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.

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