It’s been a while since I wrote up about any of my DMing for Wednesday night’s Adventurers League. For the past five months, my players have been experiencing the Underdark via the Out of the Abyss adventure book. There are so many nods to the history of D&D here–from the players starting out stripped down and imprisoned by the drow (referencing a similar experience for players in the AD&D A series of modules, Scourge of the Slave Lords) to the D series of modules (aka the Descent series, D1-3) that featured the kuo-toa and drow causing trouble in the Underdark.
My players have scrounged, fought, died, and run quickly through countless tunnels, caves, and other dangers. They’ve seen Demogorgon rise from the Dark Lake and destroy Sloobladop (city of the kuo-toa) and they’ve helped the duergar rid the city of Gracklstugh of a growing curse. As they have searched for a path back to the surface, they’ve finally managed to reach the broken city of Blingdenstone, home of the dark gnomes. The dark gnomes were a bit untrusting at first, but the players saved a fellow citizen earlier in the adventures who found his way back to Blingdenstone… and now the players have access to a direct route to the surface. If they can get to it.
Last night’s adventure began a player short. Four players–Lora, John, Daryl, and Stephen–were standing at the magically locked doors to an ancient Blingdenstone temple. The city has been under attack by hundreds of oozes–gelatinous cubes, gray oozes, black puddings, and ochre jellies–and they banished to the temple a crazy deep gnome who called himself the Pudding King. A priest arrived before the players could attempt to open the doors and informed the group that they could go in… but once in, he would re-lock the doors and they wouldn’t be able to return. The doors were slowly opened by the priest, and what he saw inside was pure horror.
At the end of a lengthy room, a tentacled, slimy horror appeared to be sleeping on a floating stone with two larger oozes in guard positions. Covering the temple floor were numerous oozes, all apparently asleep as well. Behind the large horror was a secret door that led to the final path to the surface, but the magical bridge crossing the large pit was incomplete.
The priest explained that four Ogermach stones were used in the temple to build, tear down, and rebuild a series of stone steps on three levels over a lava pit at the end of the temple. Apparently the stones were still in use because this horrific creature was resting on one of the larger pieces of the bridge. The players asked the right questions and were able to figure out that removing all four stones simultaneously would result in any stone bridges collapsing. And by placing the stones back in place simultaneously, the bridges would return to their original state.
The priest drew a quick map, indicating the likely locations of the four stones, but how would the players be able to communicate with one another to time the removal of the four stones? Luckily, they had plenty of jewels to cover the cost that a greedy dark gnome wizard was asking for four special candles. Each candle, when lit by another candle, would allow the holder to communicate telepathically with anyone holding a candle lit by the same wick. One player quickly figured out that running might cause the flame to extinguish, so another player suggested the purchase of lanterns. Good thinking–I was going to have the players make certain rolls to ensure the flames stayed lit as they moved about the temple.
Once the players were ready, they entered the temple. No movement from any of the large or small oozes could be seen… apparently everything was asleep. Rather than target the large horror with ranged weapons, the players wisely chose to explore the temple (slowly) and they found the four stones.
The pit was an unusual one–it’s a spatial anomaly where each of its three levels are stacked but are accessed on the same plane (the photo can explain it better). One stone was on the very bottom level, accessible over a still solid bridge. Stephen’s Dragonborn barbarian went that direction. Another stone was on the second level where a set of collapsed stones floated in mid-air. I was expecting John’s rogue to tackle that one by using his acrobatic abilities to jump across, but Lora surprised me by changing her druid to a large spider shape that crossed the walls easily. The third and fourth stones were found at the end of hallways (with plenty of sleeping oozes around, and the players successfully rolled to discover a sleeping gelatinous cube in a dark hallway corner), and Daryl’s dwarven cleric and John’s rogue took those two stones. (It should also be noted that Daryl made his roll and spotted a legendary dwarven warhammer deep inside the gelatinous cube… hmmm…)
Laura won the Intelligence roll and, communicating telepathically, arranged a proper countdown. I had each player place a d20 in front of them and watched to make sure they picked them up simultaneously. They did. The stones and remaining bridges collapsed into the lava, and the large horror dropped down and died flailing in the lava pit. The players once again had a proper countdown and placed the stones back in their places–and the bridges reappeared.
Of course, the dying horror was sleeping and causing all the oozes to also sleep. But they weren’t asleep now and were slowly waking. The players began their dashes back to the center of the temple, but Stephen and Daryl were cut off by the large gelatinous cube. It attempted to engulf Stephen, but he made his Dex save and was simply knocked back. Daryl had also blessed him with a resistance to acid… good thinking.
Lora (still in spider form), met John where their two hallways met and she carried him OVER the waking oozes that lay in the hallways. Meanwhile, Daryl wasn’t going to let that warhammer go, so he and Stephen stood their ground and took out the cube over a series of rounds that found Stephen attacked by an ochre jelly who did some major acid damage. Luckily, Stephen’s barbarian was solid with HP.
As the two groups made their way back to the center of the temple, the Pudding King made his appearance. As he commanded the oozes to slowly make their way to the chokepoint, he cast some spells to boost his AC and HP. He hit John and Lora with a nasty spell that did some poison damage AND gave them disadvantage on attack rolls. They kept failing their saves, round after round, though. Meanwhile, Stephen raged and ran directly at the Pudding King. King hit Stephen with a Blight spell… major damage, but, in Rage form, the barbarian was only taking half damage. As John dropped from Lora’s spider-ride, he ran across the newly formed bridge to discover the secret door had a complicated locking mechanism that would require three DC15 skill rolls IN A ROW to defeat. He failed his first one.
The Pudding King, seeing John’s attempt to open the door, hit him with a Blind spell. John failed the save and was blinded for three rounds in all. But that Blind spell would be the end of the Pudding King as Stephen went to town on him and killed him after some hand-to-hand combat. As Stephen was fighting with King, he noticed some interesting gauntlets the King was wearing, and a Perception roll allowed Stephen to observe that the King was a bit stronger than would be expected of a deep gnome.
As the King died, John made a successful save and the blindness was removed… and he made his first successful skill check against the lock. Daryl ran over to the bridge while Stephen reached down and pulled off the gauntlets before also heading to the bridge. As the group waited for John to open the door, two large oozes, an ochre jelly, and a black pudding began moving across the bridge.
Lora (still in spider form) missed the first creature (jelly) with her web but hit it on the second try. A Strength vs. Strength check was called. She failed the first one, but as the jelly got closer, I rolled a 7 and she rolled a 14… enough to pull (Spiderman-style) the jelly over the edge of the bridge where it fell down into the lava.
John made his second DC15 skill check, and all Daryl and Stephen could do was look over John’s shoulder as the black pudding inched closer. Once again, Lora hit it with a web and then beat me in another strength check… over went the black pudding into the lava. John made the third and final successful skill check and the secret door opened. Swarms of smaller oozes began inching across the bridge, but the players managed to duck under the small door (Lora had to change back to Tiefling form) and John locked it behind them…
I like to always see my players smile at the end of the night, but this night they were grinning ear to ear. I was too. This was one of those rare events where the tension was high, damage was being taken, John was BLINDED(!), yet everything timed perfectly with a narrow escape.
I always have fun as DM, but tonight was really a great one… I fudged no rolls, fully intending to have Pudding King use his brains to try and stay alive. I did expect the players to accidentally wake one of the oozes, triggering all the oozes to wake up, but they made some good stealth rolls and well-timed dashes to avoid some really dangerous creatures that dealt serious acid damage to body, armor, and weapons.
Daryl escaped with a +2 warhammer (with a history!) and Stephen got himself the Gauntlets of Ogre Strength that boosted him to 19 strength. XP was significant as the players had no idea that they had successfully removed a nasty demon named Jubilex from the Underdark (dead in physical form, but not 100% dead if you get my drift) in addition to a cube, some puddings, and the King.
There are only three or four sessions left in Season 3, and the players are one step closer to reaching the surface. Of course, they are being chased relentlessly by drow and may or may not have lost them… time will tell. But if they reach the surface alive, they will have some amazing stories to share…
I’d like to thank my four players for not only a great adventure, but also for letting me know (at the end of the night) how much they enjoyed it. (And Jason… so sorry you missed it, but the season isn’t done yet!) DMing takes planning (just ask Michael Harrison), but even the best of plans doesn’t take away the nagging concern that you’ve missed something or that the players might not enjoy playing it as much as you did creating it.
For those of you who are interested, the temple floor plan you see in the photographs is one of the Battlemaps from Lord Zsezse titled Temple of Abbadon–you can find it on RPGNow. And this isn’t my first time using one of Lord Zsezse’s battlemaps; I used the free one called The Hall of the Well for an arena fight in Gracklstugh a few weeks back and another free one called Bog of Hope for a recent battle in a Myconid grove against Dryders and large spiders. I printed them out on cardstock and used spray adhesive and foamcore for a more solid surface that would lie flat and not curl.
It should be noted that Battlemaps are often static designs, so you sometimes have to customize an adventure to fit the locale and objects/obstacles visible on the battlemap. If anything, the three level lava pit forced me to come up with a unique challenge for the players (the Ogermach stones) that would split them up and provide some serious stress as the oozes began to wake up. It didn’t hurt that a single large stone floated in space above the top level (and provided a place for Jubilex to sleep) or that the second level had broken stones floating in space and requiring some quick thinking to overcome and get to the opposite side.
The players will all likely level up with a long rest, so they’ll be stronger, faster, and more powerful–perfect for what I have planned next for them. <evil laugh here>