After battling an Umber Hulk and a few mad Dwarven Barbarians, the party was really looking forward to the normalcy and predictability that comes with city adventuring. So it was onward to Gracklstugh. The NPCs Buppido (a Derro Dwarf) and Hemeth (a Duergar) were both from Gracklstugh so they gave the PCs a bit of a primer on the way so they’d know what to expect when they arrived.
This week at Face to Face Games in Toronto we ran four full tables. My table was back down to five as open of my regulars had to cancel. The rest of the party included a Human Rogue, Elf Wizard, Dragonborn Fighter, Half-Orc Barbarian, and Human Monk. Important to note was that the Wizard was the only character to speak Dwarven which would make things a lot more interesting in a Duergar city.
Welcome to Gracklstugh
We picked things up with the PCs approaching the gates to Gracklstugh. In preparation the Wizard cast Alter Self to look like a Duergar. The party knew they’d reached their destination when they spotted two massive stone gates blocking the tunnel before them.
A Duergar voice emanated from behind the gate in Dwarvish “State your names and Business.” Only Buppido, Hemeth, Eldeth and the Wizard spoke Dwarvish. Hemeth was quick to answer for the party. He said that he and the Wizard were slavers and the PCs were their prisoners. The Wizard didn’t contradict this story, but Eldeth (the Dwarven NPC still with the group) translated for the Monk and Rogue.
Behind the party six heavily armored Duergar guards appeared out of nowhere and surrounded the group. The Rogue told Eldeth to translate and began to explain who they really were and why they were here seeking entrance to the city. A remarkable Persuasion roll despite disadvantage for going through a translator won over the Duergar guards. They agreed to allow the PCs to enter.
The Monk quietly said to Hemeth that he didn’t appreciate being called a prisoner, even as a ruse, and he would pay back the NPC in some unkind way down the road. Meanwhile the gate guard approached the Rogue as the PCs entered the city gate. He made a less than subtle suggestions that the Drow sword the Rogue carried should be offered as payment. When the Rogue offered it to him he seemed insulted and turned it down; however, instructed that it be given to Werz Saltbaron in the Darklake District before day’s end. The Rogue agreed.
The Duergar guards escorted the PCs all the way to Darklake District. When they passed through the gates the guards vanished.
This is the only place in Gracklstugh that non-Duergar are allowed to roam unescorted. The PCs made their way to The Ghohlbron’s Lair, the only inn that catered to non-Duergar where they sought food and lodgings. Hemeth and Buppido said they had personal matters to attend to in other parts of the city and left the group to their own devices. They did agree to meet back at the inn in three days if they were able to do so.
Once that was taken care of they all visited the Blade Bazaar where they sold the miscellaneous equipment and goods they’d acquired since fleeing the Drow prison. They reequipped themselves with items more to their liking and bought the supplies they’d need for when they ventured beyond the city and back into the Underdark.
Two interesting things the party did while in the Bazaar that required a bit more role-playing that usual were getting their potions identified (a Greater Healing Potion and an Oil of Slipperiness) and selling the parts of the Umber Hulk’s remains that the Wizard collected.
With the mundane tasks complete, the party began to let the locals know that they were looking for work. It didn’t take long before someone came knocking at their door.
Themberchaud and the Keepers of the Flame
The next day three Duergar Priests showed up at The Ghohlbron’s Lair looking for the PCs. One of them declared that he was Gartokkar Xundorn and that he needed the party’s assistance. He then instructed the PCs to follow him. There was no mistaking that this wasn’t a request. The party was curious and needed cash so they followed. The Duergar Priests led them into parts of Gracklstugh that the party knew they shouldn’t be visiting. If the Priests abandoned the PCs in this area they may not escape with their lives.
The Priests brought the party to a small, sturdy building carved into the side of the cavern near the entrance to a giant cave. Before the PCs could be brought inside a deep voice boomed from the cave beyond. “Gartokkar, you didn’t say I was having surfacers for dinner today.” From the cave emerged a huge Red Dragon.
Gartokkar spoke to the party gesturing towards the Dragon. “Foreigners, meet the Father of Flame, the Everburning, and the Foundry’s Heart – Themberchaud, the Wyrmsmith of Gracklstugh.” The Dragon was massive, and he was really, really fat for a Dragon.
Themberchaud invited the PCs to follow him back into his lair and dismissed Gartokkar and the other priests. When they reached the Dragon’s lair he climbed atop a giant pile of coins and gems and turned to address the party. But before he did he announced to the room that “Any invisible lurkers will be burned to ash.” At least one invisible Duergar Priest was heard scuttling away.
Once alone Themberchaud made the PCs a tempting offer, to become agents of the great Red Dragon, acting as his eyes and ears in Gracklstugh. The party realized that for the second time today they were not really being given a choice in this decision. They agreed. The Dragonborn Fighter, despite being black-scaled, immediately fell to his knees and pledged eternal allegiance to this fantastic creature before him. The Dragon was impressed.
The party’s first mission was to do whatever the Priests asked of them, reporting to Themberchaud anything they learn first, before reporting it to the Priests. The PCs agreed and then were told to return to the Priests for their assignment as the Dragon closed his eyes and rested.
Gartokkar explained to the PCs that he was the leader of the Keepers of the Flame. They were responsible for keeping the Wyrmsmith happy and productive. Another part of their duties included replacing the Dragon when it reached a certain age. Themberchaud had almost reached that age. They’d acquired a Red Dragon egg and were preparing for it to hatch when the local Thieves Guild, the Grey Ghosts, stole it. The guild leader was captured and interrogated before he was killed, but the Keepers of the Flame were unable to discover what he’d done with the egg. Since then the Grey Ghosts have been very hard to find.
The mission the PCs were given was to find the new Grey Ghost leader and if possible find the egg or where it’s being kept. A Derro known as Droki has ties to the guild. If the PCs can find him, he’ll lead them to the Grey Ghosts. To make their task easier, Gartokkar gave each PC a gold pin depicting Themberchaud and small holy symbols of the Duergar deity Laduergar. These will allow the PCs to travel more freely in Gracklstugh. The Priests escorted the PCs back to Darklake District where they could begin their mission.
The Two-headed Giant
Just as the Priests left the heroes safely in Darklake District a two-headed Stone Giant crashed through the gate and thrashed at anything he could reach. The Giant had no purpose or direction other than to destroy. The PCs jumped into action.
The Barbarian, Fighter, and Monk all got up close and attacked with melee weapons while the Wizard and Rogue moved a safe distance away and attacked from range. Three nearby Duergar guards also joined the fight, two in melee and one from range.
The Giant’s stony flesh repelled many blows while his massive fists pounded anything and everything nearby, including some of the PCs. The first causality of the combat was a Duergar guard. One round later the other Duergar guard dropped. The PCs unloaded on their opponent, trying to drop him as quickly as they could.
They did manage to keep the Giant wrangled in one area, limiting the amount of additional damage he could do during the fight. The Monk was the only PCs to realize that the Giant came from somewhere deeper in the city. This wasn’t an attack by some outside creature, it originated from somewhere in the city itself.
As the Stone Giant began to falter the Monk did a flying leap and got on top of it. With one swift motion the Monk jumped, kicked, landed on the Giant’s head, smacked it with his spear, and rode the falling body all the way back down to the ground. The Giant was defeated.
Seconds later another Giant ran through the destroyed gates towards his fallen brethren. This Giant was accompanied by Duergar guards. The PCs initially wanted to attack the new foe, but realized that he wasn’t threatening them or anyone else.
The Guards demanded an explanation of what happened. Witnesses provided extremely accurate assessments of what happened, giving the party credit for all they did. When questioned the party likewise told their tale without embellishment or modesty. The guards thanked the PCs for their assistance as the Giant lifted his fallen friend and carried him back into Gracklstugh.
To be continued.
Most of the session was dedicated to exploration and role-playing. I know that many players who come to D&D Encounters want to fight monsters so I try to ensure that there is some kind of structured combat encounter each week. I’ve also learned that if you don’t present a party with a combat encounter in a reasonable amount of time they’ll often pick a fight. I was impressed that my group demonstrated restraint this week. There’s a first time for everything.
When they finally did get the chance to fight they brought their A-game and crushed the rampaging Giant. When the second Giant arrived on the scene I was a bit worried they’d attack him on sight, but again they showed some (reluctant) restraint. I plan to reward this good behavior with lots of combat next time.
Another unexpected turn was the bloodthirsty, chaotic Dragonborn Fighter humbling himself before the great Red Dragon. It was a strong gesture from the player and one I think will really pay off for the party and his character. Character growth and development in the context of the story is always a good thing, especially when it curtails senseless combat.
I suspect the party will need at least two more sessions in Gracklstugh before they decide to leave. We’ll see how many of them make it out of the city alive and not in slaver’s shackles.
Has your party been to Gracklstugh? How did that go for them? Did you arrive on foot or by boat? What kind of shenanigans did your group get up to? Was anyone dumb enough to attack the Wyrmsmith?
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