Saturday, January 30, 2021

Part 15: Gas Gas Gas! I'm Gonna Step on the Gas!


The vehicle in the cloud of dust grew ever closer as Seliph quickly looked over the controls to see what his options were. The vehicle in question, a Demon Grinder (pictured below) was a great deal bigger than the party's Tormentor (something I didn't realize when roleplaying Seliph's actions so it may come off as more reckless than it should).

Seliph's first idea was to try to outrun the vehicle, though try as he might the Demon Grinder was determined to stay on a direct collision course with the party. Something that could prove to be quite troublesome on its own, but it was around this time that Faust noticed that Kalista had changed directions, trying to go around the Demon Grinder.

What the party didn't see was the fact that a harpoon fired from the Demon Grinder had lodged itself in the Devil's Ride, and Kalista was bringing it to a stop so she could fix it. Once the smoke cleared enough, a fireball erupted from the Shield of the Hidden Lord, engulfing the Demon Grinder, though failing to damage it.

At this point, Seliph got an idea...

He quickly hit the brakes and turned onto an intercept course with the Demon Grinder. Naturally the others in the vehicle were less-than-enthused, but Seliph said, "Just focus on doing what you can to damage the other thing. I've got an idea!"

Fortunately the front of the Demon Grinder (the toothy bit on the left) provided a decent amount of cover from the two harpoon flingers, so the party was able to pelt the Demon Grinder (and its inhabitants) with magic and projectiles while Seliph carefully considered his timing.

90's gonna be close...

However, if there was ever time for something to appear out of nowhere and break his concentration, it would be this. You see, in Avernus, particularly in vehicle encounters, there's a chance of random shenanigans to occur, and unfortunately this was one of those times. There's a 5% chance of a fire tornado, 300 feet high and 30 feet wide at its base, to spring up, and today just happened to be our lucky day. And I mean that sarcastically as well as sincerely.

Anyway, it sprung up in front of the Demon Grinder, still a decent ways away, not giving the Demon Grinder enough time to change course, so instead the party got to watch this giant vehicle be completely engulfed in flames for a second time. However, once it emerged from the tornado, the party had a pretty good view of the damage.

Of all the creatures that were manning stations on the Demon Grinder, only one remained alive.

And now it was the party's turn to try to dodge out of the way. Faust cursed, Sissy swallowed, Rylee began to scream, and Seliph muttered a faint apology under his breath, before...

Yes, three separate gifs. I'm not sorry. It was cool.

Somehow Seliph tapped into his inner tofu delivery boy and managed to slide in within the 90 feet he was hoping for to cast Sleep on the sole survivor in the Demon Grinder before slipping out of the way of the fire tornado. Was it a terrible idea? Yeah. Was it a great idea? Also yeah.

Anyway, the other vehicle, now completely sans driver...well...

Nah, I'm just kidding, it was a flat expanse, there was nothing for them to crash into so it just kinda coasted to a stop.

"Well," Faust said, breaking the silence after a minute or so, "Shall we go see what survived the fire tornado?"

"Yeah," Seliph gasped, having forgotten to breathe, "I wonder if we could take that thing instead. Might make it easier for us to travel together."

Indeed, it was much more spacious. Spacious enough that they were able to load the Devil's Ride on it, which was great because it required more repairs, which Kalista and Faust would be able to do on the drive rather than being forced to stop.

Anyway, yeah, most of the inside of the Demon Grinder was scorched, though the party was able to find a few more soul coins and a rather curious looking circlet, which Faust was able to identify as a Circlet of Blasting, which would allow the user one use of the Scorching Ray spell per day. Faust suggested Seliph take it to provide him with at least one ranged attack per day.

So everything sounds great. Wanna see how we screwed it up?

On the last level up, Sissy found herself in possession of a fun new spell (as is the norm). The spell in question? Animate Dead. By itself, something that made Rylee in particular extremely uncomfortable, but here's the discussion that went down.

"What are we going to do with the survivor?" Faust asked.

Seliph shrugged. "I dunno, probably just leave him."

"We should kill him," Sissy suggested, with a rather...disconcerting grin.

"I agree," said Kalista. "If we leave him alive he'll probably come back with more friends."

"He's incapacitated!" Rylee shouted. "We don't need to kill him!"

"But I wanna make him into a slave!" Sissy said.

"A what?" asked Rylee incredulously.

"A slave! I'll reanimate him and he can help us do stuff!"

"The dead should stay dead!" Rylee spat back.

Faust, suddenly feeling quite awkward, suggested, "Fine, fine, we leave him in the Tormentor. It's not much better than killing him outright, but we should respect Rylee's wishes. That is, if she's willing to carry him out to the Tormentor with me?"

"Fine," Rylee agreed.

Sissy waited all of thirty seconds after they had stepped off of the Demon Grinder before she began looking at the other corpses. "I think I can use this one." Before Seliph and Kalista finished cleaning the Demon Grinder's cockpit (specifically moving the corpses outside) Sissy quickly hid her chosen and began casting the spell.

Needless to say when Rylee saw the animated skeleton cleaning the Demon Grinder on her way back, she froze, skin turning about as pale as Seliph's. "What...what is that?"

Faust chuckled. "It appears Sissy has just changed targets."

At this point Rylee was pretty despondent, so Faust waved Seliph over. "Take Miss Godsong back to the Demon Grinder. I'll finish this myself."

Seliph reached for Rylee's hand, "Here, let's go, it'll be okay." To her credit, she didn't pull away.

Excellent, thought Faust, before he walked back to the Tormentor and fired a single Eldritch Blast at the sleeping occupant. Like we're talking ice cold execution.

The party continued their drive in silence for a few hours, with Rylee giving the thousand yard stare at the skeleton politely helping Kalista and Faust work on the Devil's Ride. Eventually, Faust walked over to Seliph at the helm. "You should rest. I'll take over for now."

"You've been working with Kalista. Are you sure you don't need rest?"

"Trust me, this will be restful for me. I've taught myself how to properly pace myself to save energy. You, however," Faust nodded at the seat next to Rylee, "should take a break." Though let's be real, he was actually saying, "You want to comfort Rylee. Get to it."

Okay, I got it, Seliph thought. "Thanks. Just come grab me if you want to swap."

So Faust drove the rest of the way to the party's destination, a location called Haruman's Hill, but what awaited them was not the castle Lulu had expected to find, but rows of iron trees, each topped with a crucified knight being feasted upon by stirges.

Yeah...this isn't a happy place.

Near the summit of the hill was one knight in particular, an elf, that got the party's attention, though to be honest what got the party's attention was something he had in common with all the other knights. That is, the fact that he was still alive. Anyway, the party was briefly able to talk to him. He identified himself as Jander Sunstar, a vampire who originally had served Zariel in her assault on the Nine Hells before abandoning her with a group of deserters, the other crucified knights. Eventually, he was unable to withstand the grief and killed himself by walking into the sunlight, hoping to find rest and relief in his god Lathander. Lathander said no, condemning him to suffer in the Nine Hells for his sins.

Naturally, Lulu wasn't all that happy talking to someone who betrayed Zariel, and she began making her way back to the Demon Grinder (yeah, she basically said, "Forget you guys, I'm gonna go wait in the truck,"). Seliph, however, took pity on the vampire and said, "Let's pull him down. He may be able to help us."

He was not, as once he was carried down from the tree, he smiled, thanked the party, and crumbled to dust, grateful to be released from his torment.

That...may have been a poor choice.

Descending from the sky was a narzugon atop a nightmare, basically a black demon knight riding a scary devil horse, who said, "You have sinned most foul by releasing a prisoner. For that, you must be punished. Throw down your weapons and come quietly or face destruction."

Seliph reached for his longsword on his back, but Rylee extended a hand, gesturing to wait. "What type of punishment are you talking about?"

"That's for Lady Zariel to decide," the knight replied.

"I don't trust you," said Kalista.

"Do you mean to defy Lady Zariel?" the knight asked ominously.

"No, we'll come quietly! We just have questions," said Rylee, trying to stall for time.

While this was going on, Faust had telepathically contacted Lulu, asking her to return to the top of the hill. Specifically, "Your glitter gun may be required," he said.

Anyway, Lulu's leisurely pace increased to an outright dash when she saw what the party was faced with.

The knight, hearing the fluttering, turned, and once he figured out what Lulu was, he dismounted the nightmare and drew his blade. "The circumstances have changed. It's time for you all to die."

Seliph finished drawing his longsword. "I wasn't planning on going quietly anyway."

If it were only the knight and the horse it might not have been so scary, but yeah, remember how I mentioned the stirges? Okay, before I go any further, stirges are jerks. They're annoying to deal with in any setting. Basically, they're big mosquitoes who can attach themselves to their prey and continually do damage by sucking blood. Not only that, but they usually attack in pretty big swarms.

In this case there were ten of them. And I know that our DM was going easy on us because the module calls for more.

So, naturally, this fight was already pretty difficult with the party taking a rather heavy beating by being overwhelmed by the stirges. Not only that but for some reason Lulu was rather slow in her approach.

You see, she was also beset by something. Namely, a hellwasp.

Okay, before I continue, I just gotta vent. I hate wasps. Hate 'em. It's irrational. I've been stung by them. It's not even really that bad. But for whatever reason, I just can't stand them. I guess one thing that bugs me is the fact that unlike their smaller striped brethren the bees, whose barbed stinger forces them to take a more measured approach to violence lest they waste their one shot and die, wasps can sting you as much as they want with no recourse, and it doesn't feel like it takes much to set them off.

Anyway what were we talking about? Oh yeah, Lulu versus the hellwasp.

The hellwasp was essentially taking a linebacker approach to keep Lulu from reaching the rest of the party. I'm not kidding, it actually tackled her, got her in a grapple, and (okay, thus ends the linebacker analogy) was trying to carry her back to its nest.

The party realized this was happening, slowly beating back the stirges, while Sissy took a few shots at the wasp. Seliph, once he was able to line up a shot, fired off his one cast of Scorching Ray at the wasp, though nothing the party did seemed to be helping.

It was around this point where Rylee, after a full day of stressful thing after stressful thing, finally snapped and started smacking the stirges out of the sky with her quarterstaff.

It was also around this point that the party started dropping from the wounds they were taking.

Rylee went down first. Faust, making a mad dash to rescue her, also got knocked unconscious. As did Kalista. Leaving Seliph and Sissy to do their best to keep the knight at bay, though eventually they got some aid from Lulu, having blasted the hellwasp to oblivion.

Eventually, the knight made one more stroke with his sword, severely wounding Seliph, before vanishing.

Seliph quickly did what he could to stabilize the rest of the party (thank you Lay on Hands) before he collapsed to his knees, tears forming in his eyes.

And that's where the session ended. Unlike the pre-danger cliffhanger of the last session, this one just ended with the sour taste of defeat, their biggest since Faust died originally. Though thankfully it could have been worse. If Lulu had been carried to the hellwasp nest, the party would have had to fight their way through the nest to get her back.

Count your blessings, folks.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Part 14: Insert Inception Comparison Or Something, I Dunno, I Never Saw It


After that...horrifying discussion, the party tried to sleep the rest of the night to prepare themselves for the journey ahead. The next morning, before they set off, Kalista wanted to visit a shop in the Wandering Emporium to have an artifact delivered to Sylvira (or as we kept joking, she wanted to send her senpai some cool presents), where we met this charming fella. He identified himself as Fhet’Ahla, and said that for the low low price of one soul coin, we could send any item and a message anywhere. Pretty open and shut case, right? Give the scary man the money, he provides the service.

Oh, but that's where you're mistaken. For you see, a lot of D&D players tend to want to roleplay more...shall we say...libertarian forms of capitalism. The kind you can't really do at your local Wal-Mart. Specifically I'm talking about haggling. Rather than just paying the asked for amount, players may be content to do something like offer a trade or other forms of "payment".

So Kalista went outside, activated her new shapechanging abilities, and turned herself into, in her player's terms, "A Lola Bunny-version of the fiend that was running the shop."

He was...unconvinced. Sexual dimorphism wasn't typical of that particular form of fiend, and he made sure to let the party know, but said that he was willing to "work with it" if that was something Kalista wanted.

It was not. Which made the party wonder what the point was.

So nothing got sent to Sylvira.

As the group was leaving the Wandering Emporium, they were offered a "gently used" machine and directions to a location called Fort Knucklebone, a junkyard run by one Mad Maggie, a hag (an actual D&D creature and not just a derogatory term for an old lady) whose identity was extrapolated from Lulu's memories. Also yeah, the name Mad Maggie probably definitely isn't a shoutout to the Mad Max film series. Y'know, probably.

So the infernal war machines in Avernus have a special quirk. You know what that is? They run on soul coins. Yeah. Those coins made out of the captured souls of the dead. I'm not gonna bore you too much with the mechanics, as in how much one coin can push a machine, because we haven't had too many problems having enough coins to get around.

So...the Mad Max thing...

This is one of the tamer ones. But yeah, you might be wondering how a bunch of people in a medieval fantasy world are able to drive something ridiculous like this. Well, apparently they're really simple to drive, because Seliph's proficiency in land vehicles can cover it in an emergency situation, and anyone can just drive them. Then again, driving across vast swathes of desert in largely straight lines probably isn't all that taxing of an activity.


Not sure if there's a radio on this thing but probably not

Probably not this exciting either

So...Fort Knucklebone. Get this, directly from the book.

A fortified compound sits atop a low plateau that rises out of a crater-pocked landscape. At the center of the compound is a hill of rust-colored stone that resembles a hand clawing out of the ground, with gaps between the fingers. A jagged wall made of rock, bones, and metal debris surrounds this hand-shaped hill. Other highlights visible from this distance include a gatehouse, atop which stands a half-dozen small figures on watch.

Those figures, also known as redcaps wasted no time in flagging the party's machine down, demanding the password for entry into the fort?

Faust furrowed his brow. "Password?"

"Yeah! You think you're gettin' in here without a password?"

"There was no password!"

The redcaps deliberated for a bit, then said, "You got the password, go on in."

Faust groaned. "This is going to be painful, isn't it?"

The party quickly exited their machine and were approached by two wingless crow-like creatures--the kenku--who quickly set about excitedly squawking about how happy they were to see Lulu back and how much help this would be for Mad Maggie.

The next few minutes were...kind of a weird experience, because little did we realize before getting here that this place was a big ol' mess of complicated. Highlights include:

  • The two kenku working on an infernal machine known as a Demon Grinder. Something was wrong with it that Kalista was quickly able to find: a cursed gear lodged in the machine...somewhere.
  • Mad Maggie had a flesh golem that amongst other things had a limp and was the constant victim of bullying from the redcaps (being fae, these guys are jerks, all of them). The limp was discovered to have been a piece of bone devil lodged in his foot, the discovery and repairing of which upset the redcaps.
  • A flameskull named Barnabas, being what was left of a powerful wizard, might have some ideas of where the sword of Zariel was as well as some ideas on how to get out of fiendish contracts, something Kalista and Faust found very appealing.
That last bit is going to be the main focus for the next little bit. Rylee, already having a mistrusting fixation on the undead, didn't want to go anywhere near Barnabas (a sentiment shared by her player, who in another campaign had a character almost die to a flameskull, because of course). Seliph opted to stay behind with her so she wouldn't be alone, to snarky comments from Kalista. Either way...they were led in the direction of where Barnabas was by the flesh golem, whose name is Micky because of course.

The next little bit I'm going to describe from Seliph's perspective, because it's funnier this way, and then afterwards I'll fill in the blanks.

So Seliph and Rylee sat in the sand quietly watching their party walk off, then stop after...say...30 yards? I don't remember the specifics, but at this point they were examining Micky's foot, all the while a group of redcaps had formed around them and were pointing and laughing. Kalista pulled something from Micky's foot, things paused for a second, a few redcaps pointed in Faust's direction and said something, laughing, then suddenly tentacles burst from the sand beneath where Faust was standing and impaled several of the redcaps.

Rylee immediately stood up, while Seliph said, "That...probably wasn't Faust, right?" A question that was met by a silent glare, as if to say, "What do you think?"

So...what happened? Well...

After helping Micky with his foot, Faust quipped that the redcaps would need a new target for their bullying. Naturally, they took that as a challenge and started making comments about his appearance, specifically, the fact that he, an elf, was looking sufficiently aged to be balding despite being in his mid-30s. This...touched a nerve in Faust, who said he had been wanting an excuse to blow off some steam.

So in the ensuing brawl, Faust was knocked unconscious while more redcaps were killed by the party before Rylee and Seliph dashed in. Once Faust was brought back to consciousness and everything quieted down for a bit, Seliph said, "I'm glad everyone's safe, but what the heck was that?!"

Faust, panicking, channeled his inner politician and began pretending nothing of what he did was out of the ordinary.

Rylee wasn't having any of that. "None of this is normal!"

Seliph broke in, "Yeah, I may not know much regarding magic but I'm pretty sure wizards can't summon tentacles to do their bidding." They may be able to, they may not, I dunno, I've never played a spellcaster, and Seliph has an intelligence of 10 so he has what would be considered average intelligence for an adventurer.

"Look," Seliph continued. "I'm not upset at you for hiding this from us. But considering we already have one person who has made a pact with nefarious beings, I think it's fair to the rest of us if we have some idea of where this power is coming from. No surprises, okay?"

What followed was a Zone of Truth augmented where Faust managed to use some very clever wordplay to dance around the pact he had with Hadar. Namely, someone in his bloodline had made a pact with Hadar that Faust was both the beneficiary of and custodian to. Nevermind the fact that that someone in his bloodline was Faust himself.

Anyway, this line of questioning proved satisfactory to Seliph, who to be fair probably won't care when the cat is all the way out of the bag because it won't change anything. We'll see how Rylee takes it when it happens.

So the party, all together this time, went the rest of the way to meet Barnabas, who had trouble speaking because one of his teeth was taken by the redcaps. Without waiting for any more information, Faust smiled and walked off, content to blast his way through all the redcaps until they gave him what he wanted.

Turns out they don't really care about the wellbeing of their own kind because they turned it into a game, resulting in...well...a lot of dead redcaps. In all fairness, Faust didn't seem to mind the inconvenience, joking about skeet shooting. Y'know...that classic medieval pastime.

Tooth recovered, Barnabas gave us some pointers and said he'd do what he could to convince Mad Maggie to help us (I don't remember the specifics, we were getting close to the end of the session at that point), and off we went to the final headache of this place (literally, as you'll see in a bit).

So the reason for Lulu's amnesia was the fact that her memories were literally being blocked by a fiendish influence, something we could help with by going into her dreams and fighting off whatever it was that was in there. This would necessitate everyone sitting a circle having their minds joined with Lulu.

Naturally, there were a few concerns.

  1. Is it possible to die in the dream? Not as far as Mad Maggie knew (which is probably really assuring)
  2. Our minds are joined. What does that entail? Nothing if you're not consciously thinking about something.
  3. Faust's ring? He was asked not to wear it but would anyway.
Before any further questions could be raised, the ritual began, and now you're probably wondering about shipping stuff. Well...

Seliph immediately accidentally broadcast feeling attracted to Rylee and Kalista, something both of them reciprocated. Kalista also found Faust kind of attractive? Nobody got anything from Faust, and Sissy didn't announce anything so apparently the 14 year old girl has better control over her thoughts than all the adults, what fun.

So, the dream went in several phases, which I'll just share from the book.

As the rich, radiant light of a hundred dancing rainbows slowly dissolves, warm sunlight fills the area. Within that space, Lulu flies lazily in a lush meadow at the shoulder of a beautiful, blindfolded angel. As the pair strolls through the tall green grass, the voice of the hag fills your mind, “Push through this vision. It only represents what Lulu wishes was true. We need to see more.”

This was followed by an intelligence save that we all passed, so everyone was able to figure out that what they were seeing wasn't real. Next:

A flame-encircled battlefield appears on a barren hellscape. At the center of the circle, Lulu and the angel lie unconscious and prone, horribly injured. You see yourselves standing in defense of Lulu and the angel, facing outward as six small, spine-covered devils creep closer. In the distance, a formation of battered and retreating human warriors disappears through a portal.

“The devils!” hisses the hag’s disembodied voice. “You must defeat those devils!”

They put up quite a fight, but it was nothing we couldn't handle with some proper strategy. Next:

A landscape filled with thick, black smoke and the smells of death and decay expands to encompass everything. The small devils that survived the previous dream kneel before you and offer to serve you if you spare their lives.

Seliph and Faust didn't feel comfortable sparing them because they weren't real and this was likely a test, Rylee was unsure, and Kalista wanted to spare them so she could have a servant. In the end, the decision was made not to spare them. Next:

You wander a vast, barren landscape of utter devastation. Black sludge rises rapidly out of the ground, enveloping your feet and gripping you tightly, overwhelming you with a horrible sense of loss.

“Don’t let the sludge consume you!” says Mad Maggie’s disembodied voice. “You must push through her defenses. She must look!”

This is where things started to get scary. Seliph and Rylee were almost immediately able to escape from the sludge, which caused them to start to float, slowly higher and higher, though they were able to control their trajectory long enough to try to help the others. However, due to the damage that was dealt by the sludge, Faust fell unconscious, sinking into the sludge.

Seeing the stakes, Seliph quickly reached out to Rylee's mind, asking her to try to save Kalista while he tried to save Sissy. Eventually with help, Kalista was able to climb out of the sludge, but despite having advantage on her next few saves Sissy didn't, eventually also falling unconscious and sinking into the sludge. Like, the dice just had it out for Sissy here, and it was legitimately heartwrenching.

In fifth section of the dream...

Lulu rests on a black cushion at the center of an inky void. She is unconscious and alone, a beam of brilliant white light shining down upon her. Next to Lulu, a large gleaming brass spyglass rests atop an ornately carved tripod.

Lulu awakens and looks peacefully around her. Seeing the spyglass, she approaches it, pressing one eye against the eyepiece. Lulu then steps back suddenly, eyes wide, mouth open, her face alight with excitement. She cries out, “The sword, the sword! I know where it is!”

Soon after this, everyone (well, everyone except Faust and Sissy) awakened to Lulu excitedly talking about where to go next.

"Ah," Mad Maggie began. "You're finally awake."

Seliph quickly looked back and forth to Sissy and Faust. "They're still unconscious. I thought you said this wouldn't hurt!"

"I said no such thing. I said that they wouldn't die, and you can clearly see they're alive. Check their pulses. The worst they'll get is a massive headache when they wake up. You've had migraines before, right? Besides, I'm paying you, because this all benefits me as well. The pain and misery? Delicious."

For a split-second, white hot rage could be seen on Seliph's face, before he shook his head, knelt down, and gathered Sissy into his arms. "Get Faust. We're done here."

"Don't forget your payment!" Mad Maggie shouted to the already departing Seliph, Rylee close behind him, leaving Kalista alone, staring confusedly at Faust, torn between wanting to leave but also wanting her reward.

Outside Maggie's tent, Rylee finally convinced Seliph to stop storming off. "Where are you going?"

"To be honest, I don't even know. But I just..." he trailed off.

"No, I understand. I wanted to hit her as well." The confession startled Seliph.

"I had to get out of there so I wouldn't," Seliph agreed. "But...we kinda left Kalista and Faust..."

"Don't worry, I'll go help them, you just stay here and try to help Sissy."

Once everyone was healed up and Seliph sufficiently cooled down, the party reconvened to get their reward. Three soul coins, a silvered longsword for Seliph (who up to this point was spending a lot of magic to fight fiends because they take less damage from regular weapons) and some more functional war machines. Specifically the dune buggy-esque Tormentor (pic below), a four-seater, and the motorcycle-esque Devil's Ride (guess how many seats).

While smaller, these new rides came fully equipped with weaponry and...well...everything actually functional, in case of ambush by any of the various gangs that roamed the wastelands in these things (see, Mad Max parallels, I told ya)

So, the issue of seating came up, but it was eventually decided that Kalista would take the Devil's Ride (devil chick riding a sweet motorcycle, the stories write themselves), while carrying the Shield of the Hidden Lord (that Rylee is still kicking herself for not throwing into the River Styx) for extra, slightly nuclear protection since it could still cast fireballs, and the fiend inside felt a sort of kinship with Kalista. Annoyed, needy kinship.

Anyway, Kalista needed a night to attune herself to the shield, so they spent the night at the camp, had another terrible breakfast, and set out on yet another road trip, with Seliph at the helm, Rylee in the passenger seat, Faust manning a spiffy harpoon flinger, and Sissy just kinda chilling in the backseat until her brand of devastation would be called upon.

Which as luck would have it wouldn't take long, as a few hours into the trip, Rylee noticed something out the side.

"Seliph, do you see that?"

"See what?"

"That dust cloud. It seems to be getting bigger."

"It's probably just wind."

"No, it's moving a bit too fast for that. I think I can actually see something in the center of it."

"Huh, guess we're not the only ones heading out this way."

"It's not going parallel with us, it's coming towards us."

Seliph looked in the direction she was pointing, saw what she was referring to, specifically, a vehicle that was deliberately rushing towards them, turned a few shades paler, then swallowed and said, "Well, battle stations, I guess."

Rylee rubbed her forehead. "I hate Avernus..."

And unlike my normal habit of combining sessions to find better places to leave cliffhangers, I'm going to take this one as-is, because it was a great cliffhanger. Tune in next time for some exciting vehicle combat action.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Part 13: Some Offers We Should Probably Refuse


So, the bird folk from the vision. One part of Lulu's memory that was jogged was their names and what they looked like.

"Yeah, they had a weird way of speaking, but their names were Chukka and Clonk! They were like big crows, but they didn't have wings, and the way they talked was by mimicking voices they heard before!"

"Oh dear gods," Faust muttered, noticing that Seliph and Kalista had similar reactions.

"What?" asked Sissy.

"Kenku," muttered Seliph.

"What's that?"

"Oh, right, I keep forgetting you're not from this world. Does your world have crows?"

"Well, yeah."

"Picture big crows that can talk but can't fly. They also get weirdly obsessive over things. I've met a few and it wasn't pleasant," Seliph added at the end of his description.

"They're not that bad," Rylee protested.

"Anyway," Lulu broke in. "We gotta go find them! They might be able to direct us to where Zariel's sword is!" She continued babbling about how excited she was to save her friend. "Oh, but I suppose you guys will want to rest before we head out..."

"Please," Seliph requested, noting the party's injuries from the previous adventure.

The evening was spent in relative silence as the party considered their next course of actions. They would need to climb down to the surface of Avernus.

To remind you, the city of Elturel is in Avernus. The sky of Avernus. It's quite a way down, with a very distinct possibility of falling. Whether just falling to one's death or falling into the River Styx is the worse possibility is a matter of debate I don't really want to have.

There were a few possibilities:

  1. Climb down one of the enormous chains that connected Elturel to the surface of Avernus.
  2. Fly
  3. Find a vehicle of some kind
Being the most straightforward solution, the party opted to try climbing the chain.

Well...let's talk about that. From the book:

Each chain link is 30 feet long and 20 feet wide, and is formed of a welded loop of infernal iron that is 5 feet thick...The chain links are covered in 1-foot-long iron barbs that make them relatively easy to move along. The posts of infernal iron that anchor Elturel to the ground likewise offer numerous handholds for climbing.

So, not exactly a comfortable experience with Faust or Sissy, but Sissy had a new ability to tap into that the party was unaware of. She began to levitate.

"I just discovered I could do this recently-" as in, last level-up recently, "It shouldn't be too hard for me to float down to the surface, but I'm not sure I could carry you guys."

The party looked at Lulu, who shrugged.

Anyway, it was around this moment that the party realized that they were in an immense amount of pain. Well, okay, Faust was in an immense amount of pain.

For you see, another aspect of the chain is the fact that due to fiendish magic or whatever, contact with the chain hurts you.

"This isn't going to work," Faust complained. "I doubt that I could even make it halfway before passing out." Indeed, it was a mathematical impossibility. Unless he jumped halfway his HP would probably hit zero not much later, and even then he wouldn't survive the fall.

Without any methods of the party realistically flying, the party had to find some other way down. Thankfully, not far from the chain was a machine fiends were using to travel from the surface to Elturel.

"That will do," Sissy said, smiling, an idea forming in her mind.

Anyway, she took point when going to claim the machine from the fiends. "You guys can leave. We're taking that."

One of the fiends closest to the group smirked. "You the toughest one among 'em? Not very convincing, and you're younger than my taste, though the other two girls might be more up my alley."

As he was licking his lips, Sissy began levitating and glowing with eldritch energy.

Slight dramatization

Anyway between that and the rest of the party making more intimidating poses than...well...the Titans screaming in pain as seen above, the fiends looked at each other and split (Sissy may have also nuked one of them, I forgot the details)

Once the party reached the surface, their next objective was locating the Wandering Emporium. Beyond a need for equipment and a vehicle to travel the surface of Avernus, an imp appeared before Kalista and suggested that she go to the Wandering Emporium to "find out where she came from", as in, to meet her father. During that discussion, Kalista grabbed the imp, demanding more information, and he mentioned that Advocati was also there, wanting to speak with Faust.

As the machine got closer to the surface, the party saw a group of fiends carrying a tied up tiefling somewhere. Naturally, the party (and by that I man Kalista) wouldn't take that lying down and...

Slight understatement

Anyway, the newly freed tiefling introduced himself as Dirk, something totally meant to be a throwaway cameo for a character in a previous campaign played by one of our other friends (the husband of Sissy's player), but uh...he couldn't make it, so basically he showed up to point us in the direction of the Wandering Emporium and disappeared.

Upon arriving at the Wandering Emporium, the party was approached by a man who introduced himself as Mahadi.

"It's so good to finally meet the five of you at last. We've been expecting you, please come in, stay a while, have something to eat. Naturally we have rooms available for each of you, and there are people who desire to speak with you all.

The party soon found themselves sitting in a restaurant making orders from a very real menu (as in, the kind that was even printed in the book.

- MENU -


- Pickled vine blight salad -

- Pan-fried myconid cap with garlic butter -

- Spicy shredded stirge sliders -


- Broiled quippers served in a port reduction -

- Roasted wereboar seasoned liberally with pepper and paprika -

- Twice-battered axe beak strips with a brandied plum sauce -

- Deep fried miniature giant space hamster, seasoned to perfection with rosemary, basil, thyme, and tears -


- Candied phase spider eyes in a raspberry liquor reduction -

- Sweet apple tart with a celestial caramel drizzle -

- Rare miniature stench kow cheese selection -

- Coffee/Tea -

One continuity gag in here that I appreciated was the fact that some monster got Boo!

The fact that meals are served here is even acknowledged. You see, I neglected to mention it until now but any food that originated in Avernus all had one thing in common: tasting like ash. I'm serious. But the food in the Wandering Emporium is different. In fact, the entire place is different. Uncharacteristically safe from the effects of being in Avernus.

As a result, the food was delicious. And don't ask me what everyone ordered because I don't remember.

Anyway, as the party continued their meal, Kalista was approached by a fiend, saying that her sister would be seeing her shortly.

Not her father. Her sister.

Anyway, she wasn't sure how to react to this and asked Seliph to go with her.

Arriving at the destination Kalista was summoned to, Seliph and Kalista tried to proceed in, but were stopped by the receptionist of the office.

"Who are you? You weren't requested," she said rather forcefully to Seliph.

"I'm here to support my friend in case something weird happens."

"The meeting isn't going to be quite like you expect."

"Is it going to be what she expects?"

"Honestly, no. But it isn't exactly possible for you to join on this meeting."

Before Seliph could press further, Kalista broke in, "It's fine. What exactly am I supposed to do?"

Kalista was led into a small room by the receptionist, who took out a small wine glass and filled it with some liquid from a bottle. "Drink," she said. "You will fall into a brief sleep, during which you will be able to commune with your sister, who is currently in another location.

Kalista raised an eyebrow, shrugged, and drained the glass. Thankfully, the receptionist was being totally honest, because when Kalista blacked out, she could very well have been captured or worse. Instead, she awakened in a void that looked similar to the room she was sitting in, chair and table included.

Seated at the table was another tiefling.

So here are the main points that came up in that conversation as far as we know. Kalista didn't make a single Insight check or really press the "sister" on any of these points so no telling just how much of this is actually true, but here we go.

  • Kalista's former love Raul was targeted by Kalista's sister for cheating on his wife, his soul stored in a soul coin (which is the prime legal tender in Avernus)
  • Kalista's services were requested as part of joining the family business, including but not limited to incredible power (and a shiny new dagger) in exchange for serving as a temptress against unfaithful men, after which she would kill them and feed their souls to her father, an important archfiend by the name of Belial
  • Owing to this, Kalista's soul belonged to said archfiend, and she'd find herself serving him in the Nine Hells once her mortal life was over
I know what you're thinking. "Gee, that sounds terrible!" And you're right.

So anyway Kalista said yes and found the sweet dagger in her pack once the conversation was over and she rejoined the waking world, her sister's instructions echoing in her head.

Kalista's new abilities include the aforementioned dagger as well as the ability to shapeshift at well. And she immediately began abusing it.

Skipping ahead a little bit, everybody but Seliph met with a devil here.

  • Faust met with Advocati again and was given a Ring of Mind Shielding to Rylee's chagrin (as well as Hadar, who as we'll see later isn't taking the sudden call screening well)
  • Rylee also met with Advocati who tried to tempt her with the possibility of seeing what Faust was up to but she said no
  • Sissy met with a devil who, upon realizing her pact with the Genie, began talking to her about the possibility of working together but the conversation was interrupted by Seliph and Kalista returning. We'll see if that comes back up again.
The party stayed with the Wandering Emporium overnight, mostly happy to have their own separate rooms, although Kalista in particular found the solitude a bit much. The silence brought forth thoughts and memories, the kind that she had been trying to drown out ever since Raul died. The fact that, due to her contract, her soul belonged to hell left her particularly divided. On the one hand, she'd already done plenty of bad things up to this point, so why is this any new? But on the other, she'd always kind of hoped that the future was positive.

Without thinking, she wandered outside, hoping to be able to talk to someone. As luck would have it, Rylee was out with her dog, and Kalista quickly caught up with Rylee to ask her a few questions.

"Something's been on my mind you think I was always going to Hell?" Kalista asked sheepishly.

"What do you mean?"

"You're religious. You probably have a good idea of who goes where when they die. I've never really followed a god or religion, but I've done a lot of things that would probably have me going to a bad place."

"I don't know for sure. I know you're never stuck on a path if you don't want to be on it."

This conversation went back and forth for a bit before Seliph, who also happened to be out and about at that time, wandered into the conversation.

"Oh, I wanted to ask you as well!" Kalista quickly turned towards Seliph. "Do you think you're going to Heaven or Mount Celestia or wherever goodie-goods like you go when you die?"

Seliph...well...gave this expression.

Eyes darting between Rylee and Kalista, Seliph thought for a second, then shrugged. "I don't really know. I mean, yeah, I'm a paladin and everything, but I also did some scummy things when I worked with the Fist. I don't particularly have a favorite god, but I mean, I'll gladly go to one of their domains if they find me worthy. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, just...wondering," Kalista muttered.

Unconvinced, Seliph pressed. "Kalista, you're not normally this shy. What's the problem?"

"No judgment?"

Seliph looked at Rylee, who nodded. "I can only promise to try."

It was at this point that Faust's player chuckled and said, "Yes, we're finally at the awkward, 'Mom, Dad, I did something wrong,' talk."

Anyway, Kalista came clean about everything, finishing with the statement, "I mean, I was pretty sure I was going to Hell anyway, may as well take advantage of the family name, right? But...I feel like I made a mistake."

Seliph looked at Rylee again. Again, the look of, "What am I supposed to do here? This wasn't in the simulation!"

Rylee started. "I wouldn't say that you going to Hell was guaranteed, but..."

Seliph added, "The contract is a problem."

"There must be a way to get out of it," Rylee said, hopefully.

"I dunno, fiends tend to be pretty thorough in their craft of screwing over their clients," Seliph said with a shrug. "Still, we're already working on reversing one fiendish contract. Another probably won't add that much work. Still, not much we can do tonight. Let's try to get some rest. We've got a long journey ahead of us."

And while this was actually the beginning of the next session, this is where I'll call the post because it feels like a good place to pause. Next time, we finally get to see these Infernal War Machines, as well as Faust finally snapping.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Part 12: The Many Adventures of Duke Ravengard


So remember last time how I said there were three minotaur skeletons?

Yeah...uhh...we only saw two in the window. I got the three from the book when I was reading it to make sure I was getting details straight, and those three were outside, prepped to attack the party for stepping foot on the grounds of the cemetery, which wasn't an issue because we snuck past.

So you might be thinking, "Gee, Aaron, if it's just two of them attacking the party with Gideon it shouldn't be that bad, right?"

Yeah about that, there were four of them that jumped into the fray.

And yeah, our party has a mini nuke on their hands, but...I mean they're skeletons of giant bull men! I don't care that their lack of muscles would realistically make them rather unstable. It's magic! And they're scary! And they did a ton of damage to people in our party.

Between the minotaur skeletons and Gideon, things were looking pretty scary. We weren't sure just how much Rylee would be able to stay on top of the healing, and Seliph could only do so much defensive maneuvering in a large open room.

It was high time for Rylee to make an exception to her No Violence rule.

But only sort of. She cast the spell Turn Undead, which was able to intimidate the skeletons into giving the party some room.

Which is exactly what we needed because we were soon able to swarm Gideon. And...well...

Anyway, once Gideon had been finished off, the minotaur skeletons collapsed, dust flowing in the....umm....stale air inside the chapel? Okay, I wanted to throw in some cool imagery but I'm also like a month behind on this update so...this is what you get.

So, Gideon had nothing to do with their adventure here and there was still a demon problem to deal with downstairs. So, on the off chance that they'd find Duke Ravengard in the basement of this building, down the party went.

Paraphrasing a lot of dungeon delving, eventually the party came across a man wearing a strange helmet, surrounded by mutilated corpses of humans wearing the uniforms of Baldur's Gate and Elturel. The man was repeating a strange chant in an almost unintelligible language, with random words appearing in the Celestial and Abyssal languages.

Seliph was able to gather from the babbling that the man was currently hosting a struggle within his mind between himself, a divine being, and a powerful demon. Further investigation allowed the party to unearth the fact that this man was the man they were looking for, Duke Ravengard, and that the demonic power within him (specifically the helm he was wearing) was tied to the portal.

The party took a few minutes to sidebar and discuss what their options were. Rylee wasn't sure she would be able to remove the curse. Seliph for sure wouldn't be able to.

Kalista suggested something else.

"What if we just killed him? Like, cut his head off and take the helm back to the High Hall?"

Lulu let out a horrified screach, and then said, "I mean, I suppose it would work, but..."

"We're not killing him," Rylee said firmly.

"Yeah, that seems unnecessary if we have to take the helm back to the High Hall anyway," Seliph added.

"Will we be able to drag him back to the High Hall without fear of injury to us or him, though?" Faust asked.

A fair point, since, well, here's a picture of what he looks like.

Yeah, pretty big guy in full plate armor.

"I' it," Seliph offered sheepishly.

As it turns out Ravengard was too distracted by the battle within his mind to offer up any resistance as the party began to escort him out of the cemetery.

Which was great, because on the road back to the High Hall the party came across a man being attacked by two bulezaus. What's a bulezau?

This terrifying thing.

Anyway, Rylee rushed into save the man, Seliph told the others to hide Ravengard, and then the party laid a smackdown on the bulezaus.

I mean, it was...suspiciously easy, the man they saved not doing much to put that suspicion at ease. He introduced himself as Orin Ragron, the city's blacksmith, but he seemed weirdly leery of Seliph. His lack of explanation as why a blacksmith was so overwhelmed (not to mention really shifty about where his shop was) was a point of concern for Seliph, who discreetly cast activated his Divine Sense, with which he was able to determine that not only was the blacksmith not a good guy, he wasn't even the blacksmith he claimed to be, but rather an incubus in disguise.

Seliph's change in expression must have tipped the fiend off about his failure to conceal his identity, because he quickly made an excuse of needing to "check on his shop" and took off.

"What was that about?" the party seemingly asked at once.

"You probably figured it out but that guy wasn't the blacksmith," Seliph said once everyone had reconvened. "He's a fiend, probably was up to no good, so we're gonna need to alert the city watch in case he comes back to cause any more trouble."

"Then why not go after him?" Faust asked.

"Well, I mean, it's only an incubus, and we have bigger fish to fry with Ravengard. Certainly bigger than some devil out to get laid."

"Fair point," Faust conceded.

The rest of the trip back to the High Hall was much less eventful. As the party entered into the secret entrance, Faust made a suggestion.

"Let's wait to bring Duke Ravengard in. His current state of mind might be distressing for the commonfolk."

"I agree," said Seliph. "Let me go in and grab someone."

That someone turned out to be Pherria Jynks, someone the party met earlier but I failed to mention. Surprised at Seliph's sudden appearance by himself, she asked if everything was all right.

"Mostly, but umm....can you come with me into the secret entrance? Also can you keep a secret?"


"Yes or no, can you keep a secret?"

"I mean, of course, but, why the urgency?"

Seliph quickly led her to where the rest of the party waited. Upon seeing Ravengard in the state he was in, she stifled a shriek. The party quickly explained what was wrong with him, asking if she had any ideas for how to save him, to which she suggested the Ritual of Returning, which they could start right away with some assistance from the party.

First, the altar of Torm needed to be cleansed, as it would be the location of the ritual. Seliph offered to do that with proper instruction.

Second, someone must be standing nearby to offer the prayer to Torm. Being the most experienced in that regard, Rylee offered.

"Is that okay, though?" Seliph asked. "I mean, you already have arrangements, won't that seem like cheating?"

"Not at all," Rylee replied. "It's for a good cause that will save lives rather than end them. This is the sort of thing I preach, and it is the sort of thing I live for."

Seliph shrugged. "Makes sense, I guess."

Third, a powerful symbol of courage and self-sacrifice would be needed for the ritual. Rylee offered...something....I can't remember, it's been a while and I'm super behind.

Whatever it was, it worked, and the ritual went off without a hitch, though having read that part of the module it could have been bad.

Anyway, with the ritual successfully performed, Duke Ravengard slowly came back to his senses. Once he was mentally available, he gathered the party together to let them know of the visions he was wracked with. From the book:

  • In his spirit journey, Ravengard saw a bloodied woman in armor — a soldier wearing the colors and crest of Elturel — grasping a longsword fit for an angel. Fresh blood streamed from a nasty cut on the woman’s cheek.
  • Flying next to the woman was a small, golden elephant with rapidly fluttering wings.
  • As an enormous, loping demon threatened to devour the woman, she plunged the sword into the ground while the winged elephant made a trumpet sound with its trunk. The demon was hurled back as an alabaster palace rose up around the sword. The winged elephant fled and took to the red sky of Avernus, where it watched as a bloody scab grew up from the ground to engulf the palace and the enormous demon.
  • The winged elephant fled and wandered in a delirium before coming upon two odd, birdlike humanoids dressed in patchwork armor and standing next to a strange infernal vehicle. The bird creatures were equipped with odd weapons and tools.
He suggested that that sword, the Sword of Zariel, might be key in saving Elturel. Lulu, suddenly struck with vague memories, reasoned that it might also be what's needed to save her friend.

This wasn't quite where we called the session but this entry is getting a little long and there's a LOT left to cover, so in the interest of giving you SOMETHING to read, here you go. We've got our next objective. Find the sword. Where? Find out next time.