Session 3 – Well, Well, Well…
Alerted by the summons to serve, four cultists of Bane dashed into the altar room. Luckily for Alan and Co. they had just enough time to hide themselves from view, but not before laying the corpse on the Altar. “Brian!” one of the cultists shouted. “What happened to Brian?” From the shadows Little Joe was quick to answer, “The same thing that’s about to happen to you.” The room filled with arcane fire and the smell of burnt herring.
Last night was the 71st game in our GeekDad Plays D&D campaign, and the third session in our online Dungeons & Dragons: Descent Into Avernus story. We’re playing Descent as the sequel to our Dragon Heist campaign; the characters remain the same, but the stakes are much higher.
We started playing Dragon Heist over two years ago and recently completed that campaign. My players wanted to continue playing their (now) level seven characters, and so we agreed to continue—although now we’ll play fortnightly instead of weekly, due to life and things. I hadn’t told them what campaign I’d be running, but I think they might have now guessed (some of them even read this blog).
We play online using Roll20’s digital tabletop platform, and use Trello and DnDBeyond to keep track of NPCs and campaign information. We also stream all our sessions live on our Twitch channel: dnd_TPK. This week we have a special prize: If you are our one millionth viewer you get a free planet. We’re thinking Mercury, but could be persuaded to go full-on Neptune.
Our Adventurers Are:
Little Joe, Drow Sorcerer – a keen law-breaker, mischief-causer, and scourge of the fenêtreman’s guild. Tricked into joining an evil organization and so now very suspicious of everyone. ABSENT
Alan Crabpopper, Human Ranger – a Harper, private investigator, and secret wererat in denial. Recently engaged to Istrid Hrone (cleric and ex-Zhentarim agent).
Arvene Galanodel, Half-Elf Cleric/Warlock – a trickster priestess of Tymora, pact-bound to Golorr the aboleth. Still reeling from accidentally murdering 20 policemen.
Dugg, Earth Genasi Fighter – brave, muscly, and prepared to die for his friends. A paid-up member of the Dungsweepers of Waterdeep, and benevolent custodian of Waterdhavian orphans.
Unfortunately, Little Joe was unable to play last night. He found himself consumed by an urgent need to sort all the books in house into numerical order by word count, but couldn’t decide on whether to include blurbs and acknowledgements. Thankfully he only has three books and neither the Bible nor the Quran has a blurb, so he should be able to re-join us next week.
Alan, Arvene, Dugg, and Joe have been through the mill. Over the course of the last six months, three of them have died and been brought back to life, two have accidentally committed heinous acts of murder, and one has become a snarling wererat once every full moon. Now, having successfully discovered the Vault of Dragons beneath their home in Waterdeep and returned some of the gold therein to the people of the city, they have become embroiled in a new mystery. They headed to Elturel in search of cultists and discovered two separate cults operating in the forest there. They quickly dealt with these low-level cultists, but their victory was soured when they witnessed the city of Elturel sucked into Hell.
In our previous session, back in Waterdeep, they were searching for the cultists of the Dead Three who have some connection to the fall of Elturel. They’ve made their way into a dungeon below a Cassalanter-owned bathhouse. Here they are searching for answers and their missing, impatient friend Reya. So far they’ve discovered that this cult is split into three factions that each worship one of the Dead three Gods: Bane, Bhaal, and Myrkul.
Little Joe coughed as the smoke cleared and the taste of crispy human flesh caught the back of his throat. Arvene, Alan, and Dugg all looked at Joe, momentarily shocked. They knew they had to move fast as the loud gong and sounds of explosions were likely to draw unwanted attention. Little Joe offered to stay behind for a moment and search the bodies as the others set off down the corridor. He assured them he would catch up. They were just pleased to be away from his loud-mouthed parrot.
So the session began with Little Joe hanging back and letting the others explore. This was really just a way of omitting Little Joe from the session, without having to come up with a fancy, convoluted explanation.
The three of them headed off down a dank corridor, wading through damp, wet tunnels. They heard voices from up ahead: three voices, and the way the moist stone passageways distorted sounds, meant they couldn’t tell if they were arguing or cheering.
Realizing there were more cultists ahead, the heroes paused and attempted to proceed cautiously. Stealth checks aided by Arvene’s Pass Without a Trace spell meant they made no sound as they approach a half-open door ahead.
Alan had a moment of hesitation and sounded out his thought process to the group. If there were more cultists, was it their intention to kill them? Alan was concerned about his recommended daily allowance of murder. “The doctor says that 2 per day really should be sufficient. Too much killing can really affect your serotonin levels you know.”
Arvene shrugged; she had become ambivalent towards death since the police incident. After all, it was Little Joe who normally started the murder sprees. But for once Dugg seemed determined that they should slay whomever they find in these tunnels. The cultists really were starting to get him.
Well, Well, Well
With murder on his mind, Dugg took the lead and popped his head quietly around the door. He saw three figures all in dark robes standing in a square room that looked like a crossway where two corridors intersected. There was a door on each wall, each with a graffiti like image painted in red.
The three hooded figures did not notice Dugg. Instead they all stood around a raised vent in the floor, staring down into to it and cheering. The vent looked like some kind of well or perhaps, thought Dugg, an overflow for the sewers below. The circular well was no more than a meter and a half wide and had metal bars covering the opening. Dugg could see water splashing up through the gaps in the bars and the shape of a person struggling under in the well. As he watched, the splashing stopped, the figure inside grew still, and the cultists nodded to each, other shaking hands.
Anger rose from deep within Dugg and he screamed at the Cultists. Each of them turned to face him and sneered.
The first, covered in skull tattoos, called out, “An intruder. I will show him the fear of Bane.”
The second, with barbed wire wrapped around their ankles, drew two daggers and yelled, “I quench Bhaal’s thirst with your blood.”
The third unclipped a flail made of bone and hair from their belt and whispered, “You will join Myrkul’s army of the dead.”
With that, Dugg dived at the closest cultist he could. The skull-covered cultist, a follower of Bane, held a spear and narrowly missed skewering Dugg as he flew at him. Dugg struck him hard and he stumbled backwards.
Meanwhile, Alan and Arvene, who had both decided to stay behind the door as Dugg explored, heard shouts and the drawing of weapons. Alan shrugged, “Okay, so if I kill two more today, then I’ll have to not kill anyone tomorrow.”
Arvene agreed and they both casually walked through the door to aid Dugg.
Covered in skull tattoos which marked him as a follower of Bane (like the cultists they encountered in the Elturel woods), the Iron Consul drew his spear and retaliated against Dugg. He missed his first two attempts, but managed to dodge away from Dugg’s silver hammer. Unfortunately for the Iron Consul, he dodged right into Alan’s shortswords.
Alan and Arvene then worked together to battle the Iron Consul, leaving Dugg free to fight one of the others. Alan was fierce, and Arvene aided by casting a Bless spell boosting Alan’s attacks. It took three rounds to down the Iron Consul, but not before he used his Voice of Command ability. This allowed the other two cultists to get in extra attacks which they got in just before Alan struck the killing blow against the Iron Consul.
Skull Lasher of Myrkul
Meanwhile, Dugg fought the whispering Skull Lasher of Myrkul. His enemy moved with fluidity and grace which made Dugg feel like he was fighting a ghost. Each time he struck out with his weapon—a modified dung sweeping broom Dugg was using as a quarterstaff—the Skull Lasher dodged adroitly out of the way. Eventually, Dugg and the Skull Lasher were fighting on top of the metal grate covering the well. Dugg was struggling to land a blow, so he decided to try a different approach. He stomped down heavily on the metal bars and they bent under the weight of the two combatants.
He did it again, rolling a critical hit on his strength check. The was a creak and a loud snapping sound as the bars beneath them broke and Dugg was just able to leap from the grate before it gave way and the Skull Lasher of Myrkul plunged into the well below.
What happened next deeply affected Dugg and, as we agreed after the session, likely changes the alignment of his character.
Dugg, angered by the wanton death surrounding these cultists, outraged at witnessing them torture someone in the well, and driven by the rage within, thrust his broom down into the hole, trapping the cultist beneath the water. For a few moments, the Skull Lasher struggled against him, but Dugg was stronger. Soon there were two bodies bobbing gently in the confined sewer overflow. They floated vertically, side by side. The victim of the cultist and the Skull Lasher.
Reaper of Bhaal
That just left one more mid-level cultist. The final of the three was a follower of Bhaal and, to begin with, stood away from the melee, tossing daggers and masonry at Alan and Arvene. However, once it was clear that the adventurers had the upper hand against the cultists, the Reaper of Bhaal decided to flee.
As the Iron Consul let out his call of command just before he fell, the Reaper of Bhaal used her turn to cast Invisibility on herself. Only Arvene noticed her disappear and she sent a Sacred Flame towards the spot last occupied by the Bhaal devotee, but too late. The third cultist was gone and they didn’t know where she headed.
Mouth to Mouth
With the encounter over, Arvene cast some healing spells on the party as they began swapping the dead bodies around. First they removed the innocent nobleman from the well and replaced them with the Iron Consul, wrapping their arms around the Skull Lasher to make it seem like some sort of suicidal embrace.
Then Arvene and Dugg attempted to revive the tortured noble. Arvene’s medicine check was a critical failure, so when she attempted mouth to mouth, taking a deep breath, she accidentally inhaled the severed tongue of the cadaver. Retching, she spat it out and wondered why, being a divine healer with very little medical expertise, she had even attempted such a foolish act.
Although unable to revivify the body, they did manage to identify it. Dugg recognized Regnet Amcathra, the idiot heir to a noble dynasty. Clearly these cultists were serious if they were taking on untouchables like that. Dugg was furious; this was his city. Not theirs. Arvene agreed. Alan rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders. It looked like there was going to be more murdering on the menu after all.
My players are level seven, and this part of the adventure was intended for first level characters, so I’ve taken some liberties with the enemies they encountered in these tunnels. Technically the three cultists they fought last night were a little higher up the food chain than the base cultists. The Iron Consul, Reaper of Bhaal, and Skull Lasher are more like middle-management cultists, which is why they put up a bit more of a fight than in previous sessions.
I also entirely made up the prison/torture-well part of this adventure, but more on that in a future session…
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Dungeons & Dragons is essentially a game where the players will likely become murder-hobos whether they like it or not. At some point, you and they will have to embrace this fact, especially if you’re playing an official campaign that requires them to do so. If that’s not really what you group’s into, then perhaps don’t pick Descent into Avernus as your next campaign. Although, as a counterpoint to Dragon Heist—which in theory is less murder-y and more politic-y—it makes a nice change of pace.
Next week we’ll continue in the tunnels below the bath house. Hopefully Little Joe will re-join the party and they might discover what has become of their missing friend Reya.
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