragon Aulicus, his wings spread over the battlefield. Behind him loomed a dark and foreboding silhouette of a lizard man with glowing eyes and wearing a crown, his clawed arms outstretched as if scooping the dragon and the battlefield into its eerie embrace. 

Another corridor mirrored the one from which they entered. There was a closed door on the left wall and a closed door on the right wall. The room was illuminated by a lantern hanging on the wall.

The Library
Bruma opened the door on the left wall and found a corridor that turned to the right. Baylore opened the door on the left wall. He found a small ten-by-ten corridor ending in another closed door. Despite Alot's concern that the floor contained a trap, Baylore moved ahead and opened the next door. Within was a table and a lit by a lantern. Seven black ceremonial robes trimmed in silver hung from pegs on the wall. There was a door on the right wall. 

Alot moved into the room Baylore retreated to guard the rear with Bruma. Alot turned a corner and opened the door at the end of the short corridor. Within was a library. There were shelves filled with old books and tables for transcription. A large leather-bound book lay open on a tall reading stand on the far wall. The book was heavy and affixed to the wall with a durable iron chain.

Aella and Brenna watched cautiously from the corridor as Alot strode forward to examine the book. 

The book appeared to be a treatise on dragons. It was written in the draconic tongue and contained dark spells and rituals to summon demons to serve dragons. Alot picked up the book and tried to yank it from the wall. 

Suddenly there appeared a small explosion of sulfur and embers near the entrance to the room. From the dissipating cloud emerged a ten foot tall demon resembling a humanoid vulture! It stretched its long serpentine neck and its bulbous beak hissed. Drool dangled from its beak as it bared its claws!

Alot moved quickly to attack the beast with his short sword. Aella and Brenna cast chaos bolts and flamestrike spells from their position in the corridor. 

The demon opened its beak wider and regurgitated a brownish yellow cloud of spores that quickly spread out in all directions. The trio managed to resist the choking miasma and the spores settled into yellow dust on the floor. 

Bordar ran around the corner and attacked the creature with his axes. Additional attacks from Alot, Aella, and Brenna defeated the creature. It disintegrated into a cloud of sulfur and embers leaving a pile of acrid dust on the floor. 

Wandering Trolls
Baylore thought he heard something large moving down the corridor from whence the party came. He instructed the others to be circumspect and listened more intently. Bruma kept watch around the corner. 

He made out the dim shadows of three trolls moving through the complex. They seemed to be exploring the side chambers and stopping to eat the bodies of the slain guards. They were not a part of the complex. They, too, were intruders. 

The party prepared themselves by putting out all the lanterns and hiding in the room with the table and the robes. 

The trolls were taking their time. 

Bruma sighed. That meant the trolls weren't yet aware of them. It was better to deal with them now than worry about them wandering around. He moved out of hiding and yelled at them to get their attention. 

The trolls came running after Bruma who retreated into the room. The trolls could only move down the ten foot wide corridor in single file. When they reached the 45-degree bend, the trolls were forced to squeeze and push through.

The B-Team used this to their advantage and attacked! The lead troll tried to defend himself from his attackers. He called out, "Hey! What's your problem? Hey! Stop that!" The troll recognized Alot,"Hey! Check it out! It's that metal dude!"

Alot recognized the troll, "Hey! I remember you! Hey Aella, remember this guy? From the swamp?"

Aella gave Alot a dirty look, "No. I had brain jellies then, remember?"

The troll smiled, "Awesome! So, we're, like, buddies, right? How about you give us your gold and let us eat you?"

Alot was taken aback, "No!" and continued stabbing the troll with his magical short sword.

"Come on! Not even a little? Just a nibble?"

Alot stabbed the troll in the head and it fell to the ground. The troll behind it crawled forward to attack. 

Aella cast a fire bolt spell at the fallen troll. The fire prevented it from regenerating. 

The second troll suddenly withdrew in horror and fled back down the corridor. It was reunited with its third companion. A brief summary informed the third what had just happened and the third troll joined the second in flight.

DM Note-
The trolls were a random encounter. I had them enter through the same doorway  through which everyone else entered, following the smell of blood. I moved them around the map while the party continued exploring. Every time the trolls came to a junction in the corridors or a door, I'd roll randomly to see which direction they went. They were exploring randomly. Bruma's player said, "Ha! They're truly WANDERING monsters!"

A bald man wearing a silver and black cassock  emerged from the open door on the right. He saw the the intruders and the aftermath of the battle. Before anyone could act he closed the door. 

Baylore moved quickly to reopen the door. He caught a glimpse of a group of cult acolytes wearing black cassocks retreating around the corner to the right. Baylore wated for the team to form up around him before moving into the corridor.

They moved around the dog-leg in the corridor and saw five cultists in cassocks huddled at the far end. There were open doors leading to five cells, three on the right and two on the left. Two of the acolytes were banging on a painting hanging on the wall at the end of the corridor. The painting was large enough to occupy every inch of the wall, floor to ceiling. 

The acolytes put up a pitiful defense with prayers to call down flame from their draconic god and were soon eliminated by the intruders.

The team walked over the bodies of the dead cultists and examined the painting. It resembled the tapestry in the room before. Aulicus triumphant with the dark looming figure of the lizard king. Beneath Aulicus were depictions of his worshipers - holy warriors and devout acolytes.

They obviously sought shelter beyond it. There was no visible way to open the door. Baylore noticed that the paint on one of the holy warriors was smudged as if someone rubbed it with a finger. 

No amount of rubbing or touching or poking produced a result. Aella finally had the thought, "Maybe they had to anoint the warrior, like with holy water. Is there any holy water around here?"

Alot said, "Yes, there were two fonts back in the room with the tapestry. Hold on."

Alot re-entered the tapestry room and dabbed his metal finger in water. He returned and gently touched the painting of the holy warrior. 

The painting swung opened revealing a passage beyond and another door. 

Patriarch Ul-Lon
Alot opened the door and the space was suddenly filled with thousands of tiny glowing black dragons. The tiny black dragons nipped at Alot's armor and tore at his softer tubes and bladders. 

At the center was a man clad in plate armor and wielding a mace with the head of a dragon. To his right was a large altar to Aulicus and two burning braziers. Alot ignored the swirling vortex of tiny dragons and charged the man. 

In response the man pointed his mace at the entrance. There suddenly appeared a ten foot tall spectral black dragon. The dragon appeared ethereal but radiated hatred and pain so strongly that it became difficult to approach it.

The man shouted, "Who dares disturb Patriarch Ul-Lon, chosen defender of the Dragon God?"

DM Note-
Casting Guardian of Faith was the greatest thing I could have done for Patriarch Ul-Lon. It occupied the 10x10 entrance, blocking anyone from helping Alot. It also does not take damage. The player characters just kept attacking it to no effect. It was driving the players nuts! The only real way to defeat the Guardian of Faith is just take its damage but my players were very unwilling to accept that.

On top of that, the Spirit Guardians were doing a great job doing additional damage to anyone who stood near the Guardian of Faith. The players were starting to get nervous.

Ul-Lon had positioned himself around the corner and away from the ranged attacks and spells of everyone in the corridor. Alot and Ul-Long clashed at the foot of the altar. 

Aella and Brenna moved away from the dis-spiriting presence of the spiritual guardian and out of the vortex of tiny dragons. Bordar and Baylore moved forward and attacked the spiritual guardian but neither could land a blow upon it. The semi-ethereal entity had a repulsive force that prevented any contact. Bruma's arrows simply arced away from it.

Alot jumped up on to the altar and used his shield to push Ul-Lon back, shoving him into view of the others. Ul-Lon saw though this ploy and quickly re-positioned himself around the corner. 

The team in the corridor became wary of the painful force before them. No one dared approach it. Baylore finally said, "Enough of this!" He moved as close as he could to the spectral dragon. Baylore's body became wreathed in black tendrils as he absorbed all of the dragon's painful negative energy. The dragon reared up and glowing cracks appeared in its semi-solid form. The cracks widened and the dragon exploded into shards of black energy which dissipated into nothingness. 

Baylore rushed into the room. He ran up to Ul-Lon and punched him as hard as he could. 

Patriarch Ul-Lon fell to the floor unconscious. 

The party breathed a collective sigh of relief. The battle was over and they could rest for a short while. 

As they sat there gathering their breath, Baylore took out the companion to the magical ring that was used to control the mind of the duke. He slipped it onto the finger of the unconscious Patriarch Ul-Lon. 

To be Continued...

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Return to the Tomb - Ghost of Saltmarsh, Chapter 36

Bruma had finished interrogating the two bandits-turned-cultists. Their vacant mental state produced little useful information. Bruma and Baylore debated what to do with them. If they let them go, they'll continue try to lead people to their deaths in the swamp. They couldn't take them with them. Baylore said, "Do you want me to take care of them? Just say the word. I do not care."

Both Bruma, who worked with and for smugglers, and Baylore, a pirate, recognized these brigands. They knew them - not personally or even necessarily by name - but they were not strangers.

Bruma considered his options, "I don't know."

These brigands had tried to lead Bruma to his death but he had little interest in vengeance. He was more concerned that they might do it again to someone else. But he didn't want to kill them in cold blood. Maybe if they killed Sakatha first, they'd be released from their psychic bondage.

Bruma let them go. The two pale ashen brigands shambled off through the trees and undergrowth.

However, Bruma asked Baylore, "Why are they offering sacrifices to this shrine?"

Baylore replied, "Aella and Alot say they worship the black dragon as some kind of god. They said it guarded Sakatha's lair."

Bruma pondered this, "I know this swamp, and I think I know where this is. There's a big island near here where a black dragon lived. I always avoided that place because - you know - black dragon."

"Could you find it?"

"Absolutely. We'll need a boat or a raft."

The B-Team:
  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Storm Sorceress from Ket, daughter of the king of the sea elves, Deck Sorceress of the Sea Ghost.
  • Alot Aname - Neutral Good Warforged Fighter, ancient sentinel of a wizard's fortress, spent several decades deactivated underwater, Bosun of the Sea Ghost.
  • Captain Baylore - Neutral Human Pirate and Pugilist (Monk), Captain of the Sea Ghost.
  • Brenna "The Sea Witch" Myrasdottir - Chaotic Good Human Sailor and Divine Soul Sorceress, long-lost daughter of Whaler, First Mate of the Sea Ghost.
  • Bordar Graniteshaper - Lawful Good Dwarven Bearer of Grudges (Barbarian), exiled from his clan, Ballast of the Sea Ghost.
  • Bruma - Neutral Good Human Swamp Guide (Ranger) for the smuggling cartel known as "the Organization", given a mission to find and kill Sakatha the Lizard King.
Back Again
It was mid-morning. Bruma led the party around the island of the hag and onto a finger of flooded trees. A large hill was visible across a stretch of one thousand feet of fetid water. 

"We need to get across." said Bruma, "The dragon's lair is on that island with the big hill. So how do you want to do this?"

Baylore said, "We swim."


Baylore looked around, "Anybody got a problem with that?"

Brenna held up her magic harpoon tip, "Anyone who can't breathe underwater, talk to me." She cast a spell of water breathing on herself, Aella, Baylore, Bruma, and Bordar. Alot was already adapted to underwater life. 

They crossed the dark-brown channel and emerged before the steps leading into the tomb. 

DM Note-
I thought about dissuading this with some crocodiles and quippers or worse, but I was antsy to finally get to the tomb so I skipped ahead.

They emerged onto the stairs leading to the stone foundation of an ancient structure. Ten massive columns once supported a roof that had long ago collapsed, the masonry having been scavenged in ages passed. One of the ten massive columns had fallen and lay broken on its side.

There was no sign of any remains of Aulicus the dragon. Aella was disappointed. She had hopes to retrieve a souvenir.

Aella, the only member of the party who remembered the last time she visited this place, pointed out the false wall in the side of the hill. The false wall was composed of shells suspended on hundreds of strings like a beaded curtain. She warned everyone of the three water pools located in the chamber within. The pools were home to some creature composed of pure water.

"Got it," said Baylore, "No one go near the pools of water, got that?"

Everyone nodded in agreement.

The party passed through the beaded curtain and stayed close to the wall. Bordar immediately walked over to the pool of water and looked within.

DM Note-
Seriously, Aella's character had JSUT warned everyone about the water weird and Baylore laid out the strategy of staying close to the wall and avoiding the fountains. I asked, "What do you do?"

On Bordar's turn, Bordar walked right up to the fountain.

I said, "Okay, roll initiative."

Bordar's player sounded genuinely surprised.

Baylore's player shouted, "SERIOUSLY, [Bordar's Player]?! WHAT DID WE JUST SAY?!"  

Bordar's player said, "What? I wasn't listening!"

Brenna's player said, "In Bordar's defense, he has a passive perception of 9."

The water began to froth and boil. The water formed a liquid shape like a dragon's head that reared out of the fountain.

Bordar entered a fighting stance. He slashed at the watery guardian using his magical axes "Smite" and "Fury".  The water creature darted at Bordar in an attempt to engulf the dwarf but missed. The rest of the party unleashed on the water creature with fire bolt spells, magical bonfires, magical floating hands with chilled touches, and arrows. The water weird was no match for the onslaught and collapsed into inanimate water.

The Puzzle
The party reached the back of the cavernous chamber and entered through another false wall into the former lair of Aulicus. The lair was empty, picked clean of all treasure. 

Baylore asked Aella, "So, you said something about a secret entrance?"

She looked at the altar adorned with the statue of a black dragon, "They moved that aside."

The altar was a massive slab of granite twenty feet long by ten feet wide and five feet tall. It would not budge. The black dragon on top of it, however, pivoted one hundred eighty degrees. The mouth of the dragon was open revealing a hollow tube down the dragon's throat. The tube was a few inches wide, not wide enough for a human hand to fit within. The curvature of the dragon's neck made inserting a long object impossible. 

Brenna filled her waterskin with water from the pool and poured it down the dragon's mouth. The water disappeared but nothing happened. She started inserting silver coins. Nothing happened. She shoved dozens of silver coins into the mouth but nothing happened. She inserted rocks but nothing happened. Everything dropped into the dragon's mouth simply fell down its throat and disappeared. Brenna gave up, "Well, I got nothing."

Baylore considered the dragon, "What about gems? Have you tried a gem?"

Brenna said, "I don't have any gems."

"What about that jewelry we got on Leper Island?"

Brenna hooked a thumb at Aella, "We used that to bring her back from the dead. Captain, the only gems we have are the ruby earrings you're wearing."

Baylore's eyes narrowed in defiance, "No. Come on. We don't have ANY other gems?"

Everyone rummaged through their backpacks and turned out their pockets. There were no gems.

Baylore became annoyed, "Look, I KNOW we've got some gems? There was some in the hag's treasure! That was just yesterday!"

Brenna pinched her lips in deep thought. Her eyes widened and she snapped her fingers. She gave Baylore a menacing glare, "YOU have them!"

"What? I do not!"

"Check your bag of holding!"

Baylore stared at her in defiant silence. He pointed at her and couldn't think of anything better to say. "Shut up!"

He reached into his bag of holding and rummaged around. He pulled out a moss agate the size of a man's thumb. 

"Shut up."

Baylore dropped it into the dragon's mouth. The entire altar slid backwards revealing a set of stairs leading down.

"Shut up."

DM Note-
Man, the frustration the players felt during that segment was PALPABLE! They HATE puzzles! Part of the problem is that they're not trying to figure out how to solve the puzzle logically but how to TRICK the puzzle with cheap or easy alternatives. So we waste a lot of time trying to feed it rocks or worthless coins or sticks instead of actually thinking logically about what the puzzle wants. Then they get all frustrated and angry that none of their tricks work. I found myself drolly saying, "Yes, rocks. THAT'S what a dragon wants!" as a way of trying to point them in the right direction. I become torn between enforcing "Nope, you have to solve the puzzle as written. Figure it out!" and "Well this is no fun, Here's some more obvious hints." which I feel is a bad precedent and expectation for me as a Dungeon Master to set.

The B-Team formed up and descended the stairs. They passed through a set of doors into a vestibule with a large set of double doors to the right. Baylore did a quick check, "Who can't see in the dark?" He pressed his palm against the faces of Brenna and Bruma. 

"What about Alot?" inquired Aella.

"Eh, he's got brain jellies. I'm not wasting that on brain jellies."

Bordar opened the door. He and Bruma were standing in some kind of spotlight in a large dark chamber. There were dozens of armed and armored warriors. Spearmen, halberdiers, and swordsmen stood close to the left and right walls. A dozen crossbowmen stood along the rear wall. Near them was a leader and some kind of mage waving his hands and casting a spell. The warriors were standing in the dark and would have been unseen were it not for Baylore giving everyone darkvision. Crossbow bolts arced through the air and struck the door and wall and floor around Baordar and Bruma. Before they could act the vestibule exploded in a fireball of destruction. 

Bordar, enraged, began frothing at the mouth and ran towards the spearmen along the wall to the left. He cleaved into them and kept running, one after the next. The darkness that would have given them cover was now to their detriment!

Brenna looked around the vestibule, "Is everyone all right?" Bruma was lying on the floor, badly burned and not breathing. Brenna knelt down and a sparrow landed on her hand. The sparrow hopped from her hand onto Bruma's body. The sparrow glowed with a celestial light and Bruma's burns were healed. 

DM Note-
I had Bruma's player whisper his death save roll to me. Bruma rolled a 1. That's an automatic two failed saves!  I said, "Yikes!" Brenna's player said "Nice poker voice, Chris!"

Baylore engaged the right flank, laying spearmen and halberdiers low with spinning back fists and rapid-fire punches and kicks. 

Another fireball exploded in the vestibule!

Brenna shouted, "We gotta do something about that guy!" She lobbed a magical fireball towards the back of the room. The fiery explosion took out most of the crossbowmen. The leader ordered his remaining men to spread out and moved over towards the right corner. 

Aella ran into center of the room. Aella pointed her magic wand at the wizard and an arc of lightning streaked towards him. The wizard smiled and dismissed the spell with a wave of his hand. 

DM Note-
Brenna's player, who loves wizard duels, yelled, "Yeah!" in approval.

 Alot followed Aella into the center of the room but stopped, "Hey! I can't see anything! What's going on?" Alot's brain jellies had just worn off and he was standing in a large dark room surrounded by fighting.

DM Note-
Alot's player had finally showed up. He was looking at a token in a black screen and honestly had no idea what was going on other than he could hear the others fighting.

Brenna ran after Bruma and Aella, sending celestial sparrows of healing darting at both as they pushed forward. When she saw the wizard counter Aella's spell, Brenna said, "That's enough of that!" and cast another fireball at the wizard. The wizard died in a blazing explosion.

Bruma moved swiftly through the room killing one opponent then quickly moving to the next. Alot was fighting blindly with three brigands. He heard a series of swift cutting and stabbing sounds followed by all three brigands collapsing in the dark. Bruma had slipped between them and killed all three then silently darted across the room. Alot was standing alone in the dark. He called out, "Thanks!"

Baylore eliminated three brigands and moved over to Alot. He granted Alot the ability to see in the dark, saying "There. Go kill something!"

By now there were a mere handful of brigands left against the back wall. Their leader had been killed and they were attempting to flee through the exits. Two managed to escape while Aella and Alot chased down and eliminated the remainder.

Bordar and Baylore followed the two escapees through the door and into a well lit hallway. Bordar checked around the far corner but found no one. "They must have gone through that door!" he said, pointing to the door on the right.

Bordar opened the door and was met with nearly a dozen brigands in their barracks - including the two that ran away. Bordar closed the door and retreated to the entrance to the large dark room, "Here come reinforcements! Alot, I could use your help holding the door!"

"Got it!"

Brenna and Bruma exited a door on the right wall of the large dark room and found themselves in a different well-lit hall. They prepared to cover that flank.

Spearmen poured out of the barracks via multiple exits and stormed the entrance to the large room. Bordar held the line while Baylore and Alot counterattacked. Baylore and Alot pressed several of the spearmen back to the barracks and chased them down to the other exit.

Bordar found himself fighting the remainder of the spearmen - skilled veterans who held their own against the raging dwarf. Eventually Bordar won the day and the veterans fell before his twin axes of doom.

Baylore circumnavigated the hallway outside the barracks and found two more spearmen. Brenna and Bruma ran to help. They were soon eliminated.

One spearman managed to break off and flee. He darted into a nearby room and closed the door.

The B-Team prepared themselves for the next wave.

To be Continued...

DM Note-
Man that's a lot of carnage! But it seemed like the players felt challenged and had a lot of fun. The bad guys had some magic items that I couldn't figure out how to use in the battle - boots of levitation? Also, I kept forgetting that the Lieutenant granted +1d4 to the saving throws of his subordinates. Didn't matter though, even if they had made their saves they couldn't survive Brenna's fireballs. 

I had set up the brigands whole ambush based on the idea that they were hidden by darkness. What the brigands didn't know is that everybody (save Alot) had darkvision. So what would have been to their advantage turned into a major disadvantage as the PCs hunted the panicked and fleeing brigands in the dark like Buffalo Bill with nigh vision goggles hunting Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs. It was kind of an awesome turnaround. 

Also Brenna's fireballs were devastating to both Gormundel the Mage and the crossbowmen.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Bruma the Tracker - Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Chapter 35

Bruma knelt and examined the tracks in the mud. There were five humanoids - the party he had been tracking since entering the Drowned Forest. The tracks led away from a nearby shrine and into a tunnel dug into the side of a low hill surrounded by trees and rocks - very uncommon for the swampy Drowned Forest.

Bruma was a swamp guide. He was a hunter and a tracker and he was very familiar with both the Hool Marsh and the Drowned Forest. For years he led smugglers from upriver and inland through the Drowned Forest to the base camp in the Hool Marsh and down to one of the several drop sites on the coast - either at the abandoned house, the old lizardfolk lair, or the sea caves beneath the Tower of Zenopus. Several months ago, the smugglers and bandits abandoned the base camp. All smuggling stopped.

The leaders of the Organization had learned that the smugglers and bandits had joined the growing army of someone named Sakatha. Sakatha was the name of a lizard-king who had united all the tribes of the Hool Marsh and, with the help of a black dragon named Aulicus, fought a war against the knights of Keoland over a hundred years ago. All they knew was that Sakatha had a secret base somewhere in the Drowned Forest.

The Organization hired Bruma to locate the secret base and kill Sakatha.

Bruma managed to find two former smugglers who now served Sakatha. They each had a pallid complexion and a glazed vacant look similar to someone suffering brain jellies. When interrogated about the location of Sakatha's lair, they offered to lead Bruma to a secret entrance.

They led Bruma down a spit of land. Right away Bruma noticed another group had traveled this same route ahead of him. There were five humanoids - four humans and a dwarf. He found a campsite - two days old - where they had fought off four animated trees. He passed through an area that had been scoured by a tidal wave the day before. He followed their tracks to a stone platform - a shrine to a black dragon - where they had camped the night previous. Now their tracks led into a tunnel and descended stone stairs. He dismissed his guides.

He descended the stairs into an underground grotto - a cave and waterfall. He heard fighting down a nearby passage. The passage descended sharply. He carefully climbed down the slope. He was in a stone room built by intelligent hands. The smell of rotting flesh and decay was oppressive. Bruma covered his nose with his gloved hand. He hid behind a nearby wall and covertly observed those who entered before him. The fighting was over. The party was discussing what to do next. He heard them open a door.

There was more fighting. Something was alive - or at least active - in these stone rooms. Bruma knew not if these people were potentially allies or enemies. He decided to watch for now.

The B-Team:
  • Avastana "Aella" Kádár - Neutral, Half-Elf  Outlander and Storm Sorceress from Ket, daughter of the king of the sea elves, Deck Sorceress of the Sea Ghost.
  • Alot Aname - Neutral Good Warforged Fighter, ancient sentinel of a wizard's fortress, spent several decades deactivated underwater, Bosun of the Sea Ghost.
  • Captain Baylore - Neutral Human Pirate and Pugilist (Monk), Captain of the Sea Ghost.
  • Brenna "The Sea Witch" Myrasdottir - Chaotic Good Human Sailor and Divine Soul Sorceress, long-lost daughter of Whaler, First Mate of the Sea Ghost.
  • Bordar Graniteshaper - Lawful Good Dwarven Bearer of Grudges (Barbarian), exiled from his clan, Ballast of the Sea Ghost.
  • Bruma - Neutral Good Human Swamp Guide (Ranger) for the smuggling cartel known as "the Organization", given a mission to find and kill Sakatha the Lizard King.
Ghouls in the Dark
The B-Team was standing in a subterranean room flooded shin-deep in fetid water. Three dead ghouls were piled in a corner. There were three ancient doors. The B-Team gathered in front of one of the doors and prepared to open it.

Baylore grabbed Alot, "Hold still." The pirate captain held his palm over the automaton's visual sensors. Suddenly Alot could see through the gloom of the chamber. Objects hidden within deep shadows were now dimly visible.  Baylore pointed at Alot's face, "Stop complaining about it being dark."

Alot turned back around and opened the door. He was immediately met with a slavering ghoul. Several more ghouls could be seen in the dark room beyond. Alot stabbed the ghoul and moved into the room followed by Bordar the dwarf and Baylore.

The room beyond was likewise flooded. It was small, fifteen feet by twenty feet at most, with a hallway in the far corner and two doors on the right wall. The left wall looked collapsed and the floor was covered in a pile of rubble, as if the ghouls had been digging through the walls.

One ghoul turned and fled down the short hall and around a corner, sloshing through the shallow water.

Bordar said, "It's running away! They can't do that! Can they do that?" He gave chase around the corner.

Baylore shouted, "Bordar, wait!" but it was too late.

Bordar followed the ghoul past some more collapsed rubble, across another smaller flooded chamber around the corner, and through a doorway. He was immediately attacked by two ghouls waiting on either side of the door as well as a larger humanoid, similar to the ghouls but whose skin was covered in fine tattoos. The creature emitted a foul odor that could curdle milk. Bordar held his arm before his nose and cursed.

Baylore and Alot arrived in the room behind Bordar. Baylore pointed into the room and caused a magical bonfire to appear under the feet of the tattooed creature.

Bordar dispatched a ghoul next to him and the pallid stench creature immediately moved out of the fire and stood atop his fallen comrade.

Bordar and Alot, fighting from the entrance to the small alcove, soon defeated both creatures. Baylore allowed the bonfire to disappear.

Bordar emerged victorious while Alot stopped to investigate the excavated wall. Baylore heard talking back in the original room. He heard an unknown voice.

He called out, "Everything okay back there?"

An Introduction
Aella and Brenna remained in the original room. They watched through the doorway as the others cut a viscous swatch through the ghouls and disappeared around the corner.

Bruma cautiously emerged from his hiding place behind the corner near the entrance, "Hello."

Aella looked confused by this new intruder. Brenna spun around. Upon seeing the human she stood straight and glowered, "Who the feck are yew?"

The intruder held up his hands and introduced himself, "I am Bruma."

Brenna said, "Aella, keep me covered." She pointed Hearthspoon at the newcomer, "YOU! You're here to kill the Lizard King?"

Bruma replied, "That's my plan. Why are you here?"

Brenna said, "We're here to do the same and avenge my fallen brothers, who were killed by an agent of the Lizard King. You know he might be a lich, correct?"

"Ye-ssss?" lied Bruma, unconvincingly.

Brenna walked uncomfortably close to Bruma, "If you're here to help, then move ahead and get in the fight." She pointed Hearthspoon in his face, "You make any sudden moves, I will burn you down!"

Bruma smiled, "As you wish, mi-lady."

One of the two other doors slowly opened behind them. A pale gaunt humanoid with sharpened teeth and skin covered in fine tattoos emerged and attacked! The humanoid emitted a foul stench that turned the stomach.

Baylore called out from the far room, "Everything okay back there?"

Aella replied that they were under attack.

Brenna and Aella immediately turned and cast their signature spells at their attacker - chill touch and chaos bolt! It lunged for Brenna and its smell caused her to dry heave but she quickly recovered.

Bruna swung a massive sword and cut down the pallid creature.

Brenna stood up and straightened her coat, "Well, I guess you're okay then."

Baylore came running around the corner only to see that the battle was already concluded. "Who's that?"

Brenna informed him, "That's Bruma. He's here to kill the Lizard King."

Baylore looked at Bruma, assessing him, "Huh. Okay. Come on. Quit farting around back here."

Siren Diabla
They opened the door and were met with a terrible stench, worse than that of the tattooed ghouls. Beyond the door was a short set of stairs that ascended into a dry room.  The chamber was fifteen feet wide and 35 feet long with an alcove on the left wall with an elevated platform like a kind of stage. The room had a tall vaulted ceiling supported by four columns. In the center of the stage was a throne made of human bones and skulls. Sitting on the throne was a gruesome female humanoid with waxy greenish skin. She had the gaunt body and bloated stomach of a victim of famine. Her face was covered in leathery wrinkles. Her yellow eyes bulged out. Her hair was like long white strands of corn silk. Her massive hands and feet ended in long bony fingers and toes with talon-like claws.  She smiled, revealing a mouth with jagged teeth, many missing. Black drool dripped from her mirthless grin.

She laughed a rasping dry laugh.

"Welcome. Come in, come in. You are guests of Siren Diabla. Might I offer you a meal? Or have you come for some of Siren Diabla's special elixir? Be not shy, there is plenty to share."

Alot walked forward slowly, cautiously, "Hello. We don't want any elixir, but thank you." The others entered the room behind him.

"Oh!" the creature rasped, "Then you were sent to me by the servants of Sakatha. A gift from the Lizard King. How nice of him. His servants send me so many tasty gifts. Please, come in. Are you hungry? I have a table prepared. Please, join me for dinner."

Alot paused, "May.. be? Listen, what do you mean by 'offerings'?"

Bruma said, "Enough talk!" and stormed the stage.

Siren Diabla smiled and disappeared!

Bruma stopped short, "Where'd she go?"

Everyone scanned the room carefully. Baylore closed his eyes and listened. He could feel the air disturbances of everyone in the room. "She's over there! She's by that stairway over there!"

Bordar and Alot swarmed that spot and swung wildly, hoping to hit the invisible target. Bordar felt one of his attacks strike flesh!

Baylore asked, "Did you get her?"

Bordar moved into the empty space, "Where'd she go?"

DM Note- 
Per ordinary rules, Baylore used an action to make a Perception check compared to the Hag's Stealth check made with Advantage. That allowed him to locate the space she occupied, so he pointed it out to the others. They attacked that space with Disadvantage. 

HOWEVER - I re-read the hag's invisibility and it says she can only be detected using magical means. I told this to the players and said "You got one round. From now on, she's totally invisible." I also boosted her hit points a smidge to make up for the mistake. 

Siren Diabla reappeared on the stage. She pointed her long bony clawed finger at Alot, "You! You should become a tiny mouse!" Alot's body began to warp and contort. Alot fought back and threw off her spell. She spat at him! "Curses!"

Aella cast a Witch Bolt spell at the hag and missed. The electric arc shot across the room and exploded against the wall.

Bordar stamped his magical boots and bounded across the room. He ricocheted from the wall and propelled himself onto the skeletal throne. He brought his axes down onto the hag. Baylore rushed over and pummeled her with a rapid fire assault of fists. Bruma charged at her with his greatsword. He ran her through, pinning her against the wall.

The hag gasped in pain. Her eyes closed and her face drooped. She then smiled and looked up at the three warriors surrounding her. She began to laugh.

"You- you are all fools! You think defeating me will lead you to the Lizard King. You are so mistaken! You will not find what you seek here. Only I knew the truth! Now you'll never find the Lizard King!" With a final laugh that trailed off into echo, she disintegrated into a mix of mud and dust and black ichor.

"Everybody okay?" asked Baylore, looking around at the others.

"I think so. What is that SMELL?" replied Bordar.

"It's coming from the room down those stairs. Alot, you take point. Everybody ready?"

DM Note-
In retrospect, I should have went with Lightning Bolt. For some reason, I thought Lightning Bolt was a ranged attack. It turned out that it's a Dexterity Save. I regret my choice.

The Catoblepas
Alot descended the short set of stairs into another flooded chamber. This chamber was supported by four columns. Another alcove on the left wall contained a raised stage. The stage was covered in coins, gems, and fancy art objects.

Baylore directed Alot to step back. Baylore created a minor illusion of Alot to walk across the room to the stage, hoping anyone hiding would attack the illusion. The illusion walked across the water and onto the stage without incident.

Alot reentered the room and walked a few feet through the flooded water before he felt his foot on the edge of a drop-off. He paused. The water was black and covered in floating detritus. He knelt down and looked under the water.

He saw a ten foot wide by fifteen foot long pit dug into the floor. Two thirds of the pit was occupied by a massive body like that of a hippo. A long tail ending in a heavy club was coiled against the body. The long whip-like neck terminated in a massive head of what looked like a gruesome wildebeest with curled tusks like a warthog.  The hideous head lay heavy on the floor of the pit, its  thin neck looked incapable of lifting it. The head struggled to turn over and cast a glowing eye at Alot.

Alot pulled his head out of the water and shouted, "NOPE!"

Baylore stood against the wall to let the others past, "Go! Go! Go! Get in there and surround it. I've got a plan!"

Baylore, Brenna, and Aella ran in and positioned themselves around the pit in the center of the room. The smell in the room was atrocious. They fought back the urge to vomit.

Baylore made a gesture with his hands and threw a ball of inky blackness into the room. The entire chamber was cast in darkness. Nothing could be seen!

DM Note-
I turned off everyone's vision in Roll20. All players were staring at a black screen. They players were actually impressed and said it added to the epic feel of the fight.

Alot shouted, "We can't see!"

"That's a catoblepas! If it looks at you you're toast! That thing's huge and can't move! You don't have to see it to attack it! Kill it while it can't see you!"

Everyone heard the water slosh as the catoblepas raised its heavy head from the water. Its long tail lifted the massive club and slammed it down next to Baylore.

Baylore shouted, "Did you hear that? You could hear that thing smash the stone! That barely  missed me!"

Bruma, still upstairs in the previous room, looked down the stairs, "What's going on? Why is it so dark?"

Baylore's voice called back, "Just get down here and kill this thing!"

Alot dropped to one knee and stabbed his short sword into the hippo-like torso in the water. He then used his shield to try to shove it back.

Bordar brought his axes Smite and Fury down onto the creature's neck.

Bruma fired his bow blindly into the center of all the thrashing water, hoping to hit - whatever it was. He never saw his target.

Brenna jumped onto the catoblepas' back, riding it like a bucking horse. She magically electrified her hands and tried to touch the creature but managed only to grasp at darkness.

Aella created a magical snowstorm of ice and pellets to batter the catoblepas. She heard Brenna cry in pain and annoyance. She had unknowingly included her teammate in the attack!

Baylore punched blindly into the water. Bordar chopped at what he hoped with either the tail or the neck.

The tail swung around again and slammed into Bordar, knocking him against the wall. Bordar grunted with an "oof!"

Bruma loosed more arrows. Two hit stone, one landed in flesh, "Did I hit it?"

Baylore unleashed several punched into the side of what he hoped was the creature's head. He heard bone crack and the head and tail fall heavily to the floor. The body slumped and the water ceased to froth.

Bruma asked, "Was it me? Did I kill it?"

Baylore dispelled his magical darkness. The catoblepas lay motionless in the middle of the room. "Sure. Why not."

The Treasure
To Baylore's horror, in the light of Brenna's torch the vast majority of the coins turned out to be copper. "Forget that crap here."

Aella said, "Yeah, but look!" She held up a coin of white metal, "There's platinum mixed in. We've got to separate it out."

Baylore groaned and rolled his eyes.

The party spent the next hour moving the treasure out of the flooded chamber and back up to the hag's throne room where it was dry and the horrid stench of dead catoblepas was less offensive.

They separated the platinum coins from the copper, dug out the gemstones, and assessed their other findings.
  • In all they had acquired:
  • 90 platinum coins
  • an Alexandrite gemstone worth 800 gp
  • a Jasper gemstone worth 70 gp
  • a Jet  gemstone worth 110 gp
  • a Moss Agate  worth 12 gp
  • a Banded Agate Statue of a Chimera worth 1900 gp
  • a decorative Silver Shield  worth 1000 gp
  • a Magic Wand that looked like a small arrow
Baylore placed all the treasure within his magical bag of holding.

The Realization
Baylore returned to the treasure room. He searched the back wall of the raised platform for a secret door or false wall but found none.

Bruma pondered, "What did the hag mean when she said only she knew the truth and that we'd never find the Lizard King?"

Baylore replied, "I have no idea and I don't care. There's no secret entrance in here, lets try the next room. Everybody form up!"

Alot once again assumed his position on point. He opened the door that led into the next chamber.

The chamber beyond was another long flooded room with a high vaulted ceiling supported by four columns. There was a breach in the wall near the ceiling across the room to the left through which water poured. The far corner of the room was covered in rubble from a collapsed part of the ceiling.  The smell of death and decay was oppressive. Piled in the center of the room were the half-eaten remains of dozens of dead bodies - mostly human. Bits of cloth indicated the livery of the knights of the Kingdom of Keoland - specifically from the keep at Burle.

Baylore examined the remains, "Who are these guys?"

Alot said, "They're from an expeditionary force sent from Burle a few months ago."

Baylore found a journal that detailed the expedition. The journal revealed that they were sent to find the camp of the brigands that were raiding caravans on the road. They tracked the brigands to the town of Waycombe. They found a guide who said he knew where the brigands camped and offered to lead them through the Drowned Forest. The final entry said that the expedition followed a long strip of boggy land to a rocky island and found an entrance to a subterranean lair.

Upon hearing this Bruma pondered, "I don't think there is a secret entrance."

Baylore looked annoyed, "Why?"

Bruma explained, "I was led here by two guides also. I think its a misdirect. How did you find this place?"

Alot said, "I made myself a map. Aella and I found Sakatha's lair and defeated the dragon Aulicus. We were captured but escaped. I assume."

"You assume?"

"Well, I had pretty bad brain jellies at the time. I don't have any memory of escaping or drawing this map."

"The two guides who led me here had brain jellies. I think these so-called helpful maps and guides were actually leading people to the hag instead of the Lizard King! I don't think there IS a secret entrance!"

Baylore seemed perturbed, "Well, we're going to check every inch of this gods-damned place just in case!"

Baylore stepped into a shadow and reappeared through the breach in the chamber at the top of the waterfall. The chamber was tall  and natural, covered in stalactites and stalagmites. He looked around and saw a stream that flowed from a waterfall to the right to over another waterfall to the left and disappeared. He deduced that the water flowed from the chamber through which they had entered the catacombs. He returned and reported his findings.

Bruma climbed a steep bank near the rubble. The ceiling collapse exposed a hole through which the party crawled. They found themselves back in the cave entrance to the catacombs.

Aella said, "We've been here."  She consulted the map she'd been making, "There's still these two unexplored spaces which are probably rooms. Lets go back and check them out."

DM Note-
I said, "Wait, have you been mapping??"

Aella's player said "Yep" and quickly uploaded a picture of her map to Discord.

I said, "<<sniff>> I'm so proud of you!"

They returned to the room of half-eaten corpses and opened the door.

They entered into a room with a collapsed wall covered in fungi and lichen. As they entered one of the larger mushrooms began wailing like an injured child. The scream was deafening.

Baylore quickly shredded the mushroom and the wailing stopped. They passed through the door on the wall to the left and found themselves back in the second ghoul chamber.

Aella said, "Right. I think there's a room here and one here."

The first room was a small chamber from which emerged the tattooed ghoul. It was empty.

The next room contained some more trapped ghouls. The hideous creatures were quickly dispatched.

Baylore sighed with resignation, "I don't think there's a secret entrance. What do we do now?"

Bruma said, "The two guys who led me here can't be far. I say we track them down."

The Confirmation
While the rest of the party made a camp in the lair of the hag, Baylore and Bruma followed the tracks of the two guides.

They quickly found them only a quarter of a mile away burning an animal sacrifice to the altar of Aulicus.

Bruma and Baylore captured and interrogated them. Like the other human servants of Sakatha, they had the vacant look of someone with brain jellies. The prisoners could offered no information.

However, Bruma asked Baylore, "Why are they offering sacrifices to this shrine?"

Baylore replied, "Aella and Alot say they worship the black dragon as some kind of god. They said it guarded Sakatha's lair."

Bruma pondered this, "I know this swamp, and I think I know where this is. There's a big island near here where a black dragon lived. I always avoided that place because - you know - black dragon."

"Could you find it?"

"Absolutely. We'll need a boat or a raft."

To be Continued...
DM Note-
I retconned the ending from the original. In the actual game, the captured prisoners spilled the beans and revealed the location of the hideout. Bruma then cut the ham-strings of one of the prisoners and kept the other to lead them.

I looked at Bruma's character sheet and said, "Neutral GOOD? Mutilating a helpless captive is not the act of a good character!"
Bruma's player said, "It's justified if the enemy serves evil."

I called BS, but I try not to get into debates about the philosophy of D&D alignment DURING D&D, so I let it go.

The reason I retconned it had nothing to do with that however - I forgot the brigands had brain jellies and wouldn't be able to respond to interrogation even if they wanted.

Anyway, What do YOU think, Internet? The prisoner was a brigand who's being mind-controlled. Is it okay for a "Good" aligned character to assume he's evil and cut his hamstrings and leave him to die in a dangerous swamp?