It’s… it’s getting a little weird.
- Brus Reckoner
- Male half-orc Inquisitor of Yog-Sothoth.
- John “Angel Eyes” Wilmarth
- Male Aasimar Cleric of the mad idiot god Azathoth.
- Fág an Bealach (Faugh)
- Male svirfneblin Brawler of archetype Mutagenic Mauler.
- Bill the Bard
- A lost male human bard with his donkey Bottom.
- Male hobgoblin rogue.
This is long! It’s worthwhile getting it in one roller coaster hit, though!
In the previous episode…
The PCs’ taskmaster Coin had tasked them with obtaining the knowledge of the limenologist Wu-Shi. Or Wu-Chi. They weren’t sure. And whether that meant to escort him, kidnap him, ask him some questions or just take his notes, they weren’t sure. In for a penny, in for a pound.
They quickly found out that a man called Wu-Chi was to be executed the next day for assorted witchcraft crimes like entering a barn and emerging across the street. They had checked his house for details, but found it ransacked and dragged piece-by-piece into the nearby forest. This forest seemed to contain the ancestral graveyard of Wu-Chi, and some vague clues to a Li-Men. They stumbled across the grave of Wu-Shi and inadvertantly woke him up. A fight had broken out between the PCs, Wu-Shi and the kami guardians of the forest that had tried to appease the angry spirit in order to keep him in the ground.
Although they were quite outclassed by the tanuki and kami that had ambushed them, they managed to vanquish Wu-Shi and take bits of him with them. Their sole Bag of Holding was not a nice place to be putting your hands…
Kung Fu Fighting, again
The penny had dropped that Wu-Shi and Wu-Chi were different people and not just a mistake by Coin. Wu-Shi had been no help, so they had to go rescue Wu-Chi. Because chaos has gotta chaos, they had set fire to the tavern on the way up to Wu-Chi’s place. On their trek back down to the town square, Picklick and Faugh decided to set even more innocent villagers’ houses on fire.
They found a small, distracted bucket brigade working to put out the tavern, and the town elder standing at the main pagoda. The old man twirled his old moustache and laughed at them. Inevitably, a fight broke out again. The tanuki from the forest had reported back to the elder, so they were ready to deal with the grave-robbing, pyromaniacal allies of Wu-Chi.
The PCs were a little low on resources. Faugh had consumed his mutagen (even after quickly brewing some more), and was too exhausted to brawl that day. Heals were low and they had a variety of people to reason with. The old man seemed no threat - he walked with a crooked back, supported by a bamboo cane. Three or four lowly townsfolk had leapt into the combat, wielding buckets and farm-hardened fists. Two tanuki monks did most of the threatening. Despite their girth and deep drinks of wine, they could dodge most of the attacks and stay out of the way of Faugh’s grasping grapples. A beautiful Kitsune woman tried to keep them all at bay with her charms, taking on the Bard almost directly.
In classic kung fu movie fashion, the old man was quite the swordsman, and drew a flashing blade from his cane. Although he could keep Brus at bay with his swordsmanship, he couldn’t land a blow - Brus was a whole naginata shaft away. Eventually the Inquisitor cut through the old man… to only find his yukata collapse into nothingness. A trick!
The tanukis kept up a whirling wall of quarterstaves, tripping and flipping the PCs around. Bill the Bard charmed the Kitsune, but could not stop her negating Brus with a well-timed joke about genitals (Hideous Laughter).
The PCs eventually pushed forward into the pagoda. Bill had seen Wu-Chi getting the stuffing beat out of him by an executioner, whilst watched by the village elder. Wu-Chi was on his last legs, but had deftly disarmed the executioner so he needed to be punched to death rather than one vicious axe-strike.
The next few seconds were a blur. The Kitsune sorceror tried to stop the PCs from advancing, but Brus literally walked all over her. Faugh had attempted to put her out of her misery, but she turned into a fox and fled. Brus cut the village elder down with one mighty strike of his naginata. The executioner surrendered, claiming he was just following orders. As the cleric tended to Wu-Chi, the others debated the best way to teach the executioner a lesson. In the end he was thrown into a cell as they set the pagoda alight.
They quickly rummaged through the pagoda. Wu-Chi pleaded with them in broken Common: “Please. Must go. Fire coming.”
“Yeah the pagoda’s on fire, but that’s okay.”
“No, no… Fire… DRAGON. Coming. Soon!”
And with that, the PCs got hasty. Wu-Chi hurriedly assembled a portal inscription on an outhouse door and they leapt through. As the door closed behind them, they could see the sweep of a wing through the smoke. That was close.
A sidetrack home
The PCs with darkvision acclimatized to the sudden darkness, but moaned when Bill cast a Dancing Lights spell. He, his donkey and Wu-Chi couldn’t see a thing. Spooky racial darkvision be damned.
They were in an awkwardly-collapsed cobblestone tunnel. They quickly determined that they weren’t in the mine from earlier in the adventure, nor a mine at all. Brus remembered their chase from Castle Wayfray that lead through a cobblestone hallway with a rotted-through spike trap. Maybe this was the same place?
They didn’t have a lot of options going forward. Wu-Chi couldn’t work with these doors, and most of the corridors had collapsed. One door opened into a dark well. They had the grand idea of checking their keyrings - the keys often pointed the way to a door they could use. There was a small argument over whether they should rest in the relative comfort of this dungeon, but they decided to press on.
They put the key in the door and it swung open. A horrible smell wafted through. The doorframe rocked and rolled, and they could see light break through from up ahead, but only to stop and a shower of bricks and wood slid towards them. Faugh gingerly stuck his head through the door. The doorframe surfed on an undulating surface, surrounded by vast wreckage. Nearly a hundred feet away he could see some sort of wall… and the floor was sticky…
Light broke again and another wave of debris crashed in around them. “Wait… are we inside a giant beast?!” Seemed like it. “A giant beast eating houses?!” Seemed like it. The PCs were divided between a response of “oh shit” or “oh sweet”. After a lot of reluctance, they strode out into the gullet of this truly massive beast. Faugh and Bill slipped over in the saliva-slick wreckage, while the others stood on the ruins of a small village. They could spy dead amongst the debris, but they needed to get to a door before they found a less savoury way out of the giant beast.
Brus strode quickly across the debris and cleared a doorway rolling about on the floor. They opened the door and stones fell into the space. They leaped in, falling through the air and landing on their butts as gravity righted itself. Bottom did the best of the lot - he stepped through the hole and straddled the portal, walking along the “wall”. They all pushed inside and shut the door.
They finally got some rest after their day of kung fu and being eaten by giant monsters. This place was a locked cell on the side of a mountain. Prison cells had been hollowed out of the mountain, with bars allowing them a depressing look to a bottomless chasm. The door was shut fast, so they figured that was a good protection versus anything. Meanwhile they had hit Level 7 and all the goodness that brings.
During the night, Picklick and John had volunteered to go on watch.
John paced the cell as the others slept. He threw a rock out towards one of the other cells, expecting nothing back but an echo. Out of nowhere came a chess bishop, clocking him square in the forehead!
Strangely, when he went to put it with the rest of his accumulated chess pieces, he found some hiding in boots, in books and as the stopper of potions. He quickly assembled an entire chessboard. And waited.
A pawn moved forward one rank, guided by an invisible hand. John responded with another pawn. The opponent pushed out his knight. John thought for a moment and moved another pawn out.
Then the opponent moved a bishop out… through pieces. John moved a piece, watching carefully. The opponent made another wild move. John countered with an illegal move of his own. They traded illegal, insane move after illegal, insane move. Sometimes two pieces would move. Sometimes a few would just be knocked over. John quickly captured the king via the Azathoth Gambit (move all your pieces to surround the opposing king). With that, the King fell.
Through the rest of his shift, John played insane games of chess with this opponent and grew more and more stoned. When it came Picklick’s time to watch, he had to physically shove John into bed and would have none of this “new companion” nonsense.
Then a while later the others heard, “You little bastard!” and awoke to find Picklick gone. And their keys! Of their three keyrings and half a dozen keys, there was only one of each left. In a weird handwriting, it apologised for the theft. Whoever it was.
In the morning the PCs were shocked at the potential kidnapping of Picklick. They did some sleuthing (including stone-shaping a wall out of the way to see if he had run away or disappeared through a portal) and resigned themselves to having lost Picklick. They pushed on.
If you need a new cup of coffee, grab it now!
Luckily the key left to them worked. It brought them to a foul-smelling but silent room. The place was two conjoined stone igloos with astronomical gear built into the ceiling. There were large books of law, knick-knacks… and a rotting devil. Some revolting virulence had seemingly eaten him from the inside out, starting with his chest and spreading outwards. The devil sat in a chair and lay across a diary labelled, “The Essays of Thealoro”.
What have we done to draw this lot?
Once an outpost for the Malebranche, we were left to scheme and grow. A civilization abandoned to swell in cold, bickering numbers until war was announced. A valueless life, but an extant one. But idle hands…
Our order predicted the deorbiting of our sister planet, Aydrade, many millennia ago. That would be enough calamity. In their keenness to confirm, deny and eventually confirm, they ignored all signs of the Approach of The Elder One. Ignoring that star after star was winking out, no longer a reference, they squabbled and made laws and unmade laws and shuffled the hierarchy and kept going nowhere. I advised against it but was silenced.
Our order failed to notice the Approach of The Elder One, and to round out the calamity, we failed to notice The Invaders. Brutal, numberless, burrowing… things. Crash-landed an asteroid and spawned from there. They were formal in diplomacy, but cut-throat in war. Aggressive and organized. Our civilization had grown fat and stupid. Devils were strewn world-wide by the rupturing advance of The Invaders.
Instead of clarity, our order found insanity. As The Invader hive overtook most of the known lands, we grew obsessed with the Kiss of Aydrade (as it became to be known). Precise calculations were made. Towers built. Land after land was lost to our Invaders, resources tighter. They completed the Tower to Aydrade. Enterprising young acolytes went the long way around and helped build a town on the other side. In anticipation of the Kiss. Idiots.
The sun and starfields grow darker. The Invaders’ burrows grow more and more vast. Malebranche’s bureacracy has grown silent. Chaos reigns. All is lost, or will be soon.
Yet I live. Somewhat. I was cornered by one of those recent elephantine pests that have been roaming nearby. Its dark blue razor-shell pierced my shoulder. I escaped, but the wound festers. My inner thoughts made flesh. My own flesh. Rotting, stinking… I should have returned to The Pits when I had the chance.
The PCs quickly deduced a few things about Thealoro, but did not know what the “elephantine pests” were. They easily found the moon Aydrade via a telescope… it was right on top of them! It was making its penultimate orbit. They peered around as well, but were startled when something very large “swam” past their telescope. A whale? But not? Maybe these were the elephantine pests? When Brus swung the telescope around, he noticed that from a certain point in the celestial hemisphere… there was nothing. No stars. No nebulae. Just darkness. This both pleased and worried him.
The key pointed to the swiftly-passing moon. Their only key. Their only way out of this disaster.
Determined to die in a way other than planetary collisions, the PCs moved out of the cottage. Brus debated long and hard about taking Thealoro’s horns as a present, but the still-weeping pustules turned him off.
Outside they found a blighted landscape. What looked to be like a vast civilization had been collapsed. Buildings and towers looked as though they were built on carpet and had the carpet bunch up on them. Everything was in ruins. The ground was bubbled as if just below the surface were a vast network of caves. And was that an entrance to…
Without warning they were attacked! A monstrous spider-like beast made out of dark blue shards attacked Faugh and hovered near the door, waiting for the other fools to come out and join the lunch. The beast was awkward, but vicious, and quickly joined by a friend. Faugh, Brus and John battled the beasts at the doorway while Bill stabbed at them through the door. Wu-Chi and Bottom hid.
Faugh managed to stand up to the first beast, pummelling its carapace in with his fists and svirfneblin rage. The first beast had gotten a few nasty swipes in, poisoning him and puncturing his vital organs. The second one took him off-guard and stabbed him deep and spun him through the air like a ragdoll. He lay on the ground, bleeding out, seething with barbarian rage.
The second beast tore the armour and shield off John but was slain before he could gorge on John’s tasty aasimar flesh.
They’d almost lost their fighter, but luckily kept him propped up with the inscrutable magicks of Azathoth. While still quite poisoned, injured and in some cases armourless, they pushed on.
In the distance, above the bubbled landscape was a majestic, thin tower utterly unaffected by the destruction below. This was the tower mentioned in the essay! Their way out!
Who were the “invaders”? Hopefully the Bebiliths were the “elephantine pests”, because the PCs weren’t keen on anything bigger. Speaking of, as they ran across the blighted landscape, far above a colossal beast swam out of the darkness of space. Electricity streamed out of its mouth. The PCs gulped in fear… Twice when something whalelike and even bigger swam past and swallowed the beast. Leviathans patrolled the dark, starless skies.
At the base of the tower was a field of perfectly flat flagstone. Whatever had broken up the rest of civilization hadn’t (or couldn’t) affect the tower’s base. The tower was vertiginously tall. Miles high. How they were going to climb the tower in time was beyond them.
Bill had turned his donkey invisible and the rest of them tried to sneak around the tower. They ran into a bizarre sight: a small herd of giant green ants were bashing a giant rock against the tower door, supervised by a few larger ants. A sensation swept through the crowd. The bigger ones turned to the party.
“Show yourself.” The voice of a thousand voices boomed in their head.
Bill stepped out and tried to parlay, figuring these were “The Invaders” and were famed for their diplomacy. A sensation swept through the ants.
“Hi. So we mean you no harm. Just in the area, really… Is this the tower to Aydrade?”
A sensation swept through again. “Irrelevant. Come forward. All of you. The donkey too.”
Bill was treading water like crazy. “Uh, what donkey?” Bottom was invisible, but the ants were having none of that. Meanwhile the workers continued to bash on the door.
“Look, sorry, didn’t mean to… Well, I see you’re trying to get into the tower. Now we were keen to get in there too and perhaps we could work together…”
“Silence. We refuse.”
Brus whispered, “We should just charge them!”
The ants seemingly responded despite Brus’ low voice. Weapons were drawn and claws tensed…
The doors suddenly opened outwards, catching everyone by surprise. The awkwardly-held rock was bashed backwards and started to roll away from the tower. Out from the doorway shouted Picklick!
The ants panicked, but coordinated to get the rock under control.
“GET IN HERE!” he yelled. The PCs were keen to maybe cut the ants down, but thought better of it. They ran in and quickly attacked the mechanisms to shut the door again. Picklick smiled at them. “Miss me?”
He quickly recounted his chase last night. He had caught the gnome sneaking through the camp and gave chase. They ran through various portals. Picklick was almost on him when the gnome spun around and shouted, “WAIT!” He had held the keyrings over a bubbling pool of lava. “One step closer and we’re all fershmlummoxed. If I tell you where your friends are and how to save them, you’ll let me go?” Picklick drew a hidden knife, ready to shank the gnome.
The gnome broke off a key and pointed back behind Picklick. “Go there. Stab whoever you like. Your friends are outside. I’ll make it up to you!” With that, the gnome exploded in pixie dust. Picklick responded with a “dammit!” and ran to save his companions.
In the base of the tower was a cage inside very tall metal struts - an elevator. In the elevator were two devils, face down. Their blood was still spilling out. “Yeah that was me!”
The PCs quickly bolstered the door and searched the dead devils. Faugh ascended stairs and found another dead body. Picklick smiled. “Me again. I rode him down.” Faugh found some magic items and potions amongst the messy corpse, and ran to join everyone in the elevator. Meanwhile the ants had continued bashing on the door. Bill had cast Grease on the doorway, so there was clearly some difficulty outside. As they ascended, the door began to cave in, a shaft of light growing wider and wider.
A hand stretched out from the stairs. John grabbed at the corpse, trying to steal his belt. In his haste he managed to unbelt the corpse (“Still me,” said Picklick). He barely caught two bottles that fell from the belt. The corpse slid from the staircase and landed on the floor below. The ants were now in the tower!
The PCs were peppered with javelins. Most clattered harmlessly on the elevator cage, but one travelled straight for Brus’ face… and strangely veered off at the last second.
“Formians! That’s what they are!” shouted Bill as they reached the next level. This was some sort of beer garden - benches and tables everywhere. The Formians were beginning to swarm up the tower. Brus and Faugh threw tables down at them, hoping to block or kill some of them. They finished stripping the corpses and quickly identified a few items. John had claimed some leather armour and they had found a Restoration potion for the wounded Faugh. They stepped into the elevator and kicked it off again.
Far above there were sounds of Formians climbing the outside of the tower. Bill noticed a clank! sound. A necklace had fallen on the top of the cage and far, far above waved a man with a shock of blonde hair. No idea who the blonde guy was, but the necklace… That was a Necklace of Fireballs.
The Formians swarmed in, a maelstrom of clicking carapaces and coordination. Three larger Formian warriors bounded up the inside of the tower, thrown upwards by their companions. They leaped onto the cage and tried to stab the PCs through the bars. John was almost grabbed by two of them, but Faugh tore the arm off one of them and Brus knocked one clear off the cage.
It fell screeching… but to the PCs’ horror, the worker Formians dived into a wave of bodies that the warrior used to bounce back up to the cage. Saved by the hive mind.
The Formian’s save was short-lived as Bill stabbed him through the chest. Brus destroyed the remaining warrior and the elevator continued upwards.
Something gross and gooey was launched up at them, but missed. It sailed over their heads, colliding with a devil who had come out to see what the commotion was. The devil screamed as larval ants swarmed all over him, driving him over the parapet and into the Formian army below.
Bill threw a Necklace bead down, hoping to delay the swarm. It exploded neatly in the beer garden, sending Formian bits everywhere. But out of the neat hole he had punched through the crowd came the rock. An asteroid, it seemed. “Maybe the asteroid they had come here on!” guessed Bill. No time for discussion, he threw another bead down at the asteroid.
A Formian worker jumped from the parapet, catching the bead and holding onto it football-style. Formians packed around him and the bead exploded, destroying many workers but leaving the asteroid unscathed.
Clear black sky
Eventually they reached the next level - an open-air garden. The tower continued far above them, but there was no obvious elevator. They could see the moon Aydrade on the horizon, approaching them.
Leviathans were swimming through the air around the tower, more menace if the Formians weren’t enough.
Luckily they found the next elevator behind a wall. Brus had peered over the edge and seen the asteroid hovering on the outside of the tower. They were climbing the outside! Bill had also noticed that the continual threat of Formians above them was an illusion, so that lessened the tension somewhat. Somewhat.
The elevator rose a few levels and then stopped! There were stairs on the outside of the tower, up and down. The PCs ran up the stairs, hoping they could find another elevator. Along the way they noticed a leviathan. Brus’ whole body was tingling with anticipation and the leviathan sensed it. It was larger than anything they had ever seen (at least from the outside) and looked like 12 leathery whales split open and sewn together. It turned a malevolent eye towards the PCs and swam towards the tower.
Down below the Formians were covering the gardens. Suddenly they swarmed together at a point, spurting a few upwards with momentum. The flying ants caught onto the side of the tower. More spurted up higher. There was a pause and the asteroid launched up and passed from Formian outpost to outpost. They were scaling the tower quite quickly!
Further below the leviathan crushed against the tower, grinding off hapless Formians. While only maybe 20 had been trying to get into the tower before, there were now thousands. Tens of thousands even!
The PCs raced up, quickly trying to loot the small rooms in the tower. A posse of devils lay stoned on cushions, smoking hookah pipes. Bill quickly convinced one to give him a headband that looked shiny. With no time to investigate it fully, Bill wore it and felt a lot smarter!
They took yet another elevator up. On the wall of the tower, in front of the elevator doors was a large black mark. It was painted on with a curious lacquer. Something like what they saw painted on the road when the monks ambushed them. The paint read: “4”
They continued up. Another painting. “3”
They continued up. “2”
They grit their teeth… “1”
What could it be… What further calamity was upon them?
A smiley face.
Confused, they stumbled out of the elevator and raced upwards. An open-air beer garden capped the tower at this point, complete with a huge barrel of wine. There was another elevator up into the tower proper. John quickly filled a bottle with the wine before Brus smashed the side of the barrel, spilling wine onto the Formians climbing the tower and sending them plunging to their death.
They jumped into the elevator. The cage shut and they moved upwards. “Uh guys…”
Below them the leviathan was crushing up against the tower, moving directly upwards. It was below them and opened its maw wide… Lower elevator structures tore apart and fell into the inky blackness of its throat.
Bill said a word of prayer and dropped the entire remaining Necklace of Fireballs. Brus meanwhile was invigorated by the insane blackness of space. Yog-Sothoth was nearby. In an act of bravery or insanity or defiance, Brus roared at the leviathan. The necklace fell… and exploded in its mouth. At the same time, Brus’ primal roar hit its peak. The skies around flashed briefly, illuminating planet-wrapping tentacles of nothingness.
Amazingly, the leviathan swept away in fear, its tail flicking the elevator shaft as a last spiteful stab. The elevator stopped and plunged towards. Luckily it had stopped, but the situation looked dire.
Thinking quickly, they opened the cage and prepared a rope. Bill had secretly fed a potion of spider climbing to his donkey, who jauntily rode up the elevator shaft, carrying Faugh. Bill went next and managed it deftly. Next Wu-Chi and Picklick ascended into the tower. After a brief, “no after you”, John “Angel-eyes” went next. Lastly was Brus. All was going well until he used the elevator as support… and dropped 20 ft. Brus was tough, but probably couldn’t survive the few-miles-fall down to the earth. With the grace of Yog-Sothoth, he pulled himself up.
The Law Library
They all sighed in relief. Until they looked around. It was a library, complete with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and illuminated desks for study. Several devils were bleeding out on the floor. They had died recently. Weapons were drawn.
Faugh advanced to the next elevator by himself. Formians had sprung their ambush, stepping out of invisibility to swarm the separated PCs. Faugh neatly dispatched a large Formian, and Brus managed to set a few on fire via his intimidation alone (Blistering Invective). The fight was over pretty quickly, but Wu-Chi had been surprised by a few and torn up.
Wu-Chi was vomiting poison as the party closed in on a magic-wielding Formian. John was riding Bottom who managed a miraculous leap across several desks, along a wall and down behind the Formian. Faugh had been Confused, but not enough to stop him pummelling the Formian into the bookshelves.
As the dust settled and Wu-Chi continued to vomit in the background, there was a cough as books fell off the shelves. Bottom was gone and a weird, buck-toothed man stood in his place. Brus quipped: “Why the long face?” In a thick accent, the portly monk replies, “Wull uf you’d jes pulled summit loik that aout yer arse ye wouldn’t be smilin nayther.”
He turned to Will, bowed comically and said, “Nick Bottom, at yer service, Master Shakespeare.”