The quasit held the thrush tightly about the neck with one hand, but not so tight as to snap its neck. It needed the creature’s suffering to feed. So, it worked at the flesh of the bird ever so delicately with the claws of its free hand. Once satiated, it slapped the bird against a rock to finish it off and turned to consider its current master. This one plays a dangerous game. But if it works! Oh, I can feel the elevation now! The quasit snicked delightfully at the thought.
There, under the shadows of a large tree, the nalfeshnee lurked quietly as it spied upon the distant, human settlement and schemed.
“Master,” Szir started, “how do you know they will come?”
Zarrokuth did not turn to face the small demon as it continued to stare for long moments. Finally, it spoke in a deep, hollow voice. “The Mother comes, the Child follows. They cannot resist this darkness. They are drawn to it like flies upon a rotting corpse.”
“And the candle?” the quasit asked.
“It is here,” Zarrokuth said plainly.
Szir hopped off the rock, tossing the bird’s corpse to the side as it dropped down to the ground, scampered over to its master, and climbed up to its shoulder where it shifted about uncomfortably. “The mark is uncertain,” it whispered into the nalfeshnee’s ear.
Zarrokuth did not respond or even move.
“Perhaps we should covey our plans to…”
Whap! A swipe of the great demon’s hand sent the quasit flying and tumbling.
“It is here,” Zarrokuth repeated once more and settled in as it watched and waited.
She was the only one home when Zarrokuth appeared in a cloud of multicolored light. Instincts took over and she started to flee. She got but a few feet before the demon’s claw caught her by the neck and easily lifted her from the ground. Her mind filled with terror as she clawed at the fiend helplessly.
Zarrokuth pulled her face close and smiled as their eyes met. Its mind entered her mind and the two became one. And then the demon was gone…
[I’ve gone back and forth on how to write this next section. My table is one that loves role-playing, tactical combat, and dungeons. We really don’t subscribe to the idea that D&D can only be one of these things but should be all of these things and more! I don’t think that describing every hit and miss of a combat is compelling narrative, but I’m also writing for other D&D players. Thus, I’m going to try and write our dungeon crawling as something of a mix between a battle report – complete with snapshots from our VTT – and layer in the most poignant moments of dialog and discovery. As this is a quasi-battle report kind of thing, I’m going to share a bit more about my rulings and such. I’d love to hear what some of you think of the format after you’ve had a chance to read through it. Please don’t be shy.]
The Blackgate Chronicles
Session 3, Part 3 – …wait, I mean tails!
Sunday, 8th of Gozran, 817
Inside the cave, the party found that the natural rock quickly gave way to an excavated complex. A hallway stretched before them and opened to a kind of hub with a central pillar. Hallways extended from this hub to the west, north, and east. They opted to make their way east as they explored.
With Lemarc in the front they came to two sets of double doors. A pair to the north and another to the west. The thief listened at the doors at the far end and, upon hearing small clinks and murmuring, nodded at the ranger and stepped back.
Thawn readied himself and threw open the doors. Within, he saw a long room that had a large table dominating the center of its space. Nearby, a pair of the covenant’s faithful were enjoying their soup. Another sat at the far end.
“Hey, where’s your mask?!” the one on his right challenged.
“I don’t think you’re allowed in here,” added the other.
[Thawn’s player, Alan, argued that the cultists should be surprised in this situation, and I agreed. While they were not surprised at the doors opening, cultists come and go in this place, they were surprised to find the party were the ones at the door. Don’t be afraid to just go with the player’s suggestions when it makes sense.]
Before there could be a further exchange of words, Lemarc darted into the room, sheathed one of his daggers in a man’s earhole, retrieved said blade, and retreated back out into the hallway.
T’bidi followed in looking at Lemarc’s knifework and said, “You see what we can do. If any citizen of Black Hollow wishes peace we will accept it.” [ My ruling: Intimidation and the like are made at disadvantage vs. cultists due to their ‘Dark Devotion’ trait. In short, they’re zealots making them hard to convince of the time of day. However, Lemarc did just drop one in a blink of an eye and that’s a thing. So, I gave her the intimidation check as a flat roll and used the result as a Wisdom save DC for each of the cultists in the room.]
Halloran followed up by looming over one of the men as he held his warhammer high. “I beg you, say no.” The man was still holding his spoon, the ladle filled with split pea soup. [Halloran is on a ready.]
Then Rhynn ran in. “Oh my gosh! What’s going on in here?!” She then let a fire bolt fly from her fingers at the man sitting at the far end of the table. The bolt missed but hit his bowl sending green soup all over his fine, cultist robes.
“My soup!” he exclaimed. [Priorities, priorities.]
Thawn charged the far end of the room, staff raised high. Armed with nothing but a spoon and dinner roll, the cultist did the only logical thing that he could and threw the roll at the ranger. The roll struck him squarely in the chest and, in true dinner roll fashion, bounced off harmlessly.
Thawn’s retort was far more effective as he swung the staff down and cracked the man atop his head, knocking him out. [Thawn doesn’t kill if he can avoid it. I suspect he’d kill or destroy a monster, but he’s merciful upon the people he faces.]
The rest of the cultists who chose to fight were dispatched in short order. One, heeding the words of T’bidi tossed down his blade and tried to leave. T’bidi stopped the man at the door and said, “Leave the trappings of the covenant behind and you can go on your way.”
Lemarc took the opportunity to lift the man’s meager 4 copper pieces as he was tossing down the covenant mask and removing his robes. [Don’t blame a scorpion…]
The party then pulled back and checked the doors to the north. Lemarc leaned an ear against one of the doors and distinctly heard a voice. “Oh, hell. They’re dying out there!”
The thief quietly checked the door’s handle and determined that it was locked. He reached into the folds of his clothes and produced a small leather case which he then opened to reveal a set of lockpicks and other odd tools. He picked at the door’s lock for a moment until he heard a satisfying click. He then nodded at T’bidi and stepped back out of the way.
T’bidi stepped forward and put a shoulder to the door. Wham! The door popped open a hand’s span and then slammed shut again. The cultists within were leaning upon the opposing side. She tried a second time. Again, the door popped open just a bit but slammed closed again. She shook her head, “I can’t.” [It’s a game of dice after all. T’bidi is actually quite strong.]
Thawn nodded. “Let me try,” he said. While an older man, by adventurer standards, the ranger’s body was thick with corded muscle. “Halloran, lend a hand.”
The Northman add his weight to the ranger’s push. [I granted advantage to Thawn’s opposed Strength check here due to the assistance of Halloran. As an aside, if you notice that Halloran hasn’t spoken much as of late it’s because his player, Chuck, has a new job and his schedule hasn’t been kind to him. We’re hoping he can get back to the table with us soon.]
With the cleric’s aid, Thawn broke into the room. The door gave away suddenly causing each man to stumble. The ranger maintained his balance as he lurched into the room, but Halloran fell to floor in the doorway behind him.
Before either of the cultists could pounce upon the prone cleric, Thawn held his staff horizontally across his body and jabbed at each of their heads in one motion. Both fell unconscious. [I was so excited for those juicy attacks at advantage vs a prone PC. Stupid players running a DM’s fun!]
At the back of the chamber, the party found a pair of caged alcoves containing chests.
“This must be some kind of treasury,” Lemarc said with a gleam in his eye. The thief then quickly searched for traps. Once satisfied it was clear, picked the lock.
Three things then happened. First, there was a satisfying click. Next, Lemarc said, “Ow!” and started to suck on his index finger. Finally, he took a mountain of poison damage after failing his Constitution saving throw. [DMs live for moments like these.]
Lemarc sat there trying to keep from vomiting as the others searched the chests within. They recovered 3 potions, 8 gems, and a large pile of coins, most of which were copper and silver, but there was a sprinkling of gold throughout.
As the party was looking over their find, Lemarc quietly moved over to the second gate and gave it a go. Not finding any traps, he picked the lock. Again, three things happened. The same three things, only this time he fell unconscious as a second mountain of poison damage was too much for him to bear. [I’m pretty sure that Curtis said something to the effect of “So! Much! Treasure!” before his second go here, laughing as he did it.]
Lemarc was near death when he was brought back to the world of the living by Halloran’s cure wounds. The cleric was shaking his head at the rogue when he came to.
“What happened?” Lemarc asked as he awoke. “Did we get the treasure?”
“You performed adequately,” the cleric replied.
More gems and coins were recovered and there was much rejoicing. [Houserule time! Two more rules in place for this game. One, experience level goals are essentially doubled. Two, characters can spend gold for experience. This is basically a quasi-implementation of AD&D’s XP for gold rules. However, in this case, the gold must be spent on training and the like. This is a swords and sorcery inspired game and I wanted gold to glitter for the characters. I also like gold sinks in the economy to keep it valuable.]
The party then returned to the hub near the front of the complex and continued east after discussing the importance of not being trapped deep within and having potential enemies coming up behind them.
Lemarc unlocked the southern door – resulting in a loud click! – and then moved back, making way for T’bidi to step forward.
The fighter placed an ear to the door, but couldn’t hear anything as Rhynn leaned in over her [think Scooby-Doo here] and said, “Do you hear anything?”
T’bidi replied, “No, nothing. I think it’s clear.” Still, she expected an ambush. So, she brought up her shield before opening the door.
Light spilled into the room. In the distance, T’bidi could see crates within. More importantly, she heard a strange sound inside and to the left, just out of her view. The sound was some kind of mechanism being released and then a following noise as if a huge chain was being quickly dragged through metal rings.
Hearing the chain rattling through the chamber, Lemarc circled about with his bow and snapped off a shot at the foot of cultist he could just barely see. The arrow struck the edge of the door instead, burying its head deep in the wood. [Finally, this guy misses, and it only took superior cover to make it happen.]
T’bidi hefted up her shield and moved in defensively. [Meaning she dodged and moved forward to provide cover for the others.]
Rhynn stepped in and let a fire bolt fly at the cultist on the far side of the room causing his robes to quickly go up in flames. He screamed and then fell, where his burning corpse added to the room’s meager light.
Halloran held up his warhammer and can cast light upon it before moving in and to his left to threaten a cultist in the corner of the room. “Hi!” he said.
Lemarc then entered the doorway, scanned the room, and took a quick shot at the man in the corner while aiming over T’bidi’s shoulder. Whiff! [Natural 1. I like where this is trending for the thief’s annoying attacks.] Then, true to form, he retreated. [Cunning action is stupid powerful.]
The cultist in the corner of the room, disengaged from the cleric’s threat and dashed towards a central, barred cell. As he approached, a distinct click was heard as another cultist within locked the door, sealing him out. “Sorry, brother,” the man within the cage offered to his fellow convert.
The man outside pulled helplessly at the cell door. “No, you must let me in!”
“Your service to the Queen will be known.”
“I think these might be evil cultists,” Rhynn offered as she watched one man leave the other to the slaughter. [No lies detected.]
In the first cell to the north, T’bidi spotted an old woman laying upon the floor. The fighter moved past and with an expert swipe of her spear, nicked an artery in the man’s neck.
A fine, mist of blood escaped from the man’s neck as he tried to hold seal the wound with a hand. “I’m so cold,” he said as he slowly slid down the wall to sit upon the floor. His lifeblood continued to leak through his fingers.
“Shhh,” T’bidi offered.
Thawn charged in the room, spinning once as he looked about. He saw the mechanism on the western wall and the chain that extended up from it to the ceiling. From there, the chain ran through loops eastward and into the far, dark recesses of the chamber.
Suddenly, as the ranger peered into the distant, dark corner, there was a terrible clambering and clicking sound as a gigantic scorpion rushed forward. A chain – the chain – was attached to the back of its carapace. [The creature was easily the most horrific thing any of them had faced in their young adventuring lives seeing how the demon back at Pran’s family camp was only a thing briefly seen.]
The scorpion snapped once at T’bidi with a giant pincer but was unable to get past her guard. [Because of course I can’t hit the fighter.] It likewise attacked Thawn with the other as well as taking a poke at him with its tail. Neither attack found its mark. [You know that thing where you want your cool monster to hit at least one PC and everything misses? Yeah, this is that thing.]
Halloran let out a cry as he charged in and smashed the creature for all he was worth, sending a small piece of chitinous shell flying. The creature was not impressed.
Spying the winch and chain, Rhynn dashed to it, grabbed the handle, and gave it everything she was worth. She managed to do a pullup on the handle, her feet dangling and kicking inches from the ground as she used her full body weight to try and reel the creature back. The wheel started to move and almost clicked but didn’t. It didn’t click even once. [Kris spent her Inspiration on this opposed strength check. The result of that advantage was a total of 2. We call this ‘sadvantage’ at our table. Even worse, the scorpion rolled poorly as well, coming up with a total of 4. It turns out 4 is greater than 2. Dems' the breaks!]
Lemarc could see the creature from outside the doors. Right, stay out here and let everyone die. The rogue sighed and moved in and made his way to the winch. He gave it an appraising eye, pulled a crowbar from his belt, wedged the bar through the handle and against the wheel, and pulled. Click, click, click. It’s working! [Curtis lobbied at first to use his thieves’ tools to gain advantage on this check. I ruled that he could disable the winch with his little tools but not gain extra torque for reeling the scorpion back in. Instead, after Alan’s prompting, he fished out his crowbar. I ruled here that if he made a successful thieves’ tool check, he could apply that knowledge to the crowbar. He spent his inspiration, was successful, and the advantage was granted. This resulted in an opposed strength check of Lemarc’s 22 vs my 18. It turns out 22 is greater than 18 and he started to reel the chain back in, but not nearly enough yet to pull the scorpion back.]
The scorpion, facing three opponents, distributed its attacks in a most democratic manner. To either side, it snapped a pincer each at T’bidi [missing, of course] and Thawn [also a miss]. Then the tail swung over the top of the creature at Halloran…and stabbed him in the stomach. The cleric wobbled on his feet and bile began to drip from his mouth leaving a string of orange spittle down his beard. [22 to hit, 6 Con save, this is the stuff DMs live for and I’m here for it! I described the scorpion snapping its claws like castanets overhead because it was happy.]
Thawn quickly circled to the back of the scorpion. He said a word of power, causing his eyes to burn with fire and setting a similar, sympathetic fire into the compound eyes of the creature as he cast hunter’s mark. [Alan comes up with some dope descriptions for his spells. Love it.]
From the cell to the north, the cultist within could be heard laughing.
T’bidi follow the ranger’s play and spread about the creature to focus attacks upon it from different angles.
Halloran followed suit.
Rhynn let three magic missiles fly. Each passed clean through the scorpion, leaving behind a small, smoking hole.
The creature continued to flail and attack those standing around it. [Miss, miss, miss. Sigh.]
Lemarc continued to wind the chain – click, click, click – as T’bidi impaled the creature time and time again. Dark ichor ran from its wounds.
Finally, with a crack, Thawn brought the creature down as the fire of the hunter’s mark within it’s compound eyes flared wildly, cooking the creature from within.
The cultist stopped laughing.
Lemarc first threw Pran’s axe at the cultist through the bars but missed. [Feels good.] Then hurled a dagger at the man, missing again. [No tears from where I’m sitting.]
Rhynn stepped up to the bars of the cultist’s cell and, after a brief exchange, set him on fire with another bolt of fire.
The cultist didn’t die from the fire. He didn’t even scream. Instead, he called out, “My Queen, I come to you!” Then he lifted his scimitar to his own throat and slit it.
“Do you want to pick the lock and recover your weapons?” Rhynn asked the thief.
“Yes,” Lemarc said as he worked the lock. Snap! “No,” he said looking at a broken lockpick. [Glee!]
The wizard smiled and recovered the key to the cell for Lemarc with a quick mage hand spell. [I cannot remember the last time I saw mage hand actually be useful like this.]
To the east, Thawn and Halloran were looking in on a young woman with shorn red hair.
“They took me for my hair,” she said simply. She was obviously malnourished and in a confused state.
“Your hair?” Thawn asked.
To the west, T’bidi was talking to the old woman. “Grandmother, are you okay?” She could barely hear the woman speak; she was so weak.
T’bidi knelt down to hear what the woman was saying and let out a gasp… [I actually gave T'bidi's player, Valerie, some information here, but she decided to keep the rest of the table in suspense until next week's session. She's evil like that and I love her all the more for it.]
Both formats make for entertaining reading. Speaking personally, I prefer the more “story” style of the earlier ones as they are highly atmospheric and really engage me into the adventure. They also develop the sense of looming menace.
I enjoyed the DM account and the VTT inserts...just not quite in the same way.
That said, whatever works best for you, I will be following.