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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Planescape - The Blood War XVIII. Bzallin's Blacksphere

George's work schedule changed so we weren't able to play for a few weeks. Now we're hopefully back on track. I hate missing so much time.

From '08 to '14 I was running 2-3 sessions a week and I got very used to the grind, so missing sessions like this feels really weird.

I was very rusty tonight, but it was still pretty awesome.

Plans Change: I had planned this session about a month ago. The group was going to go to the Wells of Darkness, utilizing material from an old adventure that is part of the Savage Tide path.

Yesterday, I was sitting there thinking that it just didn't feel like it was time to go the wells. I would have to sort of shoehorn it in to the story. Plus, the realm is cool, but there's not that much to do there. I didn't feel like I would be able to make it fun. I needed to mess with it a bit more.

Just a few hours before game time, I decided to completely change my plans. I wanted to run Bzallin's Blacksphere, a Chris Perkins Dungeon magazine adventure that I'd already laid the foundation for.

Learning How to Prepare: It took me about 6 years to learn how to prepare an adventure in a way that worked for me. I have to read the whole thing and write notes as I do it. That's the only way I can retain it and at the same time, I'm giving myself a "cheat sheet" to refer to when running it.

By going over the module in such a thorough manner, I can look up any spells, items or powers that would have tripped me up during the session.

Way back when I first got this issue of Dungeon, I was recovering from DM burnout. Planning a new campaign, I grabbed a bunch of issues of Dungeon magazine and decided to make a "sandbox". I was going to place all of the adventures on one map, link the stories, and then let the characters roam free.

I thought that if I could prepare all of the adventures in advance, that would give the players an incredible amount of freedom and I think the game would feel really fun.

I didn't actually run this campaign, I just prepared it. Bzallin's Blacksphere was going to be the final adventure. I mined the "mere of dead men" mini-path as the probable main storyline.

This morphed into another campaign. As I was working, I started getting a million idea that I was excited about and I realized that I didn't need these published adventures because it had inspired so much content of my own making.

I proceeded to run a campaign that I was extremely happy with, following up on a lot of tuff from previous campaigns. The god the dwarves died (the dude in the banner of this site - that's his body in the astral sea) and there was this mad gnome in a ruined city who was siphoning the power from magic items to create and fuel an army of clockwork golems. One of the heroes actually fell in the magic furnace and became a clockwork golem himself.

In a way, Bzallin's Blacksphere was the catalyst that finally brought me to a point where I was happy with how I was running games. There's still a million things I wish I could do better, but it gave me the confidence to know that I could run a game that I personally was proud of and I have not suffered any kind of creative burnout since then.

Anyway, Bzallin's Blacksphere involves a pocket dimension/lair inside a cube. The map is literally a cube:


I hastily slapped together a cube map of my own:

I bet a lot of you could make a really cool homemade cube map.

The Party

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

Last time, Graz'zt had a temper tantrum. He flew a chaos ship into the Abyssal Undersump and destroyed the portal to Thanatos that the group and their devil allies were using.

Their pit fiend friend proved he was loyal to the heroes and made Iggwilv really angry.

The adventurers had gone to the abyssal realm of Bidam's wife, Bazuuma. Bad guys had installed a sphere of annihilation in the center of this realm, and it was growing.

Worse, two demon lord avatars were there, alone with 13 wizards, intent on killing the adventurers and Bazuuma.

Nocticula
The demon lords:
  • J'zzlshraak: A beetle-woman demon lord right out of Bzallin's Blacksphere.
  • Nocticula: The pathfinder demon lord of succubi/assassins/shadows.
Both of them are controlled by Iggwilv the witch queen (she knows their truenames). Iggwilv has set up this assault as a way to please Graz'zt, so he will release her from her prison - she's trapped in his palace.

J'zzlshraak has allies:
  • Bzallin: A very powerful wizard
  • 12 apprentices, each pretty powerful in their own right.
The group's ally is Bazuuma, a "good" demon lord of positive energy with 20 eyes that she can shoot eyebeams out of.

The Blacksphere: Theran quickly scanned the sphere of annihilation. He could see that it was going to grow slowly, it would take a month to engulf the entire realm. In my game, I say that things "destroyed" by the sphere of annihilation are actually teleported to the plane of Acheron, where in ten minutes' time they turn to iron and become part of the mass of a huge cube.

The Plane of Acheron
This cube is the home of a rust dragon named Coirosis, who the group had a harrowing encounter with long ago.

Let's Jump In: Theran thought that they should... jump into the sphere. Yes, jump into a sphere of annihilation. They'd take a lot of damage, but they'd survive. They'd appear in Acheron and they would have ten minutes to get out of there before they turned to solid iron.

I really didn't expect that. They came extremely close to doing it.. but they remembered that Bazuuma would probably die here alone.

The Deal: Nocticula contacted Theran telepathically. She wanted to make a deal... she'd spare the heroes if they swore to find a way to free her from Iggwilv's control. They agreed. She took a dive.

Bzallin, acting like a teacher, told his students to carefully prepare to cast magic missile. They did. Then he told them to cast it. They did. 36 missiles came hurtling at the heroes and tore into them. They were still up, but it definitely hurt.

Bidam charged J'zzlshraak (one of the most fun names to say out loud in D&D) rolling a natural 20 with the sword of sharpness! He sliced into the demon lord's carapace.

Bazuuma fired off a thick combination eyebeam that hit J'zzlshraak and the clump of wizards.

J'zzlhraak teleported away. The wizards fled through a planar gate. They figured their job was done - the sphere was going to grow and completely obliterate the realm.

You really shouldn't hold it like that
Theran studied the sphere and saw that it was a portal to the quasi-elemental plane of vacuum, an airless void. So.. yeah, jumping in would have been bad.

The sphere had been infused with negative energy. He surmised that there was some magic device that needed to be nullified to reverse the growth effect.

He'd soon learn that Bzallin has a talisman of the sphere that he magically altered. That talisman is the source of the problem.

Sigil: The heroes went home to Sigil and we did a bunch of goofy stuff before they rested:


Baba Yaga's hut marched into deadbook square. Out of it came Burba Larga, Baba Yaga's goofy stepdaughter that my players enjoy. She had come here to tell Zaraga, the hag of deadbook square, that it was almost time for the Gloom Meet, a hag "convention" that I have been planning ever since I wrote the guide to nightmares a few years ago.

The Michael Jackson NPC, Eo Kaplan, was carrying around a pet monkey. In real life, Michael Jackson had a monkey named Bubbles (if you are interested in the 80's, you should check out my favorite book of all time - The Clothes have No Emporer by Paul Slansky). So, since my game is stupid, Eo's monkey was named Nipples.

The heroes were slightly alarmed to see Eo interacting with Baron Flumph (D&D Barron Trump) and his mom, Mel Narnia. Mel seemed to like Eo. Eo seemed to like Baron. Baron looked bored.

Somehow we ended up a doing a thing where Burba Larga tried to do a moonwalk and by gawd she rolled a natural 20. People in the square gathered around and cheered.

I also had the "official" stepdaughters of Baba Yaga make an appearance. Elena the Fair (aka Elena the Mad) and Natasha the Dark. I pointed out that Natasha looks exactly like Iggwilv, and the group freaked and started asking a million questions.

Basically, Natasha is Iggwilv. She grew up and left the hut. The Natasha in the hut now is a magical duplicate created by Elena, who misses her sister.

Then we did some perverted stuff involving golems and lightning, then moved on to Bidam's employees watching him perform lewd acts. It was a long rest well spent.

Fall From Grace as she appeared in Planescape:Torment
Favorite NPC: The next day, the group was surprised to see their good friend Fall From Grace had the day off from her "secret mission" with the Sensates. The group hates that mission. She's definitely their favorite sidekick NPC. They ask me about her chastity bodice every single time we play.

I think part of the reason is because I pronounce it "BOW-diss" rather than "Bod-iss" and they like correcting me on it.

She's a succubus who has never committed an "act of passion". As long as she remains chaste, the Bow Diss grants her special powers.

Fall From Grace agreed to come with them to foil Bzallin's scheme.

The heroes decided that they needed to find Bzallin and top this item that's causing the blacksphere to grow. Theran is a member of the Society of Lumeniferous Aether, and has access to their incredible library.

There, he found a spellbook/journal written by a former apprentice of Bzallin. In it was a sigil sequence that the group could use to teleport to Bzallin's lair. They hired someone to cast a teleportation circle spell, and in they went.

Bzallin's Cube: The cube lair of Bzallin is technically its own demiplane. It is made of smoky marble and the floor is covered in patterned tiles.

The Statues: The heroes appeared in a chamber with five green doors. There were 3 statues of barbed devils. The group immediately was pretty sure those statues would come to life and attack them.

After closer examination, they saw that these were real devils hit with flesh to stone spells.

Let's Begin: The group had to choose one of five exits. We're in room 1. Where did they go? Room 2? Room 3?

Take a look:
Room 30. They skipped the whole dungeon. They started laughing when they saw my face. Jessie pointed out that this was like the time that they skipped that evil carnival from Dead Gods - a huge locale full of encounters that I meticulously prepared and the group had no interest in investigating.

This is also similar how the group demanded that I create a cow lady NPC with 6 udders, and then were completely nonplussed when I introduced her with a special voice and everything.

The Laboratory: The heroes crept up to a door and listened. There were sounds of bubbling, clanking and murmuring. Bidam stealthily cracked the door open to peek in. Rolls a natural 20 on his stealth check! He saw four of the apprentices in a lab with tables made from hovering crystal. The room is LOADED with magic items.

This whole dungeon was completely overflowing with magic items. It's a high level 2e adventure, and in 2e, magic items were necessary for bad guys to be a challenge. My groups ended up with more +1 swords than they knew what to do with.

Mountain of Treasure: I had decided already that I was going to leave all of this treasure in there. We're nearing the end of the campaign, so I thought it would be fun to back a dump truck full of magic items on them and see what happened.

In 5e, thanks to attunement, it's not really that big of a problem. All of the really good items require attunement, and you can only be attuned to 3 of them.

Bidam saw this and the group got really excited about the treasure. They exploded into the room, getting a surprise round. They killed two of the four apprentices (I used Evoker stats from Volo's - deadly!) before they even turned around. One apprentice dropped to his knees and begged to be spared. The other fled into a room and said Bzallin's name.

Almost Done: Yes, the bad guy's room is right there. We're at the end of the dungeon. They thought that was very funny.

This actually isn't a problem because they'll still want to explore the rest of the place to get all of the loot.

I should note that Bzallin has a shadow demon sidekick named Gloomwhisper that I placed elsewhere. He has this thing where he can trap a soul and I didn't really want to get into that.

Keeping the Cube: When preparing this, I was wondering if they would want to "keep" this place as a home for themselves. As written, this place falls apart into nothing once Bzallin is defeated. I know my group, so I decided to see how they felt about the place. If they liked it, I'd have it remain, at least for a while. It's a very cool location, it feels like a waste to destroy it.

The heroes mercilessly murdered the begging apprentice and crept up to the door. Fall from Grace and Theran got up against the wall on either side, and Bidam busted through the door.

Battle With Bzallin: Beyond it was a study/library. Bzallin and his apprentices were there. They'd cast stoneskin on themselves - a pretty useless spell that I shouldn't have chosen. It gives resistance against non-magic damage. This group does nothing but magic damage.

Bidam sliced at Bzallin twice, but rolled really low and missed both times. The bad guys got off two chain lightning spells, which devastated the group. Bidam also got hit with a finger of death as the bad guys misty stepped around.

Theran spotted the modified talisman of the sphere hanging on Bzallin's neck. He could see that it was magically modified. He knew that the talisman is what was causing the sphere of annihilation to grow.

He cast mage hand, summoning the talisman to his hand. Bzallin was alarmed, to say the least.

Bzallin called forth a cloudkill spell in the main room where Theran was. This dropped him.

Fall From Grace grabbed Theran' body and pulled him into the hallway. Bzallin activated a guards and wards spell, which filled the hallway with mist and arcane-locked all of the doors.

Bidam killed the apprentice. He noticed that striking Bzallin was strange - he did not bleed or get cut. Bzallin dropped his illusory appearance - he was a lich!

Bzallin ignored Bidam, intent on killing Theran and getting his talisman back.

In the hallway, Fall from Grace healed Theran back to consciousness. Dispel magic unlocked the door.

Bidam charged Bzallin and sliced into him, reducing him to dust that vanished in a flash (he's a lich, so he'll reform by his phylactery).

Time to Loot: The heroes were hurt very badly, but they hadn't cast many spells. They have this sack of goodberries that they used to heal themselves to full and went on a looting spree.

They didn't have time to examine everything fully, as this place is full of creatures who probably heard all that lightning and would probably be here soon to see what happened. The loot:
  • Ohm's Black Box - No idea what this is, will have to google it.
  • Magemask - Same deal
  • Black Robe of the Archmagi - wow
  • Wand of Armory: ??
  • Dagger +1
  • Ring of Protection
  • Rod of Energy Draining - This thing is black and was owned by an apprentice named Talica. Look at this cheeky comment in the adventure: "Nothing tickles Talica's fancy like touching someone with her black rod..." That's not an accident. No way.
  • Vest of Protection
  • Cloak of Protection
  • Bracers of Defense
  • Many scrolls
  • 2 spellbooks
  • Wand of Lightning Bolts
  • 2 Ioun Stones - One gives you immunity to non-magic weapons, the other allows you to understand every spoken language.
  • Flask of Curses - if you open it, you are cursed to fail every saving throw. In your life. Forever.
  • Staff of the Magi
  • Bone of Slaying - Make a melee attack. Roll a 19 or 20, the opponent must make a saving throw... or die.
  • The Book of Vile Death - A tome that outlines the process of turning oneself into a lich. It can only be understood by wizards of 17th level or higher. That will be Theran pretty soon. He was quite excited about this.
The players were giddy.

I love the idea of the group getting all these items, then arming a small force of soldiers with them for some special mission or something.

We should finish the cube next week. I'll have to make up a list of all the items in this place to give to them.

I know I'm a Perkins fan and all, but I honestly think this is a classic adventure. If they ever do another Tales from the Yawning Portal type of book, this should be in it.

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