Nov 24, 2019

28th Day of Ready'reat, CY 580 - Continuing the Battle in Lolth's Temple

With seven player characters and over 20 high-level enemies on the board, this was the most complicated battle I have ever had to run as a DM. The last session was chaotic and slow as I flipped through books to look at NPCs, we lost track of initiative more than once, and it was hard to remember who had what spell effects on them. Some people were going on the wrong initiative, took too many attacks per round, or not enough attacks. I spent the intervening two weeks putting together a spreadsheet with all of the relevant information that we could step through in initiative order. I shared the spreadsheet on a screen for everyone to see, which means the players could see the effects and hit points of the enemies, but the sanity was well worth it. I also invested in purchasing digital, searchable scans of the Priest Spell Compendium and Wizard Spell Compendiums (thanks DM's Guild https://www.dmsguild.com/) so I can quickly search for spell descriptions as-needed because despite playing for decades, I have never memorized what any of the spells do.

Despite all of this, the remainder of the battle still took four hours. I couldn't begin to describe the details here, but I can summarize some highlights.

 - The hasted Glabrezu cast Reverse Gravity, which didn't affect the drow who could levitate, but everyone else "fell" 50 ft. to the ceiling, taking some considerable damage. The demon was killed shortly thereafter, ending the Reverse Gravity spell, and causing everyone to take damage again from falling back to the floor.

 - The paladin, Sir Fenius Agrivar (Fen), was the star of the show. With his Holy Avenger, combined with Gauntlets of Ogre Power, he was doing +22 damage per hit to all of the chaotic evil beings in the room (which was all of the enemies). The drow tried everything they could to take him out of the fight, but the 50% magic resistance bestowed by his sword, combined with bonuses to saves and the ability to dispel magic, he shrugged off just about everything thrown at him.

 - At one point, the High Priestess cast Lolth's version of Sticks to Snakes, which creates giant spiders. She filled the battlefield with 16 giant spiders to keep the party occupied while she cast more spells. Sebastian responded by pulling out his Pipes of the Sewer and summoning 90 giant rats, which engaged the spiders to a standstill, effectively taking them off the board.

 - Another dozen or so drow, all high-level, came down from the upper levels to join the fight. Two captains were using Death Lances, which can drain levels on a failed save. Dalron lost three levels and was rendered unconscious.

 - Fen dispelled the Blade Barrier around the High Priestess, then killed her, thus getting rid of the spiders. Shortly thereafter, one of the clerics coming down the stairs cast Silence 15 ft. Radius on Sebastian, silencing his pipes and causing the rats to disperse.

 - Sarril cast a large Wall of Stone over the stairwell, causing a massive amount of stone to crash down and get rid of all of the new drow that were coming down. This allowed Fen to finish off the last couple of drow captains, avoiding level drains as he did so, and bringing the party to victory.

But this was not the end. Standing by the tapestry, behind the illusion of Lolth, was another drow. The most beautiful drow woman anyone has ever seen. Her dress was flowing in an eerie, irregular way, which the sharp-eyed PCs could see was because the dress was made of thousands of tiny, living spiders crawling around. There was no doubt now that this was Lolth herself.

As it turns out, Lolth had been summoned by the high priestess shortly before the party infiltrated the temple. That was why the altar on the lower level was covered in fresh blood. Lolth appeared in a room at the end of the webbed corridor, which the party decided to ignore. Had they gone immediately into that room, they could have fought Lolth first, while at full power, and easily defeated her. Once defeated, all of her drow followers would have been temporarily stripped of their power, including magic-resistance, and the party would have been able to easily defeat everyone in the temple. But they, unknowingly, took the hard way, and now have to face Lolth after being severely weakened by their previous fight.
Lolth held out a platinum egg that looked exactly like the one they already possessed. She addressed
the party "I know why you are here. The egg you have is a fake, planted by me personally. This is the real one, and if you want it, you must prove your worth by defeating me." She then transformed into the spider-demon depicted in the images everyone has now seen.

As Lolth was speaking, the party was desperately quaffing healing potions. Fen decided to commune with his holy sword, asking it to grant him the power needed to defeat this goddess of evil. The sword answered, giving him the power to cast a full Heal on himself. The battle started with Lolth jumping up to the ceiling and casting Slay Living on Fen, who made his saving throw but took serious damage nonetheless. She was actually waiting for the party to get close enough together that she could dispel the effects on them, like Haste, but the party was smart enough not to clump together. Dalron headed south to collect daggers from dead drow while Sarril cast Fly on Fen and Tyril who flew up and engaged her in melee.

Lolth responded with a Mirror Image of her own to slow down the dagger attacks against her and cast a Cone of Cold, catching both Fen and Tyril. Being a high-level caster, she was able to penetrate Fen's magic resistance and he subsequently failed his save, taking a lot of damage. Her next move was to put up an anti-magic shell, enveloping herself, Fen and Tyril. With nothing to anchor themselves to the ceiling, Fen and Tyril fell to the floor, with Fen taking enough damage to reach negative hit points (though, as a paladin, he was still able to fight).

Lolth could have stayed in her anti-magic shell indefinitely. Since she requires magic weapons to take damage, and all weapons entering the shell become non-magical, she was effectively immune. But this limited her ability to do damage as well, and she wasn't going to allow them the privilege of entering her realm without fully testing them. She dropped the anti-magic shell and cast a full Heal on herself to wipe out the damage done so far (which was significant due to the extra damage from the paladin's holy sword). She then cast Feeblemind on Sarril, who, due to an amazingly lucky saving throw, was able to resist. And that is how we can describe the rest of the fight. Lolth throwing multiple offensive spells per round and each party member making their saving throws while slowly whittling down her hit points. Sarril read Bigby's Clenched Fist from a scroll and, even though it failed to penetrate her magic resistance on most rounds, it did connect a few times. Altogether, it was enough, and Lolth's avatar was soon defeated.

The truth is, Lolth could have chosen to gate in demons every round, or even teleport away, buff herself, and come back stronger, all of which would have made the fight much more difficult. But that was not the goal. This was a test. Lolth was sizing up her enemy so she can prepare to fight them in her own realm. She accomplished her goal.

Once her avatar was destroyed, the egg fell to the ground, where Shan-Ju, who had been climbing a nearby wall, leaped at the egg and caught it. The party decided they needed to act quickly before more drow showed up, but they were unsure which egg was the correct one to use. Sarril cast Identify on the original egg and got no useful information, so he placed it in the impression to try. The temple began to rumble, there was a flash of light, and then a Nalfeshnee (Type IV) demon appeared and attacked the party. The demon was able to damage several of the party members with an area of effect spell, but the party responded to bring the demon down pretty quickly.

Figuring it must have been the wrong egg, Sarril swapped the eggs and the tapestry before them came to life, opening a portal into a foggy scene beyond. Not having time to search the bodies, but figuring the high-level drow in the immediate vicinity must have good loot, the party tossed the dead bodies through the portal before jumping in themselves.

They now found themselves in a strange fog-filled tunnel. The portal behind them was now gone. Light penetrated the fog 60 ft. ahead, revealing a wall of fog 10 ft. to either side and 50 ft. above them. The floor seemed to be made of the same gray fog. This must be the Abyss.

It is evening of the 28th Day of Ready'reat, CY 580 - at least on the Prime Material Plane it was.


Nov 10, 2019

28th Day of Ready'reat, CY 580 - Infiltrating the Fane of Lolth

After spending the rest of the day in the market at Erelhei-Cinlu, the party made their way back to the inn to have dinner. Underneath Sarril's plate was a note instructing the party to meet with two wizards of the black tower at a specified location in the city. The party decided not to wait and to go directly there.

Inside seemingly abandoned building they met with two wizards who explained that the party was to pass through the Noble Gate of the city and go to the manor of House Eilserv. No non-drow are allowed through the gate and even then, only those who are members of the royal house or on official business may pass. Disguises and illusions will not work, so the only option is to polymorph each party member into a drow - which, of course, comes with risk of death or of losing one's identity. The party agreed to the terms and the two wizards polymorphed everyone, one at a time. Each PC made their system shock roll and intelligence check to remain alive and retain their self identity. The party was given a platinum token with the symbol of House Eilserv on it, which would get them through the gate and up to the manor house. The party, now each a drow, headed there immediately.

The party made their way to the manor house and showed their token and were invited inside and offered some fine drow wine while they waited. Eventually, Viconia came out to speak with the party. She was not interested in a long drawn out conversation. She made stated that she would provide the party with a means to access the Fane of Lolth through a secret passage underneath the temple. If the party would go tonight, there will be minimal guards to deal with. She provided simple instructions on how to get to the upper level where they can use the egg to open up a portal to Lolth's lair in the Abyss.

Sebastian asked what Eilserv would do in return for the risk the party is undertaking and she laughed, saying merely that they would allow the party to live to accomplish their mission. "Is there not a large black bubble on your surface world spewing out demons?" She asked.

"Fair enough" replied Sebastian, who then went on to ask about the Elder Elemental God that House Eilserv seems to worship. Viconia offered to introduce the party to her god if they would like. They declined and went on their way.

The path to the secret entrance required taking a special boat docked beside the Pitchy Flow, an underground canyon and river that leads to the Sunless Sea. The Pitchy Flow consisted of fast moving rapids that would not be navigable by normal means, but the boats provided were magic boats. Stepping inside the boat, the party invoked the name of Lolth, which caused a Hezrou demon statue to come to life and call forth a crew of ghouls to operate the boat and take them down river, stopping at a cave entrance which was their destination.

Just as Viconia said, the cave led to a long tunnel that eventually came to a narrow flight of stairs up to a secret door. The secret door was easily opened from this side and the party found themselves in a large room with a sacrificial altar in an alcove to the south. The altar had recently been used, as there was fresh blood all over the altar and floor.

To the west was a web filled passage which the party chose to avoid, choosing instead to go north where they found a staircase going up. Dammac used his Ring of Invisibility to invisibly and silently sneak up the stairs and scout. The stairs were covered in spider webs, making it difficult, but not impossible, to push through. About halfway up, he was attacked by a giant black widow spider. The spider wasn't much of a match for Dammac, but it did manage to wound him before he killed it and he was no longer invisible.

Dammac returned down the stairs and explained what happened. Sebastian decided the two of them should sneak up the stairs together and scout things out. At the top of the stairs they could see a large hallway going left and right. To the right, the hall opened into a large diamond shaped room with an amber pool in the middle. Floating above this amber pool was a large black spider with a female drow head. Listening checks revealed that there were others in the room, though they could not see them from where they were. They headed back down and reported what they saw to the rest of the party.

Believing the spider may be Lolth herself, the party decided to rush up the stairs and face whatever was in front of them, without casting protective and enhancing magic first. As soon as they entered the main temple area on the first floor, a drow woman stepped forward from behind the illusory image of the Spider Queen. This woman was finely dressed and wearing the broach of House Noquar. She also held aloft the golden idol of Lolth that Sebastian had previously traded to her house. As she spoke, two driders came to join her from side hallways, and the back hallway behind the party began to fill up with drow soldiers. Another drow priestess, wearing a broach with a golden spider on it, and a drow male wizard could also be seen.

The woman directly in front of them spoke "Did you think we did not know what the traitorous House Eilserv was up to? We will deal with them soon enough. But as for you, thank you for returning the egg to us."

"Oh, we will be holding on to this egg" replied Sebastian as the fight broke out.

The very first thing that happened was Dalron focused all of his effort on the drow wizard. Any other wizard would have been dead from the amount of damage put out, but drow wizards typically have fighter levels, and this one had more hit points than the average wizard. He was nearly dead, but not quite. Sarril cast Haste from his ring (at-will) and placed a Wall of Force to block off the southern hallway, allowing the rest of the party to focus their effort on the two drow priestesses. Fen rushed up on the High Priestess of Lolth and did a significant amount of damage to her before she cast a Lolth priest version of Repulsion to push him back. Still, that consumed her spellcasting for the round, which made a huge difference.

The matron of House Noquar cast Hold Person on four of the party members. Only Shan-Ju failed his save, and was now held in place. Tyril was able to then rush up on the matron and begin savagely attacking her, rolling three 18s in a row and nearly killing her in the first round. The wizard, seeing that he would not survive another round, cast Haste on the priestesses and driders before, at the top of the next round, Dalron finished him off. Dalron then turned his attention to one of the driders while the other attacked Tyril.

In the southern hallway, the female leader of the drow guards dispelled the Wall of Force, allowing the guards to flood the back row. Sarril responded by summoning a hydra while Sebastian summoned a Fire Elemental. That kept the drow guards busy and bought the party more time to keep their focus on the priestesses. The matron, now nearly dead, tapped her demonic staff on the ground and transformed into a Glabrezu demon, healing herself as she did so. Tyril was now facing melee with a hasted Glabrezu and hasted Drider, which began tearing into him hard.

Sarril cast Dispel Magic and successfully dispelled the Repulsion on Fen, who, now hasted, was able to rush back up on the high priestess and do some more damage to her. She responded by casting Blade Barrier, which forced him to back away (for now).

DM's Note: I'm missing a lot of details as this was a chaotic battle that went for three rounds. At some point, the high priestess attempted to cast Slay Living on Fen, but failed, and Sarril was able to get out a lightning bolt. Other attacks back and forth were made and some of the drow guards were killed, as was the hydra. At the end round three, two drow guards are dead, the summoned hydra is dead and the drow wizard is dead (or dying). None of the party are yet dead, but a few are close. The battle took so long that we ran out of time, so this is where we leave off.

It is the middle of "night" (whatever that means in the underdark) on the last day of Ready'reat, CY 580. The party noticed that there is at least one more drow hanging out behind a tapestry and a few more driders coming up the side hallways. There are also temple guards outside that could rush in at any moment. This is not going to be easy.

Oct 27, 2019

20th day of Ready'reat, CY 580 - A drow vampire? Really?

Yes, it was a vampire. Specifically his name was Belgos, not that he introduced himself. He wasn't happy that the party just sent his lover back to the Abyss. Belgos swiped twice at Shan-Ju, who was invisible to him at the moment, with clawed fingers. Both attacks missed. Belgos tried and failed to charm Fen, the paladin, but failed. Now it was the party's turn, and the melee fighters did over 60 hit points of damage in a single round - despite that fact that hundreds of bats were swarming around Belgos to give him additional defensive cover. He soon went gaseous, and disappeared under a nearby boulder.

The party decided to go after him, and managed to push the boulder out the way, revealing a circular staircase going down. At the bottom of the stairs was a plush bedroom with lots of fine treasure, but no sign of a coffin. The party began searching for secret doors and eventually found what they were looking for, and opened a passage into what looked like an ancient crypt.

Coming up to a T intersection, there was a room down the right hallway with an eerie green light emanating from it. That must be what they were looking for. But as the party turned to go down the hallways, twelve wights rushed at them from the hall to the left. For any other party, this would have been frightening. But for the badass motherfuckers, it was a lightning bolt followed by a couple of sword swings and it was all over.

Moving into the room with the green glow, there was a coffin in the middle of the room and spider webs all over. Before the party could approach the coffin, a giant black widow dropped down from the ceiling, surprising everyone. The spider could not connect its fangs through the superior armor classes of any of the PCs, and they soon hacked the spider up into bits. But the spider wasn't the real threat. It was primarily acting as an alarm for Belgos, who was now fully regenerated within his coffin. The lid sprang open and Belgos leaped out. The party pivoted and responded with nearly 100 points of damage to the vampire lord before he even had a turn. He turned gaseous and reformed in his coffin and Dalron immediately staked him through the heart, cut off his head and shoved garlic in the stump. The party then burned the corpse. It was possible that some of the steps were unnecessary, but it gave everyone great pleasure.

Within Belgos' chambers the party came across a golden idol of a spider with a woman's torso attached. This was most definitely Lolth. Sebastian picked up the idol and instantly gained several powerful abilities. . . though likely at a price. He placed the idol in a bag and the party went about their way. Searching the rest of the place they found some treasure, some interesting goggles with pink lenses, and a basin full of what they identified as Oil of Etherealness. The latter had been used recently, and Sebastian put it on himself and walked through a wall to another part of the crypt. This part eventually led to another exit elsewhere in the underdark. It seemed like someone else may have been here with Belgos and escaped before the party made it down.

Among Belgos' clothes were some fine drow clothes, which the party took, and a Cloak of Protection that Sarril thought looked odd. Sebastian figured it might be another Cloak of Poisonous, and understood that the only way to know for sure would be to put it on, and so he did. And promptly died. Sarril removed the curse and the poison and cast Raise Dead on him. Down another con point, but just a little bit wiser, Sebastian relayed a harrowing tale.

While dead, Sebastian was unable to move on to his proper afterlife. Instead, he found himself among a sea of lost souls in an empty waste, marching toward a figure upon a rock. Vecna. Sebastian was certain of it. He knew the legends, what little there were, mostly about the eye and hand, but this skeletal creature was most certainly missing an eye and a hand. The fiendish being looked at Sebastian with his one glowing eye and spoke through his mind "you escaped me once before, but now you have returned. I am inevitable." That's all that he saw before being snapped back to life.

It turns out that this bedroom was the perfect place to rest, and so the party spent the night, safely and comfortably. The next day they headed out toward the drow outpost, another three day journey, but this time unobstructed.

The party was interested in getting through the outpost quickly and safely, and let Sebastian talk his way through, saying they wished to trade in Erelhei-Cinlu. The drow agreed to let them pass through, and so they did. On the way through they passed multiple slave pens with dwarves, svirfneblin and human slaves which were being sold to the Kuo-Toa. Sir Fenius, being a Paladin of St. Cuthbert, was appalled, but kept his cool, knowing that they had to get through to accomplish their mission, but there was no way he would not be coming back to rescue these prisoners. After moving through the outpost, it was three more days to Erelhei Cinlu and the party arrived on the morning of 28th Day of Ready'reat.

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The party emerged into an enormous cavern known as the Vault of the Drow. The cavern itself is thousands of feet high at the center and several miles across, all lit by a soft green glow. Underground rivers and fungi forests gave the place an alien outdoor feel. Donning the pink goggles, everything came alive with color - reds, oranges, yellows and greens. It was a sight to behold. Ahead of them loomed a large black tower on a mesa. A paved road led left and right in front of the tower. Sarril's familiar scouted overhead and could see the road to the right led to the city gates, and so that's where they went.

Approaching the gates of the city, they were halted by the guards there, who stated that outsiders are not allowed within the city without the express permission of one of the twelve great houses. Sebastian explained that they were merchants who wished to trade within the city. The guards explained they would need a merchant medallion. Sebastian asked what house the guard represented and he responded "Noquar." Sebastian then asked who within house Noquar he could talk to, and flashed some of the party treasure at him. This piqued his interest, and he directed the Sebastian to speak with Raerna of House Noquar a the envoy compound outside of the city and gave directions, so that's where the party went next.

While meeting with Raerna, Sebastian cut immediately to the chase. Without further negotiation, he presented the Golden Lolth idol, which turns out to be a lost artifact of great power and importance to the drow. He offered it as a gift in exchange for a merchant medallion. Of course the deal was accepted and the party was given permission to trade within the city as representatives of House Noquar - with 10% of all proceeds to the house, of course. Sebastian was all too happy to be rid of the artifact, as he began to notice strange black hairs growing on his neck. Evil artifacts always have a way of changing people, Sebastian knew.

Inside the city, the party was directed to the foreign quarter where non-drow are allowed to stay. They found an inn run by a duergar and purchased rooms for the week. Their instructions were to enter the city and then get word to Eclavdra's agent in the slave pens that they were in the city. So after settling in, they went to the slave pens (without the paladin, who was already struggling hard to avoid killing everything in sight) and gave a message to the drow they believed was the right contact. "We are from the surface and we are here to trade with House Eilserv" followed by where they are staying and where they will be setting up shop in the merchant quarter. The drow did not respond, but Sebastian walked away, confident that the message had been delivered. Now there was nothing to do but sit and wait.

The party did set up shop in the merchant quarter, trying to sell their wares. Business was not great the first day, as most of what they had to sell was jewelry collected from various dungeon exploits, and jewelry is a matter of taste. But Shan-Ju managed to find a mind-flayer merchant selling the most exotic, high-end magical equipment the party had ever seen (thanks to some excellent rolls of the dice). We are talking about magic items that cost 100,000 gp or more (+5 weapons and unique named magic items). It just so happens that the party has been accumulating a lot of wealth in the portal hole for many years, and this looked like a great time to spend some money. Most particularly, the party had an item, the Book of Vile Darkness, which would be hard to sell on the surface, but a more perfect market could not be found than here. The mind-flayer recognized its value to the drow and offered a full-value trade for two magic items. A Holy Sword for the paladin and some special Bracers of Defense for Shan-Ju which appeared to be an artifact from his ancient order and, if he can figure out how to use them, would provide additional benefits.

This is where we left off. The party is still talking to the mind-flayer and intent on making additional purchases while they wait for Eclavdra to contact them. It is the 28th Day of Ready'reat, CY 580.