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In last week’s entry I placed some links to DNDBeyond when I referenced magic items and things of that nature. It’s always been my intention for this site to be as useful as possible, but I realise that having text riddled with links can be distracting. I’ve done the same this week because nobody complained about the links last time, but please do let me know in the comments if you think I’d be better off leaving them out in future.
The first thing the party noticed upon waking was the distinct absence of Sif Brightworm. The paladin seemed to have snuck off in the night – the party hadn’t set a watch, relying on the safety of the pocket tower to protect them – and her tracks through the snow showed she had headed straight for the castle. (In reality, Sif’s player couldn’t make it, and I didn’t feel like running her character for the night. Bad DM.)
The party were unimpressed – hadn’t they saved her life, and led her here? And now she was going on without them! – but they decided to go after her. She had promised treasure, and treasure they were gong to get. The tower stayed where it was, with Suddenly Horse (and the gold in his saddlebags) left safely inside.
The snow had stopped, and the trek to the castle was without incident. The walls stretched up almost to the clouds, and a giant glass dome covered the rear section of the castle. The west wing was a ruin, having collapsed on itself at some point – whether due to violence or nature, they couldn’t be sure – but the east wing and the dome were still intact. And as they drew closer, Ha’an began to feel uneasy in a way that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
The castle was truly enormous. A flight of stairs rose up to a causeway that stretched across to the giant double doors that marked the entrance. Each step was nearly five feet high; the causeway was forty feet in the air, well over two hundred feet long, and once the party reached the doors they saw that they were nearly twenty feet tall, seemingly made from single slabs of stone and carved with unintelligible runes. One of the doors was partially open, and though Nanook seemed on edge, they decided to press on in search of Sif.
Inside the doors the group found themselves in a hallway nearly sixty feet high and as long as the causeway they had just crossed. Statues towered in alcoves set along the sides of the hallway, and a giant crystal chandelier hung from the arched ceiling halfway down the corridor. The ceiling itself had caved in in a number of places, and it was on seeing this that the party noticed something distinctly odd about this hallway.
The floor was strewn with rubble – from broken statues, and the collapsed roof – but there was a point about forty feet down the corridor where the rubble seemed to form a perfectly straight line, then stop. Looking up at the roof, the party could see that the chunks of broken masonry were somehow strewn across the ceiling instead, clustered around the edge of one of the holes in the roof.
Wartsanall had a theory, and in order to test it he fired an arrow down the corridor. As it crossed the line of rubble on the floor its trajectory changed and it veered up towards the ceiling, landing on the roof and skittering to a halt high above the corridor.
Some experimentation followed. Snowballs were thrown and arrows were fired, until the party had a fairly good idea of what was going on; gravity had been reversed here, somehow, and it seemed to stretch almost to the doors on the far side of the corridor.
Rather than try to cross it the party headed outside and began circling around the castle, searching for another way in. Unfortunately they found nothing – the walls were high, and thick, and unbroken, and even the collapsed west wing was impenetrable.
Having dealt with trying to get Nanook up and down sheer climbs one too many times – and being a little short of rope – Manbearpig decided to send the wolf back to Thorak’s pocket tower. He wouldn’t be able to get in without Thorak there, but Manbearpig was confident that Nanook could look after himself until the party returned.
So once again they returned to the anti-gravity hallway, and began trying to gain access to the tower. They did question how Sif had managed to traverse this obstacle – her wet footsteps proceeded to the edge of the strange gravity, then stopped – but they didn’t know her very well, and didn’t know what she was capable of, and besides that they had more important questions to answer right now.
After some discussion, Manbearpig tied a rope around his waist. While Ha’an and Thorak held onto it, standing just at the edge of the tricky gravity, the fighter stepped out and began to fall upwards. The idea was decent – Thorak and Ha’an would slowly ‘lower’ Manbearpig to the ceiling – but they of course couldn’t stand directly beneath him without falling themselves, and he had nothing to anchor himself against. As they played the rope out they acted as a fulcrum and Manbearpig began to swing towards them, quickly passing back into normal gravity and falling back down, leaving the three of them sprawled in a heap on the ground.
What followed was, to me, hilarious. When I designed this puzzle I’d accounted for a lot of different possiblities, and I was happy to let the party experiment, but I have to admit that I had visions of them using the chandelier to swing across the reversed gravity. And, for a minute, I thought that was what they were going to do.
Spoiler: that isn’t what they did.
They did start talking about the chandelier, but somehow they got it in their heads that it was the cause of this reversed gravity situation. Rather than trying to use it to get across, they instead decided that they should pull it down.
Using his mage hand legerdemain, Wartsanall tied a rope to the chandelier. Then Thorak took hold of it, and began to pull, with Manbearpig assisting (and thus giving him advantage to the Strength (Athletics) check). One natural 20 later, and the chandelier came crashing down.
Well. Not down, exactly. Up. Because it wasn’t the cause, and gravity in that section of the hallway was still a mess.
The chandelier plummetted upwards, crashing through the already-damaged roof and out into the sky above, dragging Thorak with it. I asked Thorak for a Dexterity saving throw to catch himself on the edge of the ceiling, but he failed miserably.
Then the barbarian was flying, soaring up above the castle – until he got too high, and gravity reverted, sending him plummetting back down. He passed the next Dex save, managing to twist in the air to avoid the roof and instead fall through one of the broken sections, before gravity took hold of him again and he once more ‘fell’, this time coming to a halt on the ceiling on the far side of the room. He took a hefty amount of damage – both from falling, and from being battered by chunks of broken chadelier – but he was still standing. Upside down. On the ceiling.
Now, of course, he had to get down – but, surprisingly, that didn’t prove to be a problem.
Taking hold of one of the huge chunks of broken masonry pinned to the ceiling, Thorak dragged it until it was straddling the divide between reversed gravity and normal gravity. The edge began to ‘lift’ (or point towards the floor… whatever. The enemy’s gate is down) slightly, but he had specified that he wanted the bulk of it to be sitting firmly on the ceiling. Then he recovered the rope that was tied to the chandelier, tied it off to the chunk he had just moved – watching in satisfaction as it fell in the normal manner to the floor – and lowered himself down.
That just left the rest of the party. Manbearpig tied their remaining rope to an arrow and fired it across the corridor. Once Thorak had recovered it they pinned the rope to the ground on either side of the reversed gravity with chunks of rock, leaving a line of rope that seemed to stretch across the floor. One nervous upside-down traversal later and the whole party were on the other side of the corridor, staring up at the doors barring their way.
The doors opened into a circular cntrance chamber. A huge flight of stairs curved up around the wall, leading to a balcony high above them. Another set of double doors stood on the opposite side of the room, while a third set stood at the bottom of the stairs. These clearly led to the collapsed west wing, and there didn’t seem to be any hope of getting through them.
As the party started out across the chamber, Ha’an once again felt that unease he had noticed outside – but this time stronger. He didn’t have time to think about it, though – the party began to hear strange, nonsense gibbering, both in their earsand their minds, and they reacted with suitable horror as floating forms began to emerge from the shadows at the top of the stairs – round, bulbous shapes, with tentacles waving from the top of their forms.
The spectators drifted into view – along with something else in tow, something the party hadn’t seen before. These were gauths, one of my favourite monsters from Volo’s Guide to Monsters [that’s an Amazon UK link], but the party didn’t particularly care what they were called – they just knew that tentacles and eyes aren’t a fun combination, and that the things had to die.
This was when Ha’an realised what the uneasy feeling was. He began to cast Shatter, one of his go-to offensive spells, but as he began strumming his lute, the notes that formed the spell seemed strangely out of reach. The spell came out twisted and off-key, and though it went off, something else happened – he turned into a potted plant.
Why, you ask? Because I wanted to have some fun, essentially. The Wild Magic table for sorcerors is ridiculous, and I wanted to play around with it. I marked a few sections of my map as wild magic areas, and waited to see what would happen.
As it turned out, Ha’an decided against casting many spells in those areas (once he was no longer a plant, obviously). He began picking his way around the battlefield hunting for spots where he coul cast safely. Meanwhile, Wartsanall and Manbearpig took shelter from the eye rays by hiding beneath the stairs, stepping out to shoot at the floating spectators. Pstan and Thorak headed up the stairs, hacking off eye stalks and taking a beating from wounding rays. Eventually the fight came to an end with Pstan launching himself from one of the steps, dragging a spectator down and smashing it into pieces in his rage.
With the enemies dead the party pressed on, ignoring the stairs and heading through the double doors on the ground floor.
Beyond them they found themselves in a vast library, filled with books of all sizes. Some of the bookcases had collapsed and some had been burned in a long-forgotten fire, but here they found trinkets galore. (I put together a random table of books a while ago; I’ve also made another one to go with it, which I’ll share in a Stat Boost update soon. Basically, this dungeon was an excuse for me to play with random tables.) I can’t remember now exactly what they each found, but next time we play I’ll get a list together (I’m sure they wrote this stuff down…right?) so I can share it.
At the far end of the library was another pair of doors, but as they approached them they noticed an angry buzzing noise slowly filling the room, not unlike that of a hornets’ nest – but louder, and angrier. There wasn’t time to wonder about it, though, because its origin made itself known quickly.
A swarm of stirges flowed over the balcony running around the top of the room and descended on the party, and the fight was on.
Now, stirges are only a CR 1/8 creature, and you may be wondering why I threw a group of 5 fifth-level characters against them. There were two reasons; firstly, I wanted to try out the mass combat rules that had recently been released in Unearthed Arcana, and secondly I wanted the party to have fun one-hit-killing huge numbers of enemies. I expected this to be a fairly straightforward fight.
It wasn’t. It was a fucking blood bath.
The mass combat rules actually worked fairly well, though they were a little more complicated than is standard in Fifth Edition. The concepts of morale and commanders make sense in terms of intelligent enemies, but in my case I was dealing with what are essentially big mosquitoes. I’ve never known a swarm of mozzies to run, no matter how many of the damn things you kill.
But anyway. The party suffered a huge amount of damage even though the stirges fell in their dozens, with Thorak dropping to 0hp (though he of course springs back up, due to being a half-orc) and scrambling to get out of the fight before he went down for good.
The party did defeat the stirges, but they did it on the back foot, backing slowly out of the library as Manbearpig began putting his sunblade to the old, dry books that filled the room, causing an inferno that took care of the rest of the stirges.
They retreated, then, traversing their rope over the reversed gravity and running back to Thorak’s tower to rest up. There they found Nanook, waiting patiently alongside a pair of wolves that he had killed in the party’s absence, an they piled into the tower with relief.
This is actually one of the first dungeons I’ve run in this campaign where the party have been free to leave and return as they see fit. It’s one of the benefits of the instant fortress, and it’s something I’m keen to engage with more. I’ve always been a fan of megadungeons, and I’ve never been fond of locking the players in a situation they can’t escape from unless it’s absolutely necessary. At this point they’ve spent a long time in subterranean spaces with no real option but to press forward, and I don’t want them to start feeling like I’m railroading them along a set path. It’s nice to give them the opportunity to retreat, to plan – and, if they desire, to decide to simply give up and go and do something else.
That was where we left it for the week. Next time we’ll see what happened when they ventured back into the castle, and learn a little more about what’s going on here.
There will be a map for this update, but it’s not quite ready yet. I’ve once again managed to fall behind on things (as evidenced by it once again being Saturday when this post goes up). Tomorrow, for once, I have a whole day with nothing I need to do, so I’m going to spend that time getting as much content for the site written (and drawn) as possible. The first thing on that list is the map for this entry.
Thanks for bearing with me.
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