As a GM, I’m used to my players making things difficult for me. It’s what players do and it’s part of the charm of being a GM. Being able to think on your feet is a key part of the role. I’m so used to this now that I think I may sometimes over-prepare. Because sometimes, your players make things way too easy for you. Like, suspiciously easy. So easy that you wonder what awful thing they have up their sleeves now.
Mantol-Derith, a trading outpost
Gravenhollow, a library
The Underdark, far beneath the Sword Coast, in the Forgotten Realms
The Story So Far:
Aspen had just gotten back to the tent to warn his compatriots that a beholder was approaching, when their contact, Ghazrim DuLoc, entered the room. He was, noticeably, beholder-free. Finally given the chance to meet with Ghazrim, Necalli and Darkos were cautious; they were unsure as to how much of the mission they should tell this stranger. Necalli and Ghazrim exchanged the insignia of the Zhentarim and were reminded of the bond they shared as faction members. While Necalli and Darkos discussed their mission with Ghazrim, Aspen went outside in mouse form, transformed back into his normal gnome shape, and returned to the tent.
Aspen interrupted briefly to ask what the deal was with the beholder he saw lurking outside, still concerned about that. “What, Lorthun?” Ghazrim asked. “Oh, we go way back. Joined up with the Zhentarim together, worked together ever since.” Seeing the concern on his guests’ faces, he continued, “He’s not a danger to you; you needn’t worry about him.” Finally, Necalli explained the purpose of their return to the Underdark. “Oh, you’re that group! Yes, I was given very specific instructions, I have some supplies for you. Please follow me to the shed.”
There was some brief discussion of if they wanted to follow him or wait here, but in the end, they decided to go out back to the shed with him. Ghazrim took a key off a chain he wore around his neck and unlocked a shed; the party could hear a trap deactivate behind the door. Ghazrim gestured them inside, and the group very insistently asked that he go first. The Zhentarim shrugged and lead the way inside, lighting a torch as he did so. Fortunately for the group, the shed was literally full of money. “A gift from the Zhentarim,” he explained. “We understand that sometimes it’s necessary to grease some palms to get what you need down here and we don’t want you to encounter any undue trouble on your journey.”
He also entrusted them with a ring that was enchanted to point the way to Gravenhollow, their next destination. Necalli took it, wearing it on his smallest scaly blue finger. They decided to spend the rest of the day exploring Mantol-Derith, before leaving for Gravenhollow in the morning. They found their way to the drow-owned sector of the trading post and, unsurprisingly, found themselves thoroughly unwelcome there. They briefly explored the duergar and svirfneblin quarters of the post, but found little of interest in the markets there. Resting up for the night in the quarters Ghazrim provided them, they prepared for a long journey in the morning.
The ring, Ghazrim explained, was bespelled to take them on the shortest and safest route to Gravenhollow. With that and some luck, the only ill encounters that befell them were some of their troops eating mushrooms that made them sick, oh, and a brief encounter with Juiblex the demon lord himself (there is a random encounter table in this chapter, where if you roll a 20, you encounter Juiblex! I rolled a 20 TWICE). He was meandering at the far end of a cavern they ended, and seeing him, they snuck away as quietly as possible before he could notice them. Unfortunately, the mere sight of him drove a handful of the troops, and Aspen and Darkos, slightly mad.
Within a day of Gravenhollow, they started to hear an ethereal music, the source of which soon revealed itself. A basilisk approached them in the cavern they had camped down in, saying that it was about time they showed up and that he’d been assigned to bring them to the library. Noticing that the basilisk kept his eyes firmly on the ground to avoid petrifying any of them, and sensing no ill-intent in him, they agreed to follow him provided that the enchanted ring did not disagree with his route. As soon as they reached the library, the basilisk left them, saying that the librarians would find them soon.
The library was quite clearly flooded with magic – it soon directed them to rooms that were completely empty the first time they entered them, but then were perfectly furnished according to their needs and preferences the second time. Outside their doors, they found three large portals, each one marked with dwarven runes. Having spent a greal deal of time with the cleric Markel, they were able to discern that the doors were marked as past, present, and future. They perused them all, trying to understand how the library worked, but they were unable to get a good grasp of the magics at hand here. Ghosts or shades, echoes they called themselves, prowled the library, memories of people who had been here before or would be here someday. They even encountered the echoes of the Society of Brilliance, the strange fellows they had met outside Gracklstugh. They also met one man who was not an echo, he was here in the present. A drow wizard by the name of Vizeran, who was also researching the demonic incursion.
Soon enough, one of the stone giant librarians did indeed find them and presented them with a stonespeaker crystal. He explained that one of them need only attune to it, and it would try to answer any question they might have with a vision. Magical research at its finest. Necalli, as the least crazy party member currently present, attuned to the crystal and began asking questions. He received visions of crazed Demogorgon worshippers in Gracklstugh, Lolth in her lair in the Abyss, and Zuggtmoy on her way to… somewhere, but certainly nowhere good. Finally, the crystal showed the party how this tragedy began.
A drow wizard named Gromph Baenre attempted to perform a demonic summoning (a typical pastime for drow wizards, as it turns out). But the faerzress innate in the Underdark took hold of the spell and he very quickly lost control of it. The demon lords were wrenched from the Abyss and flung into the Material Plane, without any say in it. But since they were here, they were hardly going to waste the opportunity, were they? And somewhere in the Abyss, Lolth laughed, finding herself alone of the demon lords.
Back in the library, Vizeran found them again. He explained that he had received the same vision they had, and he could spare them months of research. He had a plan to put an end to the demonic incursion and save the people of the Underdark the endless suffering that would follow if the demon lords took over. However, he was unable to execute it alone, needing adventurers of great strength and daring, cunning and wisdom. He did not feel safe discussing the plan here in Gravenhollow – after all, who knew who would see his echo, in this place that was open to any and all? He asked that they return with him to his tower in Araj, so they could discuss it securely.
Much to my shock, the players simply… agreed to go with him. No distrust, despite him being a drow. No disbelief, despite the sheer amount of madness they’d encountered. They took one look at this man and thought “He looks like he know what he’s doing.” I was, I admit, thoroughly unprepared for this eventuality. Luckily for me, we were quickly approaching the end of our allotted time, and I called the session there for the evening. Unfortunately for me, next session will be our last for the season. I have some plans to make as satisfying an ending as I can, but we just cannot complete the adventure as written. Someday, I would love to run this again, seeing it through to completion. But for now, we leave our party agreeing to travel to Araj with Vizeran.