Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Sunless Citadel #5: Through Pallid Gardens

Our friend Jeff (who played in my Lost Mine of Phandelver game) joined us for the latest session of The Sunless Citadel, in which he played the paladin NPC, Sir Dain.

(Warning: Spoilers for The Sunless Citadel follow.) 

Last time, the heroes reached the hall of the hobgoblin who ruled the goblin tribe, and took down him and his entourage. They then intimidated the remaining goblins into leaving the citadel rather than share his fate. The party rested before descending to the next level of the dungeon.

The party had reached 3rd level, so left the dungeon long enough for Kalitni to find a wolf to bond with, who she named Daikitsu. (Sir Dain's retainers, who had remained outside, reported a wolf lurking around, and were glad to see the ranger take it away.) This means that the party now consists of:
  • Raven Flare, female tiefling rogue 3 (assassin, urchin)
  • Kalitni, female human ranger 3 (beast master, hermit) with Daikitsu, wolf companion
  • Xuri, female blue dragonborn sorcerer 3 (wild magic, sage)
  • Sir Dain (NPC/guest PC), male hill dwarf paladin 3 (oath of devotion, knight)
  • Erky Timbers (GM-run NPC), male forest gnome cleric 2 (life domain, acolyte)
They returned to the chief's room, which contained a deep shaft lined with pallid vines, and a dim violet light coming from below. Kalitni convinced her new wolf to allow Sir Dain (the strongest member of the party) to carry her during the climb down. The paladin and ranger went first, with the others following shortly behind them.

At the bottom, the shaft opened into a large chamber covered in soil, in which pale, sickly plants and fungi grew. The purple light came from phosphorescent fungi on the walls. Two skeletons with shovels tended the plants, and Dain and Erky recognized two saplings in the room as twig blights like the one in the chief's room. Erky's sacred flame utterly destroyed one blight, and the party quickly dispatched the other one and the two undead.

Two doors and a passage led out of the room. Xuri was closest to the open passage to the north, and heard stealthy sounds of movement from the room beyond. The party advanced down the short passage and entered a rough cavern that smelled of blood and animals. Two giant rats ambushed Dain, but only inflicted scratches. A bugbear wearing a helmet decorated with antlers emerged from a more distant niche of the room, and attacked Kalitni, yelling (in Goblin, which only the ranger understood), "Get ready to meet the cook pot!" The paladin landed a critical hit and added a divine smite to it, sorely wounding the bugbear. The party then surrounded their foe, but all missed their attacks. The big goblinoid hit Dain hard, but the paladin downed it with another solid blow.

The party found the bugbear's stash of coins, and took the collection of weapons from a rack in the back of the room. They also found a narrow, winding passage exiting the north side of the room. Kalitni saw only tracks from the bugbear and giant rats beyond this opening. The party explored it for some way, but found nothing interesting after some time, so turned back to check out the doors in the shaft room--which suggested heavier use, so more likely routes to the druid Belak. [This passage gives DMs the option of expanding the adventure, but I decided to just reveal to the players that I had nothing special planned here. There is already enough to do in this adventure--and the following ones--that I wanted to just move on.]

The heroes investigated the southern door first. The hallway beyond went a short ways then met a shallow rift, where the earth had opened and shifted sideways. The hallway continued on the far side, but offset a good ten feet. The rift itself had none of the glowing fungi found in the other rooms, but the party had magical light sources. The floor was riddled with large, deep holes that were too deep and winding to probe very far--only Erky could have fit into them, and the gnome was not willing to risk himself exploring them alone.

The party carefully crossed the rift, and following the hallway to a room with decaying mosaics on its walls and an iron pedestal shaped like a dragon in the center of the floor. The dragon held an empty tray. Xuri, whose recalled another dragon sculpture concealing a trap, studied the stand carefully with the rogue's help. They found no traps, so the sorcerer removed the tray--and nothing happened. She then got Dain's help to rotate the heavy pedestal, but nothing worse than the painful screech of metal on stone occurred. Xuri was disappointed, but suggested that they might use this room as a place to fall back and rest while exploring this level.

The group then followed the rift going west, and found that it opened into a chamber with more of the strange holes in the floors and walls. A dim glow came from one of these holes, so the stealthier members of the party investigated. They found a fiery, serpent-like creature [a flame snake] in the hole. It soon heard one of the PCs moving, and slithered out to attack. A couple of sneak attacks from Raven, a poison spray from Xuri, and a sacred flame from Erky slew it, with those closest to it taking some damage from the intense heat of its body. Once dead, it began to cool and dim slowly, much like a red-hot iron taken away from the fire. The gnome spotted a couple small sapphires in the hole that the snake had exited, but they found no other treasure here.

The heroes then followed the rift the other direction. It ended in a hole in the wall of a small, empty room. A door on the far side of the room was ajar, so Raven crept closer to take a look. The door opened into a wide hallway that contained several tables heaped with bowls of plants and fungi, and various other tools and supplies. Six other doors exited the hallway: two more on this side and three on the far side,  all partly open, plus one door at the west end (which the rogue guessed led to the shaft room). Raven motioned the others forward, and they cautiously entered the hall. Xuri went ahead to look into the nearest door, and saw three goblins examining a giant rat strapped to a table. The goblins turned and saw her, so she quickly closed the door, but not before one of them squawked an alarm.

Two goblins door peered out of the opposite door, and Kalitni promptly shot one dead. Raven bounded across the room to run the other one through. Dain moved to the last door on the south wall, and saw two goblins just inside. Both goblins were half-covered with vegetable pulp, and the dwarf could see a large tun behind them, in which they had presumably been standing to mash things. Xuri checked the opposite room, and found three sleepy goblins just climbing out of their beds. They grabbed weapons and rushed her--but were slammed across the room and slain by her thunderwave. The heroes swiftly finished the remaining goblins.

The captive giant rat turned out to be covered in weird, fruit-like tumors, unlike any disease the PCs had ever seen. They decided to put it out of its misery.

Xuri had cast blur upon herself at the start of the fight, and was eager to press on before the spell expired. The last room in the hall contained a small stash of weapons, and a door on the east wall. The party quickly passed through it and the tiny room beyond, and found a long chamber with large patches of soil supporting fungi and some sun-starved plants. A bugbear had been tending to this weird garden, but the party's entrance caused her to attack with her sickle-bladed glaive. Dain used his protective fighting style to save Raven from a blow that would have been a critical hit without his help, so the bugbear accomplished nothing before she went down under the party's blows.

This room had three doors, one at each end (north and south) and one in the center of the east wall. Xuri opened the eastern door and found an octagonal room filled with various fungi and subterranean plants. There were more of the strange holes in the floor, and several patches of scorched plants. Seeing nothing else, and no other exits, she and her companions took the north door. This was another long chamber like the one where they encountered the bugbear gardener. Another door here led to another dead-end octagonal room, where the party fought three skeletons and two twig blights.

To the north was another octagonal room, this one with a door out. The led to a short hallway that opened into a room lit by red light coming from somewhere around a corner. They could see that the room's walls were covered in tiles decorated with dragons. Xuri's blur spell was just about to end, so the party fell back to the previous room to spend a few minutes healing their wounds before going further.

The room around the corner held a marble statue of a red dragon. The red light came from the dragon's empty eye sockets. Just in front of the statue was a disk of dark stone on which were inscribed with runes. Raven, who was in the lead, spotted a shadowy figure hiding in the inky darkness behind the statue, where the red light did not reach (but her darkvision did). When she shot it with her bow, it did less damage then she expected. Dain advanced to engage the shadow, but it landed a critical hit on him, and the paladin felt some of his strength and life force sucked away. [As a tough hill dwarf paladin, he was the only party member who would not have been taken out by that single attack!] Xuri missed with her witchbolt, and the shadow resisted Erky's attempt to turn it. Dain finally struck it, and his divine smite destroyed it--the radiant energy shredded the dark figure into nothingness.

As Erky healed the paladin, he explained how fortunate the party had been--a shadow was an incorporeal undead that, if it drained enough of your strength, would kill you and turn you into a shadow, too.

Xuri studied the statue, and concluded that it must represent Ashardalon, who was worshiped by the ancient cult who first built the Sunless Citadel. She also examined the circle of runes, which were in Draconic: "Let the sorcerous power illuminate my spirit." She recalled other Draconic inscriptions in this dungeon that produced strange effects when spoken aloud--some helpful, some painful--and asked the others to leave the room before she read these. When she did so while standing inside the circle, she was engulfed in phantom flames. (She now has advantage on Charisma checks for a limited time.)

This room had a door leading out of it. However, the party had traversed a number of rooms in a hurry, without taking time to search them, and was nearly out of spells and healing abilities. They decided to return to the room with the dragon pedestal to rest before going further, but made a point of searching each room on the way back so that they wouldn't miss anything of value. In the statue's room, they found a loose tile hiding some coins and a couple flasks of alchemist's fire.

When the reached the first octagonal room that they had seen, they found that it was not empty after all. Another one of the fiery serpents laired here. It tried to bite Erky, who managed to dodge it. Xuri reacted quickly, roaring at it to scare it off so that they wouldn't have to fight it. This intimidation worked, and the snake fled the room. Xuri followed in order to see where it went; the creature burrowed into the ground near the southern door in the gardens that the party had not yet opened.

The party retrieved the bugbear gardener's glaive, which Dain decided might be handy if he ever found himself stuck in the second rank of a crowded battle. The goblinoid also carried a potion of healing, which Kalitni claimed as she had given hers to Dain following one of the last few fights.

Back in the goblins' workshop, the party found enough supplies to make up a healer's kit, herbalism kit, and alchemical supplies. In the room with the dead, tumorous rat, they found a crystal flask filled with a liquid they could not identify. (They took the flask, but were careful not to touch or drink its contents.) The pressing room contained a tub full of mashed roots and fungi, a dirty straining basin, and several casks of finished brew. Kalitni could identify many of the ingredients, and knew that goblins liked such crude stuff; however, few other races found it palatable. The party took none of it.

The party barricaded themselves in the dragon pedestal room and took a long rest. Next time, they will see what lies beyond the dragon cult's shrine.

The Sunless Citadel: Past Columns

#1: Down into the Ground
#2: Lost Dragon
#3: Through the Dragon Door
#4: Goblin Boss Battle

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