Here it is – the last one. The end, for my table, of Out of the Abyss. The good news is that this is far from the last of my RPG write-ups, for reasons I will explain at the end of the post. The other good news is that I think I did a good job of delivering as satisfying a conclusion as I could given the circumstances. The other other good news is that we got some new players, who are now in a prime position to get started for next season. The bad news is, well, I am a sentimental dork and I got really emotional about the end of this campaign.
(Yes, I did end up with eight players for a night. Yes, six of them were casters. One meat-shield. Party balance is a lie.)
Araj, the Tower of Vengeance
Menzoberranzan, the home city of the dark elves
The Underdark, far below the surface of the Sword Coast, in the Forgotten Realms
The Story So Far:
We rejoined our party en route to the drow wizard Vizeran DeVir’s tower, Araj, located in the Wormwrithings (which does not sound at all disgusting, no). They had met Vizeran in the great library of Gravenhollow, and when he mentioned that he had a plan to put an end to the demonic incursion, the party gratefully agreed to work with him, considering that they had no better plan themselves (or any plan at all).
When they were nearly there, Vizeran lead them through a tight passage that opened into a wider cavern – in the center of it was a massive black stone stalagmite that had been carved into a tower by magic. “Araj,” he said, gesturing towards it. “After the drow word for ‘vengeance.’” Seeing a pointy black tower called Vengeance certainly did not raise any misgivings in the party’s collective minds; indeed, it only confirmed their suspicions that it would be nothing but shiny happy rainbow pony funtimes. Nothing bad ever happens in potentially-evil wizard towers named Vengeance.
The huge iron door to the tower opened at Vizeran’s command, and he ushered them inside. Waiting there was his apprentice, introduced to them as Grin Ousstyl, another drow from Menzoberranzan. As quickly as possible, Vizeran brought them all up to his private study in order to explain his plan. He explained his knowledge of his former colleague Gromph Baenre, his arrogance and pride, his loss of control over the faerzress in his summoning spell. He showed them how he had created an amulet called the Dark Heart, which if placed in the spot where Gromph had performed his initial spell, would summon all the demon lords there again. Finding themselves all in one spot, he was sure they would fight to the “death” of these material forms, effectively banishing themselves once more to the Abyss. Whoever emerged on top would be sorely weakened, hopefully enough so that the party could take them out themselves.
Looking at them expectantly, Vizeran awaited their reactions. When Lilo, at Necalli’s urging, initially tried to barter for what the wizard would pay them in exchange for their services. Vizeran shrugged and said, “Very well then. Enjoy living in a world ruled by the demon lords, I suppose. You can be on your way.” Reminded of the stakes at hand, the party agreed to the plan. With a nod, the wizard summoned his apprentice once more. Grin, he told them, would be their guide in the wizard’s secret path to Menzoberranzan. Once there, they could plant the amulet in the tower of House Baenre and give a signal to Vizeran. He would activate the ritual, and they could safely escape the city before the demon lords arrived.
While traveling with Grin – about a twelve day journey by foot through the secret tunnel that Vizeran carved over centuries with stone shaping spells – the party noticed something a little off about him. He seemed edgy, troubled maybe. Ignus the fire genasi wizard cast Sense Thoughts on him one day, and found that Grin had misgivings about Vizeran’s plan. Although he felt no goodwill towards the matron mothers of Menzoberranzan, he did not wish to see his home city destroyed as it certainly would be by the vicious fighting of the demon lords. Ignus chose not to mention this to the rest of the party, as he felt it did not concern him.
They finally emerged from the cramped tunnel to stand on a ridge overlooking Menzoberranzan. And as they did, they saw Grin’s face fall. The city was quite clearly full of wreckage and disaster – they soon found the signatures of Demogorgon, just as they had in Sloobludop. With no way to tell where the two-headed demon lord was lurking now, they decided to get in and out as quickly as possible. Most of the party did their best to disguise themselves as drow, especially the elves among the group. Jimmy the cloven-hoofed tiefling did not bother, nor did Necalli the dragonborn. With their fearsome appearances, it was unlikely that anyone was going to approach them anyway. Markel shrunk himself down with pygmywort mushrooms, found a suitably sized rock, and cast Meld With Stone, allowing himself to be carried by Necalli. Aspen shrunk down to ride on Hedwig’s back.
Between some round trips on Hedwig and a casting of Feather Fall, the group was able to successfully climb down the ridge into the city. They were quite close to the House Baenre tower, built to be semi-shielded by the terrain of the ridge and cliffs. As they approached, the group who had been down here since the beginning heard a chillingly familiar voice. “Well, well, well. Look who we have here!” called Ilvara Mizzrym, the drow slaver who had first held them prisoner so many months ago. She was accompanied by the other priestess, Asha Vandree, as well as their guards Jorlan Duskryn and Shoor Vandree.
Combat immediately broke out, with Lilo getting in just ahead of the line to give the blessing of the gods to her party members. In a glorious moment, Necalli increased his size with bigwig mushrooms, and decided it was a great plan to shout “Markel! I choose you!” as he threw the rock the cleric had melded into at Ilvara. From this, Markel took a large amount of damage, but fortunately so did the drow priestess, so of course it was all worth it. Upon landing, Markel broke out of the stone and returned to his dwarven form, with a Fireball at the ready. He managed to at least sear all of the drow attackers, seriously burning two of them.
Seeing that there was suddenly a brand new target right in front of her, Asha targeted Markel with her Scourge, hitting him with a hefty amount of poison damage despite his dwarven resistance. Jorlan and Shoor targeted Necalli and Lilo with their crossbows, seeing them as the biggest threats. After all, how does one apply the rule “when in doubt, kill the mage first” in a party that is three-quarters magic users? By going after the life cleric trying to keep everyone from dying, of course. Not to be outdone, Ignus cast his own Fireball in the same spot as Markel, managing to finish off both Jorlan and Shoor in one beautiful shot.
Aspen lunged at Ilvara, using Wild Shape to turn into – what else – a rocktopus to grapple her. Markel finished off Asha with his Radiance of the Dawn, leaving Ilvara clinging to life with only a few hit points left. When Necalli charged in with the magic sword Dawnbringer, it was all over for the drow priestess of Lolth. As the last of their attackers expired before them, the rest of the party looked around for the best way to get the Dark Heart into the tower. Luckily for them, while all of that nice combat was occurring, Jimmy the tiefling had been using an Unseen Servant to carry the amulet inside. It had spotted the place where the summoning had first occurred, though it could not reach it due to magical barriers.
The warlock used his Eldritch Blast to try to shatter, or at least weaken the barrier, and was successful. The party moved into the tower, everyone watching expectantly as the amulet was placed in the circle of sigils and arcane marks. They used Dancing Lights to signal to Vizeran that the amulet was in place, and he teleported them back outside the city as he activated the ritual. The party found themselves back on the ridge where they’d first approached, and then – the waiting. It seemed, for a time, that the ritual had failed.
But before too long, a swirling vortex opened over the city, and out stepped the demon lords, all of them in their screaming, chaotic horror. The adventurers watched in a kind of fascinated horror as they destroyed each other – Juiblex tore Zuggtmoy’s head from her shoulders; Graz’zt insinuated himself between Orcus and Baphomet, only to be simultaneously struck by them both; finally, only Demogorgon was left standing. The party readied to take him out, but another portal, unnoticed by the others, had opened in the sky, showing the Abyss beyond. From that portal emerged Lolth herself, the mastermind behind this entire wicked scheme. She too sought to destroy the weakened Prince of Demons, hoping to claim his power as her own. Indeed, Demogorgon was defeated – but he took Lolth with him.
As he ripped open her abdomen – her horribly bulging abdomen – a tidal wave of spider eggs washed over Menzoberranzan, billions and billions of them flooding the city. With a final scream, both demon lords were banished to the Abyss once more, and the portals over the city faded. And with that last remnant of terror, the demonic incursion was put to an end.
So, uh, that’s it, guys. Out of the Abyss, and back into it. I do have some parting thoughts, as you might expect. First and foremost, how rad my players are for putting up with my shenanigans for six whole months. And how insane they must be for all requesting to stay at my table after this season.
I do still wish we’d had more time. There’s an entire chapter we had to skip over for time, which I’d been looking forward to from day one – The Fetid Wedding, where Zuggtmoy attempts to wed Araumycos, the largest fungal lifeform on this plane or any other. The quest to get the components to make the Dark Heart amulet, I skipped entirely. I rearranged some things for my own purposes – the party is supposed to finally defeat Ilvara and her crew as they ascend out of the Underdark. At that point, I knew we were not going to finish, so I decided to save them as a climactic final battle (the party not being high enough level to take on even a weakened demon lord). As smaller points, I wish I had pushed them to probe a little further into Vizeran or Grin. Would they have gone along with Vizeran if they’d known he was neutral evil? Who knows? (Probably they would have, but still) If they’d been able to get a little more out of Grin, he would’ve revealed that the amulet and ritual would work anywhere; Vizeran just wanted revenge on Gromph Baenre in particular. Would this revelation have changed their plans? Maybe, maybe not.
Those of you who have enjoyed these posts, fear not. Starting in a couple of weeks, I’ll be running a Savage Worlds campaign for some of my friends, specifically the 50 Fathoms plot point campaign. Since that’s a home game, I expect much less whining about rules on my part (because anything goes in home games, and also SW is a much more flexible system than D&D, in my opinion). Since that group is only meeting every other week, I expect that campaign to be fairly long-running. I am super, super excited for this – Savage Worlds is a great system and 50 Fathoms has all of my favorite things: pirates and witches and magic and swashbuckling and mystery and adventure on the high seas and so many good things.
I… will also be (very likely at this point, though nothing is written in stone) DMing the next season of Adventurer’s League. I know, that thing I said I’d never do. I have several reasons for this: 1) It’s Ravenloft! Teen goth Jen would be so disappointed if I didn’t! 2) I genuinely prefer DMing over playing 95% of the time. 3) The addition of another child to our game made me reconsider a few things, namely that a lot of our DMs would prefer not to DM for kids, whereas I actually like it. I think kids are really fun players. I think they’re creative, and they don’t have a lot of the preconceived notions adult players have, and if you’re patient with them, they can really really surprise you, which is something I like when I DM. I like when my players surprise me. He’s a bit younger than the other kid at our table, but his parents have joined us as well, so I don’t foresee any real problems with it.
Uh, also, we’re facing a bit of a DM shortage and a change in leadership with AL in our region, so there’s generally been a little turmoil, and I feel better knowing that at least one table at my store will remain under my control (yeah, I’m type-A as hell, I know). This week, we had three new players come to the store in addition to the new family at my table – unfortunate timing, admittedly, considering we’re starting a new story in literally two weeks – and I realized how excited I was to help them discover or rediscover this game, and this hobby. One of them was an older guy who hadn’t played since second edition; one of them had never played before in his life. One of my friends, who had never played D&D in her life a year ago, will be DMing her first game this Sunday at our Expeditions. This session, right here, was a 9-year-old’s first ever session of D&D. All of these things, to me, are really exciting and invigorating, and I love that I can help facilitate this happening.
We’ll see if I recant this statement in a couple of weeks. I can’t say I won’t get frustrated again and want to quit. But right now, as annoying as the bureaucracy and the rules are, I am very much feeling like I can put up with it for the good parts, and the best part – telling stories with my friends.
(I told you I was going to be a sentimental dweeb)