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Friday Fight Night – Going Underground

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We left the party in a duergar mining town, where they had run into an old friend of Manbearpig’s called Barnum Rekel and discovered a ludicrous exchange rate between gold and copper that allowed them to stock up on healing and for Manbearpig to grab himself a sunblade. Now, with Bronson still in tow and a svirfneblin guide they had named Gnomeo who was to lead them to the surface, they began maing preparations to set off.

First, though, they asked Barnum if maybe he could transport them to the surface. He could, he said – and he named a price. And, having heard that price, they said their farewells and set off into the tunnels beyond the town.

Gnomeo led them deeper into the underdark, where they initially passed travellers heading towards the town they had just left. It didn’t take long for them to find themselves alone again, though, as Gnomeo led them unnerringly down branching paths and twisting corridors.

The party did have doubts about this venture. They couldn’t communicate with Gnomeo, and he seemed to be leading them deeper rather than towards the surface. But Wartsanall was confident that they were heading mostly north, and Sureshank had told them they would come out far to the north, so that seemed OK. Of course. Sureshank had also told them that they would be able to get to the surface after a few days, but it had now been over a week underground.

They pressed on, and eventually they began to hear sounds of fighting up ahead. They began to go more cautiously, extinguishing Orby and sending Wartsanall ahead to scout. As he vanished around a corner, a flash of light and heat lit up the tunnel, and Wartsanall returned to say that there were dwarves fighting what looked like an adventuring party around the corner.

The party turned to Gnomeo, asking – as best they could, through the medium of mime – whether there was another way they could go. The gnome indicated that there wasn’t, and that they should press on – again through mime, he seemed to indicate that they should simply stab anybody who got in their way.

That seemed like a fair decision, so the party piled into the combat. The bodies of a couple of humans lay battered and broken on the ground, and another human had scrambled up onto a stone ledge to fire bolts of lightning down onto the dwarves. As the party entered the fray the dark dwarves snarled and turned on them, and the group were surprised to see their small stocky forms begin to expand and grow, until the enlarged duergar were practically filling the tunnel.

It was a short, bloody combat that saw Pstan go down – for some reason (inexperience, maybe? Or just a desire to preserve resources) Pstan’s player doesn’t rage very often, despite playing a berserker, and he takes a lot of damage. It’s not exactly an optimal strategy. Still, if that’s how he wants to play, that’s his call.

With the fight over, the party took a few minutes to gather themselves and to talk to the mage, who seemed a little shell-shocked at having watched his friends slaughtered but was eventually convinced to tell his story. He and his friends had ventured into the underdark via an abandoned mine high up in the mountains in search of adventure and riches. They had come across a dwarven mine – normal dwarves, not duergar – and had been offered a reward to do a small job for the dwarves. They had never managed to find the place the dwarves directed them to, and after getting stuck trying to climb down a narrow chimney in the rock, they had found themselves dangerously undersupplied. Then the duergar had ambushed them, and everything had gone wrong.

They offered him some healing, told him about the settlement they had just left, and they went their separate ways – with the party now carrying a hastily-sketched map the mage had given them, with rough directions to the dwarven mines that should hopefully lead them closer to the surface.

They continued to be guided by Gnomeo, and seemed to be following the same path marked on the mage’s map. It wasn’t long before they came to a narrow chamber that appeared to be a dead end. The floor was littered with debris – chunks of stone, scraps of torn clothing, and what looked like clumps of hair – and when they looked up they saw the chimney that the mage had told them about.

They sent Orby up1, and as it reached the extent of its range – 60 feet – they saw that the was something blocking the chimney. From their vantage point directly below it they couldn’t quite make out what it was, but it looked to be made of fabric of some kind.

Thinking quickly, Manbearpig tied a length of rope around one of his barbed arrows (created for him by Barnum Rekel, and doing slightly more damage than normal arrows) and shot it up into the bottom of whatever was blocking the passage. With a tug, the obstacle came loose.

Manbearpig and Thorak took a not-insignificant amount of damage as what seemed like hundreds of mundae weapons – daggers, maces, short swords, etc. – plummetted down onto their upturned faces. After diving for cover and subsequently judging the cascade of blades to be over, they saw that something else had also fallen down. It looked like a backpack – now with a tear in the bottom of it – but upon inspection they found that the side pouches were magical in nature, able to hold much more than their size would indicate. The main pouch, they assumed, did the same – but now it had a hole in the bottom of it, and was effectively useless.

With a little more care, they checked the chimney again. Orby couldn’t get all the way up it, so Wartsanall took out his pitons and rope and began to climb. It was tough going – he almost slipped and fell a couple of times – but after a few minutes he reached the top, just over 100 feet up from the bottom of the chimney. He reported that it exited into a tunnel filled with stalactites and stalagmites, and that there didn’t appear to be any immediate danger. He lowered a rope down, but he only had 50 feet on him – somebody else would have to climb up and tie another length to the bottom of his.

Getting up the chimney proved to be a tougher puzzle than I had intended – mainly because I had forgotten about Nanook. There was a lot of debate about how to get the wolf up there, which concluded with Manbearpig fashioning a harness for him and slowly hoisting him up, after climbing up himself.

At the top of the chimney they were faced with a decision. The passage ran from east to west, and the map the mage had given them told them to head west, but they’re a curious bunch. There could be anything to the east – shouldn’t they go a little ways that way and see if there was anything to be found before venturing on?

There was some debate about it while they took a rest, but in the end they decided to press on in the direction they had been told to go – and in the direction Gnomeo seemed to favour. Although they might find more adventure to the east, they might also get themselves lost, and nobody wanted that.

They pressed on. After an hour or so of travel they noticed that the air was growing moist and that the walls were getting damp, and soon they saw that the tunnel ahead of them was flooded. The roof dipped down, ending in a wall above a pool of water – but it looked like the passage continued beyond it, dipping down under the wall where the water was. If they wanted to continue this way, they were going to have to get wet – and they were going to have to hold their breath.

As they were debating whether to risk the swim or head back the way they had come and find another route, they began to hear noises from the tunnel they had just passed down; snarls and growns echoed out of the darkness, along with the pounding of heavy feet. As they readied themselves, the source of the noise burst out of the darkness – four large humanoids, covered in thick hair and looking a little like bears. With a blast of rancid breath the quaggoths attacked, and the fight was on.

In all honesty, this fight was a walk in the park for the party. They all rolled high for initiative and higher for their attacks, with a whole brace of critical hits – including Wartsanall’s sneak attack. Two of the quaggoths dropped before they managed to take a turn, and it was only a couple more rounds before the fight was over. On my side I rolled terribly – none of the quaggoths managed to deal any damage whatsoever. The part came out of this scrap feeling pretty good about themselves, and that’s always nice. It’s good for the players to feel powerful every now and then – it makes the fights that go bad even scarier.

With the fight over, they decided to brave the waters. The submerged section wasn’t particularly long once they got into it, and soon they emerged on the other side.

Immediately they noticed that it was even more damp here, and that the chamber they were in was filled with a strange yellow-green light. They couldn’t tell what it was, though; they had climbed out at the foot of a high ledge, and whatever was creating the light was on top of it, out of sight from their current vantage point.

Thorak climbed up, and took a second to figure out what he was looking at. The chamber was filled with huge person-sized mushrooms, and a few large, round forms drifted lazily through the air on the far side. Remembering the Spectator they had fought in the Temple of Leaves and worrying that these werem ore of the same, Thorak immediately dropped back down to his party to report on what he had seen.

Again there was a debate about what they should do. If the floating forms were Spectators then they were in trouble, and nobody wanted to tangle with them. Manbearpig hadn’t been in the Temple, though, and had never seen anything like a Spectator. He made the decision for the group, climbing up onto the ledge and beginning to make his way through the fungus grove. With more time to look and see what was going on, he reported that the floating things didn’t look at all like the Spectator the party had described; they looked more like strange slimy balloons (“What’s a balloon?” Thorak asked. That made me happy).

The party climbed up and, seeing no immediate threat, began to follow Manbearpig. Then Ha’an triggered one of the Shriekers lurking amongst the fungus, and things went wrong fast.

As the shrieker began to scream, the huge mushrooms released clouds of spores, fungal tentacles whipped out to grapple the party, and the floating balloon things began to slowly drift towards them. At this point they weren’t too concerned – until Thorak burst one of the floating gas spores. It exploded, which hurt a lot, and the spores filled his lungs, making him choke and slutter and almost throw up.

I had expected this to be a fairly straightforward encounter, in much the same way as I had expected the quaggoths to give them a decent challenge, but the party suffered here. They rolled poorly, and they soaked up a lot of damage – though nobody fell.

As the final shrieker fell and its cries faded away, the party began to gather themselves – but there was no chance to rest. From behind they heard a dull roar from the way they had come, muted as it echoed up through the water, and they saw that the pool was no longer still. As they watched more quaggoths pulled themselves up into the chamber, drawn by the shouting of the shriekers, and they began to scale the ledge to get to the party.

Seeing the bears coming, and knowing they were not at full strength, the party fled out of the exit at the far side of the fungus grove. The quaggoths gave chase, pursuing the party through narrow tunnels and expansive caverns, not letting up. The ground began to rise, and the party stumbled out onto a high, narrow ledge at the top of an enormous cavern. The far side was out of sight; far below, they could see fires burning and a dull glimmer of copper; to the left, a small platform was attached to thick cables that stretched out into the darkness over the cavern.

Seeing a possible escape route, the party piled onto the platform as the quaggoths burst out of the tunnel. A few failed to stop themselves, plummetting over the edge and falling to the floor of the cavern far below, but the others began to close on the cable car. Ha’an began to turn the winch that moved it out over the cavern, and for a second the party thought they had made their escape.

They hadn’t. The remaining quaggoths hoisted themselves up onto the thick cables and began to scramble along them, closing on the cable car quickly. A few were taken out with hastily fired arrows, but three quaggoths made it to the cable car and pounced on the party. In close quarters the fight was brutal, the party desperately hacking at the raging bears and trying to push them off the sides of the cable car, while Ha’an frantically turned the winch. Wartsanall went down and was nearly pulled over the side of the car – only Thorak’s quick reflexes saved him from a long drop and a sudden stop.

Eventually, though, the quaggoths were slain, and the party were temporarily safe. Now they could take stock of their situation.

As the cable car passed over the vast cavern – and I do mean vast. For a long time, the sides of the cavern were completely out of sight in the darkness – they stared down in wonder at the sight below. The floor of the cavern – maybe 400 feet below them, illuminated by the fires of innumerable forges – was filled with tall copper statues. They couldn’t make out the details, but they all agreed that it looked like an army.3

Once the cable car reached the far side of the cavern, the party disembarked and continued following the passage on the other side. Soon they left the cavern and the copper army behind them, and they were once again alone. Gnomeo led them onwards for an hour or more – it’s hard to judge the passage of time underground, after all – and the ground once again began to rise.

Then they rounded a corner. Ahead of them the passage continued, but a pair of large, ornately-carved stone doors was set into the wall. As they looked at them, a slot opened high up in one of the doors, and a voice called out to them in dwarven.

“Who the fuck are you,” it said, “and what do you want?”

And that’s where we left it.

I made a few mistakes in both planning and running this session, but it didn’t have much of an effect on the game. The party never knew that I had completely forgotten about Nanook in planning the spelunking section, and instead assumed that I had inserted it as a deliberate challenge. I’m OK with that, although I won’t forget in future; the logistics of Nanook will almost certainly come into play again, but it will be intentional next time. The oversight with regard to the driftglobe and the haversack annoyed me, if I’m honest, but it’s entirely my fault and hasn’t had any detrimental effect on the game. I’ll be more vigilant in future, and make sure that I reread the entries for magic items before making decisions so that I don’t do it again, but I can live with the consequences of both these poor calls.

The other issue was that we all pretty much forgot about Bronson. It had been about 6 weeks between this session and the last one, and we were excited to play, so we just jumped into it. Somehow I hadn’t included Bronson in my notes from the previous game, and it was only towards the end of the session that we suddenly realised we had forgotten about him. I’d already established that he was mostly mute, though, so again it wasn’t too much of an issue – they wouldn’t have been able to really talk to him, after all. Still, it’s another oversight that I was annoyed with myself about. I want the world to feel real, and for their decisions to have consequences; inserting an NPC to travel with them and then ignoring him completely doesn’t really work well with that aim. I’ll chalk it up as a learning experience, though, and I’ll do better in future.

That’s it for this week. Apologies for the delay, and thanks for reading!

1 – I’m aware that the driftglobe is only supposed to be able to hover 5 feet above the ground, but in the moment I completely forgot that. I like this creative use of it, though, and I’m going to continue letting them use Orby in this way. It’s not exactly game-breaking, and at some point it’s going to get them in trouble, so I’m fine with it.
2 – This is Heward’s Hand Haversack, and again it’s an oversight from me. I’d forgotten that if you rupture a haversack or a bag of holding that the contents are scattered to the Astral Plane and essentially lost forever. Again, though, I’m not worried; I wanted them to have the haversack, which is why I included it, and it would suck if it was permanently broken. The cascade of blades taught them a lesson about poor planning, and Thorak’s player was suitably annoyed that the item was mostly broken (she had a bag of holding in the last game and loved it; she’s been hinting that she’d like Thorak to have one at some point since we started playing). I’ve decided that the side pouches will still function, as something of a consolation prize. Getting the bag repaired will be a quest all to itself, which – in my mind, at least – is preferable to it just being useless and forgotten about.
3 – It appears that the group have mostly forgotten about this now, which is nice. This is me laying the groundwork for what’s to come. There’s a powerful force growing in the desert, a warlock intent on taking the fertile southern lands for himself. He’s in league with a dark power deep in the underdark, and alongside the things he’s creating in the desert – which we’ll get to soon, don’t you worry – he’s also commissioned the building of this army of copper golems. This is the reason the duergar settlement the party passed through values copper so highly – they’re slaves to the warlock’s partner, and they’re gathering copper to build this army. I’m looking forward to the reveal later in the campaign, and the players’ realisation that they contributed directly to the construction of this menace. I’m also looking forward to Manbearpig questioning whether Barnum Rekel was involved or not.

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