Sep 18, 2016

What Really Happened Outside the Tower That Night

The terrible secret that would be kept from the rest of the players for the next several months, was as follows.

There was no "thief" who snuck into the tower and stole the mirror and crystal ball. The very thing that drove the characters on a chase into the Temple of Elemental Evil was a lie, perpetuated by Athan. It seems that Athan's curiosity always has a way of getting the better of him. In this case, during his watch overnight, he decided that he wanted to experiment with the Golden Skull and the Crystal Ball to find out what they were and how to use them. Being a supra-genius, he was certain he could handle these items without risk to himself or the party. But what Athan and Sarril didn't know (and didn't have the means to find out), is that the crystal ball was actually a Crystal Hypnosis Ball, and it was attuned to the powerful demoness, Zuggtmoy, goddess of fungi, who was trapped and bound within the temple. This magic item is one of the few methods of communication she has to reach the outside world, and she was intent on using it to its fullest.

According to the Dungeon Master's Guide:

Crystal Hypnosis Ball: This cursed item type is indistinguishable from a normal crystal ball, and it radiates magic, but not evil, if detected for. Any magic-user attempting to use it will become hypnotized, and a telepathic suggestion will be implanted in his or her mind. The user of the device will believe that the desired object was viewed, but actually he or she became partially under the influence of a powerful magic-user, lich, or even some power/being from another plane. Each further use will bring the crystal ball gazer more under the influence of the creature, either as a servant, tool, or possession object.

This was not good for the unfortunate Athan, who immediately became a thrall of Zuggtmoy. To make matters worse, he did not even attempt to resist her when he discovered who she was. He was curious, and thought that by continued engagement with her, he could find out useful information to help the party. And so, every night, starting around the 18th Day of Planting and continuing to the 24th, Athan used his time on watch to sneak outside and communicate with his mistress. By the second or third time, when he began to realize this probably wasn't a good idea, he was so completely enthralled by her suggestions that he could not refuse her requests.

The thing about suggestion spells is that intelligent beings are generally aware they are under the spell, and can find ways around the suggestions - loopholes in wording of the orders they are given. But a powerful being with the intelligence of a goddess also knows this, and Athan spent enough time with her that she was able to make her suggestions air-tight. The most sinister of all being that he was not allowed to let anyone become aware, through any means of communication whatsoever, that he used the crystal, spoke to Zuggtmoy, knows who she is, or is under her spell. Layers upon layers of suggestions were placed so deep that even Athan's supra-genius brain could not unravel them. Then, only after her control over him was absolute, did she begin to make her real demands, which were:

1. To get rid of the crystal ball and the Mirror of Mental Prowess so that the party cannot get them. Athan fulfilled this request by burying both items on the temple grounds, then intentionally creating tracks down the trapdoor up to the secret temple entrance. Knowing there was a ranger in the party that could track, this would lead the party into the temple and closer to achieving the goal #4 below.

2. To collect some special spores, which Zuggtmoy's limited powers were able to create on the grounds, and place them at the entrance to the tower. These spores grew into Black Pudding, which prevented the party from leaving, driving them back into the temple.

3. Athan is never to allow the skull to leave the temple

4. Athan must encourage the party to kill Hedrack before

5. Taking the throne from the ground level of the temple to the secret room on the third level where Zuggtmoy resides, and turn the skull over to her

Over the next several sessions, Athan executed the will of Zuggtmoy faithfully, despite the internal conflict it created. And thus the story of Athan would become a tragedy. . .

24th Day of Planting, CY 579

It was approximately 4:00 am in morning and Athan was on watch when he woke up the party to inform them that he was outside making his rounds when he heard a noise and came back in to find the trap door open and the mirror missing. The party immediately sprang into action, with Gareth using his tracking ability to find out where the thieves came from and where they went, while the rest of the group secured the remainder of their belongings into the locked chests. While securing items, they also discovered the crystal ball was missing, but nothing else.

Despite rolling really well on his tracking check, Gareth had a hard time differentiating the thieves tracks from the parties tracks. It appears the thief was an elf, based on the size and type of soft boots worn, weight and (because he rolled so well) the pattern of his walk. But since Athan, also an elf, was on watch at the same time, the tracks were all mixed together. It did appear that a set of fresh tracks came out of the trap door and another set went into the trap door, suggesting that’s where the thief came from and went back to. The party was able to track up to a secret door in the hallway outside Falrinth’s room, just past where they had fought the illusory Basilisk.

The party went through the secret door and followed a tunnel several hundred feet to a ladder with a trap door above. The party went through the door to come to a dusty, trash filled room full of old cobwebs. A broom in the corner appears to have been used to cover the secret door as well as any tracks. Gareth was unable to track anything successfully after this point, but the party went forward in the hopes of running into a sign of the thief somewhere. Exploration of this dungeon level quickly revealed that they were on Level 3 of the Temple of Elemental Evil, as verified by a map they took from Falrinth’s quarters. The party went north through a door and came to a triangular room with four doors and stairs going up.

This was known as the “Chamber of Eyes” by the depictions of the symbol of the burning eye of fire (as seen previously on Lareth’s robes and others) and paintings of eyes, human, humanoid, and monstrous, all over the walls. Luapan was able to inform the party that the eye of fire (depicted either as a yellow flaming eye, or as a triangle with a Y inside it) are holy symbols associated with a mythological Elder Elemental God.      

The party began searching rooms, and in the first room came across two bugbear leaders who were easily dispatched. In the next room they found 6 bugbears, also easily dispatched (everyone except Delvin has a really good AC at this point, and are subsequently very hard to hit by monsters of less than 10 hit dice).

The fight with the second set of bugbears generated enough noise to draw the attention of Scorpp, the Hill Giant in charge of these bugbears. Scorpp came out of his room with his pet warg, and carrying two large boulders ready to smash someone with, but otherwise seemed willing to talk. Athan engaged in conversation with Scorpp for a while, and was able to say a few things that tricked the giant (who was smarter than the usual Hill Giant, but not by much) into thinking he served the “Temple Mistress.” Through this deception, he was able to gain some valuable information, primarily that the levels above are the “lower temples” and the level below is the “Greater Temple” run by someone by the name of Hedrack, whom Scorpp seems to detest. Although Scorpp seemed very trusting of Athan while speaking to him, he was very leery of Pontus, Gareth and Luapan (Delvin and Sarril were invisible at the time). This eventually resulted in a breakdown of communication and a fight ensued, with Scorpp summoning four ogres from a nearby room to join the fray.

It was a difficult fight, but the party eventually prevailed, albeit extremely wounded and completely exhausted of spells. Because of this, the party made the difficult decision to break-off pursuit of the thief and return to the tower to recuperate. Before returning, Pontus and Gareth dragged the bodies around to make it look like the giant, bugbears and ogres had fought each other. The party also stripped the bodies of their loot, searched each of the rooms and took what few magic items they found, and removed the black cloaks with the Elder Elemental God symbols on them from the bugbears. Sarril identified a potion recovered from Scorpp’s room as a Potion of Red Dragon Control. The party then returned to the tower, using the broom in the trapdoor room to cover their tracks.

Upon returning to the tower, they found the front entrance to be covered in a thick black ooze, which Sarril was able to identify as Black Pudding. This particularly vicious substance is the worst of all of the jellies and oozes one can find. Only fire can affect it, and being a 10 hit dice monster, it takes a LOT of fire to get rid of it all. There was enough of the substance covering the entire entryway to make the party believe this was likely more than one such creature, all running together into one massive blob. The party quickly hatched a plan to ignite several bonfires to contain and destroy it, using Delvin’s “Affect Normal Fires” spell to accomplish this. The plan was successful in containing, but not completely destroying, all of the pudding as the fires had to be put out before causing the tower’s wooden support beams to collapse. The party then decided that the tower location has been compromised, and decided to move their headquarters to Falrinth’s chambers below, wherein Sarril was able to place a Wizard Lock on chamber doors to add further protection. While the rest of the party was resting, healing and recovering spells, Pontus decided to go back upstairs and collect some of the Black Pudding in a glass vial, figuring it may come into later use. The rest of the party warned him about how dangerous it would be to have a glass vial of such a corrosive substance carried on his person, but Pontus was confident that it is worth the risk to have something so useful.

It actually did prove useful the next day when the party explored a secret door they had found in the bugbear room that lead to a cell containing a troll and a very large iron key hanging from a massive iron chain affixed to a block of stone. Presumably because the party was wearing the temple robes, the troll did not attack, but did demand to be fed. The party fed the troll with the bodies of some of the bugbears while Pontus used a drop of the pudding to dissolve the chain holding the key. The party then discovered there were four of these troll/key rooms and repeated this process four times, coming into the possession of four large iron keys while simultaneously getting rid of all of the dead bodies from two days before.

At this point, the party decided to backtrack and head south from the original passage where they had entered the dungeon. This led to an interesting room full of statues of various monsters in a circle. Each statue seemed to be guarding a magic item of some type. Also in this room, providing an eerie light source, were four Wil-O-Wisps, which attacked the party once Athan begin investigating the magic items. With an AC of -8 and near complete magic immunity, the wisps proved to be too much for the party to fight. The good news is that they move very slow, so the party was able to run away into an adjoining room where the wisps did not follow.

This room was a virtual forest of fungus, with glowing mushrooms of all kinds. The voice of a woman called out to the party to be still, as some of the fungi in this room are incredibly toxic and will cause insanity. A beautiful woman glad in armor and carrying a short sword began winding her way in a pattern through the fungal forest toward the party. She attempted, and failed, to charm Pontus as she called out to Delvin to help her check the rest of the party for signs of infection. She then attacked Gareth. It was a quick and easy fight and as soon as the party defeated the warrior, the illusion she had placed on herself dropped, and they discovered she was actually a Lamia – a type of magical beast that has a woman’s torso, with the body of a horse and hind legs of a lion. Thanks to Gareth’s superior armor class, he was able to avoid her touch attack, which would have permanently drained him of his wisdom.

As we had already run an hour over our planned session time, we had to end it here, mid-dungeon. It is the morning of the 26th Day of Planting.

Sep 10, 2016

18th Day of Planting, CY 579

The Temple of Elemental Evil
The party headed out in the morning in the direction of the Temple of Elemental Evil. Using his barbarian survival skills, Pontus skinned one of the giant ravens and made it into a cloak that he felt would make for a good disguise. The rest of party told him to walk downwind from them.

As they got closer, the party could see that the vegetation was dead, the air was foul, and sky seemed to be permanently cloud-covered. Sunlight must not have penetrated this area in a very long time. As they approached the temple walls, they could see the eeries faces of gargoyles and demonic statues everywhere. Despite the lack of sunlight, shadows seemed to move against the walls, further adding to the creepy vibe. The group remembered what Otis said about the ravens roosting in the tower, and decided to go around the outside and approach from the rear so Athan can sneak up and determine if they were still there.

The party made their way around back and could see the tower from a distance. Athan approached carefully and climbed to the top. The upper levels of the tower were collapsed to rubble and some kind of illusion was in place to make everything look
Broken Tower
smaller. Athan was able to see that everything was clear and make his way down to look around the front. On his way down, he looked through the window slits and noticed that there were people inside. They had covered the openings with black cloth to make it look dark inside, but Athan's infravision was able to penetrate. He went back and warned the party, and they made a plan to storm the front door, denying the occupants an opportunity for surprise.

The soldiers inside had setup a line of footmen with shields to block the entryway, while men with bows and crossbows, as well as a spellcaster, worked from further inside the tower. It would have been a TPK (Total Party Kill) if Athan wasn't ready with his sleep spell to drop all of the footmen, while Pontus lept over the now sleeping phalanx to cut down the magic user, and Gareth worked on the remaining melee fighters. Sarril jumped in with some spellcasting of his own and soon the bowmen were brought down as well. The soldier who appeared to be the leader had tried to spring a trap over the front entryway, but didn't get to it before everyone was clear. Recognizing he was in a losing situation, he tried to escape into one of the tower rooms, but Sarril cast Hold Person to stop him in his tracks. The party tried briefly to question the leader, but when he proved uncooperative, they killed him for good measure.

The party realized two things. First, that this tower is fairly secure, with two rooms, food, water and other supplies, as well as comfortable beds, so they could stay here for some time, and second, that dead bodies on the grounds of an evil temple are never a good idea. So, turning the dining room tables into a makeshift sled, Pontus, Luapan and Gareth went about gathering the bodies and hauling them miles away to be buried. This took them well into the evening. While they did this, Athan and Sarril explored the temple grounds, including the front door, to make sure it was still sealed. As Athan approached the front door, he felt a strong sense of aversion. He couldn't bear to look at the door, or even to be near it, and ran back to the tower for safety. Sarril was able to overcome the aversion and inspect what there. The door appeared to be solid and all of the magical runes were intact. If anyone was still inside the temple, they weren't coming in or out this way.

After re-securing the tower and spending the night, the next morning the party searched the rooms of the tower thoroughly, finding several blank pieces of parchment, as well as some minor treasure and items of interest. They also found a secret trapdoor that led to a tunnel below. At the bottom of the ladder leading down to the tunnel was a bag on a hook with some rations, potions and a money - an escape package for the leader of the tower which he never managed to get to. The party decided to explore and see how far the tunnel went. It seemed to go on for a long time, but eventually branched northward up a slope. Athan found a secret door leading south, however, and the party decided to follow that route, where they eventually entered a room where oil in a tract along the ceiling suddenly lit into flame - clearly an alert to the party's presence. Just beyond, the party ran into a basilisk. Though the basilisk turned out to be illusory, it held the party's attention long enough for an assassin in an adjoining room to sneak out and attempt to assassinate Pontus. Perhaps due to his unique back protection, or just a bad roll of the dice, the assassination attempt failed, and the assassin was exposed, leading the party to turn on her. While engaged with the assassin, a magic user came out of the opposite adjoining room and began to attack the party with spells. Sarril tried to silence the magic user, but the spell could not penetrate the Minor Globe of Invulnerability he had up. This magic user was clearly pretty advanced, and he responded by casting Hold Person. Everyone targeted made their save, except Luapan and Gareth, who were now effectively taken out of the fight. The rest of party turned on the mage and pressed an attack. He defensively cast Mirror Image on himself to buy time enough to cast more devastating offense spells. As Sarril pressed into him, the mage unleashed lightning bolt, which Sarril was able to avoid most of, but the damage was still very severe. As Pontus and Athan popped the remaining mirror images.

The mage's familiar, a quasit, joined the fight when things got desperate, and the party managed to kill it, severely crippling the mage, which Sarril finished off using a Staff of the Serpent he had picked up from one of the clerics they had killed previously. After killing the mage, the party was free to search all of the rooms, and found quite the store of wondrous magic items and supplies. Though they set off a trap, ruining some of the find, the best stuff was still intact behind another secret door. The mage, whose name they discovered was Falrinth, had a full laboratory / library full of spell components, scrolls, books, and the like. But the most exciting discoveries are what turned out to be a Mirror of Mental Prowess, an artifact of Boccob that Sarril treasured greatly, a Crystal Ball, and, inside an iron box, a Golden Skull that radiated the most extreme evil that Luapan could not bear to look at it. Athan quickly pocketed the skull for safe keeping while the party looted the rest of the room. The party then headed back up the tower to rest and heal, and spend the next few days identifying the items they had found, and reading through notes and ledgers to find clues about the operations of the temple.