Friday, September 27, 2019

The Dread Isle of Dragony Dangerousness

When last we left our heroes, High Provost Luthien had sent them off to an obscure island in the inland sea. It was one island among many, but he claimed to have evidence that the followers of Vecna were hiring pirates to seek something in particular among the islands... and a missive that we'd captured earlier gave him enough clues to make a guess at where we should be looking, and what we should look for when we got there. He was also concerned enough to arrange transportation for us: through the forest in a wagon train, to a fishing village where we were picked up by a boat that would take us to Urda Tol, which is now an island sacred to the conclave of dragons or something similarly important.

There's a whole big fiction from our DM which takes place during this portion of the journey, and I might publish it later; it's pretty wild, and alternates between our heroes and Ruin's recently-tortured brother Devonin, who's half out of his mind and determined to figure out what actually happened to him. For the moment, though...

Berg is the captain of the ship, and he gets us to the island and sails once around it at a good, safe distance. (No, we're not sure what "safe" means under these circumstances. It mainly means "whatever keeps the captain from panicking and sailing away".) The island is roughly football shaped, about seven miles across east-to-west and about five miles across north-to-south. The north and east is dominated by high ground, with high cliffs and borderline-mountainous peaks. We spot a small copper dragon flying around over the east end of the island. (Actually it might be as many as three or four, but we're not telling the captain that.) The western end is topical forest, but the trees grow sparser and the ground grows swampier along the south edge of the island. Somewhere in there, a black dragon breaks cover to fly up and then falls on something in the swamp. There's a high peak near the center of the island, probably overlooking a lake; we catch glimpses of the water here and there. A giant silver dragon seems to be perpetually circling the peak.

The stunted, blighted trees and the swamp seem unnatural, possibly the result of the black dragon's influence; but based on the High Provost's gathered clues, that's where we need to go. Captain Berg isn't sailing anywhere near it, but he reluctantly lowers a lifeboat and tasks a handful of his crew with rowing us to shore. They get us to the beach, then row back to the boat as fast as they can.

It's fairly late in the day by this point, and Marshall Mercy (our human cleric) has been violently seasick for most of the voyage. So our wizard, the Gray Elf Azrael (real name: Lelilian Elisbian, or Lily) casts Rope Trick, and we all take shelter in a nice, safe, extradimensional space. When we emerge it is dark and silent and Mercy is still asleep. Then a shadowy shape glides past overhead, Nazg├╗l-style. Azrael, nerd that he is, identifies it as a Nightwing -- a hugely powerful flying undead. So we move off the beach and into the trees, and hide under them until dawn. The Nightwing passes overhead once or twice more; it seems to be patrolling this area, but it doesn't find us. Mercy sleeps right through all of this.

When morning comes, the Nightwing fades out of sight and Mercy finally wakes up. Having taken a few minutes to pray for new spells, he casts Divination and is told to "seek the lowest depression with the four trees". Azrael sends his familiar out to look, and Horatio (the owl) locates a likely-looking clearing about 3/4 of a mile away.

We're slogging through the swamp -- except for Martini, who's used her Slippers of Spider Climbing to keep her dress out of the mud -- when Martini spots a giant spider moving through the trees towards us. The rest of us stop, and Martini remains hidden... until she suddenly bursts out and assassinates the beast, killing it instantly. We proceed forward to the glade, using a Silence spell to avoid further attention.

In the glade are several trees, including a large stone carving of a tree... which is covered in writing. We approach it.

Yes, the other trees are treants. No, they aren't the friendly kind. There's a brief burst of combat, which ends when Azrael casts Fireball and immolates them.

The stone tree is a sort of giant history book, but it's all esoteric & obscure court gossip from a centuries ago. On one side, however, there's a sort of plaque with a brief rhyme (and I'm not really doing it justice) about a feathered serpent in the green jungle beneath the canopy.

Mercy casts Divination again and learns that the beast is a fallen Couatl - once a human priest, until it made a deal with the god of secrets (that would be Vecna) and was trapped on this island, a symbol of purity in the service of evil.

We move on to the jungle. There's an odd, humming chirping sound in the distance. Azrael hears a voice in his head: "You are too late..."

Meanwhile, we're being eaten alive by mosquitos.
We step into the jungle.
The Jurassic Park soundtrack starts playing.
And we roll initiative.

Ruin notes the T-Rex, considers, then attacks and gets bitten. (Ruin has no sense of self-preservation.) Azrael tries Glitterdust, but fails to blind it. Martini whips out her bow and promptly shoots Ruin in the back, as one sometimes does in battle. Marshall charges in and gets hit as well, but manages to hit the beast back. The battle rages on, and the Tyrannosaurus swallows Marshall Mercy... a moment before we kill it and haul him back out.

We collect some of its teeth as souvenirs. This time Marshall hears the voice: "I am the symbol of purity with the soul of blackness." When he looks up, he sees a beautiful human woman, completely naked except for a strategically-arranged snake. He's not compelled, but he is horny; he starts towards her. Ruin tries to talk him out of it, but he's determined to get that snake. So Ruin yells at the woman, and she disappears. Marshall hears the voice again: "I hunger!"

Ruin checks for tracks where the woman seemed to be standing, and finds nothing. We move on, and are soon attacked by a pack of smaller dinosaurs. Azrael drops a Stinking Cloud on them, and Mercy -- who has lately purchased a Necklace of Adaptation which renders him immune to such effects -- wades in to kill them while they're too nauseated to fight back. Only one of them escapes.

This time Ruin hears the voice: "You stand no chance against me." He shouts back, "Then come out and kill us if you can!" (Did I mention that Ruin has no sense of self-preservation?)

Another woman emerges from the woods; this time, it's Azrael and Martini's mom. So, before anyone can do anything too stupid, Ruin takes a shot at it with his bow. He doesn't hit anything, of course, but the illusion disperses.

It turns out -- shockingly -- that this is not their mom. It's the couatl, a feathered serpent with sorcerous powers. Azrael casts Ray of Exhaustion at it, but Mercy chooses to parley instead -- after all, it's a giant flying snake and he's a snake cultist. "I know that you have fallen, but you are not forgotten and you are not lost. It is not too late to return, if that is your desire."

Couatl: "Bring me the sweet mercy of death."

Mercy: "Yeah, sorry guys, we gotta kill this thing."

The couatl hits Azrael with Scorching Ray and takes him down. Ruin manages to hit it, but not nearly hard enough to kill it. Azrael expends his last few offensive spells but we largely fail to do any significant damage; so Azrael casts Rope Trick again and we climb up into extradimensional safety where we can rest and the spellcasters can recover their mojo.

So here's the thing: Azrael's Rope Trick lasts for seven hours. He's an elf, so he only needs four hours of rest to fully recover his spells. Mercy, on the other hand, is human and needs a full eight hours. So just before the Rope Trick ends, Ruin leaps down to the sand.

There's another T-rex not far away. It looks up at him as it finishes munching on the last thing it killed. Ruin (Barbarian/Ranger, though not particularly good at either) attempts to keep it calm and kind of suggest that it just finish its meal and leave everybody alone, and under normal circumstances that might even have worked. Unfortunately, the absolute focus with which it regards him suggests that it's been magically controlled, and naturally the couatl is flying in circles a couple of hundred feet overhead.

So Azrael drops out of the Rope Trick, and casts the spell again while the Tyrannosaurus is still distracted by Ruin. Mercy drops out behind him, crosses over, and climbs up into the new magical shelter. The T-rex fails to grab anyone, and we all make it into the new shelter, where Mercy can finish resting and fully replenish his spells.

As soon as that's done, we make ourselves ready and emerge. This time, we're at full strength:
-Azrael has cast Mirror Image and False Life on himself, making him substantially harder to kill - plus, Mercy has cast Shield Other on him, so half of any damage he takes goes to Mercy instead.
-Mercy has cast Prayer on the entire group, giving us a bonus to hit and do damage; he's also buffed his own attack and damage.
-Martini has the benefit of Mercy's prayer, plus invisibility; she steps out unseen and immediately casts True Strike.
-Ruin has the benefit of the Prayer, and he's raging.

Azrael comes out behind Martini, and the T-Rex attacks one of his images. Mercy leaps down and attacks the T-Rex, while Martini uses her bow to put an arrow in the couatl's eye. Ruin leaps down and slams into the dinosaur with his falchion, also doing a fairly substantial amount of damage.

That forms the pattern for the battle: Ruin and Mercy beat the hell out of the T-Rex while Martini and Azrael trade attacks with the couatl, which keeps flying lower as it uses up its longer-range attacks. The T-rex manages to swallow Mercy, just before Ruin finishes it off; Mercy cuts himself out of the thing like a Xenomorph chest-burster. Azrael takes a very nasty blast from an empowered Scorching Ray, but since the damage is split with Mercy it doesn't take either of them down. Ruin switches to his bow and starts trying to perforate the thing...

...And then Martini, who's been studying the couatl, attacks it from the cover of invisibility to take advantage of sneak attack and assassination. It dies.

As it hits the ground it shrinks and transformed into a dying human. "I have not long. Thank you for giving me mercy."

Reverend Mercy pulls out a snake, "Oh, I'll give you Mercy, all right."

The man continues, oblivious: "I was a priest. I made a deal to become a symbol of purity, but he cursed me to guard... In the center of this island is a golden egg guarded by a silver dragon..." He finally finishes dying.

So, all right: we move on into the mountains. We've been everywhere else on this vexatious rock, let's go do some climbing.

The cliffs are really, really steep, y'all. But we find a pass and start into it -- mind you, we haven't had a rest after fighting the couatl, so we're pretty tapped out in terms of spells and other resources. So it's probably a good thing that we spot the pair of Ettins (two-headed giants) who think we haven't seen them and they're going to ambush us.

Ettins are nearly impossible to understand, but we have enough linguists and enough luck to decipher what they're saying: they're mugging us, basically. Which... no. So there's more fighting, and by the time it's over both Ettins are dead, Mercy is down, and pretty much everybody is completely tapped out. We heal Mercy back to some reasonable degree of health, then take a very long rest.

We wake up the next morning and move through the pass, then start up a path. It's clinging to the side of a mountain, so one one side we have a steep cliff and on the other side we have a sharp drop.

...That's when the chimera tries to ambush us. There's another brief combat, in which it takes Marshall Mercy down and Ruin finishes it, and we move further along the ledge/path to where it turns into a cavern. Martini notices that there's something moving in there and begins to study it. Mercy, oblivious, strolls right past her and into the beasts's cave.

Azrael identifies it: it's a dark naga, which seems vaguely racist. Regardless, they're spellcasting sorcerous snakes, and this one immediately casts Displacement on itself, making it very hard to hit. Ruin charges in anyway (no sense of self-preservation, remember) and miraculously manages to hit it. This thing isn't as bad as the couatl was, but we're in another protracted battle with a spell-casting snake-monster, and by the time we finally beat it down we're once again exhaused. It does, however have some treasure: 30,000 copper pieces (sheesh), plus a scroll of Magic Missile and False Life, and a Folding Boat (which is actually really cool).

We make camp in the cave, knowing that somewhere up ahead there's a silver dragon guarding a golden egg that is almost certainly what the devotees of Vecna are searching for.

Ruin considers the possibility of going ahead, unarmed and alone, to parley with it.

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