Monday, August 16, 2021

The Things Heroes Do For Friends

Hey...guess it's been a while, hasn't it? Ummm...sorry about that, guys! Let's talk about something stupid that happened to my character in a recent RPG session. know how in The Oregon Trail games, you have a list of options of how to cross rivers when you come up to them? And you know how fording the river is almost always a bad idea? At least that's how it seemed to me in the Apple II version I would play in elementary school, maybe some other people had better luck. Maybe it works better if you actually pay attention to the river conditions. I don't know.

So, a little background on this campaign. A group of us have been pulled into a world that seems to be in a limbo state, neither dead nor alive, with six towers that need to be activated to restore what has been lost, and the towers seem to be reflective of the traditional elements (earth, fire, water, wind, and two others I'm sure the GM mentioned that I've already forgotten). At this point the earth and water towers have been reactivated, leading to a spike in seismic activity and torrential downpours. Which, naturally, leads to flooding.

Our party is heading towards what can only be described as the most dangerous part of the map, and there's a pretty sound strategic reason behind it. We're on the run from a group of villains (because what's an RPG without the main characters being on the run?) and since the villains themselves don't want to enter this part of the map, a ruined city with a bunch of advanced technology including killer automatons defending the place, seems fitting that, if we can tame the place or at least learn to survive there, it would provide a decent home base while we plan the rest of our actions.

Well, as it turns out the only way there led us to a place where the flooding is so intense that it's not even standing water at this point. It's essentially become a river.

Yeah, you know how you're told to "Turn around, don't drown" when you see conditions like this while traveling? Especially when a vehicle is involved?

So the group has been traveling with two wagons and a team of archeologists (because why not use that as a cover while we try to do things the bad guys don't want us to do?) and once we came to the river, we ended up having to take some time to consider our actions. Do we wait and try to fashion the wagons into rafts? Do we see if we can find boats elsewhere? Or do we tie a rope to the other side and try to brute force it?

Honestly the rope thing seemed like a good idea at the time, but one slip and a failed strength roll later, and down the river one of our party members went.

Naturally my character, upon ensuring that the cart was stabilized, dove right in after him. After all, he's the party's tough guy, having grown up in a frontier village.

And this is where it's important to acknowledge that this campaign isn't using the D&D 5e system where the Athletics skill covers a multitude of things including climbing and swimming. Nope, we're playing GURPS (short for Generic Universal RolePlaying System) specifically to make use of the different tech levels and a lot of other stuff as part of this world's setting. And in order to fit that generic mold, GURPS has a TON of different skills and skill sets. Including swimming.

And my character doesn't have that skill. And naturally, trying to save someone who is currently panicking, trying not to drown, my character diving in without thinking only made things worse.

Couple that with the dice being really uncooperative that night, and...well...

Nah, I'm just kidding, by this point the rest of the party had sprung into action, including one using the draft animals from the carts (these lovely things) and a party member who could actually fly, and we were brought to shore, my character doing slightly better than the other because they chose to rescue him first.

So...what have we learned from this?

I dunno. I guess sometimes when you have two choices ahead of you, the choice really ends up looking like this.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Endgame: Take Care Of Yourself


"A little warning would have been nice!" Faust exclaimed once brought back to consciousness and his situational awareness returned.

"I'm sorry," Rylee began, "but it's not like I knew drawing the sword would lead to the citadel exploding!"

"About that," Sissy started, "what exactly happened?"

"We...have a lot to unpack," Seliph replied, before launching into an explanation of everything that went down while the two of them were outside the citadel.

"Oh, right, Rylee," Kalista broke in, "do you remember everything?"

"Of course, as far as I know I haven't forgotten anything," Rylee responded.

"But...but are you on our side?" Kalista continued.

"Why wouldn't I be?" Rylee asked.

"It's just...hard to tell, I guess," Kalista offered.

After a brief moment of quiet, Rylee then said, "We should probably go. That explosion will have drawn some attention towards us."

"Yeah," Seliph agreed, "we've got a long way back to Elturel. Do we know how much Zariel was delayed by when we sent our distraction?" Seliph then asked Olanthius.

"Can't say," he admitted, "but we don't have much time. Less than a day, for sure."

Travel back to Elturel took a few hours, but once the great city came into view, there was a much bigger problem at hand.

The city, formerly suspended hundreds of feet above the surface of Avernus, was now floating feet above the River Styx. Another few hours and it would be completely submerged, damning all within the city to a swift end, only to be brought back as devils in service to Zariel.

This was bad enough, but there was one more detail that came into view.

Legions of demons and devils were locked in a fierce battle surrounding the city, with Zariel, as Lulu observed, "right in the thickest, most dangerous part of the battle, like always."

In case that wasn't enough, the party caught sight of a nightmare flying down from the sky at breakneck speed, carrying a figure the party instantly recognized as Advocati.

The party all slowly turned to face Faust.

"What? It isn't as if the angels were offering us any better alternative."

Seliph rolled his eyes and pulled over, and the party climbed to the roof to speak with Advocati.

"Thank you for agreeing to meet me so quickly. I've been hard at work undermining Zariel, and I'm still absolutely thrilled you guys agreed to let me take over this place once Zariel is out of the picture. I can't begin to thank Faust and Sissy enough." Faust's quick shift between confusion and anger seemed to be the exact reaction Advocati was hoping for.

"Now now, I'm here to make things easy for you. Like I said, I've been undermining Zariel, and to do that I've spoken at length with a lot of her, shall we say, less enthusiastic soldiers, and they've agreed to step aside and let you through, but only if you show them this." He then flipped a red coin towards Faust.

A red soul coin.

Faust, trying to keep his cool, merely asked, "And whose soul is in this coin?"

Advocati chuckled, then responded, "What makes you think I know or care about that?"

"What's so special about this coin then?" Kalista demanded.

"Why, it's red. Show this to any fiends you run into in that field. The ones who are out of the loop will probably just ignore you, but the ones who are in the loop will specifically get out of your way. The demons...however..."

Rylee quickly responded, "The demons, however, will be no problem for us."

"Precisely. Love the confidence and the new look, Rylee," Advocati added with a wink.

"Don't think you're suddenly in my good graces. I could and still might end you without second thought."

This response was...not what the rest of the party was expecting, but Advocati just smiled. "Either way, I've done what I could. Now, go work your magic."

"Sincerely though, thank you," Rylee said. "We hope to end this now."

Advocati bade the party farewell, then mounted his nightmare and flew off. Where? I dunno, out of the plot for the rest of the story though.

With their goal in sight, the party slowly made their way through the battlefield towards Zariel's location, being interrupted a few times for direct combat or, in a few cases, avoiding magical explosions nearby.

At this point, Zariel was levitating above the battlefield, her attention drawn to what the party was up to. While three people in the party were capable of modest levitation or flight (some more than others), getting up there and maintaining that height could be difficult. To that end, Lulu finally transformed into her true, giant golden mammoth form, offering to lift those who were incapable of flight to Zariel's location.

As the party closed in on Zariel's location, Seliph shouted her name at the top of his lungs. She was watching the party close in on her, so it wasn't to get her attention. It was a show of defiance.

"Zariel," he repeated, once they were within a decent range to speak. "It's time to end this."

"You all came back. brought Lulu, the sword, Olanthius. What's this all about?"

"Rylee," Lulu began, "present the sword to Zariel. That's the only way to break this."

Indeed, Rylee noticed that the sword seemed almost magnetically attracted to Zariel. Thus, she let it go, saying, "Come, Lady Zariel. This isn't the real you. You have a mission to fulfill. Let us leave this place. Come home."

Seliph added, "We know about what happened in Idyllglen. What happened afterwards. All of it. But we also know that you don't have to do this anymore."

The sword landed in Zariel's hand, and she began to scream in pain as the sword seemed to burn her on contact.

And as much as I want to say she pushed through the pain, let it change her back into her original form, and we all got the happy ending we wanted and worked so hard for, the truth is...I can't. Sometimes, you can do everything within your power in the most proper way you can find, and due to the agency of others, it just doesn't work. Sometimes, like in this case, the dice have other plans.

Snarling in pain, Zariel shouted, "With this final rite, I discharge my divine duty. Let my name be forever struck from the ledger of Mount Celestia." She then tightened her grip around the sword, crushing it.

"Now, I'll do the same to all of you fools who dared mock me!" Zariel shouted, readying herself for combat.

Seliph quickly leaned in close to Lulu's ear, saying, "Time for Plan B!" Even though neither one of them knew what Plan B was.

"Wait!" Rylee shouted. "Zariel, you made me a proposition. I serve you, you let my friends and the people of Elturel go. Is that still on the table?"

Zariel, taken aback, relaxed her stance and smirked. "Why, yes of course. I had wondered if you'd even remembered my proposition considering how quickly the five of you abandoned the one quest I gave you. It almost felt like our discussion didn't even happen. But yes, of course," she said, extending a hand. "My word is law. Agree to bow down and serve me, and your friends and Elturel can go back to the material plane."

"Rylee, stop!" Seliph began. "Don't do this!"

"Yes," Faust added, "you know this isn't going to work."

"Please," Rylee said, "it's the only way. Lulu, please take everyone to safety."

Lulu reacted in shock, asking, "Wait, who are all you people? What's going on?!"

You see, something terrible happens with Lulu if the party fails to persuade Zariel to turn, her mind breaks, and any number of trauma-related stuff can happen. Thankfully, she didn't faint, leading most of the party to fall to their deaths, but instead, her amnesia came back, and it came back strong.

"Don't worry, Lulu. I'll make sure you're safe. Just get everyone a decent distance away from here. Go!"

"Uhh, right!" Lulu then turned and shot in the direction of Elturel.

Seliph, however, was not taking this well. "RYLEE!!! IT'S NOT TOO LATE!"

Thing is, it was. Rylee took Zariel's extended hand, and could feel a fundamental change within her. That is, she became keenly aware of the pact her soul had just forged with Zariel, and her appearance began to shift to look more like Zariel, or, even more disturbingly, like the image of herself Rylee saw in the mirror not so long ago.


Seliph's shouting eventually lost all coherency as he broke into sobs.

Eventually Lulu landed on one of the broken streets of Elturel, frantically asking the party what was going on, to which Seliph muttered, "We...we're nobody. It doesn't matter. None of this matters anymore."

High above Elturel, Zariel and Rylee floated towards the Companion (brief reminder, the thing that was meant to help with their vampire problem but ended up being the very thing that dragged the city into Hell in the first place). Once there, Zariel handed Rylee the hammer she had previously been using in combat, saying, "It only makes sense that this be your first act in service to me. Just hit the Companion, and all will be returned to 'normal.'"

Rylee looked down at the city of Elturel. She thought she saw her friends looking back up at her, but at that distance it could have been anyone. A tear rolled down her cheek as she said, "My beloved friends...I'm sorry." Without another word, she destroyed the Companion.


A few days later, Faust found Seliph in a tavern sitting by himself staring at a full pint of whatever excuse for alcohol this particular barkeep had managed to scrounge together. The barkeep warned Faust that he'd been like that for days, ordering something to be polite but just sitting in silence, completely despondent.

"I don't get it. Man comes back as a hero, but the way he carries himself you'd think he was just another one of those undead that plagued the city in Avernus. He barely eats. Once it's time to close up shop, he pays his tab and leaves. I feel like I oughta say something because he might be scarin' off my regulars, but I can't bring myself to do it. A man with that look in his eyes...something's definitely wrong.

Faust nodded, but frowned. "I was hoping to have this taken care of before I set off for Candlekeep, but I suppose it can't be helped." Indeed, he and Kalista had decided to travel to Candlekeep together. Kalista was going to turn in her findings to Sylvira, and Faust...well...Faust had a lot of studying to do.

You see, once the party had arrived in Elturel and were clear of all the grateful citizens, Seliph...exploded. He grabbed the amulet he carried as a reminder of his oath as a paladin, that being the oath of redemption, tore it from around his neck, screamed, and threw it before breaking down into tears again. After composing himself, he said, "I need a drink," and quietly stood and left Faust, Sissy, Kalista, and Lulu unsure of what to do.

"Let's give him some time," Faust finally said. "In the meantime, what the hell are we supposed to do now?"

Kalista folded her arms. "I was hoping to get out of my pact before leaving Avernus, and unfortunately now, my clock is ticking. I'm going to need to start killing people..." the thought made Kalista sick.

Sissy also piped up, "Yeah, and I've got some stuff I've gotta figure out as well since I made that deal."

Faust then looked at Lulu, and then said, "Well, I suppose Candlekeep is as good a place to start as any. I never thought I'd be researching this for someone else." When the others looked at him, he clarified, "What? We all have things we want out of, and I'm most likely our best bet in finding the next step."

It was at this point that Kalista agreed to travel to Candlekeep with Faust and Lulu, who had forgotten everything. Mercifully, this included Zariel, so hopefully she would be able to find some semblance of peace in what remained of her life.

Figuring out which tavern Seliph was at wasn't difficult, it being one of the few buildings that wasn't completely destroyed. Faust wasn't sure if he'd get through to him, but he knew he had to try.

After explaining briefly all that Seliph was dealing with, Faust crossed over to Seliph's table and punched him right between the eyes.

In truth, this punch hurt Faust much more than it hurt Seliph, but Faust balled up his fist for another one.

"Just how long are you planning on keeping up this sorry performance?"

"What do you care?" Seliph muttered. "Zariel took everything from me. Even things I didn't realize I still had like my father. Besides, it's not like it matters. Rylee's gone."

"That was a quick change. Just a few days ago I seem to recall you swearing to take revenge on Zariel. Something about burning her entire kingdom to the ground. Was that all a bluff?"

"That was before it finally sank in that Rylee is gone. Gone and can't come back."

"She may not be. I'm going to Candlekeep to continue my research on oaths and pacts."

Seliph raised an eyebrow. "What's your game, here? I thought you and Rylee hated each other."

Faust glowered. "Oh, so the hero has a few private chats with her and suddenly he thinks he's the only one who can be upset at what happened?"

"That's not..." Seliph began before trailing off.

"We all want to try to get her back."

"But...why though? I thought you couldn't stand her."

Faust finally sat down next to Seliph. "You see, there is another thing I've kept from you. Rylee discovered my warlock pact quite a while before the rest of you did. At first I thought she was going to do something drastic about it, but she promised to keep it a secret from the rest of you, and she kept that promise. I'm not sure, but that action surprised me. I'm not accustomed to people actually following through with promises. I'll be honest, I grew a grudging respect for her. No no, you don't need to feel jealous or threatened or anything of the sort. I'm doing this because she is my friend."

"All this for a friend?"

"I don't have many of them." The implication was clear.

This is totally an embellishment of what happened based on Faust's player referencing a specific scene in the movie Tombstone, but I felt like throwing it in anyway because it does illustrate a way Faust changed throughout his journey.

Faust continued, "Look, I understand you need a little time. And I'd understand if you didn't want to join-"

"I do. Of course I do. I just...have some stuff I have to figure out first." Seliph cast a look at the amulet which had been returned to him by one of the city guard, who said he'd received it from an anonymous fan. "I'm not sure if my oaths as a paladin are really going to help me here. I...failed. And I don't know if I'll be able to succeed in the future."

"Take whatever time you need. You know where to find me." With that, Faust took his leave for Candlekeep.

What happens next? Who knows? There's definitely room for a sequel story, but for the purposes of the current campaign, this is the end.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

That Time We Destroyed An Antique Elevator

This story is from our campaign in the city of Thane, an interdimensional trading hub that may or may not have been heavily inspired by the Ravnica setting from Magic the Gathering as well as some other stuff the DMs (as there were two) were really into at the time. Our party had been summoned to do some investigation into various things on behalf of one of the noble houses in the city, and this included going deep into a local mine to hunt down a specific artifact.

To be honest I'm not 100% on the specifics as it has been a while, and I'm going to be paraphrasing a lot, so if it seems like some details don't add up, blame my spotty memory. That being said, bottom line is the only way into this part of the city was by riding a very old elevator, the oldest one in the city. It was rickety and unstable, but it had gotten the job done as long as anyone could remember.

Sure would be a shame if a bunch of adventurers came and screwed that up.

Though being fair, it's not as if the DMs planned for this. But I'll illustrate that in a bit.

So, important players in this fight are Skyerrow, an aarakocra monk, and I'm only illustrating his race because as a bird-person he could fly (and yes, we made a lot of Rick and Morty jokes at his expense), and Flora, a firbolg barbarian. Firbolgs are essentially mini-giants, and Flora, though having the personality of Fluttershy from My Little Pony (exactly what her player was going for), got by by smacking stuff with a giant club.

Other characters include Minato Hiruma, a human samurai (whom I had lifted from an entirely different campaign from an entirely different game), Phylas, a half-drow warlock (essentially the main protagonist of this campaign considering how many important events happened because of and/or relating to him) and Tyrial, an aasimar paladin. The last three were in this fight, of course, but the real stars here were Skyerrow and Flora, as we'll see shortly.

So, we carried out our investigation and were about to leave the mines when we were met by our original employer near the elevator. I don't remember his name, but that doesn't make much of a difference, because he's not going to be around for very long, as an assassin appeared from the shadows, knifed the contractor, stole the thing we were trying to find, and made a break for the elevator, which Flora ended up clinging to as it began its rickety ascent.

Flora and the assassin began trading blows while Skyerrow quickly flew to the platform to offer support and the rest of the party quickly began scrambling up anything they could to catch the platform, including the chain above the elevator's counterweight. For you see, in a brilliant move of nobody actually communicating what their individual strategies were for this fight (as it was in the beginning of the campaign and we were still trying to figure out our individual combat roles) Phylas decided to blast the counterweight to force the elevator back down.

While Minato was still climbing the chain.

At this point the elevator had made quite a bit of distance (since the counterweight was close enough for Phylas to blast it in the first place). This combined with Flora accidentally smashing the control console for the elevator itself while swinging at the assassin, and you can already see where this is going.

Basically, the elevator was sent careening into the abyss. Skyerrow and Flora were able to escape the elevator at around the same point Minato was clinging to another rope for dear life (which, if we were playing super realistically, Minato catching the two of them probably would have ended with all three plummeting to their deaths following Minato dislocating his shoulder)

Oh, and the assassin? We never were able to get close enough to him to see this for ourselves (considering the smashed elevator and him more or less turning into paste) but the thing he stole from us ended up in the hands of the villains as tends to happen in these stories. As for us? Well, not only were we pegged for the destruction of one of Thane's priceless artifacts (the elevator, not the thing we found and then immediately lost), but also people who had it out for Phylas in particular stuck us with the blame for the death of our employer as well, he being an important noble in the city of Thane who perished not long after coming into contact with a group of ruffians affiliated (though very loosely) with the illegitimate son of another noble with connections to the drow.

This was the beginning of the campaign, mind you, and already we had smashed a priceless artifact and were soon to be on trial (a very, very unfair trial) for murder.

D&D is fun, I swear.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Part 20: This is Where the Fun Begins


She said the real fun would begin after another hour. She wasn't kidding.

During that short time period between waves of enemies, the party discussed a plan for protecting the citizens that had holed up in the cathedral. Though this was still in a deep dive into Lulu's memories, the fact remained that injuries seemed to be real in this place, and nobody wanted to chance death being real as well.

Thus, here was the plan.

Faust, Sissy, and Kalista would take up positions on rooftops surrounding the statue square in front of the cathedral as seen on the east side of the map. Monsters seemed to be mostly coming through town from the west side of the map, and once they were within range, Faust and Sissy would pelt them with magic while Kalista would rain arrows down on them. Well, that was the idea anyway, but as it turns out (that I forgot to mention in the last update since so much had happened), Kalista had a new toy.

You see, we'd levelled up recently, and Kalista had taken the feat Magic Initiate, specifically opening herself up to the warlock spell list. On its own, Magic Initiate isn't all that impressive, just some access to lower level magic from any magic class's spell list. However, since most warlock magic thrives on low level stuff, this basically allowed her to gain access to the warlock's bread and butter Eldritch Blast.

For lore reasons, we'd elected to explain it away as Kalista's pact with her sister finally showing forth good returns, but the bottom line is Kalista suddenly had magic.

So...we've got three snipers. The other party members, Seliph and Rylee, were placed in front of the cathedral behind the barricade. To be honest I kinda missed this point in the planning session because I was out of the room, cooking, but I feel like this informed Seliph's next move pretty well.

That is, upon sight of the next wave, Seliph strode out from behind the barricade to offer himself up as bait (to much shouting from the others through telepathy). This was 100% an establishment of dominance, a silent, but clear declaration of, "We are not afraid of you, and if you don't turn back, you will be destroyed."

Already the gears were turning in Seliph's head. "I'm going to claim the sword if it's the last thing I do."

However, unbeknownst to him, he wasn't the only one who was planning to take the sword. But more on that in a bit.

First came a balgura leading a wave of five dretches. Monsters that had caused the party some trouble earlier in the campaign, but considering how much stronger they had gotten (especially in the past few sessions as the story came closer and closer to the endgame), these guys were nothing.

Unfortunately while being the bait, Seliph also took the bait, as this left the barricade completely defenseless while a pack of gnolls rose up from the south, quickly descending on Rylee and Kalista (well, in Kalista's case, ascending since she was on a rooftop).

Poor decision on their part with Kalista considering she was more potent with her shortswords than with a bow, though Rylee's options were significantly more limited even with her being more willing to use force to protect those innocent people in the cathedral.

Well, Seliph, Faust, and Sissy did what they could to dispatch the first group of monsters before turning their attention to the gnolls, which went down quite a bit more quickly. Naturally, this raised a question among the group.

Just what was supposed to be coming? a word, this.

This guy is Yeenoghu. As in, one of the two demon lords that Zariel wanted the party to hunt down and destroy.

Unfortunately, Rylee was the only one who realized that, but she wasn't able to communicate that information to Seliph before he rushed down the beast, hoping to end the conflict quickly by taking out the biggest guy. he was sprinting towards the hulking monstrosity, Seliph quickly realized... This guy is much bigger than I thought he was. This led to Seliph taking a direct hit by that flail and getting blasted back fifteen feet while another gnoll took the opportunity to try to dogpile on Seliph. Which, fair, but also, rude.

In the ensuing fray, everyone did what they could to pile on the damage against Yeenoghu, but they were no match for him, and eventually Rylee was knocked unconscious, with the rest of the party not far behind.

Just then, an angel wielding a bright sword riding a large golden mammoth descended from on high in a pillar of light. The angel caught the flail, dealt a devastating blow against Yeenoghu, opened a portal to the abyss behind him, and shoved him right in.

Once the party was able to collect themselves, they realized that the person who saved them was Zariel, before she had fallen into darkness.

Zariel thanked the party and healed them of the injuries they'd suffered in the battle as a squadron of other angels--the Hellriders--mopped up the stragglers among Yeenoghu's forces. Among them Seliph recognized his father as well as another similar looking man, his uncle, no doubt.

They also recognized the woman who had placed them into this dream, Yael.

The Hellriders formed ranks, ready to charge into the newly-formed portal into Avernus, when suddenly our heroes found themselves unable to move or respond, as if they were frozen in time. Zariel turned to them and said, "Yeenoghu slaughtered those I swore to protect. I can stop him and others like him. I might have to give up all I stand for, but I could stem the tide of chaos and save many lives from the demonic terrors of the Abyss. Were you in my place, would you risk it all to save others?”

Faust chuckled. "An interesting question. Something you yourself are contemplating? Unfortunately, we know how this will end, and it is not in the manner you expect."

Zariel frowned. "Regardless, the blood war is at our doorstep, and soon it will spill into the mortal plane. Something must be done. I say again, were you in my place, would you risk it all to save others."

Faust shook his head, Sissy shrugged, but it was Rylee who first opened her mouth. "No. I would give it all to save those around me. My friends are my strength as well as my reason for living, and I would give anything for them, but not in the way you're considering."

Zariel looked to Seliph. "I suppose your answer might be different?"

"Honestly, no. I will defend this world from our doorstep, but I would not lead a counter-offensive."

Sissy then piped up. "I agree. I feel more comfortable fighting would you say it...home field advantage."

Kalista, on the other hand, said, "I'd do it. If that's what it would take, I'd do it."

The way we answered the question changed things slightly, as those who survived the battle (technically all of us because Rylee was rescued before she died) were given charms, either of restoration or vitality, and I'll go into those as (if) they get used.

Soon enough the party was back in the citadel, and Lulu began to explain what had happened to her.

“I remember everything now. Idyllglen was the last straw. We followed Zariel to Avernus, but the evil there proved to be too much for us. Asmodeus appeared and promised Zariel infernal legions to end the Blood War, but she had to give the Lord of the Nine Hells her fealty. She accepted and became an archdevil, but not before Yael and I took her sword, hoping it could redeem Zariel someday. I gave up my magic and memories, and Yael gave her life to construct this place to protect the sword.”

Yael, who was still there to judge the party's worthiness, then said, “You have faced many trials to claim the Sword of Zariel. I’m sorry to say, you face one more. As the inscription on the dais says, ‘The hero who becomes one with this blade exists no longer.’ Which of you is brave enough to draw the blade and be gone forever?”

Faust began to laugh.

"You cannot be serious," he began. "After all this, after all we have been through, it was all to spring this upon us at the end? This was your great backup plan? Depending on some selfless soul to give up all that they have for the greater good?"

Lulu frowned, "It was our only choice."

Faust spat back at them, "Your only choice." Not a question, just a disdainful statement of fact. "If this was your only choice you deserved to fail." He then turned to leave, but not without telepathically contacting Sissy, saying, Come with me. Let me show them what a real backup plan is all about.

This left Seliph, Rylee, and Kalista staring at the sword. Seliph hesitated, having not realized what the sword would require.

"I'll do it," Rylee said, solumnly.

"What?" Kalista asked.

"Someone has to," Rylee responded. "Why not me?"

Seliph then spoke up. "I wouldn't have you abandon your oaths for this. Let me do it. I have the least to lose anyway."

Kalista quickly shot back, "There's nothing for me! As it is right now I'm stuck in a contract with someone who hates me, but this sort of sacrifice might be able to help me get out of it. Of course I'd use it to save Elturel, since that's why we're here in the first place, but still, let me do it!"

Without another word, Rylee lunged for the blade, with Seliph and Kalista trying to restrain her, if nothing else so they could discuss this more.

So...I'm not sure if she was thinking this in character, but Rylee's player wasn't expecting it to work, but after a contested athletics/acrobatics roll, Rylee grasped the sword first, and then...well...then the magic happened.

Well, sort of, let's jump over to what Faust and Sissy were doing first.


"I said I need to borrow your ice shard. It will only take a moment," Faust quickly responded.

"'re going to do it, aren't you? You're bringing Advocati here." Again, not a question.

"Do you have any other ideas? Clearly Lulu and Yael have completely lost it."

"Honestly, no, I was hoping we could do this instead. If we're going to be used, let's at least be used by the one who was up front about it."

This statement is a bit of an embellishment from me, but still, considering how angry Faust was at this point and how quickly Sissy was willing to go along with Faust's plan, I'm keeping it.

Once the ritual was completed, and Advocati finished gloating about how he was finally materialized and ready to move onto the next phase of his plan, well...fireworks.

The ghost of Yael met eyes with Olanthius's demon knight form, taking in the sight of her love one last time before she vanished, finally able to pass onto the next life, while an explosion of radiant energy nuked the citadel and the scab off the face of Avernus. Those outside the citadel (including Faust, Sissy, and the newly awakened Advocati) took the full force of the blast, and while Sissy and Faust survived, merely falling unconscious outside the citadel, Advocati was nowhere to be seen, having either perished in the blast or vanished (he totally vanished, there's no way the DM is letting this guy die this easily).

Once the light cleared, Seliph and Kalista cast their eyes about, seeing that Rylee was...well...different.

Specifically, she took upon herself a new, angelic, perfected form, glowing with radiant light and adorned with feathered wings.

And that's about the extent of what we know happened to her her, as while the sword forced changes upon her personality, those personality changes have not been revealed in campaign yet.

And this is where we're at. Rylee, as we knew her, is gone, and in her place...we're not sure yet, but what we are sure of is that this is the end. We're saving Elturel somehow, whether Zariel wants to be saved along with it or not.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Part 19: Things Get Worse Before They Get Worse, And Then They Get Worse


After some more driving the party arrived at their current destination, the Tomb of the Hellriders, in the hopes of finding any sort of clue as to the whereabouts of the Bleeding Citadel and the Sword of Zariel, as well as any information on Zariel's past and clues to help her turn back to the light.

So, bit of info on me, the narrator. I'm not a huge fan of dungeon crawling in tabletop RPGs. It has its place, both narratively and mechanically, and considering I'm such a fan of RPG video games, you'd think that would translate, but my favorite bits of tabletop RPGs are the social and storytelling aspects, and while I'm down with a short jaunt into a dungeon to do some puzzles, kill some beasts, and find some loot, it's not why I play these games and if I'm in the mood for that sort of experience I'll play a video game. It's for this reason I'm not likely to play (or upload a retelling of) campaigns like Dungeon of the Mad Mage or its ilk, and the less we say about the Tomb of Horrors the happier I'll be.

So, it's with that lens that I want to point out that this dungeon was freaking terrifying in terms of atmosphere. And it's not like the encounters within were all that dangerous (spoiler alert for further down in the entry), but throughout most of the place it was just...nothing. Just motionless statues outside, big urns full of the ashes of dead Hellriders and monuments with the names of the dead inscribed thereupon inside, with a couple of rooms with the following description:

As you disturb the ankle-deep mist, it parts to reveal a ritual circle daubed in blood on the floor. Hundreds of slivers of parchment are arranged within it, each tiny strip bearing a name written neatly in blood.

What we were able to surmise was that these names matched up with the names inscribed upon the monuments, and Faust was able to determine that the ritual magic was keeping the souls of those dead from passing onto their eternal reward.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself, as while exploring, Kalista heard something and raised a hand. "I hear moaning." Sneaking closer, she spotted the source: a chamber full of mummies.

Mummies in D&D can be kind of nasty, as most undead can if you're not careful, and we the party were like, "Screw that," and backed into the corridor from whence we came, knowing full well we'd probably have to fight them eventually but we didn't want to if we didn't have to.

Well, as some of these places tend to be designed, we ended up having to go through the mummy room to carry on, and the party briefly huddled to throw together a plan. And guys, I gotta say, this time we freaking nailed it.

Basically we bunched them all together and used a rather crudely-made explosive device to kill them. I don't remember if I mentioned this earlier, it being a project of Faust's, but he created, for lack of a better term, a Holy Hand Grenade.

Probably wasn't this ornate, but hey, use your imagination.

Basically, it was a bottle of holy water that was attached to an explosive device that would, upon detonation, scatter holy water/steam while also spreading...well...explosion. And guys, it worked. It didn't kill them instantly, but it did such a good job at weakening them that the party was able to steamroll (heh) their way through the fight without much (if any) damage.

Eventually the party found themselves in the chamber with the aforementioned monuments as well as...well:

Adorning the wall across from the steles is a carved relief showing a solemn, blindfolded angel on the back of a mammoth with feathered wings. The mammoth is reared up on its hind legs, and the angel holds her sword high. All around them are the broken bodies of fallen knights and devils.

How's that for some awesome heavy metal imagery?

Kalista was the first to open her mouth. "Is that...?"

Faust nodded. "Zariel. Astride a rather imposing Lulu."

Kalista examined it more closely. "Doesn't she seem...I dunno...a little lonely?"

Seliph folded his arms. "Looks that way, but I guess that's what this place does to you."

Rylee frowned. "All this, and she's still doing everything she can to avoid the one creature that would still call her a friend." 

"Such a waste of loyalty...still, there must be something we can do," Seliph muttered, mostly to himself.

Kalista repeated her suggestion from before (that I neglected to mention), "We should at least go burn those slips of paper."

She suggested that before when we found the ritual rooms but it was pretty unanimous that, without any context for what they were doing, that would be an extremely bad idea. However, since Faust took some time to investigate the ritual circles and the monuments, he figured out that burning the paper and scratching the names from the monument would be the only way to release their souls.

Kalista offered to return to the further room and burn the stack of papers there, requesting that Seliph go along with her so she'd "feel safe"

Anyway, after all this was taken care of, the party reconvened in the room with the monuments, where another secret door was found leading to a small, cramped chamber full of books belonging to a man named Olanthius, formerly a Hellrider. From the book:
  • Olanthius never recovered from Zariel’s capitulation to Asmodeus and subsequent transformation into a devil. He blames himself for not seeing warning signs of Zariel’s fall from grace early on — her single-minded determination to slay demons at all costs.
  • Olanthius took his life rather than face damnation, but he was transformed into an undead monster by Zariel to serve her forevermore.
  • Olanthius describes Haruman, his one-time comrade in arms, as a heartless man bereft of compassion — now a devil bent on punishing anyone who stands in Zariel’s way.
  • Olanthius mourns the deaths of his fallen warriors and feels powerless to help them.
  • Olanthius speaks well of General Yael, whom he clearly respects and secretly adores. In one journal, Olanthius hints that he knows where Yael hid the Sword of Zariel but fails to note the location.
However, as is typical in these stories when the heroes find some information they’re not supposed to have, the party’s reading session was interrupted by loud footsteps echoing from down the hall.

Faust let out a curse, and the party quickly looked at one another.

"We should hide!"



"I could try to sneak by."


This went on for a bit before we decided to have the two warlocks cast Invisibility on the party sans Kalista who thought she should be able to sneak by whatever it was that was coming down the hall.

She was not.

A demonic (well, devilish) growling voice rang out, demanding:

"Who has defiled this sacred space?"

Kalista's skin turned a shade paler as she tried to slip by the source of the noise, a Death Knight. Naturally, this sight was terrifying, even moreso when it addressed her personally, completely unfazed by her attempt at stealth.

The Death Knight demanded to know why she was here and how she got in here. Certainly one person can't have come in here by herself?

Unsure of how to lie her way out of it, she told the complete truth: she and a group of her friends were seeking out the Sword of Zariel to either defeat or redeem Zariel and save the city of Elturel.

"Show me these friends of yours."

After an awkward few seconds of back and forth between the invisible party members about whether or not the scary looking figure could be trusted and him threatening Kalista's life if they didn't comply, the party revealed themselves to the Death Knight, who introduced himself as Olanthius, and he wasn't happy that the party went through his diaries.

He explained that he could help them find the Bleeding Citadel, where the Sword of Zariel rested within what could only be described as a scab on the surface of Avernus, but he needed the party's help, and they were short on time. Essentially, his agency was limited due to his very nature as a Death Knight, revived to serve Zariel and defend the tomb that the party just defaced, and the limited time problem?

Zariel was already making moves to drag Elturel into the River Styx, where all of its inhabitants would die and immediately be reborn as devils in service to her.

Gee, thanks for leaving out the part about the time limit.

So, that favor Olanthius was asking? He needed a diversion. So he teleported the party to a location known as Kostchtchie’s Maw, a crevasse in the surface of Avernus named after the demon lord imprisoned there.

So the party lowered themselves into the Maw by hiding themselves within Sissy's patron's jar (a nifty little skill she had just picked up, and yes, her patron genie was literally living inside a Mason jar) while Faust rode his familiar, now taking the form of a Beholderkin, into the crevasse.

Some fighting later as Kostchtchie had some guards who really didn't want to let him go, and the party was now stuck trying to figure out their way back out of the Maw. And thus began the awkward "night" of camping in the Maw while they waited for Sissy's ability to restore itself. Oops.

Don't worry, it gets worse!

How? Well, as the party was making their ascent, they noticed a row of people wielding bows and crossbows on each side of the Maw, waiting for them to slide into view (thank goodness someone passed that check), so Faust directed his familiar to lift them further down away from the two groups of enemies.

Even worse? Since this was technically between two sessions and we'd forgotten we teleported, we got to the rim of the Maw to realize that we didn't have the Demon Grinder. Like, shoot, that's not good, right?

And since we've had another session after that (most of the next bit is just fighting) we're going to be paraphrasing a lot.

Well, turns out it wasn't too far away, as the party saw a cloud of dust barreling towards them.

The party quickly went invisible again, before they realized that the cloud of dust was a very unimpressed Olanthius, who quickly berated the party for taking so long to hide. He said that since the party had already taken eight hours to free Kostchtchie (who was now rampaging across Avernus) and time was of the essence, he brought the Demon Grinder for them, all they need do is follow him to the scab where the Bleeding Citadel lay.

And seriously, this place is disgusting to think about. From the book:

A great, disgusting scab the size of a large hill rises up from a stinking swamp of blood. The domed top of an alabaster temple pokes through the scab. Many black iron chains of Avernus converge on the building, attaching within the grotesque mound.

You see, scab is a very accurate term, as when the Sword of Zariel was cast down to the surface of Avernus, the Citadel sprung up around it. But this being Hell, such a sacred place is an unnatural occurrence, and the land of Avernus was trying to heal around where the "gash" was.

So the party began to dig their way into the scab from the top, guided by Lulu who was able to intuit her way through in the most direct route to the actual entrance to the Citadel (which is my way of explaining away how fast we went through this part of the dungeon).

Turns out they weren't the only ones there, as demons under the rule of Yeenoghu were also trying to get into the Citadel, leading to some fights and what may be one of the craziest moments we've had so far in this campaign.

You see, the party got the drop on a bunch of demons at the bottom of a fifty foot drop, including a Nalfeshnee. Faust and Sissy were able to snipe them from their little perch before the Nalfeshnee teleported up behind the group, where Seliph turned to 1v1 something he probably shouldn't have, but some great damage rolls later and the Nalfeshnee went down.

And then Seliph got the great idea to do a fifty foot flying press onto one of the enemies below.

So...there's no hard and fast rule on how much fall damage to deal so most people default to 1d6 per ten feet, which has potential to be painful, but for high level adventurers with good luck it can be pretty negligible (which this fall was).

This turned out to be a good stroke of luck as not two seconds later Seliph took a couple really bad hits as the fight was winding down, though not as bad as was taken by the others who attempted leaps (who not only missed their attacks but also took more damage from the fall)

Anyway, this fight ended and the party opened the door to the Citadel, where their wounds from the last few fights were healed. From the book again:

A bright white light burns away the blood and grit staining your clothes. Restorative energy brings life to numb muscles as the glow softens to reveal the interior of a sun-kissed cathedral. How light passes through the scab and into the stained glass windows is a mystery only magic can answer.

Pillars line a path from the door to a raised dais carved with Celestial runes. Embedded in a stone atop the dais is a glowing longsword.

Insert music from either the Temple of Time from Ocarina of Time or the Sanctuary from Link to the Past, but yeah, the party slowly made their way to the sword when...

The translucent image of a woman in her thirties wearing plate armor and bearing a thin scar on her cheek appears before you. As she points toward the hollyphant, Lulu’s eyes turn pure white. A whisper fills your ears and says, “I remember!” A wave of radiant energy erupts from Lulu’s body and in that blinding flash the ghostly warrior, the hollyphant, and the Bleeding Citadel disappear.

The solace of the cathedral is replaced by havoc, screams of panic, and acrid smoke. You stand at the edge of a small town of burning cottages, fields, and trees. A broken sign on the ground reveals the settlement’s name: Idyllglen. Shrieking townsfolk run from cackling, snarling demons and gnolls.

Lulu quickly explained that this was her memories from "that day", and indeed, the party themselves were able to piece together the similarities between this and when they entered Lulu's memories before, only things seemed much more real here.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand they found themselves being attacked. As the party fought their way through the various monsters, they came upon an upturned cart with a few dretches trying to smash their way into it. Things got worse when one of Faust's spells went wild and destroyed the cart, revealing a woman hiding under it.

A dretch reared back, ready to strike the killing blow, as Sissy teleported close enough to knock the woman out of the way, shortly before another group of spells cast by Faust slew the rest of the dretches.

Things seemed to be turning in the party's favor, when...

A chorus of screams rises up as people, sheep, and pigs scamper through the town, chased by a demon with the lower body of a great serpent and the upper body of a six-armed gnoll clutching a wicked sword in each of its clawed hands.

This guy...this guy was something else. The fight didn't last super long (as tends to happen in D&D when you have a group of level 12 adventurers focusing down something) but it got kind of scary as he was capable of doing six attacks in one action. Well, seven, including its tail whip attack, which in D&D does more than just lower your defense.

It feels weird paraphrasing this fight so much considering it literally took an entire session, but seriously, this fight was something else, but after much back-and-forth the beast (known canonically as Garoknul) was eventually forced to retreat.

The party took a brief second to catch their breath before...

Five guards wielding spears advance from the north. Splattered head-to-toe with black ichor, they gaze at you with hungry eyes.

This...was awkward. These were just normal guys who were being coerced into violence against their will, and the party realized this. That said, Faust cast a spell that was meant to incapacitate them, however it ended up killing four of them, after which he was overcome by a sudden wave of exhaustion--punishment from Lulu for killing the soldiers--to the point where it looked like his lack of sleep since they arrived in Avernus had finally caught up with him (something I've joked about with his player, who is notorious for not getting enough sleep)

The party did what they could to restrain the final guard while Rylee could figure out how to save him. Once that was taken care of...

A woman’s voice enters your mind. “Nice work. Take a break. You’ve got an hour before the really bad stuff happens.”

Natuarlly...the party's reactions were...well...

And that's where we left off. With things about to get much worse. Though considering this is supposed to be Zariel's start of darkness, I suppose that makes sense.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Part 18: Mirror, Mirror


"I'm waiting..." the Alhoon demanded. "It's not that hard. Give me your soul coins, and I leave you all alone. You don't have all day, and neither do I."

Kalista decided to try stalling for time by projecting her thoughts out to the Alhoon. "Sir, I know soul coins are hard to come by in this economy. However, we also need soul coins in order to survive. You may have half of our soul coins if you leave us alone."

A chuckle seemed to emanate from the Alhoon. "That's not my problem. It makes no difference to me if you live or die."

Thinking fast, Faust quickly added, "That may be true, but can you sustain the damage we can inflict upon you?"

The Alhoon took this as a challenge. "Fools, you think I'm alone?"

On this, the Alhoon's Demon Grinder's doors all opened and various creatures started pouring out. Seeing this, Rylee quickly looked at Seliph. "Sometimes violence is necessary for peace and survival, right?"

"You're asking me?"

"Just say yes so I don't have to worry about this later!"

"Uhh, right, yeah."

She asked this because she knew that the spell she was about to cast could do quite a bit of damage, but she rationalized it as okay since the Alhoon was definitely undead, and it was extremely likely its followers would be as well. Wasting no further time, she quickly summoned a Guardian of Faith to, if nothing else, provide cover for the rest of the party to get back into the Demon Grinder and make a quick getaway. Which was helpful since although the Alhoon could sense where the remaining party members were, I feel it important to note that they were still invisible and would be for a short time, depending on how long they took to take an action.

Anyway, Kalista first took initiative to sneak into the Demon Grinder, with Faust and Sissy following suit. Naturally, the sight of the top hatch opening and closing three times was somewhat startling to Seliph and Rylee, but when Kalista, Faust, and Sissy revealed themselves, they breathed a sigh of relief.

Without thinking, Seliph said, "Everybody strap in. We're out of here!"

And thus they were. Seliph quickly slammed on the gas, angling the Demon Grinder for a small gap between the other and the entrance of the small cave they were hiding in, though not before a few of the Alhoon's goons were struck down by the Guardian of Faith and the other Demon Grinder needed a mild push out of the way.

It didn't take long for the Alhoon's crew to get their own Demon Grinder up and running, and thus began another chase.

Much like the last couple chases, the enemy Demon Grinder's crew did what they could to try to do as much damage to the party's Grinder while the party was doing what they could to escape. Spells flew back and forth along with harpoons and wrecking balls, but the party's Grinder slowly began to pull ahead.

At this point, Kalista, Faust, and Sissy were on the roof, for navigational purposes (as nothing had been done about the smoke pouring out of the engine since the last session) as well as slinging spells at whatever of the Alhoon's crew that that they could hit. Just when it seemed like the party's Grinder was about to make its full escape, it...stopped, as if it had slammed into a wall. Because it had. Specifically a Wall of Force. Naturally, when an object in motion is forced to a sudden stop, those things that aren't strapped down might be flung all over the place, and naturally, while the lithe Kalista was able to keep her footing, the less athletic Faust and Sissy were thrown into the wall. The fact that neither lost consciousness is a bit of a miracle, honestly. are we gonna get out of this situation? Well, I'll explain what I wish I could say had happened first.

Krickendolt, having spent most of the fight obsessively defending his chicken, demanded that Seliph do something to fix the situation, to which Seliph responded, "There are a few weapons that are still functional. I want you and Rylee to get on them." He indicated the Alhoon floating outside the other Grinder, coming upon them. "I want every weapon we have firing on that guy. If we can take him down we're golden."

Seliph quickly threw the Demon Grinder and reverse, slamming on the gas, beginning a quick game of chicken with the Alhoon. Well, what would have been a game of chicken before Krickendolt smacked him out of the sky with the wrecking ball. Seliph said something about a home run or a grand slam, and the party rode off into the sunset.

Well, that's not what happened, but it sounds cool, right?

Instead, we more or less talked the Alhoon, who by this point was the only surviving member of his crew, into leaving us alone. Faust reiterated, "You might be able to kill one or two of us, but all five of us would do so much damage that, honestly, would it be worth it to you to try it?"

It would not, as death for an undead creature such as the Alhoon would be, as he put it, extremely awkward, specifically considering where he was and where he was likely to go after death. So, in the spirit of said awkwardness, he drove off into the sunset, leaving the party to quickly repair their own vehicle and get on the road.

Eventually, the party arrived at the obelisk that they were told about, or at least they were pretty sure that's what it was, as the obelisk was surrounded by eight pillars. In the middle of the eight pillars stood a man gesticulating wildly, spouting off the grossest of obscenities. The party glanced at one another. Surely, this crazy person wasn't the person they were supposed to be meeting, right?

"Are you going to come out here or are you just going to sit in your vehicle and stare at me?!" the man demanded, seeming to read their thoughts.

Naturally, the party was willing to put up with a lot of things but weren't all that willing to help someone being that rude to them for no real reason, but he pleaded with them to not leave him behind, saying that he had information on how to find the Bleeding Citadel, and he would give them that information if they helped him escape where he was, stating that he was pretty sure that he could escape if the party activated the pillars for him.

Rylee read his mind and discovered that he had absolutely no idea that this would work, and Seliph, sensing a trap, used his Divine Sense to...well...sense anything suspicious about the man. Well, as before, the man was not a man at all, but this time a demon, trapped there by the pit fiend Bel. At this revelation, the party was like, "Nope, we already released someone who was strung up by a big name fiend in Avernus and that got us into this mess, we can find someone else." Naturally, this didn't last long as the party knew for a fact that they were lost without any morsel of info they could get (to Rylee's chagrin in particular), and they agreed to help him out.

Basically, the pillars surrounding the obelisk were all tied to the eight schools of magic in the Forgotten Realms, and the demon thought that activating them and, through them, the obelisk, would set him free. Being trapped there for as long as he had, he was running out of ideas.

Well, needless to say it didn't work. As far as we know. Faust took his hand off his chosen pillar before the ritual was complete, but considering almost everyone was injured or suffered an adverse effect, it might not have really been worth the party's while.

The demon shrugged, stating that maybe a deal with Mephistopheles would help him out, but being a man of his word, he suggested that the party might find the next step in their quest at the Crypt of the Hellriders. Which sounded just peachy.

So, those adverse effects on the party? Well, one of them was that Rylee, who put her hand on the Transmutation pillar, had her skin turn blue for 24 hours. So...that was kind of awkward. the party went.

Along the way, Faust approached Seliph and Rylee with a request. Specifically, he wanted them to write their names in his book. He said that this was in case one of them should die, it would be a form of insurance.

He was more honest with Rylee, stating that Hadar might offer a solution (since well, she knew about the Hadar contract anyway).

Naturally both realized he was hiding something, so Seliph weaseled out of the conversation saying he'd think about it, and Rylee flat out said no, she wanted nothing to do with it.

So on the journey went in some mild awkwardness until Faust offered to take over the drive so Seliph could get some rest.

Things were actually going pretty smoothly until Faust, staring out into the distance, was startled back to reality by sudden thump against the windshield, as an imp had flown straight into it. Faust slowed the Demon Grinder down gently, so to not wake the rest of the party, and the imp made the gesture of removing a ring from a finger, obviously referring to Faust's ring.

Once Faust removed his ring, the imp immediately contacted him telepathically. "Finally! Listen, I need you to take a bit of a detour. Your employer wants to speak with you."

Faust cursed silently, then nodded. The imp left Faust with an image of a giant shard of ice that looked similar to an item Sissy was given earlier (that totally isn't meant to help her use ice magic against the usually ice-immune demons).

Great. Can't wait to see the man behind the man.

Following the imp's directions, Faust found the ice shard, also known as the Mirror of Mephistar. He quietly exited the Demon Grinder, taking extra care not to wake the rest of the party, and made his way over to the mirror.

Definitely seems a bit excessive--his thoughts, along with any sort of voluntary motion, suddenly stopped as he gazed into the mirror, where he saw his reflection, but something about it was just wrong. He looked haggard, his eyes lacked any sort of light. Suddenly, something pried into his mind, and he saw a vision of a large frozen fiend, whose face was occasionally thawed out just enough to talk by an imp pouring water over his icy prison.

"Mephistopheles," Faust muttered, not as a greeting or a question, just a statement of fact.

"Jerrod Anton Faust," the fiend began (okay, so the DM didn't have him actually first name Faust, but doesn't it just sound like something a king of Hell would do?), "You've mainly been corresponding with my agent Advocati, but it certainly is nice to finally meet you face-to-face, or as much as can be done without you coming all the way down here."

"I can see that you bypassed my ring," Faust noted, slightly changing the subject.

"You see, that's what I like about you, Faust, m'boy. You're intelligent. You're ambitious. I can use that, and to that end I have an opportunity for you to break your pact with Hadar."

"Let me guess, some sort of contract?" Faust responded smugly.

"But of course! You come down and serve Advocati, and through him, me, and you've got an eternity of power and arcane knowledge at your fingertips. All I require is that book of yours and half of your natural mortal lifespan, which given the way you've been living up to this point, you likely won't even notice it's gone."

"And what are your plans with the tome?" Faust asked.

"Same as yours. Increase my power. Which, naturally, would benefit you as a sort of trickle-down effect."

If Faust were capable of moving, he would have stroked his chin. "I almost want to give you the book to see just how you screw this up, as I bet it would backfire just as spectacularly for you as it has for me. But I will have to take some time to ponder on the proposition."

"If you must," Mephistopheles allowed, "but the clock is ticking, and the longer you spend in Avernus, the less likely it is that you'll leave."

With that, Faust found himself back in his body, again in control of his voluntary movement, and suddenly he found himself collapsing to the ground, vomiting.

Once he fully composed himself, he slowly made his way back into the Demon Grinder. However, in his distraction he woke Rylee's dog Yasha, who in turn woke the rest of the party.

Seliph groaned. "Rylee could'ja do something about that dog?"

"I'll try, why are we stopped?"

Faust, thinking quickly, threw out the first thing that came to his mind. "I...needed to take a bit of a private break."

"Maybe I'll take Yasha for a walk, that should calm her down."

DAMMIT! Faust cursed within his mind, knowing that there was no reasonable way he could prevent her from going outside without drawing attention. The best he could do is scramble to prevent anything from getting worse.

Well, naturally when Rylee saw the giant shard of ice, she had questions, but because she'd looked at said giant shard of ice, well...she was in for a ride.

You see, what Rylee saw inside the mirror was an image of herself if she decided to follow Zariel. Fallen. Dark. Corrupt.

Something bored into her mind, finding her fears the same way that it had done to Faust, and like Faust before her, she found herself face to face with Mephistopheles.

"Ahh, here we have a guest I wasn't expecting," Mephistopheles announced.

Curse that Faust, Rylee caught herself thinking.

"So I heard on the winds that you had a rather interesting conversation with Zariel. As well as that encounter you had with the Alhoon. Very interesting indeed. It seems your stay in Zariel's little corner of Hell has changed you quite a bit. Your precious vow of non-violence, so casually disregarded. Why, you've killed three beings since you've been here."

"I didn't kill the Alhoon's minions. They were already dead!"

"Oh, Rylee, Rylee, Rylee. The Alhoon was dead, but I assure you his thralls were not. They weren't even acting of their own accord. Doesn't that just tear you up inside?"

"I'm not proud of what I had to do, but I did it to protect my friends!"

"Pah, friends, whatever helps you sleep at night. My agent will be in contact with you soon enough."


"Advocati. He's got another task for you, and he should be able to help you."

"Task? Help? With what?"

"Help you kill devils, and if you mean to make a move against Zariel you're gonna need to kill many, many more than you already have. But I believe you could prove useful to me to get to Zariel."

"I will not be used as a pawn for someone's schemes!"

"You already are for your god. But all will sort itself out in time, and Advocati will be in touch."

Rylee...took this conversation significantly worse than Faust took his. In addition to the sickness, she collapsed to the ground with a thousand-yard stare, repeating the phrase, "I don't want to be that person."

Yasha, alarmed at her master's sudden worsening condition, rushed to the Demon Grinder, barking up a storm.

Without thinking, Seliph grabbed his sword and shield and dashed outside, with Faust close behind shouting, "Seliph! Whatever you do, do not look into the mirror!"

Dang it Faust, you of all people should know not to tell someone not to look at something if they're not even aware it's there.

So Seliph, like Faust and Rylee, found himself unable to move, gazing upon a corrupted image of himself, but once he noticed something probing his mind he immediately put up some resistance.

A voice rang out in his head...

Don't you want to speak with Mephistopheles?

Seliph recoiled, then redoubled his resistance.

No. I'm here to save my friend.

The voice seemed disappointed, but then responded, He has nothing to offer you at the moment anyway. But since I got a quick look at your fears, I think I'll just let you stand there motionless for a little while, unable to watch as your friend suffers. So long!

Seliph recoiled again. What? No, stop, you BASTARD!

It was only for one minute, but it seemed like an eternity before Seliph could finally move as Faust was trying to get Rylee to respond to literally anything.

Seliph looked the situation over quickly. "We need to leave. Now."

Faust looked at Seliph in disbelief. "What do you think I'm trying to do here?"

Seliph quickly scooped Rylee up into his arms. "I'll carry her. We need to put as much space between us and soon as possible."

Once Faust and Seliph got back on the Demon Grinder, Faust said, "No time to explain, someone drive. Seliph and I will do what we can to bring her back to reality."

Kalista quickly put herself in the driver's seat and started driving in the direction Faust gave her, and on the ride people tried everything they could think of. I-Spy. Faust playing the drum (that for some reason he had even though he didn't know how to play it). Seliph casting a spell to create food and water.

However, Rylee wouldn't come out of her funk, leading Faust to commit some...slightly more drastic actions.

As in, he slapped her.

"Get ahold of yourself. Every single one of us has done terrible things. None more than me. Unfortunately it's probably going to get worse before it gets better, so get ahold of yourself so we can move on."

Rylee looked back at Faust, a mix of rage and sadness in her eyes. "Have you ever not hit someone, Faust? Have you ever held it all in, no matter how much the other person deserved it? I have done things I promised, swore never to do. Maybe I'm not the same person anymore..." she trailed off, tears forming in her eyes.

Kalista responded first. "I think it's true that we aren't the same people we were when we came here. We've all done things we regret, or that we wish we hadn't."

Seliph added, "Of course we're not the same people. Change happens all the time whether we want it to or not. But that doesn't mean that you're stuck to a path you don't want to be on. There's always a way."

"Until you make a contract with an archfiend," Kalista muttered.

"Yeah...I've got nothing for you there," Seliph said, "but I'm sure something will turn up."

Rylee remained unconvinced. "Zariel...offered me a deal. While you were out of the room. She said that if I swore allegiance to her, she'd let everyone go. It would be so easy. I wonder if I made the wrong choice in saying no."

"Rylee," Seliph started, "you already know that it's not that simple. You making that decision would negatively affect each one of us." Images of this alternate timeline flashed in his mind, specifically how he'd be affected. Images of casting aside his oaths as a redemption paladin, of a one-man war against the forces of Hell itself, of suffering and death flooded his mind.

Faust added, "Zariel knows that too. She doesn't care about you or any of us. Her bargain with you would certainly be beneficial to her, damn the consequences for yourself or anyone associated with you. She approached you. You are in control. Don't forget that."

"I...need to be alone," Rylee said, finally.

"Honestly, I was about to step out onto the roof for some fresh air. At least, as fresh as this place has got, anyway," Seliph said. "Come with me? I'll give you some space."

"Yes...I'd like that."

It was brief and faint, but above the hellish atmosphere as well as the (literal) screaming from the engine, Rylee felt a connection with Eldath, that she was still loved, and that things were going to be okay.

Seliph noticed her slightly more relaxed posture and stated simply, "That's a relief."

At this point, Faust frantically leaped out onto the roof of the Demon Grinder. Gasping for breath, the only words he could manage to form were, "Sissy...warlock!"

Sissy popped up right behind him with another skeleton, replacing her other one that perished during the fighting. "Yeah, I' a thing."


Let's back up a few minutes. Faust had approached Sissy with condolences about her fallen skeleton.

"Oh, not to worry. I've got another one stowed away here somewhere. A couple, actually."

Faust's eyebrow twitched. "This is...very troubling behavior. Doesn't it bother you?"

"Not at all. It's kinda like an organ donor."


"Ah right, I should explain. You see, we don't have magic where I came from, so doctors use science to treat their patients."

"Yes, I'm familiar with science, what sort of scholar do you take me for?" Faust asked impatiently.

"So some people have it in writing that they permit the use of their surviving organs to be used for medicinal purposes when they die. Someone needs a new heart? Great! Someone just died whose heart can still be used!"

"I suppose that makes sense, though that does sort of beg the question about your magic, anyway."

"My friend helps me out. He came to me when I was scared and alone." She pointed at the bottle her patron, a genie, dwelled in.

The gears were already turning in Faust's head. "Ah, so this friend of's because of him that you can use magic?"

"Yeah. Also he helped me get rid of my dad."

"He...I beg your pardon?"

"My dad. He was a bastard. He needed to go. My friend helped me get rid of him."

"I...see..." Faust, panicking, then said, "I think I shall join Seliph and Rylee on the roof." His speech hastened. "Good luck with your skeleton friend byyyyyyyyyyyye!" and up the ladder he went.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Part 17: Character Development Avalanche

Seliph and Rylee were led by Uncle Badguy (whose name I don't think we ever got) into the dungeon area of Zariel's fortress. Unlike more normal cell blocks, this dungeon is a tad more...escape proof. Anyone in the Forgotten Realms can probably bust out of an iron cell with just a little elbow grease, to say nothing of the citizens of Avernus. However, when the cell's bars and door are made of molten iron dripping from the ceiling, you've got yourself a bit more potent cell. Also a great deal warmer than the average jail cell, but that's not that hard to pull off.

Upon reaching a specific cell belonging to a man with ashen pale skin and dark hair, the uncle said, "Hey, Sariel, you've got a visitor! First one in quite a long time, ain't it?"

Pause. Yeah, I called him Sariel in my character's backstory because I guess I forgot that Zariel was the name of the primary antagonist of this campaign. I just picked a random angel name from a random name generator and it seemed to work. Next time I play someone related to a celestial I'll be sure to pick the name of one of the Evangelion angels instead -_-

Anywho, the man in the cell--Sariel--looked up towards the bars. He squinted his eyes. "Who is this supposed to be?"

One could hear the smirk under the uncle's helmet. "Why Sariel, you don't recognize Seliph, your own son? I'll leave you two to it, but don't take too long." With that, the uncle stepped away.

Sariel looked a little more closely before gasping in realization. " your mother Elaine?"


Sariel frowned. "Has it been that long? I guess it would have been about twenty-five years. How is she?"

" didn't know? She passed away. She got really sick. It's been about ten years now."

"That is...a shame. I'm so sorry."

"Well...I suppose you wouldn't have known if you've been here this whole time..."

Sariel's frown deepened. "So why are you here? Don't tell me you're here to rescue me."

"I wish I could say I was...that's probably easier to explain than..."

Rylee broke in. "We're here to save the city of Elturel."

Sariel looked even less impressed. "Elturel? How did you get roped into saving that place?"

Seliph awkwardly shrugged. "It's...a tad complicated. Just a long spree of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, up to and including now, with Zariel putting out a hit on Baphomet and Yeenoghu. Basically if we can kill one of them and bring proof, Zariel will let the city and all its inhabitants go."

Sariel rubbed his forehead. "It's plain that you've inherited my penchant for getting into hopeless situations. I can't believe you'd serve Zariel as well."

"Don't get it twisted. I'm not bowing down to anybody. I'm a mercenary here. One job, and I wash my hands of this place for good." Seliph rehearsed the same line he'd said dozens of times in his wanderings as a mercenary, but this one rang more hollow than usual.

Sariel, of course, was completely unconvinced. "Do you really believe you can redeem that city?"

"To be honest...I don't know. It's a monumental task. I mean, slaying lowly demons and devils is one thing, but..." Seliph trailed off, and Sariel nodded, understanding. "That being said I can't just sit by while innocent people suffer. And then there's Zariel herself..."

Over the next few moments, Seliph and Sariel said nothing, but Sariel knew exactly why Seliph trailed off. Like his son, Sariel saw a hint of sadness and regret in Zariel's rage.

Sariel moved closer to the bars of the cell (well, as close as reasonable considering, y'know...molten iron), motioning for Seliph to do the same. In a low voice, Sariel suggested something. "Zariel can be redeemed. It's a long shot, but her sword and Lulu are the key. There's a reason her loyalists don't want either of them near her."

The same thing had occurred to Seliph, who nodded. "Got it. My first target here was the sword anyway, since without it, this whole quest is over before it starts."

Sariel smiled. "Maybe there's hope for our line after all. I'm sorry I can't be of more help to you, my son."


Seliph kept his poker face in spite of it all, merely saying, "No, you've proven more helpful to me in the last thirty seconds than anyone else has since I came to this forsaken place. Thank you...father."

At this point the uncle had returned to the room. "All right, enough mushy business. You've got a job to do, nephew."

Seliph and Sariel exchanged one final look that seemed to cap off the conversation. Seliph wasn't leaving Avernus without the city of Elturel, and if he had anything to say about it, he wasn't leaving without his father.

Before the party was dismissed from Zariel's fortress, they were led to Zariel's armory for some better equipment to aid them on their quest, after which they were sent on their way.

The party returned to their vehicle at the Wandering Emporium in silence. Once Zariel's knights had left, Kalista then said, "Guys, I think I'm going to try to go talk my sister into letting me out of my contract."

Naturally, this development was something the entire party was happy about. People began discussing the various things they had to do before leaving the Emporium, until Seliph said, "Actually, can we have a brief meeting before this? I've got some stuff I want to say.

"I know the task we've been given is difficult. Probably even impossible. To that end I think we still need to go get the sword of Zariel."

Lulu, having been kept out of the loop, raised an eyebrow. "I thought that was what we were doing from the start."

"It was, but things have gotten a little more complicated. A few extra steps have been added to the plan. But, thanks to my conversation with--" Seliph then noticed Rylee making a slashing motion across her throat, the universal Shut Up gesture, "--a certain informant, I think we've got a shot with the sword and with Lulu's help."

"So are we still going to try to help Zariel?"

"Of course."

"But who did you talk to about this. It wasn't a devil was it?"

It's a good thing Lulu didn't catch everyone else in the party frantically waving their hands, and Seliph quickly responded, "No, it was an angel."

Faust broke in, "Seliph has some contacts here."

This satisfied Lulu for the time being, and now the party's mission was clear:

  1. Find the sword of Zariel
  2. Track down and defeat Baphomet or Yeenoghu
  3. Meet with Zariel, somehow bringing Lulu with them
  4. Get Zariel, Lulu, and the sword in the same chamber and pray that what they're setting out to do works
Admittedly 2 and 3 are somewhat interchangeable, but the meeting with Zariel was most likely to happen if the party accomplished their assigned task.

At this point the party split up to spend some time doing various chores around the Wandering Emporium. The last session was brutal and everyone had some stuff they wanted to do.

Faust wanted to acquire some spell components, specifically a pickled tentacle and an eyeball in a platinum inlaid vial Kalista wanted to speak to her sister again, Rylee wanted another meeting with Advocati to figure out just what Faust's deal was, Sissy was mainly just planning on relaxing, and Seliph...Seliph had some important stuff to take care of.

He was going to hit the spa.

Before we launch into that, regarding the spell components, Kalista suggested that there was a way to get it for free instead of needing to spend the 400 gold pieces required,

Seliph was unconvinced. "Yeah, there's a way, but do you really want to sleep with that guy?"

"Of course not! I'm just saying it's on the table!"

"It was never on the table unless you were going to actually do the deed!"

The major character development happened with Sissy, Rylee, and Kalista. Sissy was approached by the same creatures that had approached her before, impressed with her power and offering her more for her help in dealing with a certain group of demons, even handing her an icicle that would help her ice magic bypass the ice resistance that demons had. Unconvinced that the fiend was feeling completely charitable, Sissy studied her client closely. At any rate, if she took the ice, if the fiend decided to betray her, she'd have the jump on him.

Kalista's experience...was less positive.

Though it didn't start out that way, as Fierna quickly agreed to meet Kalista.

Once in her...void office? I dunno what to call it, but once there, Kalista quickly launched into her request.

"I understand that you're behind me and I want to do what I can to support you and father, but the contract isn't working out. I just don't feel like I'm really cut out for this sort of work.

"Not now, you aren't, but give it time and you'll find a groove."

Kalista wasn't so sure. "That may be true, but I feel like it might be better if I just quit."

"That's what I'm trying to tell you, sister, you can't. You signed the contract. Your soul belongs to me and father now."

"You can't make a special exception for family?"

"Kalista, the contract and the dagger were the special exception, but if that doesn't get the point across this will. I'm just using you, and that will continue to be our arrangement until the end of time. Though, there is an escape clause of a sort."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm willing to void the contract if you can bring me a powerful artifact such as...say...the hand of Vecna or the sword of Zariel. Or you could just sacrifice unto me one thousand souls. Though, I think you should realize that any of these things would probably put you on a one-way trip to Hell anyway, so you'd be better off enjoying yourself by serving me willingly."

"I do have one artifact...what about this stone mask I carved off a fiend?" Kalista reached into her pack and brought out the mask.

"A fiend mask? Honey, I'm an archdevil, my domain is covered in the things. They're worthless. I'm firm on the artifact or the souls. Unless you can deliver, I'm afraid your contract is still valid."

Unfortunately, she wasn't willing to bend, so Kalista returned to the war machine in a bit of a sulk.

Rylee's trip was...a little more enlightening. In that her character was able to find out everything we as the players already knew, which has been an interesting 4D chess match to watch play out in real time between her player and Faust's.

Basically, she was offered one question which Advocati had to answer truthfully, so she asked what his relationship to Faust was, and the answer was given plain: Faust died and Advocati brought him back and gave him a few tasks, one of which relating to the book Faust carried around.

Speaking of Faust, guess what he was doing shortly before Rylee confronted him with this info? Look, that's not even a spoiler. Do you really think Rylee wasn't going to smash in his door demanding answers after that bombshell was dropped?

Anyway, Faust was taking a moment to contact Hadar, who wasn't really enjoying the radio silence and having his messages reduced to speaking through a book. Nevertheless, he encouraged Faust to continue feeding him, not really caring about Faust's connection with "that Avocado guy". Being an otherworldly...being...essentially composed of sentient hunger (not unlike your average college student under certain influences), the presence of a devil wasn't all that concerning. Even if said devil had an important upper manager.

Anyway, once Faust was satisfied/finished with his part of the conversation, he cut Hadar off by closing the book. Riiiiiiiiight as Rylee was entering the room to begin the aforementioned chewing out.

Anyway, Rylee came out swinging, stating the one thing both of them knew for certain. "You died. You died and came back."

Faust tried to weasel his way out of the accusation, but Rylee wasn't having any of it.

"I want the whole truth, otherwise how can I trust you?"

Faust was unconvinced. "You haven't trusted me from the beginning."

"True. There’s something odd about you. I’ve ignored it, but now it’s becoming pressing. If it’s something you don’t want the others to know, I won’t tell them."

"My bond is more connective, than I thought."

"Then the magic you wield is not your own magic, I would presume?"

"This is as far as I would like this conversation to go. My life is based on the idea, that I am an accomplished person."

"So you would lie to the world? That you can acquire magic, which I suppose is true if you summon a demon or devil."

"Hadar is no demon or devil."

"Then what is he? And I have one last question. Advocati mentioned something about a book. What’s in the book?"

Faust declined to state, having said all he wanted to say.

"This will stay between us. You have my word," Rylee finally said, relenting.

"I should hope so. I have had to take drastic action against thoughts who have discovered less than you."

Brave words. I don't think the rest of the party would be so down with an assassination attempt on the healer though >.>

Anyway, before we continue our adventure, let's check up on Seliph.

Oh wait, he's just...chilling in the bath. Eventually he finished up to what may be the most depressingly real narration from the DM.

"Since you got to Avernus you've had an ache in your back and shoulders and the stress of the situation made it worse, so the bath was nice. For a moment, you felt yourself released from all that stress and fatigue, before you exited the spa and remembered, 'Oh yeah, I'm in Hell.'"

So...basically any time I take a bath. Y'know...once I get over how pathetically small the bathtub in my apartment is.

Anyway, the party asked why Seliph was so relaxed before Kalista pointed out that he didn't bathe at the bathhouse. Y'know the one from way back at the beginning of the campaign?

"I...yeah, I guess I didn't," Seliph admitted, not really wanting to get into it.

"Why not? It was really nice!" Kalista replied.

"I'm sure it was. I just...there were too many people, and this one was basically empty."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"Look, I wanted a little privacy, that's all."

Kalista blinked before pushing Seliph to continue.

"I...I'm a little self-conscious, that's all. I don't wanna talk about it any further."

And that's the end of that conversation.

So the next session was almost essentially all back and forth driving. The party went to a place called the Spawning Trees and helped a work crew of fiends in destroying some of the trees, preventing some demons from appearing in Avernus. There they picked up a bearded devil named Krikendolt, a bit of an outcast among his peers at the spawning trees. Why?

Well, because he was keeping one of these as a pet.

This is an Abyssal Chicken, something that shows up on the menu at the Wandering Emporium. Rylee wasn't completely on board with this new stowaway, but Krickendolt said he could help the party find their way to the scab, and finally, the sword of Zariel.

On the way to the tower, the conversation went in a few different directions. Kalista learned that her father and sister owned their own level of Hell, and Seliph, entirely unintentionally on my part, did something really stupid.

So, you know how, when you're driving, your conversation filter is weaker? Yeah, Seliph accidentally spilled the beans about the party meeting Zariel, something that Lulu...didn't take well. She only relented when the party promised that they'd try to get her to Zariel, and that her meeting Zariel again was still the most important part of their plan.

Anyway, Krickendolt directed them onto a tower where they met the wizard Mordenkainen, kind of a big deal in D&D. Mordenkainen took some persuading before finally directing the party to an obelisk which would be the next step in their quest.

And almost as a way of apologizing for two straight sessions of talking and character development, the next (and most recent as of writing) session was a breakneck series of vehicle combat encounters. Which is easy to sum up but it was extremely stressful running it.

Basically, two vehicles, a Scavenger and a Tormentor closed in on the party's Demon Grinder. A boarding party of ghouls tried to...well...board the party's Demon Grinder before Rylee friggin' dusted the lot of them with the spell Turn Undead. Some back and forth from onboard weaponry and Kalista standing on the roof of the Demon Grinder later and the party managed to get out of that encounter with some damage to the wrecking ball and one of the harpoon flingers, with smoke billowing out of the engine.

Unsure of how safe it would be to proceed, the party agreed to stop and let Kalista try to fix everything. Well, apparently billowing smoke acted as a pretty great signal to another crew on another Demon Grinder that we were wounded and easy pickings, which led to a car chase through a rather rocky canyon. Eventually the party got enough of a lead on the other Demon Grinder that they were able to briefly discuss a strategy.

Seliph suggested using Sissy's skeleton buddy as a decoy on Kalista's Devil's Ride to lure the crew of the enemy Grinder into a trap. Seliph and Rylee stayed aboard their Demon Grinder while the rest of the party hid in the rocks, waiting to spring the trap.

Unfortunately, the captain of the other Demon Grinder? One of these guys.

Yep, an undead mind flayer. He could detect thoughts and knew that the party was waiting in ambush (well, he could detect everyone's thoughts but Faust's, anyway), and he broadcast his own message to the party:

Offer no resistance and give up their soul coins, and they'd be safe. Any funny business and they'd be destroyed.

Cool, and now Faust is our wild card. Great.