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Monday, June 29, 2015

The Great Modron March - The Modron Judge

Jessie is back from her trip to Disneyland and it turns out that she hates hot weather. Legoland, however, is reportedly awesome.

I warned the players that this adventure has an extreme railroad in it. I've learned that's the best thing to do when running a published adventure that forces the PCs down a certain path. Just tell them and ask them to play along. It saves a lot of time and aggravation. Anyone who played that Ravenloft adventure where the headless horseman beheads the PCs no matter what they do knows the pain of inflicting a railroad on your buddies who just want to have a good time.

The Party

(Jessie) Bidam - Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Elf Wizard

Downtime in Sigil

Last week's session in Limbo was pretty awesome. I asked Jessie what her character was doing while Theran was on the adventure, and she said she was at the Brothel of Slaking Intellectual Lusts.

We started off with Theran dealing with two afflictions. He had been implanted with a slaad embryo, which means he'd die in three months when a tadpole exploded out of his chest. He was also rapidly turning into a red slaad and losing 10 max hit points per day.

Bidam took half-slaad Theran to Fall-From-Grace, the succubus paladin. She was able to cure him in exchange for a donation to the Sensates.

Then the heroes spent three months messing with downtime. Theran made a +1 staff out of the unofficial metal of planescape - crusty verdigris metal.

Bidam decided that he wanted to research the Lady of Pain. He read up on her, and then decided to talk to the blue-skinned alu-fiend named Vrischika, who runs the curiosity shoppe. It turned out that Vrishika actually had a lady of pain doll for sale in the store, which was a pretty amazing coincidence.

The Curiosity Shoppe and the items for sale are right out of Planescape Torment. If the heroes worship the doll, they will be sent to a maze! I'll definitely follow up on this.

At the end of three months, Theran suddenly woke up in great pain. The slaad tadpole would hatch in 24 hours. Bidam took him to his githzerai friends, who had a lot of experience with the slaad. They diagnosed him and were able to find a healer to cure him.


Then I dropped the hook on the heroes - a wizard needs some volcanic ash near a portal in the gate town of Bedlam.

Bedlam is a gate town in the Outlands that contains permanent portals to the plane of Pandemonium. Foul air and the sounds of screaming wash out of the gates and fill the city. The wind and screaming drives the inhabitants insane.

The deal here is there's this crooked faction of guards known as The Sarex. They have a shadow fiend leader named Hrava, who wants the town to slide into Pandemonium. To do so, he must sow as much chaos as possible in the town.

The adventurers appeared in Bedlam and immediately come upon a poor githzerai who's been killed. Someone cast magic mouth on his organs, and they're babbling about their functions. The guards/Sarex come upon our heroes and arrest them for murder.

There's our railroad! The heroes must be imprisoned in this scenario. My players are very laid back and were OK with the whole thing. They were thrown in prison and would have a trial the following day.


I made up some prisoners so the heroes could talk to them and learn certain details that would be helpful later in the session. They were:
  • An elf with an eyepatch. She missed her boyfriend, who was a member of the Guiding Light, a faction that tried to make Bedlam safer
  • A barlgura who hated Hrava, the shadow fiend leader of The Sarex
  • A cambion who spoke of the weird "ruler" of Bedlam, a homeless wizard named Tharick Bleakshadow
I also cooked up a dream sequence for when the heroes went to sleep. I am currently watching the entire run of the TV show Twin Peaks, and there's this really weird dream in one episode that gives the main character clues as to what's going on. I decided that Bedlam is a crazy place and that the fetid winds of Pandemonium might cause the PCs to have the same dream at the same time.

Jessie got a bit metagame-y, though, and saw that I was excited about them falling asleep, so she declared that Bidam would be staying awake all night. That meant that only Theran had the dream.

In the dream, Theran was sitting on a chair on a cloud. NPCs were sitting in chairs near him, too. Two monodrones were marching around them. everything was in slow motion and a strong wind was blowing everyone's hair back.
  • Fall-From-Grace whispered in Theran's ear. He made a perception check and heard something about the king, a ring, and escaping. This clue was to help point out to them that the "king" of Bedlam, Tharick Bleakshadow, had a ring that was a portal key back to Sigil.
  • Alamandra the githzerai began dancing in slow motion and spelled out words of fire that hung in mid-air: "Rogue Judge Wants Freedom." This was a reference to the judge of Bedlam, who is a modron. The judge wants to flee Bedlam and rejoin the march - that's the real point of this adventure.
  • The displacer beast cub that was a pet of modronoid Xaldra Miloni spoke: "The palm is a door." This refers to the place where the ring can be used to open a portal to Sigil - there's a giant hand on a tower by the pandemonium portals.
  • Ebb Creakknees played a tune by blowing into a jug. The tune, he said, was called "Shadows Cannot Endure the Light." This was a clue as to how to defeat the shadow fiend at the end of the adventure - use a light spell.
  • The dream ended when the living cloud known as Breath of Life showed up, said "BIDE," and blew Theran out of the dream.
George is smart, so he picked up on some of these clues right away. Others didn't connect.


The next day, the heroes went to trial. In the adventure, there's a whole lot of text devoted to what happens even though there's only one outcome - the heroes are sentenced to death. The adventure expects you to play out the trial even though the verdict is set in stone. I just glossed over it.

The judge is a decaton, which is a high-level modron with ten tentacles. During the previous modron march, the decaton got snatched by the people of Bedlam and was forced to be their judge, in an effort to create enough order to keep Bedlam from slipping into the plane of Pandemonium. The new march just passed through, and the decaton now wants to flee Bedlam and join the march.

Basically, after delivering the verdict, the judge calls the heroes into his office and asks them to help him escape. The decaton's name is Trictaculus.

The Escape

From here, the adventure becomes a series of encounters that the heroes have while fleeing through Bedlam to the portals to Pandemonium. They stopped at the jail to get their gear. Here's how it went:

The Guards: Three Sarex guards were outside the courthouse. The heroes tried to sneak by but failed their rolls. The adventurers decided to fight them even though they had no armor or weapons.

Trictaculus was a great help with his five attacks (!). I allowed the heroes to disarm the bad guys. Normally I don't allow that kind of thing as it leads to abuse, but these players aren't going to abuse the system like that.

The heroes killed the bad guys with their own swords.

Tharick Bleakshadow Part One: The heroes made their way through the streets, pretending to be members of The Sarex with the decaton in tow. They ran into the "ruler" of Bedlam, who accosted them in a crazed fashion. He seemed unable to see the decaton. He ended up rocketing toward the courthouse to find Trictaculus.

The Prison: The adventurers, wearing Sarex armor, killed three more guards and got their stuff. They freed the prisoners that they had made friends with, but not the others.

Tharick Bleakshadow Part Two: Bleakshadow returned. Now he could see Trictaculus (I didn't really understand why he couldn't see the modron. The adventure explains that so long as there is a haft of a spear impeding his view of Trictaculus, he could not see him). He pointed an accusatory finger at the modron. Theran saw that Tharick was wearing a ring, and remembered the clue from his dream. He chopped off Bleakshadow's hand! They snatched the ring off the severed hand and ran.

I added the ring into this adventure. It's a ring of protection +1 with a gem on it. Inside the gem is an image of a swirling cloud. It's the "key" to the portal home.

Guiding Light: Members of the Guiding Light came upon the heroes. They were able to befriend them and convince them they were doing the right thing by helping Trictaculus escape. Bidam gave a rousing speech, telling the Guiding Light that they needed to step up to keep Bedlam together in the absence of the judge.

Barmy Mob: The adventurers raced through the dark streets. They were spotted by a mob, angry at the theft of their judge. There was a great chase. The heroes raced into an alley and tried to jump a fence. Theran made it. Bidam and the modron didn't.

The crowd entered the alley and advanced. Bidam stepped in front of the modron and breathed acid, killing 6 people! The acid did 9 damage and the mob was full of four hit point commoners. The barmy mob went even more barmy. Bidam and the modron got over the fence, and all three were able to ditch the mob.

The Shadow Fiend: The heroes had made it to the portals. There's a tower with a grasping hand built into the top. That's where I placed the portal back to Sigil, activated by the ring they took from Bleakshadow. At the base of the tower are 6 portals to the plane of pandemonium, spewing fetid air and howling winds.

Hrava was here, too. He was a shadow fiend.

Hrava the Shadow Fiend

Ravenloft & Planescape Shadow Fiends
I have always liked shadow fiends. It was the 2e art that did it, specifically Baxa's depiction of them from the Ravenloft setting.

In my high school Ravenloft campaign, one of the adventurers got their hands on a shadow lathorn - a device that summoned shadow fiends. All sorts of shenanigans ensued.

There are no 5e stats for shadow fiends, so I based Hrava on the 5e shadow. I decided not to use the shadow fiend magic jar power, as that's way too deadly for the PCs in this campaign. Instead, I kept the shadow ability to drain d4 strength on a hit. I also gave the shadow fiend the ability to cast darkness.

As written in the adventure, this is a pretty anticlimactic scene. Hrava tells the heroes he wanted Trictaculus to escape through the portals, as that would cause Bedlam to slip into chaos and get sucked into pandemonium. Hrava even lets the PCs go!

I didn't like that at all. I changed it so that Hrava lets Trictaculus go, but wants to kill the heroes for slaying so many of his Sarex guards. The shadow only had 14 hit points (though he takes half damage from just about everything), so I had him shrouded in darkness (as per the spell). I had him cast darkness on an armband he wore, so that the darkness would move with him.

We had a pretty epic battle. Theran hit Hrava with a thunderwave spell and followed up with a scorching burst, both area effect spells that didn't require seeing the target. Hrava dropped Theran with a pair of claw swipes, draining 4 strength and putting Theran at death saves. Bidam spent a few rounds stumbling through the dark until finally finding and hitting Hrava, dropping the shadow fiend to two hit points.

Hrava fled, cursing the heroes and warning them never to return to Bedlam.

Theran was making death saves. Bidam needed to stabilize him. What followed was a series of comical dice rolls, failing over and over again. Bidam finally stabilized him when Theran was on the edge of death.

They snatched up some volcanic ash by the portals, climbed the tower and stepped through the swirling portal in the palm of the giant hand. They appeared back in Sigil.

This is a fun scenario once you get to the chase. The whole force-the-PCs-into-jail thing won't go over well with a lot of modern gaming groups. I didn't like how much text was devoted to that stuff, as it made for a lot of extra unnecessary reading. Bedlam is a really cool place though, and Hrava can be a really cool villain.

I think I am going to give my players the chance to activate the Lady of Pain doll and end up getting sucked into a maze. I feel like we could do with a little side jaunt to stimulate character development before launching into the next chapter, which is set in the Abyss.

Click here to continue to the next adventure, where the heroes are enslaved by a wizard in The Abyss.


Anonymous said...

The 5e Monster Manual has shadow demons. Are those different from shadow fiends?

Sean said...

Anonymous: You're right! Shadow demons have everything shadow fiends have except for the magic jar ability. If I ran this again I'd definitely use the shadow demon stats (except I'd shave the hit points, as my PCs are low level).