Friday, September 9, 2016

Adventures in the City of the Dead

I am trying a new approach to dealing with sessions that multiple players have to miss in my new Waterdeep campaign.  If I know in advance that multiple players can't make it, I am running some one shots in the same campaign for a second set of higher level characters.  Basically each player has a 1st level character (now 2nd level) for sessions with a quorum and a different 10th level character to run if it is just going to be a couple of players in attendance for a one off.  The high level characters are exploring the same areas and themes and the players will learn things that shed light on the lower level campaign.  We have six players so if just one or maybe two players are going to miss I would probably still run the lower level characters, as happened the first two sessions.  As the lower level characters level up I will have the higher level characters level occasionally so we will get to play the complete range of levels (I very much doubt that we will ever even reach level 10 with our lower level characters at the rate we play).

For session three I knew in advance that several players would be absent so we had our first 10th level running.

In attendance:
Shashi playing Level 10 Human Barbarian female "Nidalee" (aka Sir-jumps-around-and-kills-me-in-my-face-a-Lot)
Mike playing Level 10 Human Shaman female "Imzel"  (sister of Nidalee) can see into other realities
Elliot playing Level 10 Human Wizard "The Third Incarnate of Darkon the Bold" - dedicated to service, perfecting selfless nature

These three were hired by the city guard to supplement a full moon night patrol of the City of the Dead, accompanying a small watch patrol and four young boys (members of the Guild of Chandlers and Lamplighters) and their useless old master.  The Guild of Chandlers and Lamplighters holds a lucrative contract with the city to light the candles in the extra-dimensional tombs that Waterdeep uses to stow its recently departed.  Last full moon something terrible happened and a watch patrol was killed during the night rounds, and although the Guild representatives survived they were so terrified and shocked that it was impossible to glean what had happened to them.  The party is hired to prevent a recurrence this month under the full moon.

City of the Dead - vast public gardens and tombs open in the day, closed off at night and usually some minor undead action.  The last several full moons there have been more powerful undead of all descriptions arising.

We jumped right into the action as the more perceptive party members saw a handful of ghouls lurking in the shrubbery across the path from the entrance.  Not waiting for the ghouls, the party jumped right into action.  Nidalee leaped up into a tree and then over onto the roof of a tomb, spotting another group of ghouls and ghasts.  The party dispatched of the ghouls and ghasts in just a few rounds, and in just a few more rounds took care of some mummies that joined the party halfway through the fight.  One hairy moment came when Galaunt, a particularly foolhardy young lamplighter, engaged a ghoul in hand to hand combat.  The ghoul managed to grab Galaunt and tried to run off with him but disaster was narrowly averted.  The city watch proved pretty much useless during all of this.  Nidalee broke a tooth off the ghoul that grabbed young Galaunt and fashioned it into a necklace with a strip of leather.  He surreptitiously gave it to Galaunt when the old master was not looking and told him to wear it as a good luck talisman.  

The party then escorted the lamplighters into the House of the Homeless, one of the City of the Dead's extradimensional tombs.  A vast two story mausoleum with a row of low steps leading to its high metal gates.  Cleaned bones are stored catacomb style inside, and when the building was full an ancient wizard named Anacaster created a Gate to an "uninhabited pocket dimension".  This Gate leads to an apparently infinite network of twisting natural passages and caverns, many of them containing bones of strange and alien creatures.  The passages seem to be natural, but the rock is not known to this world.  The city has barred off a section of the passages and uses them to store the bones of all the dead of Waterdeep who do not own (by merit,  purchase or membership in a noble or wealthy family) a place in another tomb.  The bones are cleaned off in a pool of torquoise acid that burbles in an orange mud pit in the tunnels.  It takes less than an hour to reduce a fresh corpse to a pile of clean bones in the pool.

The lamplighters are paid to light and replace large candles in glass sconces that provide dim illumination to the areas of the tunnels used by the city.  The rounds begin with a twisting walk down and over, past several side passages, to a square gallery surrounding an open shaft down.  Niches carved in the wall twisting down around the edge of the square gallery hold the skulls of the dead.  If a name is known, it is engraved in the rock under the skull.  Imzel detected an open connection or Gate to a plane of necrotic ooze, slime and abomination somewhere far down the open shaft, far below the areas used by the city to store skulls.

Candles lit around the skulls, the lamplighters led on to the first of three large open chambers used to store the other bones.  This first cave has not been used to store new bones for centuries.  Piles of bones are mounded up, interlocking, to form cubes of like bones.  One cube of interlocked arm bones, stacked high.  One cube of interlocked femurs, stacked high.  Small bones, vertebrae, phalanges, are tucked into gaps around the larger bones.

As the lamplighters made their way around the perimeter of the room, the party heard what appeared to be the sound of combat coming from down a locked and barred passageway.  The party talked the watch commander (despite his misgivings) into unlocking the gate so they could investigate. They saw three oddly clad human males clumsily wielding swords battling a bunch of skeletons.    I am pretty sure it was Darkon the Bold who incinerated a bunch of skeletons with a spell and motioned the humans to join them.  They turned out to be nice enough sorts, three very confused young professionals from Florence (Italy) who are into what they called "urban exploring" and must have taken a very wrong turn somewhere.  Alessandro, Luca and Guiseppe had been lost for days, and picked up the longswords along their way to defend themselves from undead skeletons that seemed to be everywhere.  Darkon the Bold, with the aid of a Comprehend Languages spell, figured out enough of what happened to the three that he knew they were a long, long way from home.  The three Italians accompanied the party and lamplighters as they continued on their rounds, with the understanding that the watch would take them to meet representatives of the Lords of Waterdeep who could presumably help them along their way back home.

Continuing on, the route led down and around, deeper into the labyrinth of passages, constantly descending in depth, passing many barred off passages.  The party noticed a strange green slime or ectoplasm that was seeping out of the solid rock.  The farther down they went the more of it there was seeping out.  Imzel could see an astral connection to the necrotic plane of ooze and slime, a slim astral thread leading from each mote of slime out through the Gate detected earlier, down below the skull gallery and beyond to a necromantic aspect of the god Ghaunaduar, god of Abominations and patron of oozes and Slimes.  Imzel was able to divine that the slime could take over pre-existing sentient undead and deliver them into the control of this aspect of Ghaunaduar.  Imzel collected some of the slime in a glass flask.

Hurrying on through the rounds now as the patches of slime were growing rapidly, the party made it through the second large catacomb chamber (also not in current use, but only filled a few decades ago) without incident.  The ooze continued to multiply as the candle lighting expedition continued on to the lowest point used by the city, the third and currently used large catacomb cave.  Just before the passage curved around a corner to reach the catacomb cave, the party noticed that the gate barring a tunnel exiting to the south had been torn asunder.  Something large and covered in the green ectoplasmic slime had burst through the gate and entered the catacomb cave ahead of the party, judging by the splatters of slime.  It had left a palpable aura of cold and undeath in its wake.

At this point the party had the tremendous foresight to cast a magical ward against undead sealing the tunnel to the south from the passage, to prevent further ooze covered undead creatures from coming up behind them.
The party proceeded into the large catacomb cave and discovered a two headed bone naga ouroboros lurking in the stacks of bones, a giant snake skeleton with a huge skull at each end capped with a spiked bony knob for slamming into things.  They also quickly discovered it could shoot lightning bolts as it responded to Darkon the Bold's magical assault with one of its own.  Nidalee jumped all over the place and made the bone naga regret its dark unbirth.  The bone naga animated a whole bunch of mismatched skeletons from the bones in the room, but Darkon wiped them out immediately with a spell.  Another bone naga tried to join the fray but was prevented by the magical wards - curses!  The party prevailed and discovered two glowing sapphires in the skulls of the bone naga which could be hurled as magical grenades, with an effect identical to a fireball (8d6) but generating a sphere of lightning.

And that was pretty much that.  No encounters on the long upward twisting passages leading back up to the Gate.  We paused there.

We may pick up at pretty much the same place the next time we play the high level characters, there was another pretty cool and probably more interesting encounter and area that I had planned which we didn't get to farther on, involving prepping the Hall of Heroes for a burial in the morning.  The Hall of Heroes has a Gate to a dimension of endless grasslands, and soldiers and great warriors are buried there.  A high ranking ranger, a warden of the wilderness north of Waterdeep, died recently fighting a giant demon shadow bear that had been terrorizing the north.  The ranger apparently killed the demon in the same moment he was killed, but the demon took the ranger's soul with him in death and the ranger could not be raised back to life.  His funeral is scheduled for tomorrow morning and the lamplighters are supposed to prep the grassland dimension beyond the Gate for the funeral by cutting back the grass on and around the paths and around the grave mounds.

Another high level scenario I have plotted are a rescue/retrieval mission to snatch the young daughter of a noble house from the temple of the Cult of Ghaunaduar in a sub level of Undermountain (the young daughter is a willing convert to the cult, her family had paid someone to infiltrate the cult but their plant couldn't talk the daughter into leaving the cult - now the family wants to hire some badasses to break their daughter out whether she wants to go or not).

I also have some sessions planned in the very distant past, in the third age (prior to the existence of Gods, Devils and Demons and the present which is the fourth age, there were three earlier and godless ages).  A lot of the first two lower level sessions involved learning about relics of ancient Abolon, a kingdom of the third age, and encountering cultists of Abolon active in Waterdeep today.  I have some fun scenarios involving a time gate back to old Abolon.

May you bathe in the red light of Abolon's ever-open eye.

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