The session we did a week or two ago was good, last night’s was better. I didn’t write anything about that one because I felt too busy. I’m too busy now but the muse is on me. We are currently on the 4th level of the tomb of the nine gods. We’ve had one outright death. Our tortle druid Mitch got caught by a beholder death ray on the 3rd level. I feel like the dungeon is getting more vindictive. Like, I thought level 1 and 2 were bad, as in difficulty not quality. Levels 1-2 were “unless you do the extremely specific thing you probably die”. It was unfair but not necessarily hard once you saw what to do. Level 4 is feeling a bit unfair. If levels 1-3 were like chaining someone to a pipe, giving them a hacksaw, and then lighting the place on fire, level 4 is the same way except no hacksaw and you shoot them in the leg first. Level 4 of the tomb is just, “I cut you” while levels 1-3 were “I will cut you.”
We began going through level 4 through the spiral stairs we found in Withers office. Our objective is to find the next geometric skull shape that we’re assuming will be required at some point. They seem to show up in the last room we check, whatever that is, which is a pretty good mechanic for ensuring the players see all the content in the dungeon. In Castle Ravenloft, because of the card reading, the players kind of knew they needed to find the crypts. They knew the Sunsword and Strahd waited for them down there and it was a great definitive final boss fight location. They wanted to see the rest of the castle, but they didn’t HAVE to. This happened in the Amber Temple in CoS, we didn’t hit all the rooms but we didn’t really need to. With the Tomb of Annihilation we want to get the hell out of here. Every room contains something that can kill the entire party. Having a reason to check every room is good.
We also needed to find the last of the Nine Gods Tombs. The last one is Shagambi, who in the story of the nine gods has a lance. They’re the only deity associated with a weapon. So far each player has their Trickster God and a magic item associated with their Trickster God that seems a bit random and not really connected to the deity. Except the Wand of Wonder for the random Almiraj. Unfortunately each player also has a flaw that goes with their trickster god. Some of these are relatively benign like, “I always tell the truth.” Some of these are fucking everything up like, “I can’t stick to a plan” or “I wander off into danger to find shiny things.” Right now we have five players and everyone seems to have a god they like. I think the necromancer would like to have a different god because the froghemoth grants higher strength and bracers of archery which are kind of pointless for him. I hope he doesn’t because my own god, Papazotl, is the rival to his and it’s good for RP. Papazotl inflicts the flaw, “I bow before no one and expect others to do as I command.” This fits nicely with Tando. Since I’m a Mastermind Rogue with a level of Knowledge Cleric he can play very much like a “leader” role to use the 4th Edition terminology. Tando always expects others to do as he commands but they seldom do.
Fortunately the rewards seem to be increasing at a corresponding pace. We’re definitely getting more XP and we’re finding treasure with a story which I always prefer to the pile of coins and gemstones. We found a throne room which the Gnome Wizard immediately sat on and went crazy. Then a dinosaur busted into the room which was weird. We found a closet full of ghasts. We are leaving the four armed gargoyles for last which I approve of. In Unkh’s tomb we got mobbed by minotaur skeletons in an encounter I thought would go very differently.
This one calls for a new paragraph. So Unkh’s tomb is a big open room with a tiny choke point hallway into it. When we entered minotaur skeletons started attacking us. I did not think (do I need to keep writing after that?) they would be a big deal because they’re fairly low CR monsters and I was looking forward to using a sling with sneak attack. What I had failed to anticipate was the willingness of the other party members to get punched in the face with axes while I lived out this moment of glory. To their credit and my shame, my plan would’ve gotten us all killed. I wanted glorious combat, they wanted to fall back into the hallway choke point. The problem with this is that our necromancer was in some kind of maze demiplane looking for a key to Unkh’s sarcophagus. And his horde of skeletons with longbows that follow him and do a gamebreaking amount of damage answer only to him. Without the necromancer, the only other party members that week were the Wizard Cleric and the Druid. And me, the Rogue. It is…not the most physical or tanky of parties and not well suited to meet minotaurs in melee combat regardless of their CR. I’m actually having a great deal more fun with a swashbuckler rogue in the party because the Mastermind’s deal is that it gives advantage on attack rolls as a bonus action. The problem is that, party of casters, there aren’t enough attack rolls. The Mastermind would be really effective with muscle to stand behind. Put me in a party with a paladin or a barbarian, some big side of beef and that will be quite a show.
We managed to defeat the skeletons through a well placed hypnotic pattern and an army of summoned cows with their bludgeoning hooves. The takeaway here is that the party has to agree on a plan however good one person might think their plan is.
We found a clock that magically aged us until we made our saving throws. This prompted me to give some thought to Tando’s age. In D&D, I’ve found unless age is a defining characteristic of a character it kind of just fades into the background. In the C-Team, Rosie Beestinger is an old woman. There’s actually a theory I saw online that anything is cooler if you had “grandma” to the description. In the Waffle Crew, Diath got hit with a spell or potion that reduced his age so now he’s in his late teens. In Hell’s Belles, the Rogue Miga I think is supposed to be very young. I figured Tando would be slightly older by virtue that he’s had a career for some time. This is also a convenient fig leaf since I used DM rewards to give him most of his experience to make him “Tomb of Annihilation Ready.” I figure he would be in his early 40s.
Inside the clock we found a very valuable moonstone. I think the DM said it would be worth more if we got it back to civilization. I very much like the idea of getting back to the Sword Coast and auctioning this stuff off in a swanky art show and then we have to fight the Zhentarim to keep the stuff and then maybe we steal back a couple things. I love followups to published adventures. Most of the time you save the day and move on but I like the idea of really getting to see your actions take effect.
This most recent session was kind of a bottle episode as we spent almost all of it dealing with a mirror of life trapping that we found. When we found it our necromancer immediately got sucked into the thing because apparently that’s his schtick now. We threw a blanket over the thing and an identify spell gave us the ability to use the thing. We had a warning on the Acererak plaque from earlier warning that this thing held twelve…whatevers. Not sure what that meant, but we started cycling through the mirror’s occupants from the last number forward to hopefully release our necromancer sooner.
First we found some stirges. Straightforward and easy. The next release was a Chultan lady who served Queen Napaka. She was kind of dismayed to learn that the Queen was dead and immediately got a bit suicidal which was kind of uncomfortable. We did help her realize that Queen Napaka’s tomb was trapped as fuck and she’d be better off not trying to seek it out. She was still pretty set on receiving a quick death so she agreed however to give us her magical plate armor. Problem, it was apparently cursed and when she took off the armor she died. An identify spell revealed this thing deals 100 poison damage every time you put it on or take it off.
The next cell released one of the four armed gargoyles we’d seen earlier. Waukeen save us these things are Bad Ass. Unfortunately it wound up breaking the mirror while flailing around and all holy hell broke loose. Everyone in the mirror was released at once. We got our necromancer back. We also got:
- A troll
- A minotaur who started fighting the troll.
- A screaming guy in the livery of the Yellow Banner.
- What turned out later to be an invisible stalker which we found when it started stabbing people.
- A drow mage who wanted no part of this shit.
- A screaming commoner who was killed by one of the drow’s spells when he was being momentarily helpful.
So the troll, gargoyle, and invisible stalker were all monsters with no interest in talking and those we slew. The rest I figured we would try to adopt into our ever growing menagerie. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, 5E gives you so many goddamn pets, minions, and NPC followers. Some people love that shit, I like it up to a point. That point is when combat breaks out and slows down because someone has to re-acquaint themselves with that NPC. I’m playing a character that is deliberately easy to run in combat. I do my sneak attack, I give advantage, twice a day I cast bless. I don’t want to have to manage a long spell list, at least not now.
The Drow Mage was actually pretty easy to deal with. He wants out of this tomb and we, or rather, the truth telling druid told him we were going deeper inside to find the soulmonger which I’m kind of assuming will reveal a way out when we blow it up. He wanted no part of any of that so we parted ways amicably. Tando speaks Undercommon and I took that because Out of the Abyss describes the fairly rich Underdark trade routes. I’m toying with the idea that a fairly brutal incident on the road to the Underdark trading post of Mantol-Derith left Tando with a bitter attitude towards the Drow but I’m undecided. Not every backstory needs to have a parent carried off by marauders.
I say this because when it came time to deal with the Minotaur things got dicey because Minotaurs speak Abyssal. Tando does not speak Abyssal. The only person who does is the necromancer who doesn’t have any charisma to calm an irritated minotaur. Abyssal is becoming a running joke in this campaign. The reason is, Tando speaks 8 languages. I’d love to take the Linguist feat and pickup more or train in one through my faction. But I picked languages that were the trade languages of the Sword Coast. I think depending on the campaign, if I’d redone this character, I might’ve changed out Draconic or Giant for Chultan because Port Nyanzaru is a cool trading city Me The Player never heard of before. This is the sort of thing one should talk to the DM about during character creation. If I want Tando to be The Polyglot who speaks all the languages of the Sword Coast, it helps to actually check with the DM about what those languages are. Your character would know this, even if the player does not. If this was Eberron, I would say Gnomish is much more relevant than Giant. But getting back to Tomb of Annihilation and Abyssal, the problem is that when you delve into ancient tombs you don’t need to speak Elvish, Dwarven, and Undercommon to negotiate treacherous politics. You need to speak Infernal, Abyssal, Celestial, and sometimes Deep Speech. So when we get to Omu, all the Yuan-Ti speak Abyssal. And in the tomb of the nine gods, all the dire warnings are in Abyssal. I figured Minotaurs might speak Giant, nope, they speak fucking Abyssal. So I began calling for the Minotaur’s death out of irritation. Fortunately the Diviner Wizard geased it into compliance.
The Yellow Banner Guy calmed down and introduced himself as Biff, a member of the company of the Yellow Banner. I felt this was a great time to use the Mastermind’s level 9 feature, Insightful Manipulator. If you’ve seen the Battlemaster Fighter’s level 7 feature, Know Your Enemy, this is very similar. After one minute of interaction outside combat, the DM reveals if the creature is inferior, equal, or superior to you regarding its Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma scores. The DM might also choose to reveal a bit of history or personality trait, their choice. I had planned to subject any new recruits to this because I was convinced one of them was an assassin or something. My money was on the commoner but he was accidentally killed by the drow mage. So when we sat this Yellow Banner guy named Biff down, he claimed he was a monk. So naturally for my insightful manipulator, I check his wisdom. I actually did this wrong at the table and said I asked for his score rather just if it was inferior or superior to me. The DM said his wisdom was a 12. Mine is a 14. Now that doesn’t sound very monk like.
After that reveal the questions started flowing and one member of our party has a Helm of Telepathy for casting Detect Thoughts at will. The point is that this guy’s goose was cooked at this point. We weren’t going to let him hang out with us if we weren’t sure he was on the level. And it turned out he was a doppelganger. I had forgotten that I had a note from several weeks ago that the Yellow Banner had a doppelganger in their midst. And this Biff person was suspiciously absent from Devlin’s journal which mentioned Brixton, Starfallen, Seward, Sef, an elf princess, but no Biff. We had actually adopted level 1 doppelganger protocol after that, where anyone who wanders off is challenged with a password and needs to give a counterphrase. We chose Daffodil and Thunder. This actually hearkens back to WWII, because the word Thunder is pronounced differently with English in a German accent. You might’ve seen this in Saving Private Ryan. Someone yells out “Flash” and if they don’t say “Thunder” back in correct unaccented English you shoot them in the face.
This started another running joke because, even with my one level of Cleric, Tando is distinctly non-magical in a party where the three people that come every session are two Wizard/Clerics and a Druid. Sometimes we have another Wizard or a Cleric. My point is that this is a magically inclined party. Sometimes I like this because it makes me feel smug and superior when these guys blow through their resources quickly. I also like it because these guys throw out a SHITLOAD of damage fast and wide. Three full spellcasters working together can meet just about any challenge and if the cleric comes we’re basically invincible. This is partly why I’m very glad we’re taking a couple weeks off while one player is away. In addition to being a kind and wonderful human being his wizard throws down serious goddamn heat and from level 4 onward, we need it.
The Running Joke is Tando feeling somewhat inadequate for being nonmagical. For Tando to uncover this doppelganger required a fairly obscure class feature, skill checks, and expertise. For the Druid it required the use of an at-will magic item. And I kind of kept pointing out all the ways we were using magic as a shortcut. This is partly in character and partly real frustration and it’s kind of amusing but only once so I think I’ll dial it back in the future. It puts me in mind of the Venture Brothers cartoon. Several times in the cartoon the characters seek out Doctor Orpheus to solve problems because he knows magic. This annoys Dr. Venture who wants to solve problems too but with science. This also plagues an ally of Doctor Orpheus, Jefferson Twilight. While looking for secrets everyone else casts spells to unveil time or some shit. Jefferson can just literally look around for Blaculas. If he doesn’t see any, he doesn’t contribute. This leads itself to great jokes about how much harder we muggles have to work for more mediocre results.
“I have +10 perception and advantage on wisdom!”
“Great, but that key is invisible and you can’t find it.”
“I use my thieves’ tools and unlock it 30 minutes later!”
“Using my Expertise in Insight and other class features I have determined you, sir, are lying.”
“Great, I cast Zone of Truth. Hmm, lying eh? Detect Thoughts.”
And my personal favorite, “My entire subclass is based around being able to grant advantage for free every round!”
“Great, we all have familiars to do that for us.”
I really do mean it as good-natured humor though. Here’s the thing, if I wanted an easy life I would go play a half-elf warlock. Or a lightfoot assassin rogue. Or Variant Human Anything. Instead I’m a Stout Mastermind in a dungeon crawl. There is something of a stubborn pride in doing the self imposed challenge.
With regard to our Doppelganger friend, I was sad to see them murdered by the party. I wish we could’ve become friends. In spite of the dangers this creature poses they do offer a very unique and hard to match skill set that is very useful to an aspiring courtier. Tando respects that kind of game. But he would not do as I commanded and Papazotl was not having it.
We ended the session finding a crown of some kind. Of course, the character who can’t plan and the character who can’t share immediately snatch it off the pedestal and fight over it. Doors slam behind us. If I had half a brain I would’ve stayed outside before the doors locked and left the two to their fate but that’s not really in the spirit of D&D and Tando needs these people to get the fuck out of here alive. Tando’s big fear is that, with his missing teeth some hag is out there working on Darth Tando and we’re going to have to fight him later. Jokes on you! Tando’s not great in combat! Tando’s main concern though is, if the throne on this level causes rampaging madness what in the nine hells is this Crown going to cause?