Session 5 – Arvene’s Breakdown
After a minute of bloody fighting, only two cultists remained. Alan and Dugg were out of breath and at the foot of the stairs, and the two cultists, panicked, were at the top. They turned and ran and were just able to dodge past Arvene’s outstretched leg. They made it through the room with the well, and dashed down a corridor. Even though Alan and Co. gave chase, it looked like they were going to escape as they rounded a corner and disappeared. Suddenly there was an enormous booming sound from where they ran and two black-clad bodies were flung heavily against the wall in front of Alan. Smoke and fire licked out from the shadows and a familiar call echoed from down the dark hallway, “Rochester it is! Rochester it is!”
Last night was the 73rd game in our GeekDad Plays D&D campaign, and the fifth 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’ve recently returned to using Zoom for our sessions, which is a perfectly suitable arrangement as long as you don’t mind ending the session and starting again every 40 minutes—usually just as you’ve gotten into the groove of playing. We also use Trello and DnDBeyond to keep track of NPCs and campaign information and stream all our sessions live on our Twitch channel: dnd_TPK. We have gradually been increasing our number of live viewers week on week and we peaked last night at four simultaneous audience members—although there is a chance that they were all in actual fact Russian bots working to undermine the U.K. government.
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.
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.
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 in tunnels below a bathhouse. 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—and that the cult seems to be inclined to capture and torture nobles from the city.
Little Joe, hands still smoking from the fire spell, casually sauntered around the corner and stepped over the smoldering bodies of the two ex-cultists. Arvene, Dugg, and Alan watched as he stopped by the body of the second cultist, leaned down and pulled a small silk purse from their robes. “You won’t be needing these anymore,” he said coolly as he opened the coin pouch. “Ah dang. It’s empty.”
So the session began with a quick recap for Joe’s sake. He missed the previous game, so was brought quickly up to speed. They were still in the dungeon beneath the Cassalanter-owned bath house; they were still searching for Reya Mantlebourn; they had now killed over 20 cultists; and they were all tired and in need of a long rest.
Little Joe shrugged. “Let’s get this over with quickly then,” he said, and marched out of the room and into the next dark, damp corridor.
Trouble with a door
The team quickly progressed through the long, dark, empty corridor only to then spend 20 minutes in a smaller, darker, equally empty room. This wasn’t because they had found anything or because they suspected foul play. They spent the 20 minutes discussing which of the cultists that they had killed so far might have the key to the door to get into the next room. It wasn’t locked. But they didn’t check.
Eventually, Arvene used her mace and swung wildly at the rotten wooden panel that had been half-heartedly fixed to a makeshift frame. It splintered under the pressure and revealed a large cavernous space with dripping walls and wooden support beams dotted around the room holding up a clearly bowing ceiling.
“Is he dead?”
They spent some time investigating this room. Quite a lot of time. Long enough for one-and-a-half forty-minute Zoom meetings. During their overly thorough investigation, they discovered an altar to Bane (one of the Dead Three Gods), a man chained to the wall, 20 rotten wooden beams, a shallow pool of murky water, and two more doors.
First, they focused on the chained-up man. “Is he dead?” Arvene asked Dugg, who had been poking the man’s cheek.
“Not sure,” replied Dugg. “He doesn’t react when I do this.”
They were being extra careful not to jump to early conclusions after three cultists in the previous session got the jump on them by pretending to be deceased. Those three cultists, however, were not shackled to the wall by their hands and feet.
Dugg tried and failed a medicine check to work out the man’s condition (4). He was dead.
“I think he’s alive,” Dugg slapped him. “Wake up.” The dead man didn’t move.
Little Joe’s minor illusion
Feeling mischievous, Little Joe cast Minor Illusion to make it seem like the man took a breath and opened his eyes. Dugg almost fell over in shock.
“He is alive! Quick, Arvene, heal this man.”
Arvene then wasted two healing spells trying to heal the dead man. Little Joe laughed.
Alan, meanwhile, was exploring the rest of the room and was fascinated by the altar. There were three skulls on a table and an ornate brass mace. Alan picked up the mace and swung it at one of the skulls like a golf club. Alan rolled an attack. He got a critical hit.
The skull flew through the air and smashed just above the chained man, showering the body with skull fragments.
“Oh yeah,” said Dugg, “He IS dead.”
Arvene the Phrenologist
Rather than leave the room at this point and move onto a more interesting area of the dungeon, the team decided to carry on investigating the altar and the skulls.
Arvene toyed with lighting the candles, but was talked out of it by Alan, who didn’t want to accidentally begin a ritual. At this point, Little Joe dashed off and went to search the bodies of the 20 or so cultists they’d left in their wake. Why they hadn’t decided to do this earlier I’m not entirely sure.
Arvene, with a moment while everyone else was occupied, picked up one of the skulls and began to study it like a phrenologist. She determined that it belonged to a noble man of medium-to-low intelligence, with a tendency for larceny and deceit. This was of course nonsense, but it revealed the first signs of cracks beginning to show under Arvene’s usually composed and sane visage.
She picked up the skull like a hand puppet began talking to it. It spoke back.
Alan, noticing this, piped up, “I didn’t know Arvene could speak with dead.” She can’t.
Sarcophagus and a Firebolt
Eventually they moved on to the next room. Here they found a small octagonal-shaped room with a sarcophagus in the center. Little Joe, who missed the sarcophagus fun last session, ran to it as Alan, Dugg, and Arvene warned him not to.
Just in time, he stopped and didn’t set off the trap. Not content with narrowly surviving, he set it on fire with a Firebolt.
Immediately, a spectral warhammer appeared and began attacking.
A quick fight ensued which only Little Joe participated in. The others felt that as this was directly his fault he should be the one to deal with it. Three rounds of combat and some slight damage to Little Joe, and the hammer was defeated and dropped to floor inert.
“So, did we learn our lesson?” Alan asked, patronizingly.
“Little Joe doesn’t need any lessons from ghost-hammers,” was the reply.
At this moment, Arvene noticed some writing on the wall. She read it out. ”’Rise and be counted.’ That’s odd,” she said. “Sound like a command you’d give to a skeleton or something.”
And so, the five skeletons hiding under the ground rose up and Dugg, Alan, and Little Joe ran away. Arvene stayed and, like five little baby ducklings, the skeletons coo-ed at the first person they saw, and that is how Arvene became imprinted on them as their mother duck. She still had her hand in the base of a skull and was talking to it like a naughty puppet, and now she had five obedient skeletons following her around. This was doing nothing for her mental state.
Well, Well, Well… again
In the next room, they discovered another well in the ground. Reya Mantlemourn was trapped under a grate in the small well. After the skeletons failed, losing their forearms in the process, Dugg easily lifted the grate to release Reya.
Grateful for her rescue, Reya filled the team in on what had happened. She had grown tired of waiting for them at the tavern and decided to investigate the bathhouse on her own. She found out it was a front for a cult lead by one of the Cassalanter siblings and that they were planning something big. Then she was discovered and trapped in the well. They were just about to begin torturing her for information when a large gong went off and her captors went to investigate.
Sounds of fighting from the other room
As Reya told her tale, Alan and Co. listened intently. They took credit for “deliberately” distracting her captors with the gong and explained how many cultists they had already killed. Reya was evidently disappointed at missing some of the fun. Just then the sounds of fighting and yelling came from the next room. “Betrayed! I am betrayed! 100 gold to anyone who defends my honor.” With that, Arvene kicked down the door: “Get ’em boys,” she yelled, and the five armless skeletons piled in. End
A session where not very much happened. Certainly nothing that I was expecting. I enjoyed seeing Arvene unraveling in response to the horrors she has now witnessed. I imagine that’s only going to get worse as the campaign goes on.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Sometimes the best sessions are the ones where the Dungeon Master does and says nothing. For over an hour, my players role-played their characters interacting with each other and the world around them and I could have very well not been there at all. We tend to play quite late in the evening and sometimes players fall asleep. This was the first time where the dungeon master could have fallen asleep and it would have been OK.
Next week, Alan and Co. will have to work out what’s going on, who’s betrayed whom, and just how broken Arvene really is.
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