Monday, October 28, 2019
Should a Group Keep Abyssal Chickens?
This has Descent into Avernus spoilers, so bail out now if you might play this at some point in the future!
In my Dungeon Academy campaign, my group has entered Avernus in search of the sixth piece of the rod of seven parts. Avernus is the first layer of the Nine Hells, and of course it is detailed in Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus.
When I sat down to prepare this, I knew I needed to tie in backstory elements into this. I had set up some stuff that I intended to merge with the content in the adventure. I've got some agents of the Raven Queen running around, a character's evil parents are up to no good, and a character is searching for the lost soul of a loved one.
I've connected them to three locales from the book that I like - the Bleeding Citadel, the Tower of Urm, and Mahadi's Emporium. The biggest surprise for me when I first went through the book was that I actually liked Mahadi's Emporium. I generally dislike the use of non-devils in Hell, but there's a lot of fun ideas in there.
Bleeding Citadel is a piece of cake to change up. You can just swap out the bad guys in the book for the ones that you want to use. Mahadi's is mostly a matter of adding in the one element I need, which is easy because they left space for you to make your own vendors.
Mordenkainen and the Tower of Urm
The Tower of Urm is Mordenkainen's tower that can travel the planes. I think that this location could be awesome, but as presented int he book, there are very few details. So my plan is to dig up a bunch of Mordenkainen lore and try to create the tower based on all that.
I'm also going to try to figure out how to explain how Mordenkainen, the "mad mage" from Curse of Strahd, escaped Barovia and is no longer mad. If I remember right, he actually fought Strahd and fell from a vast height and barely survived.
Escaping the demiplane of Ravenloft has always been an amusing thing to me. The old 2e boxed set talked extensively about how hard it was to escape Barovia, but almost every published adventure had a way out. I know that was probably just put in for groups who were going to just do a quick excursion into the Demiplane of Dread before resuming their campaign, but it always amused me.
So how does Mordenkainen get out? Vistani can come and go as they please, so maybe they helped him get out? Maybe Mordenkainen cut a deal with a Dark Power in the Amber Temple? Maybe he had a re-match with Strahd and was about to win, so Strahd summoned the mists to take him away?
In this campaign, the group is actually traveling with Strahd, so the fact that these two have fought before should make it very interesting. I love playing Strahd as this over-dramatic, fawning dude who yearns for Tatiana, whose soul currently resides in the body of the group's cleric.
The Hellfire Engine
I've always loved the Hellfire Engine. In 3e, I think the engine was a giant steam-powered humanoid that rampaged through Hell. In the 5th edition Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, it is a giant steamroller with a variety of deadly weapons attached to it.
We had left off last time with the group under attack from an engine, so we picked up from there. In between sessions, I had done some reading and was surprised to see that the hellfire engine doesn't have a pilot - it is a living creature that controls itself.
I changed it, because I like the idea of it being a war machine in its own way.
The group is 11th level, and I quickly saw that the hellfire engine was way, wayyy too powerful for them. One shot from the bonemelt sprayer was absolutely devastating. It does a pile of damage, and then the acid and fire continue damaging a character each round until they take an action to remove it.
The group immediately knew they had to run away, even though Strahd and the ranger were inside the engine killing the pilots. This led to another thing I had wrestled with when preparing: Should I allow for the group to actually take control of the hellfire engine?
In a campaign I played in on the Greyhawk channel called Mordenkainen's Path of the Planes, we actually got a Hellfire Engine and drove it around for a few sessions. I loved it and never wanted to leave it!
I ultimately decided not to allow it in this session. The group has a lot of powerful stuff as it is, and I have a tendency to give my groups so many magic items that the magic items lose their "specialness" and become boring. Also, I thought the idea of the hellfire engine self-destructing would be cool.
So a devil pilot set the engine to self-destruct, and the group was able to outrun the massive explosion in their war machine.
At this point, I had planned to let the group make a somewhat fateful decision. In theory, what they should do next is use their 5th piece of the rod to locate the 6th piece. That is, after all, what they are here for!
But as I'm sure you know, players often do things you don't expect. The group had the ability to obtain leads on some of the subplots going on in Avernus. I had prepared some stuff in case they decided to pursue one of those.
What followed was a lot of banter in the group's war machine, which has been described as a "van" with "seatbelts" (Strahd, being lawful, always wears his seatbelt). After a healthy debate, the group decided to pursue the 6th piece.
Who has the sixth piece? Why, the archdevil who rules Avernus! Zariel! The group saw Zariel and some devils fighting hundreds of demons (spyder-fiends - agents of the Queen of Chaos). I made sure to describe that Zariel was using the huge hammer that she took from Kostchchie.
Long story short, the heroes snuck onto her flying fortress (I used the "fallen fortress" stuff from Descent) and they tried to use the device that communicated telepathically to devils in a one mile radius. The group tried to make up an emergency using a phony "voice."
Zariel ended up confronting them, and the group made a deal with her. Zariel said she'd give them the sixth piece if the group stops agents of the Queen of Chaos from burrowing into the Bleeding Citadel.
The heroes got in their war machine and sped off toward the Bleeding Citadel. A massive dust cloud rolled in, lowering visibility. The group almost ran over an abyssal chicken. The cloud cleared up, and they saw some shadar kai agents of the Raven Queen who'd been in an accident. Their war machine was sinking into a lake of demon ichor. The 2 raven knights were on the shore of the lake being swarmed by 15 abyssal chickens.
The group proceeded to... try to make friends with the chickens. The demon chickens who grow on tress in Hell. They of course rolled really well, and got the chickens to stop attacking the shadar kai.
That's where we stopped. They really love the idea of packing 15 abyssal chickens into their already cramped van and continuing on, and I'm not sure exactly what to do yet. These are evil, chaotic chickens, right? And the rod radiates law, which is repulsive to them.
Strahd might want them, so he can drink their blood. Not sure if vampires can ingest demon blood, I'll have to look that up.
Right now I'm leaning toward letting them keep the chickens, because it is funny to me, and D&D is all about fun.