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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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ADVENTURE 1: FESTIVAL OF BLOOD

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 the 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.

"What?"

"My name is Jhasspok."

"That's what I said."

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

"Jhasspok."

"No, Jhasspok."

"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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ADVENTURE 2: TRIAL RUN

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 as 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 a 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 withing 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.

"N-no...no, 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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ADVENTURE 3: A TRIP TO THE SLAVE MARKET

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 beside 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 this...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!
 

ADVENTURE 4: JOURNEY TO THE WRITHING GATE

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 so...open 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 awhile."

"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 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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ADVENTURE 5: FUN IN THE SUN

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.

<Correct.>

"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.

"That...singing."

"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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ADVENTURE 6: PASSIVE AGGRESSION

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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I'm enjoying this so far. Do you take notes on the conversations, or do you just make them up afterward based upon what happened during the session?
 

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.

Johnathan
 

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.
 

ADVENTURE 7: THE TRUTH OF GREENVALE

PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 3​
Jhasspok, lizardfolk 3​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 3​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 3​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 3​

Game Session Date: 15 January 2020

- - -

The elven guards led the five Jalamir slaves into a building. They were surprised to see a long table awaiting them in what was quite obviously a banquet hall; lunch was brought out for them while Tock observed everything from his perch at one end of the table. Jhasspok, puzzling over a suitable chair configuration (he eventually turned it sideways so his tail could hang off the back end without running up against the chair's back, which then served as an armrest for his left arm), was surprised to see the lunch that had been prepared for him: a wooden bucket, inside which were a pair of actual fish! And normal fish, too, with proper fins and everything - not those weird fish with legs and wings that sat on tree branches and sang.

"These are for me to eat?" Jhasspok asked. He had assumed that to be the case but didn't want to have guessed wrong.

"By all means," smiled the lead elven guard - the one with the purple hair and eyes. "Please, enjoy your meals while we talk." The other four slaves had a quite different fare, served on plates with the standard eating utensils. They tucked into their meals but before Utred started on his own plate of food he asked the elves if he could keep Jhasspok's bucket after the lizardfolk had finished with it.

"I, uh - sure, I suppose," stuttered the blue-haired elf. It wasn't a question he'd been expecting. Marlo frowned at the dwarven barbarian, wondering what his fetish about buckets was all about.

Jhasspok reached into his pouch and pulled out a slave-coin. "I will give you this square piece of metal for the fish," he offered.

"No, that's not necessary," replied the guard, smiling. Jhasspok frowned in confusion; he thought he'd finally had this "money" thing figured out but apparently it was more complicated than he had imagined.

"Before we begin our discussions in earnest," began the purple-haired elf, "I would like to point out that this entire building has a false-image anti-scrying field around it: anybody casting a scry spell - say, through your tattoos, for instance - will receive a false image of you doing something perfectly innocuous." He didn't mention the room was also covered in a zone of truth spell; if these slaves tried lying to their elven hosts, they'd know the falsehoods for what they were. Of course, that worked both ways but at least the elves were aware of the situation and could choose their words accordingly.

"You know about our tattoos?" asked Cramer. The little gnome wasn't particularly surprised, as the guards had intimated as much before ushering them in here. The fact they'd also known about the ring gate necklaces by which the mind flayer N'zorthal kept track of them also spoke volumes about how much they understood the ways of the drow of the Overreach. How they knew so much was a mystery Cramer was itching to find out.

"We know quite a bit," the guard replied. "But what we'd like to know is how much House Jalamir knows about Greenvale."

Cramer gave the question some thought. "I'm not aware of any of the drow knowing about Greenvale," he answered truthfully. "If they did, they never discussed it with us."

"We only learned about it ourselves yesterday," Khari added, chewing on a chicken leg. "The caravan people we attacked had said they were coming here, and we saw it on the map we took from them."

"May I ask about your hair?" interrupted Marlo. "It's very distinctive. I've never seen elves with blue or purple hair."

The purple-haired elf smiled again. "Some of us born in Greenvale are born with an unusual hair and eye color," he replied. "Those of us with such a trait who go on to develop magical talents often find their spell effects tend to reflect the same color. Were I a wizard, for example, my magic missiles would undoubtedly be purple." Marlo found the concept intriguing.

"May I ask how you came to the surface?" asked the purple-haired elf, returning the conversation to more important points.

"There's this thing called the Writhing Gate," began Cramer. "It's a sort of immobile teleportation circle without a set end-point; it's activated from its Underdark location by mind flayers working for the drow of Overreach, who used it to send us to the surface. At the end of our two-week scouting session it'll open back up and we'll use it to return. My understanding is that N'zorthal can program it to send us pretty much anywhere. And it's open-ended: he set it to drop us next to a caravan, but not any particular one."

"Interesting," replied the guard.

"You don't know the half of it! It looks like ten long tentacles, and that's exactly what they are - but they're just the tips of ten out a hundred or so tentacles coming from the severed head of an eldritch monstrosity called the Dying One." Cramer looked over to Marlo as he said this but the sorceress was suddenly devoting her full attention to her salad. In so doing, the gnomish cleric missed the astonished looks the two elven guards gave each other.

"Can you tell us more of this Dying One?"

"I don't know much more myself, but we met up with this blind elven prophet in the caravan we attacked and she said something about needing to finish what Wee Jas had started. I gather it was her, the Goddess of Death and Magic, who brought the Dying One to his, well, dying state. I gather he's an Elder God or something." Cramer took a bite of his food and then said, "My turn for a question: what's the connection between Greenvale and Overreach, exactly? And why do the elves of the Elderwood hate you guys so much?"

"We have covert agents inside Overreach," explained the lead guard. "They were uncovered by the Elderwood agents, who then assumed we had been working together."

"Those assassins we fought?" Marlo asked. "The fake drow?"

"Yes, they were Elderwood agents," explained the purple-haired elf.

"Pity they were really just elves with full-body tattoos making them look like drow," Cramer interjected. "I'd have been happier knowing it was actual drow we'd killed. If I had my way, I'd see all the damned drow dead!" The two guards gave each other a significant glance at that remark.

"So your agents, were they in the same get-up?" asked Utred. "Full-body tattoos making them look like drow?" The question seemed to make the purple-haired elf uncomfortable; finally, he hesitantly answered, "...No."

"Magic, then, I guess," hazarded Utred. He was a simple dwarf, "magic" was a believable answer to anything he didn't understand. But the elven guards didn't answer, allowing the barbarian to drawn his own conclusions, even if they were erroneous.

However, Cramer had picked up on the elves' evasiveness. He stared at the two elves sitting across the table from him, focusing the full powers of his concentration on the one with the blue hair. The elf returned the gnome's gaze somewhat nervously, wondering what the suspicious stare was all about. He let a hand stray unconsciously to the back of his head, running his fingers absently through his blue hair.

"Crap!" exploded Cramer, leaping down from his chair and grabbing for the mace hanging at his belt.

"What is it?" demanded Marlo, looking up from her meal at the sudden commotion.

"They're drow!" Cramer called. "It's a trap!" But despite the accusation, the two elves remained calmly sitting at the banquet table, making no sudden moves to attack. Khari looked at the elves, then back over to Cramer. "Those aren't drow," he tried explaining to his gnomish friend, trying to figure out how the little cleric could have made such an obvious mistake. "Drow have black skin, for one thing."

With a sigh and an exasperated look between each other, the two elves reached up behind their heads and pulled at something unseen. "No, Cramer is quite correct," replied the purple-haired guard. At once, the skin of the two elves darkened to an almost black color as the guards pulled away invisible ribbons they'd had in their hair like headbands. Their oddly-colored hair, however, remained the same vibrant blue and purple hues. "We are, in fact, drow - but we are not allies of the drow in Overreach. Quite the opposite, in fact."

Cramer looked from one to the other of the drow, his mace still in his hand. "You'd better explain," he suggested.

"We are 'sunborn' drow," the lead guard said. "For some reason not fully understood, drow born on the surface and exposed to the sun at birth have hair and eye colors not normally associated with the normal members of our race. We are different from normal drow in other ways as well: we do not live in the Underdark, do not worship Lolth, and do not take slaves to be sacrificed to their insane Spider-Bitch."

"Wait," interrupted Marlo. "Are you saying...Greenvale is a drow city? The whole city - drow, not elves?"

"It is indeed. Hence our prohibitions against spellcasting within the city limits: we don't want our illusions to be seen through, as the outside world believes Greenvale to be an isolated elven community." He turned to Cramer. "How did you see through our illusions without casting any spells?" he asked, clearly intrigued.

Cramer put his mace down and climbed back into his chair; it seemed his initial reaction might have been unwarranted. "Gnomes and illusions go hand in hand," he offered. "If you suspect you're looking at an illusion, sometimes that's all it takes to see through the fakery and see what's real underneath." He thought back about his statement about wishing every drow dead. "Uh, about what I said earlier..." he began.

The purple-haired drow raised a hand. "Never mind," he reassured. "It is an understandable sentiment, but one I would hope might be amended now that you are aware of our quite different offshoot of the drow race." Then he got back to the topic at hand. "As far as Overreach goes, your House Jalamir poses the greatest threat. The Writhing Gate is particularly worrisome and something we will need to deal with, in time. But in the meantime, may I guess it is not in your interests to remain House Jalamir slaves for the rest of your lives?" He saw he had the undivided attention of all five slaves. "I thought not. Well, we have the power to remove your tattoos, but to do so would be to tip off House Jalamir you had all gained your freedom - and your current master, Calish, has been known to make examples out of the friends of escaped slaves."

"Yes," confirmed Jhasspok. "I have seen him do so." Cramer's face darkened at this thought, knowing his friend and mentor Honeycomb Buzzwart would pay the price of Cramer gaining his immediate freedom.

"Therefore, I suggest an alternative plan, one which may be instrumental in Greenvale's plans to take down House Jalamir. We will alter your tattoos, removing your inhibitions against harming drow, for one thing" - and Cramer grinned broadly at this thought - "and adding in the same type of magic that currently covers this building: if any drow were to scry on you through your tattoos they would pick up a false image of you doing something innocuous." Jhasspok and Khari looked askance at each other, neither having the slightest clue what "innocuous' might mean but trusting in their friends to decide whether to go along with this deal.

"What about N'zorthal?" Marlo asked. "By now he knows we've been disconnected from his mind. He'll know something is up - and if we put those necklaces back on he'll be able to pick up our thoughts about this conversation, about any deal we make here - about everything!"

"You need have no fears on those fronts," assured the lead guard. "The same type of magic is already in play. Your mind flayer overseer is currently under the impression that you're still wearing the necklaces and all is well - you're exploring the elven city of Greenvale to see what resources we might have that Overreach could take, as instructed. The necklaces can be modified to give him false sensations even when his tentacles are touching your skin. So, what do you say?"

Cramer didn't need much time to come to a decision. "I'm in," he said.

"As am I," added Marlo.

"Yep," said Utred.

"Sure," said Khari - if it was good enough for his fellow dwarven warrior, it was good enough for him.

"I am confused," admitted Jhasspok. "We will stop being Jalamir slaves and become Greenvale slaves?"

"Not slaves, no," started Marlo but then Utred cut in; he'd become somewhat adept at explaining things to the inexperienced lizardfolk. "We're going to pretend to still be Jalamir slaves, but we'll really be secret Greenvale slaves instead. And then, when we help take down House Jalamir, we'll be all done being slaves!"

"That's not entirely--" began Marlo.

"He understands being a slave and working for a master," Utred interrupted. "Right now, that's all he understands. For now, we'll get him working for the right master and later we can get him used to the idea of freedom." He turned back to Jhasspok. "Tell them you're in," he said.

"I'm in," dutifully reported Jhasspok. Things were so much easier when somebody told him what to do! He returned his attention to the last fish still swimming around in his bucket.

The tattoos were modified that very afternoon, after which time the group was allowed to rest for the remainder of the day. The following morning, they'd been told, they would be undergoing a final test. Cramer pushed for details but was rebuffed. "I'm sure you'll do fine," he was informed. They spent the night in comfortable guest quarters.

The next morning the five were brought back to the building with the banquet hall but instead of being greeted with a lavish spread they went immediately to a set of stairs leading down. There was a small library room with bookshelves on either side and a pair of double doors at the far end. The same two guards were acting as their escorts; not having been provided their names, the slaves referred to them as "Purple" and "Blue" when discussing them amongst themselves. And despite the slaves knowing full well their status as sunborn drow, they apparently had their headbands of disguise back on for they gave all appearances of being light-skinned surface elves - no doubt because their duties involved walking through the city above where they might be seen by a visitor.

"Your trial is a rather simple one," Purple explained. "You will be locked into one of our silk farms. Your task is merely to find the silver key hidden somewhere within which will unlock the doors. Do so and you will have passed the test. I only ask that you try not to kill too many of our silk producers. If it helps, they have been trained to fear the color purple." He smiled again, causing Cramer to wonder if the fear of the color purple had anything to do with the sunborn drow's own natural hair and eye color. If so, that might not be a good sign!

Purple opened the doors and ushered the five slaves inside. "Good luck!" he called, closing the doors behind them. There was the sound of a lock being engaged. Just to be sure, Khari tried the door - it was locked, as expected.

"So what's the plan?" he asked. "If needs be, I can knock this door down with my hammer in no time flat."

"I hardly think that's the intention of this trial," chided Marlo, looking out into the cavern ahead of them. They were in a rather cramped area at present with a purple energy field of some sort immediately in front of them but just beyond it widened out into a vast cavern with tall ceilings hidden in darkness. The cavern was unlit but from the light of the slave-light cloaks the group could see the floor was covered in hundreds - if not thousands - of spiders of varying sizes, from little ones smaller than the palm of a hand to a few almost as large as Jhasspok.

"First things first," said Cramer. "Slave-light cloaks to purple." With a mental command, the illusory flames emanating from his cloak changed colors to a deep violet. The others followed suit. Then, one by one, they stepped through the field of purple energy (a permanent repel vermin spell, keeping the spiders from leaving the area) and into the vast cavern beyond.

"Look for a silver key," Khari reminded Jhasspok, stepping cautiously into the cavern, his warhammer gripped tightly in his hands. By the expression on his face, the fearless Hammerslammer dwarf was not a particular fan of spiders. Khari went right so Jhasspok went left, each exploring the edges of the vast cavern in a different direction, looking for the telltale glint of silver. Marlo followed Khari but stayed farther from the wall, extending the scope of their search. She noticed the spiders all did their best to stay out of range of the purple illumination from their cloaks.

With his dwarven darkvision, which extended far beyond the reach of the light from the cloaks, Utred saw a thick section of webbing hanging suspended from the ceiling like a stalactite towards the middle of the cavern. He pushed forward to go check it out. The spiders scurried to get out of his way but the occasional crunch from beneath his boots indicated not all of them did so successfully. As he approached, he saw the webbing was a cocoon binding somebody tightly inside. Pulling a short sword from his belt, Utred carefully cut the webbing away, revealing a drow woman with white hair - so not a sunborn drow, then. She was breathing but unconscious.

Cramer finally stepped into the cavern proper and cast a spell he thought would be particularly useful in this trial: a locate object spell. Concentrating on the image of a silver key, the gnome's gaze was directed up toward the cavern's ceiling...where he locked eyes with a creature standing upside-down on the stone ceiling. A silver key dangled from a necklace he wore around his neck. Focusing immediately on the key at first, Cramer eventually noticed the build of the creature wearing it. From the waist up he appeared to be a drow - with silver hair, well within the normal color standards of that race. From the waist down, however, his body was that of an enormous, silver spider, whose eight legs were spread out in a wide circle ensuring his firm grip on the cavern ceiling. In each hand he held a longsword.

"Erm...hello," said Cramer. "I wonder if we might borrow that key for a moment?"

T'puuli Tyne said nothing but was silently intrigued and somewhat impressed that the gnome's initial reaction to seeing a drider was to attempt negotiations rather than immediately attack. Still, he understood the party's true test was what they would do with Niradi so he walked across the ceiling towards Cramer, then scampered down the wall in a rush until he stood directly before him, longswords out and pointed in the gnome's direction.

Utred, however, had his back turned to all of this and was paying more attention to the unconscious drow woman in his arms, for he had sliced through the webbing keeping her cocoon hanging from the ceiling. And now, there at her throat, he saw what he'd at first taken for a necklace ornament: a silver key! "Guys!" he called. "I found it!" Rather than try to remove the necklace from her, he hoisted the entire cocoon and started lugging her back to the double doors.

Jhasspok had made it to the back of the cavern by then and Marlo and Khari were across the way from him when Utred called out his findings. They all turned and saw Utred hauling a cocooned form back toward the doors, which led them to seeing Cramer facing the drider. "We don't want to take it from you permanently," Cramer insisted. "We'll give it right back, that's my absolute promise to you."

"What's he trying to do?" Jhasspok asked, catching up to the dwarven barbarian.

"Get the drider to give him the key," Utred answered.

"What drider? Where? Is he behind the elf-spider thing?"

"The drider is the elf-spider thing!" hissed Utred.

With sudden realization, Jhasspok hit upon why the gnome's dealings were not meeting with success: Cramer had forgotten about money! Reaching into his pack, Jhasspok called out to the drider, "I will give you a square piece of metal for the key!" When that failed, he tried sweetening the deal by upping it to two slave-coins, then two slave-coins and a dried dung beetle snack from his personal stock. The drider just stared at the approaching lizardfolk impassively, his blades still pointed at Cramer.

"If you do not give us the key," threatened Jhasspok, "I will attack you with my sword." He pulled out his short sword, hoping to get the drider to face him and move his own two longswords away from Cramer's neck. But still then drider held off his attacks and by doing so he made Marlo hesitant to throw a magic missile his way - it seemed wrong to initiate combat against someone who had so far done them no harm.

"Very well," said T'puuli, sheathing his swords in a rapid maneuver. "This trial has been successfully completed to my satisfaction."

"Found the key," beamed Utred, nodding to the woman bound up in his arms. Then, seeing the silver key around the drider's neck, he corrected himself with, "Found two of 'em!" He set down his burden as the others approached.

"Isn't that--?" began Marlo, recognizing the unconscious drow woman before her. She couldn't dredge up her name but it was the apprentice weaver they'd rescued from the House Jalamir slave market in Overreach.

"Niradi Ky'hulcressen," supplied T'puuli while Cramer cast a healing spell on the apprentice weaver. She regained consciousness as Utred cut the rest of the web-cocoon away. "Hello again," she said to the burly dwarf.

"The true nature of your test," said T'puuli, "was what you would do to a helpless drow before you. The fact that you refused to attack me as well is merely an additional indicator of your worthiness to the task at hand."

"What exactly are you?" demanded Khari.

"I am a drider, but not one in the traditional sense. Many years ago, my mother, a traditional drow woman, fell in love with a celestial. This angered Lolth, who cursed my birth, causing me to be born in this form."

"What's a celestial?" whispered Jhasspok, looking to Utred who usually had the answers.

Utred thought about it for a moment. "A sky-fish," he answered quietly.

"Oh. Thanks," whispered Jhasspok back. That Utred sure was smart!

"My mother was from House Ky'hulcressen. They worship Eilistraee, who they believe to be the true drow goddess, and view the rest of the drow to have been kidnapped by Lolth. The surface city of Greenvale was founded by House Ky'hulcressen, as a haven for those not fully corrupted by the Spider-Bitch. Unfortunately, the Elderwood elves refuse to acknowledge any distinction between Eilistraee and Lolth, viewing all drow as inherently evil. They have slain the ambassadors we have sent out into the wider world, forcing Greenvale to hide our true nature from the rest of the surface."

"That's terrible!" commiserated Marlo.

"House Jalamir, we have determined, is our greatest threat from the Overreach, as with the Writhing Gate under their control they have become the primary source of slaves for the city and thus the greatest threat toward Greenvale's attempts at peace with the surface races. We believe, with the aid of the nearby surface kingdoms, we can coordinate an assault on House Jalamir, ending their threat to the world once and for all. To that eventual end, we will need you to act as spies against Jalamir. You must keep up the pretense of 'serving' Calish for the time being, all while actively working to overthrow the drow of Overreach."

"I'm in!" Cramer said at once and the other four all followed suit.

"So what do we do next?" asked Marlo.

"Your current mission on the surface is to explore the area and see what resources are available for plunder by House Jalamir," explained T'puuli. "While you are doing that, you can serve as Greenvale ambassadors in our stead. The local kingdoms will not automatically try to kill you, as you do not have the black skin of a drow." Discussing the matter further, the group decided against returning to the Elderwood to try to plead their case - they were already too suspicious of the Jalamir slaves wearing the magic cloaks of their own assassins; better by far to approach several of the other nearby kingdoms and convince them of Greenvale's trustworthiness. Perhaps, in the future, a coalition of allied kingdoms would have a better chance of swaying the Elderwood to their cause.

"We will give you silk to deliver to the nearest human kingdom," suggested T'puuli. "Rather than go back through the Elderwood the way you came, you can cut through the rugged landscape to go there by a more direct path. And while you're there, you'll be collecting information for Calish about the resources available in the lands above, just as you've been directed to do."

"I like it," said Cramer.

- - -

This adventure didn't go anywhere near how Logan expected, he confessed to us (after we completed the session over an hour earlier than anticipated). For one thing, he hadn't taken Dan's inherent suspiciousness into account and thus hadn't been planning on having us know the Greenvale elves were all drow until later. Then we surprised him again by not leaping into battle with the drider. (The mini had been a Christmas present; I teased him later that he'd spent much more time painting it than being able to put it to much use.)

So, not much in the way of combat this time - in fact, I think our only die rolls were initiative when we entered the cavern - oh, and Dan's Will save to see through the illusory disguises of Purple and Blue. And Logan showed Joey the Niradi Ky'hulcressen initiative card when Utred first cut her from the cocoon, but he didn't recognize her - I guess all drow women look alike to a battle-hardened dwarven barbarian!

I also want to document a fantastic pun. When T'puuli was describing how the Elderwood elves saw no difference between Lolth and Eilistraee, Dan asked, "Really? Did you show them an eilistration of what they look like?" Everyone groaned - but in my case it was at not having come up with that myself first!
 
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ADVENTURE 8: OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE FIELDS

PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 3​
Jhasspok, lizardfolk 3​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 3​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 3​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 3​

Game Session Date: 22 January 2020

- - -

The wagon was loaded up with trade goods - mostly exotic-looking silks - and the sunborn drow of Greenvale gave the group directions to the human kingdom of Kravyrn, recommending they camp at the crumbling tower then head east to get to the narrowest part of the river. They even provided two hefty wooden boards, 5 feet wide and twice that long, to help the horse and wagon cross the river. Kravyrn, they were told, was northeast from the point of the river crossing.

The directions, it turned out, were spot on; the group had no difficulties in finding their way to the river, which had carved a deep gorge in the rock face of the ground, its waters a mere few inches from the top of the hardened stone on either side of it. As the group of five slaves approached, Cramer driving the wagon and Marlo riding behind him among the trade goods, with the dwarves walking to the right and Jhasspok on the left flank, they could see the river varied from 5 to 10 feet wide; the makeshift bridge they carried with them would span the waterway just fine. However, Jhasspok saw a fallen tree already crossing the span of the river, and while he knew the wagon couldn't cross over the log the lizardfolk felt it was worth checking out. A pile of rocks stood just to the right of the makeshift bridge on the far side, just before a slight hill. For a moment he saw some sort of canine muzzle peek from behind the rocks, but whatever it was it ducked back out of view and Jhasspok gave it no further thought; this crazy, topside world was filled with all sorts of unusual creatures but so far most of them (the singing, winged fish in the trees; the butterflies whose flight patterns seemed completely drunken; the ridiculous-looking "bunnies" with obnoxiously long ears and tails that looked like no tail Jhasspok had ever seen before) were completely harmless.

Racing forward and stepping onto the impromptu bridge, Jhasspok looked over the edge into the clear water, judging it to be likely about 20 feet deep. He saw his reflection in the water, but then it flinched and grew larger and belatedly Jhasspok realized it wasn't his reflection at all but another lizardfolk swimming in the river, surfacing to come check him out.

This new lizardfolk reached the surface and allowed only his eyes to protrude out of the water, a stance Jhasspok himself had used often when fishing. Then it raised its whole head out and began speaking softly and sibilantly in a language Jhasspok recognized as Draconic.

Oddly enough, Jhasspok did not speak Draconic, despite it being the traditional language of his people. But Jhasspok was not a traditional member of his race; his egg, laid on the surface world, had been taken during a surface raid by the drow and he hatched into slavery in the Underdark, where he was the only member of his race in all of the Overreach. Like every member of his race, he came into the world with an instinctive understanding of the basics of the Draconic language but he'd never had this core knowledge nurtured and it had mostly dried up from disuse. Ironically, Marlo spoke Draconic fluently, it being a popular language in which to discuss arcane matters; to Jhasspok, it was mostly gibberish, although he found he could occasionally pick up the likely meaning of a word here and there. And he did pick up a specific name, given its similarity to his own: at one point, this other lizardfolk - the only other member of his own race he'd ever seen - had mentioned someone named Jhossepok, whoever he might be.

The two lizardfolk stood transfixed, one staring down from an overturned tree at the other, mostly submerged in a river. Neither saw the canine head peer over the pile of rocks again - but Khari did and recognized it at once for what it was. "Gnoll!" he cried out. "Ambush!"

Cramer reacted by pulling back on the horse's reins to bring the wagon to a halt and casting a spiritual weapon spell which, the gnome being a cleric of Fharlanghn - God of Travelers - took on the shape of a quarterstaff. It materialized just above the gnoll's head and swung down at the beast, who saw it out of the corner of his eye at the last possible moment and ducked in time to avoid being walloped.

Utred, however, had headed over to the wagon upon seeing the river and fetched the planks of wood that would form the bridge over the swiftly-flowing river. Intent upon his task, he hadn't noticed the gnoll, nor had he heard his fellow dwarf's warning. Hefting the planks upon one burly shoulder, he continued his tuneless whistling and set about setting up the bridge for the horse and wagon to cross.

Marlo leaped down from the wagon and rushed over behind Jhasspok. She saw the other lizardfolk in the water, heard his sibilant speech, and translated what he was saying to Jhasspok. "He says his name is Khassek, you look an awful lot like the great chief Jhossepok, and he invites you to dine with him and his gnoll buddies upon the soft-skins. Hey!" Belatedly, she realized she was one of the "soft-skins" being offered up as a meal! But by then Khassek had pulled himself up onto the bank and stabbed at the small human sorcerer with his masterwork shortspear. Marlo stepped aside just in time to avoid being pierced by the spear's tip.

As one, the gnoll force showed themselves, some popping up from behind the pile of stones and others rising from their prone positions at the far side of the small hill just beyond. Three carried bows and shot at Cramer (none hit), while one raced up to Jhasspok on the log to slash at him with his battleaxe. Jhasspok wheeled to face the approaching enemy, ducking beneath the blade and slashing at the gnoll with his own masterwork short sword, likewise missing - but then clamping his reptilian jaws onto the hyena-man's arm. The gnoll howled in pain.

Khari had his warhammer out and ran up behind Khassek, flanking him with Marlo, who had likewise turned to face her attacker. The dwarf got in a decent hit with the full force of his muscles behind the swing and Marlo let loose with a pair of magic missiles, which struck the lizardfolk unerringly in the chest. He let out a hiss of pain.

Cramer followed up his spiritual weapon spell - which struck once more at its original target and missed again - with a sound burst spell, centered in the cluster of gnolls and hitting all of them. None looked particularly hurt by the sudden blast of noise, although one of the archers was momentarily stunned into immobility.

The sounds of the combat unfolding all around him muffled by the roar of the rushing river and his own whistling, and the view blocked by the rough boards he hoisted on his shoulder, Utred carefully set himself to the task of placing the planks across the span of the river, thereby creating a bridge by which the horse-drawn wagon of trade goods could easily cross. The fact he was also creating an easy way for the gnolls to reach their prey was completely lost on the dwarven barbarian.

Khassek barked orders to the gnolls in their own language and advanced again on Marlo, this time biting her on the shoulder. Hearing her cry of pain, Jhasspok whirled around from his position on the back of the tree-trunk bridge and stabbed his sword into the other reptile's side; Khassek might be a member of his own race but Marlo was a fellow slave and a friend. Khari tried bopping the reptile with his hammer again but missed.

Two more arrows went whizzing by Cramer's head, then one of the axe-wielding gnolls went racing across the bridge Utred had so nicely provided and swung at the dwarf with his battleaxe, only narrowly missing when the barbarian stood back up from his plank-placing and saw the danger fast approaching. The gnoll facing Jhasspok jumped the river span, crossing with ease - but Jhasspok's sword cut him down in mid-leap and he fell, unconscious, into the river to be swept away and likely drown.

Cramer leaped down from the wagon and ran over to Utred, who was just now realizing the entire group was in a pitched battle for their very lives. The gnome cast a shield of faith spell on himself as he scampered over to the dwarven barbarian, who pulled his own greataxe from his back and hefted it in a familiar, two-handed grip. Cramer knew well what came next: with a roar of anger, Utred brought the axe down upon the gnoll standing before him - the gnoll who suddenly found himself wishing he'd stayed on his side of the river.

Marlo pulled herself free from Khassek's teeth and took a few steps backwards, giving herself enough room to cast another magic missile spell at the lizardfolk. He was wearying mightily and feeling quite a bit of pain; nonetheless, he snapped at the human again and when Jhasspok's sword came swiping down at him again he fell to the ground and lay still. Jhasspok thought that odd for a moment, for he could have sworn his blade had missed Khassek - as indeed it had - but he swung his attention back to the tree trunk bridge before him as another gnoll approached and he suddenly had other, more pressing things to worry about. The gnoll swung his axe at Jhasspok, who deflected it off his turtle-shell shield, and then the lizardfolk stabbed the hairy beast-man in the gut with his sword. The gnoll fell off the tree-trunk bridge and into the river, to be washed away downstream with Jhasspok's first victim.

Seeing no enemies in the immediate vicinity - for he'd also assumed Jhasspok had brought down the other lizardfolk who'd been chewing on Marlo - Khari headed over to help Utred fight off his foe. But Cramer got there first, slaying the gnoll with a well-placed strike of his mace. Utred wasted no time, racing across his own bridge to charge the gnoll archers on the slight hill.

Marlo pulled her arcane blade from her belt and held it at Khassek's throat, for she had seen perfectly well that Jhasspok's blade had missed the reptile's head despite the follow-on acting job to the contrary. "Not...necessary," the lizardfolk hissed in Draconic. "Toss aside your weapon!" Marlo commanded in the same language and Khassek complied at once, rolling his shortspear away out of immediate reach.

Cramer, Khari, and Jhasspok converged upon the remaining gnoll archers, catching up to Utred who was already bringing his greataxe to bear. The gnolls didn't last long under their combined attacks. Then, while Marlo kept Khassek covered, the others went to check out the gnoll campsite, which consisted of a pair of leather tents. Inside they found considerable loot: two circlets and a chest of coins. (Marlo would later, through the use of a detect magic spell, learn one of the circlets was magical in nature; subsequent experimentation would determine it to be a circlet of persuasion.)

But then the questioning of their prisoner began. As Khassek spoke only Draconic (besides a smattering of Gnoll he'd picked up) and Marlo was the only one of the slaves who spoke that language, she was the one doing the questioning (and translating for the benefit of the other slaves). She learned the following: that Khassek had been a loyal warrior to the great chief Jhossepok, leader of the Lakewood tribe of lizardfolk. Jhossepok's mate had laid two eggs, although one of them had been destroyed under suspicious circumstances. Upon Jhossepok's death, the surviving son Jhesspak took over the tribe and eventually exiled Khassek. He was astonished to find out Jhasspok shared the name of the chief's unhatched (and supposedly destroyed) son.

"Wait," Cramer interrupted at this point. "If the egg was destroyed and never hatched, how do you know what the unborn lizardfolk's name would have been?" At this, both Jhasspok and Khassek gave the gnome questioning glances. "All in the tribe know the coming name of the hatchling inside each egg, upon its being laid," Khassek explained. "Is it not the same with your people?" Marlo explained it was not and then Jhasspok pointed out that upon being hatched, he instinctively knew not only the basics of the Draconic language but also his own name. In fact, he had trouble believing anybody could be born not already knowing their own name.

"Do you understand what happened here?" Marlo prompted the lizardfolk slave. "This Jhossepok lost an egg that would have hatched a lizardfolk named Jhasspok. Your egg was taken by the drow and you hatched in the Underdark."

"Yes," agreed Jhasspok, not understanding in the least. "So there would have been another lizardfolk out there, somewhere, with the same name as me."

"No, not another lizardfolk, Jhasspok," began Marlo. "You are--"

"Never mind," interrupted Utred. "We've wasted enough time on this. Jhasspok: if we allow this Khassek to live, would you like him to take you to this tribe of lizardfolk so you could meet up with others of your kind?"

Jhasspok's scaly brow-ridges crinkled in confusion. "Why would I--?" he began, thinking, You are others of my kind: slaves. To Jhasspok, he was a slave to the drow primarily and a lizardfolk as a distinct second.

"So, do we let this guy live?" Cramer asked, pointing to Khassek, confident the reptile wouldn't understand what he was saying. "We could give him to Jhasspok as a personal servant or something."

"What do you think, Jhasspok?" Marlo asked. "Should we let him live?" Jhasspok just shrugged. Why not? "And would you want him to travel with us? With you?" Jhasspok just shrugged again; it made little difference to him. "What does he want?" he asked Marlo. The sorcerer put the question to Khassek and was told he had no desire to travel with soft-skins but was perfectly happy with being given the gnolls to eat, their alliance having been one of mere convenience.

"Let's go," suggested Khari. They took the horse and wagon over their makeshift bridge, Utred put the wooden planks back on board the wagon, and the group headed northeast, leaving a contented Khassek taking bites out of dead gnoll flesh.

- - -

After making camp for the night, the group set off again the next morning. Around mid-morning the first village in the kingdom of Kravyrn became visible in the distance, but this was mostly because of the smoke rising ominously from several points. "That's from more than even a bonfire," observed Utred. "Burning buildings, likely. Prob'ly raiders of some type."

The dwarf's prediction was proven true some time thereafter when the five slaves and their horse-drawn wagon intersected the path of another wagon coming back from their successful raid. This wagon, however, was not drawn by a horse or pony but a creature Utred called a worg, a horse-sized wolf. On its back sat a goblin; riding on the wagon were three goblin archers; helping push the wagon were two more goblins; and by the side of the wagon strode two more goblins, the one in the back wearing an elaborate headdress of feathers and jingling beads on leather cords.

Once again Cramer pulled back on his reins, bringing the horse to a halt - he didn't want their only mode of transportation hurt in any ensuing combat. The little gnome leaped down from the wagon and scooped up a handful of pebbles from the ground, casting a magic stone spell upon them. He then strode slowly toward the goblins, wanting to close the distance between them but wary in case any of them decided to charge. He dropped the first stone into his sling as the goblin wagon likewise stopped moving, the green-skinned humanoids looking suspiciously at this new group of arrivals and weighing their likely combat capabilities. The two goblins from the back of the wagon ran around the sides to check this new group out.

Marlo cast a mage armor spell upon herself, adding slightly to the protection already afforded by the ironsilk armor she wore beneath her robes. Khari and Utred both advanced, taking up defensive positions and ready to strike out at any goblins opting to advance. But the first goblin to attack was the sorcerer in the headdress, sending a magic missile spell to hit each dwarf with one missile. One of the goblin warriors thought he could take advantage of the spell's distraction to run up to Utred and cut him down but he was quickly disabused of that notion when the barbarian's greataxe pretty much cut him into two. A second goblin warrior advanced more cautiously, while the one at the side of the wagon approached the worg, readying his blade to cut the lupine beast from the harness allowing it to pull the wagon of riches. The worg's rider was bent over, cutting away at the harness with his own blade.

All three archers suddenly stood and, having apparently precoordinated their attacks, shot an arrow at Utred. The barbarian howled in pain but let the pain fuel his rage; he saw red and was ready for a violent counterattack.

Jhasspok sped forward, leaping effortlessly over a bush as he charged the worg. At the last moment, he sent his short sword swinging not at the worg or its rider but rather the warrior trying to cut it free. The lizardfolk's blade cut a slit of blood across the goblin's midsection, but to its credit it did not fall - not yet, anyway.

Cramer, following yesterday's tactics against the gnolls, cast a sound burst spell centered on the goblin formation, once again barely dealing any actual damage but this time stunning quite a few of them - including, as it turned out, the one spellcaster among them.

Marlo rushed forward in the wagon and took up the reins abandoned by Cramer. She then sent a magic missile spell streaking into the chest of the goblin chief, astride the worg. It, too, seemed to do minimal damage - either that, or these goblins were tougher than the sorceress had been led to believe!

Khari charged the worg, realizing once it got freed from the harness it would be a major foe, capable of dishing out quite a bit of punishment with its sharp teeth - the beasts were fast, too, with the intelligence and cunning of any battle-hardened dwarf. His hammer hit the side of the beast's head, causing it to howl in pain before it bit the offending fighter in the arm. Utred charged forward as well but he delivered his blow against the worg's rider, the chief of this raiding party. The warrior off to the side was forced to stop his efforts to free the worg and he attacked Jhasspok, his blade cutting into the lizardfolk's scales. And the three archers in the wagon repositioned themselves but were apparently intent upon bringing Utred down first, for he continued to be their sole target. Two more arrows hit the barbarian but he hardly seemed to notice.

Jhasspok slew the goblin warrior he'd been fighting and moved forward toward the spellcaster; he'd learned that enemies who could cast spells could cause a lot of trouble! Cramer, still advancing cautiously, cast a spiritual weapon spell and caused the floating quarterstaff to stab down at the goblin chief's head. Sadly, it missed; Cramer decided he should probably devote a bit of practice to that particular spell, as his current success rate, over two castings, was still 0%.

Marlo cast another magic missile spell, this time at the worg since everyone else seemed to thinking bringing it down before it got loose was a top priority. Khari swung at the beast with his warhammer again, clonking the worg upside the head while Utred's axe blade hit the goblin chief, causing him to roll with the blow from the worg's back onto the ground beside it. But Utred wasn't finished; he allowed his greataxe to continue its swath of destruction by swinging it into an approaching goblin warrior, killing him in an instant.

Another goblin stepped up to attack Utred, thinking to distract the dwarf while the goblin chief sprang back to his feet and attacked Utred from surprise. Neither ploy worked; Utred avoided both blows with equal ease. But the worg sank his fangs into Khari's arm again, preventing the dwarven fighter from bringing his hammer into play with his full range of motion and thus without his full power.

More arrows were shot down from atop the wagon at Utred; he brushed them aside as if swatting flies. Jhasspok's blade dropped the goblin sorcerer, then Cramer redirected the thus-far-ineffectual spiritual weapon to attack the worg while he rushed up beside Khari and healed him with one of his scrolls. Khari managed to yank his arm free from the worg's mouth and brought his warhammer crashing down upon the beast's skull, finishing it off at last. Then he trotted away from the wagon, taking a moment to regroup and rethink his attack strategies.

Marlo decided to change her own tactics and hit the goblin chief with a ray of enfeeblement, draining some of the strength from the goblin raiders' leader. He swayed under the effects of the spell and Utred brought his mighty greataxe down upon the chief, dropping him to his knees and then staggering him further with another blow as the goblin tried to regain his footing. Utred saw the rage in the chief's eyes and thought he recognized the signs of a barbarian willing himself to greater feats of strength through the applied application of focused anger. The dwarven barbarian was ready to take the life from his foe but Cramer stole the opportunity from him, striking the goblin chief in the forehead with his first magic stone, slaying him instantly. It was Utred who roared in rage at the chief's death; he'd wanted to take the leader down!

With an impressive leap, Jhasspok launched himself up onto the top of the wagon, scattering the goblin archers but stabbing one before he could get away. The other two leaped off the wagon and sprinted away, seeing this battle as a lost cause. These being the last goblin combatants on the field of battle, what followed was a comical chase as Jhasspok and Utred sprinted after them and Cramer once again stole a kill from the dwarven barbarian with another well-placed magic stone from his sling. But the last goblin didn't get far before being brought down and then the group decided to check out the wagon full of stolen goods and see what, if anything, might be stripped from the goblins for their own use.

A detect magic spell cast by Marlo revealed the goblin chief wore a magic ring, while the sorcerer - still breathing, as it turned out, but unconscious and bleeding heavily; Cramer applied the minimal amount of healing to seal up his wounds but still keep him out - had four magic scrolls and a flesh-bound tome sealed in a silver chain. Cramer fetched some rope and bound the goblin sorcerer for later interrogation while Marlo cast a read magic spell and checked out the scrolls and tome.

The scrolls contained the spells cure moderate wounds, protection from evil, cat's grace, and bless water, likely loot from the burning village. The tome at first appeared to be blank, although a closer inspection revealed a series of raised bumps across the surface of the pages; some sort of secret writing, perhaps? Of more obvious note was the cover of the book, which looked to have been burned by the chains, although Marlo had touched the chains in opening the book and they had caused her no harm at all. More disturbingly, however, was the fact the burn scars on the flesh-bound tome seemed to be...healing themselves.

<Astounding!> exclaimed a voice in Marlo's head and she nearly screamed; she'd forgotten the ring gate necklace she wore and the illithid tentacle protruding through it, which allowed the mind flayer N'zorthal to read her mind and see what all she was up to; while the sunborn drow of Greenvale had altered the slaves' tattoos to give false readings when the slaves were scried upon and this subterfuge carried over to feeding the mind flayer disinformation through its mental link with the Overreach slaves, N'zorthal had still been made aware of the tome's presence. <I will have this tome for my own!> he declared.

Marlo noted a loose page inside the book and flipped to that page to examine it: in notes scrawled along the pages borders in the Common script, she read a warning about Uboros, "the one who devours himself to become himself, who will one day end the world."

Cramer slapped the bound goblin prisoner awake and began demanding answers about the book. Globtak, for his part, was surprised to find himself still alive, although the eventual outcome of the battle hadn't really surprised him; it had been apparent early on the goblin forces were overpowered by these five humanoids. He passed on everything he knew about the book, in broken Common.

"Found it in cave. Spend many time try to read it - it frighten me. Uboros will destroy world when reborn. There three prophecies about how stop this from happen. First: metal man from Hell imprison it forever. Two: dark champions stand against worm. If those fail, still one final hope, but it make no sense. Not understand that part."

"So what are we going to do with Globtak?" Cramer asked. Gnomes had no love for goblins and the cleric had no issues with putting an end to the sorcerer's life right here and now. But N'zorthal made their decision easy for them, by immediately opening the Writhing Gate by the goblin's side. <Feed me!> demanded the mind flayer. <Send me the goblin at once!>

Khari pulled the bound goblin sorcerer to his feet and pushed him into the Writhing Gate, as glad as Cramer to see the end to another goblin. Apparently the mind flayer wasted no time in devouring the goblin's brain, judging by the sounds of the screams emanating from the Writhing Gate - and the sensations of pleasure N'zorthal transmitted through the ring gate necklaces to the four slaves who wore them. Marlo's face wrinkled in disgust.

<Now, the tome!> demanded the illithid. Marlo, holding the tome, thought for a moment about disobeying - she had wanted to try to decipher some of the book's secret writings for herself if she could - but she realized there was no way to disobey a direct order from the mind flayer tasked with overseeing their performance during this surface raiding mission (surely the modified tattoos couldn't mask a violation of that magnitude?), so she sadly pitched it into the Writhing Gate, which vanished almost immediately thereafter.

"Now what?" asked Jhasspok, having no idea what any of that had been about.

"Now we press on with our original mission," replied Utred. "We put all of our goods into the stolen wagon, harness our horse onto it, and take everything back to the burning village. We'll prob'ly make an even better impression on 'em by returning their goods what was stolen from 'em."

It seemed as good a plan as any.

- - -

We had to skip last week's weekly session: Harry had picked up the flu from school and we'd pretty much already decided we'd only ever play a session of this campaign if all five players were able to attend.

Man, did we ever roll poorly during this session! I think pretty much everyone at the table (among the players, anyway - Logan rolled just fine) managed to strike for absolute minimum damage at least once. And that was when we managed to hit in the first place.

So, Jhasspok's prophecy has already come to pass: he had an unpleasant truth to face (he's the son of the former chief of a lizardfolk tribe which has been taken over by his brother) and had to make a decision of his own. But that decision was super-easy: Jhasspok has no intrinsic feelings of belonging to a lizardfolk tribe; this was the first time in his entire five years of life he'd even seen another lizardfolk and it felt more creepy to him than anything else. (It was just plain weird seeing someone so similar to himself - almost like a slightly-off doppelganger.) I've also decided Jhasspok has no real clue he's the one born from Jhessepok's stolen egg, either. (Nothing like a 6 Intelligence to keep you clueless!) Logan informs me, however, that Jhasspok's prophecy hasn't been completely unfolded - apparently there's still a bit more to come.

Logan also told us we're all only 510 xp from making it to 4th level, so almost undoubtedly we'll level up after the next adventure. I can hardly wait: Jhasspok's going to be a lizardfolk 3/barbarian 1 and then we'll take it from there. I intend to alternate between barbarian and ranger with some fighter levels thrown in as needed.
 
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ADVENTURE 9: THE CALL OF KRAVYRN'S CRYPT

PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 3
Jhasspok, lizardfolk 3
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 3
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 3
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 3​

Game Session Date: 5 February 2020

- - -

The group arrived in Ducrest, the first village in the kingdom of Kravyrn they had seen, shortly after the villagers had put out the fires started by the goblin raiders. The Jalamir slaves were met with wary and suspicious stares at first - especially Jhasspok, who at first thought they were looking at him strangely because he'd turned the flames of his slave-light cloak green and was somewhat surprised when they still looked at him just as oddly after he'd altered the illusory flames back to their normal yellowy color. However, the villagers' glares turned to expressions of surprise and then glee once they saw the five had not only slain the last of the goblin tribe that had plagued them for decades but were also returning all of the goods the goblins had stolen (including the wagon). At that point, not even the fact the other four traveled with a hulking lizardfolk could put the Ducrest villagers off celebrating their new heroes. They insisted the five Jalamir slaves stay for free at a comfortable inn overnight and the next day the mayor's daughter Jayleen insisted upon guiding them to the capital of the kingdom of Kravyrn upon learning they were eager to speak with the king in an effort to gain his aid in helping Greenvale.

"It isn't far," insisted Jayleen, riding in the wagon beside Cramer, who was driving as usual. "And I'm sure getting an audience won't be difficult once the king learns what you have done for our village."

On the way, though, the slaves all suddenly turned their heads to the side as one, listening to a quiet voice in their ears. This time even Jhasspok heard it. "Is that N'zorthal?" he asked, well aware the illithid was capable of mental contact with the other four since the tips of his facial tentacles protruded through the ring gate necklaces they wore. But this time he too, for whatever reason, could hear the voice in his head.

"That's not him," corrected Cramer. "It's a male voice, though...."

"You are hearing voices?" gasped Jayleen, her face aglow with excitement. "It is said, on occasion, great heroes are called to the crypt to prove their valor. I'll bet that's what's happening to you!" If she had been pleased to be in the presence of those who had taken out the goblin raiders before, she was now overjoyed and had instantly become their greatest fan. "If you seek to get the king to join you in aiding Greenvale, heeding the call to Kravyrn's crypt will be even further proof of your valor and will likely go a long way to getting the king on your side!"

It was difficult to argue against that logic; as they had been warned gathering allies to aid the sunborn drow would likely be a difficult task, the slaves decided to take every advantage they could. At Cramer's urging, Jayleen directed the wagon off the main road and over to the crypt from where the mental call was likely emanating. It was a simple stone building at the back of a fenced area, to the side of which were several graves, three of them recent. Cramer brought the horse to a halt and tied the reins to the wagon, then cast a detect undead spell upon himself as the others approached the gate in the metal fence. It was unlocked and Jhasspok opened it easily. Jayleen, not having heard any mental calling in her own head, decided her place was to stay in the wagon; had she been meant to accompany the heroes on their test of valor she would have no doubt received a similar summons herself, she reasoned.

The graves were unremarkable, without any words carved onto the stone slabs serving as headstones, so the group advanced to the crypt building. The double doors were unlocked and pulled outward; entering, they saw an altar before a statue of an angelic, winged figure. Utred noticed right away the entire section of stone floor along the western wall was seamed, suggesting to the dwarven barbarian the floor might easily become a set of stairs if the trigger mechanism could be found.

Khari and Jhasspok examined the seams closely and the wall behind them but could find no activation switch or trigger. Marlo cast a detect magic spell and confirmed both the presumed stairs and the angelic statue had auras of magic. But rather than check out the statue, everyone decided to try the area around the stairs to see if they could activate them somehow from there. Once the concept had been explained to him, Jhasspok tried leaving an offering on the altar before the winged angel but apparently a dried dung beetle was not sufficient. Shrugging, the lizardfolk retrieved his spurned gift and popped it into his mouth, chewing the snack. He was almost out - good thing they'd be returning to Overreach soon!

Eventually, tired of looking along the walls and floor for something that apparently wasn't there, Cramer stepped over to the statue and gave the carved figure an appreciative look, finding a hidden button that did exactly what they had hoped: caused the individual tiled spaces to lower into the floor, creating a stairwell leading down to a lower level. This was particularly worrisome for Jhasspok and Khari, who had been standing on the tiles when they began their descent.

The only light in the lower level was that of the slave-light cloaks worn by the adventurers and a dim illumination coming from niches in the walls. A closer examination of the niches revealed each alcove held a sword whose blade was covered in glowing runes. There were piles of bone shards and dust at the bottom of each alcove, which made Cramer instantly suspicious that the shards would reform back into skeletons if they were disturbed. "Nobody touch any of the swords!" he warned.

Utred raced past his fellow dwarf and the lizardfolk who had been examining the closest niches. With his dwarven darkvision he could see the passageway continued on straight just ahead with a fork off to the right. At the end of the straight tunnel stood a set of double doors, the words carved above them indicating they guarded a treasure vault just beyond. "Odd they'd be broadcasting that information so blatantly," he muttered to himself; most dwarven treasure holds with which he was familiar took distinct pains to hide the treasure! Not trusting something so obviously fake - he was fairly certain the "treasure vault" would be a trap of some sort - he turned the corner and found a quartet of ghoulish figures in four alcoves to either side of this tunnel. Beyond the undead was another set of double doors, this one marked with the symbol of a massive sun.

Hissing in anger or hunger (or possible both), the ghoulish figures stepped out of their alcoves and turned to face Utred, who held his Elderwood flaming longsword at the ready. Khari advanced beside his fellow dwarf and readied his own weapon, a dwarven warhammer. Marlo, however, was giving the glowing swords in the wall-niches a thorough examination, careful not to disturb them or the piles of bones beneath them. Cramer came up beside the sorcerer and noted the bone piles were registering as undead to his still-active detection spell. That prompted the gnome cleric to cast a protection from evil spell upon himself.

Jhasspok had his masterwork short sword out and turned the corner, stepping up to the nearest shambling figure, noticing as he did so the terrible smell coming from their undead flesh. But before he could raise his turtle-shell shield in defense, the lead figure - a ghast - darted forward and bit the lizardfolk, causing his muscles to seize up and prevent him from moving at all. This was a new sensation for the lizardfolk and he immediately came to the realization he didn't like it one bit! He was just glad his tail helped keep him upright as he mentally tried everything he could do to get his limbs to start working again - to no avail.

The ghouls moved up from behind their leader, the first two ignoring the immobile Jhasspok as they tried to paralyze the dwarves. But Utred had other ideas, his enchanted blade slicing through the first ghoul and cleaving into the body of the second without seeming to meet any resistance. Both ghouls collapsed to the floor of the crypt at the end of Utred's blade-swing, their unliving bodies having found the true death at the barbarian's sword. The third ghoul decided it was safer to try to bite Jhasspok, who was guaranteed not to fight back, but his distraction at seeing his other two undead companions being brought down in as many seconds prevented Jhasspok from being bitten a second time.

Utred took a step forward and swung his blade down at the third ghoul, cutting into its undead flesh but failing to slay it as easily as he had its two other companions. But Khari had the situation - and his trusty warhammer - well in hand, bringing its weapon-head to crash down upon the ghoul's head. Just that quickly, three ghouls lay dead on the floor of the crypt, leaving only the more powerful ghast remaining.

Marlo's examination of the swords was enhanced by a read magic spell, allowing her to determine the glowing runes on the blades denoted some type of teleportation magic. Cramer decided to let the sorcerer do any further scrutiny on the swords; he was likely of more use fighting off the undead the others were facing. Moving up, he cast a shield of faith spell upon Utred, so far their greatest weapon in slaying these undead menaces.

The ghast bit Jhasspok again, apparently hoping to ensure the lizardfolk would stay well out of combat long enough he wouldn't even be a factor while the ghast dealt with the others. He'd have been better off dealing with Utred, though, for the dwarven barbarian sent his sword stabbing into the ghast's sickly flesh, causing the undead thing to hiss in sudden pain. The pain intensified when Marlo cast a magic missile spell his way.

Khari, seeing the ghast was being well taken care of, decided to see to Jhasspok's safety by dragging the frozen lizardfolk out of the ghast's reach; Jhasspok's tail made for a handy handle in doing so. Then, having opened up a space for himself, the dwarven fighter stepped up to where the lizardfolk had been standing and swung his warhammer at the ghast. Cramer, seeing the bite-marks oozing blood down the lizardfolk's scales, moved forward and cast a healing spell upon Jhasspok - and was promptly bitten by the ghast for his troubles. Fortunately, the cleric was able to overcome not only the paralyzation effect of the bite but also the nausea-inducing effect of the ghast's horrific stench.

The ghast turned and faced Utred, hitting the barbarian with a set of jagged claws and biting him on the arm. Utred's reaction was instant, bringing the killing blow to the fight by swinging his blade into the ghast's neck, coming a mere few inches away from decapitating the evil thing. He pulled his blade out of the creature as it fell to the crypt floor, dead beyond any doubt.

Taking only a moment to swipe the blood from his arm where the ghast had bit him, Utred advanced to the double doors holding the sun image: the holy symbol of Pelor, he realized. He could just barely hear the trickling sound of water coming from the other side. Pulling the doors open, he saw a well-lit chamber opening up before him. This was by far the biggest room they'd encountered in this crypt, well over twice the size of the entire crypt building up on the surface. Widening out just beyond the double doors (the trickling water sound came from just beneath the section of floor immediately inside the room, Utred determined - likely an underground stream), the chamber held four stone coffins on this level and another two on a raised section in the back, where the room narrowed back down to the width of the double doors. At the far end of the room, along the back wall of the raised section, stood a marble throne, upon which lounged a human woman in red robes.

The slaves slowly entered the chamber, even Jhasspok, who had finally gotten his reptilian body to do his own bidding now that the ghast's paralyzation had finally run its course. "Is she undead?" Utred asked Cramer.

"Can't tell," the cleric replied. "She's too far away to register with my detect undead spell."

"The spell's still active, though?" Utred pressed.

"Sure."

That was all Utred needed to hear; sheathing his sword and picking up Cramer by the waist, he carried the gnome further into the room at the barbarian's top speed. "Put me down!" Cramer complained. "She's not undead - the only undead aura I'm getting is from the coffin on her right!"

That, in turn, was all Jhasspok needed to hear. Racing forward, he sprinted all the way to the steps leading up to the raised section, leaped over the stairs, and landed on the stone lid of the coffin, hoping his weight would prevent whatever was in it from being able to get out. He then spun in place to face the others; he'd let them decide how best to proceed next.

Marlo, for her part, readied another magic missile spell, just in case the lounging woman in red decided to try anything or anybody popped out of any of the other coffins. She did notice one of the coffins in the front section (it was empty, she noted in passing) had had its lid smashed open quite some time ago, judging by the numerous cobwebs covering its shattered pieces. But the woman in red proved to be no threat at all; closer inspection showed she was unconscious, her white robes stained with blood - presumably her own. "Vampire!" warned Cramer to the others. "She's likely his latest victim." That also explained the running water at the front doors of the chamber, the gnome realized: a vampire would be unable to cross through the doors on his own. This whole chamber, he realized, was likely built to keep a vampire - or vampires? - imprisoned. Unrolling a cure light wounds scroll, he healed the woman, who blinked awake with a look of incomprehension on her face. Then, inexplicably, she began growling softly to herself.

"Vampire!" repeated Jhasspok. Well that was a relief - the lizardfolk had heard of vampires before; they were just a type of bat and bats were something with which he was very familiar, having lived all but the last dozen days or so of his life in the Underdark. Even a vampire bat big enough to fill the stone coffin beneath him wasn't likely to cause the group too much trouble, assuming it could even get out - which was unlikely, given the bulky reptile perched on the coffin lid.

A stream of mist suddenly shot out of a small hole in the side of the coffin upon which Jhasspok sat perched, squatting over its lid as if trying to hatch it. The mist coalesced into a human form, no sooner having taken on its full semblance before Marlo's readied magic missiles struck it in the chest.

"Well," said the figure, a rather handsome-looking man by the look of it, holding up a hand directing the group to cease all attacks, "I congratulate you on not setting off the trap of the empty 'treasure vault.' And you attempted to rescue the 'damsel in distress' - a good job there as well."

"Wait, what?" asked Marlo, confused. This was not how she had expected a vampire to react.

"I have no desire to kill you," reassured the vampire. "In fact, I called you here merely to talk."

"So you're responsible for the voice we all heard," reasoned Cramer, his mind racing. Did he call people to his vault to restock his food sources? Were they expected to let this undead thing drink their blood? Was he alone, or were these other coffins filled with vampires as well?

"Indeed I am," confirmed the vampire, replying to the gnome's spoken statement. "I am Kravyrn, the Duke of Oakenfield. Or I was, in life - my son later turned Oakenfield into a kingdom and named it in my honor. But I was afflicted with a curse - how or why is still unknown to me to this day - that robbed me of my heavenly reward after my death. Desiring a more pleasurable outcome than what awaited me, my son and I set up this crypt to house me when I became a vampire."

"So you're trapped here? Forever?" asked Cramer.

"In times of emergency or great import, the kings of Kravyrn over the years have sought out my council and even occasionally allowed me out of my crypt to fight for the kingdom."

"So you, what, call people to your crypt like you did to us? To serve you as food?" demanded Khari, making the same assumption Cramer had earlier entertained. The dwarven fighter didn't trust vampires, even those who spoke in a reasonable tone and seemed more eager for conversation than combat. He held his warhammer in a readied stance from which he could swing it almost instantly, if it became necessary.

"By no means," answered Kravyrn, waving a hand over to the woman still lounging on the throne. "I have all of the food I might need. A polymorph any object spell cast upon a pack of wolves has taken care of my dietary needs; the other three are currently sleeping in the coffins in the area below us, there." Here he indicated the three unsmashed stone coffins in the lower section of the chamber.

"So then why are we here?" demanded Khari, still not trusting this vampire.

"I set up an alarm spell to inform me when people of, let us say, 'prophetic note' show up in the kingdom. I believe you five are part of a prophecy concerning a great cataclysm of imminence. According to the version I have heard, you are very likely the champions of the 'sunborn,' whatever that might be."

"You know of the sunborn?" Cramer asked.

"Of the name only, not the meaning behind it."

Cramer looked at his fellow slaves, questioning without saying a word aloud whether they trusted this vampire. Seeing nobody but Khari - who still held his warhammer in a readied stance - seemed concerned about Kravyrn, the cleric pressed on. "The 'sunborn' are the elves of Greenvale - drow elves, actually, but an offshoot of drow lacking the inherent evil of the normal Underdark variety," he explained. "We are currently slaves to a House of Underdark drow, sent to the surface as raiders. But we've met up with the sunborn of Greenvale and have agreed to aid them in taking down the Underdark drow city where we have been enslaved."

"We're secret double slaves," Jhasspok offered, as if that made things any clearer.

"We were on the way to seek an audience with the king of Kravyrn, bringing him gifts of trade goods from Greenvale in an effort to gain his allegiance in helping the sunborn to take down the drow city of Overreach - where our current drow masters hold sway, and send out raiders like ourselves to snatch surface dwellers to add to their ranks of slaves. We would see that practice brought to an end."

"A noble goal," agreed Kravyrn. He pulled a pendant hanging from a chain beneath his shirt and passed it to Jhasspok. It held a glowing rune upon it. "This," Kravyrn explained, "is my personal rune, as depicted by an arcane mark spell. The common folk of my kingdom know it to be the crest of the royal family. The king, when you show it to him, will recognize it as proof of my endorsement of your goal."

"Then you think he'll help us?" Cramer asked.

"I do."

Cramer grinned widely. That was exactly what he had been hoping to hear!

- - -

As promised, we all leveled up to 4th after this adventure. Jhasspok finally got to add an actual character class - I went with barbarian - and wouldn't you know it, my dice (which had been failing me all night, as evidenced by my Fortitude save failure which had me paralyzed by the ghast and my inability to deal any damage whatsoever during the entire adventure) continued to suck as I rolled a natural "1" for Jhasspok's 1d12 hit point increase. Gah! Oh well, at least I got fast movement and rage 1/day out of the deal.

Logan informs us we'll start out next session with our meeting with the king of Kravyrn but then our initial two-week surface exploration will have come to an end and it will be time to return to the Overreach.
 



ADVENTURE 10: RETURN TO THE OVERREACH

PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 4
Jhasspok, lizardfolk 3/barbarian 1
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 4
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 4
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 4​

Game Session Date: 12 February 2020

- - -

King Leopold sat upon his throne, examining the odd group being ushered before him. Two were dwarves, another a gnome; each of these three bearded folk wore metal armor that looked to have seen plenty of combat use but their weapons had been left outside the throne room - although the daughter of the mayor of Ducrest (a trusted ally) vouched that they had slain the goblin raiders who had attacked the town and returned the loot the green pests had absconded with, it never hurt to be too careful. There was a woman with the three, barely taller than the dwarves, wearing an elaborate robe and a silver circlet upon her brow. She strode directly up to the king and bowed low; she would likely be doing the speaking for the group. That served the king's interests, as she was certainly the most pleasant of the five to look upon.

But the king's attention was currently focused on the fifth member, a hulking lizardfolk with thick, green scales who stood behind the others, looking around in wonder at the king's receiving chamber. Not only was King Leopold not accustomed to these lizard-people being somewhat civilized, as this one seemed to be, but he wore about his neck the symbol of Kravyrn, the king's own vampiric ancestor and valued ally of the kingdom that bore his name. As odd of a group as these five might be, they had obviously made a favorable impression upon the wily vampire. The king would certainly listen to what they had to say.

The woman introduced herself as Marlo Pendragon and then named each member of her group before explaining why they had sought an audience with King Leopold. She mentioned the elves of Greenvale and explained their importance in overthrowing an Underdark City of drow responsible for the kidnapping and slavery of the five adventurers standing before the king. She had the king's courtiers bring in samples of gifts of silk they had brought from Greenvale and explained the elves' eagerness to form an alliance with the neighboring kingdoms to help bring down the drow of the Overreach responsible for an ongoing policy of slavery for the surface folks their raiders encountered.

King Leopold raised his hand, silencing the short woman at once. "I have heard enough," he declared. "My advisers have cautioned against allying with Greenvale, arguing it would only serve to antagonize the Elderwood elves, but those elves have always seemed to me to be nothing more than arrogant bullies. In truth, I have sought a good reason to bypass their embargo of Greenvale and open relations with the city behind the mountain wall. If my ancestor Kravyrn has vouched for your plan, as I see he has, then I will be more than happy to have my kingdom join in your alliance."

"Thank you, Your Majesty," replied Marlo with a smile. "I am most pleased by your decision."

"In fact," added King Leopold, "I will begin the construction of a new road to Greenvale, bypassing altogether the Elderwood's blockade through their forest. With a safer passage, the other kingdoms should find it much easier to do business with Greenvale as well." This announcement brought smiles to the other heroes (four of them, at least; the lizardfolk snout didn't seem particularly well designed for smiling). King Leopold called for refreshments and the group toasted their new alliance with a fine red wine.

After being escorted back out of the throne room and having their weapons returned to them, the group went back to the horse and wagon they had left outside. No sooner had they boarded the wagon than N'zorthal sent a telepathic message to the four of the slaves wearing the ring gate necklaces. <Find a secluded alley where you will not be seen,> he commanded. <I will open the Writhing Gate - it is time for you to return to the Overreach.>

"D'you think he heard any of that business with the king?" whispered Khari.

"Not at all," answered Cramer. "Remember, the sunborn drow altered our tattoos and made it such that even the mind flayer's telepathic probings will get a false image of us doing something innocuous. We'll just play it cool and nobody will be any the wiser."

"You know, we have an opportunity here to drive a wedge of sorts between Calish and N'zorthal," suggested Marlo. "We can mention to Calish that the mind flayer's taken that book - he seemed to want it awfully bad, and I'll bet he doesn't even plan to mention its existence to the slavemaster." But then the Writhing Gate sprang into existence before them and the time for any such discussions were over. <Leave the horse and wagon behind,> ordered N'zorthal. <They will not be needed.>

Steeling themselves for the journey, the five Jalamir slaves stepped into the Writhing Gate. This time, knowing beforehand what was coming, they were able to close their minds against the nightmarish horrors waiting for them between the split seconds - although some of them wondered to themselves if Marlo hadn't instead opened her mind to the Dying One's mental embrace. She bore watching, that one!

As one, the slaves found themselves back in the gate chamber. N'zorthal stood from his seat at the base of the Writhing Gate and immediately set some ground rules. <Calish and House Jalamir at large do not know about the true nature of the Writhing Gate,> he informed them. <It should remain that way, for all of your sakes. The drow are also not to know about the Scriptures of Uboros. Any failure to heed my warnings will undoubtedly lead to the offender "accidentally" wearing a fake ring of regeneration during my next feeding session. Do I make myself absolutely clear?>

"Yes," muttered Cramer and the other four followed suit. So much for that idea!

<Return to me your ring gate necklaces - they are no longer needed.> The four slaves hurriedly passed over the necklaces, glad to be rid of them. N'zorthal, too, seemed pleased to have them back, as it meant being able to retract his facial tentacles from them and appear whole once more.

The trip back to the Overreach was uneventful and passed mostly in sullen and fearful silence.

Upon returning to the drow city, Calish Jalamir was there to greet his five slaves. He seemed genuinely pleased to see them. "You have done an excellent job on your first surface raid!" he exclaimed. "The information we tortured out of the Elderwood prisoners was of extraordinary value to House Jalamir! Please accept these for your hard work and exceptional effort!" He handed each slave a silk bag, inside of which were 100 slave tokens. "By the way," he added, "a guard from House Ky'hulcressen is waiting for you. Apparently they wish to reward you for having saved Niradi, their apprentice weaver, some weeks ago. You have my leave to go with him." And the slavemaster shooed them away, then turned and went about whatever other business in the city required his attention.

The Ky'hulcressen guard was a gaunt-faced warrior. He escorted the five Jalamir slaves to the markets around the Ky'hulcressen pillar - which was nearly as large as that of House Jalamir, the two Houses being close in their rankings. Looking about, it didn't take Cramer long to note an immediate difference between House Jalamir's slave-market and this one: "You use actual gold coins, not slave tokens!" the little gnome exclaimed.

"Indeed we do," the guard, who had been stone-faced and silent during the journey to the market, replied. "Now that we are inside the magical protections of the marketplace, we are free to talk. Allow me to explain the full extent of your reward: you have each been extended 4,000 pieces of gold in credit for the work you have done on our behalf. In addition, you will each be given ironsilk armor upgrades, of the type best suited to your own preferences."

"I wear no armor," Jhasspok pointed out.

"True, we would need to custom-make an ironsilk suit of armor to fit your frame..." the guard began.

"I wear no armor," Jhasspok repeated. "Nor clothing. I need only my leather harness, to hang my weapons and equipment on. Armor would hamper me when I swim and fish."

"You don't fish any more," pointed out Khari.

"No matter," answered the guard jovially. "If he doesn't wear armor, we'll see about getting him an enchanted weapon of some sort instead. But in the meantime, look about and see what you'd be interested in spending your reward upon. Once piece of advice, though: I recommend spending all of your actual gold first, and then dip into your lines of credit. If Calish finds out you still have actual coins from the surface, he'll be sure to take them from you. But he can't take away the credit our merchants will extend to you."

"Thank you," exclaimed Marlo. "That's very generous of your House."

"Remember, our House extends all the way to Greenvale," the guard replied with a wink.

Khari and Utred accompanied Jhasspok to a weaponcrafter's shop, to help him pick out his enchanted weapon. While there, one of the weaponsmiths asked to see Utred's magic longsword. "May I study this?" he asked the dwarf. "I think I may be able to recreate this particular enchantment. I promise: I will return it to you before you must return to House Jalamir." Eager to reinforce their alliance with House Ky'hulcressen, Utred readily agreed. Then he and Khari helped the lizardfolk decide upon a weapon. In the end, Jhasspok chose a magical battleaxe, enchanted to guide the wielder into striking where the blade would do the most damage.

The marketplace contained a few magic shops and the Jalamir slaves spent some of their coin there as well. Cramer and Khari each purchased a set of gauntlets of ogre power, which increased their overall strength; Jhasspok purchased something similar, but - not liking having his hands covered by gloves - he purchased a leather belt that did the same thing. Marlo bought an amulet to boost the power of her sorcerer spells, as she was the primary offensive caster among the group. Utred was intrigued by a necklace of red orbs, and when he learned each bead was a miniature fireball spell ready to be thrown it became an instant purchase for him.

And then, of course, four of the slaves were fitted out in their new ironsilk armor. Marlo, who had been wearing a set she'd taken from the corpse of a slain slave during the Festival of Blood, chose a new type of armor similar to a chain shirt, but woven of magically-hardened spider silk; it was as lightweight as a normal set of clothes and would not hamper her spellcasting in the least. Utred and Cramer went with ironsilk breastplate armor, while Khari - stubborn as ever - stuck with the ironsilk equivalent of the banded mail with which he was familiar.

Finally, their purchases made, their new armor fitted out, and after Utred had retrieved his Elderwood flame longsword, the five Jalamir slaves returned to their own quarters. But then, recalling their new bags of slave-tokens, Cramer excused himself and went to the Jalamir slave-market, intent to try out the "Punch-a-Drow" shop now that he had a full 100 tokens on which to purchase the rental of a drow slave for a full hour. "Why does he want to spend an hour with a drow slave?" asked Jhasspok, puzzled. None of the others felt up to explaining.

The next day, the slaves were awakened in their sleeping chambers - a large room partitioned off into individual stalls - by a booming, commanding female voice resonating through the House Jalamir pillar. Jhasspok recognized it immediately as the drow language, although he had no idea what the voice might be saying, not proficient in the language at all; the drow used the "slave language" exclusively when communicating to their slaves. But shortly thereafter Calish burst into the room, commanding the five to don their armor and grab their weapons: the House Jalamir pillar was under attack by one of the Lesser Houses!

Calish led the group up to the top of the pillar and from there onto the ceiling of the mile-high cavern that made up the boundary of the city of Overreach. With the permanent reverse gravity field along the ceiling, the slaves stood on the upper cavern as firmly as if they'd been standing upon solid ground. "You'll be in charge of guarding this entrance to the pillar," Calish explained, indicating the vast set of double doors from which they'd exited the enormous, stone column of House Jalamir. "The lesser slaves - those more easily expendable - have been sent to the front lines, at the edge of our territory upon the ceiling. They will keep the enemy at bay as best they can, fighting to the death. As will you all, but your task is to guard the North Gate, here. Feel free to advance upon the intruders as needed, but do not let them get past you and through the North Gate! Ensure no enemies make it into the House pillar!" Cramer got the distinct impression the drow "masters" would be particularly upset if they had to be bothered to lift a finger in their own defense. That, apparently, was what slaves were for!

"Do we know who's attacking us?" asked Utred.

"A Lesser House, hoping to elevate its ranks and possibly make it into the ranks of the Eight Ruling Noble Houses," Calish sneered. His slaves noted he didn't even bother dignifying the attacking House with their name.

"There will be drow attacking us?" Cramer pressed. "And we're allowed to kill them?" The gnome well knew the prohibitions against attacking drow built into the slave tattoos they'd all been given, but he also knew the sunborn drow of Greenvale had altered the tattoos, removing that prohibition altogether. But Calish didn't know that and the little cleric wanted to give the slavemaster the impression he believed he was still bound by the tattoo's original constraints.

"Any drow attacking House Jalamir is a fair target," Calish answered. "Now: you have your orders! Attend to your duties!" And with that, Calish Jalamir strode back inside the safety of the stone column of House Jalamir, leaving his slaves to guard the North Gate - with their very lives, if necessary. He pulled the double doors closed behind him with a resounding clang and the slaves could hear the sounds of the doors being barred from the inside.

"Well, this blows!" complained Cramer, casting a longstrider spell upon himself. "Figures they aren't going to put their own necks on the line - typical!" Marlo almost began to cast a mage armor spell upon herself - it was, at this point, a force of habit when preparing for imminent combat - but then realized her new ironsilk armor made the spell unnecessary. Then she looked over at Jhasspok, the only member of the group not wearing armor (he held his turtle shell shield, but that was it) and cast the spell on him instead.

"What is this?" Jhasspok asked, looking at his arm.

"Mage armor spell. It'll help protect you in combat."

"I'm...all shiny." It wasn't perhaps the best description, but occasionally the lizardfolk could see a glimpse of the edge of the invisible barrier surrounding him like a suit of armor as he moved his arm around, trying to catch the light in the right way.

"Focus, Jhasspok," Marlo suggested. The lizardfolk stopped marveling at his invisible force armor and looked across the area of the cavern ceiling before him. If you forget you were upside-down, with a bioluminescent Underdark sea a half mile above your head, the area looked like any normal area around a city's gates, with a few small buildings and tents nearby and a wooden stage upon which could be paraded new slaves for purchase. There were shouts and the sounds of battle some distance away, but the combatants were obscured behind obstructing buildings.

Suddenly, there was movement to the northwest, as a quartet of gnomish figures scurried around a corner and took cover. Jhasspok recognized them at once as svirfneblin, the Underdark gnomes who spent their whole lives underground - and occasionally ran afoul of the drow, often becoming slaves. This was likely the case here, with the four svirfneblin working for the unnamed Lesser House of the Overreach. Jhasspok raced forward, leaping over the slave stage platform and into an open clearing, readying his new battleaxe. The deep gnomes were hidden behind a long, low building, but from the lizardfolk's position he'd be able to see from which way they approached and attack them as they advanced.

Marlo spotted one and sent a scorching ray spell striking at the svirfneblin's head. Unfortunately, he ducked back behind the building in time and the flame spell missed its target. From beside her, Khari advanced, his dwarven warhammer ready to strike at the first svirfneblin to approach him. Cramer stepped forward as well, casting a magic weapon spell upon his mace as he did so. Utred, however, stayed in position before the North Gate, not trusting that some wizard wouldn't teleport in and try to get through the entrance to the House Jalamir column. He had his Elderwood flame longsword out, ready for action.

As one, the four svirfneblin went on the offensive. One rushed to the safety of the shadows behind a merchant tent, while the other three pulled out shortbows and fired arrows at Khari Hammerslammer. None of the arrows hit; perhaps the archers had been intimidated by the dwarven fighter's fierce glare.

Jhasspok charged the first svirfneblin, bringing his new battleaxe slamming down in an overhand swing he'd hoped would cut the deep gnome in two. But he was unaccustomed to the weapon's weight and balance and the blow fell short, the blade chopping a deep gash into the stone ceiling at the svirfneblin's feet. Marlo cast a magic missile at the foe the lizardfolk had just missed, her spell striking true - which was normal for that particular spell - but the sorceress had noted a field of energy around the svirfneblin and she realized they likely had an inherent resistance to spell energy, as was unfortunately true of so many races that lived in the Underdark. Idly, she wondered why that was so, but then decided this wasn't the time to let her mind wander from the task at hand.

With a wordless growl, Khari charged forward at the closest of the three archers, his warhammer striking the svirfneblin in the side of the head and crushing his skull instantly. Just that quickly, the Hammerslammer dwarf had struck first blood. Utred, seeing the forces before them didn't appear to have any spellcasters among them, hesitantly stepped forward - he'd make sure he only went far enough away from the North Gate that he'd still be able to return in an instant if it became necessary. Cramer, in the meantime, cast a protection from evil spell on himself; he knew his deep gnome brethren were likely not of an evil bent, merely slaves like himself, but there was good chance their drow masters would make an appearance at some point during this fight, especially if they hoped to breach House Jalamir and face the drow waiting for them within.

Two of the svirfneblin broke ranks and attacked Utred from opposite sides, hoping to flank him and take him out while he tried to defend himself from two directions at once. The concentrated attack was somewhat successful, in that one of the gnomes managed to get past the dwarven barbarian's defenses and stab him with his short sword, but if they had hoped this would take out mighty Utred they had vastly underestimated his stamina! The remaining archer shot at Cramer, missing once again.

Jhasspok continued his attack upon the svirfneblin he'd missed with his axe, and missed two more times - the little guy was certainly nimble! Marlo cast another magic missile spell at him, once more hitting true but this time having her spell fizzle out upon contact - that blasted spell resistance! But then Khari approached and swung his weapon; the svirfneblin didn't have any sort of inherent dwarven warhammer resistance, that was for sure! He crumpled to the ground, dead.

But Khari wasn't finished with his attack just yet! Swinging his warhammer around in a continuing arc, he brought it crashing down upon one of the deep gnomes flanking Utred, who at this point was focused upon the other svirfneblin and had uncharacteristically missed with his longsword strike. Cramer stepped up behind the svirfneblin fighting Khari and sent his mace crashing into the back of his foe's head, knocking him to the ground. It looked as if his chest was rising and falling with labored, ragged breathing, but it also looked as if he wouldn't be doing it for too much longer. Jhasspok, at this point frustrated with his inability to hit anyone with his new, enchanted battleaxe, decided to test whether or not the dumb thing even worked at all by attacking the unconscious svirfneblin. As his head went rolling across the ground, the lizardfolk nodded in approval and decided his axe worked just fine after all.

The remaining svirfneblin stabbed again at Utred and missed, but was then himself struck by a magic missile from Marlo. Utred finished him off with his own blade and then the group took a moment to look around to see if there were any other reinforcements heading this way.

There were: an armored, female drow rounded the corner from where the svirfneblin had come. Cramer, seeing her approach, ran up but kept his distance; he readied a sound burst spell since he could see what looked to be a duergar fast approaching as well - no sense in wasting the spell on one foe when he could unleash it on two! Once the two were close enough together the cleric released the spell, causing the pair to become momentarily stunned.

Jhasspok took full advantage of the temporary opportunity, dashing forward to attack the duergar fighter in the heavy armor. Khari and Utred stepped up to focus their attacks upon the same target; the poor duergar was unable to fend off the trio of weapons in his currently stunned state. Marlo then added insult to injury by targeting him with a scorching ray spell, hoping to take him down quickly. Cramer came to the same conclusion and cast a spiritual weapon which caused a quarterstaff of pure force to swing down at the hapless gray dwarf.

While the drow and duergar were still fighting off the effects of Cramer's sound burst spell, Marlo stepped forward and cast a magic missile spell at the drow woman. Khari swung his warhammer at her as well, judging the duergar to be about to fall - especially with Utred swinging his green-flamed blade into the grey dwarf's side. The drow duskblade, snapping out of it at the last moment, swung her own blade at the lizardfolk's side, getting past his shield and through his mage armor to draw blood. Jhasspok hissed in pain and returned the attack with his battleaxe - a weapon for which he was quickly getting the hang of wielding.

Cramer's spiritual weapon spell finished off the duergar - a first for the cleric's use of that particular spell! - and then the gnome heard the sound of approaching footsteps. He dropped a pebble into his sling and started swinging it about his head, building up speed. The drow duskblade fell to another of Marlo's magic missile spells. As one, the five slaves turned toward the sounds of approaching reinforcements.

Three male drow warriors rounded the corner and came into view, closing the distance - only to be attacked en masse by Khari's warhammer, Utred's longsword, and Jhasspok's battleaxe. Behind the drow males, though, stepped up a female - a cleric of Lolth, by the looks of her garb. Ignoring his sling for the moment, Cramer pointed at the approaching foes with a finger of his other hand and cast another sound burst spell centered such to get the drow - but nobody else - in its area of effect. All four drow flinched at the sudden audio blast and all were temporarily stunned save for one of the drow males.

Again taking advantage of temporarily motionless enemies, Jhasspok swung his battleaxe at one of the male drow while Marlo used her last scorching ray spell on the drow priestess. But then the dwarves finished the battle in a mere handful of seconds, Khari crushing a warrior's head in and then smashing the priestess in the face with his warhammer, all in one deadly arc of motion, while Utred's Elderwood flame longsword sliced through the abdomens of the other two male warriors in one cleaving blow. All four fell to the ground at virtually the same time.

Looking about for the next wave of enemies, the group could hear the fighting still in the distance but nothing coming their way. Cramer put the dwarves on lookout duty while the others quickly looted their slain foes. A quick detect magic spell from Marlo helped identify which items were worthy of closer scrutiny: two pairs of boots of striding and springing (which were eventually given to Utred and Khari) and a pair of masterwork hand crossbows, which Jhasspok and Utred took for their own use. Jhasspok was particularly intrigued by a weapon you actually wore on your arm like a piece of armor - strange! He'd have to practice with it - and, he realized, with his new battleaxe - until he had mastered the new forms of attack they provided.

Eventually, the sounds of battle drifted off, the attackers either driven off, slain, or the skirmishes simply moving farther away and out of earshot. Despite their willingness to enter into additional combat, neither of the five slaves dared disobey their orders, so they stayed by the North Gate, determined that no foes would enter the House Jalamir pillar through this particular entrance.

And none did; after about an hour of inactivity, the gates suddenly opened from the inside and a House Jalamir slave informed the group the battle was over. Shrugging, the group entered the stone pillar and returned to their quarters to clean up and deal with their wounds.

- - -

Well, Jhasspok's got a lot of training ahead of him with that stupid +1 battleaxe he got - my first three attack rolls were a 1, a 3, and a 2! But the hand crossbow is pretty cool - it helps that Logan, Harry, and I are all watching the "Crossbow" series (a 1980s TV show about the fictional exploits of William Tell) and a recent episode had William using a hand crossbow. Logan's dropping the "exotic" nature of the weapon, making it just another form of common ranged attack.

But the whole reason Jhasspok has a battleaxe in the first place is I decided I'm going to have to pick one weapon and make that his primary attack. I'm running a 4th-level combat specialist PC with only a +2 Base Attack Bonus (thanks a lot, three levels of just lizardfolk that granted me a whopping +1 BAB!), so I'm lagging behind Utred and Khari. The D&D Mini I'm using to represent Jhasspok is a lizardfolk wielding a turtle shell shield and what looks like a primitive hammer; I didn't want to go the warhammer route and tread into Khari's territory and my last fighter PC wielded a morningstar so I didn't want to duplicate that, either - I figured battleaxe was a good solution. So I think I'll be taking 2 levels of fighter next, just for the bonus feats - I desperately need Weapon Focus (battleaxe) to start to be able to pull my weight a little better in combat.

Incidentally, I assume cleanup after a fight on a cavern ceiling is pretty easy: you just need to fling the corpses more than 10 feet into the air, at which point they're outside the range of the reverse gravity effect and they plunge half a mile into the bioluminescent sea. Look, it's raining corpses!

We're going to miss the next two normal Wednesday sessions; I have two upcoming business trips that will take me out of the state those weeks, so we'll resume the campaign on 4 March 2020.
 

ADVENTURE 11: RAIDING THE FIELDS

PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 4​
Jhasspok, lizardfolk 3/barbarian 1​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 4​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 4​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 4​

Game Session Date: 4 March 2020

- - -

Several days after the unsuccessful attack on House Jalamir by the forces of one of the Lesser Houses, Calish strode into the slave-quarters of his quintet of combat slaves. "Gather around!" he commanded and the slaves were quick to obey. You never knew with Calish Jalamir; while he often presented a pleasant demeanor, they all knew - perhaps Cramer most of all - he was quick to anger and had a heart as black as any other drow in the Underdark city.

"First up: Payment for a job well done!" beamed the slavemaster, handing over a pouch of slave tokens to each of the five. "You will find a full hundred tokens each, a token of my pleasure for the way you held off the attackers and defended the North Gate. I trust they will be put to good use in the Slave Market as time permits."

"They certainly will," grinned Cramer Appleknocker, recalling 100 slave tokens could purchase the use of an actual drow slave for a full hour. He'd availed himself of the privilege once before and looked forward to a repeat of the experience.

"And next, a reminder of the consequences of my displeasure," added Calish in an equally-pleasant tone of voice. He reached back out through the entry door, taking a covered metal platter from a small table there in the hall. The slaves frowned, wondering what they might have done to earn Calish's displeasure and how a covered dining tray might play into the matter. But then, with a flourish, the slavemaster whipped the cover off the platter to reveal the severed head of a mind flayer - none other than N'zorthal, the House Jalamir Administer of Discipline himself.

Marlo blanched as her face drained of blood. Had Calish learned of N'zorthal's interest in the illithid book on the Dying One? Was the slavemaster an enemy of the Dying One? Did he know of the pact Marlo had made with the illithid Elder God - was this some sort of mental torment, to make her squirm before being physically tortured for having allied herself with an enemy of Calish? The breath caught in her lungs.

But all that worry was for naught. "N'zorthal," Calish explained, "needed to be shown Mother's displeasure at his recent failure."

"Failure?" repeated Marlo, while Khari tried to recall if he'd ever met Calish's mother, not recognizing the term as one the drow often used to describe Lolth, their Spider-Goddess. Cramer's eyebrows raised in delight at seeing the decapitated head of N'zorthal - that was one less enemy he'd have to tend to himself before he found a way out of this drow hellhole.

"Perhaps N'zorthal would care to explain," replied Calish, turning back to the open doorway behind him. As if on cue, four figures silently entered the room. The last three were the newest of the House Jalamir slaves: Guthier, Wulfrik, and Heather, captured by the five raiders and thrown into a life of slavery via the Writhing Gate. They spoke no words but the glares they gave said all that needed to be said: they would not soon be forgetting the ones who had cast them into this life. But leading this troop of sullen servitors was none other than N'zorthal, the Administer of Discipline, the ring of regeneration on his finger giving silent testimony as to how he still stood among the living despite the fact Calish held his decapitated head on a silver platter.

<I had been planting suggestions into the minds of the members of the Lesser Houses, getting them to start fights with more powerful Houses they could not possibly win. It was a way to force their hands before they had time to better prepare for success, since their success was not a desired end-state,> N'zorthal informed the group telepathically.

"And your failure?" prompted Calish, covering the severed head with the lid and placing it back on the table in the hallway.

<To increase the chance that my suggestions would take hold, I had to keep them open-ended and vague, which led one of the Lesser Houses to target House Jalamir for their attacks, thinking they could actually topple us and take our place. I failed to account for the possibility that we ourselves might end up under attack; I had thought those Noble Houses beneath us would have been more logical targets.>

"And one bit of fallout of the recent attack is that several of our food stores were torched in the battle," explained Calish. "It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that you slaves have been dining upon 'meat medley' these past few days." Left unsaid was the obvious fact the drow had ensured the food shortage hadn't affected any of them - the dark elves continued to dine upon the choicest viands while their slaves made do with makeshift scraps.

Marlo, whose face had begun to regain its normal coloration as she realized Calish still knew nothing about her alliance with the Dying One, now started to turn green as she deduced just what this 'meat medley' was likely comprised of. She swallowed the gorge that threatened to rise in her throat. Utred and Cramer also showed signs of discomfort at the thought they'd likely been fed the flesh of the enemy combatants who had attacked the House Jalamir pillar. But Khari and Jhasspok showed no such concerns, the dwarf because he hadn't yet figured it out and the lizardfolk because to him meat was meat.

"Fortunately," Calish continued, "N'zorthal has figured out a way to replenish our food supplies. On the surface world, there is a group of farming villages that, for some reason, suffer from bandit attacks every decade or so. You will be sent to raid several of these villages, taking what food you can; nobody should suspect anything other than they had once again been attacked by the surface bandits who already plague their homes."

"Are these three coming with us?" asked Khari Hammerslammer, indicating the three new slaves.

"Yes, but not quite in the capacity you likely envision. They will accompany you to the surface but remain behind to guard the Writhing Gate while you five secure the foodstuffs. They will also be able to help you haul the goods through the Gate. You will attack during the night, the better to ensure the Writhing Gate is not noticed, for it will remain in place on the surface during each raid, to speed the process. Any questions?"

"How many villages will we be attacking?" asked Cramer.

"As many as it takes for you to gather a sufficient quantity of goods. N'zorthal will let you know once that limit has been reached. One final thing: this is a food-gathering mission only. We already have enough mouths to feed, so there is no need to gather additional slaves at this time." He gazed absently at the three newest slaves, as if mentally determining whether they were best left alive or if their bodies would serve Overreach better as food stock for the other slaves.

"How soon will we need to start our trek to the Writhing Gate?" Utred asked.

<That will not be necessary. I have discovered a way to travel quickly to the Writhing Gate.> The mind flayer opted not to give any specifics on this new process and none of the slaves wanted to press the issue. <Gather your weapons and armor. We will leave at once.>

Once everyone was ready, the illithid did whatever new trick he had learned and he and the eight slaves were teleported to the Writhing Gate chamber. Reaching into a pocket of his robes, N'zorthal pulled out four familiar rings and slipped them over each of his facial tentacles, then passed their four counterparts - each on a thin chain, and each now with the tips of the four illithid appendages wriggling from the ring gates - and passed them over to Marlo, Cramer, Utred, and Khari. The four slaves pulled the necklaces over their heads, letting the ring gates hang over their breastbones. Once the tentacles touched the bare skin by the slaves' necks, N'zorthal had an instantaneous means of telepathic communication despite the distances that would soon be separating them.

As N'zorthal took his customary seat - one of ten along the Writhing Gate - Utred looked over at Heather, the halfling paladin of Yondalla. She had been allowed to retain her holy symbol, which hung about her neck on a silver chain, but it seemed as if the shaded portion of the cornucopia depicted on it seemed to be...writhing. The dwarven barbarian's thick eyebrows lowered in a scowl as he puzzled at this odd phenomenon - but then the Writing Gate activated and his suspicions were instantly forgotten as the ten tentacles, which had been squirming around in a random pattern, straightened out and came to a point near the ceiling, forming a cone shape.

Upon orders from the illithid, the five arena slaves turned off the illusory flames of their slave-light cloaks and all eight figures stepped forward into the Writhing Gate, to pop out just outside the first of the surface villages. There was a marketplace just ahead, with several crates and bags of various foodstuffs piled up, no doubt ready to be shipped elsewhere in the morning. It was dark out; looking up, Jhasspok saw the Really Big Pearl had been eaten away (by sky-acid, or so was the lizardfolk's firm belief) into a thin crescent shape, like one of the discarded toenails the gnome cleric left behind after his grooming.

But that wasn't the only source of illumination; a reddish glow emanated from a series of mountains just over the horizon. That puzzled Jhasspok, who had at first assumed it was the fireball sun just now leaving the sky, but in his (admittedly limited) experience on the surface world the Really Big Pearl didn't usually show up - at least not this high in the sky - until the fireball had already gone away. This surface stuff was confusing!

"Let's grab the goods and get out of here!" whispered Marlo, sneaking forward to do just that. But in the dim light she hit the edge of a small crate, causing it to topple from the stack it had been perched upon and fall to the ground with a crash. Up in a nearby watchtower, a guard spun around at the sound behind him and peered over the edge of his 15-foot-tall perch. Thinking quickly, Utred stumbled forward, pretending to be drunk. With any luck, the guard would think he was the one responsible for the noise: just another drunken dwarf out in the middle of the night. (He didn't give any thought that this particular "drunken dwarf" was bristling with weapons, no doubt causing more than a little concern in the minds of any guardsmen who might see him.) He mentally activated his slave-light cloak, causing it to blaze forth and bathe the dwarf in its radiant illumination; he had only belatedly recalled these humans didn't have darkvision like those races who lived in the Underdark. "Hey, izzair anyplace 'round 'ere where a guy c'n get a mug o' ale?" Utred asked loudly, peering up at the guard in the watchtower.

The guard's eyes bugged out at the sight of a dwarf so staggeringly drunk he didn't even know he was on fire. He raced down the ladder of the watchtower to go aid the poor fool. As he approached at his best speed - not all that fast, Utred noticed, for the man was much older than he'd have expected in a town's guardsman - Marlo cast an unseen servant spell from a scroll and had it start to lug away what looked to be bags of grain. She shouldered another such bag herself, then followed the floating bag back to the Writhing Gate, where the bags were handed over to the three newer slaves to pitch into the Writhing Gate.

Fortunately, Utred's drunken performance was enough to focus the guard's attention away from the marketplace pilfering going on behind him. Khari hefted a large crate of food onto his back and lugged it over to the Writhing Gate, while Jhasspok found, to his delight, a tray of recently-caught fish and started stuffing them into the satchel he wore in which he had recently stored his own supply of food - predominantly dried dung beetles. The goods were brought back to the Writhing Gate and transferred back to the Underdark, all while Utred led the guard away while pretending to look for an open ale shop. The elderly guardsman had been glad to see the dwarf hadn't really been on fire, but now he was trying to get him to go back home and sleep it off - with no success, for the dwarf ignored all threats of being arrested for being drunk and disorderly. Before long, the readily-apparent goods had been stolen away successfully and N'zorthal mentally signaled it was time to go to the next village. Utred, receiving the call, suddenly seemed to snap out of his drunkenness and race away at top speed - far faster than the elderly guardsman could hope to catch up. The slaves passed through the Writhing Gate and back to the Underdark. The five tentacles that had been in place just outside the first village's marketplace were gone before the puzzled guardsman got close enough to where he'd have been able to see them if they'd still been in place. He scratched his thinning hair, wondering where that crazy dwarf had gotten off to. Weird!

N'zorthal mentally recalibrated the targeting of the Writhing Gate and then the slaves were off to their next destination: another farming village in what must be around the same location, for the glow just over the nearby mountains was just as visible here as it had been at the previous one. "Is that the fireball sun?" asked Jhasspok, indicating the orange light spilling from beyond the visible peaks.

Cramer looked up at the sky, orienting himself by the stars. "Nope," he answered. "That way's north. Likely a forest fire or something. Volcano, even."

"There aren't any volcanoes on our map," recalled Marlo, referring to the map they'd taken from the two-wagon caravan they'd attacked during their first surface raid.

"There's no telling the range of the Writhing Gate," Cramer replied. "We're likely somewhere off the edges of that map - far off the edges, for all we know."

<It is irrelevant,> inserted N'zorthal into the conversation. <There is another marketplace ahead. Gather up the food readily available.>

The five arena slaves crept forth, looking for food to steal. Now that they knew to look for one, they saw a watchtower like in the previous village; the dwarves, with their darkvision, reported it was manned by an older-looking human woman with a light crossbow. "Again with the elderly guards," commented Marlo. "Weird." But, heeding the mind flayer's orders, they snuck forward into the market until they found what they'd been looking for: barrels of pickles, wheels of cheese, crates of flour and salt and sacks of oats and potatoes and turnips. Cramer, Jhasspok, and Marlo (and her still-active unseen servant spell) started gathering, lugging, and turning the stolen goods over to Heather, Wulfrik, and Guthier, while the two dwarves stealthily circled the village, looking to take out any guardsmen on patrol.

As it turned out, there was a guardsman about, patrolling on foot, and he stumbled across the others raiding the food from the market before either of the dwarves had spotted him. But Marlo took care of that problem with a shocking grasp spell that sent the man reeling. He fell face-first to the ground, and when Marlo turned him over to make sure he was still alive (she hadn't tried to kill him, merely knock him out), she was both pleased to see he was still breathing but somewhat surprised to see he was easily as old - if not older - as her own grandfather. What was with all the elderly guards?

Jhasspok decided to take out the guardswoman on duty at the watchtower, which would then give the slaves all the time they needed to strip the village bare of the food they wanted. Speeding forward with his tail held out straight behind him as a counterbalance, he practically leapt up the ladder and was standing on the platform with the surprised guard before she had had time to turn around and face him. "Drop your weapons and you live!" hissed the lizardfolk, his battleaxe raised to strike a blow if she failed to comply.

She failed to comply. Instead, screaming in terror at the dinosaur-monster in front of her, she tried raising her crossbow but Jhasspok brought his axe-head down on her. The blow failed to drop her, but she staggered back and leaned heavily on the back railing, her weapon dangling by one hand, her wounded arm no longer able to bring it to bear. But alerted by her scream, Marlo dropped the guardswoman with a magic missile spell. From his high vantage point, Jhasspok scanned the area and saw nobody else about, so he scampered back down and helped the others load the rest of the goods through the Writhing Gate. Then, like before, they all returned to the Underdark.

N'zorthal examined the pile of goods stacked up against the stone wall of the Writhing Gate's permanent Underdark location. <One more village will likely suffice for now,> he advised the slaves, retargeting the illithid teleportation structure to its next location.

Things turned out quite differently in this third village, however. For one thing, as five tentacles of the Writhing Gate manifested just outside this latest marketplace, there was guard standing right there, mere paces away. Fortunately, her back was turned to the Writhing Gate and her attention was focused upon a robed figure standing before her, but he saw the tentacles - and eight slaves - suddenly manifest behind her. His eyes widened in surprise and fear.

Utred stepped forward, deciding he'd try his drunken act again. "Hey!" he called to the guardswoman as he stepped up beside her. "There a tavern open 'round here? I needs me some ale!"

"You--you just stepped out of tentacles!" sputtered the robed figure. The guardswoman spun and looked in awe at the five waving tentacles that must have just erupted from the ground. She gave a wordless gasp of terror.

"Tavern?" repeated Utred, hoping to capture her attention. But she ignored him; instead, she raced to the center of the town and threw a smokestick at the ground before her. A column of thick, blue smoke rose up into the sky. Realizing this was likely a signal for reinforcements, the arena slaves all decided they'd have to forego stealth this time and fight off the guards before they'd be able to successfully make off with the food they'd come to steal. Marlo began by firing a magic missile spell at the robed figure standing beside Utred; she wasn't sure what his deal was - he wasn't dressed in the same armor as the guards - but robes like that usually meant a spellcaster and Marlo knew quite well the variety of spells that might be available to an enemy spellcaster. Better to take him out quick.

Her spell didn't quite do the trick - it hit him square on, eliciting a grunt of pain and pulling his focus away from the Writhing Gate - but then Khari raced up and brought him down with a quick strike with his dwarven warhammer. The robed figure fell to the ground, dead.

Alas, there were more of these robed figures about. Another one stepped out from the shadows behind a building and tossed a pair of lesser fire orbs at the two gathered dwarves. Seeing the flaming spheres racing their way, both Utred and Khari had time to dodge successfully and the spell-spheres exploded harmlessly far behind them.

Seeing no other combatants for the moment from their vantage point - for the elderly guardswoman who had activated the smokestick had subsequently run to a wooden building, stepped through a doorway, and slammed the door shut behind her - Jhasspok and Marlo began grabbing up the crates and bags assembled in a pile before them. They were suddenly accosted by another robed figure. "What are you doing?" he hissed. "You're not supposed to raid the place until tomorrow!"

"Um--what?" sputtered Marlo.

"Tomorrow, you idiots! The ritual isn't until tomorrow!"

Marlo had no idea what he was talking about, so she responded by casting a scorching ray at him but missed; the figure retaliated with the same spell, his aimed at the hulking lizardfolk. His spell struck Jhasspok straight on, causing a hiss of pain to erupt from the lizard's throat.

Cramer cast a sound burst spell at the offending spellcaster, stunning him momentarily into motionlessness. Utred then charged at the figure, felling him with one strike of his Elderwood flaming longsword. However, another robed figure stepped forward to take the place of his fallen companion. Marlo, by this time, had gone back to the primary mission, dragging a heavy sack of oats back towards the Writhing Gate while her unseen servant did likewise with a smaller bag of potatoes. Beside her, Khari hefted a wooden crate bigger than he was onto his shoulder and started lugging it back to the Writhing Gate.

And then yet another figure seemingly stepped forward from the shadows. She wore armor, but unlike the other guards the slaves had encountered thus far this night she was not at all elderly; quite the opposite, she seemed to have seen no more than two dozen summers. She tilted her head quizzically at Utred, her brow furrowed in confusion.

Jhasspok attacked the remaining spellcaster, getting in a good hit with his magically-enhanced battleaxe. Utred charged the beautiful young guardswoman, bringing his sword in for a lateral strike to her breastbone. The woman just stood there, a smirk on her face as the green-flamed blade struck true, smashing into the exposed skin just below her neck - and had no effect whatsoever. As the dwarven barbarian's face gaped in confusion, the armored woman released her true form. In an instant, a pair of batlike wings had erupted from her back and with a mere flick of them she was airborne. A barbed whip made of reddish leather unfurled at her side, draping down almost to the ground. Then, with controlled snaps of her arm and wrist, she sent the barbed devilhide whip flashing out at Utred, carving twin lines of pain across his face. Blood dripped down his face and in his vision as he let loose the rage that had built up immediately at the touch of the infernal weapon's twin strikes.

Cramer advanced on the spellcaster walking unhurriedly towards Jhasspok, but before the gnome could get off a spell the robed figure took a step back from the lizardfolk and cast a burning hands spell encompassing both Jhasspok and Cramer. They winced at the momentary pain and from above, the winged warrior woman looked down at them, intrigued at the battle going on below her.

<That is a succubus!> called N'zorthal to the four slaves wearing the ring gate necklaces. <Grab up what you can and retreat - it's not worth facing off against a demon!> Mastering the rage that had built up inside him and was ready for release, Utred high-tailed it back toward the Writhing Gate at top speed - which wasn't, it turned out, fast enough to avoid a final snap of the devil-whip across his broad back.

The succubus frowned in confusion. For whatever reason, her inherent telepathy wasn't able to pierce the thoughts of the five strangers; there must be some type of shielding magic in place, she mused. However, the cultist's thoughts were like an open book before her: he was hoping to recruit a few more sacrifices for some ritual involving a burning gate of some type. Her whip struck out again, this time against the cultist.

Jhasspok looked up and saw the succubus strike the robed human with her oddly-spiked whip of red leather. Taking comfort that she was on the side of good - one of those "sky-fish" that Utred had explained about when describing T'Puuli Tine's celestial father to the lizardfolk, no doubt - he helped her slay her foe by bringing his battleaxe crashing down upon the cultist, followed immediately by a bite to the throat. That last one did it - the cultist didn't last long after having his throat ripped out.

The succubus looked down at the five intruders, dragging stolen goods from the marketplace. "Cease your actions!" she called to the mind-shielded thieves. "I would have an explanation as to what you are doing in this kingdom!"

Spurred on by N'zorthal's telepathic commands to retreat, the slaves ignored her and ran with their various plundered foodstuffs to the Writhing Gate, racing full-speed between the tentacles and disappearing from view. Unseen behind them, the succubus screamed in pain, grabbed her head in both hands (dropping the barbed devilhide whip in the process), and fell to the ground as the Writhing Gate disappeared from existence. Overcome by the overwhelming sense of evil emanating from the illithid transportation system - and an accidental, momentary telepathic contact with the Dying One - Serenity's last thought before passing out was, "So that's what Galen must have felt...."

Back at the Writhing Gate's Underdark home location, N'zorthal stood up from his station, signaling the slaves' excursions were finished for the night. Behind him, the ten tentacles collapsed from their forced cone shape and started wiggling around independently once again. At each of the other nine stations sat the petrified remains of a mind flayer. <That was quite unexpected,> N'zorthal admitted. <The last time House Jalamir raided Ashfall, they did not have a guardian demon watching over the place.> He looked over the evening's take, piled onto the cart the arena slaves had taken from a previous raiding mission and ready to be pulled by the animated skeleton of a horse they had likewise captured. <I believe this will suffice. You may return to Overreach with the food supplies.>

A moment later, the Writhing Gate chamber was empty save for the mind flayer and his nine petrified kin.

- - -

I knew immediately our PCs were in Ashfall when I heard about the light from the north (making the mountain range a part of the Baator's Breath Mountains) and the advanced age of the guardsmen (because all able-bodied men were up in the mountains fighting off demon excursions); furthermore, I also realized this meant this entire campaign was not only taking place in the same game world as our previous one (as Logan had told us up front it was going to be) but also during the same time frame as well! The comment about the upcoming "burning gate" ritual sealed the deal: this adventure took place just before the one in "The Durnhill Conscripts" where our PCs fought off the Cult of the Burning Gate (where, for those who have read the exploits of the previous campaign, my PC Syngaard was treacherously reduced in size by half due to the evil machinations of the halfling rogue PC, Orion - played by Vicki, who runs Marlo in this campaign). Logan even pointed out, after the fact, that this adventure title, "Raiding the Fields," was a play on "Playing the Fields," an adventure in the Durnhill campaign.

So, this opens up some interesting possibilities. Three of the Durnhill PCs were involved in every adventure of the campaign, but Orion and Daleth (played by Joey, who now runs Utred Butterflinger) were frequent no-shows in the earlier adventures, so it's entirely possible we might meet up with them at some point during this campaign without contradicting anything from the previous campaign. And it's further evidence fueling our belief that the "metal man from Hell" we might need to rescue to help defeat the Dying One is none other than Alexandros, the Mithral Mage, one of our recurring foes in the Durnhill campaign.

Of course, Logan's probably put too much faith in our ability not to metagame with the knowledge our previous PCs knew when we run these current PCs. We were all well aware our PCs were fighting Serenity the succubus there at the end. Hopefully he'll take our prior knowledge into account.
 
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ADVENTURE 12: THE SECRET LIFE OF DOUBLE SLAVES

PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 4​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 1​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 4​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 4​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 4​

Game Session Date: 11 March 2020

- - -

"This is stupid," grumbled Cramer. "I don't see why N'zorthal couldn't have just teleported us back to Overreach, like he teleported us to the Writhing Gate in the first place."

"Weren't you listening?" rebutted Marlo in a whisper, making sure they were out of earshot of Heather, Guthier, and Wulfrik - neither of whom had any idea about the secrets the mind flayer was keeping from the drow slavemaster. But the three newest additions to House Jalamir's slave force kept mostly to themselves, not wanting anything to do with the five raiders who had cast them into slavery. Marlo continued in a quiet voice, "He explained the Writhing Gate is 'angry' that a lesser being tried prying into its mind."

"Writhing Gate? The Dying One, you mean," countered Cramer.

"...Possibly," was all the sorceress was willing to admit on that front. "In any case, it has no problem with drawing others closer to it. But with it currently in its little sulk, I don't think I'd want to take the chance of having it teleport me back to the city when it's in a bad mood."

"So we got a two-day trek ahead of us," sighed Khari. He was just ahead of the cart of goods, pulled by the animated skeleton of a horse, and within earshot of the three new slaves.

"Two days?" gasped Guthier. "It's going to take us two days to get back to the drow city? Why don't we...you know, now might be a good time to make a break for it!"

"Don't be stupider than you already are," groused Utred. "Didn't Calish explain to you about those House Jalamir tattoos on your backs? You'd never make it - they'd hunt you down easily."

"And I daresay you wouldn't like the punishment that followed," added Cramer with a visible shiver, recalling the horrible day N'zorthal had eaten the brain straight out of the gnome's skull - three times in a row! - while Cramer wore a ring of regeneration ensuring the punishment wouldn't deprive House Jalamir of the continued manpower provided by their diminutive slave.

"Yeah, well Calish ain't gonna like it taking two days for us to show back up with all o' this food," added Khari. "I imagine he expected us to show back up, like, immediately."

"There's not a whole lot we can do about that," reasoned Marlo. "We'll just have to do like N'zorthal told us: tell Calish he's staying back to repair a malfunction in the Writhing Gate and will return as soon as he can. He probably won't like it, but what can he do?"

As it turned out, not much. The slaves had an uneventful return to the drow city of Overreach, at which time Marlo explained the situation and turned the four ring gate necklaces over to the slavemaster. Calish wasn't pleased at all to hear the news, but he quickly accepted the situation and pressed on with the new plans this set of circumstances had forced upon him. "Very well, then - it looks like any surface raiding I might have sent you on will be curtailed for the moment. That being the case, I will reassign you to new duties until such time as N'zorthal completes his repairs."

Jhasspok was thrilled with his new duties, considering they were nothing more than his old, pre-arena-slave duties: catching fish in the bioluminescent Underdark sea that surrounded the Eight Pillars of Overreach. Utred and Khari were slightly less pleased with their new assignment: given Utred's family background, it only made sense to send him to the stench kow ranch and Calish opted to send Khari along with him to learn the ins and outs of raising the shaggy rothé. Marlo and Cramer got perhaps the worst of it, though, being assigned to the fungal farms to shovel excrement onto the fungus that made up a food staple for the Underdark community. Due to the recent attack on House Jalamir, each of the five arena slaves was allowed to retain his or her armor and weapons at hand, in case of another attack. In the chaotic society of the dark elves, nothing made a more enticing target than a House that had just weathered an attack from another House and was thus not currently at its peak strength.

Two weeks passed in this fashion. Of the five, only Jhasspok seemed to be enjoying himself. And then their lives went on an entirely unexpected course as an unseen voice whispered into each slave's ear at almost the same time, "Pretend the sleep venom is taking effect when I stab you." Then, out of nowhere, a dark elf suddenly appeared before each of the five arena slaves, stabbing out with a dagger wet with what looked like poison.

Cramer and Marlo immediately noted the slight discoloration of the hair of the two drow attacking them: the gnome's assailant had white hair with a very light tint of blue, while Marlo's attacker had hair of a light pink - but which would surely look like the standard white hair of a drow from far enough away. Realizing these were likely sunborn drow from Greenvale they played along, falling prone as if succumbing to drow sleep venom; Marlo winced at the thought of falling into the dung she'd been spreading onto the fungal garden and managed to conveniently collapse between patches of the dried excrement.

Utred mastered his instinctive rage at being attacked out of the blue but allowed reason to guide his actions for once - after all, if these were enemy drow attacking them, why would they have given him a warning? He also played along, falling to the ground beside the rothé he'd been milking - careful, though, not to tip over the bucket of smelly milk he'd collected thus far. Khari played along as well despite not having done any reasoning of his own, merely trusting Utred knew what he was doing and it would be best to follow his fellow dwarf's lead.

As for Jhasspok, he fell forward into the shallow water and floated there as if unconscious, but his eyes were just above the water's surface, looking at his pretend attacker. He had felt the point of the drow's dagger blade rub up against his scales, but it hadn't been anywhere near a hard enough thrust to penetrate the lizardfolk's thick hide: this was obviously a sunborn drow, then - part of the other group of drow to which Jhasspok was a "secret double slave." He was curious to see where this subterfuge was going.

Seeing their "victims" lying motionless before them, each of the Greenvale drow pulled out a ring and placed it over a finger of the slave they'd pretended to attack. Then they explained the rings would completely shield the slaves from any scrying attempts on the part of House Jalamir and that House Ky'hulcressen had a secret mission for them. The sunborn drow then opened up a series of Shadow Gates and led each of the three groups through the Plane of Shadows to a nondescript building where they were all reunited back on the Material Plane. "Take a seat in the next room," the drow instructed, then disappeared back into the shadows of the plane of darkness.

"Hey, guys," Khari said upon seeing the others. "Fancy meeting you here. Me an' Utred was just milking a stench kow. Whatever's up, it's gotta be better'n that."

"Let's see what these sunborn drow have for us," said Cramer, opening the door and walking into a conference room, where there were two drow seated at a large table. One of the drow was Niradi Ky'hulcressen, the Apprentice Weaver the group had rescued from assassins some time ago, and the other was the purple-haired guard they'd met up in Greenvale. The slaves took seats around the table.

"It was House Dureem that attacked House Jalamir two weeks ago," Niradi explained. "For their failure, as is the way with the drow under the sway of the Spider-Bitch, Lolth obliterated their House, burning away the interior rooms of their stalactite dwelling in unholy fire." House Dureem was not one of the Eight Noble Houses of Overreach and thus did not warrant dwelling inside one of the Eight Pillars of the city - instead, their House dwelt inside one of the smaller stalactites hanging from the ceiling of the Great Cavern.

"Finding the circumstances behind the attack somewhat suspicious, House Ky'hulcressen began investigating and we believe House Dureem was somehow manipulated into their suicidal attack."

"Absolutely," agreed Cramer. "It was the mind flayer N'zorthal, House Jalamir's Administer of Discipline - he used suggestions to instigate the attack. He was punished for it, too. This came straight from Calish Jalamir's mouth."

"That is good to know," Niradi replied. "But as part of our investigation, we found eight bodies unaccounted for from House Dureem: children from the ages of 20 to 35." This puzzled Jhasspok for a moment - he was all of five years old himself and a full adult, after all - until he recalled drow aged much more slowly than other races and could live for centuries. Niradi continued, "It is no secret that House Jalamir deals in the procurement and sale of drow slaves. Although they claim all their slaves are criminals given the choice between slavery and death, only a child would be naive enough to believe life as a slave to other drow to be better than death."

"So, you think these eight drow kids are still alive, taken as slaves by House Jalamir?" reasoned Utred.

"We do. We have tracked the children down to a building within their slave goods market. However, the area they are held in is warded such that if anyone not of House Jalamir enters it will immediately alert Calish. Thus, we need you to go in and rescue them, as your slave tattoos mark you as belonging to House Jalamir."

"This building - it wouldn't be the Punch-a-Drow shop, would it?" guessed Cramer.

"Indeed. You know of it?" Cramer admitted he did, having recently spent 100 slave tokens to "rent" a drow slave for an hour, during which time he was permitted to do anything he wanted to her save for actually killing her outright. But despite Marlo's assumptions about how the gnome had spent his hour, Cramer confessed he'd merely healed the drow's prior wounds with his spells and rubbed her feet; as a cleric of Fharlanghn, the God of Travel, he well knew the importance of healthy feet. Cramer thought it would be a good way to get into the drow slave's good graces, to show her that not all non-drow were scum upon which to be heaped scorn - and if nothing else, if the drow slave refused to see the nobility of the gnome cleric it would at least probably infuriate her to have her predilections proved to be false - and that in itself would be a small victory over the drow.

"So, you want us to just walk in there and fetch the eight Dureem slaves?" Utred asked. "We'll be instantly recognized!"

"Not with these," answered Niradi, passing over a potion flask to each of the arena slaves. "These are potions of disguise self, each already tailored to give you the appearance of a drow noble of House Jalamir." She turned to Jhasspok. "And in your particular case, the illusory disguise includes a set of appropriate clothing," she added. Then she passed a second potion to Cramer. "You will also need this potion of enlarge person, to attain the correct size of the drow you'll appear to be. That way, anyone interacting with you won't wonder why their hand, say, passed right through the space where your shoulder should be." Cramer nodded appreciatively; they'd certainly put the appropriate level of thought into this mission.

"You primary goal is to rescue the eight House Dureem children," said Niradi, "although if you can rescue any of the other drow slaves it would be greatly appreciated. After all, having fallen from the Spider-Bitch's favor, these drow would be likely candidates for conversion to the worship of Eilistraee. This building is but a few minutes' walk from the Punch-a-Drow shop - which, I should point out, is referred to as the 'Forbidden Desires' brothel to its prospective clientele. You need merely lead the slaves back here and we will take it from there. They will be smuggled out of Overreach and taken to Greenvale, where they can live their lives free from the horrors of Lolth. Now then, are there any questions?"

"Do we know where the eight drow slaves are being kept?" asked Cramer.

"We believe there is an upper level in the basement above the building, but we have been unable to determine its exact layout. The slaves are likely being held there."

"Wait, a basement above the building?" asked Marlo. "I'm confused."

"Remember: we are within the reverse gravity effect on the ceiling of the Great Cavern," replied the purple-haired drow guard. "We are, right now, upside-down on the ceiling, as is the slave market of House Jalamir."

"I hate this place," grumbled the sorceress to herself.

"Do we know the strength of any security forces on hand?" asked Utred. "Numbers, weapons used - anything?"

"I'm afraid we have no concrete answers along those lines, other than you can bet there is some type of security in the place, to prevent the slaves from trying to escape." Utred grunted to himself. Going in blind, then! As the slaves began drinking down their potions, Niradi reminded them, "The drow who run this operation are wholly evil and deserving of death. Your altered slave tattoos will allow you to attack drow without repercussion."

Cramer grinned an evil grin. "I am well aware," he admitted. Then, being the only one of the five to have been inside the Punch-a-Drow shop, he led the way through the House Jalamir slave market and up to the shop's front door. "We ought to have a cover story," he informed the others - all of whom now gave every outward appearance of being drow nobles. "And Marlo, as the female of the group, you'd normally be in command; you should do all of our talking for us. Remember to sound regal and haughty."

"Got it. What's our cover story?"

"We want all of the slaves gathered together, so let's just command the proprietor to gather them up for our inspection."

"Why would we do that?" asked Khari.

Cramer gave it some thought. "House Jalamir's having a party for their upper nobles," he decided, "and they want the maximum number of pleasure slaves available. We're to bring everyone from the Forbidden Desires shop, no questions asked...and the order comes from Calish Jalamir himself!" he added with a chuckle. This sounded like a good idea to Jhasspok, who was busy imagining what a "pleasure slave" would do at a drow party. Probably serve fish, he decided, inordinately pleased at the thought of an all-you-can-eat fish party. But then the lizardfolk's mental reveries were interrupted by Marlo signaling they were about to enter the building.

A drow in studded leather armor sat behind the counter as Marlo stormed into the building, the four "drow" men trailing behind her. He looked up absently, expecting to see a prospective client interested in hiring out his wares but jumped immediately to his feet at the apparent sight of a high-ranking cleric of Lolth. "H-How may I be of service, matron?" he stammered. Over at the far side of the room, two scantily-clad drow slaves stood on display.

"Your pleasure slaves: bring them before me at once!" commanded Marlo. "All of them." The proprietor responded by ringing a bell he picked up from beneath the counter. Three more drow women entered from private rooms along the side of the building.

"Where are the others?" demanded Marlo. "Calish demands all of your pleasure slaves, even those...newly acquired."

"Others?" gulped the drow behind the counter. "Matron...these are all there all." Using the counter as cover, he secretly loaded his hand crossbow; something wasn't right here. House Jalamir was large enough he couldn't possibly be expected to recognize all of its members by sight, but he had a pretty good idea of its top members and he'd never seen any of these five before. He gave Marlo an appraising look - he'd certainly have recognized her if he'd ever seen her before, he was sure of that!

Deciding a cleric of Lolth would probably want to roughen up anyone giving her any kind of difficulty, Marlo stormed around the counter and approached the proprietor - and was immediately shot with his hand crossbow. "We're under attack!" he called to the pleasure slaves as he hurriedly reloaded his crossbow. "Get them!"

Khari reacted by dashing up to the counter and bringing his dwarven warhammer crashing down upon the drow's head. The victim of the attack managed to duck and bring his arm up instinctively to block the blow, and the audible crack indicated he'd likely broken his arm in doing so. Jhasspok had also bounded up to attack the man with his battleaxe, but his blade merely cut a deep gouge in the wooden counter in the spot where the proprietor had just moved from in dodging Khari's blow.

Reluctantly obeying their master, the pleasure slaves moved in for the attack, weaponless but scratching with their polished nails. Jhasspok felt a set of nails running harmlessly across his scales; the slave didn't seem to notice the discrepancy between the fine linen cloth her intended victim seemed to be wearing and the hardened scales of the lizardfolk hidden behind the illusion. But two of the other slaves managed to scratch Utred's face, causing him to roar in anger - not from the pain, which was minimal, but just at the affront of having been harmed by weaponless foes. Not wanting to waste any time fighting them off, he gave one a push that send her reeling across the room while the barbarian brought his Elderwood flaming longsword stabbing through the proprietor's neck, slaying him instantly. Utred noticed the magic of the potion had changed the apparent color of the flames from his sword from their normal emerald hue to a more natural orange-yellow.

Cramer, in the meantime, had approached the pleasure slave he'd rented once before and grabbed her wrists while calling for them to stop attacking. "We're here to free you!" he cried above the din. That got their attention: the women ceased their halfhearted attacks at once, having fought more from fear of disobeying their master than any real desire to enter combat on their own.

"Got something here," Utred announced as he leaped over the counter and examined the stone wall behind it. He tossed the proprietor's corpse out of the way to find the trigger mechanism, but find it he did. "Secret door," he nodded to himself. "Kids're prolly behind here."

"Do you know anything of eight drow slaves being recently brought here?" asked Cramer. The pleasure slaves admitted they did immediately, adding there was a horrid minotaur guarding the "training cave" where the kids would be indoctrinated into their new roles by the four drow "educators" responsible for their torture and eventual compliance.

"Then I think it best if you five stay in your rooms until we return with them," the gnome advised. "We will be back for you, and then we'll take all of you to freedom." The pleasure slaves were more than happy to follow the gnome's advice, Cramer's former "rental partner" having the presence of mind to lock the front door and put out a "CLOSED" sign to ensure there would be no interruptions during the rescue attempt. Cramer cast a quick healing spell on Marlo to close up the wound caused by the bolt from the proprietor's hand crossbow, then the sorceress indicated her readiness with a silent nod.

Utred led the charge into the room beyond, activating the secret door and getting in a good slash at the minotaur beyond with his Elderwood flaming longsword before the shaggy beast had fully turned around to see who was entering his domain. Jhasspok and Khari followed, each likewise bringing their weapons to bear, but it was Marlo who took the minotaur down with a magic missile spell. The poor thing was dead before it even knew why it was being attacked by a drow cleric and her four henchmen.

There was a spiral staircase in the corner, leading down. "Wait - I thought the basement was above us," said Marlo, clearly confused.

"It is," replied Utred, pointing down at the stairs leading down. "We're upside-down on the cavern ceiling, remember? Down is currently up."

"I hate this place," Marlo reiterated, her head starting to hurt from trying to visualize just exactly where in the Overreach she was.

Utred once again led the formation, heading down the stairs with the others behind him. As a dwarf, he could see perfectly fine in the pitch blackness of the spiraling tunnel but Marlo, Cramer, and Jhasspok activated their slave-light cloaks, causing differently-colored illumination to spill out all about them. After several complete turns, the stairs leading down became a ramp leading up, for at the transition point was the end of the reverse gravity effect; now the group was climbing upwards along the ramp, the "basement" level actually above the upside-down Punch-a-Drow shop as had been explained. Marlo's incipient headache began to worsen.

The spiral ramp widened at the end as it spilled into an irregularly-shaped cavern. Khari raced ahead once he saw a male drow in studded leather armor poking at the unconscious body of a drow girl with an electrified rapier, the tip of the blade making a characteristic "zap" with each poke. With a battle roar, the dwarven fighter charged at the drow ranger, bringing the head of his warhammer crashing into his ribs.

Hearing the sudden yelp from her subordinate, the leader of the slave trainers turned and saw what appeared to be an armored drow attacking her minion with a warhammer. Amazed at the audacity, she cast a Kelgor's fire bolt spell at the disguised Hammerslammer dwarf, striking him squarely in the back. But at the same time Jhasspok followed Khari's path of travel and bolted up from the ramp, cutting the ranger down with his battleaxe. He, too, looked to be a drow warrior; even his turtle shell shield had been covered by the disguise self spell to give the appearance of a metal shield holding an intricate spiderweb pattern, with the House Jalamir emblem at its center.

Two more drow trainers ran up to the two interlopers, one attacking Khari and one going for Jhasspok, each wielding an electrified rapier, with a short sword in his off hand. Neither drow managed to hit their targets, for the disguised arena slaves had had plenty of time in which to dodge the incoming blows.

Back down in the ramp, Cramer called hurriedly to Utred, "There's a spellcaster of some sort up there behind us! You go take them out of action!" And then he cast a silence spell on the dwarven barbarian, realizing the zone of silence around him wouldn't hamper him in the least - while likely having disastrous effects upon anyone trying to cast a spell with a verbal component (which the clever gnome realized was just about all of them) in his immediate vicinity. Nodding his agreement, Utred raced up the ramp and around the corner, seeing his spellcasting target for the first time: a female battle-cleric of Lolth by the look of all the spider-emblems she had embedded on her armor. Her brow furrowed in consternation as she heard no noise accompanying the barbarian's hard-soled boots on the stone of the cavern; then, as sudden realization dawned, she turned to try to flee before he could reach her - no no avail, as Utred's magic longsword cut a deep gash into her side. But she raced away from the crazed dwarf - who looked to be a high-ranking House Jalamir noble, obviously a magical disguise of some sort - and over towards Cramer, who likewise looked to be a high-ranking member of her House. She had no idea of Cramer's capabilities but her primary goal was to get outside the range of the area of effect of the silence spell obviously centered on the drow who had attacked her with the flaming longsword. She struck at Cramer with her own weapon as she approached, but missed.

Marlo cast a magic missile at the drow ranger attacking Khari and the dwarven fighter finished off his foe with a well-placed hammer strike. That was two of the males down - a full 50% of the torturers "instructing" the House Dureem children of their new roles. Jhasspok hit his own foe with his magic battleaxe, noting the cowering children lining the outer edges of the cavern. The drow ranger tried to retaliate with a strike of his own but the electrified rapier hit only the lizardfolk's disguised turtle shell shield. Marlo cast another magic missile spell at the ranger, striking him unerringly. He staggered under the impact but did not fall.

Cramer took a step backwards and cast a sound burst spell at the drow cleric, hoping to stun her into momentary motionlessness, but she was apparently made of sterner stuff. But then Utred caught up to her and struck her again with his sword, keeping her encompassed within the field of silence. Khari ran up to the cleric and struck her with his warhammer from the direct opposite side as Utred, pinning her between them.

The woman acted instinctively, knowing the two dwarves could easily kill her with their weapons and she had no effective spells she could cast without speaking aloud. But she could trigger the magical darkness effect available to all drow, dropping down (silently, thanks to Cramer's still-active silence spell centered on Utred) to her hands and knees and crawling off to the side. She knew her foes wouldn't be able to see her, even if they were, like her, a true drow; she suspected this was possibly another attack from a Lesser House trying to take advantage of House Jalamir's temporary weakness after House Dureem's suicidal attack.

Just outside the hemisphere of absolute darkness covering the center of the chamber, Jhasspok traded blows with his dark elf foe, neither seeming able to hit the other. But then Cramer hit the sole remaining drow ranger with another sound burst spell, and this time the spell was all it took to take the dark elf out of commission. That left the female cleric as the only remaining combatant and she was somewhere within the half-globe of absolute darkness. The gnome backed up until he could see both sides of the hemisphere, so he'd hopefully be able to see her when she emerged. Marlo likewise readied another magic missile spell, to cast at the drow woman once she came within view.

Utred, blind and deaf but well aware that Khari was somewhere in front if him, gave his longsword a tentative swing before him: enough to tell if the woman he'd been fighting was still in place but not enough to go stabbing into Khari if the dwarves were standing closer than the barbarian had imagined. Khari did likewise with his own weapon, poking out with the hammer's head to gauge her position rather than trying to hit her just yet. But the dwarves' tentative probes didn't matter in the least, for the cleric had the misfortune of crawling out of her own darkness effect quite literally at Marlo's feet; the sorceress took her out with her readied magic missile spell.

"That should be it," remarked Cramer, dismissing his silence spell. "Come this way," he yelled to the dwarves, knowing there was an open, spiraling ramp somewhere near them in the hemisphere of sightlessness; no sense in them falling into it and breaking their fool necks. Then he turned to the drow children they'd come to rescue. "Don't be afraid of us," he called to them. "We're here to rescue you. We'll have you all out of here in no time."

During the time the group had been waiting for the cleric to emerge from the darkness effect, Jhasspok had picked up the unconscious girl and moved her over to the far cavern wall, where she'd be less likely to be affected by any further combat. Then, as the dwarves emerged, he joined them in checking out the bodies of the drow they'd slain. The electrified rapiers were interesting, but none of the arena slaves could see themselves using them so they all opted to leave them behind.

Cramer cast a healing spell on the unconscious House Dureem girl, bringing her to full wakefulness. Then, wanting to leave some sort of message to the House Jalamir members who would at one point investigate this cavern, the gnome had one of the children help him scratch the symbol of House Dureem onto the stone floor of the cavern. "I want them to know they failed to completely eradicate your House," he told them. Then the raiders gathered all eight children together and led them back down the ramp, which halfway through the cycle turned into going up the stairs. (Marlo muttered something under her breath at that point, but none of the children could make out exactly what she said.) Then, back in the Punch-a-Drow shop proper, they gathered up the five slaves and explained what was going to happen. "Our story is that we're taking you all away to a gathering of high officials," Marlo said. "I'll lead the way and these other four will be supposed to be guarding you, so walk single file as if you're not sure what's going on and somewhat afraid. But we're really going somewhere where you'll be safe and free to live your lives as other than slaves to House Jalamir. Okay?"

Marlo was greeted with positive responses and she was pleased to see they had all mastered the "looking confused and afraid" part as she led them out of the building, through the House Jalamir slave market, and over to the meeting house where Niradi Ky'hulcressen and her purple-haired Greenvale associate awaited them. The five sunborn drow who had brought the arena slaves through the Plane of Shadows reappeared, to take the slaves to their new lives in Greenvale.

The arena slaves were taken to a secluded alleyway for the effects of their potions to wear off. When they once more looked like themselves, one of the sunborn drow returned to their sides. "You will run now, as if having escaped from your attackers. You do not know who attacked you or why they wanted you, but when you awoke - perhaps sooner than had been expected - you fled. Drop your rings as you run; I will gather them back up. Now go!"

The arena slaves ran, dropping their rings as instructed. Cramer appreciated the simplicity of the sunborn drow's plan: with Khari and Jhasspok's limited capacity for intrigue - neither was anywhere near the top end of the intellectual scale - it was best for everyone to just play dumb. And with House Dureem already having attacked House Jalamir and several other Houses likely planning similar assaults, it was completely feasible that the first strike against the Noble House might be against several of their slaves, to torture information from them about their House's weaknesses.

But Cramer knew he'd just made an important blow against the House that had made a slave of him. One day he'd be back to full freedom but if he had to remain a slave for a bit longer, it was rather fulfilling to be a "secret double slave," to use Jhasspok's term.

- - -

This session was bombarded with puns. We noticed immediately the similarity between "Dureem" and "dream" and that got the ball rolling. When we were told we had to rescue eight Dureem children, I piped up with, "The oldest one's name is Dureem Abdul Jabbar," which elicited a groan from Vicki and a demand to hear the other seven names if only to get them out of my system. Well, I didn't have seven "Dureem" pun names immediately at hand, but we did spend the night commenting on how they were all so "Dureemy" and the like. And then, at the end, when we had slain the enemies and rescued the eight Dureem slaves, I asked Logan if any of them had the ability to create ironsilk, like Niradi could, and pretended not to remember her title. Logan responded with "She's an Apprentice Weaver, and no, the slave children aren't trained in that art." Which was exactly what I had hoped he'd say, as it set me up for, "Oh, so there aren't any Dureem Weavers among them?" The look on Logan's face showed an eye-rolling dismay at my stupid pun and an equal self-abasement for not having seen that one coming. Heh heh heh - or, as Jhasspok would put it, "Ssss ssss ssss ssss ssss ssss!"

But Logan's taken to letting the puns roll by him, because he knows there's nothing he can do to put a stop to them. After all, Dan's as big of an instigator as I am - he still uses the term "Piehole Crescent" to refer to the sunborn drow's Noble House, to which we are all "secret double slaves."

We all leveled up to 5th at the end of this adventure. Everyone else is sticking with another level of their sole character class, but Jhasspok's adding a level of fighter, so he can get a bonus Weapon Focus (greataxe) feat to help him start pulling his weight a bit better in combat around here. It's kind of painful for a hulking lizardfolk to be put to shame by a pair of four-foot-tall dwarves!
 
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ADVENTURE 13: DUNGEONS AND DUERGAR

PC Roster:
Cramer Appleknocker, gnome cleric 5​
Jhasspok, lizardman 3/barbarian 1/fighter 1​
Khari Hammerslammer, dwarf fighter 5​
Marlo Pendragon, human sorcerer 5​
Utred "Buckets" Butterflinger, dwarf barbarian 5​

NPC Roster:
Eri'dia Jalamir, drow sorcerer 1​

Game Session Date: 18 March 2020

- - -

The morning began with a primal scream of rage, which woke the five sleeping arena slaves. After having been debriefed yesterday about their "abductions" and subsequent "escape" from their "unknown assailants," Calish had removed them from their temporary duties and had them return to their former slave quarters. Now they leaped up in the darkness of the room - for it was earlier than the normal time for waking and thus the slave light torches had not been remotely activated - the non-dwarves among them grabbing for and activating their slave-light cloaks to provide some illumination. "Is everyone okay?" asked Cramer.

The scream that had awakened them all was followed by another, this one recognizably that of a woman, and seemingly caused by pain instead of rage. Hurriedly, the slaves gathered up their weapons and put on their armor, anticipating another attack upon House Jalamir. But if this was another attack it was by the most polite drow forces imaginable, for rather than their door being kicked in there was a tentative knock upon it.

Cramer, being the closest to the door, headed over to open it. Before he could get there the politeness had apparently been extinguished, for a woman's voice called out regally, "Let me in!" Looking to see the others were all armed and ready, Cramer opened the door - only to see a young female drow storm into the room, cradling her left wrist. This was someone with whom they were familiar, if not anyone they'd had any personal dealings with: Eri'dia Jalamir, youngest daughter of Matron Jalamir, the Noble House's leader, and little sister to Calish the slavemaster. Jhasspok had no idea of the personal link that existed between the two of them: it was Eri'dia who, having gotten sick by some bad clams gathered by the fisherfolk slaves, had insisted Jhasspok be sent to the arena for the Festival of Blood, having mistakenly identified him as the culprit who had gathered up the bad shellfish. (Jhasspok, however, with his aquatic maneuverability, had been solely a procurer of actual fish; after all, anybody could hunt down a clam or oyster!)

"Heal me, slave," Eri'dia commanded to Cramer, holding her broken wrist out to the little gnome. Cramer glared in dislike at being ordered about but realized no good would come of disobeying a direct order from a drow, let alone the daughter of his House's leader. "This may hurt a little," he advised her, pulling her hand out and causing her to wince in pain; the process absolutely wasn't necessary for him to apply a healing spell but he was fairly sure she wouldn't know the difference and he enjoyed making members of the haughty drow race suffer a little when he thought he could get away with it. "How did this happen?" he asked, casting a cure light wounds from one of his scrolls to deal with the injury.

"My shunaji brother," she snarled, using an obscure drow word for the end of the excretory canal. "He's all pissed that somebody stole his hard-earned drow pleasure slaves and is venting his frustration on anything and everyone he can. Just because I'm still two years away from my Ascension to Adulthood ceremony, I'm an acceptable target for his tantrums." She moved her healed wrist around, ensuring it still had full mobility after Cramer's ministrations. The thought to thank him for his handiwork never even crossed her mind.

Then, looking around at the five arena slaves, the Jalamir daughter came to an instant decision. "It would be best if Calish had something to take his mind of his missing pleasure slaves, and I'm thinking a sizable hoard of treasure would do the trick. Fortunately, I know just where we might be able to get something along those lines."

"'We,' Mistress?" asked Marlo.

"I don't plan on hanging around here for him to smack around," Eri'dia replied. "My own slaves were working in the mines and accidentally broke through a wall, into what looks to be a duergar tomb. There's no telling what all might be in there, but the duergar often put a considerable amount of treasure in their burial vaults. You're all combat fighters: you ought to be able to handle any traps they've left behind to prevent looting. Come along."

"Now?" asked Khari - he'd been hoping they might get a bite to eat before heading out. But that was apparently not to be, for such considerations were nothing to the spoiled drow royalty. "I'll even let you each keep a trinket from the tomb, if it proves to be as rich as I think it is," she said as way of enticement. Then she exited the room, expecting the five slaves to follow.

They all knew their place in the Overreach hierarchy: they followed, Cramer casting a longstrider spell upon himself to help him keep up with the other, longer-legged members of the group. Jhasspok, seeing the spellcasting and assuming it was time for such things, offered Marlo a slave token to cast a mage armor spell on him. She smiled and complied, taking the proffered token not because she needed it but because it would make the lizardfolk happy to have successfully used money. (He was still struggling with the concept.) But Marlo also studied the Jalamir noblewoman they followed; if Marlo understood drow society, two years from being an adult would put Eri'dia at 48 years old. It also explained her garb; unlike nearly all adult female drow, she was not dressed as a priestess of Lolth but rather in a loose gown of dark spider silk. Perhaps two years hence she would begin her training in the dutiful worship of the Spider-Bitch. And then Calish wouldn't dare to lay a hand on her in anger - not and be allowed to live, anyway.

A brisk stride through several side tunnels at the far edge of the Underdark city led the group to the mines, where Eri'dia unerringly took them to the newly-unearthed chamber. An elderly dwarven slave in mining gear met her there. "We've touched nothing, as per your orders, Mistress," he reported.

"Good," replied the drow. "You may get back to your duties. I and these slaves will take it from here."

"Yes, Mistress," replied the elderly dwarf, looking pleased to be able to leave the vicinity, but whether from the unknown forces potentially lurking inside the duergar tomb or the spoiled drow princess herself was difficult to pin down.

Khari approached the hole in the wall, seeing an open chamber beyond. There was no illumination in the tomb but that didn't matter to a dwarf; the Hammerslammer's darkvision allowed him to see perfectly fine nonetheless. "Four statues of duergar inside," he reported back to the others, "an' a bunch o' carved inscriptions in th' walls."

"What do they say?" demanded Eri'dia. She would never have wasted her time learning a language of the lower races.

"Sumpin' ' bout a duergar hero, name o' Rurgath Stoneaxe," Khari answered, reading the carved runes in the Dwarven language, shared by dwarves and duergar alike. He leaned into the room as far as he could to read the rest of the inscriptions without actually stepping foot into the tomb; he might not be the smartest of his people but even he knew stepping into a potentially trapped area was not a good idea. "Huh. Says here 'is greatest deed was t' cause the disappearance o' the kingdom of Brunniir." That, he knew, had happened some fifteen hundred years in the past. He pulled out his infrequently-used longbow, ready to shoot down anything that might try to approach from the tomb beyond. Seeing no obvious threats, he gave the four statues a good look-over - he wouldn't put it past the sneaky duergar to have them come to life and attack. Unfortunately, the dwarven fighter was too far away from them to be able to give them more than a cursory examination, to tell whether they were likely stationary or not.

"Well, if they're gonna attack us if we go in there, let's get 'em going!" said Utred, scrambling past his fellow dwarf and stepping into the tomb. Sure enough, Khari's fears were immediately realized: these were animated statues, part of a trap to prevent looters from advancing further into the tomb. But Utred got in the first blow with his greataxe, noting sullenly the stone statues resisted some of the strength of his swing, although he was pleased to see he at least carved a chunk of the statue free with his first strike. Khari's bow shot had less of an effect, the arrow plunking harmlessly off the statue he shot.

Marlo cast a magic missile spell into the room, hitting one of the statues in the back of the tomb as it moved closer. After some apparent internal struggle, Eri'dia did likewise, demonstrating she was not only an arcane spellcaster (as Marlo had guessed) but one with less training and experience than the human sorceress had, for while Marlo was now able to send a trio of missiles shooting forth from her fingertips, the drow could only manage one. Still, Marlo reasoned, any amount of spellpower would be welcome and if Calish's little sister was a sorceress or a wizard, at least she'd be likely to want to stay well behind the others and out of immediate harm's way. Marlo did not want to have to tell the easily-angered slavemaster they'd gotten his little sister killed, even if it was on a mission she herself had insisted upon leading.

Cramer chose to beef up one of the two dwarves already at the front lines; scrambling over the open hole in the wall, he cast a spell upon Utred and then stepped back out of reach of the approaching duergar statues. Utred grunted in appreciation of the shield of faith spell; anything that kept the dwarven barbarian in the midst of battle was very welcome!

Jhasspok leaped through the opening in the wall and rushed up to the animated statue threatening Utred. His battleaxe came swinging down in an arc that landed upon the statue's head but it was deflected by the curve of the statue's carved helmet, looking to have dealt no damage at all to the magical construct.

In a wave, the statues surged forth, three of them surrounding Utred in an arc and the fourth approaching Cramer. They struck out with the stone weapons carved in their hands. The little gnome easily avoided the blow headed his way, ducking beneath the swinging axe, but Utred couldn't ward off all three incoming attacks and one of them drew blood. That fired the flames of rage the barbarian kept just under the surface at most times, fueling the power of his attacks that much more. His own greataxe chipped further grooves into the first statue's stone form.

Switching to his trusty dwarven warhammer, Khari climbed into the tomb and attacked one of the statues targeting Utred. Marlo cast another magic missile spell at her initial target, all three blasts striking true, then held back any comments when Eri'dia followed suit again a second or two later with her own single missile of reddish energy and caused the statue to topple over, all traces of an animating spirit gone. The drow congratulated herself on having slain the construct; Marlo just rolled her eyes.

Cramer stepped back away from the construct attacking him and cast a bless spell encompassing all of the arena slaves and, after a moment's thought, the drow sorceress as well - after all, she was helping to fight their common enemies, no matter how small her own personal contribution to their collected efforts. The spell didn't help Jhasspok's next attack, though, which did no noticeable damage, but then again neither did any of the three remaining statues' follow-on strikes. Khari had a little more success with his next hammer-strike, causing a series of cracks to appear from the point of impact on the chest of the construct he hit. And then Utred finished that one off with another blow of his greataxe, leaving only half of the attacking constructs still up and about.

Marlo cast another magic missile spell at one of the two remaining statues and was a bit surprised when Eri'dia failed to follow her lead. But the drow had already used up half of her daily allotment of her most powerful spells and wisely decided to let the combat slaves take care of the rest of the animated stone warriors; they seemed to be doing fine on their own (even if she had taken care of one of the duergar statues herself).

Cramer swung his light mace at the statue stepping his way. The blow struck but didn't seem to do much damage, but then Khari gave it a good slam in the back with his warhammer. Jhasspok attacked the other one, this time managing to cut a sizable chip in the stone of the construct's shoulder. Utred's greataxe cut a much deeper groove in the thing's arm. For their parts, the animated statues fought back but had much less success in taking down the intruders in the tomb. Marlo finally finished off one of the last two with another trusty magic missile spell while Jhasspok had the satisfaction of cutting down the last one by enlarging the "wound" he'd created in the statue's shoulder with a follow-on strike that sent the crack diagonally all the way through the thing's body, causing it to fall to the tomb floor in two pieces.

And as quickly as that, there was silence in the tomb once again.

But this was apparently just the first chamber, for a heavy-looking set of stone doors to the south promised even more tomb to explore. With the lizardfolk's help, Utred shouldered the heavy doors open, revealing a set of stone steps leading down to a wide tunnel that paralleled a square opening below it to the east; the steps were twice as big as they needed to be and Utred realized they were likely scaled to the size of an enlarged duergar, for the gray dwarves were known for their invisibility and their ability to expand to twice their normal size.

"Likely more traps in here," Marlo warned, pulling the stopper from a potion vial and drinking down the liquid, activating a fly spell - she wasn't about to step foot into any of the rest of the tomb if she could help it! Eri'dia stepped up behind her and sent a dancing lights spell down the corridor ahead; the slaves noted her spell consisted of four bright red globes - the same color as the drow's eyes and her magic missiles, Cramer realized belatedly. Squinting in suspicion, Cramer stared at the woman's white hair and, sure enough, he thought he could detect a bit of red along the roots. But what did this mean? Was she a sunborn drow, perhaps even a member of House Ky'hulcressen? That seemed unlikely, given Eri'dia's status as a high-ranking member of the Noble Family of House Jalamir. Unless, the gnome mused, she was a plant, a secret infiltrator to the House? This bore some further thought, that was for sure.

"I have an invisibility purge spell ready to cast," he announced to the group. "Utred, how about giving me a ride on your back? You're the fastest among us, you could carry me further into the room that way and we could make sure we don't have any invisible duergar waiting, ready to strike."

"Sure, sounds like a plan - hop up." Cramer cast his spell and then clambered onto the dwarven barbarian's back, settling himself down upon the top of Utred's backpack.

Jhasspok strode purposefully down the stone steps and along the passageway, looking down into the lower room as he approached it. The floor was some 20 feet below him, with a step pyramid in the middle of the room holding an obelisk on its highest level and four niches carved in the north and east walls - two in each wall - inside which stood what looked to be more duergar statues. But the dancing lights spell didn't light the interiors of the niches very well, so it was hard for the lizardfolk to see much in the way of details.

Utred raced down the stairs, passing Jhasspok and making it all the way to the far corner of the platform, where it made a right-angle turn to the east along the southern edge of the square chamber. A second set of oversized stairs led down to the chamber's floor. Khari raced behind his fellow dwarf, nowhere near as fast as the speedy barbarian - even with a gnome perched on top of his backpack.

The floor the dwarves and lizardfolk had run over was apparently not trapped but Marlo decided she'd take no chances - she flew down the first stairwell and out into the open chamber as soon as she could. From her vantage point, 20 feet above the chamber's floor, she could see another two niches carved into the wall beneath the corridor to the west, each also filled with a duergar figure. But of more immediate interest were the two murals on the western wall, each a mosaic made from different-colored gemstones and precious metals. It looked like Eri'dia had been right: these duergar had buried a fortune in the tomb!

But she doubted such a treasure would be easy to gather without first dealing with the next wave of tomb guardians; no doubt these six duergar statues were also going to animate and attack. The sorceress decided to beat them to the punch and fired a scorching ray spell at one of the gray dwarf figures in a niche along the northern wall. It hit the duergar in the chest and set it ablaze.

It also caused it to animate and stagger out into the larger chamber - along with the other five the slaves had already spotted. All six - even the one on fire - raised a crossbow and aimed at the human floating 20 feet above the floor, hovering between the northern wall and the obelisk in the middle of the chamber. Six crossbow bolts went flying through the air and six crossbow bolts embedded themselves unerringly into Marlo's body, causing the sorceress to cry out in pain, pass out, and fall forward, the magic of her still-active fly spell causing her to drift slowly to the floor - and eventually into the reach of the animated figures the other slaves could now see were not statues at all but the desiccated remains of once-living duergar warriors.

Eri'dia advanced cautiously down the corridor, not sure of what to make of these undead forms in the chamber below her. She looked at Marlo's slowly drifting form without concern.

But Cramer was concerned; he leaped down off of Utred's backpack and started running back the way they'd come. He couldn't get to Marlo to apply a healing spell to her unless close enough to touch her and the way things looked there was no way he'd make it to her in time before the undead corpse creatures were upon her. So he raised his holy symbol of Fharlanghn and channeled a blast of holy power through it, sending a cone of turning energy upon the undead forms.

The creatures who had just stepped out from the niches below Cramer were the first to react; they began to flee in terror. To the gnome's surprise, his turning attempt also affected two other undead figures he hadn't even seen were there: a pair of corpse creatures hidden within the illusory obelisk at the center of the chamber. They, too, fled from the holy symbol in the gnome's hand, clambering down the steps of the pyramid in their haste to get away. Their desire to get as far away from the gnome as possible had them each ending up in the abandoned niches on the eastern wall where they cowered in place, unable to get any farther away.

Jhasspok ran down the southern stairs, as did Utred, the dwarven barbarian heading straight for the corpse creature nearest him - one which, he noted, was wearing a better set of armor than the others of its kind in the chamber. That would have been no surprise had the dwarf realized this was the animated body of none other than Rurgath Stoneaxe himself.

Khari saw a corpse creature in the chamber below him and leaped from the overlooking corridor, hoping to land on the undead thing and bring it crashing to the ground. Unfortunately, the only thing crashing to the ground was Khari himself, having missed his target completely. Fortunately, the corpse creature had already been successfully turned by Cramer and thus had no thoughts for attacking the downed dwarven fighter in its haste to flee. And over to the north of the pyramid, Marlo continued falling, her pace that of a feather; by this point she was about 10 feet above the floor, almost within range of the undead on the chamber floor below her.

Eri'dia decided to cast another magic missile spell, sending her single, red bolt of energy flashing across the chamber to strike the corpse-thing already blazing away in flames. It collapsed, destroyed by this second attack spell after having been most burned away by Marlo's scorching ray. But the drow congratulated herself on another fine kill; she was apparently destined for this line of work!

The three undead not already slain or turned by Cramer reloaded their crossbows and took aim at Khari, the closest intruder still in combat. Three bolts went flying across the chamber and three bolts went whizzing past the dwarf's ducking head - a much-preferred outcome for the fighter and a better deal than Marlo had gotten (but then what did she expect when she opted not to wear heavy armor like he did?).

Jhasspok felled a fleeing corpse creature as it raced right in front of him in its haste to get away from Cramer. The other one from the western wall niche raced to the north of the pyramid and ended up cowering in one of the eastern-wall niches, unable to get any further away from the gnome's holy symbol. But then Cramer called down to Jhasspok: "Catch me!" The lizardfolk ran to the western wall and held out his arms (momentarily dropping his battleaxe to do so), the gnome leaped off the edge of the platform, and Jhasspok caught him as easily as he would have caught a thrown fish. He set the gnome down on the floor beside him and stooped to retrieve his weapon; the cleric was already running in Marlo's direction, for she was almost within reach of the corpse creatures below her. Seeing that, Jhasspok ran over to Marlo and then caught her as well, setting her unconscious (but still breathing) form on the stone floor at his feet. He debated whether he should pull out the crossbow bolts sticking out of her body from all angles and looked to Cramer for guidance, but the cleric didn't seem concerned about that at the moment. Instead, he cast his most powerful healing spell available on the sorceress's unmoving form, and as the spell caused her wounds to seal up it had the side effect of popping the bolts out of her like watermelon seeds being spit out.

Rurgath began climbing the southern set of stairs in an attempt to maximize his distance from the gnome cleric and Utred chased after him, slamming his greataxe into the undead thing's body. Khari sent his warhammer crashing into one of the undead duergar over by Jhasspok and Cramer, while Eri'dia - still up on the wide corridor overlooking the chamber below - sent the last of her magic missiles for the day slamming into another of the remaining undead. Khari and Jhasspok found themselves under physical attack by the corpse creatures, each of the strikes of their duergar warhammers hitting true. Jhasspok retaliated with a hit from his battleaxe but while the weapon's blade bit deep it didn't seem to bother the undead creature much. He snapped at the corpse creature with a mouth filled with sharp teeth and found he didn't much care for the taste - he'd long believed "meat is meat" when it came to food, but this particular meat was no longer edible.

Rurgath made it to the corner and spun about, putting Eri'dia into his sights (the drow hesitantly cast a ray of frost spell his way but failed to hit anywhere near him), but then he was taken down by another axe-strike by Utred. Then, surprisingly, the cowering undead duergar in the eastern niche stepped completely through the stone wall of the alcove and disappeared from view, until he popped back out of the wall at the southeastern corner of the room. He began climbing up the steep steps towards Utred, forcing the dwarven barbarian to run back down the steps to intercept him - he was certainly getting a workout in this fight!

Two of the undead fell almost at the same time, one succumbing to Khari's warhammer and the other to another scorching ray spell from Marlo, back to fighting trim if not full power. Those still remaining continued their attacks upon Khari and Jhasspok - at least, until Cramer held forth his holy symbol and turned them as well. They proved to be not much of a threat after that, concerned only with fleeing the gnome cleric, and they were quickly taken down by the close-quarters combatants among the arena slaves.

With combat over, the slaves began the process of looting the bodies of the corpse creatures they'd destroyed. Eri'dia came down to the lower chamber now that it was safe to do so and examined the murals. She was clearly surprised by what she saw. The first mural showed what looked to be a mass of black tentacles rising up from the ground; the tips of several of them were a silvery color, apparently caused by the touch of a man in silver robes. The second mural had a giant, pink worm in the foreground; it had four tentacles coming out of its mouth and it faced a group of five individuals: from the looks of them, a pair of armored dwarves, a gnome, a slight human woman in robes, and a lizardfolk. They stood between the monster worm and a pair of enormous black tentacles rearing up behind them.

Brows furrowed in puzzlement, Eri'dia looked from the second mural to the five slaves gathering up weapons from the downed corpse creatures. Cramer met her gaze and looked over at the murals himself. "That's an odd coincidence," he said, hoping to dampen any theories the House Jalamir drow noble might have about the reasons their arena slaves were depicted in a mural in a duergar tomb. But he was mentally recalling the three prophecies written in the tome N'zorthal had taken from them: "The metal man reborn from Hell shall seal the Dying One in an eternal prison"; "The dark champions shall stand before the worm"; and the third one which the goblin doing the translations could make no sense of. It seemed the duergar could make no sense of the third prophecy, either, given they had left space for a third mural but never designed it.

However, Utred and Khari, using their innate dwarven sensitivities to all things related to stoneworking, discovered a hidden chamber beneath the illusory obelisk and inside were tens of thousands of gold coins and a few magic items. That served to distract Eri'dia from putting too much thought in the murals. She pulled a black handkerchief from her gown, unfolding it and placing it flat upon the stone floor. "Place the loot in there," she commanded, not bothering to do any of the grunt-work herself but watching intently to ensure none of the slaves thought to pocket a coin or two for themselves. (She did, however, honor her agreement to allow each slave to keep a "trinket" for themselves.) The slaves were amazed that the black cloth, when unfolded, had become the opening to an extradimensional space; Cramer claimed he'd heard of such things, called portable holes. The drow didn't bother validating his claims; what were the musings of a slave to one such as she?

"Do you want us to pry loose them gemstones?" asked Utred once all of the other loot had been dropped into the portable hole. Eri'dia's gaze had wandered back to the twin murals once the hidden loot from beneath the pyramid had been stashed away.

"...No. Not right now," Eri'dia answered absently - in her distraction by the images on the mosaics, she had failed to note the dwarven slave had failed to address her by her honorific. "There's no rush, after all - I think I'll have some of our House scholars and diviners study it before they get dismantled." But then her brooding ended, replaced with a more positive expression. "Besides, the coins we've unearthed will no doubt brighten Calish's outlook considerably! Come - let's get back to him at once!"

Sure enough, upon their return to Overreach and subsequent turning over of the loot they'd amassed, Calish's attitude changed from anger over his missing pleasure slaves to amazement at the riches before him. The arena slaves were casually sent away while Eri'dia basked in her brother's change of attitude.

Back in their chamber, the group discussed among themselves about the possibility of Eri'dia being a sunborn drow, a secret member of House Ky'hulcressen, or possibly even of Greenvale. (Jhasspok liked the idea of her being a "secret double drow.") But it wasn't anything they could ask her directly, in case she was firmly a House Jalamir supporter. After all, she might very well be a sunborn drow captured by House Jalamir and set in place as one of their nobility for reasons of their own. Cramer decided it would be best not to mention it to her at all (for how could they explain their own knowledge of Greenvale's biggest secret?), but to get word to House Ky'hulcressen and let them figure it out. The gnome volunteered to do just that; at his size, he was best suited for sneaking about the city.

The next day, while visiting the House Jalamir slave market (and noting the "Closed Until Further Notice" sign on the "Punch-a-Drow" shop), the arena slaves met up with a House Ky'hulcressen agent. They asked him if there had been any kidnapped sunborn drow children 48 years ago or so. The agent replied he didn't know of any such occurrence, but 48 years ago the House Jalamir Matron Mother led a surface raid herself. Since the only requirement to be a sunborn drow was to give birth on the surface while exposed to the sun, it was entirely possible Eri'dia was an accidental sunborn drow. The agent certainly had no information indicating Eri'dia was anything but completely loyal to her own House.

Curious, Cramer made sure to be in a position to walk past Eri'dia the following day while going about one of his chores, giving him the opportunity to cast a detect evil spell upon her. If, as he suspected was at least possible, she was a Greenvale ally, he'd expect she wouldn't read as evil. However, the results were inconclusive: while she certainly detected as evil by his spell, she was nowhere near the level of evil of a standard, run-of-the-mill drow. She was certainly the least evil of any member of House Jalamir the gnome's surreptitious spellcasting had yet detected.

Interesting, the gnome cleric mused to himself.

- - -

We each got a "trinket" from this adventure, as follows:
  • Cramer ended up with a lesser strand of prayer beads
  • Jhasspok took the battleaxe used by Rurgath Stoneaxe - it's a +2 variable aim battleaxe, allowing the wielder to reallocate one or two points of its overall +2 bonus from damage to the attack roll (kind of a Power Attack in reverse)
  • Khari got the +1 earth glide warhammer, which allows him to pass through solid rock or earth like an earth elemental as long as he starts and ends each round outside of such barriers
  • Marlo took an iridescent spindle ioun stone, allowing her to go without breathing if necessary
  • Utred took a +2 amulet of health, granting him a 21 Constitution and a whopping 76 hit points as a 5th-level PC! (He also got Jhasspok's hand-me-down +1 battleaxe.)

In addition, we're now close enough to 6th level that it's practically a shoo-in that we'll level up at the end of the next session.
 
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