Mar 2, 2020

2nd Day of Sunsebb, CY 580 - Another Near TPK

Today's session was a long continuation of the most difficult battle the party has faced thus far. It was a near Total Party Kill (TPK), though some managed to make it through. The basic setup of the room is that three of the pyramids contained a pair of drow, one female cleric and one male magic-user, all of 9th to 12th level. The floor of the room was crawling with dozens of undead creatures (skeletons and zombies) that, by themselves, were no match for the party, but they were designed to keep them slowed down and occupied while the caster blasted spells from their hidden locations atop the pyramids.

Complicating matters was the fact that one of the drow cast a specialty drow arcane spell called Hand of Darkness, that effectively extinguishes all light sources, without being cancelled out by magical light. Hand of Darkness only snuffs out light, not infrared radiation, so those with infravision could still see, but the undead were (mostly) invisible to infravision and the casters were skillfully keeping themselves out of sight regardless.

Further complicating matters was a drow priest spell of Lolth called Undead Focus (from the 2nd edition Demihuman Handbook), which allowed the priestesses to cast divine spells through the zombies. This caused the party some confusion and allowed the true spellcasters to keep themselves hidden a while longer.


Dalron was held in place, continuing to take 2d6+12 points of damage every round he remained in the Wall of Fire. Pontus immediately rushed to his friend's aid. Following the sounds of the screaming, he reached into the fire and pulled Dalron out, taking damage in the process. The drow wizards, seeing this, did not like it, as they knew from earlier spying that Dalron was currently the biggest threat to them as he could throw daggers with lethal results. In response, they each began casting magic missile at him, striking him multiple times and bringing him to near death.

Pontus carried the, still held, Dalron back to the rest of the party outside the doors while Fen used his holy sword to dispel the Wall of Fire. Kohvo and Tyril pressed forward into the room, determined to kill as many undead as they could. Meanwhile, Sarril used a Gem of True Seeing to look into the room so he could try to see the undead and, hopefully, whoever was casting those spells.

So, it turns out that using a Gem of True Seeing in the Abyss is not such a great idea. The Abyss is a strange place that is formed out of nightmares. What is seen by the naked eye is enough to drive any normal person insane, but the PCs are high enough level to avoid most of those effects. But within the Abyss roams a lot of things that were never meant to be seen by the naked eye. Hidden nightmares that the mind simply cannot comprehend if they were to behold. Sarril, with his very high intelligence, stood a good chance of handling it, but after a bad roll of the dice, he was driven mad by what he saw through the gem. Insanity effectively means that Sarril must roll a die before he can take any significant actions, with failure indicating he goes into a melancholy state and cannot do anything. This may have been one of most significant blows to the party at this point.

As several party members began to cluster in one place, one of the drow wizards took the opportunity to throw a fireball. That revealed his location to those with infravision. He was atop the left-middle pyramid, which gave Kohvo a driven purpose as he rushed that direction. Unfortunately, the fireball was too much for Dalron, who's hit points were driven into far negative territory.

Normally, I allow a single death save to prevent instant death and instead put the PC at zero hit points and unconscious, but because Dalron was already magically held and barely hanging on to life when the fireball hit, I did not give a save. Even if I had, further devastation was on its way, so this was the end of Dalron. He was truly a heroic force of nature. May he rest in peace.

More magic missiles and another fireball were cast from the other pyramids, and many, many failed attempts at Hold Person. Eventually, all of the drow were revealed and one of the Hold Person spells did eventually catch Sir Fenius, who was unable to dispel it. That would have made him a sitting duck if it were not for the fact that his holy sword still gave him 50% magic resistance, and he was able to shrug off most of what was thrown at him. Sarril, in a moment of lucidity, managed to drop a fireball in the room that cleared out most of the remaining undead. Fenius, even though held (rooted in place) was able to kill the rest that surrounded him. The room was now clear for the party to rush the pyramids.

The two dwarves went for the east pyramid while everyone else, led by Kohvo, headed up the west pyramid. Alas, poor Kohvo never made it to the top, as the wizard cast his one and only Cone of Cold spell against him (again, a death save would have been in order normally but had he made his save, he would have been killed by priestess's Flame Strike, which was coming up next, so we shall now say goodby to Prince Kohvo Koravel. His time with the party was too short). To rub salt in the wound, the priestess animated Kohvo's dead body into a zombie, which then attacked Pontus. Zombie Kohvo was no match for the party, but he was able to keep them busy long enough for the priestess to cast a Flame Strike on her next turn, severely injuring the party members climbing the pyramid (except for Sarril, who's magic resistance kicked in). The wizard, seeing the party was not yet down, cast Transmute Rock to Mud on the steps of the pyramid, sending the party sliding away. They would have suffocated in the mud, were it not for Pontus managing a couple of good rolls to grab his friends and hold them up above the mud (Pontus didn't need to breath since he is effectively a corporeal spirit).

On the eastern pyramid, Tyril and Dammic were doing much better. Dammic was able to get a good backstab on the priestess using his Ring of Invisibility, but unfortunately, that exposed him to the wizard, who then killed him (Rest in Peace Dammic Brickhouse - you were a fun dwarf and the party never did get to see just how much). Tyril, however, was able to quickly avenge his fallen dwarven brother. With a 20 strength and two attacks per round, the drow could not handle him up in their face. He killed both drow with extreme prejudice.

The two drow at the western pyramid levitated up and began pushing themselves along the wall to join the others at the north pyramid. The remaining party members gathered together under the protection of Sir Fenius' holy sword and Sarril's Globe of Invulnerability. The Globe negated the hold effect on Fen, allowing the party to move forward as a group. For good measure, Sarril cast Haste on the party, allowing them to close in quickly.

As they climbed the pyramid, the wizard, Rauklanin, cast Cone of Cold, which affected Tyril, but not the others. He then switched to using a Wand of Frost and cast another Cone of Cold before the party could finish making their way up the steps.

The other two drow managed to get the pyramid just as the party reached the top, but they had already exhausted all of their high-level spells and knew none of their low-level spells would penetrate the Globe of Invulnerability. So they began attacking with a Death Lance and a short sword. The short sword was effective (all of the wizards are fighter/wizards), but the priestesses both missed with their death lances. Sarril used a Wand of Paralyzation to paralyze one of the priestesses while Tyril and Fen finished off the other one. Rauklanin realized he wouldn't survive a round of melee attacks from both Tyril and Fen and was about to levitate away when Fen rushed up on him and, thanks to the Haste spell, was able to deliver three attacks, killing him dead.

The final drow wizard grabbed Rauklanin's wand and levitated up. He managed to get one Cone of Cold off before Sarril returned with a powerful blow of Magic Missiles, which penetrated the wizard's magic resistance and killed him. The fight was now over. BAMF Dead: 3. Drow Dead: 6. BAMF wins.

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At the end of the battle, Sarril looks around at the devastation and his dead party members. He then reaches into his bag of holding and pulls out an ornate scroll tube he had been saving. He opens the tube, unfurls the scroll and begins speaking the arcane words contained within. As he speaks each word, he begins to fill with immense power, the likes of which none of the party have ever seen before. Energy begins to crackle like lightning in the air, drawing the primordial power that holds together the very fabric of existence His hair begins to blow fiercely, his eyes turn white, and the energy is so intense that the party can no longer bear to be in his presence The scroll is consumed in flame, leaving Sarril standing, filled with unfathomable power.

He then speaks.

Each word is a command that echoes across time and space.

“I wish for Pontus, Dalron, Kohvo and Dammic to be resurrected right here, right now!”

His words are a command for reality itself to obey.

There is a loud boom as the energy is unleashed from his body, knocking everyone to the floor. When they stand back up and gather their senses, they realize that they are not alone. Standing in the room with them are two demons of immense proportion.

One of them says “Her excellency, the Mistress Lolth, Queen of Spiders and ruler of the Abyss, does not grant your wish.”

The second demon then says "But Lolth is a generous mistress. You may choose one person to bring back."

Sarril considers his choice for a while, then says "I choose my friend, Pontus."

"And so it is done," says the first demon.

With that, color returns to Pontus' face, and he begins breathing again. His memories flood back into his living brain.

The first demon says "Congratulations on passing this difficult test. Our queen looks forward to meeting you in person."

With that, they both disappear in a burst of flame.

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It is approximately late in the day (by biological time) on the 2nd Day of Sunsebb, CY 580. The party is still in the Demonweb - Lolth's layer of the Abyss, contemplating their next move.


Feb 2, 2020

First Day of Sunsebb, CY 580

Things were not looking good for our heroes. With Sir Fenius unconscious from drow poison arrows, two party members unarmed, and a Blade Barrier blocking their escape, they needed to act quickly.

Dalron used the Lolth artifact to walk on webs and ran up to the nearest drider and started to attack. But being outside of the protection of Sarril's Minor Globe of Invulnerability meant he was susceptible to spellfire, and sure enough, another drider hit him with a Ray of Enfeeblement, sapping his strength make him much less effective in battle (but since he uses dagger anyway, he was still able to fight).

Sarril's first course of action was to cast Neutralize Poison on Fen to wake him up so he could then use his holy sword to dispel the Blade Barrier. This worked the next round Fen did just that, allowing the party to escape the onslaught. They closed the doors and ran north. Dammac attempted to listen at the next door, setting off a Glyph of Warding in the process and taking some damage. The party then ran through that door and the double doors that followed, which opened into a large room.

The room was 100 ft, square with 50 ft high ceilings. Across the far end of the room was a large pyramid and flanking the room were three smaller pyramids on each side. Also in the room were about 16 zombies and half as many skeletons shuffling around. The undead turned to the party and begin to advance.

But the party had a plan. They wedged one door shut and kept the other open, then stood in formation around the door. The intent was to let one undead through at a time and kill them. It looked like it was going to work, until one of the zombies coming toward them stopped to cast a spell. It was a Flame Strike, and it got most of the party, including Dammac, who failed his save. The damage from the Flame Strike, on top of the damage previously taken by the glyph, was too much and he went unconscious.

Just as this happened, the door behind them flew open. It was the four remaining driders from previous room, and they began shooting arrows and making melee attacks. Another party member dropped from poison this time (I think it was Sarril, but don't recall). The party realized they were not prepared for what was happening and shut the door to the undead room and wedged it shut, then went after the driders. It took a couple of rounds but they were able to bring them down easily when not separated by webs. They then picked up their unconscious comrades and fled.

While the Demonweb is long and twisted and confusing, it doesn't branch, so running in one direction eventually leads someplace. In this case, retracing their steps back to the sanctuary room where priests and priestesses of a peaceful deity offered them safe rest.

The party knew not to trust these people, but with the paladin unable to effectively Detect Evil, they really had no choice but to spring whatever trap was waiting for them. And a trap it was. These eight clerics were transformed Jackweres, waiting for the party to go to sleep before attacking. Jackalweres are not particularly tough and they don't have especially harmful attacks, but they can use a special gaze to put their victims into a magical sleep from which they can perform a Coup De Grace.

I know a lot of people don't like instant-kill options in AD&D, and many DMs won't use the optional Coup De Grace rules at-all. My house-rule on this is to split the difference. Allow automatic hits against unconscious foes for normal damage and after two consecutive, uninterrupted rounds, the victim is dead regardless of remaining hit points at the end of the second round. The victim has a chance to wake up after each hit, but it is not automatic. I think this is fair in that it gives allies a chance to wake the victim or intervene to save them, and even gives the victim a chance to wake up on their own, while still allowing creatures like Jackalweres their ability to be a little frightening.

The Jackalweres weren't able to do much against the conscious party members, but they attacked on second watch when only Pontus and Tyril were awake. Pontus fought and yelled while Tyril tried to physically wake up the others. Things got difficult as the jackalweres were putting party members to sleep almost as quickly as they were waking up, and Dammac went two rounds with a jackalwere at his unconscious throat. It was Dalron who came to his aid just before his demise, but it was close. The party managed to survive another encounter and now they had an actual peaceful room to rest in, so they did.

The next day, after studying for what spells could be gained in the abyss (clerical spells of 3rd level and above were out), the party decided to go back to the pyramid room and tackle the undead again. Being at full strength, they believed they could handle things better this time around. It didn't quite work out.

They started by charging into the room, hoping to identify the spellcasters quickly and take them out. The working theory is that some drow spellcasters were using illusions to disguise themselves as undead. It was a decent theory, but one they did not get to fully test, as one of the first things that happened was black fog-like tendrils flowed down from the far pyramid and began engulfing the room in darkness. It completely snuffed out all Continual Light coins and other light sources, allowing only those with infravision to see. But since undead don't emit heat, the party was effectively blind. Worse yet, none of the undead were standing out, so either the illusion was good enough to work against infravision (which is not difficult) or this was something else.

Dalron was pretty far into the room, as was Kohvo (the new half-orc that was rescued with Pontus). Both had to use their listening skills as best they could to find the enemy before they could even attack with a -4 penalty. This made things difficult, but not impossible for these high-level fighters. Then the rest of the party heard Dalron yell "I'm held!" (the results of a Hold Person spell) from somewhere in the darkness, a few moments later a wall of fire erupted from within the room, through the doorway, engulfing several party members. Though the wall emitted no light, those with infravision could see its heat, and everyone could feel it. Some small amount of damage was taken by most party members, but the screaming coming from within the room was unmistakable. Dalron was trapped within the wall itself, still unable to move. At maximum damage, it will only be a couple of rounds until he is burned to death.

And this is where we left off. It is the 2nd Day of Sunsebb, CY 580, and this may be the party's toughest challenge to date.

Jan 5, 2020

28th Day of Ready'reat ??, CY 580 - An Old Friend Returns

We left off the last session with the party still asking questions and drawing cards from the Deck of Many Things.

Dammac the dwarf decided to ask if his family was safe. He drew a card. Comet, just like Sarril had drawn earlier. He understood that the next encounter with a monster had to be single-handedly defeated by him and, if he did so, he would gain power. But Sarril had drawn the same card earlier, and they couldn't both single-handedly defeat the next monster the party would encounter. So this, of course, raised another question, one Tyril would be happy to ask on behalf of his dwarven brethren.

So Tyril asked how both Sarril and Dammac could benefit from the cards they drew, and then drew a card of his own. His card was one that raised his primary stat (Strength) by 2 points. So Tyril now has a 20 strength. Wow! The answer was simple. They had to split the party and go their separate ways, so that the next monster encountered by Sarril and the next one encountered by Dammac would be different.

This turned out to be simple. First, Sarril stepped out of the room with Dalron, and waited for a wandering monster. It took two hours, but eventually, two giant pedipalpi (whip scorpions) came along. Sarril easily killed them both with cones of cold. Sarril was then filled with power as he gained a level (past his racial maximum, which he felt extra good about). Next Dammac stepped out and he faced a single pedipalp. He had to work a little harder, but he managed to kill it, gaining a level for himself. The party then got back together and decided they did not want to risk drawing any more cards and left. When they opened the door again, the skeleton with the cards was gone, and a new room had replaced the old.

This new room as 50 x 70 ft and completely littered with bones. The occasional gold coin or gem could be seen, and Dalron even saw a scroll sticking out in one place. An obvious trap, the party concluded, though they were willing to spring the trap. Across the room was a set of large brass double-doors. The party entered the room and spread out to search the room while Dammac listened at the brass doors. Shortly thereafter, 15 ghouls and 5 ghasts erupted from the floor. It was a complicated battle, but nothing the party couldn't easily handle.

Once the ghouls were dead, Tyril tried to open the door. Though he wasn't successful, he did rip the large brass handles off (did I mention how strong he is now?). The rest of the party searched the room and found a potion, but decided they needed to leave come back after they have figured out the secret to opening the door.

And so off they went, spending another few hours in the Demonweb, eventually coming to a new door they haven't seen before. Inside were some people dressed in robes, who offered blessings of peace and tranquility. They offered food and drink and comfortable rest in safety. They mentioned that they are priests of a generous and peaceful god who are trapped here in the abyss, but their god has granted them sanctuary to share with those who come to fight Lolth. They said that others have come and gone over the years, but none have ever defeated her. The party was skeptical, but still tempted to stay, and they were long overdue for rest. But they eventually decided it just didn't feel right, and so they left, saying they would return later.

They eventually came to another door. This one opened into a short hallway and another door, which was trapped with a Glyph of Warding. Tyril set off the trap and took some lightning damage. Another short hallway then came to another door with another glyph. This time, Sarril cast Minor Globe of Invulnerability and opened the door, setting off the glyph which could not harm him. Another longer hallway had a door at one end, and a set of double doors to the left. They opened the double doors to reveal an immense space with no walls, ceiling or floor within sight. Only natural-looking vertical columns spaced 50 to 100 feet apart, with thousands of webs running between them as far as they could see.

Working these webs at various levels were driders, along with thousands of large and giant spiders of various types. Trapped within the webs were the bodies of people. Most dead, but some possibly still alive. At the nearest column was a half-orc whose head was still moving, and appeared to be talking to someone, and spoke the name "Pontus." Sarril and Dalron knew that name, and decided they needed to rescue this half-orc to see what was going on.

As they considered what to do, the driders began hurling fireballs at the party, but Sarril's Minor Globe was still up and the party was bunched together close enough that it protected most of them except Sir Fenius, whose Holy Sword granted him magic resistance. The driders then started shooting bows with poisoned arrows at the party as five sword spiders approached and attacked.

Dalron pulled out the Lolth Idol and used it to command all of the giant spiders to attack the sword spiders. Although the giant spiders were no match, it did keep them occupied long enough for Sarril to cast Wall of Force as a bridge to the column where the half-orc was tied up. When they arrived, they saw the other figure the half-orc was talking to. It was Pontus of the Cold Crow, the party's former companion. His body was physically present and he was very much sentient, but Sarril knew that he wasn't really alive. For some reason, when Pontus died, he was not reborn in the Hall of the Valiant in Ysgard, but here in Lolth's layer of the Abyss. That should not have happened according to Sarril's religious understanding, but however it happened, he was living his afterlife in the Abyss, and permanently if they can't find a way to get him out of here.
Prince Kohvo Koravel

And so the party cut both the half-orc, who introduced himself as Prince Kohvo Koravel (which must be a joke), and Pontus free. As they did so, the driders continued to shoot at them. One arrow managed to pierce Sir Fenius' armor and he succumbed to the poison, falling fast asleep. Tyril picked him up and the party ran back for the entrance, only to see that there was a blade barrier in the way.

Thus ended our session. It is biologically First Day of Sunsebb, CY 580, though, here in the Abyss, no one can be sure what calendar day it is.