Saturday, September 26, 2020

Part 4: A Faust-ian Bargain


Our heroes continued the exploration of the tunnels beneath the bathhouse by checking the various hallways they hadn't gone down yet. Thankfully IRL the pacing of this search went a little faster for this session because IRL we were having trouble getting Fantasy Grounds working, and since we'd already explored most of the section of the dungeon we were already in, the rest was just mopping up any remaining possible treasure rooms loose ends before moving on.

The first hall they went into led into a small alcove with a large tapestry as well as a hallway heading into a large open chamber. We examined the tapestry first, and I really wish we hadn't. The tapestry depicted a ritualistic killing of one person by four others, with the victim screaming in pain as it was ripped apart. Nice. Evil. Sure. Glad to be here.

Faust did as Faust does and used the Detect Magic spell to examine the tapestry for any unseen trickery, of which he found none. However, Seliph wondered if there would be anything behind the tapestry and attempted to move it. Well, he certainly found something behind the tapestry, as what awaited him as he folded the tapestry over was a rather large colony of yellow mold.

"Gah! Disgusting! Someone really should clean this stuff up!"

Faust recognized the mold, suggesting that it could be burned, to which Seliph replied, "Okay, Mr. Magic Man, do your stuff."

"Unfortunately I do not possess any fire magic. I'm more of a ritual spellcaster than a conjurer."

Seliph opened his mouth to say something (after all a magic user who can't use fire magic? Nonsense!), then closed his mouth again, before muttering, "There wasn't anything there anyway..."

The party continued into the chamber, and there really wasn't much in there besides...well...more dead stuff. I don't want to go through the details because there really wasn't anything in there besides death and depression, no treasure or anything.

Now that the party had explored that entire section of the dungeon, they made their way to the eastern half, which had yet to be fully explored, and this expedition started with a hall had three separate chambers off the main path before continuing into another room. Naturally, the party decided to check the rooms one-by-one.

In the first room was nothing, as the chamber had long since collapsed. In the second one was an old mummified corpse resting on an altar with two moonstones jammed in its eye-sockets. Faust, again, sensing a trap, used Detect Magic and found something that put off the essence of Evocation or Conjuration Magic (the magic of making stuff happen or appear, the book wasn't clear on it) coming from the chest cavity of the corpse. Naturally, since this wasn't Necromancy, it was probably safe to cut the bandage and see what was putting off the magical energy. This thing happened to be a bag of ten magical beans. In character, Faust was the only one who could recognize the potential for bad stuff happening with these, suggesting that Seliph be careful with them, to which Seliph recommended having someone not regularly in danger hold onto them. This role naturally fell to Sissy, whom at this point had taken the least amount of damage so far.

This was probably a good idea in hindsight.

At the final chamber in the hallway, some slight moaning could be heard from the other side of the door. No, not that kinda moaning, get your mind out of the gutter! Seliph, thinking that someone was in trouble, kicked the door open, breaking the handle in the process.

This was a bad idea, because the source of the moaning was not an injured person, but rather a gaggle of six zombies. Okay, horde, gaggle, murder, I dunno what a plurality of zombies would be called, especially when it's six and not, like, the kinda thing you'd see in a George Romero movie.

Sissy was at the top of the initiative order, but she didn't respond right away, leading me to make a dumb joke about Sissy throwing the bag of beans into the room and having us dash away, which...well, okay, here's how the beans work. When the beans touch the ground, they explode. However, if they're planted, that's where the crazy happens. At a random number between 1 and 100, something like this happens.

01 — 5d4 toadstools sprout. If a creature eats a toadstool, roll any die. On an odd roll, the eater must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or take Sd6 poison damage and become Poisoned for 1 hour. On an even roll, the eater gains 5d6 Temporary Hit Points for 1 hour.

2-10 — A geyser erupts and spouts water, beer, berry juice, tea, vinegar, wine, or oil (DM's choice) 30 feet into the air for 1d12 rounds.

11-20 — A Treant sprouts (see the Monster Manual for statistics). There's a 50 percent chance that the Treant is chaotic evil and attacks.

21-30 — An animate, immobile stone statue in your likeness rises. It makes verbal threats against you. If you leave it and others come near, it describes you as the most heinous of villains and directs the newcomers to find and Attack you. If you are on the same plane of existence as the statue, it knows where you are. The statue becomes inanimate after 24 hours.

31-40 — A campfire with blue flames springs forth and burns for 24 hours (or until it is extinguished).

41-50 — 1d6 + 6 shriekers sprout (see the Monster Manual for statistics).

51-60 — 1d4 + 8 bright pink toads crawl forth. Whenever a toad is Touched, it transforms into a Large or smaller monster of the DM's choice. The monster remains for 1 minute, then disappears in a puff of bright pink smoke.

61-70 — A hungry Bulette (see the Monster Manual for statistics) burrows up and attacks.

71-80 A fruit tree grows. It has 1d10+20 fruit, 1d8 of which act as randomly determined magic potions, while one acts as an ingested poison of the DM's choice. The tree vanishes after 1 hour. Picked fruit remains, retaining any magic for 30 days.

81-90 — A nest of 1d4 + 3 eggs springs up. Any creature that eats an egg must make a DC 20 Constitution saving throw. On a successful save, a creature permanently increases its lowest ability score by 1, randomly choosing among equally low scores. On a failed save, the creature takes 10d6 force damage from an internal magical explosion.

91-99 — A pyramid with a 60-foot-square base bursts upward. Inside is a sarcophagus containing a Mummy Lord (see the Monster Manual for statistics). The pyramid is treated as the mummy lord's lair, and its sarcophagus contains Treasure of the DM's choice.

100 — A giant beanstalk sprouts, growing to a height of the DM's choice. The top leads where the DM chooses, such as to a great view, a cloud giant's castle, or a different plane of existence.

So throwing the bag in there like a grenade would be a terrible idea no matter what happened, explosion or random magical mishap.

Anyway, zombies in 5e have an AC of 8, which means they're pathetically easy to hit, and are a CR of 1/4, which means that they're a decent challenge for parties of level 1-2 in a group that size (Challenge Rating is based on what a party of four healthy adventurers should be able to handle). So Seliph did what Seliph does and planted himself in the doorway. Nothing was going to get into the hallway except through Seliph, who began hacking at the zombie closest to him.

We weren't expecting them to start pushing into the hallway as a group.

After a round of trying to damage the zombies as much as possible, Faust suggested trying to spread the damage out as much as possible, being aware of another problem with zombies that the rest of the party was unaware of. Basically, being undead and not caring about pain, they're actually pretty hardy for their CR, having a chance of not dying when they run out of HP.

Anyway, because of that, things got even worse.

Starting with some poor strength rolls, the party was shoved out of the chamber into the hallway by the zombies. As they were being pushed back, Seliph got an idea. "Let's spread up and try to corral them between us! Faust seems to have an idea!" With that, Kalista and Sissy ended up behind Seliph with a door behind them, while Faust ended up on the opposite side of the horde from the rest of the party.

Faust's idea, of course, was a spell he had been keeping in his back pocket, worried that using it might expose him as a warlock, Arms of Hadar, this charming fella, to whom Faust pledged his service in exchange for magical energy.

Anyway, things started to look up, as the party slowly thinned out the zombies before Seliph started taking some really bad hits. Faust wasn't doing much better, lacking Seliph's heavier armor and beefier HP. Seliph then shouted at Faust, "You're welcome to give us a miracle whenever, Faust!"

Faust deftly slide in between the two remaining zombies and cast the spell, to disappointing effect. By this point, Seliph's last reserves had dried out and he was knocked unconscious, with Faust falling not long after. Kalista and Sissy were eventually able to beat the zombies away from Seliph long enough to stabilize him (and with perfect timing considering he was one failed death save away from...well...death), but unfortunately Faust wasn't so lucky.

By the time Kalista finished off the final zombie, the damage was done. Faust was on the ground, his chest torn open, his breathing had stopped, and his pulse was gone. J. Anton Faust was dead.

After sitting in silence for quite some time, Kalista then asked nobody in particular, "Well, what now?"

Sissy looked the aftermath of the battle over. "Well...I don't know. I don't think we can handle the rest of the dungeon by ourselves..."

Kalista rubbed her chin. "Maybe we could just leave. Find new work. Forget all about this place."

Sissy frowned. "That's true, but...I don't wanna just leave Seliph behind."

Kalista looked at Seliph. "I guess you're right. He'll probably die without us. All right, let's try to drag him into one of those rooms and set up watch until he wakes up. We'll be fine. We're strong women!"

Strong women they may have been, I guess dragging Seliph plus all 120 pounds of his equipment was a two person job that was still pretty difficult for them. Moving Faust's body into the other non-collapsed chamber was a much easier job.

Once the door was locked, Sissy and Kalista allowed themselves to drift off to sleep, hoping that things would be better once Seliph woke up.

---

Faust woke up in an endless, featureless void.

Ah yes. I am dead. It won't be long before he comes around to devour my soul.

Faust resolved to just sit and think for a while before he felt something grab him by the shoulders. A voice behind him startled him.

"You've met with a terrible fate, haven't you?"

Wait. That is not the voice of Hadar. What is this?

Faust quickly turned behind him to see...well...a well-dressed man with horns. So uh...Faust's name doubled down on the literary references here.

"Who are you?" Faust asked.

"I am a friend. I see that you've found yourself in quite a predicament. Since you're dead, here soon, that...thing...you made a contract with will be here, and you'll cease to exist. However, before that...thing...shows up, I wanted to run something by you."

"And what is that?"

"Why, I want you to do a favor for me. I will restore you to life, and you will procure something for me. Well, two things."

"And what are those?"

"I want the book that you got from that...thing...that you got your previous contract from, and I want you to find a shield called the Shield of the Hidden Lord and bring it to Avernus, the first layer of Hell."

Faust took a moment to process this request. "And I assume there is a catch of some kind?"

"But of course! I am a devil after all! I restore you to life and get you out of your current pact, but in return, I get your soul instead of Hadar."

Faust considered the devil's words a little more closely, while out of character the players were all in agreement that this was a terrible idea. However, Faust, using a degree of logic and wisdom heretofore unknown to us regular mortals, saw an opportunity to get out of his pact with Hadar. He'd worry about getting out of this one later.

"Deal!"

"Oh, I appreciate the enthusiasm but I need it in writing. Your full name, here, please." As he spoke, a comically long contract materialized in the devil's hands. He indicated the specific spots where Faust's signature was required.

And thus it was signed Jarrod Anton Faust, though not before we joked about him using a false name to get out of the contract, such as Jerald Anthony Foster. Of course Faust did not do this, as he wanted to avoid making some poor innocent's afterlife experience worse.

"By the way, what do I call you, sir?"

"Oh, if you need a name to call me by, you can call me Advocati." He then snapped his fingers.

As Faust's senses started to return to the physical world, he was left with one more thought in the back of his mind as he woke up.

This is what it looks like. Try not to die, now!

---

Faust awoke alone in the next room over, now completely aware of the insane amount of pain he was in. In a combination of fear, panic, confusion, and pain, Faust could do nothing besides scream. After a few seconds of screaming he heard rapid footsteps from down the hall, and as he was screaming he realized that where there should have been a gaping wound in his chest was the remains of a large burn. Faust quickly covered the burn with his jacket before Kalista dashed in, surprised to see Faust somehow alive after what happened the night before.

"Faust! You're alive! How?"

"Oh, hello Kalista. I...made contingencies in case something happened to me."

Kalista took a moment to think about this. "Oh, that's a good idea! Good use of magic! Maybe we should all try to do that."

"Oh yes, that would be a wonderful idea. However, this one took me a few weeks to do, and I will need more time to prepare another, so let us try not to die again, ja?"

Kalista and Faust returned to the other chamber as Seliph was finally beginning to stir.

"Faust?" Sissy excitedly exclaimed. "You were the source of all that screaming next door?"

"Hey Faust," Seliph let out. "Glad to see you made it."

"Are you able to move, Seliph?"

"Yeah, everything hurts but I feel like I can finish the rest of this dungeon."

And thus the party continued on into the dungeon, they walked into a chamber with some bodies suspended from the ceiling, specifically a female tiefling and a male human. Kalista let out a scream of rage seeing a dead tiefling, before Sissy pointed out that she was still breathing.

They pulled her down from where she was hanging, unconscious, but very much alive, and Seliph tapped into his celestial powers to heal her. As she awakened, she screamed, seeing the ragtag group of people surrounding her.

"Please, please don't hurt me anymore!"

"No no no no, it's okay, you're safe with us, sister tiefling," said Kalista.

"Yes, there is nothing to fear from us, we are here to rescue you," added Faust.

The tiefling relaxed a bit. "Oh, thank goodness, I can't take any more of the torture."

"What are they doing here?" Kalista asked, hoping to get some more information on the cult.

"What's it look like they're doing? They're abducting innocent people and sacrificing them!"

"Yes, we have gathered that," Faust responded. "Do you know why they're doing this?"

"No, besides just trying to revive their dead gods."

"Well, we're going to stop them. You should be able to get out the same way the other guy did," offered Kalista.

"I'd prefer to just stay with you. I don't feel comfortable travelling through here alone."

The party deliberated a bit, before agreeing to let her join. "What's your name?"

"Vendetta. My name is Vendetta."

Weird name, but okay, sure.

The party continued onward into the dungeon until they saw a solitary cultist standing guard in an unassuming hallway. After an extremely long period of awkwardly staring at one another, the cultist shouted, "Intruders! Intruders have come in here!" and started running.

The party looked back and forth amongst themselves before Sissy dashed off after the cultist, and what followed was basically that scene from Star Wars: A New Hope where Han Solo runs around the corner screaming before seeing a hallway full of Stormtroopers. Complete with Sissy firing off an Eldritch Blast, severely wounding one of the cultists before running back to where the rest of the party was, quickly warning them of the group of cultists behind her.

This fight went significantly better for the party. Better rolls. Faust actually hit someone with his boomerang (opting to avoid casting spells in case his Eldritch Blast happened to have a new affinity befitting his new patron, it would be awkward having to explain why he suddenly can shoot fire, for instance).

One cultist was left, and he opted to try to escape into a hallway that split into three more chambers. Specifically he dashed into the middle of the three chambers, locking the door behind him and whimpering in fear.

Naturally, we had to examine the three separate areas again, and the first one from the north end of the room contained, like most of these chambers before it, a sarcophagus. However, unlike the previous chambers, the sarcophagus was filled with blood, and a lone, old woman.

"Oh, dear me, you're here to rescue me, yes?"

Unlike the previous hostages, this one seemed...off, and after some insight examinations and some detection of evil from Seliph, yeah, our fears were confirmed.

The lady was trying to lead us into a trap in a secret section of the dungeon that we'd discovered shortly before, but her fa├žade quickly melted away as she began complaining about people trying to stop her from worshipping as she felt was her right.

"Your right to your religion ends with the sacrifice of tieflings!" shouted Kalista, who dashed forward and began attacking the old woman. Who happened to be extremely skilled with a dagger. Uh oh.

This fight was a little rougher, as she kept turning invisible after attacking, and with her special ability Aura of Murder (yes, that's what it's called), she and any of her companions would do double damage on attacks (good thing we kept her isolated from her buddies).

Anyway, soon she knocked Kalista out and tried to escape, but the party eventually managed to finish her off after she tried attacking Sissy, who had used the Armor of Agathys spell previously, which gave her extra temporary HP and did damage to anyone who landed an attack on her.

Seliph quickly healed Kalista to keep her from dying, and this is where we ended up calling the session. It was stupidly stressful, and we all agreed we needed a break. I didn't mention it during the recap, but we were all severely sad and terrified when Faust died. Gimmicks aside that was the first actual death I've experienced in a 5e campaign, and it was sudden as it was brutal. The knowledge that a devil is waiting in the wings to try to tempt us into working for him in exchange for salvation from death did not do much to make us feel better, though I think it's safe to say if Seliph comes to this choice, he's probably just going to say no.

So...I was wrong. We're not quite done with the dungeon yet. Hopefully next week we will be.

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