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Monday, January 11, 2016

Dead Gods - The Plain of 1,000 Portals

Tonight I did something I don't normally do. I expanded on a section of the adventure, stretching it to fill a session.

In the book, the heroes set out for the Vault of the Drow. They're supposed to join on this caravan which goes through a series of portals:
  1. Sigil to the planar gate-town of Plague-Mort.
  2. A gate in Plague-Mort to the Abyssal town of Broken Reach.
  3. From Broken Reach, journey across the first layer of the Abyss to a portal to the Demonweb Pits.
The book gives some suggestions on what could happen on this trip and leaves it up to you. I have material on all of the locations. I decided to roll up my sleeves and run a "travel" session. I also went through my 4e books and picked out my favorite demons and tried to work them into this session.

I really want to continue having an NPC hero with the group. I think they need the healing and it lets me give the group clues in a not-so-obvious way.

(Jessie) Bidam - Platinum-Scaled Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Drow Wizard
* They are joined by an NPC "4e Warlord" named Sark Axebarrel.


The Civic Festhall, home of the Sensates
The adventurers had returned from the Negative Material Plane. Bidam recorded a sensory stone of their adventure, which immediately became extremely popular at the Civic Festhall (home base of the Sensate faction). Within days, word had spread amongst all of the Sensates that Orcus was somehow killing gods despite the fact that he was greatly weakened.

Theran sold the Negative Material plane map through Vrischika's Curiosity Shoppe. A dabus was hammering magic nails into the wall of their festhall for unknown reasons (I'm setting up a big thing for a few sessions from now).
Factol Erin Darkflame Montgomery
The head of the Sensates, Factol Erin Darkflame Montgomery, called on Bidam to meet with her. When Bidam got there, he saw that Fall From Grace, the succubus paladin/head of the Brothel of Slaking Intellectual Lusts, was there too.

The Factol thanked Bidam for making the new sensory stone, which contained very rare experiences as well as vital information that all of the people of the planes needed to know. The Factol herself had experienced the sensory stone and had done some research. She had two things she wanted to say:
  1. The heart that Bidam found was the heart of Orcus' balor body. Orcus shed his balor body when he ascended to become a god/demon lord.
  2. Bidam had a plan to make a heart for the Lady of Pain. Supposedly, the Lady of Pain is the source of all pain and misery in the multiverse and there is a sucking void where her heart should be. The Factol warned Bidam that giving any gift to the Lady of Pain would likely lead to Bidam's death. The Lady of Pain generally either mazed or killed people who interacted with her.
A few days later, the heroes had some visitors at their place of business (the F*ckhaus) - Yugoloths (mercenary demons) paid by Gonard Flumph. They were looking for Flumph's daughter, who had gone missing.

A mezzoloth held up a gem that projected Gonard's image, and Flumph grilled the heroes on what they knew. I threw in as many Trumpisms as I could muster. He talked about how he made deals every day, and how you have to represent yourself properly, and that the if he was running Sigil all the portals would be closed until we could figure out what's going on. He even badmouthed the Lady of Pain, talking about how the city was green and brown and how she was too sensitive to criticism.

Even the mezzoloths got nervous when Flumph started talking about the Lady of Pain.

Bidam went to the Civic Festhall and recorded a sensory stone of Flumph's blasphemy for everyone to see.

Sark Axebarrel

Sark Axebarrel fighting a black pudding
The heroes knew they needed to find a drow named Erehe in the vault of the drow on the world of Oerth (Greyhawk!). They hooked up with a quiet bariaur named Quavis Faithminder who was heading that way on her trade route. She hired the heroes as guards. There was one other NPC guard named Sark Axebarrel. I based him on a recent fantasy drawing Tony DiTerlizzi did. I wanted to have a cynical and sarcastic NPC as I read a lot of articles about "Generation X" this week.

They headed through a portal to the Outlands and traveled to Plague-Mort, a town on the verge of being sucked into the Abyss.

Sark conned Bidam into buying and eating some food from Sweet Larissa's sausages. It turns out those sausages are made from people! Bidam quietly vowed to get revenge on Sark.

The Prison

Their job was to go to the prison and sell some of Theran's javelins of lightning (he makes them - Quavis had bought them from Vrischika's shop) to the guards there.

The prison is really cool. There's 7 floors, and each floor specializes in a different torture method - interrogation by magic, interrogation by water, etc. The ruler of Plague Mort, the Arch Lector, is extremely paranoid and is constantly having his guards (The Hounds) bring people in for "questioning."

The prison is planning on adding a floor - "interrogation by lightning." So they are interested in buying lightning javelins.

The heroes and Sark go into the interrogation by fire floor and meet with two immolith guards. They are preparing to interrogate a 12 year old kid - the Arch Lector's nephew. I played the kid as one of those streetwise youths from the 20's who sold newspapers.

Obviously, the concept of a 12 year old being interrogated by fire didn't sit well with the heroes and Sark. Bidam charged the immoliths and Theran used mage hand to snatch keys off the wall and send them to the kid so he could remove his restraints (shifter's manacles - they prevent teleportation).

Then Theran busted out his wand of magic missiles and went to town. The immoliths were tough but the heroes prevailed. They scooped up the javelins and their money and fled the scene. They stashed the kid in a crate and Quavis made haste to the portal in town before someone found out what had happened.

Broken Reach
Red Shroud, Ruler of Broken Reach
They passed through the portal and appeared on The Plain of 1,000 Portals, the very first layer of the Abyss. They showed up right in Broken Reach, a sort of Mad Max-type of settlement built in the ruins of three towers. The main building here was a white marble palace that was 60 feet off the ground, held up by pillars.

The group needed to sell the ruler of the town some rare poisons called skinvice. The ruler, a succubus named Red Shroud, specialized in buying and selling poisons. She also was a person who knew a lot of information and had something of a network of informants.

When the group met with her, they were standing before here on this sheet of red glass. At her command, the sheet can disappear and the heroes fall 60 feet. If they don't die from the fall, her solamith guards can pelt them with necrotic energy to finish them off.

Throne Room of Red Shroud
So our heroes meet with Red Shroud, repeatedly being warned by Sark not to say anything to her as she was extremely dangerous. The meeting went like this:
  1. Red Shroud bought the skinvice.
  2. She asked the heroes if they knew Fall From Grace. They said "yes." Red Shroud asked them to bring her to Broken Reach and that she'd reward them. Red Shroud looked into Bidam's eyes and charmed him. Bidam agreed to do as she asked.
  3. Red Shroud said she'd heard of an elf and a dragonborn stealing some items from The Fortress of the Fallen Stair, including an amulet that the demon lord Alzrius wanted back. The heroes did this a while back. The adventurers correctly pointed out that they did not fit the description (since that adventure, Theran had gone from elf to drow, and Bidam went from black scales to platinum). They rolled a deception check and rolled really high. Bidam was charmed, but they were able to get him out of there before he revealed the truth - Theran was wearing the amulet right now.
The group fled Broken Reach. Theran was able to break the charm spell by punching Bidam (suffering harm causes the victim to get a save - otherwise the victim is charmed for 1 day! He also shares a telepathic bond with the succubus until it is broken). They weren't sure if Red Shroud had scoured Bidam's mind or not. I think she might hire a thief to steal it from them when they get back to Sigil.

For a few days, they traveled across the windswept barrens of the Abyss with a giant ancient red sun beating down on them. During this trip they:
  • Passed by many pools of acid.
  • Came upon an archway carved with demonic sigils and images of chained succubi on it. Sark said he knew it was a portal, but he didn't know how to activate it or where it went to. I thought Theran might cast warp sense to find out, but the heroes wanted no part of it. This portal leads to the realm of Karaphon, the demon lord who "collects" alu-fiend slaves who was mention in the "Umbra" adventure.
  • Passed through a cackle storm - they had to make saving throws (with advantage if they covered their ears). Theran failed his save, and came under the influence of a Tasha's hideous laughter spell (which is really nasty! You are prone and incapacitated). This is different from the spell, though, as it is permanent.
Luckily for Theran, Quavis had brought along the cackle storm cure. Theran had to drink 10 vials of holy water.

The Orderer

Soon after, they arrived at a fateful place - an iron fortress. If you read my guide to Out of the Abyss, you know that I loved the Maze Engine encounter. So, yeah, I put it in this adventure.

There's a lot of backstory to this scene, so bear with me.

In 2012 I ran a 4e Blackmoor campaign in the game store. It didn't really have much to do with the setting of Blackmoor. It was more about jumping from plane to plane. That group of heroes had come to the Abyss, and they met a demon with ambitions of becoming the demon lord of vanity. Her name was Bazuuma. She was a beautiful lady who wore a veil. She had 20 eyes on her face.

Back then, I just wanted to trot this NPC out in front of the players and do my best impression of an old-timey burlesque song as this lady strutted onto the scene. I wanted to see the reactions of the players to this ridiculous NPC. I knew it would make me laugh (and it did).

If I remember right, once I trotted out Bazuuma in all her glory while chortling uncontrollably, a player named Rebecca told me: "You need to get a girlfriend." One of my other players was immediately smitten with Bazuuma. His character became Bazuuma's chief agent.

Later in the campaign, he ended up putting her in a chamber of positive energy on the world of Eberron. This changed her from vain and capricious to proud and enlightened.

Long story short, that character became a blue slaad. Now Bazuuma is single and setting up a home in the Abyss. Because she is "tainted" with good and positivity, she is likely to be especially hated in the Abyss, so her home will need to have extra defenses.

Jovocs serve and worship Bazuuma
So Bazuuma picked out this abandoned iron fortress and made a deal with the modrons. They agreed to deliver her an Orderer. An Orderer is a 20' diameter globe-like device full of gears and steam vents that can create "order" in the land around her new home.

Bazuuma's jovoc servants screwed up, though. While trying to move the Orderer into position, they rolled it into a crevasse near the fortress and now it's stuck halfway down. It's inching its way down to the pool of acid at the bottom.

One by one, the jovocs tried to climb down and do something, but they fell in the acid or were killed by gnaw demons lurking in the crevasse.

Now a lone modron is watching a jovoc have a temper tantrum. The heroes come upon this scene and decide to help. They realized if they can pull the lever and activate the Orderer, it can do its job before it falls into the acid and is destroyed.

Bidam climbed down and pulled the lever on the Orderer. Because the Orderer has been damaged, I roll on the random effects chart in the maze engine section of Out of the Abyss for 14 rounds. During this time, gnaw demons fly up out of the crevasse each round and attack.

Gnaw demons bite ankles and are drawn to blood
The encounter went fine, but I made the gnaw demons too weak. I had customized the maze engine chart, but unfortunately we didn't get some of the results I wanted. I had a bunch of ideas for when the heroes rolled "time travel" on the chart (in Out of the Abyss, it sends the heroes back to the beginning of the campaign!), but we didn't get to do any of them.

Bidam did get hit by energy which boosted his DEX by two points. Also, the Orderer summoned a deceased NPC back to life - Aach the traitor. Aach is the woman who left the heroes to die in Undermountain. The heroes tracked her down in Sigil and fed her to a slaad.

Now that she comes back to life what do they do? Theran casts earthshock and sends her hurtling over the side of the crevasse into the acid pool. Dead again.

The Orderer changes the land around the fortress into a pleasant, orderly area. There's a modron maze to protect the fortress from demons. There's bridges over acid pools. It's nice. I'm going to flesh this place out next time using an article from Dragon 233 by Monte Cook, which is all about these fortresses.

Bazuuma returned home later and was very happy when she saw what the heroes had done. She invited them to stay for the night. Bidam lives by the philosophy of "hit it and quit it" and so one thing led to another.

I should note that we drank a bit of alcohol in this session, which I never do (I drink about once per year, if that). I figured it would be a fun experiment. So I was a little off my game, but we had a lot of fun and it was kind of a goofy session. I thought that now was the time to do it, because from here on out we're going through the most important stuff in the whole campaign.

Click here to see what happens in the Vault of the Drow.


Peter V. Dell'Orto said...

I like the cackle storm. I'm going to use that.

And yeah, if you're single and use an attractive NPC of the sex you're into, "You need a (Blank)" is pretty much what you should expect to hear. Only GMs in relationships need put attractive NPCs in their games, and even then you might get some mockery. :)

Sean said...

I can't remember where i got the cackle storm from. I am pretty sure it was in fiendish codex I, but I am looking through it and i can't find it anywhere. I thought Rebecca's comment was hilarious. And anyway, it wasn't long before her characters were up to some eyebrow-raising shenanigans which put my Bazuuma to shame.