Down the Grey Stream Path, we find ourselves at the Ascension Drinking Hall. It looks almost like a temple, with its columned facade. A mottled-skinned gith in a frock coat and bearded moustache, named Heironymus, is the bouncer. He bars our entry since we do not have anyone to vouch for us, and takes out his flute to practice, ignoring us. Even reminding him that someone obviously got into without vouching and murdered someone doesn’t work to sway him – if anything, that seems to make him even less likely to let us in!
We walk away, trying to think of another lead to follow up instead, when Cynna senses violence happening around the next corner. We rush in to find a sedan chair with Godsmen symbols on it, dropped by its carriers, who are right now being cut down by an attacker with a spiked sword and hideous rotting wings. People are just watching the violence! I interpose myself to help the man in the chair get up, while Blander and Cynna try to stop the attack. The man inside the sedan is all right. Actually, not only is he all right, but the handsome half-elf I find myself talking to is none other than Ambar Vergrove, the factol of the Godsmen. I say talking to, but really he did most of the talking. While he waffles about, the enemy teleports away.
Ambar goes around and worries about his recently deceased guards. I’m impressed by how much he actually seems to care for the people who serve him. He arranges for them to be raised, except for those who expressed a desire to move on, and then he rewards us for his rescue with a hundred gold each and, at my request, by vouching for us at the Ascension. He speaks very kindly to Heironymus as we pass, and I treat him to a short, smug grin.
Inside the bar, I meet the bartender, one Julius of the Ninth Test. We talk philosophy to break the ice, and then I ask about the murder. He fills me in: the murder was commited in a private room here, the sort that patrons can hire for loud singing and such, with a standard silence spell on it – a great place for a murder! – and when I mention to him that I’m loooking for evidence of spell components, he figures that the three nutshells he found under a table could have been such.
Before we move on, Ambar asks if we won’t stay for a drink. I ask him for a raincheck on that one – in a few hours, I point out to him, someone is likely to die, and every moment I spend carousing is a moment I could have spent saving their life. He understands. He asks a favour: it appears that in the kerfuffle earlier, his pouch was stolen. It contained a deep blue stone sphere, which he says, in a roundabout fashion, is a gate key. Unfortunately he is not able to divulge secrets that are not his, he says, so I am not able to get out of him where the gate might be or might lead. He does say though that I should be able to guess from things we’d already spoken of. Perhaps the Godsmen headquarters? I’m really not clever enough for this.
When Blander and I head outside, we find Cynna talking to a street urchin. He is scared of Blander, but willing to speak to me. His name is Urchend, and he says he witnessed the murder through the window. He describes that he saw the killer chasing the victim, laughing, and then he touched her with a flash of light. A sparkly red glow ran up the sword as he used it, and made the killer shine. I give the kid my hundred gold from earlier and tell him to share it with his mates, and to get to safety for a time, perhaps to a gate town or something, until the killings stop.
With spell components identified in four out of six crime scenes, it’s time for a visit to my friend/fiend A’kin, who is the only person I can think of in immediate reach who could help me with this (damn it Tessa, where are you when I need you?). He offers Blander a little plushie imp for his kids, and Blander runs away. He offers me a fire cockroach to eat, both as a free sample sort of thing, but also as a dare. I’m all right though, I survive eating it, much to his amusement. And then I do somthing perhaps even more stupid. I make a pact with him for the information I need.
I lay out the following criteria for him though:
1) I will not murder any non-murderers
2) I will not commit a sacrilege or be offensive to a god or any divine being in their sanctum/church/sacred grounds
3) I will not commit anything that would be offensive to my deity, the Rainbow Snake.
Let’s be real. He’s going to have found some loopholes I haven’t considered, I’m sure. He could always just send me on a one way trip to the plane of Negative Energy. But I think he knows I’m more useful than that.
Based on rough guesses, using standardised spell componentry, A’kin thinks that this whole thing is a big, unique and esoteric ritual. As such, he thinks there are at least two spells going on at each location: one immediate spell for the time of the murder, and one working into the wider ritual. The three nutshells at the Ascension was probably a Confusion spell. The crushed black pearl at the Court Library was probably a Death spell. The blackened rod found outside the Harmonium Barracks is a component common to many spells, but the bronze disc also found there would be from a Chaos spell. The red energy described by the witnesses indicates to him something like the energy of potentiality, both astral and ethereal. Great – are we dealing with another planar incursion similar to bloody Malar again? I dread to think. A’kin sends me away with a bag of fire cockroaches and says I’m welcome back any time to ask more.
On the street, reunited with Blander and Cynna, we head for the next site of murder, when we overhear a Signer preaching that only if the victims had self-actualised better, they would still be alive. I barely manage to hold myself back from correcting them. Suddenly, a woman in leathers dances up to me and says she dreamed that I am going to fight the murderer. She says that he lurks by a house on a dead end street, by a bake shop, watching the prison with hateful eyes. Tonight, he will kill a Mercykiller! Still speaking her vision, she says ‘Six lanterns and all’s well’, then ‘seven slashes’.
Just to keep her informed, I send a raven with a message to Narcovi. Wouldn’t do to not keep her informed after promising to do so. Then it’s off to the library to see the fourth murder location. On our way, we see a cultist wearing a Lady of Pain-style headdress getting beaten up by some rough cutters. I polymorph the guy into a ladybug to hide him, and Blander casts some sort of paladin whammy on them to get them to freeze in fear, then they flee. One thinks about staying to fight when Blander talks them down with his big dad energy, but he sees the rest of his boys are gone, so he flees. The guy we saved, Paxyt, refuses healing, saying everything is fine, everything would have been fine, that the Lady would have saved him. I try to question him about his religion, but he tells me instead to seek out Trolan the Beloved in Bloodgem Park. Then he heads off with his gift to the Lady, a bunch of rose-scented candles. On our way to the library again, we see deibus repairing a spire, but they aren’t stopping: they’ve added more and more spires on top of each other.
After far too much form-filling at the Court, we are told we can’t go into the Library. That is, until we namedrop the Mercykillers. We go into the library only to find that the deibus are here! “They’ve been at this since the body was removed two days ago,” says a voice behind us, and I turn to see one of the most famous faces in Sigil: the Guvners’ Factol Hashkar. I settle in for some long-winded answers to my questions while Blander has a look around. I ask the Factol if it is normal for the deibus to clean up messes in this library, and the long story short is no. I ask next about Fassa, the murder victim, and learn a ton about him, though it takes half an hour for Hashkar to finally get to the part where he says Fassa was researching commerce between Sigil and the Planar Trade Consortium when he died. This certainly rings a few alarms for me! They were the ultimate buyers for that horrid blade I fetched out of White Plume Mountain, and also bought furs from the two tribes trading from their hunting on Carceri. Potentially a bad sign… Still, the murders weren’t done by that blade, at least.
Blander interrupts us to point out that he has noticed (although I am sure I did hear him snoring, standing up in his armour, at one point) that a deibus over there has been cleaning a book this whole time. I can sort of make out, past its hands and the cloth it cleans with, that the book is titled “Powers and Demipowers”. I ask Hashkar, with his apparently perfect memory, if he knows what’s in the bloodstained part of the book (I really do not want to fight a deibus to look at the book!). Hashkar, after much disgression and explanation, says it had to be the chapter entitled “Divine Ascension”, dealing with theories on the nature of divinity, how to become or cease being a god, and the nature of belief. The word Ascension reminds me of the drinking hall where another murder took place.
Then, Hashkar adds, without prompting: could I please investigate on behalf of the Guvners? Absolutely I can, I tell him. All in all, we spent two hours in the library, and while they were quite wearying hours, they were useful in their own way.
Blander and I break for afternoon tea, our throats in great need of hydration after the dusty atmosphere of the library. Taking our drinks, we suddenly feel the presence of someone with emotions of surreptition, trepidation and curiosity. We look around and see a flumph approaching us. His name is Cynicism, or Cynna for short. We get from him feelings of hoping to be helpful, suspicion, and disappointment in the unworthy authority figures of this city. He has been investigating the murders and believes them to be linked to the cult of the Lady. He’s a member of the Bleakers, and has been encouraged by them to investigate because of their lack of trust in the Triad of Order (fair!). We share a bunch of information with each other. He shares with us his impressions of the people in the cult, that they are helpless people who have been offered assistance. Their psychic readings make no sense! And where are they all even coming from?
He also points out that there seem to be dropped spell components at every murder site. There is no seeming pattern to them, and they do not appear to be from the same spells. So far we have: a blackened rod and a bronze disc at Harmonium Street; black pearl dust at the library; and a feather at the bunkhouse which is currently unidentified. That is until I ask him to show it to me in his psychic way. Through that, I am able to guess that it could be a Vrock feather, a vulture-like demon. I consider that we could drop by A’kin’s shop and ask him about the components and the possible spells. Either way, Cynna has decided to join us now, and I am grateful for his presence. It was getting a bit too lawful around here!
The three of us descend upon Bloodgem Park. It has actual grass and trees, a rare thing in this city! From what little I know of the history, it predates the Lady’s trim down of the number of factions, but whoever was here before that, their magic has hung around. We pass a deibus who is trimming a rosebush to death. Again with the roses. I can’t help but associate the Lady with roses, I suppose because the first gate I ever passed through needed a green rose as a key.
Around us, we can see the cult is no unified body, but made up of many different groups of people with different interpretations of their worship. Many do at least wear scarlet and/or spikes. We pass shrines, portraits, effigies. Unfortunately we find that Trolan, who we seek, is out preaching in the Outlands currently. At least that answers the queston of where all the cultists are coming from. But some of the people here claim to have not seen him in person, but to have dreamed his words and journeyed here on that alone!
We leave to head towards the Blood Boil Hovel where the first murder took place, passing a Doomguard preacher who is yelling about the breakdown of law and order across the multiverse signalling the end of all things. But that unpleasantness is soon forgotten as a group of bashers in an alleyway come out and surround us. They appear to be Indeps, and they are accusing us of mugging someone. We deny it of course, but they attack anyway. Cynna unleashes on them with a psychic attack in two waves, while I croc out. After we kick their butts, I give them each a goodberry to show we don’t mean them harm, and then we demand answers. It turns out that some gnome woman came to them because she said she was mugged and that we did it. Cynna can sense that she had to have mind-whammied them, because their psychic readings are not adding up at all.
But here’s the thing she didn’t take into account… Cynna can see her face in the memories of the people, and he can share that image with us. Now we know what she looks like. Time to find out who is acting against us!
This is the first episode of Dirwin participating in the adventure “Harbinger House”.
On my return to Sigil, I saw many diverse people, as is always the case; a morbid-looking leprechaun follower of the Morrigan, an orc with a tray of food he was selling, a Doomguard preaching decay, and four deibus, the groundskeepers and messengers of the Lady of Pain, painting a house blue. What was strange about that was that the house was already blue, but perhaps this was simply a case of multiple coats. I commented on this to the orc, and he started to look very nervous. I bought two of his pies (one contained metal, which was a little awkward to eat but I altered my digestive tract so I was fine) and this put him at ease enough to answer that they had been painting there for around a week. I tried asking the deibus themselves about it, but they kept going and ignored me.
The next day, I was browsing the shops when I found one called the Friendly Fiend. Inside, I met A’kin, a yugaloth, the eponymous fiend. He gifted me some vambraces, asked me about myself, and invited me to take tea with him. While we were chatting, a male elf entered, wearing the Lady of Pain’s insignia (which is definitely not advisable!), and he asked for directions to Bloodgem Park. A’kin warmed him to take off the symbol before he went, but the elf insisted his love of the Lady would keep him safe.
Shaking our heads, we got on with business. A’kin’s assistant, an eryines named Balaka, brought out a black box containing a longsword, with a black gem in the pommel, said to be glowing with power of the multiverse. 4000 gold later, and 500 gold for an appraiser, and I had a present to give to Toledo – a Sword of the Planes.
Later, when I was dining at the Garden Gnome, four Athar caught my attention. “Another body was found,” I heard, and listened in closely as they said it was someone called Keluk, and they were found near the Shattered Temple “like the others”. It seemed, from their conversation, that there was a possible serial killer going around and killing lawful faction members. I asked them for more details, and learnt that the first one happened a week ago (a stray thought occurred to me: the same time as the deibus started painting?) and was a Godsman. There were two Athars killed in the same place so far. They had been exsanguinated, and had the Lady’s mark on their foreheads. Not only that, but there were even more worshippers of the Lady in Bloodgem Square than I realised, but their account, and yet they had not been cracked down on by the very anti-worship Lady or her forces. A woman in the group of four mentioned to me that the Godsmen were becoming more active and cautious, even the Factol, surrounding themselves and the Great Foundry with bodyguards. The Guvnors are offering a reward for the capture of the killer, which they describe as “a monster that found its way into the cage”.
I mull all this over for a while, and then in occurs to me… aren’t the Godsmen a neutral faction, not lawful?
Blander Mull has me around for dinner, but this is not as much of a family affair as my last meal with him. He tells me that since he’s pretty much the most stand up guy at the Mercykillers (his words, not mine), he’s been asked to investigate the current rash of murders. He’s asking me to be his offsider in this, to help me liaise with other factions and have his back if things go south.
The information he has so far is this: the murders have been committed against solely lawful factions (again, is this accurate? Going to check on this angle); his boss, Arwyl Swan’s-son is worried that the Mercykiller’s factol, Nilesia, is going off her rocker, making a link between the Lady of Pain worshippers and the murders. She wants to bring the Lady of Pain to justice. He doesn’t say as much, but in how he describes her conspiracy theories (Sigil is a cage for the Lady of Pain, therefore she must be a prisoner of some sort!) and her youth, he seems to think she is rather fanatical. Worryingly, her boyfriend is Duke Rowan Darkwood, the factol of the Fated.
Blander knows exactly how to hook me in. The Sensates are dominant right now but Fated are rising in influence here in Sigil, and I will absolutely not allow that to happen. I tell him we’ll start investigating immediately.
We meet in the morning to go over the information he has been given by his superiors. To date, there have been six murders:
The first was in the Lower Ward, a retired Godsman in a Blood Boil hovel
The second was an Athar on Powers Row, next to the Shattered Temple
The third was in the Ascension Drinking Hall on Gray Stream Path, near the Foundry, another Godsman
The fourth was a Guvner at the Court City Library
The fifth was a deputy of the investigating officer, Captain Narcovi, so another Harmonium member, on Harmonium Street right outside the Barracks
The sixth was another Athar, in the Parted Veil bookshop on Forgotten Lane
When I ask Blander what the obvious link between them all was, he points to the murder weapon seeming to be a sword, and the fact that each victim was killed with a successive number of sword slashes – one on the first night, two on the second, etc. We can assume then that tonight, someone will die by seven sword slashes tonight if we can’t find the killer in time.
We begin in the Lady’s Ward, heading for the Barracks to check in with Captain Narcovi so that we don’t end up butting heads with her. The streets get less chaotic as we progress, which raises the question then: how could someone murder an officer right outside the Barracks, even at night? We walk past some deibus, and this time they are doing something strange yet again: pruning nothing, and sweeping nothing. I talk to Blander about this, and what I saw, and the possible connection with the Lady’s worshippers. Without saying too much, we speculate about whether the Lady is in some way altered.
The Barracks are an imposing, pretty ugly building. A dwarven guard lets us in once I explain that Blander is here to ‘liaise’ (that word seems to carry a lot of weight with these lawful types). Diana the receptionist helps us fill out some registration forms, until we finally learn at the end of filling them out that Captain Narcovi is, of course, already out for the day. But before we leave to find her, presumably at the site of the most recent murder, Diana gives us a rumour, that with each of the murders, the body was partially eaten. She reckons it is probably a Xoasitect.
On the way to the bookshop, we are greeted with another typical Sigil sight: a person on a soapbox. This time it’s a Dustman, and he’s preaching that the victims are lucky to have been released from life. Thankfully, most are ignoring him. I bite my tongue and do the same.
At the bookshop, we find a crowd of Harmonium types outside, with an authoritative looking female dwarf addressing them. Our assumption that she is Captain Narcovi pays off. When we let her know why we’re here, at first we only succeed at pissing her off, and maybe getting Blander’s boss in trouble for interfering with a Harmonium investigation. But when she asks what we came here to do and I say honestly that we wanted to share information and to introduce ourselves so that at no point are we butting heads with her, that seems to set her at ease a little, and she shares information with us. We manage to generate new leads and ask some new questions with this information, as follows, for each murder:
Victim’s name Favur, lead to follow up – question the housekeeper, Eltiva
Victim’s name Vienna, follow up on bunkhouse companions Defiant Munrot (may be difficult with inebriation) and Kuarri the Ancient
Victim’s name Lini – how was there no one else at the scene of the crime, a drinking hall?
Victim’s name Passa, which scrolls was he working on, where any librarians present, and what is the white powder found on the scene?
Victim’s name Tenskor, how did no one see the X-shaped cross being set up on a public road, and what is the blackened rod found on the scene?
Victim’s name Keluk. Does the note found on the scene at his murder have the additional line found on the fifth murder scene’s note too?
The answer to the last question is yes, and as Narcovi and her cohort get ready to leave, Blander and I are let inside to have a look around. We meet Kesto, the gnome shopkeeper, who is really quite upset. I ask him if I can make him a cup of tea, and while I do, Blander starts having a look around. Then his look around turns into a tidy up of fallen books, because he can’t help himself. Kesto pours some alcohol into his tea, thinking I don’t notice, but I don’t call him on it. He starts nervously talking about getting out of town, and I tell him I can help him with that if he needs to.
Blander uncovers a footprint in white powder which he uncovered under a fallen stack of books. It’s talcum powder! While we try to puzzle out why the killer might be shedding talcum powder, Kesto starts to freak out. I manage to sweet talk him into talking, and he reveals that he saw it all! He had let Keluk stay late in the bookshop to do some research, but he heard noises and came down to investigate. He caught the killer over the body, drawing some sort of red magic out of Keluk and into a very large sword, possibly a two-hander, oddly spiky. Kesto failed to arcana check in time before the killer saw him and grabbed him. He looked at Kesto strangely (Blander and I wonder if he was trying to assess Kesto in some way?), didn’t kill him (I wonder, is he restricted somehow to only killing once a night?), and threatened him not with death, but with maiming if he told anyone. He said he could find Kesto anywhere, and he would know. He was probably human, though Kesto can tell us little more than that, save that he had white powder on his boots.
While we help Kesto pack to leave and come under our unofficial witness protection, Blander mentions that he recognised the description of the sword. He knows another Mercykiller, named Calderon, who commissioned a new sword with extra spikes (so obviously he’s from THAT side of the Mercykiller faction…) but the blacksmith was murdered a few days ago, and the sword went missing. While I take Kesto off to join Toledo, Marja and Word who would escort him and protect him in another part of the prime material, Blander goes off to ask Calderon about the missing sword. I linger over that question, and how the sword might be able to either be imbued with magic, or possibly be vampiric or something. I make a note to see if anyone in my faction might know anything, but I’ll have to wait until evening to see any significant number of Sensates at the Festhall.
At lunch, Blander meets me again and fills me in. The blacksmith’s name was Sod Dirk, and the murder was written off as a break-in gone wrong. He was murdered on his own forge. The nature of the size of the sword is made clear when Blander points out that Calderon is a dwarf, so it would be a two-hander for him, but maybe an unwieldy one-hander for a human. We consider what our next steps might be – perhaps to go back to the Barracks to fill Narcovi in on what we’ve just learned, since that’s what we promised.
At Tessa’s instruction, Buddy and I traveled to Sylvania, the gatetown to Arborea, and came early to get a room before the modrons arrived. I should have guessed at what I was about to see, but nothing I could have imagined would compare to what I saw: Sylvania was Party Town! There were satyrs drinking, a djinn with a giggling hookah, a pool full of bullywugs, and so much more. Unique buildings were everywhere.
I finally found a place to sleep in one of them, a place called the Drunken Leaf, which was a treehouse constantly covered by a cloud that rains an illusion of elven wine. The proprietor’s name was Allisana Boughbender. She told me a little bit of history about the inn: she came here with her partner, who made the illusion. They had since split, amicably, and her ex was now a proxy for the elf god Corellon. Even my bed was a part of the living tree, and reshaped itself to accommodate me as comfortably as possible.
In the common room, I got hit on by a smoky shadow tiefling called Xeldra Miloni. We went on a element-themed pub crawl together. First, to help Buddy feel a bit more at ease, we went to a Dimanesti bar – sea elves, that is – and it was underwater. The elves turned themselves into otters. It was fantastic. A bunch of the Dimanesti followed us to the next place, which was fire themed. They threw stuff into open braziers that had various different recreational effects. There was nearly a fight when a balor tried to inhale Xeldra by accident, but the efreeti proprietor was quick to stop any serious brawling. Next, we found an earth-themed bar, which was supposed to be dwarven, though honestly it was pretty offensively kitschy. Next we went to an air-themed bar, where there were hookahs full of air mephits. Honestly, I don’t know if we smoked them or they smoked us… We wrapped up with some planar kebabs and headed back to the Drunken Leaf.
The next morning, Tessa found me, and it was time to attend the festival proper. I was so, so grateful to her for taking me, because it ended up being exactly the tension release I needed. As the modrons came through the gate, the denizens of Sylvania began to vandalise them. People were going absolutely nuts. Wizards were hovering brushes around their bodies, rotating them like brush hula-hoops. Buddy used his shape water spell to shape the paint and pelt the modrons with it. I started off just throwing paint around, but as the day wore on, I started taking more care, focussing on one at a time and painting animals and nature scenes on them. People also brought magnets out and decorated them with moustaches. I retired for the day, and when I woke up, the train of modrons still hadn’t stopped, so we rejoined the vandalism.
As it all wrapped up, Tessa said goodbye, and Buddy suggested we find Xeldra again and see if she wanted to cap the festival off with another pub crawl. But she wasn’t in her room. I asked Allisana, and she said she hadn’t seen Xeldra since the start of the festival. All her belongings were still in her room, and nothing looked untoward. In the common room, when I asked people, a white-haired male bauriar with a caul over one eye, smelling of cheap alcohol, told me that he’d heard others were vanishing too, possibly something to do with three big yellow-haired people. I scryed, and saw Xeldra in a small room, cramped up, as if it were a cage. She was scared, and unable to turn to smoke and phase out of the room. There were others there too. So I told everyone in the common room what was happening, in case I did not return.
Then I summoned three hundred and eighty four ravens to search the local area and look for a suspicious building that might have a room like I described. After a while, as their search spread out into the surrounding countryside, they gave me the image of a strange flower outside of town, huge, and on its side. It was big enough that there were people walking into a door on its side. So the ravens lead me there, out into the deeper forests outside of Sylvania.
There was indeed a flower tower there, not quite taken root, but looking as if it had fallen there. It looked dehydrated or petrified. I headed towards the door in the bottom of the stem, sensing two sentries hidden in the undergrowth. Buddy hailed them, and they emerged. We thought a fight would ensue, but once I realised they were Bleakers, I got them into a philosophical argument about what was the point of what they were doing. When that wasn’t working, I allowed my three hundred and eighty four ravens to simply open fire on them, and that thoroughly decided for them the pointlessness of life, and the pressing need for a bath.
Inside the flower, it was musty. The first room was a cloakroom of sorts, with benches and boots by the door. Using Detect Magic, I could sense magic thrumming right through the flower. It was maybe dead, maybe not? Further in, there was a corridor. I could hear footsteps ahead. I slipped into the room to the left, finding a closet with different walking sticks. It looked as if they were each collected or made for a different plane, interestingly enough. The next door to the left in the corridor opened into another corridor, but this one curved around to the right. I stepped back to follow the source of the footsteps I could hear.
I found myself in a large circular room with four doors at the cardinal points, and a central round table which had been the site of a recent meal. There was also writing on the table, anatomical drawings of both humanoids and modrons. There was one particular phrase that made my gall rise: “Ocular extender currently unworkable – use gas?”. I started to get the picture… I was looking at the work of a vivisector here.
I heard people coming, so Buddy and I hid under the table. I could see multiple feet in socks walking in. As they stayed and started talking about ordinary stuff, I tried to make a break for it, but they saw me, so we had to fight. I summoned two thylacines, Buddy used Mage Pincer to throw plates at them, and I transformed into a crocodile (I notice I am getting more and more like Grandfather Croc these days). We managed to take four of them down before I lost croc form. They started to fall back, some of them shouting to the others to warn someone called Valrin. We chased after them, and fought so hard that the captain of them, another Bleaker, gave up, saying that none of this really mattered anyway.
The last remaining henchman after that surrendered and pointed us in the right direction to save the prisoners. But just then, we heard screaming, which sounded like a woman and a modron. We headed into the main chamber, seeing blood, oil and viscera everywhere. We were too late to save the two beings on the slab. Valrin, in a blood splattered lab coat, turned to greet me, utterly flooring me when he said warmly that it was good to see a fellow Sensate. As I reeled from the revelation, he explained that he had attended one of my lectures in the Civic Festhall before. Surely, he thought, I could see the beauty and the genius in what he was trying to do, to merge modron and person together, to solve the madness of the modrons?
My rising rage pulsed out of me, and into the fallen rose itself. I could feel the sap begin to quicken and flow again. In concert with the rose, I entangled him in thorny vines. A struggle ensued, where I tried to use my normal range of powers against his. He blasted me with cold, dismissed my thylacines, and the pixies I summoned next, and began to push me out of the room. But I sent my consciousness out to touch that of the rose, and it fought back against him, sealing him shut within its heart.
As the flower began to take root in the ground and rise to its fullest height, the corridors changed orientation, so I had to climb and clamber my way to the prison cells to save those who had escaped the worst fate. I freed Xeldra and the other humanoids, and the modrons. The modrons chose to shut down and respawn in their home plane, but those of us who didn’t have that option climbed up to the top of the flower. There we found it had prepared large, rainbow pollen spores for us to ride and float down to the ground. It was beautiful, seeing the panorama of the Outlands spread out before us, and the now vibrant, iridescent rose standing tall behind us, on our gentle journey down. The rose sent me the sense that Valrin had not died, but had teleported away before it could squeeze him to death, so I suppose I will have to fight him again one day. But for now, I was able to return Xeldra and the others safe and sound to Sylvania.
Today, I present you with the report of a session James and I played in the Dirwin series a couple of weeks ago. Running a bit behind on typing up session notes. Not a single die was rolled as we explored what Dirwin and his crew did in their spare time in Sigil.
Let’s quickly go over some of the basics of who Dirwin and his friends are, if you haven’t been following from the beginning:
In December 2014, on a lovely little getaway for two in the Coromandel, James and I invented Dirwin, my Steve Irwin-inspired Druid with outback themed powers. He wears crocodile armour donated by his deceased Grandaddy Croc, and his shillelagh is Grandaddy’s jaw bone. He started off as a bit of a joke obviously, but in the tradition of all long-term joke D&D characters, after he went to Ravenloft he became my serious character with big emotional stakes. He is uncompromising (sometimes dangerously so) in his path to bringing good and safety to all. Here’s a picture of him that James had commissioned:
He is currently residing in Sigil, which you can go look up on a Planescape wiki or listen to our most recent podcast episode to learn more about, but basically it’s like London or New York if it were a big floating donut in the centre of all planes. It’s filled with all sorts of characters from all walks of life’s alignments.
His current friends and allies, and the songs I think of when I think of them, include:
Marja and Word, a wilden ranger-druid and her wolf companion. Marja is on the run from the Feywild for committing eco-terrorism. She was my first 4th edition character, reincarnated in 5th ed. Word has always been the superior half of the pair. (song: Marja thinks her theme song is Rock the Casbah by the Clash, but that’s Word’s. Hers is Private Idaho by the B-52s)
Toledo, a warforged fighter who is trying to figure out her identity (song: She’s Homeless by Crystal Waters)
Tessa, a gynosphinx wizard who is an agent of the powers of Arcadia (song: Slave to the Rhythm by Grace Jones)
Buddy, the ex-familiar of a wizard, an awakened lobster who is trying to learn wizardry himself (song: Rock Lobster by the B-52s)
Blander Mul, a Mercykiller paladin do-gooder from Excelsior (song: I Wish by Skee Lo)
My overall theme song for Planescape has to be Roam by the B-52s. And Dirwin’s personal theme is, and always has been, Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen.
Here is the episode:
One day, there was a knock on the door. A jingling suit of plate armour came to Dirwin’s door, carrying a letter. He’d heard about Autochon the Bellringer before but this was his first time actually seeing him. The courier turned after delivering the letter, raised his helmet, and the clanging of bells grew louder, briefly. Then he walked away.
Dirwin opened the letter to find it was an invitation to dinner with Blander Mul and his family. But they did not live in Sigil. They lived in Excelsior, the gate town to Mount Celestia. Heading there, he found a beautiful town with glowing streets and friendly passers-by. At Blander Mul’s, Dirwin met Blander’s wife Marith and their six children. They started dinner with a prayer to Haelyn, the god Blander worships. Dirwin learnt a little more about why Blander was with the Mercykillers. They were formed from the alliance of the Sons of Mercy and the Sodkillers, two smaller factions that joined in order to survive when the factions were limited by the Lady of Pain, despite their diametrically opposed ethics. Blander followed Arwyl Swan’s Son, a top ranking Mercykiller who was more on the lawful good side.
Blander’s children were each allowed to ask Dirwin a question, and those questions were:
What is the scariest thing you’ve ever seen? Dirwin thought about answering something from Barovia, but given the innocent looks on the faces of the children, he instead told them about the super-tetanus room in White Plume Mountain.
Have you seen any beholders? Actually, not until Sigil did Dirwin ever see a beholder!
Have you rescued a prince or princess? Tatiana, Dirwin explained, was married to a prince, and he had saved her, if you could count sending her to heaven unharmed as saving her.
Do you ever do anything other than uphold the status quo? This was asked by a teenage child who seemed to want to push their parents’ buttons. Dirwin told briefly about overthrowing a few dictators in Barovia. Later, the lawful good Mul parents would say that this was because when the law is not good, it is right to fight against it.
The fifth child asked for Dirwin’s best adventurer advice, and what class he thought they should be. He answered that it was always best to know where you and your friends would be resting your head for the night, and what security and comforts you would have there. After a brief round of questions from Dirwin to determine the child’s interests, it seemed they might be interested in Abjuration Wizardry.
The sixth child, the youngest, asked if Dirwin would turn the whole family into animals!!! So Dirwin turned everyone into cockatoos, and until the childrens’ bedtime, they flew all over the town.
The next day, there was another knock on Dirwin’s door. This time it was an elephant, who knelt when Dirwin opened the door. His name was Dai, and he was a messenger from the Beastlands, who brought a gift from the druids there. It was a figurine of wondrous power, which would summon Dai himself. It was a small, beautifully carved figure that could shine if needed, and made the bearer feel his personality and happiness shining through. Even small creatures nearby could feel the happiness. Having given Dirwin this gift, he was off again.
Lunch that day was at a fancy restaurant called Aqua with Buddy. They often went to this place together, as it was themed around the greatest oceans on all the planes. They had a booth to themselves where water elementals served them seafood pumped fresh into the restaurant from planar oceans. There he would practice his spells, and Dirwin would talk to the servers, or the marid owner of the restaurant.
That night it was time for karaoke and cocktails with Toledo. This was in a Sensate bar called Everywhere, where pixies from Arborea were employed creating the illusion of every bar that ever existed.
The next night, after a hard day’s pamphleting and protesting with Marja, Dirwin went with her to her Spell Tag game. She had a bunch of similarly fae friends on her regular team, and the game consisted of hitting the other team with low level cantrips from pre-loaded wands.
The next day, Dirwin decided to follow Word, and for once, Word didn’t try to lose him. He went through secret paths, and Dirwin found himself changed into a wolf cub at some point, deep in places unknown. He might have been in the deep ethereal. Soon he found himself in a strange new world where Word was a god. He stayed there for many years, growing up into a strong wolf, and having many adventures, until one day he followed Word back out again, through strange worlds, back to Sigil. No time had passed since he had left.
The day after that, he got a message from Tessa inviting him to observe a cultureal event… a festival for modrons!
In this episode, we catch up quickly at the start and then launch into our introduction into Planescape. It’s such a huge setting that we’re going to do more in-depth episodes in a little while. We end with the Top 5 Recommendations for Planescape books, which, as you might expect, became a Top 11. Speaking of which, here are the links for our recommendations:
Hoo boy. This one… Let me just go, and hopefully you’ll see as you read along.
We, being me, Marja and Word, walk through the Hive, running into its usual denizens – Chaositects, Dustmen collecting corpses, all sorts of demons and devils like Abishai. But finally we find Lil’z Rou, a cutter who knows how we can save Buddy from being mad. Lil’z is a male githzerai, with one white eye and a puckered mouth. He says I need to find a nymph who is a famous healer, called Alisiphone – and she lives on Krigala! I nudge Marja and tell her she’s going to love it there. We’re looking for a lake in an oak forest, which is where she lives. The closest gate to get there is in the Market Ward, and the key is a wren’s feather.
We step through, and I feel like I am home again. We see the oak forest and set off for it. But we see that there is a contaminated river running through it that is extremely polluted. We ask a nearby murder of crows about it. They don’t know much, but they say the Bird Lord hates me because I helped the Cat Lord. Despite that, we have a nice enough chat.
Walking on, we find the lake that the river leads into, and it too is contaminated. I can see Alisiphone’s island in the middle. I reach out with my Commune spell to try and let her know we’re here. She manages to think one phrase to me, before being too consumed with her own sickness at the poisoning: “Help me…”
Reaching out again, I can sense a presence further up the river, and I can feel the sensation of many, many feet walking. In. Perfect. Unison. It’s the Modrons again.
We fly, with me in the form of a giant cockatoo, and what we see up the river is a weird, and ultimately bloody stupid sight. On the western bank, dogs immense in size and number barking angrily, on the east, walls of thorns stopping any further progress, and in the middle, marching up the river, the Modron March.
I question the first I find, a monodrone, who directs me to its superior, a duodrone, who directs me to its superior, a tridrone, who directs me to a quadrone, who directs me to a pentadrone. I would be annoyed, only I have been educated as to Modron ranks since our previous encounters, and it turns out that Modrons can only perceive those of the ranks immediately above and below them, and they don’t understand what the other ones even are. Finally, the pentadrone passed me over to its superior, a decaton.
Dear reader, I interrupt this entry of Dirwin’s journal to inform you of a digression that took some time. You see, when we got up to the pentadrone, I was already stretched in terms of suspension of disbelief. The modrons are supposed to be perfect beings of order and law. Monodrone is a sphere, yep, good, this is right. Mono. One surface. Duodrones are different depending on what edition you’re playing, but they immediately break the rule. If you ask me, they should be two convex ovals stuck together. Like an almond. Two surfaces. Not the weird double cubey things they are. Tridrones should have three sides. A three pointed pyramid, your standard d4, has four sides. Unacceptable. And the quadrone?! That has six sides. SIX!! The pentadrone disposes of all sense entirely, becoming a gross floppy starfish on legs. What the hell.
But oh, dear reader, I was not prepared for the -tons, the more senior levels of modrons. You see, our drones go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, cool, all right, got it, logical. For the officer classes, we jump up to 10 and then start counting down again to their god, Primus. But please. Don’t go looking up what they look like, ok? Just trust me on this. Do what I do in my own headcanon, which I have forced James “don’t put this in the blog” Dunning to agree with me on for the sake of my sanity. Just picture the higher levels of modrons like perfect floating platonic solids. Like something that comes from abstract math heaven, or something that David Lynch would put in a White Lodge scene in his uniquely unearthly special effects style. Do not go looking for the intended presentation of the decaton, which James described as a “steampunk magikarp beholder” before agreeing with me to follow my headcanon. The following conversation takes place between Dirwin and a perfect silver d10 floating in the air. Rant over.
The decaton tells me that a sentient cloud led them off course, and then lion-centaurs refused to let them pass, and then dogs drove them into the river, where they could go nowhere but north and actually in the river, because of the thorn wall on the far bank. They would have to walk 700 kilometres north and then turn around to get to their intended gate, instead of a mere kilometer south of here.
Another minor digression, dear reader. This pre-written adventure sucks the big one. Up until this point, I was having a really fun time, and also having a lot of digressions, fine. But this is the point where things take a turn for the worst. Before this, James was laying out the premise of the mystery. Cool, cool, all good so far. But now we get to the part where I have to do something. Now if there’s something that I hate, that will just drive me up the wall in any D&D session, it’s when no matter where I turn, the NPCs will just say no. They won’t give any possible compromise that I have to jump through hoops to achieve, or there won’t be an alternative path that they offer. Just a straight no. And I’m talking about friendly NPCs obviously, not villains. Nothing gets my goat more than this complete stonewalling.
Not only is the remainder of this adventure going to be a series of ‘No, go talk to this person instead’, but there is one more thing you should know. The map is drawn so that if the modrons had just turned south and walked down river a short way, they would have gotten to the gate just fine. James ruled that the wall of thorns extended further south, or if not that, the lion-centuars were also blocking that way too for some stupid reason. He soon came to regret this ruling as we continued the adventure and it continued to be ‘No, go talk to this person instead.’ I am going to summarise the adventure really quickly now because look, IT JUST SUCKS, OK?!
Behind the wall of thorns we fly, to find the Verdant Guild are the ones erecting it. They tell me that druids are purifying the land from the taint of Carceri, and no the modrons cannot come through because they would tramp the taint into more land beyond. So we fly to the dogs, and they just say no. So we fly to find these lion-centaur people. They are the Wemic people, and their leader, Thrallspur, says they did it at the request of Prince Allarien to save his tree-palace which the modrons would have march straight into if they had carried on in their path. We go to Allarien. Him and his elves have wings – nice. They say they’re okay with me redirecting the modrons if Breath of Life the sentient cloud is ok with it (and dear reader WHY DOES THIS EVEN MATTER?! On the map they are so far away from the river and the gate WHY ARE THEY EVEN RELEVANT?!?!?!!). So I go on the mountain where there is Weather. Breath of Life booms at me and then explains that he redirected the modrons as a promise to…
Last Modron March they poisoned her waters a little with their brief crossing so she asked Breath of Life to divert them next time.
It’s her own fault they ended up in the river.
And it’s at this point that James ended the session in one sentence because the adventure as written wants you to go back to the elves, then back to the lion-centaurs, then back to the dogs, then back to the modrons. But seriously, no. No no no no no. After we get the modrons off the river and through the gate, the sentient clouds come and water the river til its all clean again and Alisiphone gives me magic water and bam, Buddy is cured.
Finally, we are wrapping up the second act of a trilogy after 20 months of being stuck in this act, and 22months of starting the trilogy. James has had this planned for literally years now. Seeing there was an adventure called ‘Something Wild’ where animals and animal-related characters would go crazy, James came up with a plan. The first act would be Dirwin’s own personal madness, played outin ‘Ravenloft 2: The House on Gryphon Hill’. Waking up from that into the general madness of act two, that would use ‘Something Wild’, which we wrap up in the episode chronicled below. And now the third act is going to finally take place in our next session, using the adventure ‘Politics of the Beast’. Read on, to find out how we’ll segue into that…
I wake up on the Beastlands to find I am even further crocodiled than before, with a snout and a tail. Tessa’s wings are retracting, no longer able to support anything but a short glide, and her facial features are almost exclusively leonine now. Blandermal is now turning green, his armour looking like a tortoise’s shell. As we travel further with our capybara friends, we spot animal people in the bushes with blowguns! I call them out for parley.
We have before us four masked animal hybrids, each half a man, and half bear, eagle, zebra and wolf respectively. They also, rather redundantly, are wearing masks of those same animals. It takes some time for me to convince them that I am not from Carceri, that I am a good buy trying to solve the problem here, but it is the mention of Seshall, and showing them his diary, which finally wins them over. He is a colleague of theirs, Pawlock the half-bear explains, in the Verdant Guild, and they protect the Beastlands from the Vile Hunt, who are their perennial enemies, but recently managed to swing the balance of power by allying themselves with the Malarites. They’d been wondering why he hadn’t returned. Things had changed for them here just as they had for us everywhere else: nightmares and madness, but they also saw the kidnappings happening right here, and their masks which usually prevented them from turning into animals were no longer working. They also say the new Cat Lord was on the side of the Malarites and might intervene if we move against them.
Speaking of the Malarites, they are holed up in Sigpost, with the Vile Hunt, holding the One there, stuck in his nightmare. We will have to first rescue the physical form of the One, either by taking Signpost ourselves or by taking him out of there, and then second, we will have to enter his dreams from a safe place. They lead us to the settlement of Signpost, which sits on the edge of a cliff between Krigala, the sunlit level, and Brux, the nocturnal realm below the cliff. Here in this twilit strip of land, we see Signpost, a wooden pallisaded town, really just a small assemblage of wooden buildings put in place to support the large stone manor in the middle of town. Now we were gathered in greater force: Tessa and I, Meuronna the Dreamhunter somewhat weakened, Blandermal still recovering, and ten members of the Verdant Guild. I do reconnaisance in the form of a raven, while Tessa sends her Arcane Eye out too spy. Together, inside and out, we see and sense that there are no other beings around in the town, not even animals; the streets are empty and much of the property ruined; there is an enchantment on the front door of the manor; Garond’s Malarites and the Vile Hunt are occupying various rooms in the two-storey manor; the Vile Hunt are transforming into animals while the Malarites are not, and this is serving to drive a wedge between the two groups. We get a good glimpse of Garond the Claw, a tiefling wearing many furs and a headress made of a cave bear’s claw.
We decide on, and act upon the following course of action, and I shall narrate Tessa’s account first. She leads all ten of the Verdant Guildsmen up through the front door, dispelling the Magic Mouth upon the door and storming in before any of the villains know what’s happening. There is total confusion as they get the drop on them! Pawlock leans into his bear aspect heavily and reveals a savage side Tessa did not expect, particularly when his eagle-headed friend Korr dies to Garond’s fireball. Then they completely destroy Garond, and arrange the slaughter to look as if the Vile Hunt and the Malarites had turned against each other.
While all this happens, I leave Meurrona in a hiding place at the entrance of Signpost, and sneak in through all the confusion, looking for the One. I find him eventually in a magically locked room behind an illusory banner. The One, if that is what he is, is an aged male githzerai. I polymorph him into a mouse, and carry him in raven form out to Meuronna. We flee Signpost, only to run into a lion. But she speaks to us, entreating us to come to the realm of the Cat Lord, who wishes to plead her innocence in all of this!
Meanwhile, having wiped out the invaders in Dreamhearth, Tessa was planning to leave the Verdanrt Guild behind and join me in Brux, using Scrying to find me. But she and all the Verdant Guild survivors are forced instead to barricade themselves in the hidden room in the manor, because all the animals inflicted with madness have come back into town looking for blood!
Down in Brux, I am basically fully a crocodile now. The forest is dark, and as we go further along, increasingly filled with the bright eyes of cats on us. The Cat Lord acts not all that interested in my story when we are introduced, but she does want her name cleared of this rumour before the other Animal Lords try to take her out. So her subjects protect us as Meuronna helps me sink into the One’s dream.
After peeling through layers of dream, I find myself in the first nightmare. A panicked scream, and then the One runs towards me, pursued by shadowy claws. This is dream, I tell myself, and I can do anything here, so I turn into a giant, blinding white cockatoo and shoot light from my wings. Even still, I have to talk him down from his panic and show him that there is no need to hide anymore, the shadows are gone.
I find myself in the second nightmare now. We are in Signpost, and the Verdant Guild are under attack by the maddened animals, led by a tiger-centuar creature with the face of the One himself. Communing with the dream, I find that he is only one side of the One, and the other side is hiding in the secret room in the manor. I go to him, and talk to him. He’s harder to convince this time. How can we defeat the beast? I fly him into the sky and make him watch as I humiliate the beast One. First, I flood his armies by controlling water from the river nearby. Second, I summon my pixies to jape him. Then finally, I polymorph him into a platypus.
The third nightmare takes place on Krigala. The One stands before me, then a black triangle grows out of his body, taking it over, and from there a jet blank panther with bloody jaws and fur leaps out. It is Malar! He bids me to go mad, but thanks to the blessing of Skerrit, it does not take. So in turn, I summon every creature of this savannah plain who wants vengeance on him. Though individually they are small, together they maul him. With this rush of aid, the One is able to gather himself, and before Malar can strike my friends down, he casts Hold Monster, and Malar is at the mercy of us all.
It is over. The Dreamer wakes. The Beastlands is back to normal. Over the next few days as we travel to leave the Beastlands, we see the plane repairing. The Verdant Guild, back to their fully humanoid forms, are back to guarding the plane against the more regular incursions. The Vile Hunt are still going to be a problem for them, likely forever, but now that they are the enemies of the Malarites, there is a three way stand-off between the three groups.
Back in Sigil, news takes longer to unfold as various pieces fall into place. The madness is of course dispelled immediately. Blandermal is able to expose the corruption ring within the Mercykillers successfully. We hear that Guilder Starkad also falls, once the prisoners stop getting smuggled into Carceri for hunting. It takes longer for me to get Sashell free from the legal system, but he is sane again and goes back to the Verdant Guild in time. Sarazh and the One have returned to Sigil too, and will be much more careful with their dream experimentation in the future. Tessa has returned to her masters, and they of course know that I owe them, and perhaps the Beastlands owes them a little too. We hear that Malar has lost some rank too, and his realm is no more.
And as for everything in my case? The Cracked Skulls did wonderfully helping Toledo look after Marja, Word and Buddy. They tell me they feel like they learned a lot in their time here. When I asked Word how it went, he said, ‘Good. Better now.’ Marja’s fine too, and Toledo is shaken but recovering.
There is one thing that has stayed haywire, however. Buddy, my awakened lobster wizard friend, is still insane. What went wrong? Did I take to long to solve the madness? I’ll have to see what I can do to heal his mind. I hope I can…
The Beastlands are lush. I’ve always wanted to come here. I feel as if I could stay here forever. But no, there is business to be taken care of. Tessa does flying recon over the savannah we find ourselves on, while I commune with nature. It’s like slipping into an old shirt. The plane is practically hungry to speak to me. I can sense millions of lives flickering like candles – and all are the same candle, in a way. I can sense the gate to Carceri across the mighty river I sit beside, and then far off downstream, the sense of something neutral intruding. A quick vision of that shared nightmare erupts in my vision, and I am filled with pain as I see the great cat coming at me – and then as soon as I look away, it is gone.
I reach out to understand the rules of this plane too. The weather is fixed here. Conjuration is not allowed, as all animals belong to themselves here. But healing is absolutely fine, encouraged infact, and the words ‘life prevails’ spring to mind. In another direction I can sense a powerful native entity of the plane, and the thought occurs to me to pay a visit out of respect.
I call Tessa down to share information, and she informs me that there is a lynx watching us. We greet the lynx, who, while wary, shares information with us and introduces herself as Fleia. Importantly, she tells us that souls are being taken from the plane, rather than killed as the natural cycle of birth, death and rebirth occurs on this plane. She leaves to inform her mistress, the Cat Lord, of our presence. Tessa tells me the rest of her infomation: that this is Krigala, the first layer of the Beastlands, a land of eternal sun. In the next layer, Brux, it is always night.
We start towards the powerful native entity, passing all sorts of animals as we go. The land becomes more mountainous, and we see large ground-dwelling birds, then further uphill dire horned goats which try to attack us, so we take to the air. Soon we see a cloud of multitudinous large butterflies, but the goats, who have followed us, start to attack them and eat them, driven mad by the influence of Carceri. We intervene with some controlling of water (thank you, endless decanter) and manage to get most of the butterflies away safely.
Further yet uphill, we are forced to walk on foot as the pine trees grow thick. Suddenly an arrow flies at us from nowhere. We pause, to find a centaur before us. We convince him that we are here only to speak and mean no harm, and we are invited in to the Glade of Skerrit. I know he is a god of centaurs on the Prime Material. Our first escort is Arcadeon Russetmane, then we are handed off to the shaman Deela Chestnut, who shares information with us, then tells us to wait for her to bring someone to talk to us.
When she returns, it is with an ancient tiefling, covered in white feathers tinged black, horned, and wearing a holy symbol of Denir. Her name is Sarazh, and she is (like Toledo) a member of the Sign of the One faction. One of the first things she says to us is that the Malarites are “using the One”. What does this mean, I ask? Well, she is part of a splinter of the faction who believe that “The One” is a real person they can find, and they are the true One who dreams us all into being. She and her friends had believed that they had found him, and at their manor, Dreamhearth, in the outland town of Signpost, they commenced experimenting with his dreaming powers. They engaged the help of a dreamhunter from Ysgard, a tabaxi called Meuronna, to be able to direct the flow of the One’s dreams. But then the Malarites burst in on their experiments, kidnapped Meuronna, and turned the dream to their nefarious ends, trying to move Malar’s realm into the Beastlands. Now it’s up to us to save both Meuronna and this “One”.
We are given a place to sleep and gather our strength for the next phase of our journey, though as it is endless day, it is a little odd for us. Before I intend to sleep, I sit and comune again with nature, and find myself in direct conversation with Skerrit himself, if you can call this all-encompassing feeling and knowledge a conversation. In my vision, he tells me I must return where I fear the most, but it will be with his aegis.
I wake, not remembering sleeping at all. Tessa’s face is more feline than yesterday, and as for myself, my skin is now scaly, and I have antlers on my head. Skerrit’s blessing, or the Carceri madness, or the effect of the Beastlands? Regardless, we know what we have to do.
We shift back to the plane of Carceri, and resist taking to the air as we realise there is a giant spiderweb above us. Sneaking away, we stalk the canyon, looking to get our bearings. Tessa fills me in on esoteric details about the Gehruleths, the native demons, or as she tells me that is innaccurate, demodands. We finally come across Malarites, and see them carrying a steaming bowl of blood, fresh from the hunt. They are taking it to Malar, so we follow them, until suddenly they vanish. While we are deliberating as to whether to follow them or not, we feel the presence of Malar pass over us, and have to contend with the Madness briefly. I am able to overcome it, but Tessa attacks! I meld into stone, and wait until she manages to recover herself. I have to briefly console her as she apologises. I was protected by Skerrit’s influence, after all, and she wasn’t.
Following the map now that we have better bearings, we come across a patch of strange plants with black liquid, leading to a cave or really a kind of hole in the ground. I could fit, but Tessa cannot as a sphinx, so with her permission I polymorph her into a half-elf. We head in. The first cavern we come to is full of glowing green jars of ooze. It appears these are Gehreleths in storage, with their true names on labels, and probably they would activate if we interfered with the jars, so we go down another passage. I’m pretty sure, at this stage, that I’m in a cavern referred to in Seshall’s notes, and as we follow along the corridors and the map, it seems to be so. So we head for one of two spots marked X.
We come across a huge, gross thing blocking the way, and chanting to itself and doing drugs. A gehreleth, of course, but to my surprise the chant is in elven, and it went ‘The sleeping creators stir, the enslaved behemoth forgets, the endless foes are broken, the war of wars begins anew’. A reference to the Blood Wars if ever I saw one. We come out ready to attack, but it doesn’t even register us, so we just walk straight past.
In the room behind it there are copious corpses on the walls, attached by sticky slime. And then there are two people still alive! One is a tabaxi – perfect. The other squeaks at me in a familiar voice: ‘Do I know you from somewhere?’ Blandermal! I rescue him too. He tells me that he has to get back to Sigil at once to report corruption in the Mercykiller ranks. I tell him I know – I found that out myself – but we need to fix the immediate problem of the Malarites first, and then I will help him with his problem. He tells me he has also stashed the information with his grandmother, should anything happen to him. He also starts waxing lyrical about philosophy. Interesting, but now is not the time. Meuronna is unresponsive, but her vitals are stable. We start off towards the next X on the map.
On the way there we are attacked by a Farastu. This is an interesting little scrap, as only I am in melee, in croc form, but he keeps slipping out of my jaws. Tessa, meanwhile, trying to suport our two weak rescued captives, has two skills at her disposal, which is to throw a confusion spell at it, and then chuck my bowie knife at it and then pull it back with mage hand. We start to turn the tables on it, and before it can escape, I cast polymorph on it. As a mouse, it can’t exactly wake up the other gehreleth. Nevertheless, we hurry to the next X, and as we reach it, the world starts to change around us. We’ve found the gate to Beastlands, and the black triangle in my pocket sees us through it.
We’re back in the Beastlands, but in a jungly area far from the river I first saw here. I commune to find us safe harbour and the location of the “One”. He is close, and the influence of Carceri is growing. There is no safe harbour, but we move as far as we can away from the gate to set up a camp, to start healing Blandermal and Meuronna. She finally comes to, and tells us what happened in the attack. Garond the Claw’s crew attacked, interrupted the ritual, and the next thing she knew, she was helping them for some reason. I tell her it was enchantment magic and she feels quite relieved to know that.
We are all wondering about the next step to take, when some helpful friends arrive. Four giant capybara, called Flickears, Brightwhiskers, Twitchsnout and Proudnose have arrived to convey us toward the inevitable!
Man, such a real world time jump again 😦Last Dirwin post was May. May!!!
But now we’re getting back into playing D&D once a week without fail. We’ve managed it two weeks in a row now. I think it’s important to try and dedicate this one day a week to ourselves and our ongoing adventures, because we love it so much and when we always put it off, it’s our shared time and enjoyment we’re putting off!
So here is a summary of more of the story, which took place over three nights, first in a tipsy haze in a Wellington hotel back before the current lockdown in August, and resuming on the most recent two Monday nights…
(Also we need to get back to the podcast because the next or second-to-next episode we do is going to be about Planescape for sure!! Such an awesome setting!!!)
Toledo and I decide the next place to hit is the Marksman’s Retreat, the bar where Blandermal said he would be, waiting for news about his fugitives. Before we leave the market, a Free Leaguer on a soapbox tries to draw me into her anti-Harmonium protest. I tell her I believe what she is doing is very important, but the current madness is specifically more pressing right now.
It is a good thing that we don’t have Marja with us right now, as the Woodsman’s Retreat has quite the hunter aesthetic. But now that we’re here, the barman tells us Blandermal is missing. So we have to check up at his work next… the Mercykillers’ prison.
We are greeted gruffly by a group of five Mercykillers, who lead us to their captain, Rullin Clave. He claims there is no such person as Blandermal who ever worked for him. Nor were the men Blandermal was looking for ever here. This is way too suspicious, so I tell Toledo to wait outside for me while I go in as a bug. I manage to catch up to the captain and hear him mention a few things, particularly about sending people through a gate, and vague plans about setting me up to get me out of their way.
But then I manage to get myself lost in their labyrinthine prison, so I’m just like… hey, I’m here! My magic fails to help me escape, so I am beaten, arrested, and thrown in a cell. I catch some rest while I still have a chance.
Next thing I know, Rullin Clave is back. He beats me some more, then has me thrown through the gate he spoke of. I’m in another prison? It’s weirdly comfortable, with food and a bed. I think the food is bugged. I mean drugged. Something’s happening…
I’m outside again. This isn’t Sigil. I’m… fine? It’s a mountainous canyon. I try to commune with nature. I… can’t? I can sense whatever plane this is demanding more from me. … Blood? Nope, not doing that. Transmutation magic is fine, but all my divination spells fail. Looks like they need blood sacrifice. … Am I in Carceri? Will it make me a bad person by being here? Then again, is this Carceri? I see trees up on a ridge above me, surely trees don’t grow in Carceri. Where is Carceri’s Infinite War?
I go raven form to explore for a bit. I see a dead body in a thicket below. Coming closer, it’s a dark-skinned frog-like being. Seems to have been clawed to death. There is some kind of map in its cloak which I take. Some landmarks indicate “Guilder Starkad’s Den”, “Garond the Claw’s Den” and “Leths?”. Whatever those mean. I take the map.
In raven form, exploring again, suddenly spears come flying out of nowhere! I am hit, de-ravened, and I fall to the ground. Several people clad in red furs, with claws and filed teeth attack me. I hear one say something like ‘Malar will get strong on this one’. They manage to murder one of my croc forms, so I turn to a ladybug and latch onto a boot of one.
In my time where I stick to the boot of the hunter, I learn a couple of things. They know there is a gate. They know people come through from prison. They are collecting souls for Malar. I think I remember that name from my time on Faerun. An evil god of nature, I believe? So… I must be in his realm. I unlatch myself from the boot and wait for them to pass before returning to human form.
As I stand looking out over the great ravine before me, a tiger jumps out from behind me. I fly out as a raven over the ravine to escape. Seems there’s no safe place to stop! Sundown is coming. I have Meld Into Stone in my mind, so I use that to catch a full night’s sleep before I try exploring again tomorrow.
In the morning, I conduct some experiments where I can get a bit of safety. Many of my spells just don’t work. But then someone finds me. Not a follower of Malar, but one of Blandermal’s quarry, Hocher the Foul. He’s in a bad way, so I heal him, and suddenly all the blades regrow out of his bladeling skin. Then we try to come up with a plan of how to get out of here. I know I probably can’t trust this guy, but I think I should be safe from him until we get out of Carceri at least.
We come up with a plan. Using Pass Without Trace, we start looking for a Tyrannosaurus Rex. In the first hour we see a tiger hunt and kill a pack of wolves. We’re about to recruit it to aid us when hunters arrive and kill it. In the second hour, we find the remains of a T-Rex’s meal, what looks to have been a cave bear. As we go, we share a few words. I learn that Hocher considers Blandermal to be one of the few “good” Mercykillers, or at least one that honestly follows his moral code. Hocher reckons Blandermal likely fell foul of Rullin Crave and was dropped in here too at some point. Everyone else that Blandermal was looking for also ended up here.
We find our T-Rex. It slowly starts to sniff me out, so I move swiftly. A brief struggle ensues, in which I try to ensnare her jaws with some vines, then have to escape in raven form, gain height of her, and drop again on her neck and cast Dominate Beast. After that has kicked in, I cast Animal Friendship on her, and introduce myself properly. She is ‘The Feeling of Bones Crunching Between Jaws, Releasing the Sweet Marrow, Smelling the Fear and Death of your Prey’. I’ll call her Bones for now.
We are set upon by a party of Bulettes, attracted by the noise of our brief fight. Without Bones, it would be a slog, but she slaughters two in quick order and the other two flee. But when the fight is over we discover that Hocher is also dead. Too dead for me to bring him back on short notice. Ineed to get out of here now!
I spend the rest of the day making a cairn for Hocher and explaining my plan to Bones. The next day, we make our way up to look for the people who hunt. We find them in the place the map suggests, where it says Guilder Starkad’s Den. The advance sentries kite us but Bone makes short order of them, aided by lightning I call down from as I ride her back. But more and more come. We are forced to regroup and come up with a new plan.
It takes a few days, but we have a new plan. The first part is further recon of Guilder Starkad’s camp. There are about a thousand people there, but not all are hunters. There’s a tree up there that is suitable to my needs. I slowly aid its growth over the next few days, and then prepare it to be one end of a transportation spell. The second part is that Bones and I gather and bewitch thirty allosauruses, one by one, into our army.
When the day comes, we attack when the hunters and sentries are all out, storming in through the tree I prepared earlier and taking the camp by surprise. Guilder Starkad is intimidated enough. He’s willing to finally talk to me.
I learn more from him about what has been happening all along. He tries to turn me against Garond the Claw, the rival clan leader, who he says has been dealing with other planes, and has caused the planar madness by trying to link Malar’s realm in Carceri with the Beastlands, to grow his glory with the numerous beasts to hunt there. Guilder offers me one way out he knows of, which is through the Garuleth or “leth” caves. These garuleths are native demons of Carceri, and the portal to the Beastlands is in their caves. The gate key is a black triangle – so there is the answer to why Seshall was obsessed with that imagery.
But I know that Guilder can do me one better than this. How did his hunters trade with Parts and Pieces, after all? I demand he send me and Bones through his portal to Sigil. He’s intimidated enough to relent. Finally. Finally, I am heading back to Sigil.
We’re somewhere in the Hive. Bones explodes out of the doorway of the shanty the gate was housed in. There is even more chaos in Sigil than a week ago, but people generally think better of it and leave us alone. In the market, things are still pretty normal. I can hear an Athar preacher arguing with a Godsman about whether the animal-themed chaos is proof the gods don’t exist, or the reverse. The Harmonium, the usual bastards they are, try to fine me for having a T-Rex. I intimidate them away… for now.
Back at my case, Marja has taken root, and I can hear her mental chatter loud and clear: ‘weareatreeweareatreeweareatree…’. Word has gone feral, chained in one corner with bloody jaws and surrounded by cracked bones. Buddy is playing with his food, ripping heads of shrimps and tearing them apart. And Toledo sits, looking dazed, across from his tank. She’s really not doing well. Word, or something else with jaws, has scratched up one of her legs, deep scores in twisted metal. If her face could move, I think she would be crying. She’s been feeding all our friends and holding off looters all alone this whole week. I tell her I’ll find her some help before I leave, but I have to get to the Beastlands right away.
Next stop, I go to a bar where I know there’s a gate which attracts clueless, and what do you know, there are some fresh adventurers from the Sword Coast right there; a dwarf with throwing axes, a changeling with throwing knives, a feywild-pact bugbear, and a firbolg desert barbarian. All are of course wearing dark leathers and acting like badasses. They proclaim to me that they are the Company of the Cracked Skull, who found the Lost Idol of Denir in the Sunken Temple. I hire them, and their eyes boggle at the 250gold each that I give them up front.
Next, we hit the prison, and I demand my gear back. Another 1000 gold and a visit to various pawn shops later, I’m fully kitted out, and we’re heading back to the case. I’m starting to lose the Cracked Skulls… one of them started squealing like a frightened piglet when they saw (for the first time I guess?) the way that Sigil turns in on itself in all directions. Yup, these are some clueless! Their minds are very blown when they get to my case, and Toledo looks half-grateful, half-pissed off that I have dropped her with another four people to babysit. You know, if she could emote at all with a metal face. I give the Cracked Skulls instructions on how to feed my friends, and the best ways to defend the case from looters, and then Bones and I head out for the outer planes.
We head off the beaten track as soon as possible, as Bones, free from the pollution of Sigil, is a little too happy at the smell of a lot of fresh meat about on the planar trade routes. I’m following her in raven form over a swamp, begging her to not hunt any sentients, when BAM! -Something-… something erupts out of the water and swallows her whole. I… gain altitude and fly off for safer ground.
My plan is to find more help before hitting the Beastlands, and I know just who to ask. My journeys over the next two days take me from Semuanya’s Bog, to the Realm of Sheela Peryroyl. I chill out with the halflings there and they tell me that the Great Modron March is up to Elysium. Next I head through the gate at the town of Ecstasy, where the modrons are already starting to come through, so I have to time my flight through without hitting any of them. Elysium is beautiful beyond words, and truly something closer to paradise for me at least, compared to the more lawful heavens I’ve already seen.
I find my quarry above the modrons, following them and noting their progress. Upon seeing raven-me squawking at her, Tessa comes to land and I tell her what’s up. She communes with her gods, and just like that, I’ve got some help. But it’s on the condition that when they need my help, they will call on me, though they say it will only be at my convenience.
As Tessa and I journey from Ecstasy to the Beastland’s gate-town, Faunel, she catches me up on some gossip. When the march was in Bytopia, it seemed like the gnome gods managed to move their entire domain out of the way of the modron march until it passed. How did they know it was coming out of schedule? Did they have prior knowledge? Also, there is a bridgekeeper in Bytopia who refused to let them pass because it was out of order, but he’s now sulking under the bridge because he couldn’t stop the modrons.
Anyway… finally, after all this time… and after saying for the longest time that the answer to this would be in the Beastlands… we’ve made it to the Beastlands!