Wow. Hard to believe it has been almost a year since the last session of my Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Babies & traveling & softball & steam pipe explosions: there's been a whole life saga between then & now, but the good news is that we're ready to jump back into Out of the Abyss! We are at peak Alice in Wonderland, as the party searches through the Whorlstone Tunnels for a tatterdemalion derro named Droki who keeps evadeing them by eating special mushrooms to shrink down & escape via the drainage pipes & crevices inundating these winding supernatural caverns. We do a little recapping to start off: Droki is a very, very (un)popular fellow it seems! The party are in the grey dwarf city of Gracklstugh...& most of the side-quests point to him. The Stoneguard, in the person of Errde Blackskull, have sent them to discover the source of the "corruption" in the city, enfranchising Ellen's elven cleric Norin as her proxy with a belt of dwarvenkind. One of the Merchant Lairds, Ylsa Henstak, has given the party a variety of odd treasures & coins, tasking the players with discovering how these economy destabilizing baubles are falling into derro's undercaste hands. The Firekeepers, psychic aides to the red dragon who lights the adamantine- & mithril-melting forges of the City of Blades, have asked the players to find a missing red dragon egg...& the corpulent dragon himself, Themberchaud, has declared Sam's thri-kreen bard Pook'cha the "Master" & the rest of the party "Thralls," loaning the bug-person a suit of red dragonscale armor & telling them quite simply that whatever anyone else asked for...they will bring it to him first. Ellen is the party quartermaster, but it turns out Sam is the party notetaker, because he nails most of details.
A lot to remember! But like the return to my Star Wars game, we jump right in with a chase sequence! They've killed their friend Buppido, ranting about his imminent apotheosis; they've met the madly waltzing myconids & confronted the mushroom-Norin. A paranoia inducing puzzle of identity for elf-Norin, solved for the moment by a faerzress-awry spell spontaneously combusting into a fireball & halfway frying half the party, including all of their new fungal clone companion. (Let's not dwell too long on it, but Pritpaul's halfling ranger Serafin paused & took a bite of the crispy critter when no one was looking.) Through winding tunnels, past the water weird, until: madcap Droki, dead ahead! Dressed in a hat halfway between a pilgrim hat a sombrero, with long dangling tentacle earmuffs, in a dirty svirfneblin silk vest, stolen duergar britches, mis-matched shoes, & two or three different capes & cloaks. He spots them too: it's a dead-out sprint...& Droki almost makes it, as all of the party's attacks frustratingly seem to just barely miss him, as he seems to be seen tilted as if through water, reflected to the side, even on their best blows. Just as he's about gulp down a miniaturizing mushroom in order to scamper down a small tunnel in the wall, Jim's drow warlock Imica hits him with the old sleep spell. Blammo! Just like that, they've captured him, & between their looted ropes & general knowhow they've got him trussed up with his legs— & mouth— free. Interrogating any of the unilaterally insane derro is of dubious value, & for Droki that goes double. He's clearly lying, but can they second guess & glean breadcrumbs from his wiles & deviltry? Sure he's crazy, but which Droki is the most sincere: the helpful one, the conniving one, or the sporadically violent one?
It is Norin who claims the twitching violet hat, part ten-gallon & part deerstalker. Once they figure out that it is made of "gen-u-wine" displacer beast leather— a notorious monster: six-legged, two-tentacled & mostly a purple panther, hard to hit because it's never quite where you expect to see it— they easily deduce why he was so hard to grab or strike. It's a hat of displacement! He's a living hoarder otherwise as well, carrying with him: a gold piece, two potions of healing, ten silver pieces, a worthless collection of dead centipedes & a worthless collection of live spiders, pages of lizard-skin parchment between covers from two different books, a strange domino-sized ingot of supernaturally dense black metal, a spell scroll of see invisibility, a scroll in a copper tube & four small pouches. The pouches contain enormous toenail clippings, colourless lockets of hair and skin flecks, which are labeled with the names of the giants of Clan Cairngorm, including the two-headed giant who was rampaging in the city, which the players helped defeat & showed mercy to. Droki, muttering to himself & periodically shouting, offers to take them wherever they want, all too eagerly. Oh, he'll "take them to Narak" alright! Who is Narak? "Oh you know who I mean" with lots of sly winks & nudges at Pook'cha. "Two heads" are involved: that's who is putting the curses on the stone giants! Hm, does anyone else important have a two-headed thing? They decide the clearest answers are when they ask him about the heavy black sliver of slightly tingly metal & the mysterious jewels & coins they've brought. "Oh you wanna see The Thing? I can take you to The Thing!" & so to The Thing they elect to go.
There are two paths to The Thing, says Droki: back the way they came, past the water elemental they previously fled from, or for everyone to eat a stalk of pygmywort, the magic shrinking EAT ME toadstool, & for the shrunken party to follow him into the crack he was about to scamper down. A shortcut from mushrooms! That's the path they choose & down they go, into the square, manufactured drains & ducts. Droki leads them around a few bends then falls to his knees screaming— & they are attacked! Pook'cha casts silence to cut Droki's cries short, which almost worked but for the random chance of bad stealth checks & good perception rolls, & they are ambushed by gigantic demons, perhaps nine-feet tall...no, wait. A tiny demon, but enormous at this scale: quasits! Rather than penalize the players with the reduce spell's side effects, I just gave the abyssal gremlins the benefits of the enlarge spell. Close enough for my purposes, folks! The PCs fight back & strike hard; one quasit fights with a giant gleaming trident— translation: a sharpened silver table fork— & Norin summons a spiritual weapon in mockery of it, striking it dead in a single blow! So used to being on the run in the survival-horror of the Underdark, they've forgotten that they are still adventurers— AKA dangerous murderers— at the end of the day. Or as I put it, "this moment is the grain of sand in the oyster that creates the pearl of overconfidence." Which, apparently, is a funny thing to say. With the tanar'ri obviously on the ropes, they turn invisible, but even that isn't enough to save another, the one they hated most, with the roly-poly belly full of all the extra belly buttons, from the warlock's blade & cleric's...well, spiritual fork. The others hide & escape, & the victorious players leave the cramped gutters & eat the bigwig fungi that return them to regular size.
Droki goes in the jar! They could gag him, but that defeats the purpose of trying to trick him into giving them clues, so they take his biggest jar, give him a pygmywort, & put him in, remembering to give him extra to stay small so he doesn't get crushed, & to poke holes in the lid. For a second they were all "wait, is there a jar big enough?" & I was like, "if you think for a second that I would sabotage you putting Droki in a jar, you've got another thought coming!" That sorted, they take stock of their surroundings; they've come out into a patch of dense fungal "forest" like the one infested with vermin from earlier, but as they rummage around & explore, looking for more embiggening & beshrinkening 'shrooms, no creepy-crawlies come skittering out. They turn up rhizomes & rhizomes of the magical things, spores & spores, actually, & more: a door, long overgrown, down a little nook of the twisting caverns. Here, they think, might be a good place to spend the night...& so we leave it there, as they begin to make camp, of a sort. Are they one step closer to "The Thing," whatever it is? Back in the mundane world, plans are already afoot to play again...but in the meantime, you can check out this sweet drider page from the new Adventures Outlined colouring book that I did.