Session 18b – Caves of Decay

Characters:

  • Shin (level 5), Tabaxi Fighter (Arcane Archer), Outlander; big-game hunter, has no patience for weakness; Shield Guardian Vorn in tow
  • Kalohan (level 4>>5), High Elf Wizard (Evoker), Inheritor; noble Elf, ill-suited for adventuring life
  • Leon (level 3>>4), Human Monk (Way of Shadow), Outlander; long dead hunter whose tribe worshipped Zotzilaha, has been reincarnated due to recent events
  • Anfi (level 3), Locathah Fighter (Eldritch Knight), Outlander; medicinal herbs collector, wants to see how is life above water; Muck Dweller companion in tow

Past the rock-cut portico and its adjacent rooms, a narrow passage led to damp and glittering caves (1). Water drips from above, and the stench… the awful stench! The PCs already know that, somewhere inside, lies the Sting of Decay, a spirit of corruption, whose very existence was aimed at  striking terror into the hearts of the unfaithfuls…

Let there be Light!

Let’s try to be discreet, they said, as they walked down a narrow slope, surrounded by shadows created by Leon. And then they spotted a dozen Dirges hanging from the large cave’s ceiling.

Kalohan: “Burning Hands!”

So much for discretion. This, of course, attracted the attention of the main denizens of the caves…

Troglodytes

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An ambush! The awful stench now overwhelming, from left and right horrible Troglodytes hurled javelins at them. At the same time, in the front, a fearsome Champion of Laogzed led a Subterranean Lizard by a leash.

Shin let fly of an explosive arrow at the 2 more dangerous foes, softening them up, while Kalohan put to sleep most of the javelin hurlers. Things got a little more tense when the Subterranean Lizard swallowed whole the poor Locathah but his companions could rescue him in time and kill the beast.

The Champion of Laogzed fled the scene but only, they soon discovered, to get backup and prepare another ambush… The PCs did see it coming though. Despite the presence of a Shaman, the Troglodytes were defeated and there were no survivors this time.

Shin and Kalohan had exhausted much of their magical ressources while Leon and Anfi were quite battered by now, so the PCs chose to retreat closer to the entrance and take a short rest before going further in the caves.

Slithering Disturbance

Unfortunately, just as they prepared to rest, two Gricks attacked them (2). Kalohan roasted one with a well-place lightning bolt from her wand. The other tried to flee but was hacked to pieces before it could.

Dead Dwarves

Two dead Albino Dwarves had been left there to rot. A disgusting layer of fungi covered their corpses. One still held a war club. Shin sent Vorn to seize the impressive weapon.

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Friendly Stalagmite

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“Don’t you want to be friends with me!”

Now back in the vast cavern where they had defeated the second wave of Troglodyte, the PCs saw that the corpses of their slain foes were now missing. There were traces of more creatures moving around but those had took measures to mislead tracking. As the PCs wondered what to do next, something whispered at them: a Roper! The dreadful creature asked them to approach…

“No way!” they said. Except overly curious Anfi.

“Come closer”, the Roper said… “I’ll tell you a secret… But first, bring me tasty, juicy meat!”

Anfi had the idea to bring back the dead Gricks and the Roper seemed quite  happy with the meal. It upheld its part of the bargain and told the PCs about the hidden lair.

Behind the Mud Door

More Troglodytes, ready to fend off the invaders. This time they had an Otyugh. Another shaman lobed spells from the back. Anfi almost died from the continuing damage of a Witch Bolt and Leon was severely wounded by the huge tentacled beast. Kalohan helped turned the tide with liberal use of her Lightning Bolt wand and Shin’s arrows were as deadly as ever. The fight was almost at an end when non-combatant Troglodytes approached and threw heavy bags at the feet of the PCs. From the bags soon poured out their gruesome content: a Rot Grubs Swarm! Grubs tried to bury into the flesh of Leon, to the dismay of his companions, but fortunately, Anfi’s muck dweller companion could dislodge them in time. (3)

The Sting of Decay

In the next cave, the PCs could see a grisly idol made of bones and decaying matter. The Troglodytes‘s Chieftain, a magic-user who had been invisible when they entered, cast a scorching ray at the adventurers. Meanwhile, the Sting of Decay (4) took control of the idol and hovered menacingly toward the PCs. Shin and Kalohan almost simultaneously sent an explosive arrow and a fireball, severely damaging the two monsters. Leon hurried to finish the troglodyte chieftain with a flurry of fists. The Sting of Decay healed itself by absorbing the bodies that littered the floor and then tried to overcome its foes with its deadly sting. It went on like that a few more rounds, Leon and Anfi almost died (again) but the combined efforts of the adventurers proved to be enough to win the day.

DM’s notes

  1. I used the nice map and (part of) the encounters from Forge of Fury‘s glitterhame level
  2. I rolled low on my hide check, again…
  3. Isaac’s idea, I approved gladly
  4. I reskinned Yestabrod (Out of the Abyss), with more hp basically
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Session 18a – Plateau of the Aarakocra

 

Characters:

  • Shin (level 5), Tabaxi Fighter (Arcane Archer), Outlander; big-game hunter, has no patience for weakness, Shield Guardian Vorn in tow
  • Kalohan (level 4), High Elf Wizard (Evoker), Inheritor; noble Elf, ill-suited for adventuring life
  • Leon (level 3), Human Monk (Way of Shadow), Outlander; long dead hunter whose tribe worshipped Zotzilaha, has been reincarnated due to recent events
  • Anfi (level 2>>3), Locathah Fighter (Eldritch Knight), Outlander; medicinal herbs collector, wants to see how is life above water, Muck Dweller companion in tow

Pursued by the Pick & Axe Dwarves, harassed by batiri Goblins, the PCs had not much choice (1) in going northward, toward the Mistcliffs mountains.

Valley of Mist

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The valley ahead was covered in mist. Was it natural? Kalohan inspected it with a Detect Magic and could see small shapes slowly coalescing. She did not wait any further and cast Burning Hands, evaporating the mist-shapes (2) into oblivion.

Rocky Promontory

Later in the day, the PCs could see  from their vantage point  a rocky promontory with some activity on it. Most impressive was the huge Quetzacoaltus perched on top. Lower, on a ridge, small figures (hard to see what kind of folks they were from the distance)  had gathered together for some purpose.

Kalohan and Shin did not agree as to approach the promontory or not and had somewhat of a heated argument about it. (3) Finally, it was decided that Kalohan would go see what was over there, alone, while the rest of the group waited for her. An arduous trek led her up to the ridge and she could now see that the place apparently served for commerce. Aarakocra (bird-folks) owned the place and the Quetzacoaltlus, loaded with leather bags, was their pack animal.

The leader, an energetic female Aarakocra, was also the lead trader. Also present at the moment were two Albino Dwarves (father and son), a Batiri Goblin and three Grungs.

Kalohan spoke with the Aarakocra trader (who spoke common fluently) and asked if there was perhaps a way to get out of this valley? Turned out that maybe they could help each other as the Aarakocra’s trading partners, the Albino Dwarves, were in need of help. There was a recent increase of attacks from lizardish humanoids at night, the Albino Dwarves could not root out their foes as the place where those laired was taboo for them (4). If Kalohan and her friends were able to clean out the threat (5), the Aarakocra, in exchange, could provide airlift transportation near their destination, Port Nyanzaru. They agreed!

Rock-Cut Portico

The two aforementionned Albino Dwarves, Poï Pà and Poï Pok, would serve as guide up to the creatures’ lair.

The entrance looked like this (6):

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There was a lot of footsteps around but no trace of the humanoids yet. There was Giant Wasps though! The PCs killed 3 of the oversized insects and got closer to the portico. In one of the open room, they could see a dead Giant Spider on its back. It started to twitch… Then its bulgy abdomen bursted open and an Insect (wasp) Swarm flew out of it (7)! Horror-struck Kalohan annihilated a big chunk of the swarm with a cathartic Burning Hands

DM’s notes

  1. They could also have tried to forced their way through but that would have been a big risk as they could not easily take to the river without dumping Vorn, the object of their mission in the first place…
  2. Mist mephits
  3. I did not want to sway their decision but to myself I was like “Noooooo! All my prep for naught!”
  4. In my homebrew Chult, albino dwarves don’t want anything to do with underground places
  5. The PCs did guess (easy) that the Sting of Decay, a jungle spirit they had vouched to destroy, was the cause of the increase of attacks in the sector
  6. The remnant of an older civilization
  7. real-world braconid wasps lay their eggs in their preys, I mean, how cool is that!

A note on Aarakocra

I’ve planned an important scene for my players with bird-folks Aaracokra but there’s not much going on with them in D&D 5e. There’s a mention that they hail from the plane of elemental air and being enemies with gargoyles (as elemental antagonists) but I don’t really care that much about extra-planar stuff. Aside from that… well, they’re basically just birds (live in nest, fly for hours without landing and so on), with nothing indicating that they’ve got, you know, human-like intelligence.

So here’s a few quick ideas to make them less bland:

Female Leadership

You know these intricate rituals that male birds (from many species) have to go through if they hope to seduce the oh so hard-to-get female? That makes me think that female Aarakocra ought to be the ones in charge…

Long-range traders

Forget about galleons and caravans, true, efficient long-range trade is made by air! Especially since the Aarakocras (in Chult) use the gigantic Quetzacoalts as aerial pack animals!

Rocky promontory tradepost

Near the Mistcliff Mountains, the jungle folks gather under the protection of brightly-colored Aarakocra warriors. For many local traders, it’s the only place they can get their hands on merchandises from afar.

Cliffside City

Looks like that:

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Session 16 – Zotzilaha’s Chosen

Characters:

  • Shin (level 5), Tabaxi Fighter (Arcane Archer), Outlander; big-game hunter, has no patience for weakness
  • Kalohan (level 4), High Elf Wizard (Evoker), Inheritor; noble Elf, ill-suited for adventuring life
  • Leon (level 2>>3), Human Monk (Way of Shadow), Outlander; long dead hunter whose tribe worshipped Zotzilaha, has been reincarnated due to recent events
  • Vorn, Shield Guardian, found masterless by the party, beside a gaping hole in the ground

Now that my sister is fully hooked to D&D, the next logical step was to introduce my nephew to it. As he’s 11 yo, I didn’t want to overwhelm him with everything and tried to keep it simple on a gameplay and roleplay level. The way I found was to let him pick a mini (he picked the more sinister of the lot) and then I proposed him a character that suited (more or less) how it looked. Anyway, he did enjoy discovering new powers for his character. Job done!

The Way Back is Blocked

The PCs had learned previously that  the Dwarves from the Pick & Axe co were en route toward the Tamoachan site, probably to claim the riches that they had just unearthed.  They opted to evade them,  going North-East through the jungles, as the way to the river was now cut off (1).

Crazed Stegosaurus

Crashing through dense vegetation and charging the PCs, the herbivorous dinosaur was oddly aggressive. The mighty Vorn got himself in a titanic duel against the fearsome beast while Shin, Kalohan and Leon had to fend off sneaky Batiri archers (2).

A Feast of Maggots

A huge sauropod carcass blocked the way ahead. Monstrous maggots sprung forth from the cleaned bones, but not before Shin had sent an explosive arrow at the disgusting remains, sending grisly worm flesh everywhere.

Frilled Spitters

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The following night, Leon found a good spot to camp but still, two big frilled raptors (3) got too curious. Kalohan managed to put one asleep with a spell. The other attacked Vorn but its poison was useless against the construct and was thus overmatched.

Petrified Spider

Next day, the PCs could see an immobile, giant spider. Shin tried to speak with it (via his magic hat) but didn’t obtain any response. Upon closer inspection, they saw that the spider was turned into stone. Alerted to this fact, the PCs soon found the cause: cockatrices! Those were just eating berries in the vicinity, but the wary adventurers slew the deceptively dangerous chicken-like creatures.

Dwarves in the Night

Their sleep was again disturbed when vigilant Vorn woke them as the P & A Dwarves had somehow managed to catch up with them. Leon activated one of his shadow trick, a pass without trace, and the PCs left the Dwarves behind yet again.

Mounted Batiris

Shin and Leon were tired by the previous night’s ordeals but the group wanted to put some distance between them and the unrelenting Dwarves. Unfortunately, those weren’t the only ones to watch out for as patrolling batiris mounted on Axe beaks got upon them. Shin got to work with his bow while Kalohan shot deadly lightning bolts with her magic wand and only two mounted batiris got in close range. Those last ones were dispatched by Vorn and Leon in a quick but brutal scuffle.

(4)

DM’s Notes

  1. Travel through the jungle ought to be more dangerous
  2. and kill a goblin shaman that controlled the stegosaur
  3. dinosaur frilled raptors, in fact, didn’t look anything like the one in jurassic park but the venom-spitting beast depicted in the movie makes for a cool addition to an imaginary dinosaur roster nonetheless
  4. I had thought to do a few more encounters, with some non-combat, but well, 11 yo boys have short attention span! :p

More locations for Chult sandbox

Dinosaur Boneyard

Miles upon miles of massive bones. No vegetation whatsoever. Somewhere in the middle is an ancient mansion. But first you’d have to get past the carrion critters and the undead dinosaurs

Pit of the Broken Idols

A cave. A long-lost civilization had thrown statues that they found offensive down the 60′ deep shaft. There’s still some residual power in some of them.

Treant Permaculture

A spectacular array of flowers and rare medicinal plants amongst the tallest trees of the jungle. This is the works of a cigar-smoking treant that doesn’t take kindly to trespassers.

Ubtao’s Tooth

Rogue, evil aarakocras, have made their lair atop this lonely peak. They’re given to banditry. They keep tongueless harpies as wretched slaves.

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Sacred Cenote

A very ancient site of worship, originally to some obscure amphibian deity. Glittering precious stones can be seen in the pristine water of the pool.

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Tunnel Cave (Mistcliffs)

A several miles long cave makes the link from dense, batiri-infested jungles to the coast, through the mistcliffs mountains. There’s many divergent paths and a lot of dangerous critters along the way.

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Jagged Summit (Mistcliffs)

The greatest aarakocra “nest” of the mistcliffs, the numerous sentinels patrolling the air don’t miss much. There’s an outpost for trade and only rare visitors are considered trustworthy enough to be allowed further.

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Sunken Firefinger

One of several rock tower that served to guard the border of the now defunct mezroan empire. This one has sunken below ground, only the uppermost tip remains. The lower part is now in the middle of a cave system.

Batiri Tribes from NW Chult

Okay, back to Chult. Here’s a few jungle goblins tribes that I’ve created for my campaign.

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Art: Raph Lomotan

Canopy Drummers

Live on tree platforms, at least 100′ above ground. They have an alliance with the Dwarves of the Pick & Axe co.

Steeds/Pets: Giant Spiders, Spider Swarms,

Favorite tricks: poisoned javlins, spider riders, spider swarm descending from trees, poisoned arrows, velociraptor ambush, snares, pits

Black Stripes (Tasloï)

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Live in underground lairs. Have recently started to worship a jungle spirit: the Sting of Decay.

Steeds & Pets: Giant Wasps

Favorite tricks: poisoned javlins, waspriders, pits

Wandering Tremors

Live on top of large dinosaurs. No fixed territory. Constant warfare with other tribes which they bully for tribute.

Steeds & Pets: all kind of dinosaurs

Favorite tricks: triceratop charger, brontosaur “fortress” with 20 batiri on it

Mystic Creepers (Kuro)

Live in round wood and hay huts. Have a long and strong tradition of shamanism. Learned magic long ago from a wizard with his soul trapped in a gem.

Steeds & Pets: Giant Centipedes, Giant Ants

Favorite tricks: entangle spell, ensnaring strike spell, shoot immobilized foes from distance, spore bombs

Egg Stealers

Live in temporary huts. Far ranging hunter-gatherers. Even more adept than other batiri at stealth.

Steeds & Pets: troodon mounts

Favorite tricks: jagged arrows, ambushed archers, hit & run troodon lancer

Session 15b – Serpent-Skinned Monks

The PCs could not afford to take another long rest if they wished to be away from Tamaochan before the arrival of the Pick & Axe co. 

Characters:

  • Shin (level 4>>5), Tabaxi Fighter (Arcane Archer), Outlander; big-game hunter, has no patience for weakness
  • Flyzus (level 5>>6), Wood Elf Ranger (hunter), Outlander; sole survivor of his tribe after an orc invasion
  • Rufb (level 5>>6), Half-Orc Barbarian (berserker), Mercenary Veteran; captured by pterafolks, his fellow mercenaries killed, seeks riches and glory
  • Vorn, Shield Guardian, found masterless beside a gaping hole in the ground

Stay Still Forever

In a part of the dungeon yet unexplored – the PCs had successfully avoided a sand-filling trap – a few turns later they got almost in the middle of two rows of skeletons, a sort of honor guard by the look of it, standing on a ledge each side of a passage. The 15 skeletons jumped down and attacked (1)…

The adventurers kept their calm, even after seeing a skeleton still fighting after receiving a killing blow, what should have been a killing blow anyway. It helped that they could  now count on the powerful Vorn to back them up. An exploding magic arrow from Shin did a lot to soften the undead warriors. It took some time but they managed to prevail with only a few light wounds in return (2).

You don’t see any traps

At the end of another passage they could see a golden bat statuette. Rufb took it from its pedestal and got shot in the back by several crossbow bolts. Wounded and angry, Rufb smashed the statuette under his foot. This released a creature made of light, a will o’ wisp they knew from previous experience,  that quickly got away along another passage.

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Shed Skin

Now, for some reason, having a will o’ wisp on the loose didn’t sit well with the PCs (3) so they tried to find it, backtracking a little doing so. Flyzus ordered his pseudodragon pet to follow the evil light but the poor creature got zapped and… died (4). Next, the PCs got into an room they had opened but had chose to ignore earlier, a room with two slabs of stone with shed serpent skins… wait a minute… weren’t there bodies the first time around? Darn! More things roaming free…

Stuck in the Middle with You

To go further in this area, the PCs had to move a heavy block of stone on some rail mechanism up a ramp, the Shield Guardian was put to the task. They were halfway when things got complicated… First, there was sudden resistance against the block, something was pushing back… Second, bats. Lots of bats. Third, the will o’ wisp chose this moment to reappear…

Vorn proved more than strong enough to keep the block from crushing them. The Ranger got rid of the bats around him quickly and then attacked the will o’ wisp. He was joined soon after by Rufb (Shin was still swarmed by bats) and the two successfully avenged the pseudodragon.

No Escape

Finally out of this passage, the PCs saw two nimble figures sprint away from them. The Barbarian, the fastest runner, caught up with them in the central room of the ziggurat’s lower tier. Attempting to communicate  proved fruitless, as Rufb could not understand a word they said. Resigned, the two mysterious sleepers-no-longer assumed fighting stances (5).

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Rufb wasn’t in full combat shape at all, so facing these two adversaries with unknown abilities was daunting. He chose to use one charge of his gem of mud elemental summoning, a reward he had received from the Three Cascades’ frogmen. This proved a wise move as the mud elemental pummeled and mired in mud one serpent-skinned monk. Rufb then finished her with one massive blow of his greataxe. The surviving monk shrieked in anguish and attacked Rufb, sweeping his legs from under him.

Flyzus and Shin now got at the scene too. The outnumbered monk turned his back and fled once more. Shin shot an arrow at him but amazingly, he catched it middair without even looking!

Try to dodge that

He then started to cross the passage to the north, the one with spikes at the bottom, swinging from bar to bar. Rufb got back to his feet and jumped right beside his foe and started grappling him. He easily outmuscled the monk and sent him crashing through the spikes. Flyzus put an end to his life with precise sword thrusts (6).

The PCs finally felt comfortable enough to get down below, to the Hidden Shrine.

DM’s notes

  1. I had described them as skeletons but they were statted as zombies, with the undead fortitude that do a lot for their durability. But this fight was meh.
  2. Too easy! Would have been better if they had to be smart about it…
  3. Players paranoia!
  4. Félix kept forgetting that it existed, so… no big deal, I guess?
  5. The monks tried their best to escape, the PCs, the barbarian in particular, just wouldn’t let them.
  6. This proved to be a really good fight, with a lot of cool, cinematic manoeuvers.