Dirwin, Born to be Wild: Episode 1

So Dirwin’s back in Planescape now! What was that Ravenloft chapter all about? Does this have anything to do with the Great Modron March? Let’s see…

Something’s following me out of my mind. It takes the shape of a great shadowy cat. Is this the black cat I saw crossing the mill bridge, in another form?

I’m back in my case. Toledo’s standing over me, her face neutral, but her body language reading surprise. She’s been helping care for me, Marja and Word. Every animal, druid, and wereperson in Sigil has gone insane. I have no time to stop and think about my good friend. If he got out, he’s somewhere out there. If not, the current situation is more important for now anyway.

I take the time to warm up and speak to Word. He’s barely there, though he has moments of lucidity. He’s muttering kill, maim, blood, things like that. I can hear birds outside saying it, and cranium rats whispering in the walls. All of them are mad. Marja’s barely holding together. But I’ve fought my way out of my madness. I grab Toledo by the shoulder. ‘We’ve got to get to the Beastlands! That’s what Merka was hinting at.’

 

Leaving the other two to look after each other, we start out, but my stomach cramps horribly. Toledo points out that I haven’t eaten in two days, so we change direction and head for the Garden Gnome. On the way we see a taxi driven by a mezoloth, and pulled by Arcadian ponies. Even they are muttering horrible murderous words.

At the Garden Gnome things are just as I expect to see, vegan food travelling around on the little gnomish-made conveyor belt, lampshades of all kinds hanging from the ceiling, barely any walls to interrupt the indoor-outdoor flow. There’s my devil friend I play chess with, playing with a flumph now. As we wait for our orders, Toledo tells me some recent gossip. The Ciphers and the Godsmen have allied for some reason, and the Sensates are having internal problems between those who favour pure sensation and those (like myself) who err on the side of experience and understanding.

A large suit of armour with a two-headed dog leashed to it walks in. The voice from within the armour is squeaky, as he announces rewards for information about some wanted men, and announces himself as Blandermal, who can be found at the Woodsmen’s Retreat. A Mercykiller then. The wanted posters that he sticks up name Ankus the gith assassin, Picand Four-teeth the cannibal bauriur, and Hochur the Foul, a bladeling with black-dyed spikes.

After he leaves, I feel someone’s eyes on me from across the street. I meet the eyes, and he approaches. He is filthy, lank black hair and foul smelling breath. He raves at me, something about things coming out of black triangles and devouring your spirit, a slumbering lamb, the hidden journal, find it, they’re coming from the prison to get him. As he pulls out a black triangular pendant to show me, he slumps into my lap, an arrow sticking out of his back.

I can’t spot the shooter, so I pull him to cover and start healing him. Toledo steps back too, unable to see who shot. But then the man in my arms twists and grows and his black hair lightens to orange as he turns into a tiger. I wrestle him down with Toledo’s help.

We’ve barely managed this when the Harmonium show up. As they arrest the weretiger I pocket the pendant which has fallen off him. I ask if they’ll look after him, as it’s not his fault he attacked. I tell them I’m going to fix the problem with all the animals. Drethel Fortinarb is the officer, and he’s pretty jaded. He’s had to arrest quite a few animals of course. But I needn’t panic about my weretiger friend. All the druid lawyers have gone mad too, so none of the animal cases are being tried right now. Safe in the knowledge that bureaucracy will hold everything up quite nicely, Toledo and I set out to try and find our way to the Beastlands again.

Then she points out she thinks she knows the name Slumbering Lamb. It’s a place, she reckons. So we go to the nearest tout, a tiefling who is not unfamiliar to us, name of Kaiakos, who has an extra set of crab-like arms, and an eladrin spouse. After some small talk, and a garnish to seal the deal, he points us to the Slumbering Lamb. On the way there, I break up two fighting bauriur. They had no idea why they had started fighting, but I explain, and tell them to go home and rest as much as they can.

On Formean Road we find the Slumbering Lamb. A tiefling landlady opens the door. Before we can even explain why we’re here, she starts whinging about Sashell, we’re not here about Sashell are we, there have been so many people enquiring about him today and she ought to charge him more, because she reckons he’s a weretiger. Well, now we have a name. I tell her he’s been arrested and I’m here to retrieve something for him. As I haggle with her I can see she is dishonest, so for 5 gold I get her to let me his room. I pack everything up for safe keeping, knowing she’ll just throw it all out and let the room to someone else even after I paid her. In the pig sty of a room, I find two interesting things. The first is a painted tiger mask with divination magic on it.

The second is his journal, which Toledo and I have to reorder as the pages have been spread all over the room. As time goes on, it grows more and more incoherent. There are entries hinting at chasing small prey and being pursued by a giant shadowy cat. Could it be the same as what I just saw chasing me? There’s more about shapes coming out of triangles, bars becoming fangs, devouring life forces out of shining bowls. There’s also a yellow note pasted in with different handwriting. It has a list of names. Three of them are the three wanted men. Is this important?

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Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill

Last month James and I played Ravenloft II. What’s that, you ask? Well, after the success of the original Ravenloft, the writer was asked to catch lightning in a bottle again, and produced the bizarre sequel which brings Strahd von Zarovich back… or is it really him? James and I would joke about it over the years as something that sounded sort of hacky, but then we saw it was available on Drive Thru RPG as print on demand, so we bought it. James had a read and decided not only did this actually fit weirdly well with where Dirwin was going… but he really wanted to do it! So after years of us treating it like a joke, like how Doctor Who always meets the Master no matter how dead he seemed last time we saw him, we did it!

ravenloft

In the end, our findings were this. This campaign would probably only be playable in a very slim set of circumstances (which Dirwin just happened to meet). Also we got really nice Mary Shelleyesque vibes from the whole thing, and then we REALLY started shipping Dirwin and good guy Strahd as a thing. It was one of the best roleplaying experiences we’ve had because it was actually super gothy and romantic. Now I mean really, that stuff is DM-player insert stuff, but the writer of Ravenloft II has done a good job at setting up the atmosphere. We also inserted the module Howls in the Night in the middle, which also had a great atmosphere too!

Here is the playlist we listened to for the campaign. Sorry the journal is all in one big lot, but I didn’t get around to transcribing it until recently. Life has gotten a wee bit busy!

 

Prologue

 

Is it a dream? I find myself back at the chapel. You know which one. But this time Esmerelda doesn’t intervene. This time, Donavich doesn’t intercede. Euphrates is the first to die, caged in by the animated pews and lecterns. Marja is impaled, and Word too, thrown onto a fallen candelabra. Godfrey tries to hold him off, but when he dies too, there are no more resurrections.

 

I go into croc form. He catches me. Ireena is watching. She’s smiling.

 

He bites me.

 

Day One

 

Then I wake. I feel so unbearably weak. A woman’s voice: ‘Dr Irving?’

 

I open my eyes. Is that Toledo? No, it’s a human woman. Or did I manage to change to change her form already? No, this is a serving maid, says her name is Tallie. She calls me Dr Irving again.

 

Donavich walks into the room. No, not Donavich. He says his name is Dr d’Honaire, and he is my colleague. Stephen, he calls me. We are psychologists at this sanatorium by the sea.

 

I asked what happened, and he says I came in from a thunderstorm, raving, and I‘ve been unconscious for near on a week. Where did I come from, I ask. The house of my friend, Strahd von Zarovich, he says. The house on Gryphon Hill.

 

I stiffen, trying to hide my reaction. Another Donavich here, another Strahd? Then Marja’s double walks into the room. Not quite, she’s human too, and called Mary. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, berating me for galavanting in thunderstorms and getting sick. I ask her if she has a canine companion. She is surprised, but answers in the affirmative. What’s his name, I ask, holding my breath. Lex, she says. I want to laugh, or cry. What is going on?

 

She permits me a walk outside, though I am chilly and sweaty at the same time, and still horribly weak. Then I see past the ruse for a moment. Razorleaf, the city bending above me impossibly. It passes. A patient called Cyrus starts raving about the master coming. Of course he is. The name Strahd rings in my ears still. What did he mean, my friend?

 

I nearly faint, so Mary… Marja… Mary takes me back to my room and insists I rest. I ask her, did Dr d’Honaire have a son? Did he die? She confirms it. Again, I feel such dread.

 

Inside the room, my room, so they call it, in my sanatorium, I search for answers. Does Sigil really exist? Who am I? I try writing Dirwin by carving it into the underside of the wooden desk in the room. It blurs before my eyes and it reads Irving.

 

What does it all mean? Where am I? There is glass in the windows… in every window! I’ve never seen such extravagance before.

 

A letter on my desk… Irving’s desk. I recognise the writing. I read it.

 

My dear friend, Please hasten to meet me when you have recovered. I too have been ill after that night when we last met. We must discuss what happened, and try to solve the mystery of the house on Gryphon Hill! With utmost regard, Strahd von Zarovich

 

What does it all mean? How can this be happening? On my desk I find two items I’ve had my whole life, since my childhood with Grandfather Croc. Two wooden toy soldiers. But now I notice something about them that I’ve somehow never realised. They’re two opposing pawns from a game. How did I not see this before?

 

Day Two

 

I had a good sleep. Breakfast with d’Honaire. He admits he heard me raving in my week long stupor, and offers me mesmerism to try and unfold the mysteries of my memory loss. I take him up on the offer. He is surprised. Apparently before this I was dismissive of his interest in hypnotism. I apologise for that.

 

In the corridor outside, I see Ismark. No, his name is Bath Kleinen. He’s an orderly. But I can see in his eyes he knows more. I try to question him, ask him if he’s dreamed of other worlds too. He avoids my questioning.

 

I tell Mary I’m going for a constitutional, and may I borrow her dog. She permits me. Lex is a  lovely robust wolfhound, but too dull to be Word in another guise. I try to speak to him, but he just tips his head to the side. We walk around town, and I get acquainted with the harbour town of Mordentshire.

 

I see people in the town who look like people I know. I swear I see Dandy and Kazi, but they’re human-sized, and married, and running a bookstore. I buy some books there about local history, geography and peerage. I go down to the wharf, hoping not to see a familiar lobster there. By the river there’s a mill that’s not working, and a black cat and a little girl walking away. In the market, the spitting image of Nanny Ethel sells grain and calls herself Ray. She tells me she’s worried about her friend, the smith’s wife Aida. I go to visit, and she tells me the problem is her husband, who never leaves the upstairs rooms and has boarded up all the windows.

 

I go up to investigate. Lex is growling. Alwin, the smith, sits in the dark. Tells me he’s fine, tells me to leave. I try to keep him talking, but eventually he stands, takes his hammer up, and lashes out at me. ‘You are the author of all this, are you not, Doctor?’ I leave, not ready yet to cause a scene and bring my full powers to bear. Can I still bring my full powers to bear? I tell Aida to leave the house and live with other family for the time being.

 

I look for the church, just north of town according to the map in the book I have, but it is a smoldering ruin. The priest in his cottage refuses to see me. Blames me? Blames me and Strahd?

 

I return to the sanitarium to prepare for lunch, and find a letter inviting me to Heather House for lunch with Strahd and the Weathermay family. Full of trepidation, I begin the short journey south to the top of the cliffs. On the way I see squirrels in the trees. I try to speak to one. Is it stopping and talking back? It seems almost to do so, but not quite.

 

I reach the house, knowing already some of the faces to expect. I did not expect Ezmerelda, or now Mistress Ardent, now a servant in this grand house. She ushers me in to the dining room, where yes, there is Ireena, or Tatiana, or rather Virigina Weathermay. There is Lord Weathermay, with the face of the mayor of the village of Barovia. And there, now coming to embrace me, now embracing me with warm, alive arms, Strahd von Zarovich himself, smiling.

 

Genuinely, warmly smiling. This is a friend. I can feel no other feeling on seeing him now. Is it possible I have managed to call, from somewhere in the infinite planes, another version of Strahd who I can redeem to the side of good? Perhaps a Strahd who needs no redemption of mine? Or is this some folly of my brain, perhaps a last long hallucination as I die some unexpected death? I almost welcome it, the chance to rewrite one of my greatest failures.

 

We sit down to lunch. Virginia is pale. She is ill. I dread to think why. I know why. But Strahd is surely not the cause. They are engaged now. Can this Strahd be finally about to achieve his Tatiana for good? But will he, if what I suspect is making her ill is in fact true?

 

When we have some time after lunch to speak privately, I find Strahd as confused as myself as to the events of the last week. He too had a dream, he says, that he was watching some hideous version of himself ruling over a land that feared him, and he had to watch with disgust and dread this facsimile of himself consuming the life of the populace, and fighting a version of me dressed in lizard hides. I tell him I too had this dream, that I was this Dirwin. That I still think I am Dirwin, and Dr Stephen Irving is the unreal one. I ask him what he remembers, and it would seem he belongs in this world, unlike me. He recalls something more than I do of the night we both fell ill, and that is this: we fled the house on Gryphon Hill, having done something, or unlocked something, far more terrible than our minds could handle. I think it highly wise to invite him to the hypnotism tonight with Dr d’Honaire. I read the books I bought as I await the evening’s diversions.

 

Night Two

 

We arrive in the smoking room and Dr d’Honaire is there in the darkness, his pendulum at the ready. He is eager to begin.

 

He puts us both into a relaxed state, one where we should, he says, be more suggestible. “Where are you?” he asks. Before I know it, I am speaking.

 

“I am floating above the ground. Fog slowly spins me across the moors. The stars no longer burn in the sky, though somehow they should. There is a castle… or a building… its jaws open to devour me! I scream as I look down its throat filled with lightning and death! I am devoured, yet alive. I cannot see… the lightning again flashes. The room is alive with power. I see where I am…”

 

“What do you see?”

 

Strahd’s mouth opens as mine is stilled. “I stand before my own grave.”

 

“Please describe this place,” the doctor urges.

 

“Towering steel holds the world in place,” I continue. “Lightning pierces my soul and tears me in twain. I see myself twice. One, dark and terrible, the other, light and powerless. Good people mill about me, yet their ways are strange. I search for the circle whose eyes sees the truth of men’s souls…”

 

“Where is it? Where is this circle?”

 

Strahd speaks up again. “In the warm heart of love’s rest does the eye remain secure.”

 

“What is happening about you now?”

 

This time Strahd speaks for a while. “Then, from among the familiar faces of strangers comes the Great One… darkness within darkness, death beyond death. My life falls from me as he drinks it with unquenched thirst. His crimson lips stretch wide in a snarl of evil delight. His voice, the thunder of the crackling lightning…”

 

“What does he say?” d’Honaire almost shouts, his left hand white, gripping the end of the arm of the chair.

 

This time words erupt from my mouth. “Robbed! Cheated! The life which was mine by right, stolen from me by the Law Above! I spurn that law! I shall have my life back! I defy the gods!”

 

“What do you do?”

 

I continue, “I wrest myself from his grasp and seek to flee the chamber. The doors have all shifted and gone away. A book calls to me and offers me life. The lightning freezes the dark and I stumble in the darkness towards a shining book…”

 

“Where do you find this book?”

 

“Atop an altar formed of a griffin,” I reply.

 

“What does the book say?”

 

Strahd speaks, “The book tells a tragic tale of defiance in the face of divine justice. Yet something of its wisdom is incomplete and I know I must search further. I climb up a well of tangled thorns. I weaken and slow, though the top is neat. Now I see a figure in the opening above… it reaches for me…”

 

“Can you describe it? Describe the figure!”

 

I nearly scream in reply, “It is the Dark One himself! His hands seize me. My life again begins to slip from my soul.”

 

“By all that’s great!” d’Honaire exclaims, then gathers himself. “What do you do?”

 

I answer, “I run! I run without moving. My steps are mired in the soft ground and move in unreal motion. I stumble to the edge of a crevice. Friends, whose faces are filled with loathing and hate, stare up at me. A circled band hangs before me. I reach for it and the inscription burns…”

 

“Read it! What does the inscription say?”

 

Strahd replies, “Soft as the pillow of love’s rest shall my healing give hope to those forsaken.”

 

d’Honaire mops his brow, and continues, “What do you do with the Ring?”

 

“The ring blazes with brilliant light,” Strahd murmurs, “the torn book in my hands mends itself and now I can see where lies the terrible truth of this land. I cannot speak it! Yet I know where next I must go to find the truth…”

 

“Where is this Truth?”

 

“In the folds of love’s arms,” Strahd responds, “Yet I cannot reach the key! The darkness falls about me… I smother… I am dying…”

 

“What do you do with the Truth?”

 

This time I speak. “I flee down twisting halls as the light from the dying torches fails. The darkness behind me, pursuing me… devouring me! There! Ahead lies the key!”

 

“Where is this Key to the Truth?”

 

The two of us speak in concert, “Where all began… though cannot end.”

 

We are all exhausted by the experience. I want to speak more but Strahd must return to Heather House, and d’Honaire is worried, seems almost frightened of me now. So I retire to bed now, haunted and unsatisfied.

 

Day Three

 

Walking the grounds this morning, I hear a scream. I run towards it. A man, back contorted, throws off Mary. I wrestle him to the ground (I seem to still have that talent of Dirwin’s!). “Thieves!” he screams at my face. “Murderers! Where are the children?” I realise that this is no mere madness. He is really yelling at me. What did Strahd and I do?

 

As the orderlies take him away to be sedated, I ask Mary if she is all right, and then I ask her where I came from on that stormy night. She says I stumbled in from the east. Above us to the east looms Gryphon Hill. Could it have been there?

 

I ask Mary further questions. Yes, she has noticed a personality change in the orderly Bath Kleinen. In fact, she has noticed other people’s personalities that have changed, and she gives me a list of names that I might follow up on later. But for now, I must lunch at Heather House.

 

Alas! Virginia has taken a turn for the worst! She is more pale, more listless than yesterday. I speak quietly with Strahd about it being signs of the Creature we know as Vampire. We agree to look further into this later today, and go down to the market to see what is happening there with the list of names I have… and perhaps to buy some garlic if we can find it. We take Lex with us.

 

But in the market we are interrupted by the ringing of bells. The mayor calls a meeting in the market square. There has been a killing in the moors, not an unusual occurrence at night, but this time the death happened in the day. The legendary moorhounds have grown bolder! The mayor gathers all able men, a body fifty strong, and Strahd and I commit ourselves to the cause, unwilling to shirk our communal duty.

 

We march northeast out of town to find the body of a shepherd and all his flock, throats torn out. Beside the body we see a mud and straw doll of a hound, but then an ill wind kicks up and blows it to pieces.

 

I have had enough of feeling powerless against these ill omens. Part of me is saying I am not Dirwin, I don’t have the abilities I have earned over the years, but part of me insists I am, I am! So I dig deep in myself and reach out to communicate with the elemental spirit of the land around me. It works! I am connected, I am myself again. I sense the presence of undead , many down in the village, and one here in the crowd, disguised as Kidar Kleinen, Bath’s brother, a town guard. I reach out to feel the lay of the land around me and sense a large house to the southeast. Coming out of my trance, I learn it is Wescote Manor.

 

Strahd rises from examining the body of the deceased to report what he knows of Wescote Manor. Folks say that one hundred years ago there was a marriage arranged between Ann Campbell, a maiden of a rival family, and Burton Wescote, the heir of the Wescote family. He was eager for it, but she was not, so much so that she tried to run away the night before the wedding. Burton’s brother tried to stop her, and she killed him and fled into the moors. Burton gave chase with his dogs. No one knows what happened in the bog, except that Burton said he chased her until she began to sink into the bog, and she refused his help and died. The Campbells left Mordentshire, and the Wescotes began to die off one by one in mysterious circumstances. Something happened to the dogs too, but it is unclear what. All that is known is that howls and reports of moorhounds abound, and they are known to rip the entrails out of shepherds and other victims they find on the moors at night.

 

And now during the day too, it seems. We are organised by the mayor into groups to search the moors. I finagle Strahd and myself into the same group as Kidar and three other men, to keep an eye on him. We begin to walk the moors in a line, methodically. Once we are well out of earshot of the other groups of men, Lex begins to whine, and then the moorhounds attack out of nowhere!

 

They are made of mud and straw and their eyes burn with unholy fire, and their teeth… well, their teeth rip to piece our companions. Strahd, Lex and myself manage to survive. I examine Kidar, but he just seems a normal man now. How strange. I tell Strahd of my awakening into my powers as Dirwin now, and I prove it by transforming into a raven, and by talking to Lex (who is a good boy, but definitely not Word). Using another of my powers, I feel the safe path through the boggy moors to Wescote Manor, so we begin heading there.

 

Howls resound again and we begin to run, until Strahd becomes trapped in a bit of boggy mud and starts sinking. I draw all the moisture out of the ground into a muddy sphere, and Strahd is able to clamber out of the remains of the now dry mud.We hear a scream ahead, and running to the source, find an old man about to become victim to the moorhounds. We attack them, and I use the sphere of muddy water, which seems quite efficient at whirling them to pieces.

 

The man is Douglas Michaels, a servant at the manor, and he leads us there. He advises us to not panic when we meet his master, for it is Burton Wescote himself, who has never aged a day due to the curse laid on him by Ann Campbell. We find the manor house semi-ruined, certain rooms in the front given over to decay and attacks from the hounds, while the rest of the house has been defended. The grounds are still nice though. Using mending on Strahd’s part, and druidcraft on mine, we brush each other down and prepare to see the master of the house.

 

Sir Burton Wescote greets us amiably. He is still indeed a young man. His staff, however, were all aged. There is a room we aren’t allowed to enter in the ground floor, but Douglas tells us it contains the ruins of the wedding presents!

 

Over dinner, Sir Burton explains to us that after Ann killed his brother and ran off into the night, he sent his dogs and ran after her to try to stop her from running into any dangerous spots. He saw her sink and tried to save her. The dogs all died, and the kennels are in despair. I notice in the dining room there seems to be a missing portrait, and I wonder if there is a reason for that.

 

After dinner, in the guest room, Strahd and I check in with each other’s impressions. I talk to Lex, and he seems fine with Burton, so he’s not undead I suppose. I confer with nature around me, and it is confirmed. So what is going on? Strahd theorizes that the tableau of a ruined wedding downstairs suggests that a symbolic wedding may need to take place. We settle in for the night.

 

Day Four

 

At 3am, Lex whines and wakes us, followed by a knock on our door from Burton, who asks us to behold the nightly phenomenon. Outside, we see an apparition of a woman being chased by dogs! But what is chasing them? We are sent back to bed, but I tell Strahd I will learn more, and I fly out as a giant owl, and he rides on my back.

 

Below us we see the moor hounds baying around the bog where the apparition of the woman is now sinking, and we see the other person in the apparition is Sir Burton! But I fly too low, and a moorhound attacks! I manage to escape its jaws, and we fly straight back to the house. Discussing what little we saw in the safety of the house, we both admit we did not see enough to know if Wescote was telling the truth about trying to save her.

 

In the morning Wescote is nowhere to be found, and the maid Gabrielle tells us this is always the case in the morning. She also tells us that others have tried to end the curse and have failed, and all of them have been taken by the bog. I am quietly confident we won’t suffer the same fate. Asking further about Burton’s morning ritual, she says he always walks out on the bog, so once she has gone, I tell Strahd I will go and spy on our host, and leave in raven form.

 

I get a bad feeling as I fly over the bog. I see something happening in the same spot where we were attacked last night, so I move closer. There is an open grave, and a corpse just standing there. I move closer yet, and it beckons to me. It is Ann Campbell! I land and transform before her, and she seems to reconstitute, almost coming to life before me.

 

She tells me her version of events. That she didn’t kill the brother, that Wescote pursued her with ill intent and laughed as she sank into the bog. Bring him here, she asks me. She decays before me, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I believe neither of them is lying to me, but what can that mean?

 

Back at the manor, Strahd and I explore, since Burton still hasn’t shown himself. We visit boarded up rooms and basements and ballrooms and such, finding only that everything is frozen as if waiting for the wedding to happen, and the missing portrait is just a normal, completely mundane portrait of Burton. Perhaps he took it down as he didn’t want to look at his own face, never changing.

 

There is only one place in the house we have not been yet, and that is a locked study where we assume Burton must surely be. So we pick the lock and go in to find him lying on a chaise, groaning. He is ill, there is a bucket beside him for his sick. He doesn’t notice us, so wracked by some stomach illness is he. Over the fireplace is a portrait of Ann, and the words of the curse she laid on him. It all becomes clear now. “Bog take you and keep you.” The bog water keeps him alive.

 

We announce ourselves, and he is slightly angry, but too sick to care. We call him out on it: he’s been drinking bog water. Why? The curse, of course. The bog is keeping him alive, as much as it’s making him sick. I tell him that Ann told me to bring him to her, and he decides that is what we shall do, tonight.

 

When the appointed hour comes, all three of us go out together. Ann and Burton face each other after all these years, and Strahd and I try to negotiate between them. I tell them that they have both told me their events, but neither of them seems to be lying. This can only mean one thing: so much time has passed, and emotions were so high that night, that there is no real objective truth anymore. Ann was a young woman, terrified of an unwanted marriage, in the house of her enemies, and finally, dying in a most horrible fashion. Burton had just lost his brother, not knowing where the guilt truly lay. Both of them were suffering under heightened emotions, and interpreted events differently from each other. The two of them seem to accept this, and both finally seem to get some bit of peace from this.

 

And that is when the Moorhound attacks! The greatest of the beasts, it tears Burton’s throat out before we could stop it, but then we put it down for good. It is the last vestige of the curse. Ann holds Burton’s body as he dies, and both of them fade from view. We return to the house to tell the servants what has occured, and gain some much needed sleep.

 

Day Five

 

We return to Mordent with the servants, who are bringing an assemblage of furniture and goods to sell from the manor. Strahd is in high spirits. We have ended one curse, so perhaps we can end more without too much cost.

 

Tragedy! We reach Heather House to find it in full mourning. All our hopes are dashed. Virginia is dead!

 

I try to steady my friend in his grief by announcing that I have ways of revivifying the body and spirit, and I can bring her back, though her form may change. On this thin thread of hope, we send Mistress Ardent shopping for reagents and unguents I require.

 

With permission from Lord Byron I reveal on Virginia’s neck the bitemarks of the Creature. It is confirmed. The Creature himself is here. I look at my friend. I am so sure it is not him. Aren’t I?

 

The answer is in Gryphon Hill, Strahd tells me, and so we head up there. The wind fights us as we fly there, with me in giant owl form, Strahd riding, Lex in my huge talons. But we make it. We hear sounds from within the castle-like mansion, with its four corner towers pointing up into the sky. At the door, the griffins guarding it turn on us! Except they don’t. It’s an hallucination that only I can see. Why doesn’t the hallucination trap affect Strahd, and just me? Is it because he is the one renting the house?

 

As he tries to open the door, the knocker attacks him, trying to eat his hand, which dispels that notion of mine. With a wave of his free hand, he siphons the magical energy out, and his hand is released.

 

The first few rooms we go into are bare and ransacked looking. At the rear of the study, double doors open onto a brick wall. How strange. In the dining room, we find the table set! But for whom? I feel eyes following me from a painting, and pointing that out makes them run away. So, there must be a corridor behind there. We explore further the open rooms, since we do not yet know how to get through the wall.

 

There are mice in the kitchen infesting the food which seems to have been recently put out, for it is only beginning to rot. They are reluctant to talk to me, as Strahd smells like a predator to them. He asks me what they are saying, and I am careful to obscure that I fear he may be my good friend at day and the Creature at night (yet how can that be? He has been with me this whole time, including at night!). I manage to convince one to trust me, then he tells me that the secret corridor is through the fireplace, and that the house is full of people you can see but not smell – ghosts, and perhaps other undead I suppose. Then a little compatriot of his sums up the courage to speak, and says that she saw Strahd drink the blood of one of her family. I hide what she says from Strahd. Surely there must be another explanation?

 

We spend some time looking in the fireplace, where Strahd finds the catch to open the secret door. We find the secret corridor there, and it runs the length of the north wall of the house. There is a stairwell down, which we take. There is an odd slime which we test before walking through, but it seems harmless.

 

At the end of the long corridor, we open the door into an alchemy laboratory. We see signs in there that Strahd was working here, and perhaps I was too. There are diagrams, showing the workings of a massive machine. What is it supposed to do?

 

As we read, I come to a horrific realisation. I look on my forearm for the long-healed scar of bitemarks of my brother crocodile when I grew up with the crocs and wrestled them for play… and it isn’t there. What is happening? In my moment of existential confusion, I smell the well-inhabited scent of Sigil. Where am I really?

 

My delirium is broken by something falling from the ceiling and wrapping around Strahd, suffocating him. We kill it, and in the adrenaline, my confusion is gone. Strahd and I go to open the very large doors in the eastern wall.

 

We have found the room behind the bricked up doorway, for it takes up an entire quarter of the house, the whole southeastern corner, even up to the roof, where a glass dome is cracked, letting the weather in. Wire, ropes, beams hang jaggedly into an absence – something should be here. Our experiment. Where is it? What was it?

 

We find in the wreckage a rod of glowing crystal. We know we need this. Why? What is it for? The words come to our lips. The Apparatus. This rod powers it. ‘Where it all began,’ Strahd mouths. ‘Though cannot end,’ I answer.

 

Lightning strikes into the room. It would have struck the Apparatus, if it was there. The lightning enlightens the darkest recesses of my mind. I have an inkling of what happened here. Strahd and I entered the machine. Strahd, with the intent to rid himself of all evil in his soul, all the dreams that haunted him of bloodshed and bloodlust. But that evil had to go somewhere. So the Creature was born. Something more akin to the Strahd I knew before, in Barovia, the monster I ended. So is what was left behind a purely good Strahd? He seems a normal man to me, as much as I admire his good qualities too.

 

And what of me, when I stepped in the machine? But it wasn’t me. It was Dr Stephen Irving. Where did he go? How did I come here?

 

I take the two wooden pawns from my pocket. One white, one black. This is one of my oldest memories. Could it be that I was created? Created for this very purpose, to be locked in this eternal war of good against evil?

 

Coming out of my existential dread, we uncover more secrets of the room, such as the door out, which is disguised from the other side to look like the servants’ entrance to the kitchen, and a ladder up to a corridor that connects with a secret door on the first floor. Then we backtracked through the lab to find further rooms to the north. Within the next room, we find and kill a vampiress. There are two coffins however, so there is one more vampire we must find.

 

In the next room we meet a long dead corpse. As he begins to rise, I get seized by the odd urge to be friendly and help him up by the hand. He takes my hand and does not attack. As he is a mummy, communicating with him is hard and slow, but he manages to convey that he is Bath Kleinen! Taking pity on him, I change his shape to that of a cat so he can move faster and come with us. What we’ll do to help him, I don’t know… but presumably whoever is in his body right now is the mummy, and he has somehow been body-swapped with that person.

 

Searching further, we find a secret prison, in which a few other body-swapped people are trapped. One mummy attacks us and is quickly dispatched, but two other monsters are townsfolk. We take them back to the reception room, though we the shade Gaston with us, since he can move fast.

 

Upstairs, we find a man soaking wet from the rain. He introduces himself as Ali Esterbridge, and says he has been squatting here. We take pity on him and invite him down to the kitchen, but he pushes me down the stairs and attacks! He is a vampire. It occurs to me, as we wrestle with him and eventually finally end him, that all the monsters here avoid hurting Strahd. Why is that?

 

Hurt badly from the fight, we decide to return to the sanitorium for the night, bringing the body-swap victims with us. In the sky, the massive face of the Creature, formed out of cloud and lightning, tries to bite me with lightning teeth! But I manage to twist out of the way, and we make it back to the sanitorium.

 

There, Mary tells me she’ll take care of the victims, and that we must go up to Heather House, as the ingredients for the ritual have been gathered! So we go there. I am too fatigued to do the spell tonight, so we go to bed, and I pray that the staff of the house listen to what I told them as to how to treat the body of Virginia…

 

Day Six

 

I am awoken after midnight by Lex growling. I cannot move. Why can I not move?

 

Strahd is at the window, and beyond it, Virginia hovers, her mouth and front drenched in blood. She calls to Strahd to join her. He starts to open the window. I manage to flick a pebble from my pocket at the back of his head. A lucky strike! The spell is broken, and he retreats from the window in fear! Virginia leaves to join her master.

 

We flee the house as quickly as we can, heading for the safety of the sanitorium. But inside, it is a massacre. Everyone is dead, even Mary, even the shade Gaston is gone. We go to leave, but outside the whole village has gathered with torches, lead by Mistress Ardent. They blame us for the massacre and the vampirism. I turn into an owl and get us out of there as soon as I can. As we ascend, to my despair, I see the mayor is a grown-up Radovan.

 

By a circuitous route we come back to the empty Wescote Manor. We doubt the servants will be back, as it seems like the body-swapping is to near completion, so they will probably stay in the town, possessed, serving the Creature. So we make this our home base, and venture out to finish searching Gryphon Hill for whatever answers we can find. I still tell Strahd we will save Virginia. I hope he believes me. I hope I believe me.

 

Back in Gryphon Hill, the monsters we meet are all townspeople now, and we usher them to follow us and return to the relative safety of Wescote Manor – all except one, the ghost of an ancient inhabitant of this house, with a tragic backstory, who we cannot convince, and so are forced to end. Again and again, I am assaulted by visions and hallucinations and delirium, but we keep going. Within the bedroom Strahd finds his diaries and notes, and we confirm our suspicions. The notes speak of driving evil from the soul of man, specifically, his own sense of repressed evil.

 

In the closet we make an amazing discovery. An extremely expensive ruby… and we know what it is almost without having to detect the magic auras around it. It is a scrying stone. ‘Oh no,’ I say, ‘We have been discovered! Let us leave at once.’ Shutting the door to the closet, I roll my eyes, and keep searching.

 

We find more secret corridors, and the way up to the roof, with more body-swapped townspeople. Up in the north tower, we find a footlocker full of Strahd’s notes, one of which shows us a diagram of the Apparatus, and another which says it had been taken to his own grave. We remember that was in the hypnotism now, and I ask if he has a grave. He has a place reserved for him in the Weathermays’ mausoleum! So now we know where we must storm, and most likely where the Creature will be.

 

We find four gargoyles who are townspeople at the west tower, nothing in the south tower, and are attacked by a swarm of sturges in the east tower. Only the central tower remains. Inside, we feel relief. It is a holy, consecrated room. Unfortunately the floor is weak, but we manage to make it over carefully to the altar. There is a holy symbol and a book. Strahd tries to jimmy open a locked box, and he vanishes. I panic, and cast Locate Creature, but he is only down in the small graveyard behind the house. I fly him back up to the tower, and we examine the contents of the trapped box. There is a jewelled chalice and a stick of incense.

 

We’re not sure what any of this means, but we come up with a plan. Tomorrow we will return here, steal the ruby in the day when the Creature cannot move, and use it to awaken Lex into full sentience, so that he might help us avenge his mistress. The holy ground should protect us. We leave for now, taking all the bodyswap victims to Wescote Manor with us.

 

Day Seven

 

Early after the sun rises we fly to Gryphon Hill, straight into to the central tower. There, Strahd paces anxiously while I work the ritual.

 

It goes much differently from what I expect. Rather than awakening Lex, I am drawn deep within myself, into my skin, into the blood and viscera, where it loses all meaning, then becomes clear again, little planets orbiting within me, far far down. I realise that I am a part of everything, but we are all of us everything. I can feel the planes within me, and then I can sense something of the truth. This is not the shadowfell after all! There is something awry in Beastlands, there is something awry in the Beastlands in me.

 

My downwards motion slows, then stops, and I see a figure before me. ‘Um… hey,’ comes the voice of my old friend Merka. ‘So, ugh, I guess I’m your spirit guide, or something.’ He gives me three truths. One, he says to me one path leads to many paths, leads to many paths. I say that’s a tree, and he’s pleased that I understand.

 

He tells me that the disorder I can sense in the Beastlands is in me too. I have been divided. I have created this place. The idea astounds me. How can I grasp it? If I have created this place, why is everything going so wrong?

 

Finally, as I begin to fade back to reality, he tells me that I was not created for any purpose, except by myself. I’m the one who created me, through the choices I have made.

 

As I fade back, I am engulfed by the rainbow. I hear a dry and raspy sound. I instantly think of a snake. I feel terror and euphoria at once. It’s like the feeling I always expected to feel in the presence of a god. Is this rainbow my god?

 

I return to Strahd. We flee back to Wescote Manor, and I tell him everything that happened. We don’t know how to apply everything to our present situation, but we start making plans for the next day.

 

Day Eight

 

The new day dawns, but remains dark. Strahd and I feel there is no safe place to be, so we must keep on moving. To that end, I cast Wind Walk on us, which means for the next several hours we can shift into a very fast moving mist and fly out to places distant. But before leaving the Manor, I try to plane shift out of this dark place, and of course, I cannot.

 

We fly to the church, still in ruins. Zombies come shambling towards us from the graveyard. They are, of course, townspeople. We calm them and get them to wait in safety. We head towards the priest’s cottage, wanting to finally come to terms with what we did to the church. When we arrive he is actually talking to us, he’s friendly…. Nope! I realise in time that he is a body-swapper, and I restrain him with croc form. Tied up, we interrogate him by holding him next to the holy ground of the church, which makes him burn up if he dares touch it. He answers our questions. The Creature has been using the Apparatus to swap all the townspeople with the monsters of Gryphon Hill, but he’s missing part of it, otherwise he would have done it all much faster. His orders to the body swappers are to lure us in and deliver my good friend Strahd to him. The Apparatus is indeed where we know it to be, at the mausoleum, and so is the Creature, waiting for us.

 

We tie the priest up in his cottage, and search the surrounding area for more clues the hypnotism suggested to us. We manage to rig up some rudimentary communications with the body-swap victims, and find that the actual priest is one of them, so I ask him what did we do? He clarifies, he only knows instinctively that we did it, he has no proof, but on the night the Apparatus was completed, the church was struck by lightning and burned down. Makes sense.

 

We head to the church’s mausoleum first, as the priest says Strahd left something in there. We search the tomb of Normal Korval, and find the hidden cache behind his bronze nameplate. There we find a sulphur sphere, which is part of the Apparatus, and more of Strahd’s notes and diary. There we find recorded that the Creature intends to have his ‘life’ back again, by replacing Strahd in his own body, then setting the lynchmob on Strahd inside the Creature’s body.

 

Outside, the storm intensifies. We know we must go to Heather House, so we do. We see wagons outside the mausoleum of the Weathermays, which clearly brought the Apparatus here. The mausoleum is in great disrepair. We pause in the entrance to embrace, and I tell Strahd that no matter what happens, I’m glad I had this time with him, and he’ll always have a friend in me.

 

There are several large chambers before us to navigate, with noises of horror coming from deeper within. Lightning strikes the great broken glass domed roof. Statues of beings of all heavenly and hellish planes, frescoes ruined, coffins emptied, then the great room itself… walls and walls and walls of coffins of ancestors, and behold! The Apparatus! Behind it, two thrones, and on them, the Creature, the dark Strahd, and Virginia.

 

We move closer and the picture resolves into greater detail. The Creature has been staked! He sits paralyzed, trapped at the moment of death. Virginia sits smugly and awaits us. She offers to finish the deed.

 

What is it she wants, we wish to know. She wants to vampirise my good friend Strahd, and rule forever with him! She doesn’t want to renounce vampirism! She finally knows independence and power this way, rather than the powerless life as a decoration of her father’s, destined to be a decoration for her husband to possess.

 

But, I argue, the vampire is evil inherently! Even if she wishes to drink only from the blood of animals for now, she may change in time, she may corrupt with age.

 

Is the vampire inherently evil? She throws that back at me, and I am floored. Is the vampire inherently evil? Strahd looks at me for an answer. I don’t know what to say. What do I say?

 

I take him by the shoulders. ‘I want it to be true.’ A smile breaks over my face. ‘I want it to be true… and therefore, let it be true! Come, let’s fix the townspeople, then all three of us leave this place. If there’s anywhere a vampire could try to be good, it’s on the planes!’

 

Virginia is uncertain that I really mean it. ‘But how?’

 

I think hard. ‘It must be the way I came through… the Apparatus itself will take us there.’ I go to place the crystal rod in the machine, and she drives the stake all the way through the Creature, ending it, and joins us.

 

I take Strahd’s hand, and Virgina takes his other. I look at my friend once more. Will he be there on the other side, if I created this place? I don’t know. I hope so.

 

We step in. They vanish, but I feel like somewhere on the infinite planes, perhaps they still exist. If they do, I will find them.

 

But as for me, where do I return? I can feel it again in the same way my spirit vision showed me… I am leaving my mind. It was all… what, a dream? A vision? A delusion? And why? I must know… The Beastlands… It’s something to do with the Beastlands… I will solve whatever problem is happening there… because it’s what I do.

Blue Rose: Shadows of Tanglewood

So James and I have finally gotten around to playing Blue Rose! He’s played it once before at a convention, but we’ve had the Kickstarter edition for ages now. And we’re finally playing a little bit of a campaign with it! It’s probably going to be a lot more episodic than our other campaigns, with no meta-plot, just so there isn’t as much pressure to “finish” it, or to make it have a through-line.

I’ve personally been really excited to play this for ages because the setting sounded really cool. If you haven’t heard of it before, basically it’s romantic fantasy, where you live in a fantasy kingdom where LGBT+ people are all accepted, there are magic psychic animals, and the monarchy is not inherited but the choice of a magical sacred deer. Outside of this kingdom, Aldis, you have other lands, some which are poorer and have more conservative values (e.g. one kingdom is against homosexuality because they need more population), while Kern to the north is basically Mordor.

Given that sort of setting, I was really surprised when I actually started making characters and playing the game. It is way more mechanical, dice rolly and takes way more time to get through encounters than I thought it would. That’s because it’s using the AGE system, which was made for Dragon Age. Mechanical and grindy makes more sense for that setting…

But anyway, we’ll see if my opinion changes or develops further over the course of playing more! For now, let’s get into it.

Our cast of characters includes:

  • Nym, a Rhy-Cat Expert (basically a large psychic house cat) (and yes it is basically my cat Nim)
  • Miranda, a third-generation Kernish refugee living in Aldis, Warrior
  • Orlando, an Adept, something of a country hick

All of these characters are members of the Sovereign’s Finest, agents of the Queen of Aldis. I’ll be telling the stories about our adventures through the medium of mission reports by Nym, the leader of the group.

Image result for blue rose rpg

And as you can see, the art in the rulebook is beautiful!

Mission Report

Area explored: The Tanglewood, Pavin Weald

Agents: Nym, Miranda and Orlando

As all three of us had grown up/spent some time in the Pavin Weald, we were all familiar with the fact that monsters often come over the mountains from Kern to infest the Weald, so we were all keen for our first major assignment to be the Tanglewood. While I took the lead on the approach, Orlando waxed lyrical about how wonderful it was to be back in the Weald, while Miranda was more stoic about the patrol. This did lead to some minor squabbling. I distracted them by telling them what I knew of this area of the Weald: that it had once been the haunt of Sorcerer Ebban during the Empire of Thorns, though little was known of him.

Soon I received a mental impression of a vata’an in distress. The message was broken off prematurely. Seeing on our map there should be an old outpost nearby, we picked up the pace to reach it. When we did, it was small and deserted, except for a deer which ran away, and a collection of wind sprites. Approaching carefully, I questioned one named Florin. When I showed her a mental image of the vata’an, she said she hadn’t seen him in a few days, but he did live here with another whom he seemed very close to. Miranda and Orlando hadn’t noticed the sprites, but instead had found some tracks. They started to follow them. With Florin’s assistance, I soon overtook them, and they assumed I was following the tracks, rather than the much more accurate path Florin led me on.

The tangles of the Tanglewood soon closed in, and we found ourselves surrounded by four massive black wolves. Florin vanished. Miranda leapt in front of us, and the wolves dragged her down. She managed to get up every time they knocked her down, her armour too thick for their teeth to do too much damage, though over time they began to wear her down. Orlando got his first opportunity to use his water shaping in combat, splashing the contents of his waterskin into the eyes of the wolves where he could. Usually I would try and lead from the side of the fight and try to avoid melee, but the situation was too dire, so I leapt into combat as well. I was not as effective as Miranda’s swordplay, but the extra addition of my teeth was enough to distract the wolves and give her openings to attack. In the end, I managed to kill three out of the four wolves, and Miranda the other, but Orlando was beginning to get fatigued from the healing he had to throw around to keep Miranda and myself up. As we rested briefly after the fight to get our breath back and bind our wounds, we had to ask ourselves… why did these wolves fight to the death? It was completely out of the ordinary for wolf behaviour.

With Florin gone, we had to wander about trying to trace the faded tracks, but we soon found the unconscious vata’an lying in the briars. It took more out of Orlando to heal him back to consciousness, but the silver-haired man woke. He told us his name, Talaith, and said his lover Dartis had been taken. He told us in more detail, he and Dartis had stumbled upon the ruins of a grand manor, and within, Dartis had found a strange black mask. For a lark, he put it on, and something possessed him, leading to him attacking Talaith.

Refreshed and mostly healed, Talaith asked to join us as we investigated the ruins and looked for Dartis. He mentally showed us the path to the manor, and in his visualisation I recognised the crest of the Sorcerer Ebban on the gates of the manor. Taking great care, we went up to the ruins. On the way, we encountered a strange woman in a circle of stones. Very incautiously, Orlando approached, assuming her to be an innocent, but she turned, laughing a crazy laugh as she cried, ‘Dance with me!’ We ended up having to put her down, realising she was some form of tainted fae. After she died, her mortal form vanished into mist.

Further down thorny paths, we noticed there was no birdsong, despite the uncanny silent birds sitting on tree branches staring at us. I climbed some trees lazily as we went, but the birds eluded me the whole time. We reached the ruins proper, finding the wooden gates rotted away. In the courtyard, we could see more buildings: the manor itself, a stables, a chapel, a forge, and a well. From the forge came the sound of hammering, so I tried to sneak in and scope out what was happening in there. I was immediately noticed by the inhabitant, a satyr who was working on some kind of mechanical creature. He was also attended by a flock of clockwork sprites. I could see the glint of mania in his eyes, and he ignored my attempts at conversation, so I left quickly before I could accidentally spur him to anger.

We checked the stable next, only to find nothing in there except the wall caved in, giving access to the forest. So instead we tried to check out the chapel next. The doors were not rotted here, and were in fact locked! So we went around the side and found a tower that Miranda guessed she could try to climb. She managed to do so, up to the level of the windows, and she managed to crowbar one open. Within was a strangely clean bedroom, indicating recent occupancy. Miranda pried out the whole window and threw it flat to the grass below, so it only cracked dully rather than smashing. Then she rigged up a rope and the rest of us were able to climb in after her. The only exit from here was down into the main body of the chapel itself.

To our amazement, down there we found a dark shrine to the Exarchs! There was another satyr here, bent over a vata’an wearing a mask – Dartis, I assumed. Talaith cried out, ruining our surprise chance. The satyr announced himself as Deradiz, the Lord of Tanglewood, and he brought out his panpipes. When he played them, the room flooded with evil, rotted looking sprites. A fight began in the chapel interior. I tried to knock the mask of Dartis with my psychic powers, while he, or rather the mask entity, fought back with powerful psychic blasts which were difficult to shield from. Miranda meanwhile attacked Deradiz. Talaith laid into the sprites, trying to reach Dartis, calling out to him. Orlando tried to move the mask with his shaping, but it was not having much effect on the psychic entity. As the sprites swarmed Talaith and Miranda, and Deradiz’s panpipes started to make my head spin and my feet dance without my control, Orlando managed to telekinetically snatch the pipes from Deradiz, and smash them underfoot. On a roll, he managed to splash both Dartis and Derzdiz and distract them, while Miranda and Talaith laid into the sprites.

I finally managed to psychically rip the mask off Dartis, and he fired an arrow at Deradiz before fainting. Deradiz tried to wound Orlando and flee, but Miranda managed to behead him before he reached the door. I nursed Dartis back to life, and then we took down the remainder of the sprites, though Orlando was quite thoroughly exhausted by now.

After a rest, we searched the rest of the manor complex (ignoring the still-crazed tinker in the forge – I would recommend some experts on fae possession are sent to try and rehabilitate him). We found no other combatants, but many disgusting artefacts of the Sorcerer Ebban, most rotting. But we found two intact pages of a journal, which I have attached to this report. In short, they detail his observation of the Tanglewood, befriending the fae, and then watching something infest and twist the fae into the forms we met today. It suggests that perhaps Sorcerer Ebban was not initially a villain, but perhaps he too was infected by whatever changed the fae of this area. We have packed these notes, and the wicked mask, and are travelling south again to take them to our superiors.

 

Level Six of the Tomb: Priscilla and the Tomb of Annihilation, Part 26 (and an analysis)

Warning: The following contains detailed spoilers for the final dungeon of the Tomb of Annihilation. Obviously.

Note: For brevity’s sake, I don’t say every time I check for traps, search for secret doors or use detect magic. Just assume stuff like that happens in every damn room!

21 days to go, continued

Heading down the stairs to the final level, we saw the green glow from a smouldering cauldron in the centre of a dungeon room. There were three empty rocking chairs, haberdashery lying around and a spinning wheel. There was a caged prisoner in the middle of the room, and three little dolls made of various bits and pieces limped up to us. They warned us that the Sewn Sisters would come, and they asked us to free them. We said we would. Gathering the miserable looking things up, we moved into the room properly.

Image result for tomb of annihilation dolls

That was when the caged prisoner turned around and I got the shock of my life. It was me. I yelled out that I wasn’t going to be so easily spooked. But as we got to talking, she revealed to us what she was: a clone, created by the Sewn Sisters, and used to spy on our progress. Nanny Pupu, all that long time ago, had taken some hairs from me and sent them away to the Sisters, before we killed her. We freed and dressed my clone, and took her to be with our small band of refugees.

Then we settled into breaking the puzzle of the room we were in. At the end was a door that had five plaques on it: one triangular, one a square, a pentagon, a hexagon, and finally an octagon. Behind each of these would be a keyhole corresponding to the skeleton keys we had liberated. But to move the plaques, we had to solve the puzzle in each of the five rooms on the mezzanine level above us. So we started with the room with a triangle on the door.

This one did not take us too long. There was a lever, but it was behind a glass cylinder which we couldn’t lift or move. Zagmira used a misty step spell to get in and out of there. The first keyhole was revealed. In the next room, the square-plaqued door, we found pages of spells flying around. We were able to grab three spells: Alarm, Immolation, Unseen Servant, and Investiture of Ice, before the rest turned into a whirwind of dust mephits. One we dispatched that, we had to figure out how to touch the level, which was in an ethereal state. It took us ages, trying all sorts of methods, but finally Orvex thought to just try drawing a square around it. And that worked.

In the next room, the pentagon room, a gaunt man setting up a feast invited us to eat. Ignoring him, we inspected the tapestries around the walls. One patch was different from the others. It had a devil face, a motif common in the room, but the mouth was real. I had a skeleton poke its finger in, and that solved the puzzle. Unfortunately, we left the room without eating, which made the man lay a curse on us. We decided to rest up, and return once Hugo had asked the chwingas for a spell to remove the curse from all of us.

19 days to go

We wasted an entire day just removing the curse, and were finally ready to go again. The Sewn Sisters had not yet emerged, so we went to the hexagon room next. Within was a cracked six-sided mirror with the words ‘Piggy piggy piggy’ written above it, and five candles. I got the team to search for the sixth candle, and we found it, lit them, and then said piggy three times. A lever appeared in the mirror, and we pulled it (a bit weird, seeing oneself holding something that wasn’t actually there). Then it was onto the final room.

This one was where it nearly all went wrong. There was a leather tome upon a lectern with a rhyme written in infernal, and eight skeletons along the walls. We read the rhyme in our heads, front to back, and back to front, and were trying to decide which way it should be said aloud. Hugo, Flask and I were the only ones in the room when I accidentally triggered the trap while exploring the room. The gravity went upside down, the ceiling opened up, and beneath us was a giant metal blender. I cast Fly on Hugo and myself while Flask clung for dear life onto the lectern. We read the rhyme quickly, and the trap reset, and the lever appeared.

Outside, the rest of the team were standing there, watching the approach of the Sewn Sisters. I was fed up, not keen on talking, so we quickly dispatched them, focussing on the closest of the witches first so as to break their coven and diminish their spell power. With that done, the other two were easy to take down. The three little dolls were now inert, and free I suppose. And the five keyholes were now revealed. We decided to have one last rest before confronting Acererak.

18 days to go

We placed the keys in the door and unlocked it to reveal a huge chamber with lava beneath us. We were able to safely assemble on a wide ledge near the door, while Acererak was on another ledge to the right of us, and the Soulmonger hung suspended in the air by metal cables to the left of us. Some… thing… was attached to the Soulmonger, tube in mouth. It looked like it was made of different bits and pieces of different people.

Acererak started to speak to us. It was standard bad guy monologue, but Orvex whispered to me to keep him talking as long as possible, and then he whispered something long and complicated to Hugo. Meanwhile the rest of us tried to hide them, keeping Acererak going on and on about how he was using the Soulmonger to build a new god, a vessel for some being called Tenebrus, his master. Alas, we couldn’t keep him talking forever, and the fighting began.

He made a sphere of annihilation and sent it amongst us. It focussed on Zagmira, and she ran around the ledge jumping and cursing as bits and pieces of her voluminous robes got singed off into oblivion. Flask ran dashingly up the cables, all the way over to stab Acererak… and got killed in by single spell of Acererak’s, his corpse sent flying back to us with the impact. If that wasn’t shocking enough, my skeletons and zombies refused to attack Acererak! Hugo ran between us all, shouting to give him the Nine Gods, so we started doing so, and the more nimble and ranged amongst us started attacking the god-golem in the centre. It opened its eyes, and hit us with some sort of whammy that exhausted us all. Zagmira was finally overcome by the sphere of annihilation, and a second corpse lay on our side now.

We ignored Acererak, who seemed untouchable, and continued to stab and shoot the god-golem, until finally Ninya hit it, killed it, and leapt off it before it became insubstantial. Acererak was cursing us, but saying it would only delay him a little. Thankfully, he had been distracted enough by the flurry of the rest of us, to fail to notice that Hugo now had all the Nine Gods’ holy objects, and was starting to glow. Chwingas started to appear around the cavern. Acererak pointed a bony finger at Hugo, and annihilated him with another single kill spell.

Hugo died, but in that moment the Soulmonger exploded, and a giant laser shot for the sky from its heart, through all six levels of the tomb above. The laser resolved itself into a figure… a giant figure of a man… but was it Hugo? Or was it, as a celebrating Orvex cried out, the Nine Gods reconstituted into the original god, the one that ‘vanished’ before they appeared… Ubtao?

Acererak was mad now. All the power of the Soulmonger was wasted now, not given to Tenebrus, but instead to Hugo/Ubtao. Not only that, but Flask and Zagmira stood up, and all of us were refreshed by wave after wave of energy from the giant glowing figure above us. So we naturally attacked. It was still a hard fight, even with Hugo sending us energy and healing, but we managed to wear Acererak’s spell power down, and our tabaxi attacked with unrelenting energy even after Zagmira and I were well out of spell power ourselves. Above us, Hug-tao was growing, expanding his consciousness, testing his powers. Ninya became Acererak’s focus, as she was dealing him the most damage, and he managed to knock her down. But when we got her back up again, she finally managed to kick the stupid skull of his neck vertebrae, into the lava below.

Image result for tomb of annihilation acererak

My oldest friend, once Hugo, now Ubtao, but maybe still Hugo, wished us luck, and left. There was no corpse, so… maybe it was Hugo? Either way, the waters of Omu were starting to fill the dungeon so we decided to destroy what we could, save what was needed, and leave as soon as possible. We found, in the same cavern as us, a ton of phylacteries of the servants of Acererak, so we threw these in the lava. Further back in the cavern we found a teleporter that took us to Acererak’s private chambers. In his chapel of hate, we found some nothiks chained up, a font for the baptism of the new god, and an unconscious man in a body bag. We picked him up and kept exploring. There were many strange things, like a portal to Arcadia, a pool of black ooze, a music box that could sound like many instruments (I took that), and a library full of arcane texts, looked after by a man named Mr Fox. We tried to get him to escape with us, but he said he was bound here. Zagmira said she was staying too. When we said she had to escape before the tomb became a lake, she said it was fine, she’d go to Arcadia instead, and besides, she needed some other prize now that the Soulmonger had exploded. But we still had to get out before it was too late, so we fled the chapel of hate, out the teleporter, across the quickly cooling lake of lava and water, and through the tomb which was now a wonderland of waterfalls. I noticed, as we escaped, that the Starfallen had set free as part of the destruction of the works of Acererak, but Nepartak, the princess in the skull, was still with Copper Bell. That was confusing. Shouldn’t Acererak’s death have freed her? Of course we hadn’t killed him completely… he’d have many phylacteries in other places… but we’d ended the horrid spell on our plane, and that’s why we came here.

The aftermath

When we emerged in Omu, Mwaxanare received us happily. We gave her the chalice of Chigakare, and told her of the return of Ubtao. The yuan-ti had been purged completely from Omu. We travelled with her back to Port Nyanzaru, where she announced the return of the Omuan monarchy and of Ubtao. Later that first day, the man we carried out of Acererak’s chapel came to. He said his name was Volo, and he was very thankful to us. He seemed a little put out when none of us recognised his name. As we travelled he regaled us with many tales of his adventures.

On our way up the river-routes, we passed Camp Vengeance, only to find it in ruins. There seemed to be a colony of were-tigers living there now. Some on the bank shouted to us to leave them alone, unless we wanted to convert to were-tigers and join their free love colony. I recognised them as they spoke to us… it was Cipactonal and Oxomoco. Well, at least they seem happy. And they destroyed that abysmal self-righteous camp. Win-win.

My master Syndra was pleased to see me, and seemed to be at peace with the fate of Hugo. She said I seemed to be glowing. I couldn’t really see it myself. She invited me to come back with her to Waterdeep, but I told her I had promises I made here that needed fulfilling first. Besides… I don’t think I can go back to being servant to a master again. I’ve learnt too much on this adventure.

It was time for the band to go their separate ways. For River and Flask, this happened quicker than I could think. River only had time to say a quick goodbye to me, carrying an unconscious Flask over her shoulder, one week into our stay in Port Nyanzaru. Flask, bored back in town, had gotten in trouble with a merchant prince, and so she had arranged for them to get passage out of town on the first boat out. She refused to wait for me to organise something else for her, but I did at least see them safe on their ship, and I did manage to create a diversion on the docks so they got away safely. Who knows where they’ll end up? But they are so much more powerful now than when I first hired them. I’m sure they’ll be fine, wherever they end up.

Orvex chose to return to Omu with Mwaxanare. He couldn’t resist a chance to study aarakocra culture up close. She’s hiring him as an advisor, and paying in antiques! I can’t think of a happier place for him to be.

Copper Bell has held onto the skull of Nepartak and continues to communicate with her still. Nepartak has asked for her to find her ancestor, Zalkore, a former queen of Omu who may still be alive due to a curse. They think she might be able to help restore Nepartak to a living body. It’s believed she is in Nangalore, yet another ruined jungle city. So Copper Bell is off on another adventure, but she seems a lot happier and full of purpose now that she has a child to care for again.

I’ve given Fionn the Eye of Zeltec as she asked, and she is taking it to Halruaa with the survivors of the flying shipwreck to find a gemcutter and a workshop. Watch this space, she said to me before departing…

Ninya went back to Waterdeep with Syndra, thanking me for my help. I asked if she wouldn’t stay and adventure further with me, but she said she had to get back to her best friend and make sure she was still alive.

There are people who helped us who we may never see again, and some who I know we won’t. Eeyal and Inete seem like distant memories. Theeka’s loss is a little fresher, and I even still have her murderer’s corpse in my skeleton army (his bones always seemed to hold some memory of his excellent marksmanship). Those three I know are dead and gone, and because of the Soulmonger there was nothing I could do. Except, I hope, maybe their souls were freed when Hugo became Ubtao. I wish I’d thought to ask him. I feel like Artus and Dragonbait may have made it out though. I have no real evidence to base this on, except the fact that the frost giants haven’t turned the whole world into one big snowball. I’ll have to see if I can research a spell to contact them and see. But that will have to wait for my other promises first.

The first promise I have to fulfill will find me heading back to Wyrmheart Mine, to meet again with Tinder. There’s something we want to try…

 

THE END

So! That’s finally it for Tomb of Annihilation! Wow.

James and I didn’t enjoy it as much as the last two campaigns we’ve played through. There were moments in it that were amazing. I particularly loved the actual city of Omu itself, with all the different elements it had: collect the Nine Gods, beat the other people who are trying to collect them, watch out for the environmental dangers (e.g. Bag o Bones, King of Feathers) and defeating the yuan-ti and Ran Nsi. But as a whole it lacked the cohesion of Curse of Strahd, and the sandboxiness of it (a part of Storm King’s Thunder I loved) was ruined by the time limit (which James would not run with again, in hindsight). It meant we never tried the tortle adventure add-on, sadly…

Let me know if you want more of an in-depth analysis of this campaign (or any others) from James’s perspective as a DM. I’ve been trying to encourage him to write or vlog about it, as he’s very experienced and thinks a lot about what he chooses to play or not. He’ll have a much more in depth analysis, if you’re interested in hearing that.

What are the impacts for the meta-plot of our meta-campaign? Well, as you might have seen if you followed the whole campaign, TOA tied into our SKT playthrough with the presence of Artus Cimber and the ring of winter, and obviously the presence of Ninya, who was there to save Genora’s (second) life! But it did also tie into the Dirwin mega-campaign, with the mention of Tenebrus. This is very much James’s invention here, so don’t get confused. He rewrote parts of the ending of TOA, particularly the part with Hugo turning into Ubtao, but also with Acererak’s god-golem being intended for possession by Tenebrus. (Basically he likes to see me scream when things tie into the meta-plot, haha). Also with the Mechanus scene happening on level five of the tomb, that directly ties into what Dirwin is doing right now with the March of the Modrons. So this does complicate things if you’re trying to make our campaign stick to the popularised timeline of events in standard Forgotten Realms… but basically, don’t worry about it.

So what’s next for Sky Bear Games’s D&D games? We’re probably taking a little break from these one-player home campaigns for a little bit because life is busy, but we’re finishing off our home brew setting campaign very soon too… check out the blog for that here: http://dragonprincescarnevale.blogspot.com/

As for the one-player games though, I am very torn! We actually have three options. Comment if you’ve got an opinion on what you’d prefer to see:

  1. Get back to the main Dirwin storyline (currently he is halfway through the March of the Modrons)
  2. Return for a brief adventure with Genora/Serissa, who, having recovered from the soulmonger curse, has to now defend her throne from those who think her weak, and protect against mortality by… getting married and producing an heir?!
  3. Or start anew (but still part of the meta-plot) with a young tiefling girl in Waterdeep, and her plucky gang of friends, as we play through the very exciting looking campaign Dragon Heist?

 

 

Level Five of the Tomb: Priscilla and the Tomb of Annihilation, Part 25

Warning: The following contains detailed spoilers for the final dungeon of the Tomb of Annihilation. Obviously.

Note: For brevity’s sake, I don’t say every time I check for traps, search for secret doors or use detect magic. Just assume stuff like that happens in every damn room!

23 days to go, continued

Looking down into the next level, we saw a pentagonal room full of stinking plants. There were exits at two of the corners. I recognised this as the room I had seen when I hijacked into the eyeballs of a tomb guardian from the scrying pool. We decided to take Withers’ secret staircase down instead, and this was finally the end of that. There was a door off of it, leading to a small landing on an underground lake. There were some boats ahead of us, and further ahead, not just the walls of the one pentagonal room, but a few others of the same shape, and each of these were mounted on giant cogs. We figured there must be a way to rotate the rooms to open up new exits. Oz flew around and mapped out the giant cog rooms.

We left the lake for now and walked into a large corridor. On the wall were the following words in blood: Awaken Napaka. We considered whether this could have something to do with the mace we had. The corridor was large and sloping down towards a drape. We got a feeling, from the design of the corridor, that something might come out of the uphill part and roll down towards us. We backed out of the corridor and got Oz to check the drape for us. Opening it up, he found a four armed gargoyle statue, though one arm was broken off. It had the inscription “Three I need, then three more, then three more still to open the door.” Not keen to give up the nine gods just yet (or at least that was our assumption), we decided to come back later.

We made our way across the bridge from that corridor to the plant room we had seen from above. We looked into the next cog room, to the west. It had an acidic smell and grey slimy puddles. There were friezes of dragons on the walls with nozzles in them. But when we sent skeletons in and triggered the trap, we realised the acid trap had actually run out of acid! So we were able to cross into the next room. It was quite small, so for the time we just sent Oz in. There was an iron lectern with a control panel, and a puzzle on the wall. There was also another skeleton with a key head, and once we killed it we got the hexagonal key. Oz considered the puzzle and the control panel more, and we realised it was the control panel for the giant cogs, and the puzzle was a sort of map. We backed out into the plant room, the greatest extent of my psychic reach to Oz, and got him to test the panel.

This is where things started to go very, very wrong. Oz got something wrong and the room he was in started filling with green goo. At least he was flying… but then he touched another wrong button. The door slammed shut on the room. Then, through the psychic link, Oz and I were both paralysed by a voice in our heads. Something called Gora. It thought we were Acererak, but once it realised we weren’t, it took control of my mind. I ordered everyone to follow me down into the boats, and they followed! Then, when we were out in the middle of the lake, Gora the aboleth attacked! I was still under its control, but it didn’t realise we had so many allies with us. Ninya, as much as she hated touching it and being out in the middle of the water, was the one who managed to slay the hideous beast. My mind was freed. But for a moment there we were nearly very, very dead.

 

We went back up to the plant room, and Oz was no longer panicking: it seemed like the green goo had run out, and he was still able to work the control panel without touching the goo. So he figured out the rest of the puzzle, and the room we were in began to turn. At this, the shambling mounds made of plant matter in the room with us attacked. We had a misstep while fighting them at first – lightning attacks healed them! – but we were able to weed them all out. We noticed a small room at the northern end of the room, with a small cloud of gas billowing out and up. I sent a skeleton in, and it found the corpse of Lord Brixton, the final member of the Yellow Banners. The room was only a trap room. We were able to salvage from the ill-fated adventurer his backpack, some gems, and his draconic longsword.

We headed to the next pentagon room. On each wall was a wardrobe with different carvings on it, and a portcullis to the north that had five blood-drop shaped gems above it. We opened the first wardrobe, and an orc warband piled out from what looked like the plane of Acheron beyond. Once we defeated them, not only did the first of the blood-drop gems glow sanguine red, but I was able to replenish my zombie supply with orc zombies. In the next wardrobe was a portal to Gehenna, out of which flew four nasty Mezoloths. But we still overcame them, despite the horrible cloudkill spell they kept dropping on us. The next wardrobe, decorated with ornate clockwork, opened up into Mechanus and expelled a single monodrone. We didn’t want to kill the poor thing, so we decided to take a break from this puzzle, and see what other doors we could open around this cog.

There was a passage to the south, but I couldn’t follow, due to needing to hold onto the link with Oz, and my undead army could not follow into the much narrower passage. So the others went in. Within they found a semi-circular chamber with a life-sized golden statue of a mastodon on a stone cog, with jewelled tusks. The murals on the wall told us what we already knew: this was the tomb of Chigakare, which Mwaxanare had asked us to find, and fetch his chalice. We knew it would start a fight though, if we figured out what the puzzle was. Orvex was the one to spot it: there was a star-shaped indentation on the mastodon’s head. And where was a star-shaped key? Oz was looking right at one, the head of a lever on the control panel.

22 days to go

So after a rest, with some maneuvering, we got the star lever over to that group. Given that it seemed likely, with the evocation magic on the floor, that the floor would become lava, we could only fit six people in the room riding the masotodon, so Fionn and Zagmira left and came back to me. And then Orvex stuck the star key in.

I hear the fight was very hard. Yes, the floor was on fire. The mastodon started rotating, so Hugo and Orvex had to cling on for dear life (the tabaxis were all fine though). Wave after wave of devils came to attack, but the six within the room were able to defeat them all, and gain the chalice of Chigakare.

Image result for chigakare

That led us back to our same old problem of the blood-drop gems and the monodrone. But Fionn had an idea. I gave her my magic pigments, and she painted the last three rubies. Unfortunately we were only able to trick the middle ruby, but that meant we didn’t have to kill the monodrone, so that was a success. We did still have to fight the last two wardrobes: bone demons from the Nine Hells, and will o’ wisps from the Shadowfell.

21 days to go

We were finally able to advance north, and found ourselves out of the cog rooms and in the caverns again. We came to a room that had scraps of metal and tarnished coins, so we went an orc zombie in to test the room. All of his organic armour – the leather, mainly – decayed away. There was a ring radiating necrotic magic out at the end of the room, and as soon as he touched it, it disintegrated. That made the magic effect stop, and we were able to advance.

Further on, we saw stairs leading down to the next level. We decided that we really should finish this level first though, so kept going. We came to a giant cylindrical room with two giant chains moving up and down within. They entered and exited the room from portals to what appeared to be Mechanus. We realised that was how Acererak was powering this whole, evil tomb… he was stealing power from Mechanus! That could not be a good thing… And then a squadron of modrons emerged from the portal above…

We managed to scramble our brains together (mostly me and Zagmira) to talk to them in their own logical language. It was very hard, but we were able to avoid conflict by showing them that we’d rescued the monodrone, and that we weren’t responsible for the theft of the chains. But they were struggling with holding two ideas at once: that Mechanus was perfect and impenetrable, and that Mechanus had been stolen from. The final result was that they tried to go back to Mechanus (including our little monodrone) and it ended up with them disintegrating on the portal below. It was sad… sort of. I mean, they seem like basically soulless androids…

The tabaxis and Oz were able to safely scout ahead, and they found an orrery. There were more continents on the representation of Faerun that we were aware of… There was also a nycaloth hiding inside a model of a moon, which they fought fairly quickly. Zagmira flew over to check out the orrery, and managed to unlock a secret hidden effect: we were all healed a small amount.

We decided to go back and figure out the corridor with the four-armed gargoyle before going down to the final level. We finally noticed a new detail: one of the wall murals had a croc-headed man carrying a chest… and the lock on the chest was real! We had a jade croc key from upstairs, so we tried that, and it worked, revealing a crawlspace. Oz went inside, and found a small hidden room with a strange massive green thing on wheels. Also there was a large red gem. Oz picked it up, and had to flee back into the crawlspace as the massive green thing started to wheel towards him and slam into the wall! He saw the writing on the side… Napaka II!

He tried to fly out the crawlspace back to us, but that made Napaka crash out of the wall towards the gargoyle. It kept trying to go for where Oz was in the wall, so we had to think quickly. Flask remembered that we had a mace that was supposed to destroy Napaka, so we lined him up to bat at the wheeled thing as it came by, and ordered Oz to fly out. As he did, Flask whacked the machine, and it disintegrated completely. A lucky guess! Finally, calm again, we were able to identify the gem as the Eye of Zeltec, another one of the famed treasures of the Tomb.

Level Four of the Tomb: Priscilla and the Tomb of Annihilation, Part 24

Warning: The following contains detailed spoilers for the final dungeon of the Tomb of Annihilation. Obviously.

Note: For brevity’s sake, I don’t say every time I check for traps, search for secret doors or use detect magic. Just assume stuff like that happens in every damn room!

24 days to go continued

As we went down to the fourth floor, we could see the ground below, with a trap door set between some statues. Bone dust and stray bones lay everywhere. We found the plaque for this floor, and it said: Death to fire, dine or drown, precious air, falling sand; The army sleeps in silence; The mirror holds twelve; Find the iron sceptre’s twin; The maze holds the key. We backtracked to the secret staff corridor to see what was hidden that way.

That way, we found a vaulted chamber. On the other side of the room from us was a throne of bone and skin, with an iron sceptre sitting on top of it. In a pit below us, three undead with all their eyes and mouths sewn shut were painting the walls with events that had happened. We spotted what we thought was Lord Brixton of the Yellow Banners on the mural, dying in some form of poison trap. Heading out of there through the next door, we triggered the trap that we could have disabled if we had gone the other way, which was two secret doors opening and disgorging a few ghasts. Since they were now between us and the pit, we thought we had a clever idea, and we used turn undead to make the ghasts run into the pit. Then we fireballed the pit. That turned out to be a mistake, and at the incineration of the three painters, a zombie dinosaur rose from the dirt of the pit. It was hard to fight with it eating my zombies and seeing them slide back out of its holey stomach, but we made it. One of my remaining zombies carried out the iron sceptre from the throne, and nothing happened when it picked it up.

Further down the corridor, before it met up again with the central chamber, another corridor split off to the north. Within was a dark chamber. There was a chest in the middle of the corridor, which we opened. As soon as we did, a boulder dropped behind us and started rolling down at us. Hugo quickly cast Wind Wall to slow it down, and Fionn cast a reduction spell. With the boulder diminished, we were able to roll it up the corridor again and down into the pit with all the zombie corpses. Coming back, we found an invisible key inside the chest. Heading into the chamber, my zombies triggered the second half of the trap: a pit just in front of the door. We took in the large chamber beyond while Fionn crafted a bridge over the pit from large scraps of metal from the forge.

Before us was another tomb, a crystal sarcophagus within, constantly changing colours. On the wall facing us was a huge painted maze. Going over Fionn’s bridge, we climbed the stairs to the balcony to reach the maze painting, walking past painted minotaur guards. While Orvex and I started to copy down the maze, Flask touched it, and vanished. Ten minotaur guards suddenly popped out of the walls from secret doors. After dispatching them, we decided to try and get in the maze and help Flask.

It turned out to be a foolhardy idea: we were all separated, and my undead army were not able to follow us in. Instead, I could see them above me, giant, with the rest of the room behind them. I ordered them to assign themselves each to a different one of us, and try to guide us out of the maze, since we could see them pointing. However, the maze shifted around me, and the others, stopping the zombies’ simple intellects from being able to help us.

Later, when we were all safely out, I was able to get the following information from the others. Fionn saw the skeletal remains of a child, and then ran into a minotaur. She attacked, but overwhelmed, decided to try the jumping spell to get out. It actually worked! Flask found a purple crystal key, and by taking it, vanished from the maze and returned to the big room. Copper Bell found a red crystal key and the same thing happened to her. Orvex found a gold key and the same happened to him.

As for me, meanwhile, I saw a figure ahead of me down the hedge corridor. It was Zagmira! Turns out she was the last of the red wizard party, and she was trapped in here too. Minotaurs started to come towards us, and the others outside the maze told the zombies to try squishing them with their fingers. It actually worked! So they tried something else: letting us climb out on the zombies’ fingers. That worked too. It was a great relief to be out of there.

We turned to the sarcophagus and watched its changing colours. As soon as it turned gold, Orvex thrust his gold key in and unlocked it. It was full of salt, but when we dug in the salt we found jewelled bracelets, and a cloak of scintillating colours. Zagmira took and wore this, and was filled with the spirit of Unkh. We took a short break to gather ourselves, and Zagmira told me she wanted to help destroy the Soulmonger, so long as she could keep the pieces of it in the end. I said yes, thinking it would still be bad to start conflict with a member of the Red Wizards, but in my heart I hoped I’d have the opportunity to destroy the thing so thoroughly that there would be nothing left for her to take.

Moving on, down more corridors, we came to a room with something glinting inside. We sent my undead in first to look, and suddenly some of my zombies and skeletons vanished, replaced by a drow, a minotaur, and some other shadowy figure. It was a mirror. I shouted at the others not to look in it, guessing at what had happened to part of my army. Then the newcomers attacked. The drow dropped a Cloudkill spell, and we all started choking and blacking out… until the figure in the shadows leapt out and punched him, dropping the spell. It was another tabaxi. The fight was quickly over, and we talked to her (though we covered the mirror first so none of us would look in there). Her name was Ninya, and she had come down here with an adventuring party as soon as she realised what was happening with resurrection magic. Her best friend was slowly dying, and Ninya was not going to let that happen. But all of her party had been killed already, and she got trapped in here. We offered her a place with us, and it turns out, she already has the soul of Shagambi! So our collection is now complete, with all nine gods.

Fionn figured out that the mirror was a soul stealing mirror, but before trying to figure it out, we decided to rest, as we were fairly hurt. When I told Zagmira about losing Oz to the strange loop, she looked disgusted at me, and couldn’t believe that I didn’t have the right spell prepared to get him out of there. So we popped back up briefly and she dispelled the strange enchantment long enough for me to get Oz back. He was not very impressed with me, but at least he’s back.

Out of Character note: It’s Ninya!!! Yay, crossover!! But it makes total sense that she would be here, trying to save Genora’s life (or second life!)

23 days to go continued

Fionn kept examining the mirror, and found that it had words for activation and/or release, we just needed to find them. Then Orvex realised there were two words in the back of Withers’ journal that we hadn’t gleaned the purpose of yet: ‘komarah’ and ‘blackfire’. So we tried these. We managed to free an ancient Omuan trapped inside the mirror. We struggled to communicate with him and calm him, until Hugo, with help from a chwinga, managed to soothe him. We managed to get my zombies and skeletons out, but also a few things we had to fight, like a troll, an invisible stalker, a gargoyle and a stirge. We also recovered Biff the Doppelganger, who had been travelling with the Yellow Banner. We took him and the Omuan up to a safer level, revisiting them to check they would be okay and have enough food every now and again. Fionn destroyed the mirror.

We came to a door with a figure with a hand extended. The trick was to high-five the figure, and the door opened. Within was a section of corridor shaped like a figure eight, with one of the key-skull skeletons, this one being hexagonal. Also in the room was another door similar to the one we’d come in via, which made us suspicious, as they seemed the sort of doors that would slam shut. So we wedged furniture in the doors before exploring further. In the middle part of the figure eight was a pedestal with a magic black opal crown. Orvex managed to make out that it belonged to Archmage Sadimar of Netheryl, who had tried to destroy the world somehow. At the far end of the figure eight from where we entered was a jade devil’s face on the wall, mouth open into complete darkness. Words seemed to come out of that mouth, threatening doom and oblivion. I got a skeleton to stick an arm in, and the arm just vanished. We all left the room except Oz and a couple of skeletons, and I got them to try picking up the crown. The doors slammed shut, or at least tried to with the furniture stuck in them. Through Oz’s eyes I could see four ghostly forms emerge from the devil’s mouth, and kill the skeletons and Oz. They did not try and come for us though, and when I resummoned Oz and opened the doors again, the crown was where it had been. We decided to just leave it.

Ninya showed us the room, or series of rooms on this level where she got Shagambi. It was an intense obstacle course, that Ninya showed us through at my insistence, with lava on the floor, and moments where we couldn’t breathe… but we got through, and saw a terracotta army – the one I guessed was spoken of in the riddle, so we walked past silently. We realised we had left something unfinished on his floor according to the riddle, something about the iron sceptre’s twin. After searching, we finally found it off of the room we found the sceptre in. There was a sun in the middle of the room smiling at us. When we covered it with a blanket, it frowned. Otherwise, it seemed harmless. Within the room was a sarcophagus, that said it held Nepaka, Nepartak’s grandmother. We opened it and found the twin sceptre. We took it, and it had inscribed on it that it was enchanted to destroy Nepaka (but oddly, not this Nepaka… weird). We also found a jade crocodile shaped key in a jewellery box.

Going to the centre of the level, we finally confronted the four gargoyles. We tried to figure out if they were linked to the elements, or what. We noticed they had different slots in front of them, shaped differently, and they were made each of a different metal. We kicked ourselves when we realised the metals were the same as the common currency. We put each type of coin in the appropriate slot, and the trap door opened. We could hear the ominous click of machinery below us…

Two out of Three ain’t bad (Level Three, and the bit of Two we missed, of the Tomb): Priscilla and the Tomb of Annihilation, Part 23

Warning: The following contains detailed spoilers for the final dungeon of the Tomb of Annihilation. Obviously.

Note: For brevity’s sake, I don’t say every time I check for traps, search for secret doors or use detect magic. Just assume stuff like that happens in every damn room!

26 days to go

Heading onto level three, we could see the bottom of the stairwell below us, another level down. On this level, there was purple mold everywhere, with eyeballs and spore puffs erupting from it. We were careful to avoid it. Checking it, we discovered it was from another plane, and if we were just careful to not step on it, we should be fine.

This level’s plaque said: Walk through water with weapon in hand; Slake your shadow at the font; The vulture is the first step; Right the gods; The walls of history tell all.

Going into the first corridor, we were confronted by two tomb guardians. Basically super zombies, these guys are immune to physical damage! It was an awful fight, and I lost all my zombies except for Ras Nsi. Going further in and north past more fungus, we came to a room with a sarcophagus. It was the tomb of Kubazan.

There was a puzzle within for us to figure out. On the altar, there was an inscription on a statue saying: Give thanks to me as others have done. All around the walls (the walls of history, we assumed, from the riddle) were frescoes of ways that Kubazan was worshipped. On the first wall, as people knocked down a statue of Ubtao, a frog masked woman held out five golden coins. On the second fresco, as Kubazan helped hunters fight a crocodile, a frog masked man ate a bug. On the third fresco, Kubazan rescued a small boy, and a woman’s figure, whose stone head was ruined, held a knife, and something below her was also ruined and hard to decipher. On the fourth fresco Kubazan was in a pool much like that of the shrine of Kubazan, and a woman in a mask held out a lit candle.

On the altar were four masks, five coins, four dead cockroaches, a copper bowl full of rat bones, and a green wax candle. Copper Bell went up to take the five coins and a mask, but touching the coins triggered wraiths coming out of the walls. We had to fight them, losing my Ras Nsi zombie in the process, and try again. She held out five of our coins instead this time. I offered myself as the tribute to eat the cockroaches. The next step, took us a couple of tries to figure out what to do with the bowl of rat bones, so we had to fight more wraiths, but eventually we realised it was tied to the woman holding the knife. It was about offering life into the bowl, so Flask cut himself lightly to bleed into it. Finally, River lit the candle, and the tomb opened. Within were some magical bracers designed for an archer, so we let Flask have those. He was filled with the presence of Kubazan, making him hugely strong, and more reckless than usual.

Through the corridor again, we came to some double doors. Beyond them was a heavy curtain of tapestry showing a feast. I got a skeleton to open it for us, and the next view was another curtain, this one showing the same feast scene, but this time devolved into depravity. Beyond that curtain was the same scene but now it was carnage. All of us except Fionn and River screamed and ran. They managed to catch us and slap some sense into us, and we returned. With a terrible anticipation, we had the skeleton open that curtain.

Beyond that final horrible curtain was a rotting giant boar’s head. Beneath it was a headless red wizard corpse. Dreamstruck, Copper Bell moved forward and put her head into the mouth of the boar. Hugo, panicking, unleashed his strongest damaging spell and the boar’s head all by exploded. Copper Bell was covered in gore, but otherwise unharmed. While we gathered our senses back, we realised there was someone hiding, cowering, by the wall. It was Orvex! He had gotten left behind when the red wizards fled this room. We took him out of there and cleaned him up.

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Tomb of Annihilation, Level Three

25 days to go

Over the night, Orvex told us what had happened, and most importantly, how the reds had found a completely different route down from the way we took, so we got him to show us this route, but on the way, we checked out an alcove in the wall that had a viewport through to the tomb of I’jin. Within, we caught a glimpse of the past, with the dwarven member of the Yellow Banner entering the tomb, and after taking one wrong step, being devoured by locusts. We thought about this tomb for a while, even looking down at the puzzle from above, from the demon head portal on the level above. We noticed there was a tile the dwarf had stepped on which hadn’t triggered the trap. It was decorated with a vulture. We remembered the phrase “The vulture is the first step”, so decided we had to come from that same angle as the dwarf, and that would involve going further in and finding that door.

Orvex lead us back to the secret door the Red Wizards found on Level Two, and we realised we had missed this section completely! Immediately within the corridor to our left was a scrying pool. Looking into this, I was able to ride in the eyes of a tomb guardian on a different floor of the dungeon. It was in a giant pentagonal room filled with sickly plants. Walking on, the tomb guardian went onto a pathway over an underground lake. The pentagonal room had others with it, and each seemed to be on a cog or some form of machinery. Further down the guardian walked into a corridor with another key-headed skeleton, and a statue of a gargoyle with four arms. I was trying to read the inscription on it when the tomb guardian felt my presence and climbed through the pool to fight us. These fights against tomb guardians never get any easier…

Orvex pointed out to us two rooms, and a staircase going down. To the north was a forge full of tomb workers that the red wizards had come through, so we decided to go the other way. It was an office, occupied by an undead man wearing a black skull amulet. His name was Withers, and he was the one in charge of the tomb, Acererak’s second in command. He said he’d had enough of us messing up his work, and it was time to go and visit the master, so we attacked. We soon had him down between us all. There was a lot of treasure in his room, including an ornamental mask, the gem that could have controlled the slaad upstairs, a skeletal songbird, and his black skull amulet, which we dare not wear, since it seems to be enchanted to communicate with Acererak. There were three interesting books: his spellbook, which had in the back cover two words that may be passwords of some sort, ‘Khomara’ and ‘Blackfire’; a manual describing the method of making tomb guardians from corpses; and Withers’ journal. Within this he described whatever it was that Acererak was working on, this Soulmonger, as needing to be glutted on souls. It also said the ‘sewn sisters’ tend to it. Any clues as to what we’ll have to do will be very appreciated.

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Withers, Tomb of Annihilation

We decided to clear out the forge room too so no one could follow us from there. Within, five undead dwarves had just finished crafting a new tomb guardian, so we fought all of those. Once that was over, we destroyed the tomb guardian forge. We also found a load of tools that might prove useful later, and a strange magical lantern. Within was trapped the soul of something called the Starfallen, which we recalled from the diary of Devlin Bashir. I asked her if she was the elven princess mentioned in the diary, and she thought she might be. She said she had been imprisoned there by Formorian giants, and that the Yellow Banner had come here looking for the Eye of Zeltec, which was said to have the power to bring her back. We took her with us, hoping to find the Eye on our travels.

Going downstairs again to the third floor, but this time by the secret spiral staircase, we found a small room with a zombie guarding a lever. Through a window, which the zombie was facing, we could see another room. We dispatched with the zombie and pressed the lever. The room through the window started spinning violently! We realised we had uncovered a trap: if we had walked into the room through the window, the zombie would have hit the lever and we would have been trapped in that awful room. There was a crawlspace, which lead out to a small room adjoining the corridor between the Kubazan shrine and the boar’s head room. Unfortunately we also found in there a talking skull, which activated when I had one of my zombies pick it up. It wouldn’t shut up and said horrible perverse things, so we threw it in Fionn’s bag of holding.

We went back out past the fungi again and came to yet more corridors. After a few turns, we found something of interest: pools of water on the ground, a waterfall curtain in the middle of the corridor with more path beyond, and murals of animal-headed people holding weapons.There were also crawl spaces between these murals, so we decided to investigate these first. We came to a very large, long room with platforms between two balconies. We were on one, and we shared the space with a statue of a Nycaloth. On the opposite balcony we could see a lever. Also, Flask saw a crawl space along one wall, which he decided to investigate. He found it lead back to a corridor we had been to earlier, so we backtracked there. There was an odd minotaur face grate in the crawl space which we had to force open, and it did at one point slam down on one of my skeletons, killing it. But the rest of us got through and found ourselves in the spinning trap room. Through that, we went to a new room.

In this room there was a fifteen foot deep pit containing an eight foot clay golem with a key around its neck and a chest. Left and right of the pit were two statues, one each with a palm out. I recognised them as Azuth, god of wizards, and Turm, god of courage. We considered the meaning of the statues, and realised they could, with effort, be moved. We got the movement wrong at first and the golem blinked into existence beside us. While we held it off as best we could, Copper Bell and Orvex figured out the orientation and set the statues facing right – as the clue ‘Right the gods’ had told us to! Having done that, the clay golem got transported to a third plinth, and we were able to get the key and unlock the chest. Within were two glass eyeballs, one green, one pink.

Knowing the geography of the dungeon level, we were fairly certain there was a secret door to the level balcony on one wall, and searching revealed we were right. We pulled the lever, which set several things happening at once. An almighty howling wind started, I started laughing uncontrollably and continued for seven minutes, River screamed and attacked one of my zombies, Copper Bell was frozen still, Fionn dashed from the room, and Orvex screamed hysterically. Hugo was able to usher us out, and Flask, the only other one to keep his senses, tackled River out of the room before she could do more harm. We shut the door and trapped the howling wind within. But there was another thing that happened: the demon statue hands at the other end of the room opened, and it was holding something. But we knew the better way to get there, without going back in.

Before backtracking, we explored the room to the west. In there, we found a strange round mirrored door with ten indentations, the perfect size for the two glass eyeballs we had just found. Given the nature of the puzzle, Orvex felt it safe to say there would be a beholder behind that door. We realised we had to collect eight more eyeballs, and this was a puzzle for later, so we backtracked through the crawl spaces to the major corridor. We also backtracked to the balcony with the demon statue, sending one of my zombies through the crawl space so we didn’t have to encounter the horrible wind again. It returned from there with two more eyeballs, one pearly white, the other scarlet.

We found ourselves with nowhere to go but the corridor with animal-headed murals. We looked down the row and saw beast-headed people armed with real weapons which we could grab: axes, maces, blowguns, sickles and tridents. We sent two zombies through the waterfall curtain with the sickles in hand, and it caused a tidal wave to fill the corridor, washing us off our feet and back the way we came. Returning, we realised we had been stupid. The riddle wanted us to ‘walk through water with weapon in hand’, but not just any weapon: the tridents were the aquatic themed weapons on the wall. So with these we were able to all pass to the other side, finding an identical muralled corridor on the other side.

We found yet another crawl way, but this time it was a trap. As soon as a bunch of us were in the crawl space, it swung out, trapping us in the section. What the dungeon designer didn’t count on though was my psychic connection with my undead horde. They were able to go into the new section, triggering that, which let us escape. Then we threw a bunch of the heavy tools we found in the forge onto the trigger, and that swung again to reveal my trapped skeletons, as well as the corpse of Seph, one of the Yellow Banner Company. On his body we found a yklwa spear, a red crystal eye, a dungeoneering pack, and an ivory backscratcher.

We finally found ourselves at the door to I’jin’s tomb, after all that. There was something strange about the way the door was set up, with a little alcove opposite. We left figuring that out and checked out the smaller room in the corridor between the tomb and the waterfall curtain. Within that room was a font. As soon as I stepped in, a shadow version of me appeared, and there was green liquid in the font, but I could not collect any of it. Also, whenever I approached, the shadow backed off. We tried all sorts of things, like tying a cup to a pole and trying to reach the font, but eventually the Starfallen helped us with the solution. She used a magic hand spell as I stood in the entrance, carrying my cup to the font, and then lifting it to the lips of the shadow. With that puzzle solved, we found an orange eyeball in the now empty font.

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I’jin’s tomb and puzzle floor, Tomb of Annihilation

Back to the tomb, we figured out how to use the door and the strange alcove behind it. We opened the door, sent a skeleton in, and I sat in the alcove, where on the door it pointed to the next step to take. With these instructions, my skeleton made it to the middle of the tomb with no trouble. The whole trap was disabled, and we were all able to enter the tomb. On the corpse of the Yellow Banner dwarf we found two valuable gems, and two eyeballs, one blue, one purple. Orvex picked up the magic wand in I’jin’s sarcophagus.

We were getting tired, but we realised we were short two eyeballs, so decided to get these before we slept. In the end, we found them hidden by illusions of hawks. In alcoves behind these, we found the purple and green eyeballs.

24 days to go

Well rested, we made our way to the mirrored door and placed the ten eyeballs in their slots. The room beyond was made of highly reflective marble. There were nine alcoves laden with treasure, and in the middle, a large sphere draped with black silk. We assumed it was the beholder, and attacked with arrows. But it was only a magnetic sphere, and Belchorzh the Beholder revealed himself flying above us. He hit us with an anti-magic field, knocking out all my undead, then he destroyed Fionn’s Allosaurus. We scrambled to crawl out of the anti-magic field against the slippery floor, but finally, with much blood, sweat and tears, we ended the horrid thing. There were many treasures for us to claim, including much gold, another skeleton key, art objects, a potion of diminution, a bead of force, and a magical shield. We surprised ourselves by not being too hurt, though Fionn was quite bitter over the loss of Al.

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Beholder, 5e

It Takes Two (Level Two of the Tomb): Priscilla and the Tomb of Annihilation, Part 22

Sorry about the massive gap between posts! I’ve been both ill and very busy at work and outside of work. We’re still on Level Five of the tomb in real time, so I should have a little chance to catch up now with the Level 3 and 4 posts. Thanks for waiting!

Warning: The following contains detailed spoilers for the final dungeon of the Tomb of Annihilation. Obviously.

Note: For brevity’s sake, I don’t say every time I check for traps, search for secret doors or use detect magic. Just assume stuff like that happens in every damn room!

27 days to go

Down on the second level, we were met with another plaque with one of Acererak’s clue or riddle things. This one said: The ring is a path to another tomb. The dead abhor sunlight. Only a jewel can tame the frog. Bow as the dead god intoned. Into darkness descend.

There were a number of corridors on this level, and we went down the first we came to. We came to a small room with reliefs on the walls of people falling. There was a demon’s head in the middle of the room, with its mouth open, and magical darkness within. Going in, Oz wound up in another room, beneath us, with one of the sarcophagi in it. By the iconography this one seems to be Ijin. The floor was a puzzle. We considered going down that way, but then we saw that there was a dwarf skeleton on the floor, so we decided to come back later, or see what other ways we could approach the puzzle.

In the next corridor we stumbled into a four way intersection. This was odd in two ways: first, there was a goat-headed corpse in front of us, and second, the two branches to either side of us seemed to go up in a loop above us. There was transmutation magic up there, and when I sent Oz, he never came back. I couldn’t see through his eyes, or contact him, or even summon him back again. He was just gone. We decided we couldn’t go up there, given that the corridor seemed to wipe him from existence. Perhaps if we learn some stronger magics down here we can figure out what went wrong and if it’s reversible.

Examining the goat headed man, we found it was one of the Yellow Banner, a Kalashite, and he was dead via axe and crossbow bolts (though, mysteriously, these had been removed). His diary was with him, and we learnt his name: Devlin Bashir. In it we also learnt of the others in his team and their fates. He himself was disfiguring himself by using the cursed goat-headed staff we found by him. We bagged that. We also bagged a self-refilling pot of ink from his pocket. We read further and learned about his companions: Lord Brixton from Cormyr, Bravis Boulderborn, presumably the dwarf we’d seen dead below, Seward, a ranger from Chondath, and Sephirius, a dragonborn paladin. As of his final entry, Devlin said he was the last survivor, though he would be dead soon. Seward had died and that meant they had lost something called the Starfallen. There was also reference to an elven princess, I wonder if the Starfallen is her? He also mentioned a doppelganger was in their midst. The last words in the diary were the most ominous, regarding Acererak: His final secret will lead to your doom.

Going through the corridor, we found ourselves in a room that smelled of wine, with a gilded tomb in the middle. There were four gargoyle heads on the wall. Moa warned us that the iconography of this room did not match any of the nine gods, and so was probably some form of trap. There was sunlight coming through a corner of roof, which made no sense. Checking it with magical senses, it was indeed an illusion. Investigating further, the tomb seemed to be glued to the floor, and there seemed to be valves in each of the faces. We decided to leave.

Going to another door on this level, it had three holes in it, which, as we approached filled with the faces of zombies who pushed against the door to get at us. I had our zombies push back, and when the door opened we fought the ravenous three on the other side. Down a short corridor, we found ourselves in another one of the gods’ tombs. It was clearly Papazotl, given the symbolism of the decor. There were cauldrons with bones, and three statues, one with no face. We recalled the line of the riddle: Bow to no one. So we bowed to the faceless statue, and the tomb opened. On a bright shield on the wall, suddenly an archer appeared as we touched the tomb, and shot bolts of light at us. Copper Bell leapt over and turned the shield around. We applauded her quick thinking, and allowed her to take the treasure within the tomb. It was an amulet with health boosting properties, and when she donned it, she was taken by the spirit of Papazotl.

Hugo managed to find a secret door to the eastern end of the room, and within was a dusty corridor. In the middle of the corridor was an alcove with an old bottle there. As I touched it, an earth-coloured woman erupted out of it, promising us riches if we freed her. She was some sort of djinn. Her name was Keshma al-Wazir. I told her it was fine, we didn’t need riches, we just wanted her to go in peace. She laughed at what she thought was our foolishness, and tried to teleport away. I can only imagine, by the look of horror on her face, that she realised she couldn’t too late. I don’t know where she is now. Possibly inside another room in the tomb? Maybe we’ll see her again.

At the end of the corridor was another secret door, through which there was a room that stank of brimstone. Inside, there was the sarcophagus of Nangnang! There was a salt circle surrounding it, and Fionn, possessed by Wongo, kicked it. From out of there erupted a slaad! It was a tough fight, and afterwards Fionn suggested looking for the jewel that should be in its head, which was like a control stone. Probably what the riddle referred to by the jewel taming the frog. But it was gone. We allowed River to pick up the treasure of this tomb: a frog egg that filled her with magical potential.

As we settled down to rest for the day, sure we had uncovered everything on the second level, we discovered another skeleton with a key on its head. After killing it, we discovered it was a square key.

Number of undead who died this episode: 14

Total undead after spell slots refreshed: 17

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Level 2 of the Tomb. You may notice, we missed a few places! That’s coming up in Level Three, when we discover the stairs that lead back up! You’ll also maybe notice we avoided getting drowned in wine in that fake tomb we ignored.

Absolute Beginners (Level One of the Tomb): Priscilla and the Tomb of Annihilation, Part 21

Warning: The following contains detailed spoilers for the final dungeon of the Tomb of Annihilation

Note: For brevity’s sake, I don’t say every time I check for traps, search for secret doors or use detect magic. Just assume stuff like that happens in every damn room!

28 days to go, continued

There was an obelisk before three tunnels leading deeper into the cliff face. I say three, because one which had been hidden by bushes was bared to the world by blast marks. Presumably the Red Wizards’ doing. On the obelisk was a passage of text in common, wiped down (possibly by Orvex, we’d seen him wipe down carvings and plaques like this). There were vague threats by this Acererak guy about we should fear him, etc. Then there was what we guessed were a series of clues. The enemies oppose. One stands between them. In darkness it hides. Don the mask or be seen. Speak no truth to the doomed child. The keys turn on the inside only.

We went through the blasted entrance. Flask saw recent footprints, probably those of the Reds. We sent the zombies ahead of us to place the cubes in the nine slots. We tried two different configurations, both times getting zombies electrocuted by the trap on the lock, before we figured out that the first two lines of clues were about this: The enemies oppose, one stands between. We put each of the enemy gods across from each other as according to the myth Orvex told us (the order of that didn’t seem to matter) and Unkh in the middle. That did the trick.

Unfortunately we fell badly for the next trick. Thankfully only the zombies took the hit. There was another door ten feet behind the first, and it had a lever and an hourglass, which started ticking away as soon as the zombies entered. I panicked, and order them to pull it. The floor fell away, and those zombies in the room fell onto spikes. One was fully dead under the others, but the rest were able to climb out with help. The cats climbed over the pit and together with them and the zombies, we all got across.

We continued down the corridor and came toward a t-junction. Ahead of us was a devil’s head mask taking up most of the wall. I sent my zombies ahead, and they felt out the floors and wall, taking some darts from pressure plates as they went. Seemed a good strategy, so I kept that going through the rest of the dungeon. When we reached the T, there was a crystal window down the left hand passage, and a balcony to the right. All around us were bones interred in nooks in the walls. At least I’ll never be short of skeletons in here. Especially if they are the skeletons of the Omuans who were forced by Acererak to build this awful place. A zombie of mine reached into the blackness inside the mouth of the giant devil mask, and out came a shadow demon, which my undead soon dispatched, though not without casualties to my undead army. In darkness it hides had been the clue! But it hadn’t hurt us too badly to trigger that trap.

We went right and saw that we were at a giant square spiral staircase. There were other exits branching of off this floor, and then the stairs descended to the next level. Looking below, a small masked figure saw us and scampered off. Was this what the clue Don the Mask or Be Seen meant?

We backtracked in the direction of the crystal window and found a metal grate on the floor. Only Oz was small enough to slip between the bars, so he did. Beneath, a small underground stream flowed. With a torch, he flew upstream. Then he exploded what I could only assume was a gas pocket up there. Summoning him back, I sent him back in with a light stone from Fionn. He was able to get to the end of the upstream section, and found stairs up to a dead end, then further along to another dead end, a strange locked casket, as long as a coffin. Unable to open it, I made him check downstream this time. The stream went on for a long time, and much further than my range to connect with him, so he came back.

Looking through the crystal window we could see into a room, but with no way for us to enter it. Inside was a sarcophagus, bear statues holding up a strange shield or disc with eyes on it, and six inert undead on thrones wearing masks. Since there was no opening obvious to us, and we didn’t want to smash the window, we decided to try and find a better way. We went through the nearest corridor on the spiral staircase, and found ourselves looking into a room, at the end of which stood a statue of a knight with a shield, with strange scraps of metal in the room. We called out, no response. My zombies lumbered in, and nothing happened to them, so I stepped forward. Immediately my scabbard holding the Flametongue began to pull me forward. I had the zombies grab me and drag me backward. I got my skeletons to fire a volley at the knight, and the strangest thing happened. The arrows gained speed as they flew towards it, and the arrowheads got absorbed as soon as they hit. We realised it was a magnetic trap. I had Oz scout. He could see, flying through the room, that there were corridors either side of the magnetic statue. To the north was a larger room with a sickly looking fountain, and to the south, what seemed an empty corridor. We decided for now to backtrack, rather than risk being unarmed in that room.

In the next nearest corridor, we were confronted with a giant skull with flames for eyes. Its open mouth showed us a room beyond, with another sarcophagus in it. I sent Oz through the skull, which made one of the two flames go out, and he saw within that the sarcophagus was kept company by bones in niches, tiny holes in the walls otherwise, and a crystal box with a skull floating within. As soon as he looked at this, I heard a voice in my head. It was a lost little girl, who started panicking that she couldn’t see anything. I had a horrible suspicion she was the skull Oz had seen, but I managed to repress this thought before she heard it, and reassure her that I was a wizard and would do everything to fix the curse on her that had turned her into ‘a crystal’. The others, looking through the giant skull mouth, were able to see the crystal box and Copper Bell was able to help me calm the girl, whose name was Nepartak. She was the daughter of Omek, an ancient king of Omu. Oz picked up the crystal box and brought it through, which made the other flame in the last eye socket go out. Surely, some sort of trap. Oz gave the box to Copper Bell and she carried it, telling Nepartak happy cat stories. In a quiet moment later, Copper Bell told me she no longer wished to die until she could exact vengeance on Acererak for doing this to the child. Speak no truth to the doomed child, I remembered too late. Thankfully, I had done that instinctively.

We backtracked to the magnetic statue, stripped off our metal and tested that it could be safely transported with Fionn’s bag of holding before continuing. Unfortunately we had to leave Al behind. We checked the northern room with the fountain. It had three stone maidens in the middle, and I could sense transmutation magic on it. I had some of my zombies drink from it. One was silenced for a while, and the other was sex-changed. We left the fountain and continued to what seemed to be an empty corridor to the south. Naturally, we found a secret door, and it led, as we thought it might according to our rough mapping, the room on the other side of the crystal window.

Peeking ahead, we could see the disc of eyes, and it was here I clicked. Don the mask or be seen. I summoned an unseen servant to grab a mask off one of the undead within, and it brought it back to us unscathed. Then I masked a skeleton and made it fetch us the other masks. With those masks, we were able to enter the room. On another hunch based on our mapping, Flask found the secret door at the south end of the room which led to the stairs from the river which Oz had found. So we took those down and waded through the mucky water to the dead-end with the casket. I could sense there was some odd magic in there, so we backed out far down the river, and using Oz, I cast the Knock spell to unlock it. Then Oz joined us, and I had a zombie go in and open the casket. There was no explosion or anything, so we went in. The casket had vanished into the mud! We had other zombies dig it up, and the zombie emerged from the casket, covered in mud, but otherwise fine (good thing it didn’t have to breathe!). Also in the casket we found 500 gold pieces, a golden tankard which shows a happy face when full and a sad face when empty, and a scroll with a spell to remove curses.

Backtracking to the sarcophagus chamber, I investigated the disc of eyes further, and determined that it would have awakened the undead on the thrones if we had been maskless. So we threw a blanket over it, and all the skeletons and zombies could come in. Then, using Knock again, we were able to open the sarcophagus. Inside was a small pile of bones and a beautiful ring with a blue shield design. Fionn identified it as a ring of protection. Hugo picked it up, and suddenly he could hear the voice of Obo’laka in his head!

Through Hugo, she was able to tell us a few things. All nine of the gods were of course buried here – it is called the Tomb of the Nine Gods after all. She wasn’t able to remember how the nine gods took over from Ubtao, only that they did, emerging fully formed from the jungle one day. They used to live in the forms of their chosen animal, and reincarnate, watching over their shrines as Omuans showed their dedication by doing the trials. But all that came to an end when Acererak came, enslaved the Omuans, and had them build the tomb. The gods died and were unable to reincarnate, and entombed here. Hugo’s personality seemed a little affected by housing the god. He was saying Obo’laka was nervous and wanted to leave the tomb. Naturally, there was no way to do that, so we ignored him and her.

We decided to see what was on the other side of the underground stream now, so we went back in and travelled all the long way that Oz could not alone. At the end of the river was a waterfall, and a treasure chest on a ledge opposite. When I sent Oz over to open it, it turned out to be a mimic! He managed to escape it, and we killed it at range, cramped as we were in the tunnel.

Back up the tunnel a little way was a set of stairs leading to a dead end, but we of course searched and found a secret door to the back of where we had found Nepartak. We could see the back of the giant skull, and how heavy the teeth looked. Remembering how each flame had gone out, we decided not to go through the teeth, but return instead by the stream. But first, we opened the sarcophagus in here. Within were the bones of a jaculi, and a staff of python. I picked it up, and heard the voice of Moa. She promised to be good and help us. I now find myself unable to lie, which means I cannot speak to Nepartak without giving away her fate. However, I can now turn invisible whenever I want. It is a thrill.

We went to investigate the final corridor on this level, and found a nasty bladed propellor cutting off our path. Whenever someone stepped in the corridor, it would start, and pick up speed quickly. Oz was able to fly through without setting it off, and within I saw a deep pit with a sarcophagus inside, three chests, and an odd looking skeleton walking around. Looking behind it, Oz could see its skull extended weirdly into a triangular key at the back! I cast fly on myself and went through. Flask took a great run up and dashed through before the blades started. We took down the skeleton quickly and took its skull. I flew back out, worried my fly spell would run out, and used Oz to detect magic on the sarcophagus. Trying Knock on it did not work. He detected magic on the chests: the onyx one was necromancy, the iron oen transmutation, and the silver one evocation.

We realised we were going to need to try and get more people in there, so we tried using heavy objects from around the tomb to jam the propeller. Eventually, the stone lid of Obo’laka’s sarcophagus did it, breaking the nasty mechanism completely, and we were all able to get in. We got zombies to open the three chests’ lids. Each of them had a key inside, and a lock inside too! So I made three zombies climb into the chests, and turn the locks with the keys. Three buttons popped up on the sarcophagus. We pressed them. Two of the zombies were killed, one turned to dust, the other frozen, and the last one was unaffected by whatever spell went off in its box. The sarcophagus began to glow, and we could see the mummy of a su-monster within. Fionn reached for the mace beside it, and we had to fight the spirit of Wongo! Taking him out, he entered into Fionn. Her manner changed immediately as she fought his violent and deranged tendencies. She now also seems to hate me, and I can feel Moa hating her back inside me. Her mace that she got from the sarcophagus has a magical effect of creating fear in her enemies.

We rested, having found everything we could on the first level of the tomb.

Number of undead who died this episode: 5

Total undead after spell slots refreshed: 21

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Level 1, Tomb of Annihilation

Like a Sinner before the Gates: Priscilla and the Tomb of Annihilation, Part 20

35 days to go

We ran until we were close to the log bridge, and we slept. I dreamed that the mouth of the amulet from the last dream was drawing me in now.

When we woke, we had to decide what to do with our freed slaves. We all decided, on balance, that it would be easier if we all stuck together. It would still be dangerous, but less than them going off alone.

We set off to visit the last three shrines, the closest being the one on a lone rocky plinth some way off in the magma pit. I sent Oz to scout, and soon found there was no need for us to attempt it: the Red Wizards had been there already and disposed of the jaculis that lived there. Through what I could see through Oz’s eyes, Orvex was able to tell us what the inscriptions meant: Moa teaches us that secrets hide the truth. Since we seemed likely to run into the Red Wizards soon, Orvex told me he would probably change sides back to them if we ran into them. It was the best option for him, to save his skin. I told him I understood.

We sought the next one, moving swiftly under cover so as to avoid any patrols. There were signs of an earlier pursuit we had managed to miss. We found the shrine of Unkh the flail snail. The inscription here was: Unkh urges to contrast all actions before acting. There were two buildings: a side building full of many iron keys, all different from each other, and the shrine itself. We hid Spike in the key workshop, and the Chultans we had rescued spread out across the courtyard, hiding, where they could see any approaching enemies and warn us.

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Unkh’s shrine, Tomb of Annihilation

Within, from behind a giant statue of Unkh emerged three ghasts which all had the blue triangle on them. What does that symbol mean? One of my zombies got eaten to death before we were able to take them all out. Then we set to figuring out the puzzle within. There were 6 keys in here, and a keyhole. Using my Unseen Servant, we tried one, and it set off a horrible psychedelic effect of prismatic spray throughout the room. Those who got hurt by that went and rested out with Spike while the rest of us kept going. We stood outside of the door, out of range, while I sent in servant after servant to investigate. Finally I worked out: the 6 keys in here were not real keys, but 6 parts that showed what the real key would look like. So we went and found the real key in the workshop, and the cube was ours.

We crossed in secret to the shrine of Obo’laka, the Zorbo. Hugo noticed that the yuan-ti patrols we avoided didn’t seem to really be looking for us. At the shrine, we set up the chain of watchers over Spike again. Hiding him was harder this time. Inside, we saw zorbos hanging in trees, glaring down at us. Orvex translated: Obo’laka teaches us to tread wearily and stay in the light. We opened the door to the shrine to find a dark corridor with empty torch brackets. As we investigated the corridor, zorbos attacked Khoti and killed him before we could get to him. They devoured him with astonishing speed. We cancelled the chain of watchers and just brought Spike in, parking him in front of the door to the shrine, and the remaining Chultans with us.

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Obo’laka’s Shrine, Tomb of Annihilation

Within the shrine, further down the corridor, was a door, and through that door a small chamber. There was a painted sun on the ceiling and a moon reflecting in the pool below it. After some mucking around trying to figure it out, I submerged myself in the pool and found myself in a reversed room: moon on ceiling, sun in pool. I brought the others through, and we saw the next room beyond. It was the altar chamber, and there was the cube on the altar, but a red wizard have been turned to stone on touching it. We tried a couple of things using unseen servant. Hitting the cube off the altar worked, but then when the unseen servant bent to pick it up, it turned to stone and then the spell ended. It wasn’t until we bagged the cube that we could walk out with it. Once we were outside, the unseen servant was able to touch the bagged cube without turning to stone.

We snuck through a narrow passage between the cliff and the wall of the yuan-ti compound, hoping to find access to the northern part of the river. What we found instead was the shrine of Nangnang, the Grung. And it was invested with his people. We camped out in a nearby building and waited for night, hoping to get the drop on them if we could. But while we rested, a bunch of kobolds came through our building. We quietly surrounded them so they couldn’t escape, and got them talking once they were calm enough. Turns out, they are shrine resetters! They were sent to reset the Obo’laka shrine after we had been there, but had gotten lost. They were servants of a kobold called Kakaroll, who believed he would one day become a dragon. They lived in a bazaar up in the northern part of the city. Their names are Gad, Mogs, Gos, Vug and Snekre, and for the time being, we’re travelling together to make sure we all get out alive.

Before heading to the Nangnang Shrine we took a quick detour to help them reset the puzzle in Obo’laka’s shrine. I was confused, and asked why they needed resetting. Once the cube was taken, wasn’t the puzzle pointless? The kobolds were amused by this. Did I think I was the first person to try and get into the tomb? No, three other groups had gotten in there in the last month alone. Once used at the gate, the cubes would reappear on the altars. I felt a slight fool, but no one had explained it to me before this.

When we arrived at the Nangnang Shrine, there were grungs sleeping and lounging in the pool. We decided not to attack them, even if they were evil. River and Orvex translated for me. Chief Yorb spoke to us and demanded tribute on behalf of Nangnang, so we laid out before him over 300 gold worth of gems we’d picked up in places like Orolunga. That wasn’t enough, so I tried to get him to accept the Rod of the Oath Keeper. But it still wasn’t enough. I planted a magic bean in front of him. It sprouted into 8 large colourful mushrooms that started screaming. We clamped down on the mouths and I said we offered these. He said he would take them and the rest of the bag of beans. I warned him about the tricksiness of the beans, but nevertheless he planted the last three, and got two multi-fruited trees, and a fountain of berry juice. He didn’t listen when I tried to tell him some of the fruit were poison, so we hurried past to get into the shrine before he could pin the blame on us.

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Nangnang’s Shrine, Tomb of Annihilation

Within the shrine was unbelievable amounts of treasure. The inscriptions, there were two of them, said: Serve only yourself, and Whoever is richest bring me your gifts. We tried all sorts of things to get the door to open, throwing coins, offering coins, but it wasn’t until I made everyone else leave and offered some of the treasure up alone that the door opened, and I got the cube. We left the scene as quick as we could and hid out in the same building we’d picked earlier that night.

34 days to go

I dreamed again of the hideous skeletal figure and his large mouthed amulet. When I woke, we told the kobolds we wanted to check out the northern side of the city and try to find the last two shrines. They led us reluctantly to the rafts they had used to get here, and with Spike swimming beside us, we made our way across the rivery-lakey mess of ruins.

After a little while the kobolds pointed out a shrine in the lake, the shrine of Papazotl the Iblis. But as we started towards it, there was a huge explosion. We rowed to hide behind other ruins to avoid being seen by the Red Wizards and yuan-ti fighting in the shrine. The reds soon won, and went flying off into the southern distance, cube in hand. We continued towards the kobolds’ home once they were gone, but not before I scored myself six new yuan-ti zombies.

Arriving at their home, we bid farewell to the kobolds and started looking for the final shrine. It didn’t take long for Orvex to recognise the iconography of Wongo the Su-Monkey on a building not far from the kobold compound. Within, we found the inscription, Better to be Wongo’s friend than his enemy. Unfortunately, under that, it also said See you at the Fane. The cube had been taken by the yuan-ti, who were taunting us now.

We set up a discrete camp in a fairly intact building and thought long and hard. I had an inkling of what needed to happen. We could probably sneak back into the Fane and take many yuan-ti out like we did last time, but it would be a hard slog. Even though they were evil, the Red Wizards were the lesser of the two evils, and besides, they had two of the cubes already, the Moa and Papazotl ones. Given the bloodbath we had seen at the Papazotl shrine, we wouldn’t stand a chance against the Red Wizards, and eventually either us or them would have to try and take the others’ cubes.

Flask had an idea, but it was risky. Why did we have to be the first people into the tomb? Why not just let the Red Wizards get in first? At most it would take us only a couple of days to gather the cubes back up again, since we had solved two thirds of the puzzles already, and the kobolds were unlikely to have been able to replenish the wildlife around the shrine by that time. I asked Orvex more about the Red Wizards, and if they’d believe us if we said we were fed up and just wanted to leave, but give them the cubes we had in exchange for their help getting vengeance on Ras Nsi and his brood before we left. He said it was risky but probably worth it. However, he knew they were going after the thing we sought to destroy: the Soulmonger, the magical item doing whatever it was doing to resurrection magic (which, he thought, was probably just a side-effect of what was really happening). We could say we were here to loot the Eye of Maztika from the Tomb, an object that was small fry and one the wizards wouldn’t care about. And that we’d be happy just leaving with the loot from the Fane after taking it out. He thought that might be enough, perhaps.

We decided to try and find them the next day, since it was sunset already. In the twilight, we saw a bunch of giant spiders run down the boulevard from the north. Then we saw the famed King of Feather, larger than we could possibly comprehend, leap down and eat a few. I was so glad we had not camped in the road that night in order to try and get the Red Wizards’ attention.

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A red wizard, Tomb of Annihilation

33 days to go

This time in the dream I was drawn into the mouth, towards a gathering blackness that was alive, malignant, and somehow familiar. I was shaken awake by the cats, and they showed me that Orvex had found the Red Wizards and led him to us. He was one of them again, and as grateful to him as I was, we all pretended to less familiarity with him than we had really established over the last half-week.

The head of this band of Red Wizards was called Zagmira. She had a face which was half teenager, half ancient crone. She had three other wizards besides herself, and eight mercenary bodyguards. Given our terms of handing them over the six cubes we had and leaving them to enter the Tomb alone, they were more than happy to help us retrieve the final cube and get vengeance on the yuan-ti who had been raiding and slaughtering them this whole time.

We hid Spike and the Chultans outside the secret tunnel, and took the wizards up the same sneaky way we had entered in the initial rescue. Zagmira said she had a spy in the harem, a shapeshifter, so we snuck through with that goal in mind. We fought our way past reinforcements at the edge of the lake, but met with no other resistance, and the cathedral was completely deserted. We took the opportunity to destroy their alarm gong by taking it off the hook and lowering it into the fountain of blood.

One wizard went with me, Hugo and River, and invisibly we slipped into the harem. We found the shapeshifter as a male slave, Ishmakahl, and we took him aside to an alcove to talk in private. He told us that the temple was in uproar after our rescue a few days ago, and even before that the priestess Fenthaza had been trying to overthrow Ras Nsi, who was not really a yuan-ti. She had managed to force him to kill his right hand man the other day.

Wanting to get out, we asked him if we should slay the other slaves or leave them. He said we should, but there was something about the way he said it that set off Hugo’s alarm bells. He started to quail under questioning, so the wizard with us dropped a Suggestion spell on him and we left, taking him with us. I won’t describe what happened next. It was nasty. Zagmira tortured and killed him for trying to betray her. Fired up, and encouraged by the emptiness of the cathedral, she ordered that we head for the throne room and end this.

Ras Nsi was there with three other yuan-ti, three broodguards and four ghouls – which had the blue triangle upon them! I finally understood, it was his symbol. At the same time, I finally realised why he didn’t look so good. Artus had killed him in the past. He was only here by resurrection magic. When we’d left my mentor a month ago, she had looked fine, but by now half her life must be drained away. Ras Nsi was also affected by the curse!

The fight did not last long. Every one of those four wizards cast a Fireball each at the combatants, and they all died. They found the secret door to Ras’s personal chamber, and the cube was within. We were allowed to pillage it, and found a flametongue longsword which I have picked up myself, a magic sending stone (though who has the twin of it, we don’t know), bracers of defense which I have also kept, and beautiful art pieces and treasure. We also got Ras Nsi’s spellbook. The Red Wizards took the six cubes we had, and bid farewell.

They got away just in time. We were forced to get ready quickly for waves of reinforcements trying to get into the throne room. Thankfully, they got stuck in the corridor, and we had the killing ground. Hugo tried a new spell, and found that he could summon chwinga Spirit Guardians to help us. It was insanely powerful, and we soon saw no reinforcements left. We decided to run through the rest of the palace complex and take everyone else out. We tried using Ras Nsi’s teleportation circles.

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Fane of the Night Serpent, Tomb of Annihilation 5e

The first attempt took us to the highest spot in the main cathedral. Then our next journey took us to the prison, and in the pit there we found a new slave. She called out, and we got her out of the pit. Her name was Fionn MacHool, from the Moonshea Isles, and she showed her calm and cool by just going with us as we continued to flip from teleportation circle to the next circle. We ended up in the harem, where we ended up killing the rest of the slaves there anyway as they attacked. Then, running out, we fetched Fionn’s stolen gear from the storeroom. Going up to the other rooms in the Fane, we fought a guard in the stables, and charged the gate guards. Fionn had a bizarre and amazing weapon, a sort of hand cannon that shoots thunder. It was very effective and fun to watch.

With the gate in our possession we were able to open it and send two of the cats around to fetch Spike and the Chultans. When they were safe with us, we charged into the final remaining rooms: those of Fenthaza and the other priestesses. We fought her and her guards, including her summoned Air Elemental. With her dead, we smashed her holy symbol of Dendar the serpent god, and got more treasure from her chambers. Our final fight that day was against three priestesses doing some awful ritual in the next room. We rested, recouped our resources, and I was able to zombify Ras Nsi, Fenthaza, the priestesses and the slave master’s bodies for my personal bodyguard.

32 days to go

We used the spell Knock to get into the armoury, but were met by a bone naga who demanded the password. When we couldn’t give it, it raised up a couple of bone minotaurs to fight with it, but we dispatched all three of them quite easily. We were able to salvage ten longbows for future skeleton servants, and a shield, which Hugo has taken, which amplifies his voice.

The rest of the rooms were empty, so we decided to do the last thing: kill the hydra. We managed this by kiting it into the throne room where we had the advantage, and remembering that the Red Wizards had said to use fire against a hydra (I had mentioned it to them when we planned our raid). It was actually extremely easy, with our strategy, to take it down, with Flask taking my flametongue and me using Scorching Ray spells to stop it from regenerating. We were barely hurt by it.

We took the rest of the day to rest, and plan our route around Omu to take back the cubes. Meanwhile, Fionn uses scraps of metal around the place to build herself a metal allosaurus! We’re calling it Al. I meanwhile raised more undead, and had seventeen in my personal army by the end of the day.

31 days to go

Well rested, we hit the Moa shrine. Using Fionn’s Jump spell, she took me and Flask. The others all waited by the magma pit for our return. The jaculis were still all dead, but the shrine was reset. We found it harder to decode without Orvex, but remembered the phrase from last time: Moa teaches us that secrets hide the truth.

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Moa shrine, Tomb of Annihilation

In the corridor of the building, there were arrow slits in there, but no attackers within. We could see the altar in a larger room beyond, and the cube, watched by twelve archer statues. We sent the unseen servant in to get it, and it vanished, and then it was shot to death. We thought about things for a while and investigated. Through the arrow slits we could see two more cubes. One was in the mouth of a serpent statue, and the other had been, but the statue’s head was on the ground. After a few hours, we figured out that there was a secret door to the intact statue, and we were able to take the cube from its mouth safely.

The rest of the day was spent clearing the kamadan, frogomoth, almiraj, flail snail, zorbo and grung shrines. The kamadan shrine had been reset, so we had to fight the statues again, and we had to pay another bag of gems to the grungs (but we were flush with those after taking the Fane). Other than that, we took our time, and I raised many more undead to join my army, including skeletons to arm with the longbows I found yesterday. That’s twenty three in my army now. I feel like I am starting to reach my mental limits though.

30 days to go

Going the same route we did last time, we went from the central city across the river to the Papazotl shrine. Thankfully, there were no alligators alive there. We slowly translated the phrase above the lintel: Papazotl teaches us to bow before no one. Within, there were six statues surrounding a pedestal. They had animal heads: a lizard, a jaguar, a lobster, a toucan, a bat and a frog. There was a riddle on the altar: Comes with sunshine, leaves with night, hides in darkness, does not bite. (At this point I’d figured it out, but it kept going…) Always joined to its caster, never strays from its master. We got out our torches, and the shadow of the bat remained, revealing a crawlspace.

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Papazotl Shrine, Tomb of Annihilation

We went through to find a bizarre new puzzle. It took an hour for us to figure out that the number of squares on the wall matched the number of letters in the riddle, and we counted using the nine highlighted tiles that the letters it wanted spelled out: Cover Eyes. So we blindfolded the statues, and the cube appeared on the altar.

Next was the Wongo shrine. As we approached the five arches and the message we already knew, Better to be Wongo’s friend than his enemy, I could hear the voice of the su-monster in my head. Heading down the central arch, we found a statue of Wongo himself with his hands and feet cupped. Under the statue it said “Wongo’s friend knows where to pour the water. On the wall were four masks, a zebra, a boar, a lion and a vulture. We could go and get behind these masks by taking each of the other arches.

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Wongo shrine, Tomb of Annhilation

We looked through the lion mask, and could see the right hand of Wongo. Above the lion it said, “I ate one of the boar’s friends.” The boar, looking at the left foot, said, “The vulture is lucky to be alive.” The zebra mask revealed the right foot, and said, “My only friend starved to death.” And the vulture was facing the left hand, and said “One of the others has no friend.” With all of this information, we were able to work out that it was the vulture who was the friend of Wongo.

Once we poured water into Wongo’s left hand, the cube appeared on top of his head, and his voice sounded in my head again, saying either I could receive his curse, or fight his children. Fitting, for our final fight in Omu, to be the same as our first. We took on the challenge of the su-monkeys, and this time it was pretty easy.

We camped up in the same building again where we had four nights ago. I have found myself one last zombie, taking my numbers up to twenty four. That seems to be the most I can maintain control of in a sustainable, daily way.

29 days to go

In the morning, we saw Omuan gargoyles fighting brightly feathered humanoids in the sky. We went to meet the bird people when we saw them land. The young woman leader said she was the Queen of Omu and expected us to bow. Rather than start a fight, I did, but said we weren’t from around here and didn’t know who she was. Her name was Mwaxanare, and she was the lost heir. She had been sheltered by the bird folk and was waiting for the day when the yuan-ti were cleared out of the Fane, which was her palace. I told her I was happy to be of assistance, and hoped she could take Spike and the Chultans from us, as we were about to enter the tomb and did not want to put them at risk either by taking them in or leaving them.

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Mwaxanare, Tomb of Annhilation

Her ancient bird woman guardian Asharra came forth, considered me with her beady eyes, and slapped me. I asked what she did that for, and she said I was underestimating her. But she also said others underestimated me, and I need to use that against them.

We spent the day with these new people, escorting them back to the Fane and checking it was cleared of yuanti. Mwaxanare asked me to look out for the Skull Chalice of Ch’gakare in the Tomb. It was a family heirloom, from a legendary Chultan hero who, it was said, escaped the nine hells on the back of a mastodon.

Asharra spoke with me too. She said that it wasn’t just resurrection magic anymore, but healing magic was also weaker. The living were now dying easier. She spoke of the circle of life and those who seeked to escape it. She wanted to stress to me that life comes from death, and death comes from life. I need to remember this circle, and Ubtao.

They also provided us with payment in advance, in the form of several magical items which we are to return to them if we did not use them. So we got four potions: invisibility, climbing, resistance and growth. We also got a jar of magical pigment that can make any object it paints a real object. And finally, for Hugo, a staff that he can use instead of his club, which turns into a giant constrictor snake when he wants it to.

28 days to go

Last night I had the dream again. I was begin sucked through the amulet’s mouth into the blackness. And then I felt Asharra’s slap, and that was enough to free me from the spell and fly away. I don’t think this dream will trouble me ever again.

It is morning. We now stand outside the doors of the tomb.

Afterword

At this point, out of character, things are getting interesting for me and James. I’ve never intentionally played an evil character. I usually will take the most pacifist path I can find in any roleplay scenario. But Priscilla has been having a hard time in Chult, and her high moral standard of only using the undead to help them fulfill their unfinished business has slipped pretty far now that she actually has access to Animate Dead. I personally took a lot of glee out of wiping out the yuan-ti who had caused me so much pain and aggravation. It’s always a sticky situation, isn’t it? D&D has these evil races around for ‘good’ people to run around and murder. Is that really still morally ‘good’? It’s one of those hand-wavey things about D&D that I’ve always struggled with. Then again, it’s there in real life too. While I don’t know if I’ve have the guts to punch a neo-Nazi in real life, I was both amused and troubled by the moral implications when people did in recent years. Ideally I would like for us to be able to just sit down and talk through things, but when there are groups of people in the world denying the personhood of other large groups of people, based on ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion etc. and even going so far as to threaten violence against them… is violence to correct them really so wrong? I keep coming back to yes it is, on a personal morality level. I don’t think violence teaches a lasting lesson other than the lesson of violence itself. But there is a karmic part of me that enjoys watching a Nazi get punched, so… I dunno.