Saturday, August 17, 2019

D&D 5e [Princes of the Apocalypse] Session 11: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!

Tempest, Blue Dragonborn Cleric Trickery-Domain (played by Jojo, 14yo)
Folax Huntreouss, Human Gunslinger (played by Evan, 12yo)
To-be-named, Aasimar Wizard Divination-School (played by Mummy)

Warning: This adventure contains a lot of references and spoilers to the ‘Princes of the Apocalypse’ campaign. If you have yet to play through the campaign, be warned that you’re likely to come across the same stuff we did.

We took a break from D&D for a couple of weeks, but it was interesting to see conversations about our campaign pop-up here and there during that time. Mummy mentioned that she was surprised how captivated she was by the story so far, and she’s made suggestions to the kids on how she might leverage off her “adoring Feathergale knight fans”. And Jojo drew up some sketches of her character:

After settling everyone down for our next session, I show the group the full map of Feathergale Spire as an encouragement to explore it.

I tell them, “Okay, it’s still the night when you guys killed that manticore for Lord Thurl. The Feathergale knights are enamoured by Mummy and her wings, and Lord Thurl allocates rooms for you all. Are you all sleeping in separate rooms?”

Evan declares, “I’m sleeping in my wagon! I’m not letting it out of my sight!” With that, Mummy and Jojo decide that they should share a single room.

I tell them, “Everyone in the spire settles down, with the knights in their chambers and the spire staff all sleeping communally in the feasting hall near the big fireplaces.” I turn tol Evan, “Roll a d20!” Evan rolls a 16. “In the early hours of the morning, you are suddenly awakened in your wagon by the sound of the drawbridge being lowered!”

Evan complains, “That was a Perception roll? Gah, I wish I failed it and continued sleeping!” Now that he was awake, the gunslinger peeks out from his wagon to see the drawbridge come fully down, and a group of Feathergale knights coming in. Two in front seem to be escorting a prisoner between them, while another two carry a large blocky chest sealed with iron clasps. “The prisoner is dressed in leathers and is quite rough-looking. And the chest that is being carried looks like it’s dripping wet.”

I describe how the knights quickly pass the parked wagon and bring their prisoner and chest up the spiral stairway. “Just as they start going up, the chest gives a sudden jolt! The knights carrying it swear a bit but they continue to carry it upstairs.”

I look at Evan who shrugs. “Meh, I’m going back to sleep.” And he does.

I get Mummy and Jojo to make Perception rolls as well, and when Jojo succeeds, she wakes Mummy up. “There’s a sound of a group of people heading up the stairs next to your bedroom. What do you want to do?”

Mummy says, “I’ll send my ferret to follow them.”

I frown, “Ferret? I thought it was a weasel?”

“Really? Wasn’t it a ferret?”

After several magical switches between ferret and weasel, a very mustelid-confused weasel follows the knights as they ascend all the way to the top of the Spire. “Mummy, you recognise this prisoner! He’s one of the guys you saw in that clearing when you guys were travelling to Feathergale Spire!”

Jojo nods, “Oh, the knights found the water cultists after all!”

It’s still several hours to dawn, and sky is still dark. However, the top of the spire has a group of knights gathered there, and torches flickering in the wind. Lord Thurl is there and he is presented with the prisoner. He tsks, “Well, what brings the Crushing Wave cult into our domain, hmm? Perhaps you have forgotten the penalty of violating our territory?”

The prisoner looks sullen, “I’m not saying anything. You’re going to kill me anyway!”

Lord Thurl smiles, “Yes, you are quite right.” He motions to a knight next to him, and it’s the same young teenage boy whom Mummy rescued. “It’s time for you to prove you are truly a knight of the air.” He hands the boy a ritual knife. I describe how the prisoner is pushed to the edge of the spire, and a symbol is carved into his chest before they throw him off. As the prisoner falls into the mist below, something large flies by and snaps him up.

A knight asks Lord Thurl, “So what do you want us to do with the Fathomer in the chest?” The chest gives another jolt, and a few drops of water jump off. Lord Thurl stifles a yawn, “It’s late. Put the Fathomer into a holding cell. I’ll see him tomorrow.” With that, the knights carry the dripping chest down one level, and Mummy’s weasel observes them bringing it into a chamber. A knight is posted outside the room as a guard. Mummy dismisses her familiar as the rest of the knights file down the stairway.

The next morning, the adventurers meet up at the wagon. Tempest says, “Okay, I was going to prepare my Detect Good and Evil spell, but after last night, I think these guys are definitely evil!”

Mummy says, “I still have to do my sales pitch to them. Besides, I don’t think we’re in any danger while they are still enchanted by my wings.” She gives them a slight flutter.

Folax says, “Well, I want to check on my vulture!” The adventurers go down to the stables, and the giant vulture screeches when it recognises Folax.

I tell them, “There seems to be several knights here minding their hippogriffs. One of the stables is empty, its side doors open to the sky. As you guys watch, you see a figure fly in through the open side doors! The figure is wearing some sort of wing-suit with flaps between the arms and legs. It does a neat somersault and lands next to you guys!”

The figure takes off its helmet, and the adventurers recognise Savra, Kaylessa’s niece. “What a glorious morning to fly!” the girl exclaims. “Have you tried our wingwear suits? You really must!” She beckons the adventurers to follow her up the stairs. Mummy and Tempest follow her, while Folax tries to feed the vulture and take it out for a morning flight.

Savra leads them right up to the top of Feathergale Spire. “You guys see a few knights up here putting on those suits that Savra is currently wearing. She gets a spare one and hands it to Tempest.”

Jojo says, “Aw geez. She wants to me put it on and try flying!” With some encouragement from Mummy, Tempest eventually puts on the wingwear suit and stands at the edge of the spire. “They probably sabotaged it to kill me!”

Mummy says, “I’ll fly with you, just in case.” With that, the aasimar wizard and wingwear-clad dragonborn launch themselves off the edge of the spire. I describe how exhilarating it was to fly over the morning mist of the nearby valley. Folax joins them as well, riding his giant vulture.

“Well, you guys can actually explore the valley a bit, if you want. Or do you want to head back into the spire?” After a cursory flight around the spire, they decide to head back in, much to my disappointment. Ah well, encounters in the Sighing Valley will have to wait.

They land in the stables level of the spire, and a knight greets Mummy. “Lord Thurl wishes to see what sort of decorative armour can your guild supply.” Mummy tells him that she can do her presentation right here in the stables. While Lord Thurl and the knights gather for Mummy’s sales pitch, Tempest and Folax decide that they are going to try to sneak into the ‘holding cell’ chamber to check out that chest containing the Fathomer.

I get Mummy to start off her presentation to Lord Thurl, and she does so with a flourish. Using her Minor Illusion spell, the aasimar wizard shows off examples of hippogriff armour on a real hippogriff. “And my guild can even change the colour, or design-patterns on the sides of the hippogriff. What colour or patterns would you prefer?” Lord Thurl seems overwhelmed by the options (“This is all so HARD!”) while his knights excitedly call out suggestions in the background.

Meanwhile, Tempest casts ‘Pass without Trace’ and she and Folax sneak up to the level where ‘holding cell’ chamber is. “There’s a single knight guarding the door, but he looks like he’s having a doze while leaning against the wall.” Tempest decides to cast “Deafness” on him, and when he doesn’t wake up from his doze, the two adventurers sneak past him into the chamber.

I tell them, “Still dripping wet, you see the latched chest on one side of the chamber. However, you also see that there’s someone else in this chamber!” I pull open the Monster Manual, and show them this:

“It’s an aarakocra, a humanoid being with a bird’s head and wings! And he’s chained to the wall on the other side of the chamber!” The aarakocra regards them curiously, his bird head cocked to one side.

Jojo says, “Um, Hi? Don’t mind us; we’re just here to see the chest. Can you understand me?”

I tell them, “The aarakocra speaks in a low, serious voice, ‘If you are not part of the air cult, free me.’”

The kids discuss this, and Jojo replies, “Yeah, well, do you know what’s inside this chest?”

The aarakocra answers, “I wouldn’t open it if I were you. It contains a Fathomer, a powerful water cultist with blue skin who can turn himself in a water serpent. Water cultists are as evil as air cultists who worship Yan-C-Bin, the air prince of elemental evil. If you truly are not part of the air cult, I strongly suggest you free me and we escape this spire. The air cultists are never going to let you leave unless you join them!”

Meanwhile, downstairs at the sales presentation, I tell Mummy that Lord Thurl is interrupted by one of his knights who whispers something into his ear. “Apologies, my lady,” says Lord Thurl. “But we will have to pause the presentation for now. I have an urgent summons. Let’s break for now.” With that, Lord Thurl goes up the stairs towards the level where Tempest and Folax are. There’s a moment of panic among them as Mummy scours her spell list to see if there’s anything she can use to delay Lord Thurl. Out of desperation, Mummy says, “I’ll send my weasel familiar to stop Lord Thurl!”

“How’s it going to do that!? Hug his ankles!?”

In the end, her weasel familiar scurries after Lord Thurl. Mummy sits at a table while listening through her familiar’s ears.

I tell them that Lord Thurl goes up to the same level where Tempest and Folax are, but instead of going to the holding cell chamber, he enters his own chambers which is next door. Mummy’s weasel scurries up to the chamber door and listens. “You can hear Lord Thurl speaking to someone else. There seems to be a thrum of magic. A woman’s voice asks, ‘So, I hear that you have some interesting visitors at the spire.’ Lord Thurl affirms this, and the woman’s voice continues, ‘And one of them has wings? Real wings? Are they as pretty as mine?’ Lord Thurl gives some response, and the woman replies, ‘I want you to bring her to me. Perhaps Yan-C-Bin will grant me her wings, for my own!’”

Mummy looks horrified. “That woman wants my wings!?”

Jojo says to me, “Dad, you took this plot straight from ‘Malificient’, didn’t you!?”

I shrug innocently. “While Mummy is sitting at her table looking unsettled, a knight sits next to her and enthusiastically starts giving her design suggestions. Mummy can’t hear a word he’s saying because she’s still listening through her weasel’s ears, and just nods politely.”

The group unanimously decides, “Okay, I think it’s time to get out of here!” They free the aarakocra who thanks them and says, “We need a diversion before we can flee from this spire.” After an intense discussion of various escape plans, the group decides that the key to their diversion will be to release the Fathomer. I’m not exactly sure of the logic of their plan, but in the end, it was decided that Tempest will carry the chest containing the Fathomer downstairs a few levels, and meet Mummy at the stables before releasing the Fathomer. During the diversion, Folax and the aarakocra will come out and head upstairs to the top of the spire where the aarakocra will fly Folax down to the stables level where Folax can collect his vulture.

So the dragonborn cleric heaves the chest by herself past the snoozing guard (who is still deaf). She grabs the weasel familiar outside Lord Thurl’s door and speaks into it like a microphone, “Hello? I’m coming down to get you. We’re getting out of here, roger that?” before dumping the poor creature.

I tell Jojo, “And then, you suddenly see it.”

Jojo narrows her eyes. “See what?”

I say, “Next to Lord Thurl’s chamber door, you see a breakfast tray. On the tray, is a golden spork!” Jojo actually anguishes for a full minute before deciding to ignore the spork and continue to lug the chest downstairs. Pity, I would have awarded her an Inspiration for trying to take it.

The dragonborn cleric meets another knight coming up, and a good story about ‘hippogriff food’ and a favourable Deception roll has the knight actually helping the dragonborn to carry the chest downstairs. Once they place the chest down and the helpful knight heads off, the dragonborn casts Invoke Duplicity to create a duplicate of herself standing next to the chest. Then she goes down to the stables and meets Mummy. “I cast Thaumaturgy from my duplicate to open the chest latch and then shout ‘Help! He’s out! Help!’!”

I roleplay a little scene where Tempest’s duplicate is shouting for help, and several puzzled-looking knights turn up to see what the matter is. After several embarrassing moments, the chest finally bursts open, and an angry blue-skinned Fathomer emerges from it. “Knights are now yelling and everyone seems distracted by the fight on the level with the Fathomer!” On cue, Folax and the aarakocra come out of their chamber (going past the snoozing knight who is still deaf) and head upstairs, swiping the golden spork as they pass. Then the aarakocra flies Folax down to the stables level of the spire to meet up with Tempest and Mummy. Finally, the adventurers leave the spire, with Tempest on a hippogriff, Folax on his vulture, Mummy and the aarakocra flying with their own wings.

“Wait a minute! What about my wagon!?” asks Evan.

“Ah right, the wagon,” I say. “Sometime during the chaos of the fight, someone trips a hidden switch which activates the large wooden eagle suspended above the main entrance hall where the wagon is parked. The wooden eagle is actually a battering ram trap, and it swings down and smashes the wagon right through the spire’s drawbridge, leaving a wagon-shaped hole! Thankfully, Mervus the horse isn’t still tethered to it!”

To the astonishment of the adventurers, they witness the wagon smash through the spire’s drawbridge and sail clumsily in the air before it falls to the canyon below. Folax and Tempest dive their mounts and manage to catch the wagon before it hits the ground. With the wagon clutched between them, the flying group follows the aarakocra who leads them southwards in the Sighing Valley.

Adventure Notes:
That group of water cultists from last session actually came in handy. Weaving random events into a coherent story is a special joy to me.

By showing them the map of Feathergale Spire, I was hoping that the group would take time to explore the spire’s rooms, but it seems like they were more focused on particular goals, like checking out that chest with the Fathomer. The 'holding cell' chamber doesn't actually exist in the actual map, but I needed a place to hold prisoners in the Spire, and for some reason, the Feathergale knights don't have one. Perhaps they prefer to throw their prisoners off the spire rather than keep them!

I’m just going to keep using Folax’s wagon for comedic effect. Let’s see how battered we can get this wagon to be! 

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