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Monday, August 31, 2015

Umbra - The Screaming Tower

Tonight we started a new Planescape adventure called "Umbra" by Chris Perkins. It was published in Dungeon Magazine #55. I am converting it from 2e rules to 5th edition, which is very easy to do.

We just finished The Great Modron March, and once Umbra is done we're going through Dead Gods. After that, we'll do the other Perkins adventure - "Nemesis."

Dungeon Magazine adventures at that time were extremely wordy and I found them difficult to read. There was no adventure synopsis. You had to slog through the whole thing to find out what the scenario was about. Most adventures had way too much backstory and far too many dull details of rooms.

Umbra isn't too bad in that regard and the first half of the adventure in particular is really enjoyable. The scenario is entirely set in the city of Sigil, which really helps. Sigil is awesome. I want to run more stuff just in the city. Perkins came up with some truly inspired locations and he was able to really bring the city to life.

There are huge piles of flavor text, but it's pretty fun to read. It's tricky, because it's so easy for a player's eyes to glaze over and miss details while I'm reading paragraphs of stuff out loud.

The Party

(Jessie) Bidam - Platinum Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Drow Wizard 

Downtime - The Festhall
Our heroes have opened a "festhall," so we got that rolling. The heroes hired a ton of prostitutes. I tried to give each employee a story.

I had a door appear in the festhall. It's obviously a portal to another plane, but nobody knows how to activate it or what plane it leads to. The ladies and dudes who work in the festhall have decided to try to figure it out and they're studying and mapping the planes. They're also keeping a log of every portal that they know of in Sigil.


I also decided to use a cool NPC from Uncaged - The Faces of Sigil. There's this section of razorvine known as "Patch." If you feed it blood, it will answer questions for you by forming words in the blood on a wall. I decided that this thing is right next to Vrischika's new home.

The heroes investigated it. They saw Rule-of-Three (a major Planescape NPC) use it. The heroes tried cutting Patch down, but it grew back. They kept trying to learn more, and almost worked their way to the secret of the razorvine (as it was revealed in Patch's story) but they left it alone for now.

The Black Sail
The heroes were walking the streets of the lower ward, when a Harmonium officer started harassing them. He turned into a barlgura and attacked! The heroes are now 5th level, and they were able to handle this monster. It made me a bit nervous though - the creature has this ability called "Reckless," which means that it gets advantage to attack, and people have advantage when attacking it. This monster gets three attacks per round, all with advantage.

The heroes were rescued by a mysterious cambion called Dirngrin. This whole thing was a setup by Dirngrin. He'd been following the heroes, and had his barlgura attack them as a sort of test.

Dirngrin proceeded to rattle off some dialogue that the players found hilarious. They actually asked me to re-read this part:

"The Cage ain't a place for the clueless, cutter. It'll make a basher go barmy before you can say, 'Pike it, primescum!'"

"Pike it, primescum" has become a new catchphrase among this group. I had told them if they convincingly used planescape slang that they would get inspiration. This lead to an evening full of the word "berk" and the phrase "put you in the dead-book."

Dirngrin works for this yagnoloth called Inimigle. Dirngrin took the heroes to meet him, in The Black Sail tavern.

Inimigle told the heroes there was this hag who owned a restaurant called The Worm's Guts. She sold all sorts of food. Apparently, the heroes were on the menu!

The hag wanted to cook up the heroes and serve them to her customers. What a fun idea. It also makes extra sense, as a platinum-scaled dragonborn is quite a delicacy indeed.

Basically, Inimigle convinced the heroes to go rescue a girl captured in a Harmonium tower. The girl has this special mark on her hand, which means she's a chosen one for this old, lost faction called the Zactars. Basically this kid is going to grow up to become a god.

The heroes agree to go break her out. Inimigle says there's a hag who will help them (not the hag who wants to cook them). This hag's name is Varaga and she lives in The Screaming Tower. To get in, you need to repeat this phrase exactly:

I swear this oath to Sigil's guard:
Lord of all She gazes;
I pledge my life to Her, the one
Who spares us from the Mazes.

The players didn't write it down. I knew we were in for a wacky night.

The Lady's Ward
The adventurers set out for The Screaming Tower, which was in the Lady's Ward. The module says it actually takes a few hours to walk there. I hadn't really given much thought to just how big Sigil was. A few hours.. I guess I like it. Sigil should be big.

Along the way, the heroes were harassed by Harmonium guards. A hag pushing a cart full of larvae helped them by casting a forget spell on the guards. This is the hag who wants to cook them up and serve them to her customers. Inimigle got her to follow the heroes and make sure they got to the tower.

Later, the group spotted a cart full of prisoners. They'd looted a temple and were going to jail. The cart was pulled by... a gorgon! And it was driven by two barghests - blue-skinned goblins that could turn into wolves.

One prisoner could cast some spells. Her name was Heleta Vazgarth. She used a spell to read the heroes thoughts and called out, begging them to save her. She said she knew of the chosen one and could help them.

Our heroes tried to use mage hand to quietly and swiftly pull the key ring off a barghest's belt, but the barghest heard the clinking of the keys (low arcana roll). A fight broke out. The heroes killed the barghests and set the prisoners free.

The gorgon was left to its own devices in the city street. The adventurers didn't even realize it was a gorgon until they heard later that it had run around the city, turning people to stone.

The heroes took Helveta with them. She was a chaotic good mage. She admitted that she had read their minds and didn't know anything about the chosen one. She just wanted to be free! The Harmonium had arrested her along with the looters although she hadn't done anything. Helveta was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The heroes were outraged and made it clear that she was coming with them. Poor Helveta was going to be trap bait.

The Screaming Tower

This place is incredibly awesome. Here's the description:

"Located in the heart of The Lady's Ward is a twisted, hollow structure known as The Screaming Tower. The 250 foot tall tower was built atop a natural portal leading to the Elemental Plane of Air and is riddled with apertures. Every hour, a huge gust of wind erupts from the portal and blows through these holes, creating the painful wailing noise which earns the tower its name."

So remember, the heroes are supposed to walk up to the tower, repeat the pass phrase, and then enter. The problem: Both adventurers had completely forgotten that they even needed to utter the pass phrase. They also didn't remember what it was.

And worse... poor Heleta had to go try the door alone! She approached, and saw a demonic gargoyle statue on either side of the 15 foot tall iron door. She saw a scorched body lying in front of the door. The heroes urged her on. She pulled on the door handle. Lightning erupted from the gargoyle mouths and killed her.

After a bit of laughter and planning, the heroes approached the door. They looted poor Heleta and the scorched body (it had a +1 spear). Bidam tried the door. Bidam was scorched by the lightning trap, and the door didn't budge. The door is so heavy that it takes a total of 22 points of strength to open it.

Bidam staggered back, injured by the trap. The heroes decided to go rest. They went to Fortune's Wheel, a giant gambling complex owned by Shemeshka the Marauder. They sat in The Dragon Bar for an hour. Theran studied the spear, while Bidam burned some surges to heal. They still hadn't remembered about the pass phrase.

They went back to the tower and tried the door together. They got scorched again. Then they remembered about the pass phrase (with some hints from yours truly). They had no idea what the pass phrase was. So, laughing, they walked all the way back to the lower ward.

They tracked down Inimigle's surly girlfriend, a tiefling named Turia (who also appears in the other Perkins Planescape adventure, "Nemesis"). She made the heroes pay her 100 gold. Then she told them the pass phrase. The heroes left, mumbling about coming back and killing her.

They walked all the way back to the tower, uttered the pass phrase, and at last entered The Screaming Tower.

Inside, there's a massive void (portal to the plane of air) and a staircase that winds up, hugging the wall. 99 gargoyles perch in here, looking out of the many holes in the wall.

Eyarq's Way
This is where an awesome encounter kicks in. The heroes are going up the stairs. Once they're about 50 feet up, The portal comes to life, spewing forth a mighty gust of wind. The heroes must grab on to something or go flying. Those who fail their DEX saves have to roll a d6 on a special chart. A 1 means you actually get flung out through a hole of the tower into Sigil!

The portal came to life. Theran grabbed on to a gargoyle as the wind forced his feet off the ground. Bidam failed his save and the dragonborn was blown right out of the building. He soared through the air and crashed to the street below, taking 5d6 damage. He came back in and the adventurers made their way up the stairs to the third room.

They met with a margoyle flunky of the hag's. The margoyle hates the hag and wants to turn the heroes against her. I didn't care for this idea, so I just made him a doofus comedy character.

Zaraga's Lair

The adventurers went up a spiral staircase and came upon Zaraga the hag. She has some pretty epic flavor text. They walk in on her eating an imp:

"With ravenous hunger she shoves the reddish pulp into her toothy maw and devours it all at once, then wipes her talons on the front of her rags. Hanging from the nearby ceiling are three iron bird cages, two of them containing creatures like the one just devoured. Their pathetic cries for mercy can barely be heard above the great hag's belch."

The heroes handed her a disc (a portal key) that Inimigle told them to give her. She agreed to help them. Her plan: Gargoyles would fly the heroes to the Harmonium tower. The adventurers could sneak through the building, steal the kid, and escape..

We'll do that next time. I think we can finish this adventure next week! This was a very good session. I really love this adventure. Tons of fun ideas!

Click here to check out the rest of Umbra.

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