Raiders of the Overreach


Last week, my gaming group finished up the 60-adventure "Durnhill Conscripts" campaign (Story Hour link) my son Logan had been running for the past two years. This past Wednesday, the gaming group got together and we had a session where all we did was create the PCs for our next campaign, which Logan has decided to call "Raiders of the Overreach." The only campaign details he gave us were that we should create PCs that could have conceivably have been captured by the drow, since we'd be starting the campaign as slaves to the dark elves. Our PCs could be of any race and could have been captured in the Underdark or from the surface. The "Overreach" in the campaign title refers to the drow city we'll be held in, which consists of eight massive pillars in an enormous cavern at the bottom of which flows an Underdark sea.

So, these are the characters we came up with. I'll go in no particular order and will include a portrait of the PC in question when available (which means I'll be editing this first post as I receive the images the other players have selected for their PCs).

First up, my 12-year-old nephew Harry decided he'd be playing a dwarven fighter this time around. He wanted the warhammer to be his weapon of choice, so we ended up with Khari (pronounced "Cary") Hammerslammer. Khari was a scout for the Hammerslammer clan of dwarves who wandered a little too far out along an unexplored Underdark passage one day and was captured by the drow. Khari is unique among our group in having the lowest Intelligence, a 5. (I envision him as having fought off the drow with everything he had when he was captured and having suffered a brain injury as a result. Logan hypothesizes that maybe Khari was always that dim and his clan "suggested" to go wander off and explore dangerous passageways as a way of getting rid of him.)

In any case, here's what Khari looks like: Khari Hammerslammer

Next up, I decided to try something different by running a lizardfolk character. I've never run a PC with a level adjustment before, so this will be a new experience for me: my first three levels will be as a lizardfolk only and it won't be until 4th level that I start picking up character classes (barbarian and ranger to start off, possibly spiced up with some fighter levels later on). In any case, my lizardfolk PC is Jhasspok, whose egg was taken from the surface world 5 years ago; as a result, being a slave to the drow is all Jhasspok knows. I've decided he doesn't believe in things he hasn't seen for himself, has never been to the surface world, and his primary role (up until the first adventure) will have been as a fisher, providing food from the Underdark sea to his drow masters. (If he catches enough, he's sometimes rewarded with a fish head or two.)

Here's Jhasspok, with a turtleshell shield and a club he'll be using in battle when the time comes for him to do more than fish: Jhasspok

My friend and coworker Dan decided he'd run a gnome cleric named Cramer Appleknocker. The "Cramer" is after "Kramer" of the "Seinfeld" TV show, specifically the episode where Kramer started working a corporate job at a company where he was never even hired; Dan figures Cramer - a gnome from the surface world - wasn't captured by the drow so much as he just casually wandered into their city one day and started hanging around the slaves. He's a cleric of Fharlanghn (in his gnomish aspect, of course).

Here's the image Dan's chosen to represent Cramer the gnome cleric of Fharlanghn: Cramer Appleknocker

Dan's wife Vicki toyed briefly with the idea of running a kenku rogue character, but then - perhaps noticing a distinct lack in arcane spellcasting power thus far - opted to run a human sorceress named Marlo Pendragon. She decided Marlo has a toad familiar named Truffles. Vicki hasn't decided a whole lot about Marlo's backstory at this point in time, other than she was traveling to visit an aunt when she was captured by a raiding party and brought back to the drow city.

Here's the image Vicki found for Marlo (she really likes her robe): Marlo Pendragon

Finally, Dan and Vicki's youngest son Joey (a high schooler) also decided on a dwarf and wanted him to be a physical brawler type (possibly due to having just run an elven wizard in our previous campaign). Joey often has trouble coming up with a name (and an image) for his PCs; with a bit of assistance from his parents, he ended up with the name Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger and decided his dwarf will be a barbarian. Utred's family, apparently, is in charge of making butter and other dairy products from a herd of rothé (stench kows - I'll bet that makes for some pretty smelly butter!).

Here's the image Joey selected for Utred, his dwarven barbarian: Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger

So, next Wednesday we'll start up this new campaign. Logan has decided that Khari, Marlo, and Utred were all captured the day before the campaign begins; Jhasspok's been a drow slave his entire life; and nobody's quite sure how long that weird Cramer guy's been hanging around with the slaves.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 1​
Jhasspok, lizardfolk 1​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 1​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 1​

Game Session Date: 16 October 2019

- - -

Jhasspok awoke in darkness.

Of the five of them, only the lizardfolk knew exactly where they were and why they were there. He hadn't seen any of the other four before yesterday evening, when they had each been carried into this room, unconscious, wearing only the cloth gowns that were their only apparel. The drow handlers had dropped them along the walls of the small room and departed without a word. And shortly after that the purple-flamed torches along the walls had dimmed, indicating it was time for sleep. Jhasspok, a slave for all five of his years - his egg had been taken from the surface and he'd been hatched into slavery; it was the only life he'd ever known - had immediately curled up and gone to sleep, giving the newcomers no further thought. Sleep was precious; it wasn't always granted in the quantities desired so a smart slave learned to take advantage of the opportunity when it was presented.

Now, awake in the darkness of the room, the lizardfolk tried to recall what the newcomers had looked like. Two of them were dwarves, easily identified by their stout bodies and thick beards; dwarves were common in the slave-pens of the drow of the Overreach. Another looked to be an even smaller version of a dwarf, the size and build of a svirfneblin but with lighter skin and a beard only on the chin, not the cheeks. The fourth was something of a puzzle; Jhasspok was fairly certain it was female, but pinning down a race was difficult: it had rounded ears so it wasn't an elf, but it was just shy of five feet tall - a short human or a tall halfling, perhaps?

The torches started producing illumination once again at some unknown signal from the drow masters of the city; the light sources were magical, with illusory purple flames that gave off no heat and only that type of radiance known as "slave-light" - bright enough for the slaves to see by but not hindering in the least to the light-sensitive drow masters, for it was of a magical property that was invisible to those of the dark elf race. With the sudden illumination - of a normal hue despite the purple flames - the four newcomers started to come to.

"Wha--?" asked one of the dwarves in a bleary voice. "Where'm I?" He held a hand to his head, apparently fending off a horrific hangover. "How'd I get here? Where's me weapons an' armor?"

Jhasspok ignored the dwarf's questions, as they had been spoken in the bearded one's native language and the lizardfolk did not understand the Dwarven tongue. He just stared impassively as the dwarf sat up, looked down at his thin gown and the hairy legs sticking out from beneath it, and tried shaking his bearded head to possibly make some sense of the world.

Across the room, the other dwarf sat up. He also had a querying look upon his face, scanning the others in the room and frowning at the lack of recognition. Next to him, the smaller male - Jhasspok would learn later he was called a gnome - began to stir as well, stretching out his arms and yawning impressively as if having just awoken from a comfortable bed despite having spent the night on the cold stone floor like the rest of them. Then the female shrieked with a start, sitting up and cringing in the corner of the room. "Who are you?" she demanded. "Where are we? What do you want?"

These questions at least Jhasspok understood, for they were spoken in the Slave Tongue - what some referred to as "Common." The drow had an elaborate language of their own but when dealing with slaves they always spoke in the Slave Tongue and it was the only language Jhasspok knew, having been taught it by other slaves during his childhood. But before he could attempt to answer the female there was the clank of metal on metal as the sole door to the room was unlocked and pulled open. Stepping through the doorway came Calish Jalamir, the slavemaster Jhasspok had dealt with for the last two years. The lizardfolk immediately rose to his feet, lowering his head in dutiful submission. "Master," he greeted the drow.

"Good morning, everyone," Calish said to the inhabitants of the room. "I imagine you're all wondering why you're here." The dark-skinned elf grinned, his white teeth shining in the slave-light of the torches ringing the room. Jhasspok liked Calish; he had always been friendly to his slaves - not like the previous slavemaster. Jhasspok had not liked that one at all.

"I don't know what your lives were like up to this point and it really doesn't matter in any case - what matters now is what happens from this point on. You are now the property of House Jalamir, to do with as we see fit. Slaves, not to put too fine a point on it. So, let me explain your first opportunity to bring glory to our noble House.

"Every ten years, the three-day Festival of Blood occurs. The eight ruling houses each gather five slaves to be sacrificed to Lolth in the arena; you, as you might have guessed, are House Jalamir's chosen sacrifices." He looked down at the cringing woman, trying very hard to make herself even smaller than her own diminutive stature, and smiled at her. "But take heart: not all of the sacrifices die in the arena; you will have an opportunity to earn your lives and continue to serve House Jalamir."

Calish looked around and saw he had all five of the slaves' undivided attention, whether out of fear or disbelief or a desire to learn whatever they could to help save their own lives didn't really matter to the drow slavemaster, so long as they were suitably attentive to his words. "The lesser noble Houses send any number of slaves into the arena for single combat during all three days of the festival. The eight ruling Houses - of which House Jalamir is currently ranked at number three - are paired off into four teams of ten, five from each of two Houses. On day two of the festival the first and last matches will be two teams of ten fighting each other until a combined total of ten bodies lie dead upon the ground. The ten remaining members of those formerly opposing teams are then formed into a new team of ten and on day three, as the final match of the festival, these last two teams fight until one team is slain to the last man. At that point, the arena battle turns immediately into a free-for-all, with the remaining members of each of the surviving Houses' original teams attacking the surviving members of the other Houses until the slaves of only one House remains. Those slaves are the only ones to walk away alive from the festival and their House earns a great deal of respect and prestige."

The gnome spoke up. "And if we win, we gain our freedom?" he asked.

Calish laughed openly at such an odd notion. "Why, of course not! You are now slaves of House Jalamir - that is your fate for the rest of your lives, and the quicker that sinks in and you accept it the better things will be for you. Jhasspok, tell them; is life as a slave a difficult one?"

"No, master," the lizardfolk replied at once.

"No, it certainly isn't," Calish agreed. "You are fed, clothed, taken care of. And in return, you need only devote yourselves to the good of your new House. Now then: some ground rules. You may have noticed some discomfort on your backs." One of the dwarves - the sober one - nodded instantly and tried looking at his own back, ignoring the physical impossibility such a contortion required, while the one with the hangover looked just as puzzled as he had during the rest of the drow slavemaster's speech thus far. The gnome and the woman both reached behind them, beneath their thin gowns, feeling bandages attached to their upper backs, between their shoulder blades. "You have each been granted a tattoo upon your upper backs," Calish continued, "the proud emblem of House Jalamir. They can only be seen by those with darkvision, so they'll remain invisible to most of you but the dwarves can verify they're there. These tattoos not only identify you as property of House Jalamir but are also the means by which we ensure your compliance. The magic of your tattoos will inhibit your ability to attack a drow - of any House - and punish you immediately should you somehow overcome the inhibition. We will also be able to cast any spells deemed necessary through your tattoos: a command to return here should you stray from your duties, perhaps, or a fireball, slay living, or worse should you really get out of line." The smile came back onto the drow slavemaster's face as quickly as if he had hit a switch. "But I am quite certain that, knowing the capabilities of your tattoos, you will keep out of trouble and such punishments will not be needed. Now then: any questions?"

"Why us?" asked the woman, still cringing in the corner.

"Simple targets of opportunity," Calish replied. "We needed five slaves and you are who our raiders caught."

"How come the lizard don't got a tattoo?" asked the sober dwarf, noticing Jhasspok's lack of a gown like the others.

"Oh, but he does," replied Calish. "He's had his since shortly after he was hatched. Jhasspok, turn around for your new friends, why don't you?" Despite the pleasantness of the request, Jhasspok knew it for what it was: the demand of a drow to a slave. He spun about, facing the wall and revealing his back to the others. The dwarves saw the tattoo etched into the lizardfolk's scales: four sets of two parallel lines forming an octagon in the middle with sixteen projections sticking out of the corners at all angles and two diamond shapes, one atop the other, in the middle of the octagon. Jhasspok turned back around and faced his master; the drow, seeing his quizzical expression, asked, "Do you have a question, Jhasspok?"

"Am I no longer to be a fisher?" Jhasspok asked. Catching fish from the Underdark sea for the drow had been Jhasspok's main job for as much of his life as he could remember.

"You have served us admirably in that role - but you are now needed in this role even more. A slave of your status will please the Spider-Goddess, either as a blood sacrifice or an arena victor, of that I am certain."

"Yes, master," Jhasspok replied. He'd miss his days as a fisher but that was no longer an option; best not to dwell on it. There were many things a slave might wish for but few he might actually get.

The door behind Calish opened again and a pair of drow, a male and a female, stood at attention. "You and you," Calish said, pointing to the woman and the gnome in turn, "go with them. They will return to you the items you had with you when you were first captured." The woman got to her feet at once, visibly frightened at what might happen if she failed to comply; the gnome stood at a much slower pace, acting as if he had all the time in the world. They were taken from the larger room, leaving the lizardfolk and the two dwarves behind.

"Name?" asked the male drow once he'd taken the gnome to a small room just off the main corridor.

"Cramer Appleknocker," the gnome replied. The drow nodded and made a mark on a sheet of parchment in his hand. He then pointed to a small chest on the floor, indicating the slave should open it. "Here are your belongings," said the drow. "Confirm that everything inside is yours." Cramer opened the chest, taking in his clothing, armor, weapons, holy symbol of Fharlanghn - and a set of ten scrolls, each inscribed with the words to a cure light wounds spell, that he'd never seen before. Seeing the slave's hesitation, the drow added, "Confirm that these are your items that you'll be bringing into the arena with you." Cramer caught on at once: he was being given an extra edge in keeping his team alive in the arena; apparently House Jalamir wasn't against a slight bit of cheating to ensure their arena slaves made a good showing in the Festival of Blood. "Yep, it looks like everything's there," he replied and was told to get dressed.

One room over, Marlo Pendragon was getting the same treatment from the female drow. She received eight scrolls as well in addition to her clothing and gear (including her toad familiar Truffles, who she placed in a pocket of her robe, fearful the lizardfolk might try to eat him), although her scrolls contained a variety of arcane spells: burning hands, chill touch, color spray, and shocking grasp, two of each. After she dressed, Marlo was brought back to the room where she had awakened and one of the dwarves was taken to fetch his gear; the process continued until all five slaves had been given back their belongings, although only the two spellcasters among them had been given anything they hadn't already previously owned.

"I will leave you to get acquainted," said Calish. "You should learn to fight together as a group, sort out your combat strategies, that sort of thing. Your lives will depend upon your ability to vanquish your enemies."

"When does this festival begin?" asked Cramer. "How long do we have to prepare?"

"Oh, didn't I mention?" smiled Calish. "Today is day one of the festival. You fight your first battle tomorrow. We have been paired with House Ky'hulcressen. Good luck to you all." And with that, Calish Jalamir exited the room, locking the metal door behind him.

Marlo, much calmer now that she was in her own clothes and had had time to think through her situation, took the initiative. She reached a hand out to the little gnome and introduced herself. "I'm Marlo Pendragon," she said. "I'm a sorceress. I know a few combat spells. I'll try to put them to good use tomorrow." She thought about what else she should tell this group. "I was attacked on the surface while going down a road to fetch some supplies for some potters in my family. I didn't see who attacked me - they knocked me out almost at once. I've never even seen a drow before today."

"Cramer Appleknocker," replied the gnome. "I'm a cleric of Fharlanghn. I wasn't taken by the drow - I came here on my own." Seeing Marlo's look of surprise, he added, "I saw a drow raiding party attack and capture a cleric friend of mine. I followed them here, but I got turned around in the passageways and was eventually captured myself. But I don't intend to stay here long - just long enough to find and free my friend, and then we'll see about getting out of here."

"I'm Khari Hammerslammer," said the sober dwarf. He now wore scale mail and held a massive warhammer in one hand, with a large, oval, steel shield strapped to his other arm. "I'm a scout for my clan. Went explorin' down a tunnel a bit too far from home, got taken by a drow ambush party. But I can hold my own in a fight."

"I'm hungover sumthin' fierce," admitted the other dwarf. "But me name's Utred Butterflinger. Friends call me 'Buckets.' S'pose you kin call me 'Buckets' if ye wanna, seein's how me life's tied up in yours an' all." Buckets had a greataxe and a variety of additional weapons, among them a morningstar and a dagger or two.

Everyone looked expectantly at Jhasspok. "I am Jhasspok," he said. When it became apparent that was all he was going to offer about himself, Cramer prompted, "What weapons've you got there, Jhasspok?"

"Jhasspok," corrected the lizardfolk.


"My name is Jhasspok."

"That's what I said."

"No - you said 'Jhasspok,' not Jhasspok."


"No, Jhasspok."


"No, not 'Jhasspok' - Jhasspok."

It was apparent there was something Cramer was missing in the pronunciation of the lizardfolk's name - either that, or the silly bugger was hard of hearing, or possibly just an idiot. But then Jhasspok solved the problem for everyone by deciding, "I'll tell you what - you can just call me 'Jhasspok' as a nickname." Then, remembering the gnome's question, he looked down at his weapons. "I have a net for catching fish and a club for bashing fish on the head and a dagger for slitting open fish." He also held a shield made from the shell of a large turtle, but as he'd only been asked about weapons he didn't mention it.

"You ever fight anything other than fish?" asked Cramer. The lizardfolk just looked at him quizzically, as if turning the idea over in his brain for the first time ever.

"Tell ye what," suggested Buckets. "When we meet up with our opponents in the arena tomorrow, just pretend they're all fish."

The rest of the day was spent going over general combat strategies, although not knowing what they'd be facing in the arena the next day made it difficult to plan for specifics - after all, the plan for facing ten fighters with swords would be much different than going into combat with a like number of wizards. Buckets offered his morningstar to Jhasspok to use in the arena, pointing out it could be used in the same manner as the lizardfolk's simple wooden club but would inflict much more damage to an enemy. The lizardfolk practiced swinging it about, getting used to its weight and feel. He was also bombarded by questions from the others, since he'd spent his entire life in the Overreach. Answering as best as he could, he provided the others with the following information:
  • The eight Noble Houses of the Overreach were each headquartered in one of eight enormous, hollow pillars formed by the merging of a massive stalactite and an equally-large stalagmite, reaching down from the ceiling of a mile-tall cavern all the way to the bottom of the bioluminescent sea that covered the lower half of the cavern.
  • The area 10 feet below the cavern's ceiling and directly above was covered in a permanent reverse gravity spell, allowing the drow to walk unhindered along the ceiling.
  • The lesser Houses were headquartered in smaller, hollow stalactites hanging down from the ceiling.
  • The Underdark sea extended far beyond the giant cavern where the drow city of Overreach was housed.
  • The five arena slaves of House Jalamir were currently in a hollow stalactite hanging from the ceiling, adjacent to the arena in which they'd be fighting tomorrow.
  • The arena was outside the reverse gravity field, so they'd be fighting right-side-up during their battles.
  • Those slain in the arena were "ejected" through the floor in some fashion Jhasspok didn't understand - but he'd recovered what was left of their bodies on several different occasions, after other skirmishes that had taken place there (Jhasspok hadn't been born yet at the time of the last Festival of Blood).
  • Meal time occurred at irregular intervals, when food was brought to the slaves - not before. (This last was in answer to a question asked by Cramer, who was getting hungry by then.)
Cramer asked the others if they were really going to go through with the arena battle. "We can make a break for it, when they come for us tomorrow morning," he suggested.

"And go where?" asked Buckets. "We don't even know where we are."

"The lizard does." But this wasn't true; Jhasspok had never stepped beyond the confines of the Overreach since first hatching. As far as he was concerned, the Overreach was the whole of the world.

"But don't you want to be free?" pushed Cramer. This got the lizardfolk cogitating once again, his head tilted at an angle, deep in thought. After a moment, Jhasspok asked, "What is 'free'?"

"You know, free! Decide for yourself what to do, not do what the drow tell you to!"

Jhasspok gave this some further thought. "You mean, eat some of the fish I give to the drow? And not just the heads, after they've eaten the rest?"

Cramer snorted in irritation. "I mean eat all of the fish you catch! Screw the drow! We could all sneak out of here and be free!"

"Don't forget the tattoos," reminded Marlo. "We'll have to have some way to overcome them if we're really going to try to escape at some point."

"Hrrm," thought Cramer, his eagerness to escape deflating. "So...I guess it's the arena for us tomorrow, after all."

Eventually evening time came, evidenced only by the dimming of the slave-light torches. "We sleep now," Jhasspok told the others.

The next day, the slaves were given a simple breakfast, allowed quick use of toilet facilities, and then herded into the arena where they met up with the five slaves of House Ky'hulcressen. These five were all dressed identically, in form-fitting silk clothing the hardness of iron. "You guys been slaves long?" asked Khari.

"Since yesterday, actually," replied one of the House Ky'hulcressen slaves.

"Oh, yeah? Then howdja all get the matchin' outfits?"

The slave looked the dwarf straight in the eye and said, "We have always had this ironsilk armor." It was apparent House Jalamir wasn't the only House willing to give their combat slaves a bit of an edge if possible.

The ten slaves were sent out onto the arena floor, although there didn't seem to be any floor there at first; the actual arena portion of the structure was an oval shape of raised benches for the drow audience in attendance with apparently nothing between them but open air over a plunge of half a mile into the bioluminescent sea below. But experimentation showed there was an invisible wall of force making up a perfectly smooth surface for the combatants to fight upon. Marlo gulped at the view below her. "This is going to take some getting used to!" she said.

From the other side of the arena stepped the other group of ten combatants: nine humans and a half-elf, by the look of it. Half of this group seemed to be simple commoners from the surface world, darting fearful glances in all directions. The other five were more seasoned: a pair of archers, two street thieves, and the half-elf's rugged hides pegged him as a barbarian.

A sudden voice blared across the arena, instantly hushing the excited talk of the audience along the raised benches. The voice spoke in the drow language - which none of the slaves spoke - and was likely enhanced by magic to make it as loud as it was. But the last word was spoken in the Slave Tongue: "Commence."

Khari, a seasoned fighter in his clan, advanced to the middle of the arena and took a defensive stance, holding his shield up before him but ready to strike with his warhammer, held behind him to bash forward into the head of whatever enemy first got into range. Marlo followed immediately with a magic missile spell cast at one of the archers in the back; she wasn't a seasoned veteran of fight-to-the-death battles but realized those with a ranged capability were deadlier in the opening moments of an arena battle than those who first had to close with the enemy.

Then a male rogue from the opposing forces sprinted forward, his blade ready to strike out at Khari. The dwarf slammed his hammer into the foe's side as he approached but the rogue's blade nicked Khari in the arm as he was sent staggering away from the force of the dwarf's blow.

Cramer stepped forward, casting a bless spell on the five House Jalamir slaves and those of House Ky'hulcressen as well. He knew his role here would be to aid the others in their hand-to-hand combats where possible and bring a healing touch to those who needed it, and this particular spell would aid his allies in striking the enemy with their various weapons.

With a cry, the ironsilk-armored warriors dashed straight across the arena, charging into the group of commoners directly before them. After this vicious assault, only one of the commoners lay dead upon the ground...not a very impressive beginning, but at least the first casualty was to the other side!

But then the two archers unleashed their arrows into two of the ironsilk warriors of House Ky'hulcressen as the half-elf barbarian waded into battle with them as well. He dropped one of their number with a massive greatsword, bringing the death tally to one each. Then the commoners attacked, proving themselves to be a more battle-ready force than their initial appearances had first suggested.

Utred charged the male rogue Khari had sent reeling, dropping him with a single blow of his greataxe. That put the score at 2-1 in the House Jalamir/Ky'hulcressen team's favor. Jhasspok charged the half-elf barbarian, seeking to drop him with his new, borrowed weapon, but he swung and missed...perhaps because the half-elf didn't move like a fish.

The female rogue advanced, seeking retribution for the death of her thieving partner, but her blade missed Utred entirely. Then Khari stepped up and splattered her brains with a mighty blow from his warhammer. The two bearded slaves grinned at each other, sharing a brief moment of dwarven brotherhood on the field of battle.

Marlo cast another magic missile spell at her previous target, for her reasoning hadn't changed. However, even after the attack the archer seemed to be clinging to his life out of sheer stubbornness. Cramer cast a different spell - the opposite, in a sense, of his previous one - sending a bane spell at the enemy, hampering their ability to strike true with their weapons. However, the bane spell wasn't an automatic success as the bless spell had been and of the enemy forces only the archers and the barbarian were affected - the hearty commoners all managed to shrug off the spell's effects. These were some rather impressive commoners indeed!

However, as impressive as they might be they weren't invincible, as evidenced by the ironsilk warriors bringing a pair of them down with their blades. There were now half a dozen dead on the battlefield, only one of them an ally of House Jalamir.

But then the archers struck again, sending one arrow just barely missing Khari and another plunging deep into Jhasspok's upper chest. The lizardfolk staggered, then was felled by a blow from the half-elf barbarian's greatsword. The commoners managed to drop another of the ironsilk warriors, bringing the score to a much closer 5-3. Two more deaths were all the sacrifices Lolth would get from this battle and then those dead - or at least laid out and bleeding to death - would be discarded into the Underdark sea half a mile below the arena.

Utred didn't take Jhasspok's death lightly: he allowed the rage to take over all conscious thought, becoming a whirling mass of death and facing his half-elf counterpart in direct battle. Khari joined his fellow dwarf in attacking the half-elf, although the fighter managed to keep a level head about him, even managing to see Jhasspok snorting blood from his nostrils with each ragged breath - the lizardfolk was still alive!

Marlo cast her third and final magic missile spell of the day, finally dropping the archer she'd been targeting all during the combat. That made a full nine downed combatants - but then Cramer read the words from one of the cure light wounds spell he'd been given and Jhasspok rose unsteadily to his feet. The crowd roared, some of them in excitement and others in disappointment, but there were now clearly only eight dead on the arena floor - the battle would continue!

The ironsilk warriors of House Ky'hulcressen managed to slay another of the surprisingly-hard-to-kill commoners, leaving only one of their original number still alive. But this last commoner swung his hammer with all his might, staggering one of the ironsilk warriors such that he could barely remain standing. The crowd gasped, wondering if this would be the tenth and final death, but the wobbling warrior kept his footing although he wisely wandered a few steps back, out of immediate combat range.

The sole remaining archer fired another arrow but it missed the staggering ironsilk warrior by dint of simple chance; the man was still wobbling, trying to remain standing, and just happened to stagger out of the way of the arrow at the last moment. It was Utred who finished off the tenth victim of the arena: the half-elf barbarian, practically cut into two by the force of the dwarf's greataxe. Utred grabbed the foe's greatsword as he fell to the ground; by his count, this was victim number ten and the fight should be over - but there was no need for such a fine weapon to go to waste!

Utred was quite correct: with ten slain combatants, the sections of the wall of force directly beneath the corpses vanished momentarily, allowing them to plunge instantly down into the faintly-glowing sea below. Cheers erupted from the crowd all around the arena and the magically-enhanced voice returned, saying something in the drow language that went completely over the heads of the slaves. But all the slaves cared about at the moment was they had survived; that and the healing provided by the lesser drow clerics of Lolth assigned to such lowly duties as tending to slaves. They were returned to their large, empty room, into which was soon also brought food and drink of a higher quality - and quantity - than had been provided the day before.

The rest of the day and most of the next passed in nervous anxiousness. Now that the slaves had had their first taste of combat they better knew what the third day of the Festival of Blood would be like. However, they were still separated from the remaining arena slaves of House Ky'hulcressen and those who had survived the battle against them; these former enemies would now be grafted into their team for the last battle but they were not allowed to coordinate battle strategies with slaves of other Houses beforehand; these Overreach drow kept their Houses separate to a ridiculous degree, it seemed.

On day three of the Festival of Blood, the five slaves of House Jalamir and their temporary allies were sent out into the arena again. All was as it had been the previous day, save for the enemy force they'd be fighting: five orcs, four goblins, and a hobgoblin. Two of the orcs and the hobgoblin wore no armor, suggesting they were likely spellcasters of some type. "We'll want to take them out first, if possible," suggested Utred, although he and Khari were ready to deal whatever damage they could to any of these goblinoid foes - all three races were traditional enemies of the dwarves with a mutual animosity going back many centuries.

Again there was a sound-amplified speech in the drow language, followed by the single word "Commence" in the Slave Tongue. The allied archer let loose the arrow he'd had nocked and ready to go since the drow speech had started; the arrow flew across the arena to strike the hobgoblin in the shoulder before he could duck in time. Marlo, at the same time, cast a magic missile spell at one of the unarmored orcs but he failed to drop; instead, he began chanting in a low, rumbling tone, casting a bless spell on the goblinoid forces. The other orc adept stepped forward, ready to cast a spell of his own.

An orc in the back ranks had a longbow of his own and he targeted Jhasspok - easily the tallest of the enemy forces and therefore a likely possibility for the toughest - but the lizardfolk got his turtle-shell shield up in time to deflect the incoming missile. Jhasspok ran forward, readying his net to throw at the orc shaman, thinking he'd have a difficult time getting his spell off if he were entangled in the web of ropes. Unfortunately, Jhasspok missed with his throw, again wishing he was back in the bioluminescent waters of the Underdark sea, where his targets were fish who generally did not fight back.

Fortunately for the lizardfolk, though, Khari had his back - he stepped forward and slew the orc adept with a powerful blow from his warhammer before the spellcaster could get his readied spell off. Cramer stepped behind the dwarven fighter, casting a bane spell that undid the effects of the bless spell the other adept had cast upon the goblinoids, leaving all but one or two of them bereft of the magical aid they'd just been granted moments before.

Utred charged forth and slew one of the orc warriors in the front ranks, practically gutting him with a side-slash of his greataxe. There were now two dead combatants on the arena floor, both from the opposing side: a good start!

But then the hobgoblin stepped forward, his hands spread out before him. As arcane syllables spilled from his lips, a sheet of flames gushed forth, momentarily encompassing Jhasspok, Khari, and Utred. But the hobgoblin's look of triumph faltered when he saw how little actual damage his burning hands spell had done to the front-line enemy combatants - and now he was out there in the middle of the arena with them!

Another orc warrior rushed to the hobgoblin's aid, slashing at Utred with a greataxe of his own. The three ironsilk warriors advanced upon the goblin forces in a rush, but failed to kill any - although one goblin was staggered, just about at death's door but unwilling to walk completely through it. He retreated to the back of the arena with all possible speed while the other three goblins rushed forward to engage the ironsilk warriors of House Ky'hulcressen.

The sole commoner to have survived the battle on day two of the Festival of Blood rushed forth with his weapon, again proving his mettle by charging and staggering the hobgoblin sorcerer with a blow of his hammer. His archer companion, from the same House, shot and missed with an arrow that went whizzing by the ear of the sole remaining orc adept. But Marlo finished off the hobgoblin with a trusty magic missile spell, easily her favorite spell thus far in her short career as an arena gladiator.

The orc spellcaster whirled and tried hitting Utred with a simple touch of his hand - but that hand was glowing with the power of an untriggered spell just waiting to be released. The dwarven barbarian skipped easily back out of range as Jhasspok stepped up and brought the dwarf's loaned morningstar crashing down upon the orc's head, garnering the lizardfolk his first kill.

The orc archer let fly with another arrow, catching one of the ironsilk warriors in the throat and slaying him instantly. This was the first death from that team, while the goblinoid forces had already suffered the deaths of four of their combatants. However, unlike the previous day's contest, this battle would continue until one entire team had been slain.

Khari advanced and attacked the sole remaining orc skirmisher with a warhammer swing that sent the brutish beast falling to the ground. But the orc quickly regained his feet and faced the oncoming dwarven fighter, still in the fight. Cramer stayed where he was - there were no combatants close enough to interrupt his spellcasting - and cast a bless spell upon only the House Jalamir members of his team, for he recalled what would happen once the goblinoids were all defeated; there was no point in giving any advantage to a future enemy.

Utred attacked the orc warrior and missed, receiving a deep gash from the orc's greataxe in return. Grimacing in pain, the wounded dwarf was forced to backtrack to Cramer for healing. The orc warrior let the dwarven barbarian retreat, swinging suddenly at Khari instead and catching the fighter in a side-swing of his greataxe that sent the Hammerslammer dwarf reeling, unconscious, onto the arena floor. It was likely the fact that he certainly appeared to be dead already that prevented the orc from making sure with a decapitating blow, but fortunately for Khari there were other combatants nearby attracting the orc's attention away from his prone and helpless victim.

The ironsilk warriors managed to stagger a few more goblins but were having a rather hard time taking any of them out of the fight. The goblins were generating a lot of boos and catcalls from the audience, given their penchant for fleeing from battle when so grievously wounded. Marlo used one of her burning hands scrolls in an attempt to take out three of the scattering goblins, but two of them dodged beneath the sheet of flames and emerged unscathed. The commoner managed to kill one, dropping his iron hammer onto the staggered goblin's head.

Behind Marlo, the allied archer shot and missed with another arrow, this one aimed at the orc archer in the back ranks of his own forces. The orc archer proved to be a much better shot, unfortunately by taking down the unnamed commoner who had earned quite a lot of respect from House Jalamir's slaves for his combat prowess; when he fell backwards with an arrow protruding from his forehead the other slaves on his team groaned with sadness at his demise.

Jhasspok rushed the orc archer, hoping to take him down with Utred's morningstar. He swung and missed, but at least forced the archer to lower his bow while dodging the incoming blow. He snapped at the orc with his sharp teeth - an instinctive move Jhasspok hadn't been aware he was going to do until he was already doing it - but they too failed to find their target.

Cramer used another of his forbidden scrolls to heal Khari, who was bleeding out onto the arena floor. The cure light wounds spell closed off the deep gash he'd taken at the orc warrior's axe-blade, bringing the dwarven fighter back at least to sluggish consciousness. He got to his knees, then to his feet, grabbing up his warhammer and shield and looking about for the nearest enemy. The orc warrior who had downed Khari was now attacking one of the slaves in ironsilk armor, swinging and missing (much to the Ky'hulcressen slave's relief). And then the orc was taken down by a pair of strikes from two of the ironsilk warriors, finally pulling their weight in this combat.

Utred charged and slew one of the goblins, practically slicing the screaming coward in two with the force of his blow and the sharpness of his greataxe. He then spun in place and cut down the last remaining goblin, sending him sprawling face-first onto the arena floor.

Of the goblinoid forces there was only one remaining: the orc archer. He looked frantically about the arena for allies and saw he was the last one standing from his team. With a stoic expression, he faced the lizardfolk snapping at him, ready to go down fighting.

But the "allied" archer decided it was close enough to their side having won the initial skirmish to start whittling down the forces of the other Houses. He sent an arrow directly into Marlo's back, sending the sorceress dropping instantly to her hands and knees. But she gritted her teeth at the pain, spun about, and cast a color spray spell at the betraying archer. It would have been karmic - and extremely gratifying - if the spell slew the traitor there on the spot, but Fate often has other ideas and the archer avoided all effects of the spell.

A side-swing of the morningstar swept the orc archer's longbow out of his grasp and then Jhasspok was upon him, ripping his throat out with his sharp teeth. The two collapsed to the ground, the lizardfolk's muzzle covered in the slain orc's blood; when he arose he looked like some primitive, primordial dinosaur.

Seeing they were now in the "every House for itself" portion of the arena battle, Khari slew both remaining ironsilk warriors in rapid succession with rapid-fire blows from his warhammer; it served the Ky'hulcressen slaves right for trying to flank the battle-ready dwarf from opposite directions.

A sudden thought hit Cramer Appleknocker and he voiced it to his new allies. "Say, do you think we have time to loot the corpses ahead of time if there's at least one enemy still in play?" he called out.

"Let's find out!" Utred replied, racing at the backstabbing archer and tackling him about the waist. He let his greataxe fall to the arena floor beside him, allowing him to crush the archer in a bear hug. "I want some of that armor!" Marlo called out, and Khari pulled a set of ironsilk armor off one of the slain Ky'hulcressen slaves while Jhasspok grabbed up the orc's longbow and pulled the quiver from his back. Even Cramer started gathering up weapons, although most of them were much too big for the little gnome to use himself. Finally, he gave Utred the okay and the dwarven barbarian snapped the traitorous archer's neck with his bare hands. Then, mindful of what had happened the last time they had won, he scrambled to his feet and hastily backed up - and just in time, too, for the wall of force floor suddenly opened up in several places, dropping those slain in the arena to the Underdark sea below.

There were bemused cheers from the crowd; the drow of House Jalamir cheered the loudest, of course, but even those of opposing Houses had to acknowledge the fact that House Jalamir's slaves - all five of them - had successfully made it through both skirmishes and had even had the presence of mind to make off with some of their enemies' armor and weapons while doing so. As before, clerics of Lolth tended to the slaves' wounds as they were ushered back to their rectangular prison room.

Calish was there waiting for them. "Excellent work!" he enthused. "I cannot recall the last time a House had all five of its slaves survive the entire Festival of Blood! You have done well, all of you!" A pair of drow entered the room, bringing food and drink.

"In fact," mused the drow slavemaster, "your overwhelming success in the arena had given me some thoughts about a new line of work for you. I'll have to give this some additional thought...."

As the others grabbed up much-needed food and drink, Cramer nibbled absently at a piece of dark bread. He said nothing, but possible avenues of escape were dancing in his head. He, too, would have much to think about in the days to come.

- - -

And that was our initial adventure in this new campaign. Logan used a Pathfinder "Arena" map for the battles (it's two-sided; he used the side where the arena floor is covered in water, as that's what our PCs saw during combat) and built the other slave areas using geomorphic Dungeon Tiles.

So, the slave tattoos are going to be a bit of a problem, in that we're going to have to have access to some way to dispel magic or something to try to get rid of them (maybe an erase spell?) before we make our break for freedom. We'll also need to find Cramer's cleric friend, the whole reason he came to the Overreach in the first place, so we'll likely remain slaves of the drow for some time. (It only follows that eventually we'll escape, though - I can't see us all as 20th-level PCs and still unable to break free from drow servitude.)

As for the drow, Logan subverted our expectations by making Calish Jalamir an overall rather friendly sort. He's still a slavemaster and undoubtedly evil, but a friendly evil master beats, say, a fiendishly evil master with a penchant for torture at the slightest infraction. We'll have to see how it goes.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 1​
Jhasspok, lizardfolk 1​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 1​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 1​

Game Session Date: 23 October 2019

- - -

For the next several days, the five combat slaves who had enjoyed such an unprecedented success during the Festival of Blood spent their time inside the hollow column belonging to House Jalamir while Calish decided how best to employ them. Sleeping in the same area as the common slaves, the four newcomers learned quite a bit about life in service to the drow. (Jhasspok, having been hatched into slavery, already knew much of it but his life thus far had been somewhat specialized in fish-gathering for his drow masters.)

The common slaves worked at various household tasks and this was the lot for the five former arena slaves during the days immediately after the Festival of Blood. There was plenty of work to go around, so the other slaves didn't mind being given five additional pairs of hands to help them finish their tasks. Besides the common slaves, though, there were personal slaves, who served but a single master or mistress, usually a person of high rank in the Jalamir hierarchy; the fisher slaves (of which caste Jhasspok had been a member), who either caught fish or gathered shellfish and debris from the river leading into the Underdark sea; and mercenary slaves, those who had proven either sufficiently loyal or worthwhile to be allowed to carry weapons and fight in the defense of their House and city (in that order, it should be emphasized). Mercenary slaves were sometimes assigned other tasks that furthered their House's goals and it was this caste of slave for which the five were being groomed.

Calish was the primary slavemaster of House Jalamir and he believed in rewarding good behavior in addition to punishing failure in order to maximize the productivity of those slaves under his command. While Calish was generally of a jovial nature, Cramer surreptitiously cast a detect evil spell and confirmed the drow slavemaster was as evil as any other drow, cheerful attitude notwithstanding.

After serving with the common slaves for a few days, the group of five was summoned before Calish. He took them to the House docks, halfway down the hollow column of House Jalamir, where they stepped onto a wooden skiff and were rowed over to the eastern gate of the city of Overreach by a pair of well-muscled fisher slaves. As the skiff skimmed the water, Calish asked, "Tell me, do any of you know of the lost kingdom of Brunniir?" Khari and Utred immediately perked up. "Ah, I see the dwarves are familiar with it. Please, Utred, tell the others what you know."

"It was a great dwarven city, in a vast cavern much like Overreach. It was so big it had a bunch of satellite villages at the end of twisting passageways beyond the great vault which held Brunniir. Me and Khari are from two of them villages. And then one day, some 15 centuries ago, it simply vanished - not just Brunniir but the entire cavern which housed it was gone, as if it had never been."

"A succinct description," approved Calish. "Brunniir once stood not 10 miles - as the xorn burrows - from Overreach. And yet the dwarves were unaware of our city's existence, for we had taken steps to ensure this was so. In any case, after the initial confusion of the city's disappearance we were able to plant seeds of paranoia and suspicion among the surviving dwarven villages. In-fighting between them has kept the dwarves from digging far enough to find the city of Overreach. Well, we're going to go visit one of those villages, as the closest one has an adamantine vein in which we are very interested. So, here's the plan: we could easily send in a drow force to take what we want, but to do so runs the risk of exposing our proximity and the last thing we want is for the bickering dwarven villages to unite together against a common foe. So instead, we're going to send you five in. The dwarves in the mine we're going to attack work in shifts, a week at a time. Later this day, the current shift will be replaced and the off-going miners will return the adamantine ore they have collected over the past week. Stealing that week's gathering of adamantine ore will be a good test of your combat abilities in a non-arena setting."

By this point the fisher slaves had brought their skiff to a tunnel opening along the outer edge of the vast cavern supporting Overreach. Calish stepped out and waited on the five slaves to follow, then sent the skiff away with a gesture of his hand. "This way," he said, strolling down the tunnel, not bothering to see if the five slaves followed nor worried he was exposing his back to five armed individuals; he knew they knew their place and indeed they hurried to catch up with him. As they departed the scant illumination provided by the bioluminescent sea, Marlo was glad Calish had seen fit to give her a purple-flamed "slave-light" torch to carry; the drow and the dwarves might not need light to see by but she, Cramer, and Jhasspok would be blind without the magical illumination.

Calish continued his briefing as they walked. "The adamantine vein is in a small cave complex on one side of a 100-foot-wide rift some three miles deep, with the dwarven village on the other side. The dwarves built a bridge across the rift to get to the cave with the adamantine ore and as far as they know it is the only way into the mine. Fortunately for us, the dwarves dug into a freshwater spring which, unknown to them, connects to a larger cavern that connects up to the Overreach via this very tunnel we now traverse." Khari's brow furrowed in concentration as he tried to keep up with what the drow slavemaster was saying; Calish had a fancy way of talking and often used words unfamiliar to the simple-minded dwarf. Traverse? Was that like walking?

The miles passed in relative silence as the five slaves followed their master along the winding passageway. Utred noticed the tunnel seemed, for the most part, quite natural; the only times he saw signs it had been altered purposefully was in several of the thinner sections where it had obviously been widened, no doubt by a team of slaves with picks and shovels.

Eventually, the group arrived at a cavern where a small gathering of common slaves stood waiting for them, guarded by a pair of armed drow soldiers. "Ah, good, all in place, I see!" smiled Calish at the sight of the slaves and the hand-carts they had brought with them. He addressed the five slaves he'd accompanied, "This lot is not fit for combat but they should be sufficient to lug away the treasures you obtain for us." If the common slaves took umbrage of being so disdainfully described they were at least smart enough not to let it show on their faces.

A pool of water lay at the back of the cavern. "This is your hidden entrance to the mines," Calish informed the group. "It slopes gently down to begin with, then goes laterally for some distance before rising ten feet or so straight up into the mines. You'll need to hold your breath for no longer than a minute, I'd wager. So: rules of engagement! You are to overpower the mining force on duty there; it doesn't matter if you kill them or leave survivors...although, come to think of it, it would probably be best if you let at least one of them live so they can report back they were attacked by a pair of dwarves and a few members of other - non-drow - races. That can only further the in-fighting amongst the clans!" He looked over at the group of five slaves. "This will be an interesting trial run for you. Off you go, then!"

One by one, the five slaves stepped into the water. Jhasspok went in without hesitation; the clear pool was not the same as the bioluminescent Underdark sea but it was at least something somewhat familiar. The dwarves went in less eagerly, knowing full well that with their dense structure they tended to sink like a stone - and their armor wasn't likely to make things any easier. Marlo submerged, marveling that the "slave-light" torch provided just as much illumination underwater as it did in the open air - but then its purple flames were only illusory, providing light but no heat. Her new ironsilk armor - which she had appropriated from a combat sacrifice during the Festival of Blood - clung to her like normal silk in the cool waters but she knew its exterior would remain as tough as iron - a perfect set of armor for an arcane spellcaster.

Cramer stepped into the pool quite willingly but it had nothing to do with his like or dislike of getting wet - he simply wanted to be out of sight of Calish as soon as possible. Once completely submerged, he mentally activated his innate prestidigitation ability and channeled it into altering the pigmentation of his skin, darkening it to the same black hue as that of the drow slavemaster. With Cramer's light blond hair he felt he could easily be mistaken for a drow - hopefully, this would be a means of alerting the dwarves they were about to attack as to the true nature of the assault force.

Despite his small stature Cramer was the first one to climb out of the pool at the other end; Jhasspok was busy helping the heavy dwarves to the top of the pool's surface before they ran out of breath. The gnomish cleric prepared the words to a bless spell, holding off on the actual casting until all of his group had made it out of the pool and back onto solid land again. Khari climbed out next, sputtering and coughing and clanging his warhammer onto the stone floor of the cavern. This was enough to draw the attention of the dwarven miner straight ahead of him, down a short passageway that was being painstakingly carved from the surrounding stone. The sounds of other picks striking stone echoed around the cavern, their points of origin indeterminate.

"Eh?" called out the dwarven miner in his own language. "What's this, then? Who be ye?" As far as he had been aware, the pool was just a pool of water, nothing more - the dwarves who had discovered it had never thought to go diving down into it to see if it led anywhere.

Cramer, the obviously fake drow (for drow males tended not to have facial hair and Cramer sported a fancy goatee; neither were drow generally around three feet tall) tried bluffing his way out of the situation. Fortunately, he not only understood but spoke the Dwarven tongue fluently. "Behold!" he called, waving his arms out dramatically. "I have returned from the kingdom of Brunniir!" As Marlo was still underwater, there was no light in the cavern so the gnome simply faced the general direction from which the miner's voice had come and hoped for the best. As such, he couldn't see the miner's eyebrows raise in incredulity.

Utred climbed out from the other side of the pool from Khari; now Cramer was flanked by a dwarf on either side of him. They could see just fine in the absolute darkness, but the gnome was still blind. Behind him in the pool, Jhasspok allowed only his eyes to rise above the pool's surface, not wanting to let his presence be known just yet. But he suspected combat was imminent and wanted to be a surprise addition to the forces the miners would be facing.

Finally, Marlo's head broke the surface of the pool and the "slave-light" torch brought some much-needed illumination into the mines. She pulled herself out of the pool and stepped in front of Cramer, preparing to cast her remaining color spray spell from the scroll she'd been given. But she had decided to wait until more miners advanced within range so she could get the most out of her single casting of the spell. (Cramer, in the meantime, took the opportunity to cast his bless spell upon the group under his breath.)

The lone miner called out, "WE GOT A PROBLEM OVER HERE!" at the top of his lungs and the sounds of picks striking stone ceased. A group of four other dwarves ambled over, most of them simple miners with picks in hand but a few holding more traditional combat weapons. Marlo cast her spell, catching all five dwarves in its area of effect but only causing one to drop to the stone floor, unconscious, blinded, and stunned. Unnoticed, a sixth dwarf was ambling over from another side shaft, curiosity on his dirty face.

In an eruption of water, Jhasspok exited the pool at full speed and raced in front of the sorceress, standing between her and the dwarves with his turtle shell shield held before him and his borrowed morningstar striking a miner into instant unconsciousness, bleeding from a head wound that stained the stone floor. In doing so, the lizardfolk made himself the primary target of the miners' follow-on attacks (although one went after Utred instead due to simple proximity), although none of the dwarves' retaliatory swings connected to their respective targets. And then all subterfuge was gone and it was a simple combat to the death.

Cramer cast a bane spell on the dwarven force but the innate dwarven resistance to magic aided them greatly in avoiding the spell's effects. Khari swung his warhammer at a miner's head but failed to connect - and then the fighter heard the clomp of boots down a side tunnel to the left; apparently there were reinforcements coming! He turned his head for a quick peek and spotted a large chest in the corner of the tunnel, no doubt the week's worth of collected adamantine and the goal of this trial run for the slaves.

Utred swung his greataxe and had a better go of it; his foe fell to the ground, dead. Then he too heard the approaching footfalls and turned to face this new opposing force. Jhasspok swung his weapon and missed, then missed again with his snapping teeth - although the very attempt caused the miner he was facing to blanch visibly. Marlo fell back upon her successful standby - the magic missile spell - and hit a miner, although he stubbornly insisted in remaining conscious and continuing to fight back against her friends. The dwarves attacked as best as they could, one of them managing to get his pick past Jhasspok's shield and wounding him grievously. But the wound didn't last long, for Cramer healed it up by reading the words from one of his cure light wounds scrolls.

Khari swung his warhammer over his head and dropped one miner, then spun and cleaved into the head of another, dropping him as well. He grunted in satisfaction. That left only one miner standing of the original force and Utred quickly brought him down with his greataxe.

The footsteps grew louder. Jhasspok brought his morningstar down upon the head of the dwarf brought down by Marlo's color spray spell, not wanting him to wake up after the effects had worn off and become a surprise combatant behind the party, for the slaves were now all turning to face the rapidly-approaching reinforcements. Marlo was ready to pop off another magic missile at the first new foe to show his face, while Cramer used a simple cure minor wounds spell to stabilize the dwarf Jhasspok had just bonked into deep unconsciousness; he at least would survive the encounter to spread the tale of who had attacked the miners.

As one, Utred and Khari raced forward to the first junction and prepared to attack the approaching foes when they turned the corner. Jhasspok followed, leaving Marlo and Cramer behind the three-person wall against the incoming enemies. The first dwarven guard rounded the bend and got staggered into near unconsciousness by the combined force of Utred's greataxe strike and an incoming magic missile. She wisely backed off the way she had come, allowing those at her side to advance against these unknown enemies. Another dwarven fighter approached, swinging at Utred but missing.

Jhasspok charged the fighter while Marlo cast a third magic missile spell at him. Behind them, Cramer advanced forward, wanting to ensure he'd be seen in his false drow disguise. Around the corner, a dwarven cleric of Moradin also advanced, preparing to cast a spell of healing upon the wounded female fighter. Khari moved up and attacked the male dwarven fighter and was surprised to come out of this attack with a crossbow bolt sticking out of his bicep; he'd failed to see a dwarven ranger at the back of the tunnel from which the reinforcements had come. With his darkvision, Khari could see the tunnel behind the crossbowman opened into the rift spanned by the bridge leading to the dwarven village.

With a wild swing of his greataxe, Utred dropped the male fighter and whooped in triumph. The female fighter retreated to the cleric, who closed her wounds with a casting of a spell channeling Moradin's healing energy. She then spun about, ready to attack any of the foes who might advance upon the reinforcements. The first such foe to do so was Jhasspok, who not only evaded the swing of her hammer but dropped her to the ground with an overhead blow of his own weapon, the morningstar's spikes driving deep into her skull, piercing it in several places. Miraculously, despite these wounds the female was still alive; these dwarves were made of sturdy stuff!

Marlo cast her last remaining magic missile spell at the dwarven ranger in the back, seeing him as the current biggest threat due to his distance and his ability to get in several attacks before any of the melee combatants would be able to get to him. Cramer charged at the dwarven cleric, who was dragging the female fighter away from the hulking lizardfolk who had attacked her. Once out of Jhasspok's immediate reach, he dropped to a knee and flipped the unconscious dwarven woman over his shoulder, then backed steadily away towards the bridge. Khari ignored the cleric - he seemed too busy to worry about - and raced after the ranger, wanting to drop him before he got off too many more shots with that crossbow of his.

But Utred wasn't about to ignore the cleric, realizing a priest of Moradin could call down several powerful combat spells upon them. He raced up and swung at the spellcaster with the full force of his greataxe, wounding him greatly and nearly making him drop the ally he was trying to save.

Jhasspok, in the meantime, had targeted the ranger and sped in his direction, just as the ranger had targeted the lizardfolk and sent a bolt streaking in his direction. But the bolt was deflected off the turtle shell shield Jhasspok carried and then the massive reptile was on the scene, swinging his morningstar for all he was worth. Marlo added an acid splash spell to the mix, all the spellpower she could manage at the moment. But then Khari caught up and slew the ranger with his warhammer, crushing his skull in by the force of his blow. He then turned in place and swung his hammer laterally at the retreating cleric, who by this point had advanced back down the tunnel far enough to be in range.

Then Cramer reached the cleric of Moradin and the two priests went at it, trading blows with their weapons - the dwarf, burdened with an unconscious ally on his shoulder, didn't have the required dexterity to be able to cast any spells so he had to make do with the mace at his belt. His blow struck true, sending the black-skinned gnome reeling to the side - but then Utred finished him off with another swipe of his greataxe, causing the cleric to fall to the ground, near death, the dwarven woman he had hoped to rescue lying unmoving atop him.

Perhaps due to a feeling of kinship with the dwarven cleric, Cramer knelt beside him and applied a minimal amount of healing via a cure minor wounds spell - just enough to prevent the dwarf from bleeding out. He now had two foes guaranteed to survive the raid - and hopefully spread the word that the drow had been behind it. While he was attending to this, the others in his party began stripping off armor and weapons from those who had been slain. Unable to wear any of the dwarven armor himself - his build was much larger than anything a dwarf might wear - and for the most part satisfied with his current weapon selection, Jhasspok checked the contents of the open chest in the corner. Sure enough, it was filled with nuggets of glistening metal, no doubt the adamantine the dwarves had mined during the previous week. He started dragging the heavy chest over to the pool from which they arrived, thinking how fortunate they were that they could simply drop it into the pool and then lug it sideways back to their own gradually sloping side of the tunnel. It would have been much more difficult trying to lug it in the opposite direction, where it would need to be lifted vertically for the last ten feet.

Everyone took a deep breath and jumped into the pool with their treasures, the dwarves doing their best to propel themselves along the submerged tunnel at best speed before their air gave out; neither of the two was at all comfortable in this environment. Jhasspok didn't mind it at all, as his powerful tail helped propel him forward as he dragged the heavy chest beside him. Marlo and Cramer helped push the chest from behind, the little gnome being sure to restore his skin coloration to its normal pigmentation before reaching the far side of the tunnel and coming within view of Calish.

As they emerged from the water and everyone helped drag their stolen goods onto land, Calish stood before them frowning, his arms folded in disappointment. "It seems one of you is not very good at obeying orders," he said without preamble. Then, looking directly at Cramer and allowing his voice to drip with disdain, he asked, "You do recall we can scry through those tattoos of yours, do you not?" The gnome looked up at the angry slavemaster - so different from his normally cheery demeanor - without comment, but his guilty expression said it all. "You will now go back and slay every one of those dwarves you allowed to see you in your ridiculous 'disguise.'"

"I will help him," offered Jhasspok.

"You will not," countered Calish and that was that; Jhasspok didn't dare interfere. "The gnome will slit each throat himself, knowing full well their deaths are on his own hands and his hands alone. And when we get back, you will visit our Administer of Discipline. Off with you now. I expect the task to be done by the time the goods have been loaded onto the carts." Without a word, Cramer removed his armor - he'd have to make his own way up the ten-foot vertical slope at the end of the submerged tunnel this time - and stepped back into the pool. He returned, grim-faced, just in time to grab up his armor again before the group - including the armed drow and the common slaves pulling the carts - began the long trek back to the Overreach. Cramer worried about what he might expect from this Administer of Discipline, nor was he alone in his worry for the imaginations of his friends were working overtime on that very subject.

Upon arrival back at the edge of their immense home cavern, another skiff waited in place for them. The fisher slaves rowed back across the bioluminescent sea to the docks at the column of House Jalamir, then the treasure was taken in one direction while Calish led his five slaves deeper down into bowels of the hollow column.

Walking into a dismal room, Calish had the other four line up against the front wall while he ushered Cramer onto the only piece of furniture in the whole room: a small chair in front of a door on the back wall. "Put this on," he commanded, passing a golden ring to the gnome. Cramer, in enough trouble already as it was, asked no questions and offered no objections, placing the ring around his finger; it shrunk to automatically fit, an indication the ring was magical in some fashion.

"The Administer claims it is more delicious when your brain is forming new memories of pain while he devours it," Calish said with a wicked grin as the door behind Cramer opened and a tall creature walked in. It had skin of a glistening purple tone somewhat reminiscent of that of a slug; long, skeletal-thin fingers; and a head looking like a four-tentacled octopus. Without a word it took up position behind the gnome and grasped Cramer's shoulders tightly, preventing him from looking behind him to see what horrible thing had his friends gasping in terror.

"Attend well," admonished Calish. "This will be instructive for all of you." Then he nodded at the Administer and the creature's four tentacles dropped onto Cramer's head, pulling the skin of his scalp taut while a parrotlike beak hidden beneath the appendages crunched through the gnome's skull and sucked up the juicy gobbets of brain tissue within. Cramer's screams echoed throughout the enclosed room, finally giving out when he slumped forward, his skull now visibly empty. The illithid's tight grip on the gnome's shoulders prevented him from falling forward off the chair.

Calish looked over at the line of slaves against the wall. Marlo's face was pale and she looked ready to pass out from fright; the dwarves stood open-mouthed in shock, their fists clenched and knuckles white but powerless to do anything to aid their friend. Jhasspok, being a lizardfolk but more importantly a lifelong slave, gave no indication of what he might be feeling - he just stood there impassively, letting the scene unfold before him. At least it had happened relatively quickly.

Then the slaves noticed the ring glowing on Cramer's hand as the brain in his empty skull started regrowing. Once it had once again filled the skull and the splintered bone regenerated back into place, Cramer gave a gasp and sat upright, the life suddenly returned to his body.

Calish looked straight at the gnome and muttered a single word. "Again."

Cramer's howls of pain could be heard from several corridors away. Then there was blissful silence for a few minutes as the ring of regeneration did its work, before the screams of terror were heard once again for a third and final time.

"I trust this is a lesson that will not need to be repeated?" asked Calish.

", master," whimpered Cramer.

"Good!" replied Calish, his good humor restored.

- - -

This was an interesting trial run. Dan and I had been discussing at work what we'd be sent up against, since Logan had told us ahead of time we weren't going to the surface just yet. Dan was guessing kobolds while I was thinking svirfneblin and we were both wrong. But dwarves fit nicely, as it gave Logan a way to tie Khari's and Utred's backgrounds into the overall story by making their respective homelands different villages from the vanished city of Brunniir. (And knowing Logan, he'll have an answer about Brunniir's overnight disappearance at some point before the campaign ends.)

And that ending! Holy cow, that was the best part of the whole adventure! Logan hadn't decided on the spot to punish Cramer for his disobedience with having his brain eaten by a mind flayer; rather, knowing eventually one of us would try something similar, he had decided at the beginning of the campaign this would be the punishment for disobeying Calish. It just happened to be Dan who decided to push the issue with his PC and poor Cramer paid the price.

We're all getting pretty close to having enough XP to level up so I'm pretty sure at the end of the next adventure we'll all get to advance to second level. But we won't be playing next week, since Vicki will be out of town and we've all decided for this campaign all five of the players need to be here for each adventure.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 1​
Jhasspok, lizardfolk 1​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 1​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 1​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 1​

Game Session Date: 6 November 2019

- - -

Calish Jalamir was back to his usual cheerful self. "Attend!" he called out to his slaves and they immediately clustered around him, eager to hear what he had to say. That was more like it, the slavemaster thought to himself.

"It's payday!" he announced, passing a small purse of spider silk to each of the slaves. "20 slave tokens for each of you - well, all but one of you, in any case." He passed a small sack to Cramer, who could tell at once there was much more slack in his purse than in the others. Opening his bag, he saw ten square slate chips; the purses of the other slaves each contained twice as many. "A temporary fine for a one-time lack of good judgment," explained Calish. "No doubt you will receive a full allotment next time around." Cramer just bowed his head in acknowledgment and said nothing, determined not to allow any of his resentment to show.

Jhasspok looked into his bag in puzzlement, shrugged, and closed it up again. More of those pieces of stone the drow slavemasters passed out to their slaves; they had been confusing to the lizardfolk when he'd first been given a batch years ago and they made no sense to him to this day. But Calish was explaining their purpose to the other slaves, who, unlike Jhasspok, had not been raised their entire lives in slavery. "These tokens are used as currency among the slaves. You may spend them in the same manner as you would coins of your home lands - but they can be used only in the House Jalamir slave markets." Holding up a token, the surface seemed to have a carved image of the House insignia, although it still felt smooth to the touch. "Each House has its own variations but you will find the coins of one House are worthless to other Houses. Jhasspok? You look puzzled."

The lizardfolk looked up. "What are they for?" he asked.

"Why, to buy things, of course," replied Calish with a smile. "Didn't your former slavemaster explain why he was giving you slave tokens?" Jhasspok just shook his head. "Well, perhaps your new friends here will explain things to you at the market. Come." And he led the way to the upper reaches of the massive, hollow column belonging to House Jalamir, stepping out upon the ceiling of the cavern, which had a permanent reverse gravity effect in place. Once on the ceiling, looking straight "up" was in fact looking down at the Underdark sea half a mile below the cavern's ceiling - a quite exhilarating view.

"The House Jalamir slave market is just outside the confines of our column," Calish explained. "The area lit by slave-torches is for slave use, while the unlit areas are reserved for drow. You would do best to remain within the areas marked for use by slaves, but you are free to visit the market when you aren't otherwise occupied by the tasks we send your way." And with that, he shooed them into the market, turning on his heel and going back the way he had come.

"You really have no idea how money works?" asked Marlo. Again, Jhasspok shook his head.

"Then what did you do with all of the slave tokens you were given over the years?" asked Cramer.

Jhasspok had an answer for this, at least. "There was another fisher slave, like me, who told me some of the slaves liked stacking the tokens into piles to see how high they could go before they fell over. It was some kind of game, to pass the time. I thought that was dumb, so he asked if he could have my tokens. So I always gave mine to him."

"He was cheating you out of your money!" exclaimed Marlo, aghast on the lizardfolk's behalf.

"Who was this slave?" asked Utred, eager to put a name to the thief.

"Fussington Pebblecruncher," replied Jhasspok. "He's a svirfneblin."

"You point him out to us if you see him," commanded Khari. "We'll take care of him for you." The little dwarf tapped his hammer to drive home the point; as arena slaves of some renown among House Jalamir, they were allowed to retain their weapons and armor within the confines of the city of Overreach. Jhasspok shrugged again, not seeing the point of making such a fuss over little square pieces of rock.

The House Jalamir slave market was filled with ramshackle little shops selling a wide variety of goods, just as one might expect to see in any surface village. There were three shops that stood out as somewhat unusual for a market catering to slaves of the drow, however: a potion shop, a scroll vendor, and a "Punch a Drow" shop. While Marlo explained what a potion was to Jhasspok - the lizardfolk was unfamiliar with the term, if not the concept - Cramer took an interest in the "Punch a Drow" shop. "What's all this about?" he asked the drow running the place.

"Drow criminals," replied the bored-looking dark elf. "They get a choice: death or life as a slave. If they choose slavery, they wear a slave collar for the rest of their days and are exempted from normal drow society. You slaves, for instance, could attack a drow slave without the magic of your tattoos activating." That definitely got the gnome's interest! "At my shop here, slaves of the lesser races - like you - are allowed to vent your frustration against your betters by beating up a drow slave - if you have the coin."

"How much?" Cramer wanted to know.

"One token, one punch," replied the shop owner. "Or 100 tokens gets you an hour alone in a room with the drow slave of your choice. You can do whatever you want during that hour, as long as you don't kill the drow slave - anything besides that's fair game. But I'm willing to bet you don't have a hundred tokens, do you?"

"Alas, no," frowned Cramer.

"Then it's a token a punch or come back when you save up your hundred." Cramer moved on.

"I will give you some of my rocks," Jhasspok offered the gnome.

"Don't do that!" chided Marlo. "Save them for yourself! Buy something you want, don't go giving them away! You're supposed to be spending them on things you want."

Jhasspok thought this over. "You give these rocks away to people for giving you things you want," he reasoned. Marlo acknowledged that this was true. Jhasspok thought on the concept some more, then pulled out ten tokens and held them out to Cramer. "He healed me in the arena," the lizardfolk said. "I will buy his healing." Cramer, no fool, took the proffered tokens and added them to the contents of his silk purse, which now totaled 20 tokens.

Marlo scrunched her face up in irritation, not wanting to chide the lizardfolk for doing a good deed but still wanting to protect his best interests. "No, you don't buy something you already received," she argued. "Cramer healed you because we're a team, and because having you up and fighting helped him to protect himself - and the rest of us. You should spend your money on something you want." This seemed a possible approach: keeping it at its most basic for the simple-minded lizardfolk. "What would you want to buy if you could buy anything at all in the whole world?" she asked.

Jhasspok pondered the question for a moment in his slow, meticulous way and then answered, "A fish." Marlo scanned the area and found a worn cart containing fresh fish. She led Jhasspok there. "Pick out a fish," she instructed. After close examination, Jhasspok made his decision. "This one," he said.

"Good. Now pay the vendor," she said.

Jhasspok looked at the vendor with puzzlement. He held up a token from his own bag. "If I give you will let me have this fish?" he asked.

"That's the way it works, pal."

"Ssss-ssss-ssss-ssss-ssss-ssss!" hissed Jhasspok, passing the slave token over and turning away with his purchase. It took Marlo a moment to realize this was the lizardfolk's way of laughing. And to Jhasspok, the transaction was nothing short of hilarious: this idiot had traded a delicious fish for a square piece of rock with a drawing of the House Jalamir insignia on it! He gobbled down his fish before the vendor could come to his senses and demand they trade back.

The dwarves each decided to pick up a few healing potions - and at their suggestion Jhasspok bought one for himself as well - and Marlo had just purchased a scroll containing the shield spell (there were no attack spells for sale, she noticed, only those useful for defense or general purpose) when the distinctive sounds of combat came from behind a row of small buildings. As one, the arena slaves turned their heads in the direction from which the sounds were coming. "Let's go!" cried Cramer, casting a longstrider spell on himself and heading beyond the market. He scooped up a handful of small pebbles from the street as he ran, future ammunition for a magic stone spell.

A dart went whizzing past his head as he headed down a narrow alley. Up ahead, a lone male drow leaned against a building, his hand crossbow shaking while his other hand was down at his stomach, doing his best to hold in his own intestines. At his feet lay another drow, blood pooling at his throat where a crossbow dart jutted out.

Jhasspok raced up beside the gnome, his turtle shell shield held up to deflect any incoming missiles. He looked at the dead body in the street before him, then at the trail of another half-dozen or so extending down a side alleyway. The drow with his intestines leaking out of his stomach had been quite busy, it seemed!

Marlo stepped up behind the lizardfolk and gasped at the carnage. At her approach, the drow lowered his hand weapon, having now recognized the group for who they must be: the House Jalamir arena slaves who had been so successful in the recent Festival of Blood. "Save...Niradi..." he gasped, falling first to a knee and then to his side. A loop of intestines slid out of the gash in his torso he'd been trying to hold closed as he collapsed, a victim to his fatal wound.

A woman's scream from the alleyway behind Marlo caused the arena slaves to turn in that direction - 180 degrees from the line of drow assassins the collapsing bodyguard had slain. A few dark-clad figures scurried down the far end of that alley, their long, white hair and dark skin identifying them as drow as well. Oddly, their backs seemed to writhe and shift in constant motion as the assassins moved toward their prey.

Cramer cast his magic stone spell and tossed the first pebble at one of the retreating assassins. It shattered against a brick wall at the side of the assassin's head, alerting her to the party's presence. She spun and shot at the gnome with her hand crossbow - missing him, fortunately - while others of her group closed in on their unseen quarry.

Jhasspok raced up, his new masterwork quality short sword in hand - the dwarves had suggested he give this new weapon a try and he was determined to give it a fair shot, although he rather liked the morningstar Utred had loaned him. He swung the blade at the assassin's head but she ducked nimbly in time, avoiding the decapitation Jhasspok had hoped for. But at this range, the lizardfolk could see the assassin wore a cloak seemingly made up of black flames, which was the constant motion the arena slaves had noticed about her earlier.

Then from behind the drow woman stepped a drow man, a stern look on his face and a rapier in his hand. "This is none of your business - leave at once!" he bellowed, and Jhasspok's initial impulse was to obey him immediately. But then a magic missile went streaking past the lizardfolk to strike the drow male in the face. Jhasspok was confused; he had been ordered by a drow to save this Niradi person and was inclined to obey, but now a different drow was telling him to back away. Which drow's orders were to be obeyed when they were in direct violation of each other? Eventually, the fact that Marlo had not been incapacitated by her tattoo for the magic missile attack on the drow indicated this drow was fair game; perhaps it was okay to attack drow who were trying to kill other drow? In any case, helping someone who was being attacked seemed like the right thing to do, so that's the direction Jhasspok decided to head.

But Utred beat him to it; charging forward, he cut the drow male down with a solid swing of his dwarven greataxe, cutting through the ranger's shoulder and halfway through his chest before the axe got stuck on the man's ribs. Utred was forced to lift a booted foot to the man's sternum to pull his blade free.

There was the sound of a sudden explosion in the distance but no way to determine how far away it was or what had caused it. And the arena slaves had a battle to deal with right here, as the closest assassins turned to face them, allowing two others of their group to continue chasing down Niradi - whoever she might be.

Khari swung his masterwork warhammer at the nearest assassin but she too was able to duck beneath the weapon and remain unscathed by the dwarf's attack. Before she could counterattack, though, she was beaned in the forehead with the second pebble enhanced by Cramer's magic stone spell.

Three of the rogue drow shot their hand crossbows at Utred, having seen the damage he could dish out. Only one of the flying darts hit their mark, and Utred could feel the sting of poison entering his bloodstream from the wound - but dwarves were made of pretty tough stuff and the barbarian managed to keep on his feet despite the venom now coursing through his system.

Jhasspok hit the assassin he'd missed before, his second swing hitting her in the arm and distracting her enough to allow him to clamp his sharp teeth around her neck. He allowed his weight to bring her to the ground and ripped her throat out for good measure. All in all, Jhasspok decided, it didn't taste nearly as good as the fish he had bought and devoured.

Marlo hit another of the drow assassins with a magic missile spell and frowned at the ease of her success. True, this particular spell was an almost guaranteed hit - only very specific magics, like the shield spell, warded a person from a magic missile - but the human sorcerer was fairly sure she'd been taught the drow were resistant to nearly all magic spells, and that there was a pretty good chance that any spell directed at a drow would fizzle away into nothingness. That certainly hadn't been her experience; perhaps these were a weaker type of drow - slaves themselves, perhaps?

Utred slew another assassin with his greataxe while Marlo was having her moment of self-doubt. Khari beaned another drow on the head, smashing in her skull and sending her lifelessly to the alley street. That took care of the immediate combatants, so Cramer tossed his third and final magic stone pebble at the back of a drow assassin approaching a barrier of some type: a globe of shimmering force, beyond which could be seen another form, wavering like a mirage through the lens of the spherical barrier separating the two.

Unable to get through the barrier, the two remaining assassins whirled and shot bolts from their hand crossbows at the arena slaves fast approaching them with weapons raised. Neither bolt hit - but Jhasspok did, leaping at one of the remaining rogues and driving her to the ground, his short sword's blade driven deep into her chest. Marlo used another magic missile spell to strike the sole remaining assassin, who survived just long enough to be taken down by a blow from Khari's hammer.

Now it was the arena slaves standing before the globe of shimmering energy, trying to get a look at the drow woman on the other side, who seemed to be wearing a robe of ironsilk armor similar to the suit Marlo wore beneath her patterned robe. "I thank you," the woman called out to her rescuers from the far side of an Otiluke's resilient sphere spell effect - a defense called into being when she threw down a bead of force to cut herself off from her attackers.

"Who are you?" asked Cramer. "Why were these other drow trying to kill you?"

"My name is Niradi Ky'hulcressen," the drow woman replied, and the slaves all caught the name of the House renowned for their ironsilk armor. "And those were not drow - they were surface elves, sent to destabilize the city of Overreach."

"You sure?" Khari asked. "They sure look like drow."

"Simple full-body tattoos," Niradi explained. Marlo for one was ready to believe her; it would explain why these "drow" had no particular spell resistance like a true dark elf would have.

"How would killing you destabilize Overreach?" Cramer wanted to know.

"At any given time, there are only six people who know the secret of crafting Ky'hulcressen magisilks," Niradi explained, "of which ironsilk is the most common. There are three Master Weavers and three apprentices. Two days ago, one of the Master Weavers and her apprentice were found dead. Today, my own teacher was slain and I fled with my bodyguard. Is he all right, by the way?"

"He's dead," Khari answered bluntly.

"He went down fighting, though," added Utred. "Took down half a dozen or more of the assassins with him."

"He was a good man," Niradi stated matter-of-factually.

"So now what?" asked Marlo. It seemed weird talking through a shimmering barrier but it blocked the entire width of the alley and trying to climb over the roofs of the adjoining buildings would put one outside the permanent reverse gravity spell effect - not a good plan.

"I will officially request asylum at House Jalamir until House Ky'hulcressen can provide an armed escort back to our own pillar."

"Will they grant it, do you think?" asked Cramer.

"I can assure you, House Jalamir has much more to gain by accepting my request than denying it."

"Very well, then," agreed Cramer. "If you like, we can escort you out of the slave market and into the House Jalamir pillar." There was no response. "...If you're ready?" prompted the gnome.

"We will wait," replied Niradi. She sounded nervous.

"For what?" prompted Marlo.

"...For the duration to run out on the bead of force I activated," admitted Niradi, rubbing the back of her neck, embarrassed to be helpless against a magical effect she herself had brought into being - especially in front of slaves of the lower races. "Once activated, it's not like you can just turn it off."

"Hrmm," grunted Khari. Magic was weird!

- - -

Logan explained a slave token can be used to purchase anything worth from one silver piece to one gold piece in value, but the costs aren't cumulative: buying three items valued at 1 sp each would cost 3 slave tokens, just as buying three items valued at 1 gp each would cost 3 slave tokens. And potions and scrolls (of which only the cheapest from the DMG are available, and then only the non-attack versions) cost five slave tokens each, so there's no real mathematical formula for the correct valuation of a slave token.

Five dead elf rogues, each wearing a slave-light cloak, means each of our PCs gained a magic cloak out of this adventure. Best of all, the color of the illusory flames is adjustable by the wearer, so we can make them whatever color we want - not just the black the elves had been using.

And we each gained enough XP to launch us into 2nd level. Each of the other PCs added a level of the character class they had started out in, while I added my second "lizardfolk" level to Jhasspok; he now gets the lizardfolk +2 racial bonus to Strength that had been put on hold when he was still a first-level character. That ought to help him hit his targets on combat (that, and the fact that I finally get a +1 BAB!). And Joey rolled a natural 12 for Utred's hit points, making him - with his +4 Constitution bonus - the first 2nd-level PC I've ever seen with 32 hp!
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 2​
Jhasspok, lizardfolk 2​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 2​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 2​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 2​

Game Session Date: 13 November 2019

- - -

"Well," said Calish Jalamir to the five slaves assembled before him, "that was certainly a surprise! When I sent you off to the slave market, I didn't expect you to end up getting House Ky'hulcressen to owe our own Noble House a favor! Well done, everyone - I am truly pleased!" He reached into his belt pouch and pulled out five silk bags, passing one to each of the slaves. "Here are 20 slave tokens each - I suggest you head back to the market and buy provisions for two weeks, for your next mission will send you to the surface. Make your purchases and return to me at once."

Thus dismissed, the slaves headed back to the market, buzzing with questions and anticipation. "I wonder what we're going to be doing back on the surface?" asked Marlo.

"Who knows, but there's likely a way we can take advantage of the situation," suggested Cramer, his mind already spinning with possibilities.

"What's the big deal about the surface?" asked Khari. "It's up there." As a dwarf, he greatly preferred the confining walls of the Underdark to the wide-open spaces of the surface world.

"It would probably be more exciting for you if that's where you were from," pointed out Marlo. "I for one will be glad to see the sun once again."

"What's the sun?" asked Jhasspok. It wasn't a stupid question (although the lizardfolk had more than his share of those); having spent his entire life as a slave to the drow in their Underdark city, he'd never seen the sun before or even heard of such a thing. But before anyone could give him an answer the group arrived at the slave market and got ready to make their purchases.

"We'll want dried food for the trip," advised Cramer. "And water, since there are no guarantees we'll find sources of fresh water along the way."

"Screw the water: found me some ale for sale!" cried Utred, spotting a vendor with gallon jugs of ale and beer. He and Khari stocked up on beverages first, then gave some passing thought about solid food to go with it.

"Did you get enough food for the trip?" Marlo asked Jhasspok after they gathered back together after splitting up to make their individual purchases. The lizardfolk towered above the short human woman but she was well aware in many ways he had the mind of a child. It certainly wouldn't hurt to look after him.

"Fish!" cried Jhasspok in reply, holding up a fat fish he'd purchased.

"...That's not going to last two weeks," pointed out Marlo. "You'll need food that will last for a while."

"That's just a snack for now," replied Jhasspok, biting into his beloved fish. "I have dried fish for the trip." He patted a leather satchel at his hip. "And some dried beetles." Marlo suddenly lost interest in the rest of his provisions; it seemed he was as ready as the rest of them.

Returning to Calish with their goods packed up, the drow slavemaster had more items to pass out to the group. "Take these," he commanded, giving all but Jhasspok a necklace with an iron ring welded into place. "These will allow N'zorthal to keep in contact with you and guide you to the Writhing Gate, which lies two days away. Once there, N'zorthal will explain the details of your mission to you." The four slaves each put the necklace around their necks, allowing the iron ring to hang free.

"You won't need one," explained Calish to Jhasspok. "There are only the four, and you've been an exemplary slave." Jhasspok had no idea what 'exemplary' meant, but he was willing to bet it had something to do with not wearing jewelry.

"Go ahead, stick a finger through the rings," Calish said, and by now the slaves knew this was a command, not a suggestion.

"Does it matter which finger?" asked Cramer, wondering what was up with these rings and trying to stall for time.

"Not in the least - I just want to demonstrate their abilities," replied Calish. Hesitantly, the four slaves each poked a finger into the ring, only to see them disappear - they did not protrude from the other end as expected.

"AH!" gasped Khari, pulling his finger back out and examining it. It was perfectly fine. He held the ring up to his eye and looked through it, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. "What does this do, turn our fingers invisible?" he asked.

"Nothing of the sort. These are miniature ring gates. Your fingers each passed through your ring and came out of your ring's 'partner' ring, as it were. And that allows this to occur."

As if waiting for the announcement, a tentacle emerged from the other sides of each of the four rings. Cramer dropped his ring immediately, but it just hung there from the necklace around his neck. The tentacles wrapped their way up the necklaces to touch the warm skin of the wearers' necks - and the little gnome had immediately recognized the tentacles as belonging to a mind flayer.

<I will be your guide through the Underdark passageways,> announced N'zorthal - the Administer of Discipline - directly into the heads of the four slaves wearing the necklaces. They all flinched, leaving Jhasspok to wonder exactly what was going on, for he had heard nothing of the mind flayer's telepathic speech.

"By extending a part of himself through the ring gates, N'zorthal can extend his telepathic powers to anyone with which he is in physical contact. Off we go, then!"

<This way,> commanded the mind flayer, mentally indicating a direction for the slaves to go. Marlo looked back at the confused lizardfolk and called, "We're heading this way, Jhasspok." With a shrug, Jhasspok followed the others. Calish walked beside them for a short while.

N'zorthal led the group to the North Gate of the city, a place the group had never been to before - although it was near the area where the fisher slaves bunked, so it was somewhat familiar to Jhasspok. "You'll be going to the Writhing Gate," said Calish with a slight shudder that Cramer noticed; whatever this gate was, it creeped out the drow slavemaster - not a good sign! "It's an ancient illithid structure used as a redirectable teleportation circle,"continued Calish. "It requires an illithid to activate and use it, hence N'zorthal's participation in this venture. And...some people who have been through it swear that it...talked to them." The drow slavemaster stifled another shudder then came to a stop - this was as far as he was going. "Good luck, and I will see you upon your return!" With that, he turned on his heels and went back the way he had come.

"I'm not liking this tentacle by my neck," whispered Marlo as the group walked down a narrow tunnel.

<It is required to make mental contact at this distance,> replied N'zorthal. <And whispering will not prevent me from hearing you - I can pick up your very thoughts.> Marlo made a face of disgust but said nothing.

Oh yeah? thought Cramer to himself. Then what am I thinking about now?

<You are thinking about hammering a nail into each of my tentacles, thus attaching the four necklaces permanently to the stone of this tunnel floor. However, while this will cause me some amount of pain, prevent me from retracting my tentacles through the ring gates, and break off my mental contact with you, it will do nothing to prevent my mobility - I will still be able to walk around - and the drow will punish such actions through the tattoos you each wear.>

Crap! thought Cramer. As much as it galled him, he'd have to put off any thoughts of escaping from the yoke of the drow for a bit longer.

The tunnel the slaves traversed stayed to a relatively straight course for three hours of trudging before they arrived at their first junction. Up ahead, in the light of their slave-light cloaks, they could see side passages veering off to the left and right.

Jhasspok was in the lead, not because he knew the way but because the group thought putting their biggest and burliest combatant up front might dissuade anyone from attacking them. Plus, even though the lizardfolk had no mental contact with their mind flayer guide, the others could give him directions as needed. Seeing the side-branches up ahead, he turned and asked, "Which way from here?"

"Continue straight ahead," relayed Marlo. Then she frowned, for carved into the sides of the tunnel walls they were passing were warnings of "Danger" and "Death" in several different languages. There were arrows pointing back the way the group had come. Apparently other nearby races were aware that this passageway led to a drow city. Jhasspok had walked blithely past the warnings, not recognizing them as written messages, for the lizardfolk slave had no knowledge of writing.

"Hold up!" called Cramer from behind the lizardfolk leading this ragged expedition. "There's movement up ahead!" Cramer had seen what looked to him like a tentacle curling back, ready to strike. Forewarned of potential danger, Khari approached cautiously with his warhammer raised. There, hiding in a crevice along the side of the tunnel wall just past the side-passageways curled an odd creature with four sharp-tipped tentacles growing out from a parrotlike beak. Its rubbery-looking torso was that of a particularly thick snake. Swinging his hammer down at the beast, Khari was surprised at how quick it was, for it darted to the side of its crevice and the dwarf's weapon did nothing but shatter bits of stone from the side of the crevice.

Jhasspok leaped forward to assist his fellow slave, swinging down with his masterwork short sword in an overhand strike as the creature crawled from the crevice and fully into the tunnel. But Jhasspok's swing also failed to hit the nimble creature. Utred followed suit, using his greataxe to no effect - although he had the excuse of two other combatants crowding the limited space around the target.

Marlo, however, only needed a quick glimpse of the creature to fire off a magic missile spell that unerringly struck its intended target. The grick hissed in pain as the spell did what three weapons could not (at least not yet). For his part, Cramer cast a magic stone spell on the handful of pebbles he'd gathered on the trip thus far for just this very purpose.

With two dwarves close up, the grick opted to swing two tentacles at each of them and despite having the better armor of the two, it was Khari who was carved up by the slicing organic blades at the tips of the grick's facial appendages. Growling under his breath, Khari maneuvered over to the side so he was flanking the grick with Jhasspok, allowing the grick to get in another hit as he repositioned himself. Then Jhasspok hit the grick's rubbery flesh with his blade, following it up with a snap of his reptilian teeth - and was surprised that although both attacks struck true, neither penetrated the grick's thick hide.

Utred swung at the grick again and missed, causing his rage to boil up into full steam. Marlo hit it with another magic missile but seemed to be doing minimal damage. Cramer, seeing the cuts on Khari's face and hands, opted to forego his intended magic stone assault and moved up to cast a healing spell upon the hammer-wielding dwarven fighter.

The grick, confused by the wounds suddenly closing up on the dwarf's flesh, switched targets to Jhasspok and Utred - maybe their wounds would actually stay once they'd been inflicted. A whirlwind assault of four flying tentacles followed, getting past the defenses of both the dwarven barbarian and the lizardfolk fisher. They, as well as Khari, continued their assault but didn't seem to have much lucky in even hitting the creature, let alone dealing it much damage on the rare occasions when they did manage to hit it. Marlo struck it with another low-damage magic missile, trying to figure out what she was doing wrong in casting the spell to make its effects so minimal.

Cramer took careful aim and sent his first magic stone flying at the creature; it didn't hit anywhere near the grick, instead shattering against the tunnel wall a good foot and half above its eyeless head. But finally the string of failed attacks affected the grick as well, as its follow-on tentacle strikes were easily avoided by the three front-line attackers among the combat slaves. Finally, Utred's first successful hit upon the grick's rubbery body with his greataxe nearly cut it in twain, slaying it instantly. He backed off with a grunt and a nod, then opened his first gallon flask of ale and had himself a celebratory swig. Cramer used a few of the cure light wounds scrolls he'd purchased to heal Jhasspok and Utred back to full fighting trim.

And then, the momentary excitement having been finished up, N'zorthal urged the slaves onward. Jhasspok took only a moment to cut a slab of flesh from the grick's body, figuring it to be a source of ready food he didn't want to let go to waste. Utred also quickly cut away the grick's beak, thinking it would look nice mounted on the shoulder of his armor - something he could work on during their down time.

Another four hours of walking through narrow Underdark tunnels led the group into a small cavern, the back half covered in bioluminescent fungal growths allowing the group to see far past the normal range of their glowing slave-light cloaks. There was a pool of water at the back of the cavern, trickling off to a narrow stream flowing down a side tunnel from the large cavern. The group could see a few tall-capped mushroom growths - and then the glowing fungus suddenly provided the only illumination in the shadowy cave as the light from their cloaks all went out at once.

"Wha--?" sputtered Marlo before what seemed like a dark, leathery bag was dropped over her head. She could feel it being tightened around her neck, making it hard to breathe. Jhasspok was in a similar position, although his life in the Underdark had at least provided him with a likely explanation of what was happening to him: they were under attack by darkmantles.

This was plainly evident to Cramer and the two dwarves, who could see the octopoid bodies of the darkmantles wrapped around the heads of Marlo and Jhasspok, choking the life from them. Cramer threw a stone at the one strangling Marlo, dealing it enough damage to cause it to release its grip and slide down to the ground by the sorceress's feet. Jhasspok, on the other hand, grabbed the creature suffocating him and pressed it up against his muzzle, chewing through the darkmantle's body from the underside. It tried to release its grip on the lizardfolk but the lizardfolk wasn't reciprocating; Jhasspok bit through the creature's tentacles and it bled to death. The other one, by Marlo, was cut into two pieces by Utred's greataxe.

<You may make camp in this chamber for the night,> allowed N'zorthal. <The Writhing Gate is still 5 hours away but it would be best to continue the trek in the morning. Do not stray too close to the fungus - their spores are damaging.>

"Lovely," muttered Marlo, setting up her bedroll as far away from the fungus as she could get. Cramer and the dwarves unpacked their own bedrolls and blankets, while Jhasspok investigated the pool. There was a large toadstool growing out of one end of it, but the other end - the one with the runoff stream - was clear of any spores. With a relaxing sigh, the lizardfolk removed his slave-light cloak, food pouch, and belt of weapons and lowered himself into the pool. The water was cool but it was so good to submerge himself again! He hadn't realized how much he had missed swimming in the Underdark sea as a fisher!

Marlo went over to the pool to splash her face with water and allow Truffles, her toad familiar, to swim about for a while under close supervision - for the sorceress didn't like the way Jhasspok kept a beady eye on the toad as it swam. "Truffles is not to be harmed, or eaten," she reminded the lizardfolk. Jhasspok didn't answer, nor did his gaze falter from watching the toad's progress. Finally, Marlo scooped Truffles up and returned him to the large pocket of her robes she wore over her ironsilk armor, returning to her bedroll to get some rest.

The group opted to keep one person on guard shift all night as the others slept; as spellcasters who needed uninterrupted sleep to regain their spells the next morning, they decided Cramer would take the first shift and Marlo the last, with the other three taking two-hour shifts in between. But it was an uneventful night, and when Marlo woke everyone up in the morning (at N'zorthal's urging, as he had been their timekeeper all night) they seemed refreshed after a good night's sleep following a day of exertion.

"Wait--anybody else hear that?" asked Utred suddenly as bedrolls and blankets were being rolled up and tied into place.

"What?" whispered Cramer.

"Footsteps," answered Utred in a whisper of his own. "Comin' from that way." He indicated an opening beyond the phosphorescent fungus leading to a tunnel other than the one the slaves would be following to the Writhing Gate. As everyone listened intently, they could make out several pairs of footsteps - three, possibly - which slowed down and made an attempt at stealth as they got nearer.

Jhasspok, wearing his gear once again, sunk back down into the pool of water, leaving only the tops of his eyes above the waterline. He wasn't the least bit concerned about his weapons getting wet; they'd survive a short immersion just fine. But he prepared himself to spring out of the water if an enemy showed itself. Khari sidled sideways, using a stalagmite rising up from the ground as cover. Utred did the same, moving behind another stalagmite and readying to bring his greataxe swinging into the first enemy to come into view. Marlo brought the words of a ray of frost spell to the forefront of her mind, ready to cast it as needed.

Two puffs of fungal spores indicated the presence of two individuals walking through the growths - and yet there was nobody visible in the cavern with the five slaves. The dwarves peered cautiously around their stalagmites, looking for foes - and then one suddenly popped into visibility as his warhammer came slamming down upon Khari's head, denting his helmet. The other also became visible after he let fly with his own weapon, a set of bolas that went whipping around Utred's legs, tripping the dwarven barbarian to fall onto the stone cavern floor. He then raced over to his fallen foe, a warhammer of his own raised and ready to crush the barbarian's skull. Marlo fired off her ray of frost at him as he crossed the distance to Utred.

These intruders, the slaves could now see, were dwarves themselves, but unlike Utred or Khari they were both bald, with white beards and skin the color of slate. Duergar, Utred realized as he swung his greataxe at his attacker from his prone position, slicing deep into the gray dwarf's belly. With a dwarven curse, the surprised duergar fell dead atop the barbarian from the Butterflinger clan.

Cramer threw a pebble at the first duergar, the missile recently enhanced by a new application of the gnome's magic stone spell. The stone hit the unsuspecting duergar right between the eyes, dropping him as well. Seeing the two gray dwarves down, Jhasspok remained hidden in the pool, biding his time until the third duergar showed. He wasn't the only one straining to hear any signs of the invisible duergar's position; the others were doing their best to pick out his location as well.

Another disturbance of spores revealed the general location of the third interloper, but unfortunately not well enough for Marlo to target with a spell. But then he attacked the still-prone Utred (the barbarian had had to push the duergar he'd slain off of him and was struggling to remove the bolas twisted around his legs) with a massive maul, popping into visibility as he attacked. That was all Jhasspok had been waiting for; he leaped out of the pool and onto the gray dwarf, tackling him to the ground and raking his claws across the bald fighter's face as he clamped down on the back of his neck with his teeth. Khari made the killing blow with his warhammer, allowing everyone to assume ready stances in case there were any other of these invisible dwarves about. Several minutes passed before they were satisfied there had just been the three of them, then they started looting the corpses.

All three of the gray dwarves' primary weapons - two warhammers and a maul - had the glow of magic about them when examined by Cramer's detect magic spell. Each of the dwarves claimed a warhammer and Utred (who never bothered with carrying a shield, unlike Khari) took the maul as well, realizing there might well be a time when a two-handed bludgeoning weapon would come in handy. Khari also stripped off the maul-wielder's banded mail armor, recognizing it as an upgrade from his own splint mail. He abandoned his old armor behind, not wanting to have to drag the extra weight around with him. And then, at N'zorthal's urging, the group followed the stream down a side passage and onward to the Writhing Gate.

The next five hours of marching were uneventful; eventually the group made their way into a cavern with a diameter of some 100 feet or so, with a domed ceiling reaching half that height in its center. In the center of this chamber were 10 undulating tentacles, each blacker than black and capable of reaching anywhere in the cavern. At the base of each tentacle sat a throne; seated in nine of them were the petrified remains of nine illithids. Sitting in the tenth throne was none other than N'zorthal, his four tentacles seemingly cut off by four iron rings at their tips; these, the slaves realized, were the other rings to the four sets of ring gates at the ends of the necklaces worn by Cramer, Khari, Marlo, and Utred.

All five of the slaves felt a sudden desire to run far, far away, as quickly as possible, putting as much distance between themselves and the Writhing Gate as they could.

<You made it,> N'zorthal said inside their heads, his mental presence helping to overcome their desire to flee. <Now, let me tell you all about your mission....>

- - -

This, quite obviously, is part one of a two-part adventure. Logan's already told us the next adventure is called "Fun in the Sun." Unfortunately, it's not going to be possible for us to play in this campaign again for a full four weeks since our last session, as we're faced with me on a business trip this coming week; Dan, Vicki, and Joey being gone for Thanksgiving week the following week; and Dan being gone on a business trip the week after that. So it'll be 11 Dec 19 before we get a chance to carry out our surface mission for Calish Jalamir: attacking a caravan on the surface and then scouting around to see if there's anything else of value nearby to be taken back to the drow. It ought to be interesting. [Later edit: it'll actually be another week after that - 18 Dec 19 - before we get to play again in this campaign; another business trip arose and I got stuck with it.]

Oh, and Vicki's damage for the first three magic missiles she had Marlo cast this session all did minimum damage: three natural 1's in a row, for 2 points of damage each. She was giving serious thought about punishing her traitorous d4.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 2​
Jhasspok, lizardfolk 2​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 2​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 2​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 2​

Game Session Date: 18 December 2019

- - -

<There is a side chamber off to your left,> instructed N'zorthal. <You will make camp there, out of the way for the evening. Tomorrow morning you will be teleported through the Writhing Gate to the location of the caravan you will attack.>

The slaves looked over to the side chamber indicated by the mind flayer seated at one of the ten stations of the Writhing Gate. It was a roughly circular chamber with a radius of nearly 30 feet. Carved into the smooth, stone floor were a series of concentric rings; Cramer and Marlo each identified the runes circumscribed along the rings as being tied into various magic circles shielding against the forces of evil, law, and chaos. As they stepped into the chamber and inside the circumference of the circles, they felt the background "wrongness" they'd felt since stepping within visual distance of the Writhing Gate dissipate.

Setting up their sleeping areas, Cramer called over to the mind flayer. "You want to tell us more about this raiding mission we're being sent on?" he asked.

<You will be sent to the vicinity of a caravan. You will attack the caravan and take its contents for the drow. When you have defeated the members of the caravan, I will reopen the gate and you will send the supplies you have gathered through.>

"How big of a caravan we talkin' 'bout?" asked Utred.

<Unknown. I will set the parameters of the desired location on the surface and the Writhing Gate will seek out the nearest such set of circumstances.>

"So we don't even know where on the surface we'll be going?" asked Khari.


"Are we to kill the members of the caravan?" Marlo asked.

<Killing isn't necessary to the drow's plans - but do not let them flee to gather reinforcements. Once you have sent the goods through the gate, you will scout out the area to learn what resources are nearby and worth raiding in the future. At the end of 12 days on the surface, I will open the Writhing Gate again and you will return to Overreach.>

And these stupid slave tattoos will ensure our good behavior, Cramer thought sourly to himself.

<That is correct,> replied N'zorthal, a reminder that mind flayers were mind readers as well. Cramer didn't say another word for some time, nor did he try to think anything he wouldn't mind N'zorthal picking up. Dealing with telepaths was certainly frustrating!

The group set up their camp and discussed the mission among themselves. The dwarves were all for a head-on assault, rushing in with weapons swinging before the caravan members had time to prepare a defense. Marlo suggested spying on the caravan for a bit first if possible, to see what kind of opposition they might face. Jhasspok didn't put a whole lot of thought into what the next day would bring; he'd simply do as instructed and hope for the best. He had no qualms against killing whoever might be among the caravan; as the lizardfolk saw it, this was little different from the arena battles they'd performed during the Festival of Blood - it was either slay or be slain, and if the caravan members didn't want to get killed they'd best do what they could to overcome their attackers. And if they did get killed by the House Jalamir slaves, then they must not have sufficiently wanted to remain living.

Eventually the talk died down - as did the illumination as each member deactivated the illusory flames emanating from their individual slave-light cloaks. As for N'zorthal, he remained seated at his station at the Writhing Gate, as motionless as the nine petrified remains of other illithids manning the other nine wriggling tentacles.

The mind flayer awakened the slaves the next morning with a telepathic prompting. Cramer meditated and prepared his spells for the day as the others rolled up their blankets and bedrolls and gobbled up a quick breakfast of various dried foodstuff. (Jhasspok once again got no takers when offering to share his supply of dried dung beetles.) Then, ready for their mission, the five slaves braced themselves and stepped out of the safety of the magic circles. They each immediately tensed up as the primitive portions of their brains informed them, on a subconscious level, they needed to immediately flee from the vicinity at full speed.

Then the writhing tentacles started moving as one, rising up to their full height and touching each other at their tips, forming a cone pointed at the ceiling. A grayish-white glow surrounded the tips of the rubbery appendages as five of them suddenly ripped downward, tearing a vertical shear in reality and burrowing through the tear.

<Step through, quickly!> admonished N'zorthal. Fearing retribution, the slaves all stepped forward through the tear in reality, Cramer tempting fate by taking the time to cast a longstrider spell on himself before following the other four through the opened gate.

Utred and Jhasspok stepped through the gate unscathed. The other three, however, each became suddenly - and horribly - aware of the infinitesimal space between moments. As spellcasters, both Cramer and Marlo had been taught teleportation magic sends travelers briefly through the Astral Plane, but this was...something else entirely - somewhere else, actually. Somewhere much, much farther away. As the trio got glimpses of various impossible horrors out of the corners of their eyes, they heard an equally terrible voice. Looking in a direction best described as "down" (but only in a general sense; there was no real word for the direction in a language that only acknowledged three dimensions), the three slaves saw the rest of the lengths of the five tentacles responsible for creating the gate guiding them through the Far Realm, eventually connecting to an enormous, severed head floating in the cosmos. This head had a hundred wriggling tentacles coming from it, the five a mere handful of the whole.

"SERVE ME," said the floating head in a whisper that screamed through the heads of Cramer, Marlo, and Khari. "SERVE ME AND ALL SHALL BE WELL."

All of this transpired in no actual time at all, the three slaves stepping out onto the surface world immediately after Utred and Jhasspok had done so. Utred looked around at his surroundings and merely grunted in acknowledgment. They were at the edge of a forest, standing in a small clearing surrounded by trees. There was a road before them, and the clattering of hoof-beats coming from off to the left - the caravan they were to attack, no doubt.

But Jhasspok was in a world of wonder, a place of inexplicable things he'd never seen before - things like trees, and grass, and sky. He felt a warmth coming down from above him and looked up to find its source, his curiosity causing him to ignore the disturbed expressions of Khari, Marlo, and Cramer. Then--

"Down!" cried Jhasspok, leaping onto Khari and pulling the Hammerslammer dwarf to the ground, covering him with his own massive body and cowering into a ball, his turtle-shell shield held over his reptilian head.

"What th' thunderation?" sputtered Khari, struggling to extricate himself from the lizardfolk's embrace. "What are you doing?" hissed Marlo, not wanting the antics of the lizardfolk and the dwarf to alert the approaching caravan of their presence. For a supposedly stealthy mission, this was getting off to a rather bad start!

Jhasspok raised his hand and pointed to the sky. "Fireball!" he hissed back.

Marlo looked up. "That's the sun, you idiot!" she hissed back at the frightened lizardfolk. Then she regretted her harsh words, realizing Jhasspok had never before stepped foot upon the surface world - everything she took for granted here, above ground, was brand new to him. "It's just the sun," she whispered. "It won't hurt us."

"It won't fall down on us?" Jhasspok asked, peering fearfully at it from around the edge of his shield. He was familiar with the fireball spell - drow wizards often cast such spells into the air around the Eight Pillars during times of celebration - and this "sun" looked suspiciously like one of those, perhaps the variant kind where they took a moment or two to explode.

"No, it won't - I promise."

"Git offa me, ye varmint!" growled Khari. Jhasspok, still not trusting the fireball hanging in the sky, gazed up at it warily as he stood back up and helped Khari up as well. "And quit lookin' directly at it, or ye'll go blind!" the dwarf added.

Cramer, in the meantime, had ignored the others and was giving the caravan his full attention. There were only two carts, each pulled by a single horse; the lead cart was the smaller of the two, with a human farmer behind the reins, while the larger cart behind held five individuals. A human driver sat on the front bench, flicking his reins at the draft animal, while beside him sat an elven woman singing a sad lament. She had a blindfold of dark cloth across her eyes. Behind her were a halfling woman and two rough-looking men, one a human and the other a dwarf.

A quick detect magic spell confirmed Cramer's suspicions that the caravan merchants and their guards had magic about them, centered around the back cart. The cleric hatched a plan at once, using his innate abilities to create a ghost sound effect from behind him: the howling of a pack of wolves, for he needed an excuse for his sudden appearance on the scene and this would not only put him in the role of a victim in the eyes of the caravan members but also hopefully attract their attention to the part of the forest where the wolf-calls were emanating. "Help me!" he cried, rushing forward between the trees and through the underbrush, right up to the edge of the road, with a look of fearful panic evident upon his face. He was, he noted, halfway between the two carts.

But beside him sprang Jhasspok, running at full speed, his tail sticking out behind him to keep his balance. Not having been briefed on Cramer's plan, he had no idea what those dreadful howling noises were supposed to signify; he just made a bee-line for the four-legged monster at the front of the caravan. Jhasspok had never seen a horse before, but judging by its impressive size - and the fact that it led this procession - he reasoned it was the most powerful enemy they faced and it would therefore be prudent to take it out as quickly as possible. He stabbed deep into the beast's right flank with his masterwork short sword, causing the horse to whinny in pain and terror.

Khari ran up and shot an arrow at the horse Jhasspok had just attacked. Unlike the lizardfolk, the dwarf had seen a horse before and had no misconceptions about it being a powerful foe; however, he realized a dead horse couldn't run out of range and allow its master to fetch help from elsewhere. Unfortunately, the terrors he had just seen during the travel through the Writhing Gate were still playing in his mind, throwing off his aim. The arrow whizzed harmlessly past the horse's head, to eventually plunk down into the ground on the far side of the road.

Utred saw the advantages of slaying the horses first and charged the beast pulling the larger of the two carts. But by this time the caravan members were well aware of the attack and the driver was able to pull the reins to the side, yanking the horse's head out of the way of the dwarven barbarian's swing with his greataxe.

Unwilling to allow this attack to go unanswered, the halfling woman, Heather Thistlefoot, leapt down from the wagon, ran up, and stabbed up at the burly dwarf with her rapier. Her other hand held a shield emblazoned with the crest of the halfling goddess Yondalla. But her paladin senses, which usually aided her in battle, were confusing her here, for when she concentrated on Utred's aura to see if it bore the unmistakable taint of evil she saw only a ribbon of evil rising up from his chest; the barbarian himself was clean of the stain. (The ring gate Utred wore on a chain around his neck was beneath the dwarf's thick beard and N'zorthal's tentacle was thus hidden from view even if its evil aura was clear enough for the paladin to sense.) Thus distracted, her rapier-stab went wide, leaving Utred unharmed.

Wulfrik, the dwarven ranger, displayed a remarkable swiftness in firing and reloading his light crossbow at Utred. What he failed to display was any sense of accuracy, as both bolts went whizzing harmlessly by the sides of Utred's bearded head. But the failed attacks did attract the Butterflinger dwarf's attention; he spun about and locked eyes with the dwarven crossbowman, giving him an unspoken "I'm going to kill you personally for that!" message that was received loud and clear by Wulfrik.

Marlo cast a magic missile spell at the driver of the second cart, who at this time was working to get the frightened horse under control. The spell hit true, causing the merchant to fall, unconscious, over the side of the vehicle into the dirt of the road beneath. The horse reared and kicked out frantically with its forelegs, but Utred was well out of range at that point.

Guthier followed Heather's lead and leaped off the side of the back cart to attack Utred. His attack was much more successful than those of his companions, the blade of his bastard sword slicing into the dwarf's side, drawing blood. Utred immediately added the human fighter to his list of people who needed the personal attention of his greataxe, as he let the rage build inside him to power his attacks.

The farmer driving the first cart, however, was much too busy trying to deal with the reptilian monster attacking his horse to worry much about what might be going on behind him. With a frantic flip of his reins and a shouted "HAH!" he tried getting his horse to hightail it out of there. As it turned out, this dovetailed rather nicely with the horse's own thoughts on the subject and the cart lurched forward at top speed. But Jhasspok wasn't going to allow this giant, four-legged threat to escape to gather more of its monster kin; he sprinted forward alongside the fleeing cart, stabbing his sword into the monster's side. Another arrow went whizzing by the horse's head, proof that Khari was still focused on bringing the horse down before the cart could get out of range and the farmer could go for aid. But another slash of the lizardfolk's masterwork blade and the horse crumpled in mid-stride, tipping the cart over and sending the farmer flying to crash to the dirt on the side of the road, where he desperately played possum. With any luck, the lizard-monster would think he was already dead and would leave him alone.

No such luck, alas. Having slain the assumed leader of the caravan procession, Jhasspok leaped over the toppled cart and sent his blade deep into the body of the leader's underling. Just that quickly, the farmer was no longer only playing dead.

This whole time, Elithiel the Blind had continued with her elven dirge. Now, she subtly changed the words to her song, invoking a sleep spell in the area of combat to her right. She caught Cramer in its area of effect and the gnome cleric crashed to the ground, already fast asleep. However, falling right next to him was Guthier, who had also succumbed to the spell. Utred mentally shifted the human bladesman lower on his list of people to kill and turned his attention back to Wulfrik. But then Heather stepped right up to him, her rapier ready for another thrust, and Utred nearly cut her down with a single swipe of his axe. The halfling backed away rapidly, applying a healing spell to the deep gash Utred had cut through her side. Wulfrik responded by leaping off the side of the cart and sending another rapid-fire set of bolts racing at Utred, one of them striking the barbarian in the upper arm. Utred roared in pain and put Wulfrik at the very top of his list.

Elithiel suddenly stopped her song, listening intently to the fight going on alongside her. She heard Heather's frantic spellcasting and cast a spell of her own, cure light wounds, to aid the little halfling, who by the sounds of it was surely hurt rather badly. Leaning over the side of the cart, in the space vacated by the driver, she reached down and tried to heal her halfling friend. Unfortunately, she couldn't find the little paladin and the spell remained, unspent, in the blind elf's blindly groping hand.

Marlo cast another magic missile, this one striking Wulfrik; she hoped to distract the dwarven ranger long enough to keep him from shooting crossbow bolts at Utred, for she knew her dwarven barbarian friend could take care of the ranger once he had gotten close enough to him. The ploy worked, for Wulfrik turned but for a moment to scowl at the human sorcerer and when he turned back to his original foe he was shocked to find Utred standing there in front of him, his greataxe coming down in an overhang swing. Wulfrik tried to dodge at the last moment and while the axe's blade still struck him, the ranger got off with his life - and his consciousness - still barely hanging by a thread. He dropped his crossbow from numb fingers and tried staggering back, out of range of the raging barbarian.

From the wagon, Elithiel's blind, groping hand reached down for Wulfrik, hoping to send her healing energy his way if Heather was out of reach. Her hand finally reached a target, and a dwarven one at that - but it was Utred's shoulder she brushed against and thus Utred whose wounds the blind elf's spell set about to healing.

With a moan of despondency, Wulfrik looked about him and saw his companions dead, incapacitated, or barely holding on to consciousness like himself. Utred had spun about at Elithiel's touch and the rage-mad barbarian looked like he was going to retaliate against the blind woman's spell until even he realized what had just happened. Then Utred turned and, renewed, hefted his axe in Wulfrik's direction. "We surrender!" the ranger called out immediately, holding out his weaponless hands; the crossbow was already on the ground before him. He looked back at Heather and the paladin, frowning, dropped her rapier and shield at her feet.

Marlo stepped forward and started gathering up the dropped weapons, pulling them out of reach. She shook Cramer awake and he helped bind their prisoners' hands and wounds. Utred snapped out of his battle-rage and the two dwarves took stock of the contents of the rear cart. Up at the overturned front cart, Jhasspok did the same, but the wagon's only contents were sacks filled with some sort of lightweight rocks. Strange! The lizardfolk trotted back to the others as Elithiel spoke from the rear cart.

"I know why you are here, more so than you do," she said to the group at large. "I will make you an offer: I will give you each a glimpse of your fates, if you will promise me a quick death afterwards."

"A quick death?" asked Cramer. "We don't have to kill you."

"It is my wish, the price for the information I have."

"You actually want us to kill you?" asked Marlo, astonishment in her voice.

"It is preferable to the other path before me, for I have seen what would come next."

"Feels kind of wrong killing a blind elf in cold blood like that..." began Khari as the group conferred quietly among themselves.

"But if she wants it..." pointed out Utred.

"I'll kill her," offered Jhasspok. He wasn't quite sure at the hesitation on the part of his fellow slaves; they'd been instructed they didn't have to kill the members of the caravan but it was quite obviously still an option and if the elf wanted to die, what was the real problem?

"All right," Cramer told the elf shortly thereafter. "We'll give you the swift death you're looking for. So, you can see our futures, is that it?"

In way of replying, Elithiel turned and faced the gnome straight on; had she not still wore a black band of cloth across her eyes she'd be staring right at him. "Cramer," she intoned - which itself was somewhat eerie, as the cleric was sure he hadn't provided his name to her - "the enemy of your enemy can be your salvation, but you must continue to play the spider's game that all may be free." Cramer scowled; it sounded like he'd been told he had to remain a slave for some time and he was chafing to find his friend and fellow cleric of Fharlanghn and escape the clutches of the drow. Still, he'd also been given a thread of hope: the "enemy of his enemy" could very well be those elven assassins with the full-body tattoos disguising themselves as drow, the better to infiltrate Overreach and try to topple it from within. If he could somehow get in contact with that group....

Elithiel turned her head to face Marlo. "Marlo, when the dragon prince seeks his own kingdom, your village shall know great peril." That caused the sorcerer's face to frown in incomprehension: what dragon prince was she talking about? And how was she supposed to do anything about her home village, when she was a slave in the Underdark and had no idea even where her village was in relation to where she was now?

Utred Butterflinger was up next apparently, for Elithiel faced him next and said, "Utred, the greatest blacksmith of Brunniir walked into a bar. He left a barmaid and a bastard. Through your father's blood you hold the key to the forgotten forge and the treasures within." The barbarian shrugged. None of that meant anything to him; he liked the bit about the treasure, though.

"Jhasspok," the blind elf began next, and the lizardfolk was shocked that she had pronounced his name correctly. "All your life others have told you what to do. One day you shall learn an uncomfortable truth. On that day only you can decide your fate."

Finally, Elithiel turned to face Khari Hammerslammer. "Khari, you were not always the way you are. Remember your dreams of the old man. Remember the words he seared with fire and fear into your mind. Only then can the truth of Brunniir be found."

Then, facing the group of five slaves as a whole, the blind woman added, "One last vision to share. He was there at the beginning. He will be there at the end. Finish what Wee Jas started. End the cycle else all shall be for naught."

That got Cramer thinking. "Is your desire for a swift death because of your fear of the Dying One?" he asked, using the name of the many-tentacled head he'd "seen" during the trek through the Writhing Gate.

"He was there at the beginning. He will be there at the end," Elithiel repeated, apparently the only answer she was willing to give.

"We promised you a quick death," Cramer said, sighing. "What about these others?"

"They would likely wish it, if they knew what was to come - but ultimately it is not my decision to make." Utred glared immediately at Wulfrik, ready to put an end to that particular life. He shifted his grip on his greataxe tellingly.

"I would prefer to face my fate - whatever it might be - head on," replied Wulfrik. To his credit, he said it without his voice breaking and while staring Utred right in the eye.

"I will not willingly surrender my life," replied Heather. Guthier likewise stated his preference for life. In the end, it was only Elithiel who was slain, quickly as promised, with a single strike of Jhasspok's blade straight through the elven woman's heart.

"So now what?" asked Marlo. "Do we get to keep any of this stuff for ourselves or does it all go back to Overreach?"

<You are permitted to retain that which you find useful for your current mission,> came the immediate mental reply, causing the sorcerer to flinch. She'd forgotten N'zorthal was watching everything they did. <Load everything else up on the larger of the two carts.>

At Cramer's command, Jhasspok dragged over the sacks of "lightweight rocks" - in reality, potatoes, yet something else with which the lizardfolk had no prior experience - from the other cart and loaded them up onto the larger one. In the meantime, Marlo claimed a fancy dagger Elithiel had worn at her belt as it looked to be magical, and she also took Wulfrik's masterwork light crossbow and the quiver of bolts that went with it as her own, earning her a deep scowl from the dwarven ranger. Cramer had no use for most of Heather's gear, but he did take a rather well-made sling she carried, thinking it would come in quite handy with his magic stone spell.

"What are these?" Jhasspok asked, opening a chest and finding within a pile of shiny, golden disks.

"That's gold!" exclaimed Khari, suddenly very interested. Then his expression soured. "I suppose it's t'be shipped back to the drow," he guessed.

<On the contrary: it would be best for you to take it with you, to pay your way upon the surface world,> corrected N'zorthal. <You will retain the smaller of the carts and the remaining horse for your use during this mission as well.>

"Then let's load up everything going back to Overreach on the big cart!" called Cramer, hoisting up the paladin's rapier, armor, and shield. Utred and Khari assisted him, loading the cart up with the rest of their prisoners' unwanted goods. The rest of the previously-loaded materials on the larger cart seemed to be mostly lumber and food, all of which would be well-received back in the drow city.

There was also a folded map on the body of the rear cart's driver. With directions from Wulfrik, the group found out exactly where they were on the map and where the caravan had been headed: the elven city of Greenvale. The elves there were xenophobic and kept themselves apart from the rest of the world, but recently they had experienced some hard times and were now reliant upon resources from the outside communities.

"That should do it," replied Cramer, packing the last of the captured goods onto the wagon: Guthier's armor and his bastard sword, a rather fine-looking weapon but not one any of the melee combatants wanted to wield for their own. Marlo unhitched the horse from the cart. "But now how are we going to get the cart back to Overreach without the horse?"

<The new slaves will push it,> informed N'zorthal directly into the heads of Cramer, Khari, Marlo, and Utred - the four Jalamir slaves who wore the ring gates on necklaces through which the mind flayer had the tip of his tentacle extruded and touching their skin, by which means he was able to keep in telepathic contact with them from all the many, unknown miles away in the deep recesses of the Underdark.

"The new...?" began Marlo, sudden realization dawning on her face. That was why Elithiel, a blind elf, sought death rather than "the other path" before her - the drow would be quite brutal to any member of the elven race, their most hated enemies, brought before them.

<Yes, the new slaves,> interrupted N'zorthal. <But before they push the cart through the Writhing Gate, you must load it up with the rest of the recoverable items.>

"What do you mean?" asked Khari, looking around to see what they might have missed.

<The bodies of the slain, to include the dead horse. It will be reanimated to pull the cart back to Overreach the way you all came. And the bodies of the humans you slew will also serve similar purposes. Fetch them at once and add them to the cart.>

Cramer explained to Jhasspok - who, lacking a ring gate of his own, had heard none of the mind flayer's instructions - what needed to be done. Realizing the dead horse could be reanimated as a skeleton just as easily as a zombie, the practical lizardfolk used his sword to carve off great chunks of horseflesh from the corpse of the monster he had slain, to serve as provisions for the group while on the road. Then the remains of the equine and the bodies of the caravan drivers and of Elithiel herself were piled onto the back of the cart.

"You three: up against the front of the cart," commanded Cramer to the human fighter, the halfling paladin, and the dwarven ranger whose lives they'd thought they'd simply been sparing, not realizing they'd just turned them into Jalamir slaves. Utred cut the bindings tying their wrists together with a dagger but had his greataxe out and ready should they try anything.

"What are we supposed to do now?" groused Guthier.

"Just push," Cramer commanded, as the Writhing Gate suddenly opened directly behind the cart. "...You'll find out the rest of it on the other side."

"I won't forget this," promised Heather Thistlefoot, glaring at the five slaves. "I will find a way to track you down and make you pay for what you've done this day."

"That probably won't be as difficult as you might think," sighed Utred, thinking these three would naturally become Jalamir slaves as well once they made it back to the drow city. They'd no doubt be seeing each other again as soon as this current raiding mission was over. The cart was pushed through the gate, which then vanished once the three new slaves had made it completely through.

"I wonder if they'll see the Dying One, like we did," Marlo muttered quietly to herself. Jhasspok and Utred looked at each other with quizzical expressions, not knowing what their female friend was talking about - neither of them had experienced anything unusual when passing through the Writhing Gate. But the other three Jalamir slaves had not only seen the tentacled, decapitated head of an Elder God floating through the ether as they passed through the gate, they'd each been given the choice to serve the Dying One or suffer the consequences. Cramer, not wanting to forswear his chosen god Fharlanghn, had refused, as had Khari out of pure stubbornness. But Marlo Pendragon, given the assurances that life would go much easier for her should she swear allegiance to the Dying One, had decided on the spot to accept. Her life, after all, had been all but taken away from her; where she was once a free woman of her village she was now nothing more than a slave to the drow - why shouldn't she take any opportunity to improve her lot in life?

"So where should we go next?" asked Cramer, looking at the farmer's map.

"Greenvale's as good a place as any," Utred suggested. "And it sounds like they're looking for resources from the outside world, so they'd likely take us in without any questions."

But Jhasspok had a question. "What's that noise?" he wanted to know.

"What noise?" asked Khari.


"Oh, that? Those're just birds."

"'Birds'? What are 'birds'?"

"Y'know, birds! Little flying things."

"Bugs?" asked Jhasspok. He was at least familiar with bugs; the Underdark had plenty of bugs, but he'd never heard of these bird things.

"They're like fish," explained Utred, putting the concept into terms the inexperienced lizardfolk could understand. "Except they swim through the air instead of the water, and their fins are bigger and they're covered in feathers instead of scales. Oh, and they got two legs and a beak."

Jhasspok tried putting all of this information into a coherent image in his head. "...Those are some strange fish," he decided.

"Lotsa strange stuff up here on the surface," Utred warned the lizardfolk. "Just wait until you see rain."

"What is 'rain'?"

"Water that falls from the sky."

"Ssss-ssss-ssss-ssss-ssss-ssss!" laughed Jhasspok. "Now I know you're making this up!"

"We'll see," smirked Utred as the group hitched their new horse up to the smaller cart and headed off to Greenvale.

- - -

Logan had each of us make a Will save when we passed through the Writhing Gate and only Joey and I made our saves. So Logan took the others outside the room while Joey and I chatted about school. We didn't get to find out until the end of the session about the Dying One. Apparently he gave each of the three a choice: follow him and gain a permanent +1 to attacks and saves, or deny him and gain a -2 on attacks and saves for this entire adventure. Harry and Dan both said no and accepted the consequences, whereas Vicki - possibly out of curiosity - took Logan up on the offer. (According to Dan when he and I talked about the session the next day at work, Logan's face lit up in excitement when Vicki accepted the Dying One's offer.) And at the end of the session, Vicki asked Logan what all she needed to update on her character sheet. He showed her where to put the permanent bonuses, and when she asked if there were any changes to her alignment, all he'd say was, "Not yet...." So I think we'll have to keep an eye on Marlo from now on - there's no telling just what all is going on there. But being asked to worship a decapitated Elder God's head from the Far Realm is not likely to be a good thing! (We're also pretty sure, based on the last prophecy we received, that the Dying One is our endgame enemy and that Wee Jas is responsible for his current state.)

Also, we hadn't thought far enough ahead to realize the enemies whose surrender we'd accepted were going to wind up as slaves. Now we're going to be facing them from now on once our PCs get back to Overreach, and as they have class levels they'll likely level up as we do, providing us with a ready source of level-appropriate antagonists. That should be interesting.
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PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 2​
Jhasspok, lizardfolk 2​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 2​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 2​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 2​

Game Session Date: 8 January 2020

- - -

"I'm not taking a guard shift!" argued Cramer Appleknocker. "There are four of you - if you each take a two-hour shift, that's a full eight hours. Problem solved!"

"Yeah, or we could divide it up five ways and each get a shorter shift," rebutted Utred. "Why don't you need to pull your weight?"

"I'm a cleric! I need a full night's rest - preferably uninterrupted - if I'm going to be able to prepare my spells in the morning. You do want me to be able to heal you, don't you?"

"But what about Marlo?" asked Khari. "She casts spells - doesn't she need her sleep, the same as you?"

"Don't worry about it," scoffed Marlo. "Let him get his beauty sleep - it looks like he needs it, in any case. I'll take the first shift - that way, I'll still get a solid block of sleep instead of getting interrupted in the middle of the night for guard duty. I'll be fine."

"If you're sure...." said Khari.

"I'm sure."

"Then I'll take second shift," the Hammerslammer dwarf offered. "Wake me in two hours." He went over to one of the two tents they'd found in the wagon of goods they'd taken from the caravan earlier that day - the larger one, which they'd designated the men's tent. Utred and Cramer followed suit, the two dwarves stripping off their armor before climbing into the canvas enclosure. The smaller tent was left just for Marlo, while Jhasspok found the whole concept of erecting a portable house made of fabric completely nonsensical - he slept on the ground beside the wagon, where he could hear all of the new sounds of the forest nearby: the chirping of insects, the flapping of wings from the unseen bats, the soft nickering of the horse whose bridle they'd tied to the wagon, the distant call of something Cramer had called "loons" - whatever they were.

The next two hours passed by in relative silence, save for the background noises and the occasional snore coming from the men's tent. After judging her shift had ended by the position of the full moon, Marlo shook Khari awake and crawled off to her own small tent. The dwarf put his armor back on and spent some time by the fire, building it back up enough to keep him warm while he cleaned the dried blood from his warhammer. He'd wake the lizardfolk when his shift was up.

But it never quite came to that, for about halfway through his guard shift Khari heard the unmistakable sound of a twig snapping from the forest behind him. Turning, he squinted into the darkness of the forest, his dwarven darkvision picking out the silhouette of a female elf hiding between the trees, peering out at him. Her eyes were wide open in surprise; apparently she hadn't intended revealing her presence in this way.

Khari wasn't the smartest dwarf by any means but he knew enough to alert the others in case of potential danger - and an elf sneaking up on them in the middle of the night certainly qualified. "WAKE UP - INTRUDER!" bellowed the dwarven fighter before charging straight for the elven woman. He sent his warhammer crashing toward her head but she nimbly stepped back, dodging the swinging weapon. Khari noticed her eyes were glowing and wondered idly what that might mean - was she under some kind of spell effect? Domination of some sort, maybe?

Too late to cast the silence spell she'd hoped to cover the encampment and confused by the results of the detect evil spell she'd cast upon her own vision (How could a dwarf's beard be evil? she wondered, picking up the waves of malevolence emanating from N'zorthal's tentacle hiding beneath Khari's beard), the elf attacked the burly dwarf with her own weapon: a light mace. Her swing struck only Khari's shield, eliciting a clamor she likewise would have preferred not making - so much for stealthiness!

Utred had been awakened by Khari's cry and wasn't quite sure if he'd imagined it or not - but then he heard the unmistakable sound of a metal weapon clanging off a steel shield. Not bothering to don his armor, he grabbed up his own shield and the closest one-handed weapon at hand - his own warhammer - and ran toward the sounds of battle. His path took him by Marlo's tent so he stuck his head inside and yelled at her to get up - tired after her two-hour guard shift, she'd slept through Khari's initial warning.

Staggering out of her little tent, Marlo looked to see what the fuss was all about and by the light of the full moon she saw Khari fighting an elf in the forest on the other side of the dirt road they'd been following. The sorceress cast a magic missile from one of the spell-slots still available to her from the previous day. The spell covered the distance between the two women in a mere moment, unerringly striking the armor-clad elf.

Cramer cast a shield of faith as he crawled from the larger tent. Jhasspok woke up and stood dazedly, looking about him trying to make sense of his surroundings - it was his first night on the surface world and at first everything seemed too strange for his lizard brain to handle. "Attack the elf!" commanded the gnome. Finding the intended target, Jhasspok ran across the dirt road to do just that, his tail held out vertically behind him for balance. Fortunately, the lizardfolk wore no armor so he'd merely had to pick up his turtle shell shield and his short sword to be fully ready for combat.

Khari attacked the woman again, swinging and missing. She responded by taking a step back out of immediate reach, casting a light spell on a pebble in her hand, and flinging it straight up into the air. It landed near the dirt road passing by the slaves' campsite for the night. A signal for reinforcements, surmised Utred, quite accurately as it turned out.

By then the rest of the slaves had converged on the elf. She turned out to be quite adept at avoiding their attacks, though - almost comically so. Jhasspok tried a bear-hug grapple that she slithered out of somehow, leaving the surprised lizardfolk falling to a heap at her feet. Both dwarves swung their warhammers at her head, only to have her duck at the last moment each time. She raised her hand in a "I just want to talk" gesture after Marlo struck her with another magic missile spell and the group held back to hear what she might have to say, but the only words that spilled from her mouth immediately thereafter were those of a healing spell. Cramer by that time was close enough to note the silvery crescent moon medallion around her neck and recognized it as the holy symbol of the elven deity Correlon Larethian. But she continued to evade their attacks, gradually moving to the south as she did so.

Finally, she turned and fled at full speed - but was outrun by a now-furious Utred, whose fist-punch to the back of her head sent her reeling, unconscious, to the forest floor. "Finally!" he grunted to himself, before picking up the sounds of reinforcements coming from the south, along the dirt road. They still seemed some distance away, so the group had time to prepare for their arrival.

But the five slaves were far from a well-oiled machine when it came to tactical combat planning; everyone had their own ideas. "Let's ambush 'em!" suggested Utred and that sounded like a good plan to all, but each slave decided on his or her own how best to meet that goal. Jhasspok leaned down and picked up the unconscious elf, hoping to draw the reinforcements into attacking him if they thought they'd have to overcome the lizardfolk to rescue their cleric. Then the others could pop out from their hiding places behind trees, attacking the unsuspecting reserves. Khari hid behind a tree, ready to do just that. Cramer, however, waited for them over by the dropped pebble with the light spell, while Utred went back over to their encampment to make sure none of these newcomers to the field of battle got it into their heads to swipe the rest of their stuff. And Marlo crossed the dirt road again to hide behind her own small tent. She took the opportunity to ready her light crossbow since she was nearly out of her more powerful spells, having used up quite a bit of her daily allotment earlier the previous morning when attacking the caravan.

Four figures appeared along the road from the south, looking to be elves as well. Jhasspok by this time had gotten tired of carrying around an unconscious elf in chain mail and had plopped her down onto the back of the wagon at their camp. One of the approaching elven warriors - another woman - headed his way, trying to rescue her leader. Jhasspok turned to face the attacker and raised his shield to ward off the incoming blow but the elf was tricky and her blade went whizzing by in an arc to strike the lizardfolk from an unexpected direction. Jhasspok hissed in pain as the blade carved a path of blood across his scales.

Another elven warrior spotted Utred and Khari among the trees and altered his path to go strike the Hammerslammer dwarf. His blade struck Khari's shield with a clang and was diverted away. The other two elves rushed forward, approaching Jhasspok with hopes of surrounding the lizard-monster with overwhelming force. But Jhasspok was having none of that; with a leap forward, he snapped his jaws over the soft flesh of the female warrior's neck, ripping out her throat - and then spitting it back out in disgust, for it tasted nothing like fish!

Khari battled the elf who had singled him out, getting in a good strike with his warhammer that had the elf swooning. Utred ran up beside Jhasspok and swung his own weapon at one of the other approaching elves, while Marlo scampered up a tree and shot a ray of frost spell - she was too depleted of spell energy to cast the more powerful magic missiles - at Utred's foe.

Then Cramer cast a command spell and called out - in fluent Elven - "Fall!" to the elf standing before Jhasspok. The elf obeyed, dropping to the ground, and the cleric called for the lizardfolk to attack the now-prone enemy. Jhasspok obeyed at once, bloodying the elf (who likewise tasted nothing like fish, much to the lizardfolk's disappointment - he'd been kind of hoping the female elf had been a fluke).

With another solid blow to the temple, Khari dropped his foe like a log. The sole remaining elf looked about him, saw the five-against-one odds, and dropped his blade. "I surrender!" he called out in the Common tongue. He then figuratively spilled his guts so he wouldn't have them spilled literally.

According to the elven warrior, they had come to attack the very caravan the five Jalamir slaves had attacked earlier that day, for it had been headed to Greenvale but the members of the caravan had failed to pay their "toll." The elves of the Elderwood - of which these five elves were members - had enacted an embargo on Greenvale while they investigated a rumored connection between Greenvale and the drow of Overreach. ("Overreach!" cried Jhasspok when he heard the city of his hatching mentioned.) The elves were certain there was a connection of some sort between the two communities, for both had ironsilk - a rare commodity in the world, known by very few. With their embargo in place, the Elderwood elves had been "persuading" the human kingdoms to stop trading with Greenvale, banditry being just one way of doing so.

"We could look into that connection for you," suggested Cramer, eager to find out more about Overreach. The more he knew of his captors, he reasoned, the better he'd eventually be able to escape from their yoke.

"No need - we already have an agent in place in Greenvale," replied the elf. Then his eyes narrowed in suspicion as he noticed, for the first time, the cloaks the five slaves wore. These were the slave-light cloaks they'd taken from the assassins back in Overreach who had tried slaying the ironsilk weaver from House Ky'hulcressen; the elf recognized them as having belonged to the elite infiltration team the Elderwood forces had sent into Overreach, of which his own brother had been a member. "Where did you get those cloaks?" he demanded.

"We took them from the bodies of elves slain in Overreach," replied Jhasspok truthfully - he just left out the part where it had been the five Jalamir slaves themselves who had slain the elf assassins in the first place. The elf's eyes narrowed in suspicion and his jaw clenched at the thought that his brother was likely dead.

"So what are you planning on doing with us?" the elf demanded, looking down at the unconscious form of his male companion on the ground at Khari's feet, whose ragged breathing denoted he at least was still alive - unlike the two warriors Jhasspok had slain and partially eaten.

"We won't kill you," promised Cramer, bending down to cast a cure minor wounds spell upon the downed warrior to stabilize him; he'd previously done the same thing to the unconscious cleric laying on the back of the wagon. But then he motioned for Jhasspok to fetch the cleric and bring her here, while Khari hefted the weight of the warrior he'd knocked out. Cramer touched the illithid tentacle curling up from the ring gate necklace he wore around his neck and sent a telepathic call to N'zorthal. The Writhing Gate opened behind the unarmed elf.

"...but you might wish we had," Cramer finished, pushing their captured prisoner to stumble backwards through the Writhing Gate. Then, at the gnome's orders, Jhasspok and Khari pitched their unconscious burdens into the Writhing Gate as well. It winked back out after receiving its third elven offering and Marlo silently wondered if they would receive a vision of the Dying One on their way to the Underdark.

"Glad that's done with," growled Utred, dropping his shield and weapon by the flap of the tent and crawling back inside. "I'm beat."

"It's your shift now, Jhasspok," said Khari, pulling off his armor and getting ready to climb into the tent as well. "Wake up Utred in two hours, okay?"

"When is that?" Jhasspok asked.

Khari thought about it. "When the moon's about there," he said, pointing to the top of a clump of trees.

"Moon?" asked the lizardfolk. He'd never heard the word.

"The moon! That big round thing!" Khari snarled, pointing up at the celestial orb ruling over the night sky.

"Oh! That!" replied Jhasspok, looking up at it. "I thought it was a really big pearl." Khari just shook his head in disbelief and climbed into the tent. He shook it again when he found Cramer had somehow beaten him inside and was already snoring. Little dude's serious about his sleep!, thought the fighter.

Jhasspok squatted down by the fire and sat virtually motionless for the next three hours (for Khari's ability to calculate time via celestial navigation wasn't a finely-tuned skill, more of a vague guesstimate), his ears listening for danger while his eyes stared at the Really Big Pearl in the night sky. (Khari hadn't told him he'd go blind if he stared at it, like Utred had warned him about the fireball sun, so Jhasspok assumed it was okay to do so.) His guard shift was uneventful, as was Utred's, and Khari's miscalculation got the other slaves the extra sleep they'd missed out on during their combat excursion in the middle of the night. Cramer woke up in the morning light fully refreshed and began preparing his spells for the day.

"So, we continuing on to Greenvale?" asked Utred, looking at the map they'd taken from the caravan driver. The road through the forest would take them to the mountains, where Greenvale was indicated by a black dot.

"It's as good a place as any to check out," Marlo offered.

"Yeah, I want to see about this connection to Overreach," Cramer added. After a quick breakfast, they hitched their horse up to the wagon and headed in the direction of Greenvale.

Late morning saw them standing before an imposing wall stretching across the road. Made of stone, it stood a full 100 feet tall, the upper third or so containing carvings of what Cramer explained were members of the elven pantheon of deities. Utred and Khari looked at the wall with distrust; they seemed disturbed by its very existence. "What's the matter?" Marlo asked, noticing their discomfort.

"That wall ain't natural," Utred explained. "Well, I suppose it's 'natural,' just unnaturally so."

"That doesn't make any sense," complained Marlo.

"Best way I can explain it."

"Yeah, it just ain't right somehow," Khari added, not able to take his eyes from it as they approached.

There was an open gate in the wall before the road, beside which stood two elven guards in green ironsilk breastplates. Marlo pulled her robes tight around her, ensuring her own ironsilk armor which she wore underneath wasn't visible. The elven guards were distinctive in that one had sky blue eyes and hair to match, while the other had hair and eyes of a deep violet. Unlike the combative attitudes of the elves the slaves had encountered the night before, these elven guards had a much friendlier disposition.

"Welcome to Greenvale," greeted one with a smile and a sparkle in his eyes. If he was the least bit surprised to see a hulking lizardfolk traveling in the company of a gnome, a human, and two dwarves he gave no indication of it. "Allow me to explain the code of conduct for visitors in our fair city." Cramer listened distractedly from the driver's seat of the wagon, his attention focused on the gate behind the guards. It didn't look like an opening in the stone wall so much as a magical gate or an upright teleportation circle. The little gnome anticipated that stepping through it could take them much farther away than just directly to the other side of the stone wall.

"The rules for visitors are simple," continued the guard. "No magic is to be used inside Greenvale except for self-defense or the defense of others. Only the Common tongue is to be spoken within the trade district in order to deter underhanded dealings. No harming of others, save for in the case of self-defense or the defense of another. No attempting to climb the walls. No entry into other districts without an escort. The penalties of said actions range from a fine to imprisonment, or eternal banishment from the city if the criminal refuses either previous penalty." He smiled again at the slaves. "Are there any questions?"

There were not. The guards stepped aside and the slaves led their horse-drawn wagon through the gate into the trade district.

The effects of the embargo were immediately apparent as the slaves wandered the trade district. Despite the tightly-packed buildings (seemingly of either human design or an architectural style evocative of an elven mimicry of human design), the district had a desolate, abandoned feel to it. There were wide, open spaces seemingly designed for trade stalls or goods-wagons, but neither were currently in residence. It was, after all, difficult to do much in the way of trade if the traders from outside the city were being encouraged to stay away.

As the group meandered around the city, Utred and Marlo heard a muffled cry.

"What was that?"

"What? I didn't hear anything."

"A cry!"

"From where?"

"Over there!" Khari rushed in the direction Marlo had pointed, his warhammer out and ready for action. Jhasspok paced his dwarven fighter friend, pulling out ahead of him when he saw the elven woman lying in a pool of blood on the cobbled street of an alleyway, an elven soldier standing over her wielding a sword sheathed in green flames. The soldier wore the same type of chainmail uniform as the warriors they'd fought the night before. Cramer swore an oath under his breath, pulled up on the reins, and hopped down from the wagon, casting a longstrider spell on himself as he headed after the others. Marlo and Utred followed the gnome, leaving the horse and wagon unattended in the nearly empty trading quarter of the city.

The elf saw the approaching slaves and snarled, "Stay out of this! It doesn't concern you!" Then he, like the captured soldier the night before, recognized the slave-light cloaks that had belonged to the Elderwood infiltration team. With a glare at, he assumed, the infiltrators' killers, he charged Utred, cutting and burning the dwarf with his green-flamed longsword.

But then Jhasspok and Khari were upon the elf, the lizardfolk swinging his short sword and snapping with his sharp teeth and the dwarf bludgeoning with his warhammer. In a matter of mere moments the soldier was down from the concentrated attack. Cramer headed over to the elven woman, healing her with a spell. As she awakened, the cleric helped her to sit up and asked her why she'd been attacked.

The woman was slow to answer. Finally she replied, "Perhaps you should talk to the guards about that." That was really no answer at all.

Jhasspok took the green-flamed longsword from the soldier's dead hand and swung it experimentally, nodding approvingly. "It is a good weapon," he said. "And the flames match my cloak." Indeed, the lizardfolk had early on turned the illusory flames seemingly covering his slave-light cloak an emerald green, the better to match the reptile's scales. But then, with a sigh, he handed the sword over to Utred. "You should have it, if you want it," he said. "You took the attack from its previous owner."

"I do want it," the dwarf replied, taking the proffered weapon. Utred Butterflinger might have been born into a clan of dwarven farmers but he was a weapon-wielding barbarian at heart. It boded well for him, he thought, that the first longsword he added to his arsenal was magical in nature.

Two elven guards approached the group. Cramer, sensing an impending accusation of having broken Greenvale's code of conduct, began to explain they had been attacked but the lead guard raised a hand. "Tock saw everything," he said, as if that were all the explanation needed. The Jalamir slaves looked at each other in puzzlement until a clockwork pseudodragon flew down from the rooftops. This, apparently, was Tock. It landed on the cobblestones and arched its mechanical neck to look up at the slaves. They could hear a slight whirring noise from the creature - the sound of gears moving. Cramer, with the intrinsic gnomish appreciation for intricate mechanical devices, couldn't help but be impressed at the sight.

"I think you should come with us," said the guard in a non-hostile manner. "Just to answer a few questions." He held out a lead box and motioned silently for the slaves to remove their ring gate necklaces and place them within.

"Oh?" asked Cramer, suddenly wary but not hesitating for a second to get rid of the illithid tentacle making contact with the skin of his neck. The other three slaves dropped their necklaces into the box and the elf handed it to his partner for safekeeping.

"Just standard procedure," promised the guard, smiling broadly. "And depending on your answers, I think we may very well be able to help with your 'problem'.'" As if to emphasize his meaning, the guard slapped Utred on the middle of his back - smack-dab on the Jalamir tattoo that had been branded into place when he'd been taken as a slave.

Cramer caught the implications at once. "By all means," he said, his smile suddenly as big as the guard's.

- - -

This adventure, if nothing else, showed us the fickle nature of the Dice Gods. We took forever taking down a simple, low-level elven cleric in a five-against-one fight, were almost as a result ready to flee from what turned out to be four 1st-level warriors (we thought they'd likely give us as much trouble as the cleric had, only now we'd be up against four of them all at once), and then took down a much higher-level soldier at the end like he was a chump.

Dan's all excited at the prospect of Cramer (and the others) escaping slave-hood, but whatever happens we do realize we'll likely have to return to Overreach. Cramer still needs to rescue his cleric mentor, Honeycomb Buzzwort, and we probably ought to do our best to rescue the slaves we captured for the drow: not only the Elderwood bandits from this adventure but the halfling paladin, dwarven ranger, and human fighter we sent into slavery last adventure. And I'm sure Cramer wouldn't mind putting slavemaster Calish Jalamir and N'zorthal the mind flayer to death, either.

We all leveled up to 3rd at the end of this adventure. Unfortunately, this is Jhasspok's "dead" level, the third of three he has to pay as just a lizardfolk - and the one without an increase to Hit Dice, so that means no additional hit points, no increase in Base Attack Bonus or saves or anything (not even his token 1 skill point per level). Once we make it to 4th level I'll finally get to add a character class to him.
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The system we've evolved (over the years) is that the night after we play (generally from 6:30 to 9:00 PM on Wednesday evenings), my son Logan (the DM) writes up a "skeleton" of who did what (not necessarily a round-by-round after-action report but the general gist of things) and emails it to me. Then, beginning Thursday night, I start fleshing out that skeleton and turning it into Story Hour fodder. Usually I have the story finished and spellchecked on Saturday, then I wait until Sunday morning to post it (with a fresh set of eyes - it's amazing the mistakes you find after having not looked at it for a day!). Most of the conversations are more or less stuff the players had their PCs say but sometimes I take liberties and turn a series of questions from the players to the DM and his answers into in-game conversations. And Logan's "skeleton" usually includes any relevant NPC quotes he wants to make sure end up in the write-up.

We do the same thing for our other campaign, "The Kordovian Adventurers Guild," although since I'm the DM for that one I do up my own skeleton the night after we play. (Those sessions are usually on Saturdays from noon until 5 or 6 PM.) We've found doing up the skeleton right away, when it's still fresh in your mind, really helps. That way, if something comes up and I don't get to do the fleshing out until days later I've at least captured enough to document the important stuff that happened during the session.

But I'm glad to hear you're enjoying the Story Hour! We're having a lot of fun - certainly a lot more than we'd have thought when we were told our PCs would be starting out as slaves of the drow.


I have my kids write up their versions first and then I smooth it out and edit it. That way, they are responsible for remembering quests and quest givers and picking up on clues. I do like your method, though.

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