In our last session the PCs arrived in Gracklstugh, met the Red Dragon Wyrmsmith named Themberchaud, took a mission at the behest of the Keepers of the Flame, and battled a two-headed Stone Giant who was running mad through the streets in Darklake District. If you thought things couldn’t get any more exciting then read on and find out what this party did for an encore.
This week at Face to Face Games in Toronto we ran four full tables with six players in each group. My party of six had five regulars and one new addition, here’s how it broke down. Human Rogue, Elf Wizard, Dragonborn Fighter, Human Monk, and Half-Orc Barbarian (my returning players); Drow Rogue (new player).
The Keepers of the Flame hired the PCs to find the track down the Grey Ghosts, the Gracklstugh thieves guild, find out who their new leader was, and locate the missing Red Dragon egg. The only lead they had to offer the PCs was that a Derro named Droki was known to serve as a messenger and courier for the Grey Ghosts. If the PCs could find Droki perhaps he could be convinced to share information about the guild.
While the party was discussing options over drinks at the Ghohlbrorn’s Lair inn and tavern, a Drow approached them. His clothing, mannerisms, and perfect Common, betrayed his origin as being different than that of the Drow slavers the party had escaped from at the beginning of the campaign. He explained he was a traveller from the surface and he wanted to help them. After a quick social exchange they welcomed him into the party.
Back to the matter at hand – finding Droki. The Fighter decided to search for him in the Blade Bazaar by asking questions openly. The two Rogues decided to be more subtle and search the Bazaar posing as paying customers while keeping their eyes and ears open. The Wizard, Barbarian, and Monk decided to stay at the tavern, drinking on the patio, while keeping an eye out for their quarry.
The Fighter asked around and the Duergar merchants were happy to give up a description of Droki as most of them disliked the little sneak. Unfortunately the Fighter was unable to spot him anywhere.
The Rogues tried to find any signs of markings or other indicators of thieves’ cant that might point them to the guild, but there was nothing. While posing as customers in the bazaar they did notice that some of the merchants seemed to be behaving strangely. Some merchants seemed to forget prices of goods or change the prices form one second to the next. At first the PCs thought it was just some unusual negotiating technique, but after they saw it happen a few times they realized the merchants were not aware of the slip ups. Something was amiss.
The PCs in the pub sat and drank. And drank. And drank. Their characters had fun, but they didn’t spot Droki. What they did manage to discover was that most of the Derro in Gracklstugh (all of whom were considered second-class citizens) lived in West Cleft District just outside of town. It’s amazing what a people in a tavern can tell you. When the party regrouped they decided to head out immediately.
West Cleft District
Finding the West Cleft District where the Derro lived was easy. The Duergar allowed the PCs to pass through once it was known that was their destination. The gate guards laughed as they opened the doors out of Gracklstugh and the PCs passed through. As soon as the doors closed the PCS were beset upon by a group of eight Derro looking for easy prey.
West Cleft District was made up of burros carved into the walls and simple structures piled atop one another. There was no order to any of it. The narrow streets made movement difficult so the PCs were at a bit of a disadvantage. Archers on nearby rooftops were nearly impossible to see amidst the rocks. The party managed to Intimidate a few attackers early but the archers were fearless from their safe vantage point and fired at the PCs. With blood shed, the PCs sprang into action, killing all but one of their Derro assailants. When they tried to interrogate their prisoner he was unwilling or unable to answer. It was as if his mind was broken and he was acting on pure instinct or some other mad desire. The party killed him and moved deeper into the slum.
The party drew a lot of uneasy glares and took plenty of verbal abuse (most of which they couldn’t understand anyway). The party began to question every Derro they saw about Droki but none of them answered. Finally the Fighter began asking more forcefully, grabbing and shaking many Derro as he questioned them. This got a response, but not the one the party wanted. They were again attacked by the local Derro population. They defeated the little guys, but they knew they were clearly in the wrong this time so they ran.
After two scrappy combat encounters the party decided to rest. While they paused for a breath they found some Derro who were willing to talk. They gladly told the party that they knew Droki and that he just passed by. The PCs stopped resting and began pursuit.
They caught a glimpse of Droki ahead and charged after him. He saw the pursuers and also picked up the pace. They chased him for about 15 minutes through the winding streets. Finally they thought they might catch him as he ran along a fairly straight passage with no other side streets. Then he rounded the bend and disappeared.
When the party got to the spot where they last saw him there was merely a small crack in the cliff-side. There was no way the Derro got through that crack. The Rogues searched for secret passages and found none. However, the Monk did notice the Derro’s tracks in the dirt and they did indeed go into the crack. However, they tracks got smaller as they got closer to the entrance.
The Whorlstone Tunnels
While examining the area around the tunnel the PCs found patches of unusual mushrooms growing freely. They eventually decided to try and eat them to see what happened. Doing so shrunk them enough to squeeze through the crack. Once on the other side they were in a network of natural caverns. They also found more mushrooms on the other side along with different ones that when consumed returned them back to their regular size. They collected samples of both kinds.
At this point they decided to rest. By now Droki was long gone so they decided to rest up before they proceeded. They explored the immediate area but didn’t encounter anything or anyone hazardous.
When they finally moved on they got an unexpected surprise in the next room they entered. They could smell rotting meat long before they saw the death and decay in the large room. At the centre was their Derro companion, Buppido, humming as he went about his work. All around the room were body parts in various stages of decomposition. Buppido was busy arranging fresher kills in a circle at the centre of the room.
When he noticed the PCs he called out to them. “Oh there you are. I didn’t expect you to find me here, with my shrine nearly finished! And Power! My faithful are finally honouring me! And you…? Yes. Yes. I sense that you are ready to receive my truth into your hearts.” With that he made a gesture that caused some of the rotting corpses to begin to move.
The Fighter, Barbarian and Monk all charged at Buppido while the others readied actions to attack from a safe distance. Six skeletal corpses stood up to intercept the PCs and each attacked the closest hero. The Barbarian and Monk easily shrugged of their attackers and got close enough to Buppido to attack him directly. He took their hits with hardly a notice and animated more Skeletons. He then readied a spell.
The Skeletons attacked and hit the closest PCs, and once the Monk and Barbarian were hurt (and their hit points reduced) he cast Sleep on them both. Down they went.
From the entrance the Wizard, and two Rogues had their hands full with both melee and ranged attacks from Skeletons. The Fighter saw the battle was turning in Buppido’s favour so he did the only thing he could think of, he ate some of the growth mushrooms doubling his size and becoming a giant. The huge Fighter ran in and slammed the unsuspecting Derro.
Buppido desperately cast a Lightning Bolt into the giant Fighter’s chest nearly killing him outright. The Dragonborn fell to the ground, no longer a threat. The Wizard used his Mage Hand to grab a Healing Potion from the Fighter’s side and fed it to him, reviving him. Meanwhile the two Rogues moved up and woke up their sleeping allies.
The Skeletons provided Buppido with some cover while he cast Invisibility and ran out of the room. The Rogues both tried shooting the unseen (but clearly heard) Derro as he fled but they missed. The party easily took out the remaining Skeletons.
When everything had finally calmed down a Ghost arose from the pile of corpses. It was the spirit of a Deep Gnome who was one Buppido’s first victims. She begged the party to find her remains and return them to Blingdenstone for a proper burial. The party agreed to collect the remains if they could find them and should their travels take them to Blingdenstone they would make good on their promise.
To be continued.
I knew that the PCs would find their way to The Whorlstone Tunnels this week but I expected them to get a bit farther on their first night in the maze of tunnels. However, when I realized I could make the encounter with Buppido a real set-piece encounter I decided to do it.
My only regret was that I didn’t really take more time fleshing out Buppido in the previous eight weeks. The players always suspected something was amiss with the NPC, but the payoff could have been so much more powerful if they’d had a stronger emotional tie to him. Regardless of that it was still a lot of fun.
I really enjoyed the party’s willingness to experiment in a trail and error fashion to figure out what properties the fungus had. It reminded me of old school D&D when players didn’t take time to identify potions or items. They just used them and hoped for the best. It always seems to be more fun that way anyway.
I suspect the party will need at least two more sessions to completely explore The Whorlstone Tunnels and then they’ll leave Gracklstugh. I have no idea where they’ll go next, we’ll see what happens in game to motivate them.
Have your character had the big showdown/reveal with Buppido? How did that go? Were they surprised when they learned of his true colours? Was he killed or did he get away?
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