Tomb of Annihilation

#49. Tomb of the Nine Gods, part 1

Day 70 (91st Day of the Death Curse). Sheets of rain fell over the Forbidden City, causing the flooded river's banks to swell. While their Red Wizard "allies" cast several rituals, the party shared a heroes' feast and inspiring last words before entrusting Vecna's artifacts to their former companions – the Hand of Vecna to Salleek and the Eye of Vecna to E'kama. After finishing their rituals, Zagmira of the Red Wizards warned the party that yuan-ti had positioned themselves at the Tomb's entrance. Breaking camp, the four companions marched forth along with Artus Cimber, Dragonbait, the mage Lomar Dral, the warrior Kanush, and the Red Wizard cohort. 

Yuan-ti, Frost Giants, and River Mist, Oh My! Outside the Tomb's entrance overlooked by gargoyles and an imposing obelisk, the party parlayed with a group of yuan-ti led by the recently un-petrified Sekolok who held River Mist captive in manacles. The yuan-ti's terms were that the party would return Ras Nsi's spellbook and prove their commitment to honoring their deal with Ras Nsi by betraying their Red Wizard "allies", and in exchange the yuan-ti would release River Mist and join them in fighting the Red Wizards. While they deliberated, the party felt rumbling from the west followed by the wail of winter wolves and horns of frost giants seeking the Ring of Winter from Artus Cimber. There would be no deal. A furious multi-sided battle ensued, and River Mist tore away from Sekolok's manacles, limping as far as her wounded left leg would carry her.

False Entrance & Red Wizard Betrayal. During the fighting, Zagmira told the party to enter the Tomb, claiming that the Red Wizards would hold off the yuan-ti and frost giants. SCOMETT and YARGLE sought to gain entry using the puzzle cubes, but were soon engaged by Sekolok and Názegeth. However, the Red Wizards' betrayal came faster than the party expected, with Thazma casting a delayed blast fireball at YARGLE's feet, Yamoch casting Evard's black tentacles in the hallway of Trickster God statuettes that KOKO and ZANE were exploring, and then Zagmira sealing them all in with a wall of force. SCOMETT placed eight of the puzzle cubes (excepting Unkh's) into the entry door, and thereupon poisonous and acidic gas poured out from the grinning skull reliefs; a stone block also began to descend from the entryway, but was stopped by the wall of force. ZANE managed to dimension door out with KOKO, launching a terrible assault on the Red Wizards which ultimately caused them to teleport away in retreat and which triggered the delayed blast fireball before it grow to its full destructive capacity. ZANE and KOKO also managed to slay the frost giant leader Drufi and drive off the remaining frost giants. Badly wounded, YARGLE and SCOMETT finished off the yuan-ti and YARGLE tunneled under the wall of force using mold earth. They had survived Acererak's false entrance. 

Once reunited with the party, River Mist revealed she'd seen the actual entrance and furthermore offered them a potion of greater healing which she stole off Sekolok; the party gave this to Artus. Upon Nazegeth's corpse they recovered a robe of serpents and another dagger of the snake god*. Upon Drufi's corpse they recovered a shard of the ise rune.

Exploring the hallway with Trickster God statuettes, the party found a secret door that slid open on stone runners when a handle was pulled in the mouth of a skull relief. Within was an eye pendant that seemed to be pulled by magic toward the actual entrance. 

(Level 1) True Entrance. SCOMETT approached first, readily placing the nine puzzle cubes in their correct positions, causing the stone door to rise up and the puzzle cubes to vanish, revealing a passage leading within. A long seam ran the course of the passageway's floor, and another stone door at the far side with a lever built into its center and a skull graven at its lintel. SCOMETT carefully climbed along the wall and midway down the passage, the skull's jaw opened and a skeletal hand holding an hourglass-style timer emerged from within, rotating so that sand started to trickle into its lower globe. Nervously pulling the lever, SCOMETT watched as the seam on the floor opened revealing a 20-ft drop into black-tipped spikes. (didn't someone fall in? can't remember…) SCOMETT heeded YARGLE's advice to let the timer run out and not pull the lever; thereupon, the second stone door sunk into the floor and the way into the Tomb was opened. Beyond, was a hallway with obvious pressure plates and dart holes in the walls. SCOMETT carefullg climbed the walls, plugging each dart hole with a pebble, KOKO hopped across, and then the rest of the party made a shield wall and crossed the pressure plates with brute force, the pebbled darts clattering off their shields. Ahead was an ominous carved devil's face with utter blackness in its mouth, to the left was a crystal window the size of a door (seeming to lead to a tomb beyond), and to the right was a grand staircase.

(Level 1) Grand Staircase & Acererak's Four Warnings. At the top of the grand staircase, SCOMETT saw a strange dwarf with pale skin and a green devil headdress ran into a door one level below. The staircase covered four levels, descending roughly 100 feet before ending in a room with four large four-armed gargoyle statues and a pit. Four brass plaques were set into the walls, which SCOMETT sent his archaeopteryx Maka to examine…

(Level 1) Moa's Tomb & Skeleton Key.

(Level 1) Wind Tunnel & Wongo's Tomb.

(Level 1) Magnetic Attraction & Magic Fountain.

(Level 1) Obo'laka's Tomb.

(Level 1) Explosion Averted & Trapped Chest.

(Level 1) Underground Waterfall with Mimic.

Descending deeper. Returning to the Grand Staircase, the party descended down to the lower levels in search of more skeleton keys…

#48. Omu the Forbidden City, part 3

Day 68 (89th Day of the Death Curse). Recovering from the gruesome battle against Fenthaza and her yuan-ti partisans, the party gathered what loot they could, bid farewell to Ras Nsi, and were once again blindfolded and led from the Fane. Gathering the freed prisoners and their pack dinosaurs, the party withdrew to Nangnang's Shrine to rest. 

KOKO held private audience with Chief Yorb. Finding candied grung eggs on a fallen yuan-ti confirmed the evils she'd witnessed in the Fane of the Night Serpent. Swearing to destroy the Fane and annihilate Ras Nsi if she survived the Tomb, KOKO secured Chief Yorb's promise of aid for her crusade against the yuan-ti.

SCOMETT prepared several herbal brews, distilling the party's healing potions into potions of greater healing, and crafted ???.

RANDOLF (and his wizened associate Lomar Dral) erected tiny huts and an alarm to fortify the shrine as the party bedded down for a long rest.

However, during the night, on KOKO's watch with the rescued River Mist, a tabaxi yowling echoed from outside the shrine. River Mist chose to investigate, thinking it was her missing brother Flask of Wine, and when no one was interested in accompanying her, she set off alone. She never returned. RANDOLF was again haunted by the thumping peg leg and wheezy cackle of Peggy Deadbells, preventing him from resting and leaving the mage haggard by morning.

Day 69 (90th Day of the Death Curse).

Unkh's Shrine. Come morning, thick mists swirled about Omu, focused around the flooded river. Artus Cimber and an exhausted Dragonbait accompanied the PCs, along with an exhausted goblin Mung, exhausted tribal warrior Kanush Natombe, the wizened mage Lomar Dral, the firenewt Gorvax, and the boy Tahvo. SCOMETT noticed that Lomar Dral radiated enchantment magic and the boy radiated "matumbe" (possession magic). RANDOLF's identify spell confirmed that the boy was prepared as a vessel for possession. KOKO further noticed he was half-elven, and suspected he was intended to be a vessel for the baelnorn Alia teth Mihrael, but apparently the magic hadn't worked as intended. To the southwest, the party heard a deep horn sound, though no one recognized it.

Blades sharpened and spells prepared, KOKO cast water walk upon the party, who moved along the misty river toward the shrine of Unkh the flail snail. Along the way they noticed an island-ruin inhabited by cloaked yuan-ti and along the eastern shore a Batiri goblin encampment. SCOMETT scouted ahead, noting the charred bodies of a yuan-ti and a ghoul in the walled courtyard outside the shrine. He found a ruined workshop full of iron keys hanging on the walls, though some appeared to be missing from their hooks. Old Omuan cuneiform was written above a wrought-iron double door: "Unkh urges us to contrast all options before acting." SCOMETT detected illusion magic on the door. He reported the coast was clear, and the party approached.

Dragonbait and SCOMETT approached and pushed the heavy doors open. Within was a statue of a flail snail; in place of where antennae would be were five pseudopods ending in rocky clubs. Iron keys hung in small niches along the walls. Behind the statue, a carved pedestal in a wide alcove held a geometrically carved 6" wooden cube puzzle box. SCOMETT noticed the brief hallway was enchanated with abjuration magic, so he sent his archaeopteryx to scout the room, discovering 3 ghasts with inverted triangles tattooed on their foreheads hiding behind the statue. Persuading the hungering ghasts to reveal themselves, SCOMETT convinced them not to attack, claiming the party was allied with Ras Nsi. The ghasts revealed themselves and hung back to the corners of the shrine. Climbing along the walls, SCOMETT used mage hand to pull the puzzle box to him. A magnetic pull seemed to be exerted between the puzzle box and the pedestal, and SCOMETT detected evocation magic around the box. When SCOMETT entered the room to explore it further, the puzzle box was pulled back onto the pedestal by magnetic force.

SCOMETT then allowed the ghasts to leave, but as they scampered across the warded floor in the hall, the double doors closed on the ghasts and sealed with arcane lock. Thereupon, a magic mouth formed on the inside of the door, speaking in an accented arrogant feminine voice: "When you tire of being outwitted and behaving like troglodytes, come parlay. You have cubes. We have information on the Tomb. Enjoy the ghasts. –Zagmira" Fortunately, SCOMETT was able to keep the ghasts from giving into their ravenous impulses long enough for him to cast knock on the doors, releasing the stinking ghasts which ran through the party, temporarily poisoning a few, but no one was harmed. With the Red Wizards' trap sprung, KOKO and RANDOLF entered the shrine. RANDOLF identified the puzzle box as being trapped with a form of the force cage spell. However, it seemed heavy enough, and was designed to be slid about to be opened. KOKO found an eight-flanged keyhole on the pedestal, and though it seemed like several keys could slide together to form such a key, there were critical keys missing…likely taken or destroyed by the Red Wizards. SCOMETT and RANDOLF figured out how to pick the lock, and doing so deactivated the magnetism on the puzzle box. RANDOLF then ushered his companions out of the shrine and solved the puzzle box in 25 seconds flight, triggering a force cage which erected around him in a shower of ruby sparkling light. The puzzle box was empty. It was an elaborate decoy. Waiting for 1 hour, after which the force cage ended, RANDOLF rejoined the party and they departed Unkh's shrine.

Zoblin Encampment. YARGLE suspected Great Queen M'bobo – in a zombified form – was commanding a zoblin force in Omu. A flyover by Hootsworthy through the mists confirmed that the dread Batiri goblin queen was lurking in an encampment full of zoblins which had taken over a wide parade street. The party decided to approach in full force. Artus, who explained he'd previously killed the "god" Grumog once revered by the tribal coalition led by M'bobo, decided to avoid a face-to-face meeting and took and underground route with Dragonbait, hoping to trap the zoblins in a pincer move, should push come to shove. Steering his giant undead tyrannosaur over the pallisade erected by the zoblins, YARGLE approached with KOKO, RANDOLF, and SCOMETT. SCOMETT noticed there was something wrong with the ground in the center of the zoblin encampment, and that there was latent abjuration magic in the ruined skeleton statues they passed when entering the camp, quietly warning his companions.

The zoblins shook their heads in a strange rhythm, causing little rattles, beads, and drums attached to their masks to click, thump, and clack in an unnerving beat. M'bobo wore a fearsome red mask adorned with howler tentacles, and her once luxirant blonde hair was green with jungle algae and falling out in clumps; her left hand was missing and her left eye flared with fell red and purple light from beneath the mask. YARGLE's first question was whether they were speaking with M'bobo or Vecna. Speaking in a raspy voice, M'bobo expressed pleasure at seeing YARGLE who she somehow recognized, and attempted to begin the parlay by making the zombie tyrannosaur bend to her will. However, YARGLE's will proved stronger than the undead queen and so the parlay was conducted from the zombie tyrannosaur's back.

M'bobo explained it was Ras Nsi whose zombies killed her during the Battle of Mezro, and that she had come to Omu seeking vengeance against him. It seemed like there might be an opportunity for an alliance as the party held no love for Ras Nsi. She wished to see YARGLE take over the Gouged Orbs as her vassal, replacing the false "goblin" Ocha One-Eye who was a follower of Acererak who'd been "cursed into a warped form, like a diminutive cyclops." However, she cautioned that Widow Groat sought to subvert Batiri tradition where the wife inherits the husband's title, to gain control over the Batiri goblins. During the parlay, M'bobo mentioned "the entertainment" on several occasions, and at last she claimed it was time. 

The zoblins stomped their feet, causing the leaves and mosses to sift through holes in a huge iron grate covering a 25-ft deep pit in which a massive undead reptilian centipede horror lurked, shaking its mandibles as dirt fell upon it. Artus and Dragonbait had just crept into the pit, and an iron portcullis slammed into place behind them! Artus shouted in terror: "It's Grumog!" The battle was on, with the party's companions being tossed about like rag dolls beneath their feet. YARGLE and SCOMETT attempted to negotiate with M'bobo and convince her that Artus was no longer her enemy. The undead queen seemed to be weighing their words, when KOKO begin casting call lightning, causing the zoblins to spring into violent action. 

During the fighting, a horrible deathly aura emanated from M'bobo and she cast disintegrate upon KOKO, though the sturdy golden grung was able to withstand the devastating spell. When RANDOLF bravely misty stepped into the pit to the defense of Artus and Dragonbait, he succumbed to M'bobo's aura and was hit by a finger of death which killed him and turned the haggard mage into a zombie. YARGLE was able to deal a killing blow, but a wild surge caused the Eye of Vecna to carry M'bobo spirit into another zoblin, manifesting the red mask with howler tentacles on that zoblin. After more furious fighting, YARGLE tackled M'bobo and tore the Eye of Vecna from her mask, killing her and causing the zoblins to become non-hostile, roaming around the ruined camp listlessly. The rest of the party made short work of Grumog, liberating Artus and Dragonbait.

SCOMETT offered his seed pod of the dream tree to zombie RANDOLF, and when zombie RANDOLF ate it, he dropped dead for good. YARGLE contemplated the Eye of Vecna which may very well have been responsible for his tribe's eye-gouging tradition, as the party prepared a funeral pyre for their deceased companion. Words were spoken by each of the party members, Dragonbait, and Artus about RANDOLF before he was laid to rest in the flames. Divvying up the dead mage's belongings, the party decided now was the time to meet with the Red Wizards, going directly to the Red Wizard's camp.

As they made their way along the flooded river, the party heard giant voices echoing in the mists. Artus' jaw was clenched tight. Everyone knew the frost giants were looking for the Ring of Winter. Fortunately, the heavy mists kept the party concealed.

Red Wizard's Camp. SCOMETT sent his archaeopteryx to scout the Red Wizard's camp, spotting 3 cloaked Red Wizards around a bonfire, and eight crossbowmen on the rooftops. The party approached in full force, YARGLE cooly replying "No" when the guards asked them to dismount his zombie tyrannosaur. YARGLE called off her tense crossbowmen guards, and invited the party to parlay. Despite barbs traded on both sides, Zagmira presented a tempting offer: She sought the Soulmonger for her master Szass Tam, who wished to end the Death Curse and use the necromantic relic for another purpose. However, the Red Wizards ventured out with 8 mages and only a few survived, plus their Thayan mercenaries suffered great losses against the yuan-ti. Zagmira proposed that the party and Red Wizards combine their puzzle cubes and forces, retrieve the last puzzle cube of Moa, and enter the Tomb together. In return, Zagmira would share what they'd learned of the Tomb's magical conditions. Deliberating among themselves about just how little they trusted these Red Wizards, the party agreed with Zagmira that her terms were acceptable.

King of Feathers & Zane the Bladewind. Just as the party reached an accord with the Red Wizards, a thundering roar echoed from the west and the ground shook. A man with silken stringers attached to his half-plate armor ran down the streets, triggering an alarm spell, chased by a feathered tyrannosaur's silhouette moving through the mists. It was the King of Feathers!

A brief battle ensued, with the Red Wizard's hidden fire elemental leaping from the bonfire, and the King of Feathers turning invisible, misty stepping, and savaging Dragonbait with his bite. Zagmira conjectured that this was no beast, but rather the victim of a curse. SCOMETT snarled, "Then why is it attacking us?" The party and the newcomer ZANE tore into the King of Feathers, with Sir Spike (the zombie tyrannosaur) engaging in melee and KOKO dealing the killing stroke with call lightning. As the King of Feathers died, it shuddered and molted feathers, assuming the form of a dead elf wearing a helmet and a feathered cloak.

Breathing heavily, and surrounded by Red Wizards and seemingly monstrous humanoids, ZANE was on guard. Warily, he introduced himself as "the Bladewind", a gladiator who'd traveled to Chult to prove his worth against the fearsome King of Feathers.

Closer examination revealed the elf had pearlescent eyes, was 6'6", long ears, and was actually an eladrin, not an elf at all. Searching the eladrin's corpse that was once the King of Feathers, SCOMETT detected magic on its helmet which Lomar Dral identified as a helm of telepathy. As they traversed Omu, the party traded stories with ZANE and equipped him with several magic items including the vorpal sword / "blade of Omu." ZANE sought to end the Death Curse because his mentor was suffering from it. KOKO confirmed she was bound by the same motivation. Zagmira similarly said she was seeking to end the Death Curse afflicting her mentor (Szass Tam).

Magical Conditions of the Tomb. Additionally, the Zagmira shared what the Red Wizards learned of the Tomb's construction as the party trekked south toward Moa's Shrine. From various design documents, ledgers, and magical experiments, Zagmira explained that she discovered 4 magical conditions upon the Tomb of the Nine Gods:

  • Divination Misdirection: An incredibly powerful misdirection was cast upon the Tomb. Any divination spells stronger than detect magic cast within the Tomb provide false readings, and perhaps even that. If the Sewn Sisters' lair was in the Tomb, this explained why the party's attempt to scry upon the night hags failed.
  • Gorgon’s Blood Mortar & Bone Powder Bricks: Immense quantities of gorgon's blood were mixed into the mortar used in the Tomb, preventing spells passing through stone and preventing Ethereal creatures from move through surfaces and doors in the Tomb. Bone powder – made from the Omuan slaves who built the Tomb – was worked into the bricks, meaning they're not strictly "stone", thus preventing spells shaping stone and moving earth.
  • Separated from the World: The Tomb is "in the world, but not of the world". Spells that communicate outside of the Tomb fail, such as sending or astral projection.
  • Teleport Cage: An ancient and powerful spell known as teleport cage was cast upon the Tomb. Any spell attempting to leave or enter the Tomb via teleportation, spells like transport via plants or tree stide, or planeshifting will be interrupted, though teleportation within the Tomb itself should work.

Moa's Shrine. At the southern end of Omu, the party and their newfound Red Wizard "allies" reached the edge of the lava pits some 200 feet below. Moa's Shrine was built on a spire of rock separated from the edge by 60 feet, which the party traversed with their Dance of the Seven Winds ritual and the Red Wizards crossed with the fly spell. SCOMETT scouted ahead. Old Omuan cuneiform above the entrance read: "Moa teaches us that secrets hide the truth." When SCOMETT determined it was safe, the rest of the party and the Red Wizards approached the shrine, being careful of the lurking jaculi in the overgrown walled courtyard surrounding the shrine. Within the shrine – which had no door – was the final puzzle cube floating in a magical shaft of light. SCOMETT sensed illusion magic around it. Along the hallway leading to the inner shrine with the puzzle cube were arrow slits on each side, and a seam running down the center of the hallway as if part of a trio of pits. A moss-shrouded mosaic on the floor revealed bits and pieces of a story about Moa the jaculi fighting Wongo the su-monster.

SCOMETT entered by climbing the walls, finding 12 Omuan statues of archers facing the puzzle cube. ZANE was soon to follow, jumping the trio of pits and bracing himself alongside SCOMETT to peer through the arrow slits. To the east was a secret room with a serpent statue holding a puzzle cube in its jaws, while to the west was a secret room with a serpent statue which had been shattered and a puzzle cube lay upon the floor. Both cubes detected as magic, but the puzzle cube on the floor emitted a wispy greenish magical signature, like the puzzle cube in the magical shaft of light. SCOMETT misty stepped into the west secret room, mage handing the cube off the floor and into his hand, before misty stepping back into the main part of the shrine. As soon as he did, the puzzle cube dissolved in green vapors and the archers animated, peppering SCOMETT and ZANE with stone arrows. They quickly realized the real cube was actually in the east secret room, repeating the process there and being careful to climb around or jump over the pit traps on their way out.

Moa's puzzle cube was the final piece. With it and the cubes the Red Wizards gave them, the party had all nine puzzle cubes: Shagambi the kamadan, Kubazan the froghemoth, I'jin the almiraj, Wongo the su-monster, Nangnang the grung, Obo'laka the zorbo, Papazotl the ebli, Unkh the flail snail, and Moa the jaculi.

Back at Base Camp. Returning to their base camp along with their Red Wizard "allies", the battered party settled in for the evening. During the dead of night, YARGLE heard a thumping sound echoing in his nightmares and a wicked cackle right behind his ear, phantasmagoric images of Queen Ishba and M'bobo haunting him and depriving him of a restful night. SCOMETT stated their first order of business upon entering the Tomb should be killing the hags Peggy Deadbells and Widow Groat.

Day 70 (91st Day of the Death Curse). A sheet of rain falls over the Forbidden City, causing the flooded river's banks to swell. Without the jungle's thick canopy to catch the rain, the humidity is oppressive when the party breaks camp, preparing to face the Tomb of the Nine Gods…

#47. Fane of the Night Serpent

Because RANDOLF took Ras Nsi's spellbook, I strongly discourage trying to take a short rest or a long rest in the Fane. Unless you decide otherwise, next session we'll wrap negotiations with Ras Nsi and you'll be leaving the Fane with the prisoners you rescued. Loot is at the bottom, with an option for d20 rolls.


Day 68 (89th Day of the Death Curse). Fane of the Night Serpent. Led down a winding tunnel by Nazegeth into the humid underground yuan-ti lair, the cloaked and blindfolded party relied on their wits and keen senses to pick up clues of their environment. Along the way, they heard sensuous Draconic voices and someone slipping in a double message using Thieves' Cant claiming to have a secret offer for the party. A little further, and the blindfolds were removed…

Ras Nsi's Throne Room (Area 11). YARGLE, SCOMETT, RANDOLF, and KOKO found themselves in Ras Nsi's throne room. Ras Nsi, the fallen barae of Mezro, terror of Chult, genocidal necromancer-warlord, the one who created the Nsi Wastes, and whose undead roamed  the jungles still. The ailing Ras Nsi had the lower body of a serpentine and the upper body of a Chultan man, though his skin was chalky and covered in bandages. The inverted dark blue triangle upon his forehead signaled he was an exile of Mezro. At his right was Salida, who'd betrayed the party. At his left was his bodyguard, the snake-headed Sekelok. Many ghouls with triangle tattoos and several yuan-ti guarded the throne room. Artus Cimber had been taken captive and was under guard by several devolved broodguard yuan-ti (like the kind the PCs had seen Soakosh turned into in Session #21); Artus seemed transfixed by poisons or magics, gazing toward Ras Nsi blankly. They party entered from the west. The only other exit was to the east – an ominous semi-transparent wall of poison with illusions of its skeletal victims floating within.

Welcoming the party to the Fane of Dendar the Night Serpent, Ras Nsi revealed that he suffered from the Death Curse but until Salida provided intelligence about the party, he had no idea that it's origin could lay within Omu. Ras Nsi explained that he had several close encounters with Artus Cimber that would have left a lesser man dead, but his powers kept him alive… Now, with the Death Curse, his past had come back to haunt him.

He informed the PCs that he made a deal with Acererak to keep the puzzle cubes from being used to unlock the Tomb of the Nine Gods; in exchange, Acererak offered to help Ras Nsi against the Death Curse and to keep power in the face of his rival Fenthaza (and potentially others). However, Acererak hadn't honored one word of his agreement with Nsi. In a twist of irony, the master betrayer Ras Nsi himself had been betrayed. He proposed a deal with the party.

When asked about the Company of the Yelow Banner, Ras Nsi slyly mentioned he'd captured and released them, sending them into the Tomb… unarmed and unarmored. This seemed unusual to SCOMETT – as Ras Nsi was guarding the puzzle cubes to prevent anyone from entering the Tomb. The details explaining this would be revealed later when they sealed their deal with Ras Nsi…

Foremost in the party's mind was negotiating for the release of Artus Cimber and Dragonbait. Additionally, Ras Nsi revealed that Fenthaza, a priestess of Dendar called a "nightmare speaker", had taken the puzzle cube of Obo'laka the zorbo, and he could compel her to turn it over to the party. While establishing terms, SCOMETT asked permissiong to cast a detect magic on Artus, and when he did he found Artus was not under the effects of charm magic and Artus winked at SCOMETT. It became clear through innuendo right under Ras Nsi's nose that Artus held neither love nor trust for the fallen barae.  Ras Nsi offered to let the party meet with the prisoners to decide whom they wished to free, and promised the party would not be harmed while they considered his offer. He sent his trusted bodyguard Sekelok with them.

The Prisoners (Area 8). As the blindfolded party was led through the Fane, YARGLE made cunning use of his ersatz eye to see through it and get a better understanding of the dungeon complex. The party was led to the prison where ten hapless prisoners were chained to the walls, including:

  1. Dragonbait, beat-up and missing his holy avenger
  2. River Mist, the party's former tabaxi guide, with an injured hindquarter
  3. Tahvo, a scared Chultan boy
  4. Sev, an insane yuan-ti pureblood
  5. Oloma Authdamar, a female Turami human scout
  6. Gorvax, a male firenewt warrior
  7. Lomar Dral, an old male human mage from Waterdeep known to RANDOLF
  8. Mung, a goblin (3 exhaustion levels) bastard son of Queen Ishba of the Gouged Orbs, known to YARGLE
  9. Kanush Natombe (4 exhaustion levels), a male warrior of E'kama's tribe
  10. Zilla Atazi, a female Chultan pirate

It seemed that Ras Nsi would only let them liberate Artus and their choice of two prisoners, so as the party spoke with the prisoners they deliberated who was a priority to set free. The bloody urns made it clear that whoever was left would meet a grisly fate sacrificed to the Night Serpent. During this time, their guide Sekelok was drawn away when yuan-ti serving Fenthaza hinted that Sekelok's lover Neema was being pursued by others in the harem. Sekelok told the party to wait for him or his replacement and crept off.

Fenthaza's Counteroffer. Slithering from her chambers, Fenthaza approached the party with several yuan-ti at her side, to present a counteroffer. Fenthaza seemed to believe that Dendar the Night Serpent would do battle with the Forsaken One in some kind of apocalpyse. She wanted to see Ras Nsi overthrown and a relic from within the Tomb called the Black Opal Crown retrieved. Fenthaza claimed that not only could she give them the puzzle cube and liberate the prisoners, but she could also offer them limited protection from the nightmare haunting of the Sewn Sisters, and they could claim Ras Nsi's flame tongue rapier (flyssa) upon helping her kill him. She also extended a special offer to RANDOLF to abandon his humanity and join the yuan-ti in a transformation ritual. Fenthaza hinted that greater yuan-ti abomination from the Valley of Dread was outside the Fane and ready to strike against Ras Nsi when she gave the command. Encouraging them to consider her offer, but not to take too long, Fenthaza slithered away.

The Oracular Pool (Area 7). As she left, doors to an eerily glowing pool opened, flanked by three robed hooded yuan-ti priests. They beckoned the party to come within, that Fenthaza had granted them access to the oracular pool, and invited the party experience Dendar's visions for themselves. RANDOLF concluded the pool was formed of remains of a dead psychically active ooze which served as a conduit to some otherworldly entity. SCOMETT stood aside shaking his head while RANDOLF, YARGLE, and KOKO entered the slippery murkey waters of the pool. After a minute, they each were wracked by psychic pain and received a vision from the Night Serpent…

RANDOLF beheld conflict between the yuan-ti forces of Ras Nsi and Fenthaza, with a third faction forming around the abomination as it carved its way through the Fane. These seemed to be vague visions of the future.

YARGLE beheld further images of impending conflict, with Fenthaza unleashing an air elemental from an urn and Ras Nsi calling on his pet hydra.

KOKO saw some of the yuan-ti flocking to Zothiss and heard both Fenthaza's and Ras Nsi's voices. In the vision, Fenthaza said: "The hairless apes were amusing at first, but less so now. Dendar rests beneath them and the world will be consumed." In the vision, Ras Nsi said: "I have lost everything in service to a false god and Acererak's treachery."

The Harem & Ishmakahl's Offer (Area 10). An ingratiating yuan-ti named Nahth replaced Sekelok as their "guide" within the Fane, asking if the party was interested in visiting the harem while considering Lord Nsi's offer. SCOMETT was quick to agree, and again they were blindfolded and led within a sensuous opulent harem. Within they were introduced to Neema, Ras Nsi's favored and exclusive concubine who showed them around and poured wine. Neema was off limits, but a dozen other yuan-ti concubines were available for their entertainment. While SCOMETT maintained their cover with snakey love behind diaphanous curtains, YARGLE chatted up the guards as a distraction, and KOKO buried her head in the fountain in disgust, RANDOLF made contact with a gender-ambiguous cloaked yuan-ti pureblood named Ishmakhal who layered Thieves' Cant into an innuendo-laden conversation. In a side room, Ishmakhal revealed he/she worked as a spy for the Red Wizards and had been appraised by his/her masters of the party's rapid acquisition of puzzle cubes and their "unfortunate" altercation with the evoker Dyrax. Ishmakhal delivered a message from Zagmira that the Red Wizards were interested in parlaying with the party with an eye toward forming an alliance, hinting that the Red Wizards studied the magical conditions that were worked into the construction of the Tomb and were open to an exchange. Selling the deception that he was getting his jollies on with a snake cultist, RANDOLF whispered a 25-word message for Ishmakhal to deliver to the Red Wizards – stating that after a rest they could meet the Red Wizards where the incendiary cloud once was. Though RANDOLF's disheveled hair and unbuttoned collar was all an affect, SCOMETT's smarmy reptilian grin was not.

Deal with Ras Nsi (Area 11). Returning to Ras Nsi's throne room, the party cut a deal with him. They would stop the Death Curse and help Ras Nsi against the abomination Zothiss contesting Ras Nsi's rule (and potentially against an alliance between Fenthaza and Zothiss). In return, Ras Nsi agreed to get them Obo'laka's puzzle cube, and free Artus and 5 prisoners. Skillful negotiation also teased out further information from the ailing yuan-ti lord: The engineer who designed the Tomb of the Nine Gods was granted undeath by Acererak, and adopted the name "Withers." Withers tends the Tomb's traps and makes monsters from those who die within the Tomb. On very rare occasions, Withers leaves the Tomb to interact with the gargoyles surrounding Omu. Withers helped to create 5 skeleton keys that open the Tomb's innermost sanctum – these are literally undead skeletons. It was Withers whom Ras Nsi briefly interacted with when he sent the captured Company of the Yellow Banner into the Tomb unarmed and unarmored…as a sort of sacrificial offering, it seemed.

Ras Nsi further asked for the party's help finding a spy of the Red Wizards in the Fane and driving the Red Wizards from Omu, but the party was not interested in helping Ras Nsi anymore than necessary for their alliance of convenience.

With an agreement was struck, Ras Nsi ordered Fenthaza to his throne room and demanded she turn over Obolaka's puzzle cube. Playing the part of a servile priestess, Fenthaza gave the cube to Ras Nsi who in turn gave it to YARGLE, before dismissing her. Fenthaza slithered away with venom in her eyes.

During this time it became evident that Artus Cimber was only faking to be under Salida's suggestion, much to Ras Nsi's chagrin. Artus also urged the party to reconsider allying with the evil Ras Nsi who he felt certain would betray them. Though some had misgivings, the consequences of the party's choice were already unfolding…

It All Goes Monkey Fruit Shaped. As Ras Nsi issued orders to his loyal followers, news came that the abomination Zothiss was entering the Fane from the southern secret passage – the same way the PCs had been led in blindfolded. Readying themselves to do battle, the party heard unexpected sounds of clashing blades in the northern part of the Fane. Fenthaza wasted no time launching her coup!

Multiple fronts broke out across the Fane, with Ras Nsi using his teleporters to jump about the Fane commanding his forces against the two-pronged threat of Zothiss and Fenthaza.

KOKO held the front line against Zothiss' impending entry into the heart of the Fane, creating a wall of fire and readying to cast transmute rock to mud on the narrow hallway if the abomination were to squeeze through. The mechanically locked door of the venom distillery shuddered as Zothiss battered it down, dispatching zombies, and interrogating the venom-maker Xopal in Abyssal. Ras Nsi would join KOKO, launching a blight spell on the various poisonous plants in the venom distillery, causing an explosive gas fire which killed Xopal and singed the hulking Zothiss. However, Zothis was no fool, and realizing the danger posed by the wall of fire attempted to lure KOKO into approaching, though the golden grung queen remained steadfast. Thereupon, Zothis drew forth a massive longbow, nocking it two-foot long black-fletched arrows. However, the abomination would soon switch tactics and try a different means of entering the Fane, withdrawing from sight.

SCOMETT dashed up the ramps to fight through several yuan-ti, dove through the legs of a minotaur skeleton guarding the armory door, slashing it as he slid down a ramp. Artus was right there behind him, blocking the approaching minotaur skeleton with an icy interposing Bigby's hand. "What now?" yelled Artus. SCOMETT darted ahead, realizing that the abomination had gone around, and took an opportunity while Ras Nsi was blinded by magical darkness to launch an eldritch blast at their ally of convenience. Slinking back through the shadowy Fane, SCOMETT came face to face with a enormous talking constrictor snake named Azi Mas, falling under the power of its hypnotic gaze, luring the lizardman in close. Just then, another door broke down, and the abomination Zothiss began to squeeze through the archway, crushing a yuan-ti to death in its massive three-fingered hand. Artus came around the corner, creating a wall of ice through Azi Mas, the abomination Zothiss, and another yuan-ti in the rear. SCOMETT was able to free himself from the contrictor's coils and bring his blade through the underside of its head, dropping the dead constrictor to the floor with a loud whump.

YARGLE went to secure the prisoners' freedom, fighting a group of Ras Nsi loyalists and basilisks trained by Fenthaza along the way. Eventually he made his way to Fenthaza and her immediate forces, convincing the nightmare speaker that he'd made a false deal with Ras Nsi; with so obvious proof of YARGLE betraying Ras Nsi, Fenthaza was convinced and called off her surviving basilisk. At YARGLE's urging, she ordered her malisons to stop harassing the prisoners – two of whom were already dead as the prisoners were attempting a desperate escape. YARGLE ended up gaining access to the armory by tricking its bone naga guardian Ukurlahmu into believing its charm person spell worked on YARGLE; revealing it was in league with Fenthaza, Ukurlahmu eventually gave YARGLE the password to bypass the arcane lock on the armory door, thereby allowing Dragonbait and the prisoners to equip themselves.

RANDOLF accessed one of the mysterious teleporters, convinced he understood its operation, and promptly teleported into Ras Nsi's secret treasure room and bedchamber. Looting Ras Nsi's spellbook, a big heavy mirror, and a small fortune in gemstones, RANDOLF entered the teleporter with its serpentine sigil and tried a new command word in Draconic. He'd appeared right back where he'd been before! Humming to himself, he suddenly had a flash of insight about that anagram puzzle he'd been working on, scribbling some notes. A bit more trial and error as chaos engulfed the Fane around him, and he appeared in the teleporter connected to Ras Nsi's throne room, running right past Nazegeth who hissed in wicked understanding that clearly the mirror was needed to counteract the basilisks under Fenthaza's control. RANDOLF neither confirmed nor denied, running right through into the heart of the Fane where Ras Nsi's forces were engaged in a ranged battle against Fenthaza's on the balcony above. Her malisons sounded the gong twice slow, then several times fast to signal their move against Ras Nsi. RANDOLF approached Ras Nsi and KOKO, still scribbling, and KOKO admonished him to put his puzzle away. Thereupon, Fenthaza cast arms of hadar upon Ras Nsi, KOKO, and RANDOLF, surrounding the three spellcasters in magical darkness.

Anagram puzzle, last line (Inspiration clue): "If you let them in your hearts"


Sekelok's Petrification. While fighting his way up toward Fenthaza, Ras Nsi's champion Sekelok was approached by a basilisk following Fenthaza's commands. Overconfident that the basilisk would not dare look one of its yuan-ti masters in the eye, Sekelok was rapidly petrified.

Salida's Death. Salida succumbed to literal friendly fire from Ras Nsi's fireball and KOKO's wall of fire cast upon the balcony where Fenthaza's forces were gathered.

The Abomination's Death. SCOMETT dealt a devastating blow to the abomination Zothiss, running it through, though it still remained fighting with the ferocity of seven skilled warriors even as its dark green ichor spilled across SCOMETT's face. It was about to bite down upon SCOMETT when KOKO fired her koko's thorn (?) spell through the roof of its mouth, causing vines to sprout from its mouth as Zothiss collapsed with a rattling hiss and died at their feet. The abomination was dead.

The Nightmare Speaker's Death. Changing position, KOKO erected a searing wall of fire which engulfed Fenthaza's forces on the balcony and YARGLE along with them. In a sudden turn of betrayal, YARGLE smote Fenthaza, hurling the nightmare speaker over the balcony and through the wall of fire into the fountain of blood below, her charred corpse sizzling.

Wrap-up. With the chaos ending and the last of Fenthaza's rebels being hacked to death, Ras Nsi was now undisputed master of the Fane. He honored his word to the party, and agreed to let them leave with all the surviving prisoners for their going above and beyond by slaying both his rivals. However, there was the matter of 3 hidden traitors to be dealt with (or not)…

1. The bone naga Ukurlahmu who guarded the armory was secretly in league with Fenthaza rebels, though only YARGLE learned this. Extorting Ukurlahmu to let him take the choicest pieces from the armory in exchange for keeping its secret, YARGLE gained some interesting items.

2. Sekelok, Ras Nsi's own bodyguard, was sleeping with Ras Nsi's favored concubine Neema. Pretty much the whole party realized this. This was unresolved.

3. Ishmakahl, the spy in the harem, was actually serving the Red Wizards, though only RANDOLF and a few of the yuan-ti in the harem knew this; Neema attempted to expose him to Ras Nsi during the chaos. This was unresolved.

Loot. Four items are magical and need identification, but here's what the party acquired:

  • RANDOLF took Ras Nsi's spellbook and 30 gems (50 gp each) from Ras Nsi's secret treasury and bedchamber; because of this theft, it behooves the party not to delay in the Fane longer than necessary, and certainly not try to take any kind of a rest there! 
  • YARGLE provided Dragonbait a means to recover his holy avenger and the other prisoner NPCs to regain their equipment. YARGLE also has his choice of 10 suits of scale armor, 50 scimitars, 20 longbows, 20 shortbows, 50 quivers (with 20 arrows each), as well as a tortoise shell shield +1 which magically amplifies the wielder's voice to ten times normal (it used to belong to Sekelok), and a serpentine pedestal holding a glass sphere (16 lbs, bulky, divination magic).
  • SCOMETT took a quiver with 12 black-fletched arrows +1 off Zothiss' corpse; though exceptionally long, these arrows can both function in a normal-sized bow like normal arrows or in a Large bow as described below. Zothis also had a Large scimitar (2d6, other stats as per scimitar, Medium creatures suffer disadvantage to attack with it, Small creatures cannot use it) & a Large longbow (2d8, other stats as per longbow, Medium creatures suffer disadvantage to attack with it, Small creatures cannot use it).
  • KOKO took a dagger of the snake god and dark shard amulet off Fenthaza's corpse.
  • Each of you looting some additional yuan-ti corpses can roll 1d20 to see what you find on the DM's YUAN-TI LOOT TABLE.
Session #45, Time Tracking: 150 minutes (2 hours 30 minutes) = 60 minutes (trading & arcane eye) + 2 * 2.5 minutes (three hexes, normal travel) + 10 minutes (Kubazan's Shrine, ritual identify) + 5 minutes (House of Vines) + 2 * 2.5 minutes (two hexes, normal travel) + 30 minutes (Yellow Banner camp & Finde's Potions) + 5 minutes (Red Wizard and I'jin's Shrine) + 30 minutes so far (Obelisk Puzzle, x3 water breathing rituals) 
Session #46, Time Tracking: 165 minutes (2 hrs 45 minutes) 10 more minutes (Obelisk Puzzle, identify ritual) + 2.5 minutes (charm from shadow elves & return to pack dinosaurs) + 1 hour (short rest) + 2.5 minutes (one hex, normal travel) + 2.5 minutes (Ruined Bazaar with kobolds) + 2.5 minutes (one hex, normal travel) + 10 minutes (Wongo's Shrine, symbol of insanity) + 5 minutes (Greenhouse) + 2.5 minutes (one hex, normal travel) + 10 minutes (Slave Pits of the Undercity) + 2.5 minutes (one hex, normal travel, gargoyle fight) + 2.5 minutes (one hex, normal travel) + 2.5 minutes (water walking waterfall one hex, normal travel) + 5 minutes (underwater shrine of Ubtao) + 30 minutes (Nangnang's Shrine) + 5 minutes (meeting with Nazegeth of the yuan-ti) + 10 minutes (led through the ruined palace down into the Fane)
This Session #47, Time Tracking: 105 minutes (1 hr 45 minutes) Fane of the Night Serpent
Time 3:00 pm
#46. Omu the Forbidden City, part 2

Day 68 (89th Day of the Death Curse). Rains fell across Omu, pelting the flooded stream. Down at the bottom of the water, the party puzzled over an ancient obelisk…

Obelisk Puzzle & Blade of Omu. Whirling the obelisk about with the water she magically controlled, KOKO consulted with her companions, trying a few combinations but this only released more flashes of searing blinding light, likely visible from the surface. SCOMETT and RANDOLF suggested she try turning it so the darkened faces, lightened faces, and mixed faces matched. "Enduring service" surely meant throughout hours of both darkness and light. This caused the center of the obelisk to echo with an underwater mechanical sound, dropping the three tiers so that now they could only be turned as one massive unit. RANDOLF advised they turn it so the blade-wielding human faced the front as it had in the original position of the obelisk, and when KOKO did so, each stone tier separated as if repulsed by a powerful magnet, revealing a glowing longsword within!

Surfacing with the longsword, the party climbed ashore and RANDOLF proceeded to identify it as a ritual – it was a vorpal longsword known as the "blade of Omu" symbolizing the many conquests of the Omuan empire with skull motifs of enemy tribes engraved into the crossguard, and a thin red channel running the tang of the blade for channeling blood. When the shadow elf Xael touched the blade, her eyes flickered and the final moments of the baelnorn Alia teth Mihrael were revealed as the blade frosted over as if with breath, revealing an illusion along the surface of the blade…

…The baelnorn waited on the ruined spell-blasted walkway, whereupon Acererak emerged, cinders flaring from his black and purple robes, smoke spewing from his skeleton jaw, and a young half-elven woman in his clutches. "A foolish gambit, planeshifting me! Now I've found your last living descendant who is your phylactery," he cackled in a high-pitched voice. Thereupon, he unleashed a chain lightning on the baelnorn and three elves nearby her, killing the elves to a sizzling crisp, and when the baelnorn attempt to cast absorb elements to mitigate the damage, Acererak counterspelled it. In a last ditch attempt, the baelnorn began casting incendiary cloud just as Acererak retaliated with his own planeshift spell, waiting for her to return before finishing her off with power word kill. Thereupon he finished life draining the half-elf who served as the baelnorn's living phylactery, cackling all the while, "At last I've learned your secret!"…

This seemed to break the shadow elves' spirit and though SCOMETT made an argument that they should join the party against Acererak, Xael said the umbragen could not act against the night hags and that they needed to find any survivors and regroup. However, honoring their agreement, she gifted them a charm of shadow jaunting.

Charm of Shadow Jaunting. Once, as an action, you and up to 8 willing creatures within 30 feet can teleport from one area of dim light or darkness to another area of dim light or darkness within a half mile (2,640 feet) that you either can see or are familiar with.


Salida's Serpentine Message. Returning to where they left their pack dinosaurs, the party found Artus and Salida missing, and a venomous snake that Mau'o was playing with turned out to be bespelled as an animal messenger that spoke with Salida's voice: “I’ve done you a favor with Artus Cimber. Now, Ras Nsi will meet you peacefully. Come to northeastern palace ready to enter the Fane blindfolded."

Short Rest. Tending their wounds, the party took 1 hour to rest, discussing their plans – head toward Wongo's Shrine, go the long way around the Red Wizard's camp, then to Nangnang's Shrine, and ultimately the ruined circular palace to meet with the yuan-ti.

Kobolds in the Ruined Bazaar. SCOMETT scouted ahead, finding a ruined bazaar with a small group of kobolds scavenging through it. The younger kobolds were nervous about the possibility of encountering adventurers, but the older seasoned kobold assured them that adventurers had foibles – like always carrying torches – which could be used against them. Appearing above the kobolds, he spoke in smooth calm tones, immediately evoking worshipful praise from the younger kobolds who recognized SCOMETT's blackened scales as marking him as "dragon-touched." The elder kobold informed SCOMETT that they served Chief Kakarol who was planning his draconic ascension with the aid of the city's overlord. The kobolds' lair was below a souk in the ruined bazaar. Impressing the kobolds with acidic breath and an icy cool demeanor, SCOMETT crept back to his party, advising them to circle around the ruined bazaar to avoid the kobolds.

More Discoveries. As the party followed the ancient stone walkway that once served as a thoroughfare, RANDOLF found a labyrinthine holy symbol of Ubtao enchanted with magic mouth speaking in Old Omuan: “The Devourer has killed our gods and outlawed worship. No amount of divination pierces the unhallowed Tomb where my kinsmen toil. Ubtao preserve us." RANDOLF also found a royal edict on clay tablet proclaiming that the Devourer sought Omu’s five best gamblers to challenge him to a game of dice and the winner would earn his freedom (five worn names were surrounded by polyhedral silhouettes: triangle, square, pentagon, hexagon, octagon).

Wongo's Shrine (with Red Wizards' note). The party beheld a shrine decorated with monkey motifs and five entryways – four covered in cobwebs with portcullises lifted up in the lintels, and one central passage more regularly traversed without any portcullis. Above the central passage was Old Omuan cuneiform: "Better to be Wongo's friend than his enemy." RANDOLF conjectured that the creature represented by Wongo's animal was actually a su-monster, a form of monkey altered ages ago by a mad mage imbuing them with evil intellect and psionic powers. He also hammered a piton beneath the leftmost portcullis; in case the portcullises dropped, they'd at least have a way out. SCOMETT went first, treading cautiously as he came to a central chamber with rafters carved like monkey paws and a monkey statue with each hand and foot opened in a cupped gesture. Surrounding it were four stone "masks" built into the walls representing (from left to right) a lion, a boar, a zebra, and a vulture – each with holes in the eyes. SCOMETT sensed conjuration and abjuration magic upon the statue, though they were distinctly two magical effects, and the masks radiated divination magic. At the base of the statue were Old Omuan cuneiform engravings: "Wongo's friend knows where to pour the water."

Resting in the monkey statue's lap was a note with Common written in delicate cursive: "The puzzle is elementary. Come discuss an alliance and I'll be happy to show you the answer. It's in all our best interests to avoid another gated fireball incident, isn't it? –Zagmira"

Wall reliefs depicted a battle between the trickster god Wongo fighting his hated enemy Moa the jaculi.

KOKO traversed one of the other entryways, finding it led to the lion mask. Old Omuan was written above: "I ate one of the boar's friends." Peering through, she saw a thin ray of magical blue light connecting to the monkey statue's right hand.

RANDOLF gazed through the boar mask next. "The vulture is lucky to be alive." A thin ray of magical blue light connected to the statue's left foot.

SCOMETT gazed through the zebra mask next. "My only friend starved to death." A thin ray of magical blue light connected to the statue's right foot.

KOKO then moved and gazed through the vulture mask last. "One of the others has no friends." A thin ray of magical blue light connected to the statue's left hand.

After a bit of deliberation, the party decided the answer to the logic puzzle was to pour water into the monkey's left hand representing the vulture. SCOMETT directed his companions to stand outside of the shrine as he advanced within 30 feet of the statue and used mage hand to lift a waterskin and empty it on the statue's left hand. A hissing sound emanated from the hand and the puzzle cube of Wongo appeared as if being poured into existence from a pitcher of water. A snarling disembodied voice spoke: "Take the prize and curse your friends , or fight my children to claim it. What is your choice?" 

Calling back to his companions to get ready for a fight against su-monster, SCOMETT used mage hand to pull the cube to himself, but as soon as it dropped into his hand a symbol of insanity triggered, causing a 60-foot sphere of glistening dim light reflecting the rain to surround the shrine and envelop the party. At the same time 4 su monsters teleported into the rafters. A fight ensued, with KOKO using flaming sphere to block the passage before retreating outside of the insanity sphere. SCOMETT retreated as well, launching eldritch bolts at the su-monsters. RANDOLF launched fire bolts but eventually succumbed to momentary insanity along with his dinosaur Sir Stampington. YARGLE retreated, using Channel Divinity to reassert control over the "Duke of Chomp" which momentarily suffered insanity, withdrawing a safe distance away. KOKO cast plant growth to slow the su-monsters which soon fell to the party's onslaught. Waiting out the insanity sphere for 10 minutes, the party reconnected with the recovering RANDOLF and YARGLE picked up Wongo's puzzle cube, placing it in his bag of infinite manure.

Greenhouse. A greenhouse with a shattered glass dome lay beyond Wongo's shrine. RANDOLF sent Hootsworthy and SCOMETT sent Maka to scout out the interior which was full of strange plants no one recognized, as well as vines slowly actively moving through a pair of half-submerged skeletons. KOKO hoped inside to explore, finding a leather satchel looped around one of the overgrown skeletons. Singing to the vines in Druidic, she approached carefully, unhooking the satchel so that SCOMETT could mage hand it out before gingerly stepping back and bidding the transfixed vines farewell. Within the satchel, the party found # (can't remember)

Floor Tile Puzzle & Slave Pits of the Undercity. The party discovered ruined tenement housing that once held Omuan poor. Within were colored mosaic floor tiles with cuneiform letters arranged in a strange pattern: The Tomb is Gone Neared End / Evil Breath Whenever Guilt / A Foul Eye Inherits Thy Tumor. It seemed like the floor tiles could be lifted out and rearranged. RANDOLF quickly recognized it as an anagram puzzle, and set to work taking an etching. Puzzling over his etching of this anagram would occupy RANDOLF's downtime moments as they explored the ruined city. Tattered carpets and faded wall carvings depicted the patchwork god Meriadar that YARGLE worshipped. Finding a pit descending into a lower level, KOKO transformed into a lizard and entered what turned out to be old slave fighting pits. It seemed like the slaves who died were entombed within the walls of the pits themselves, but these crypts had been exhumed and there were no corpses remaining. Dozens upon dozens of Old Omuan names were written by the empty crypts, though KOKO discovered some warning messages designed to appear as cuneiform names:

  • "Something is behind the obelisk"
  • "Magnetite serves to test the worthy"
  • "Trust not wizards bearing gifts"

KOKO found a ramp exiting the slave pits of the undercity, but soon returned to the party.

Gargoyle Attack. SCOMETT, pathfinding ahead along the base of the cliff, noticed a quintet of gargoyles behaving ominously on the cliffs 120 feet above, one of them holding a net. Despite SCOMETT's warning that "Asscrack" shouldn't mess with them, the gargoyles swooped down to attack, focusing on the injured RANDOLF. The fighting was over as soon as it started, however, with the party and the "Duke of Chomp" laying waste to the gargoyles, leaving shattered steaming stones littering the ruins around the party.

Scomett's Vision by the Waterfall. KOKO cast water walk upon the party so they could cross the deep waters at the base of the waterfall. As they crossed, SCOMETT received a vision… A city of magnificent, whitewashed buildings stood around him, sunlight sparkling off of glass domes and windows. Omu in its former glory. However, black smoke coiled from fires across the city, corpses floated in the river, and wraiths circled the rooftops like vultures. A sphere of utter darkness descended into the heart of the city, blotting out the light as it grew and grew. 

Underwater Shrine of Ubtao & Even More Discoveries. Trailing along the base of the cliffs, the party found a sunken shrine to Ubtao. SCOMETT and KOKO dove underwater, discovering a flooded maze, but opted not to explore further and returned to the party who'd discovered a small wooden cache of supplies: jars of leeches in brine, a potion of healing, and a glass jar containing a gray ooze.

Nang'nang's Shrine (with Red Wizards' enchantment). The party came to a shrine shaped like a crenallated arrowhead rising from the muck. Obelisks engraved with cavorting grung framed the entryway and grung song echoed from around the shrine…

"Be a grung. Give giant snakes indigestion… Be a grung. Poison your companions when you try to heal them… Be a grung. Advance through cruel bureaucratic process… Be a grung. Mysterious as the dark side of the lake!"

Walking across the water, KOKO greeted the numerous green and orange grung who assumed an aggressive "water scorpion" stance, but soon were put at ease when the boisterous golden grung Chief Yorb told his forces to stand down. After exchanging words with KOKO about the current state of politics in Dungrunglung and her recent ascension to queen-hood, Chief Yorb cautiously welcomed the group. Unlike dead King Groak (who'd been content to summon the goddess Nangnang to come to him), Chief Yorb set forth on a quest to find the dwelling place of Nangnang and learn her mysteries. As Chief Yorb had the shrine doors opened, he often berated a young male red grung named Kro'can'otep who served as his meek advisor and shaman. Kro'can'otep seemed unusually on edge as the party entered with their escort.

Torches shed light over rooms filled of treasure: chests heaped with coins, polished amphorae, strings of pearls, and ornate pieces of armor. Set into the floor in front of another set of double doors was a mosaic depicting a grung beating a kamadan (a leopard with snakes emerging from its shoulders): A brave kamadan saw the evil in the Omuans' hearts and decided to lance it like a troublesome boil. The kamadan fashioned a holy spear, but she left it by the riverbank and a crafty gruog stole it. In her rage, Shagambi the kamadan forgot all about the Omuans and chased Nangnang the grung forever across the sky. A cuneiform Old Omuan inscription read: "Nangnang teaches us to serve only ourselves."

The inner set of double doors had another Old Omuan inscription above them: "Whoever among you is the richest, bring me your gifts."

Chief Yorb explained how he'd ordered countless treasures brought for Nangnang by the bucket loads, but the doors – which lacked hinges, keyhole, and handle – refused to budge. When SCOMETT peered through the green chrysoprase dice, all the treasure appeared worthless. However, there were a few exceptions: Some of the small imperfect pearls were genuinely valuable (250 gp worth). An urn of sweet oil was genuinely valuable and rare – and KOKO soon learned that it was a gift from the Red Wizards in exchange for the grung not interfering with the Red Wizards. And a geometric dwarven ink roller with a fine cursive note attached: "This is the fate of the uncivilized. You need not share their fate. When you're ready to negotiate, we're willing to forgive Dyrax's murder. –The Red Wizards P.S. Don't bother with Unkh's shrine." When RANDOLF applied ink to the roller and rolled it across a sheet of paper, he found a hidden message lamenting vast amounts of diamond dust used in creating the Tomb of the Nine Gods that depleted Chult’s diamond mines. RANDOLF conjectured this was a bad sign, as that much diamond dust could fuel potent magic.

As SCOMETT cast detect magic, illusion magic covered the treasures, divination was upon the inner doors, and strangely Chief Yorb and two of his orange warriors emitted enchantment magic. After several private conversations in languages unknown to Chief Yorb, the party pieced together that the Red Wizards cast some form of enchantment spell on Chief Yorb and several of his warband. KOKO used a scroll of identify, claiming it would help access the innermost part of the shrine, cleverly convincing Chief Yorb to speak the words along with her, touching his back all the while. Chief Yorb and eleven of his followers were enchanted by mass suggestion, though the red grung Kro'can'otep was not affected. Getting the full story from Kro'can'otep, KOKO explained what was happening and RANDOLF managed to successfully dispel the enchantment upon Chief Yorb.

Into the Fane. Traveling to the northeastern entrance into the circular ruined palace, the party found five humanoids in purple and green hooded cloaks led by a pair of snake-headed men – one a bare-chested warrior, the other dressed in ornate white, gold, and blood red robes. Introducing himself as Nazegeth, the robed yuan-ti explained that Ras Nsi was given information by Salida that changed his views of the adventurers, and he wished an audience with them.

Agreeing to enter the Fane of the Night Serpent blindfolded and without their animal companions, the party was emphatic they'd remain armed. Nazegeth agreed to their terms, directing the cloaked yuan-ti to secure thick black blindfolds around KOKO, RANDOLF, SCOMETT, and YARGLE. Sir Stampington was left secured to the "Duke of Chomp's" ankle. Maka perched on the back of Mau'o. Warning the party that not all the yuan-ti agreed with Ras Nsi's decision to parlay with them, he advised them to pull the hoods on their cloaks up. Anyone in the party who lacked a cloak was given one. Guided through the ruins blindfolded, the party headed right and then walked in a leftward spiraling direction about 1,000 feet (10 minutes), with the flooded river to their right. Hissing echoed throughout the ruins.

Along the way, Nazegeth heaped praises upon "Lord" Nsi. SCOMETT incredulously asked why Nazegeth so admired Ras Nsi. Nazegeth replied that Ras Nsi's handling of the Eshowe (who Ras Nsi committed genocide against long ago) showed true leadership, pragmatically claiming it was best to take an enemy as slaves, but where that was not possible annihilating them assured they and their children would no longer be a threat.

The serpent-headed Nazegeth explained it was fortunate the party was not found by Fenthaza, a nightmare speaker of Dendar with mastery over dreaming and nightmare magic. Fenthaza held Ras Nsi in contempt and she sent forays into Omu to capture slaves led by her "left hand", a warrioress named Anáferti.

KOKO idly inquired about Soakosh, a yuan-ti the party previously met (see Session #14) and who perished in the Nsi Wastes (see Session #21), and Nazegeth explained that Soakosh was Anáferti's lover and a follower of Fenthaza.

KOKO inquired why Fenthaza was so opposed to Ras Nsi, and Nazegeth whispered that Ras Nsi was suffering a strange illness which Fenthaza believe betrayed Ras Nsi's clinging to his humanity. KOKO shrewdly asked how long ago this ailment afflicted Ras Nsi, and Nazegeth answered about 2 and a half months – roughly when the Death Curse began. KOKO asked whether Ras Nsi had ever been raised from the dead, and Nazegeth answered he didn't know, but that Ras Nsi was once the most powerful necromancer in Chult. Leaning into the rest of her blindfolded party, KOKO whispered there might be a shared goal between them and Ras Nsi.

Descending a ramp, the blindfolded party heard the grinding of stone sliding against stone, as they were led into the Fane of the Night Serpent…

Last Session, Time Tracking: 150 minutes (2 hours 30 minutes) = 60 minutes (trading & arcane eye) + 2 * 2.5 minutes (three hexes, normal travel) + 10 minutes (Kubazan's Shrine, ritual identify) + 5 minutes (House of Vines) + 2 * 2.5 minutes (two hexes, normal travel) + 30 minutes (Yellow Banner camp & Finde's Potions) + 5 minutes (Red Wizard and I'jin's Shrine) + 30 minutes so far (Obelisk Puzzle, x3 water breathing rituals) 

This Session, Time Tracking: 165 minutes (2 hrs 45 minutes) 10 more minutes (Obelisk Puzzle, identify ritual) + 2.5 minutes (charm from shadow elves & return to pack dinosaurs) + 1 hour (short rest) + 2.5 minutes (one hex, normal travel) + 2.5 minutes (Ruined Bazaar with kobolds) + 2.5 minutes (one hex, normal travel) + 10 minutes (Wongo's Shrine, symbol of insanity) + 5 minutes (Greenhouse) + 2.5 minutes (one hex, normal travel) + 10 minutes (Slave Pits of the Undercity) + 2.5 minutes (one hex, normal travel, gargoyle fight) + 2.5 minutes (one hex, normal travel) + 2.5 minutes (water walking waterfall one hex, normal travel) + 5 minutes (underwater shrine of Ubtao) + 30 minutes (Nangnang's Shrine) + 5 minutes (meeting with Nazegeth of the yuan-ti) + 10 minutes (led through the ruined palace down into the Fane)

Time 1:15 pm

#45. Omu the Forbidden City, part 1

At last your party reached Omu the Forbidden City, origin of the Death Curse. Your party has trekked through Chult’s jungles for 68 days, enduring storms, betrayal, and undead. Along the way you’ve had many adventures. You bested a pirate captain, freed the elven lich Alia teth Mihrael from imprisonment, safeguarded the sacred city Mezro hidden on a demiplane by destabilizing magic in its ruins, you made the hard call to expend a magic diamond to weaken all zombies in Chult, you defended Kir Sabal from gargoyles & were blessed with magical flight in the Dance of the Seven Winds, you dealt with the night hag Widow Groat to lift the curse on Dragonbait, overthrew mad King Groak in Dungrunglung, broke the geases placed on you by “Queen” Zalkoré in Nangalore, hunted the nilbog in Swampsail and allied with the Hooting Skulls, followed Artus Cimber's trail to Kuluth-Mar and kept him from making a potentially disastrous mistake, you survived Xandala's betrayal, and you assassinated both the tyrannical Lizard King and the night hag Baggy Nanna in the Valley of Dread. 
Some of you met gods of your people, some flirted with evil artifacts, and some are just barely holding onto your sanity.
You've lost companions along the way. Some died, like the poor grung P’paht (blasted by a trapped obelisk), Rashaaz the lizardman exile (thrown off the cliffs by gargoyles), Whisper the doppelganger who just wanted to be a hero (stabbed to death by a horde of troglodytes), and Gowl the highest paid dinosaur handler in Chult (life drained by a trap set by the Sewn Sisters). Others retreated to pursue their own ends, like the tabaxi Indigo Sequoia, the explorer Drake Freeman, the sorcerer Pallas, and Dragonbait who quit your party on moral grounds to fight the Death Curse himself. 
But you've gained companions too. About a month ago, Randolf Longfellow joined your expedition, deducing that the "Devourer" and the lich Acererak were one and the same. Two weeks ago, you found and allied with the real Artus Cimber. Recently, you rescued Salida from slavery to the Lizard King, and she turned out to be a guide who’d led expeditions to Omu before. And there's also the little matter of the zombie tyrannosaur following you.
Against all the odds, you’ve made it this far. The wind shifts and steam clears from the river cascading into the lava pits. Omu the Forbidden City awaits…

Day 68 (89th Day of the Death Curse)

I Spy with my Arcane Eye. RANDOLF let his arcane eye rove through the streets of Omu, getting a layout of the major structures and discovering the entrance to the Tomb. With 1 hour of searching, he was able to observe all major areas save the ruined circular palace where the yuan-ti dwelt. Once the party acquired a rough map from the tabaxi merchants, RANDOLF updated it based on what his divination revealed.

Tabaxi Merchants. Speaking with the tabaxi scavengers and merchants, Hooded Lantern and Copper Bell, the party traded for several items:

  • A map of Omu, along with a story about the Company of the Yellow Banner, who arrived in Omu about Day 40 (the 61st Day of the Death Curse). The Yellow Banner was a 6-man group of foreigners who were rather cordial and led by Lord Brixton. Sadly, they were unprepared and taken by the yuan-ti. The tabaxi scavenged this map from one of their packs. When YARGLE looked at the map through one of the green chrysoprase dice that Salleek had given them, the shrines of the Trickster Gods glowed green.
  • Diamond dust (100 gp worth).
  • A magnifying glass.
  • An ersatz eye.
  • A "seedpod of the dreamtree", which, when planted in a corpse, prevents the corpse from rising as undead.
  • A merchant's scale.

The Sending. KOKO, with RANDOLF's help, used the scroll of sending to reach out to the elven lich (baelnorn) Alia teth Mihrael, requesting the boon she'd promised the party (see Session 5). However, the sending failed and the scroll was expended. RANDOLF recognized it was because the target of the spell was dead. A moment later, however, a whispering wind spell reached KOKO, whispering in her ear in an unfamiliar feminine voice speaking Chultan: "Our lady was defeated at the flame. Find us there.” KOKO responded hesitantly that the party couldn't leave Omu. RANDOLF presumed that this voice spoke of an incendiary cloud he'd seen over the center of the river.

Exploration & Discoveries. SCOMETT took the lead, scouting ahead of the party. KOKO acted as the primary lookout, though YARGLE and Artus Cimber both remained sharp for danger. Salida handled the mapping. And RANDOLF investigated the ruins for clues. En route to Kubazan's Shrine, RANDOLF discovered engineering plans of a Skeleton Gate with five polyhedral keyholes signed by "Gorra", as well as a journal with an etching of the animal symbols of the nine Trickster Gods

Kubazan the Froghemoth's Shrine. SCOMETT scouted out Kubazan's shrine, noting something was lurking in the pool before the structure. RANDOLF mentioned that this might be an otyugh, but if it was a froghemoth, they were susceptible to lightning effects which slowed their metabolism.  Suspecting a froghemoth guarded the shrine, and the pool being hemmed in by ruined buildings, KOKO wildshaped into a giant eagle, ferrying the party to the shrine's door. SCOMETT detected abjuration and illusion magic on the wrought-iron door with a keyhole. RANDOLF examined the door, finding an Old Omuan cuneiform engraving: "Kubazan urges us to tread without fear and to give back as much as we take." Just then, a horrid tongue wrapped around his leg, yanking him toward the water. YARGLE was able to strike the tongue, but not sever it as RANDOLF was swallowed by a huge tentacled monstrosity bursting out of the water. KOKO quickly called lightning, slowing the froghemoth enough for Artus Cimber to dive into its mouth, grab RANDOLF and use his magical dagger Bookmark to dimension door to safety, stomach acid dripping from their clothes. SCOMETT and YARGLE were able to hold back the froghemoth, YARGLE finally impaling it on his spear. With the fight won, SCOMETT severed a tentacle from the froghemoth and dove under the water to secure the site, finding a jade ring (250 gp). Casting identify on shrine's door as a ritual, RANDOLF realized it was enchanted with a  glyph of warding designed to trigger a fear spell if anyone attempted to pick the lock. Realizing that YARGLE's divine aura made them immune to fear, SCOMETT picked the lock effortlessly and voluntarily triggered the trap. Then, seeing the trapped room full of spikes, RANDOLF measured out a stone of exactly 3 pounds (the same weight as Shagambi's cube) using the merchant's scale. He and SCOMETT used mage hand in tandem to remove Kubazan's cube and quickly place the 3-lb stone in its place. The shrine solved and Kubazan's cube in their possession, the party took the time to examine the bas reliefs depicting a rivalry between Kubazan the froghemoth and Papazotl (the eblis).

Yellow Banner's Old Camp. Discovering an old campsite used by the Yellow Banner, SCOMETT unearthed a letter composed by Lord Brixton addressed to Rue, who appeared to be a former or separated member of the Yellow Banner.

Minotaur Alchemist. En route to the next Trickster God's shrine, the party found a ruined building with an Old Omuan cuneiform sign: "Finde's Magical Oils and Elixirs." SCOMETT detected strange time-warping magic, similar to what they'd witnessed in the frozen Castle Nimentar (see Session 32). Speaking in heavily accented Old Omuan, the aging female minotaur revealed she'd been recently robbed of most of her stock by an unpleasant group of mages with shaved heads. However, she did have 8 potions of healing left and a healer's kit, though she only accepted Omuan coins. Fortunately, the party had a surplus of Omuan electrum pieces – 850 ep bought the last of Finde's stock. The minotaur also mentioned there was a Magic Academy which might have more alchemical reagents she could turn into potions, though the party would need to venture there and return to her, as the strange magic upon Finde's shop apparently prevented her from acquiring the reagents herself. Divvying up the potions among the party, SCOMETT apportioned one to Artus Cimber and one to Salida.

I'jin the Almiraj's Shrine. Scouting ahead, SCOMETT remained hidden from a Red Wizard and four mercenaries outside I'jin's Shrine. There were too many sight lines and not enough cover to ambush them, besides which the zombie tyrannosaur with the party made an ambush impossible. The party opted for a rush upon the Red Wizard and his henchmen, SCOMETT advising the mercenaries to surrender. In a flurry of violence, RANDOLF rode Sir Stampington over the wall the mercenaries were behind, to clobber the Red Wizard. YARGLE then drove his spear through the Red Wizard where he lay. A contingent spell rushed into the sky above, causing words of flame to appear overhead (Thayan: "Dyrax at I'jin's Shrine. Danger!"). With their leader dead, SCOMETT convinced the mercenaries to surrender. Suddenly, a teleportation gate opened in their midst and a glowing red hissing stone dropped through the gate. The mercenaries panicked, yelling something about "Thazma!" SCOMETT and the mercenaries  scattered, and KOKO prepared to banish any creature that might emerge. A pair of almiraj (unicorn rabbits) were flushed out of their burrow by the commotion, darting between the mercenaries' boots. Then a delayed blast fireball erupted, searing RANDOLF, Sir Stampington, YARGLE, and the zombie tyrannosaur, and destroying the valuables on the Red Wizard's body (though RANDOLF managed to salvage a lightning bolt spell from the charred spellbook).

Interrogating one of the Thayan mercenaries named Bosamar, the party learned that the Red Wizards arrived in Omu around Day 56 (77th Day of the Death Curse) after a long trek through the jungles. Originally, there were 6 Red Wizards and 16 mercenaries. However, one of the wizards named Voj was petrified in Obo'laka's shrine. Another wizard and half the mercenaries died when their camp came under attack by zombies and yuan-ti. The mercenary revealed that the one they'd just killed was a powerful evoker named Dyrax. The remaining 3 Red Wizards include Zagmira (their cold and calculating leader), Thazma (a powerful diviner), and Yamoch (an upjumped apprentice). Apparently, the rank-and-file mercenaries were not privy to the secrets the Red Wizards were learning and never entered any of the shrines, but their commanding officer Zikaros was closer to the Red Wizards and granted more of a "behind the scenes" view. Satisfied with the information Bosamar provided, SCOMETT gave him 10 gold and KOKO warned him against going back to the Red Wizards' camp.

At last, the party approached the wrought-iron door, reading the Old Omuan inscription on the lintel: "l'jin teaches us to take the path least expected." Though RANDOLF confirmed the door was unlocked and had recently been opened, the party was hesitant to enter. Drops of blood at the base and the fact that the shrine had stumped the Red Wizard gave them pause. After the party searched the perimeter and found nothing save almiraj burrows, KOKO wildshaped into an almiraj and scurried down, popping up inside the shrine, one paw on a pressure plate that she was now too light to trigger. Hopping through the drafty shrine, KOKO found a hallway with animal tiles on the floor and poison dart holes in the walls on the other side of the wrought-iron entrance. Deeper in she found doors leading to an inner sanctum. Resuming her normal form, KOKO entered, finding the puzzle cube of I'jin bathed in natural light seeking from a tiny crack in the ceiling. She did another switcheroo with a flint & steel and the puzzle cube. RANDOLF and SCOMETT opened the wrought-iron doors and KOKO hopped over the tiled hallway, puzzle cube in hand!

Shadow Elves & Obelisk Puzzle. Approaching the strange whirling sphere of fire on a ruined stone walkway above the flooded river, SCOMETT spotted a trio of elves with black-and-white body paint, magically shrouded in the shadows and still as death. Meeting with one of them – a female scout – SCOMETT found himself flummoxed by a language barrier (the elves spoke Elvish, Undercommon, and Chultan), but he and the scout managed to communicate with emphatic hand gestures. While Salida and Artus held back with Sir Stampington and the zombie tyrannosaur, the party parlayed with the elves. They called themselves "umbragen", some of the last wild elves of Chult, and apparently followed their "lady" Alia teth Mihrael (the baelnorn) into Omu to do battle with the Devourer. However, most of the umbragen were killed by wraiths and the baelnorn was defeated in a spell duel with none other than Acererak. Only these three survived – Xael (their shaman/leader), Ulari (scout), and Vaelos (warrior). They were trying to reach the baelnorn's lifespark which they believed had become trapped inside an obelisk at the heart of the incensiary cloud. Indeed, squinting the party could see fleeting silhouettes of a three-tiered obelisk out on the stone walkway. The elves wanted to learn what befell their "lady", specifically whether her phylactery was still intact for her to be revived with, but to do this they needed to touch her lifespark. Complicating matters, extraplanar magic from the Red Prison of Carceri (from which no one escapes) was woven into the seemingly permanent incendiary cloud.

As the party weighed their options, RANDOLF, then YARGLE, and then KOKO attempted to cast dispel magic on the incendiary cloud, which seemed to react violently, lashing the party with waves of searing heat. SCOMETT suggested Artus Cimber try using the Ring of Winter to create an ice tunnel. RANDOLF bravely volunteered to venture forth as Artus conjured a tunnel of ice that hissed and crackled as waves of steam rolled off it. RANDOLF only had seconds to dart down the rapidly melting ice tunnel to gaze upon the obelisk's symbols and commit an Old Omuan inscription to memory: 

“Bound by devotion to the Nine,

and enduring service to our Queen,

all citizens, above and below,

fear the blade of Omu at their neck.” 

RANDOLF leapt out of the collapsing ice tunnel, fighting the extraplanar magics which sought to trap him within, blisters on his hands and cheeks, steam rolling off his clothes. KOKO decided it was time to work more powerful magic and cast transmute stone to mud on the supporting walkway. The entire obelisk fell into the flooded river below with a loud hiss, and the incendiary cloud did not follow it. RANDOLF spent a half hour ritually casting water breathing on Ulari, himself, and YARGLE before the party dove underwater to puzzle over the obelisk. When YARGLE looked at the obelisk through one of the chrysoprase dice Salleek had given them, he saw an image of a longsword inside of the central segment.

Attempting one turn of the uppermost segment, YARGLE, RANDOLF, and Ulari were blasted by blinding searing radiant energy. SCOMETT wisely suggested KOKO try to control the river water to rotate the segments of the puzzle obelisk with the party a safe distance back. RANDOLF then proposed they turn the segments so that all hands of the symbols pointed upwards – KOKO conjured the water to do so, and this time no radiant light blasted out and there was a grinding sound that came from within the upper and lower segments…

Inspiration Clue: The symbols represent races that were part of the Omuan empire. Left: aarakocra, grung, lizardfolk. Center: goblin, human, minotaur. Right: tabaxi, dwarf, kobold. Roughly speaking, the ones on the uppermost segment (aarakocra, goblin, tabaxi) dwell in stilt villages, trees, or the sky. The ones in the center segment (grung, human, dwarf) dwell in the jungle or cities; while grung traditionally dwelt in trees, the grung of Dungrunglung had adapted to living on the ground. The ones in the lower segment (lizardfolk, minotaur, kobold) traditionally dwell in caves, bodies of water, or underground. 

Obelisk, starting position:

Time Tracking: 150 minutes (2.5 hours) = 60 minutes (trading & arcane eye) + 2 * 2.5 minutes (three hexes, normal travel) + 10 minutes (Kubazan's Shrine, ritual identify) + 5 minutes (House of Vines) + 2 * 2.5 minutes (two hexes, normal travel) + 30 minutes (Yellow Banner camp & Finde's Potions) + 5 minutes (Red Wizard and I'jin's Shrine) + 30 minutes so far (Obelisk Puzzle, x3 water breathing rituals) 


#44. Nightmares on the Storm

Day 62 (83rd Day of the Death Curse). Death to the Lizard King. As the rest of the party made a tactical withdrawal from the demoralized Akabkan war camp, KOKO transformed into a giant eagle enchanted with haste by RANDOLF, and SCOMETT swung up to cluch her neck feathers. SCOMETT cast invisibility on KOKO and then imbibed a potion of invisibility himself. Taking off into the night, mists and rains parted around the invisible duo, the only hint of their presence the streamers at the tips of KOKO's wings and rustling of her primary feathers. SCOMETT could hear the warning screech of the quetzalcoatlus ahead as they came up fast on the fleeing Lizard King, just above the 160-foot canopy. Two watchtowers came out of the heavy mists, a few of the nervous blowgunners getting lucky hits on the giant eagle's underbelly, but KOKO pressed on undeterred. As they came up behind the Lizard King, he abruptly teleported off the quetzalcoatlus back, attempting to grapple SCOMETT at high speeds and in mid-air. SCOMETT sinuously shook off the Lizard King who then fell into the canopy, casting out his cloak to slow his fall. Eyes narrowed, SCOMETT rode KOKO down through a narrow gap in the canopy, leaping off at the last moment to tackle the Lizard King and slit his throat. As the lifeblood ebbed from the tyrannical Lizard King, one of his claws on SCOMETT's chest in feeble attempt to ward off death, SCOMETT beheld a burned hand mark on the Lizard King's shoulder identical to his own. The sign of Acererak the Devourer. Mounting back up on giant eagle KOKO, who clutched the dead Lizard King in her claws, SCOMETT took off to return to the party.

Day 63 (84th Day of the Death Curse). Triumphant. The party trekked fast overland back to the Cave of the Six-Eyed Lizard, returning in the dead of night, where they were greeted as conquering heroes. Gathering around a campfire to tend their wounds and relish their triumphant victory – Baggy Nanna and the Lizard King were dead, and the Akabkan war camp was in disarray – the party looked over the treasure they'd taken off their foes, RANDOLF identifying the items: Baggy Nanna carried a heartstone, a soul bag, and a demonic amulet. On the Lizard King they found a javelin called Scalesplitter, a cloak of the lizardfolk, and a gem with a bound balor spirit. The Hooting Skull goblins celebrated the defeat of their nemesis with reckless abandon, indulging in excessive amounts of goldfish liquor.

SCOMETT was busy with various orgies and celebratory feasts. "Scomett is a sex god" was heard in rasping Draconic voices on more than one occasion. Songs would be sung of the many hatchlings he sired that night. Despite being in great demand, SCOMETT managed to make time to craft a gem-encrusted bowl from the Lizard King's skull (a material component for KOKO's heroes' feast).

KOKO spoke with the balor's spirit bound to the gem named Tarnhem, who was quite opaque about wanting to bring terror and suffering to the Material Plane. The party discovered that Tarnhem was Acererak's father, seemed to have violated his mother who was the servant of a powerful diviner, and (most critically) used to tease his son with the name "Ass-crack."

KOKO and RANDOLF also sampled some of the knowledge worms they found in the ziggurat of Kuluth-Mar. KOKO consumed the worm whose bottle was marked "Omu", and as she fought back the madness that threatened to overtake her, she was imbued with someone else' experiences and memories, learning Omu's location and ancient history, and gained proficiency in the Old Omuan language (which she already had). RANDOLF consumed the worm whose bottle was marked "Sewn Sisters", learning that Kyuss the Forsaken One (while still a living being) tracked back the nightmares of some of his followers to a night hag coven called the Sewn Sisters – Widow Groat, Peggy Deadbells, and Baggy Nanna. Kyuss met with the Sewn Sisters in the Gray Waste, and they gave him a riddling prophecy: “When the black star rises over Chult, you are found. When death blankets the land, you are lost. When nine gods are laid to rest, you are bound. When the Ringbearer comes, your freedom lies in frost.”

Salida, who the party rescued, shared that she was a sorceress and experienced guide who'd led two expeditions to Omu before and was slightly familiar with the ruined city. She explained that she was leading a party to the Chultengar in search of a legendary item called the Wormcrown, when the Akabkan lizardfolk took her captive. She also warned that Omu was hidden by a powerful magic spell that made the city invisible to outsiders unless a creature carried magical translucent green chrysoprase polyhedrons that were given to Omuan nobility and priesthood.

The Haunting Begins. Armed with this knowledge, the party bedded down to rest. YARGLE animated the Lizard King's beheaded body as a zombie, affixed a lantern to its head, and sent it to patrol the basking stone outside the cave. His gigantosaurus zombie also lurked outside the cave at the lake's edge. RANDOLF cast alarm and Mordenkainen's private sanctum around the party's sleeping quarters. However, despite these precautions, RANDOLF had awful nightmares of a thumping leg and cackling in the mists; he did not rest well and was weakened in the morning.

Day 64 (85th) Day of the Death Curse). Great Feast of Etiriss & Expedition Preparations. The following day, while the party looked over their maps, charted their course, and planned to defend themselves against the wrath of the Sewn Sisters, SCOMETT was immersed in affairs of the Zopchik tribe. He flayed the Lizard King's skin to add to the cloak of the lizardfolk and participated in the "great feast" for the dead Herb Speaker Etiriss. After this ritual cannibalism, he gained enhanced healing and other powers. Entrusting gecko-fied Semuanya to the priest Ichax, SCOMETT and him butted heads over ideology, but Ichax ultimately swore to keep the sacred gecko safe.

The Hooting Skull goblins lay strewn about in drunken stupors from last night's revelries.

The party planned for YARGLE to perform multiple castings (4+1d4=5) of protection from evil throughout the night if RANDOLF's magical defenses did not protect against the night hags. This is precisely what came to pass, as neither the effects of SCOMETT's amulet of nondetection, the anti-divination aura of Artus' Ring of Winter, nor RANDOLF's sundry magical defenses offered any protection. 

Day 64 (85th) Day of the Death Curse). Wind Walking. Bidding farewell to their lizardfolk allies and the Hooting Skulls, the party – along with the deinonychus Maka, the ankylosaurus Sir Stampington, Gowl, Artus Cimber, Salida, and the controlled gigantosaurus zombie – gathered around KOKO who enacted the wind walk spell. Lifted up above the jungles, the party rushed across the Valley of Dread, over Kuluth-Mar and the Chultengar, over herds of brontosaurs, past the wyvern spires, and landed at an old camp, just northeast of the Peaks of Flame. To the south, a storm was brewing. KOKO confirmed there were no major threats nearby with commune with nature and spun webs in giant spider form, while the party created berms, and RANDOLF enacted a tiny hut and Mordenkainen's private sanctum.

More Haunting. This time, however, KOKO was haunted at night, suffering a nightmare of Widow Groat – the night hag with coins over her eyes and ants crawling from the side of her head (see Session #21) – surgically removing something from KOKO's side, inserting a worm instead, and then sewing her back up.

Day 65 (86th) Day of the Death Curse). Ride the Storm. The storm winds were whipping up from the south. Concerned about the nightmarish onslaught of the Sewn Sisters, the party gathered in the morning and made a radical decision. While using the fractal crystal ball, RANDOLF had scried upon Widow Groat, seeing a bizarre vision of Widow Groat, Peggy Deadbells (who appeared as a peg-legged hag who emitted sickly green gas when she laughed), and a ghoulish Xandala gathered around a cauldron in a treehouse in the branches of a dying banyan tree, as if performing a ritual. The hags cackled that "Someone watches, sisters! Tis nothing, for the Devourer's magics will show them what we want them to see, nothing more." The party recognized this tree as the banyan that SCOMETT conjured in the Nsi Wastes using a magical tyrannosaurus tooth (see Session #20). They made a radical decision: They would kill the remaining Sewn Sisters tonight, before a third member could be initiated and the coven restored. Casting wind walk, KOKO risked "riding the storm" with RANDOLF contributing his extensive knowledge of natural phenomenon, cartography, and magic to helping minimize the dangers. Though the journey was tumultuous and exhausting, they only landed some 40 miles off course due east of the tree in the Nsi Wastes, on a beach overlooking Refuge Bay.

Even More Haunting. Settling in for the night to prepare, RANDOLF was once again nightmare haunted, though this time after the peg-legged thumping approached, he felt himself paralyzed and something opened his skull to extract his arcane secrets before sewing his scalp back up.

Day 66 (87th Day of the Death Curse). The Night Hags' Trap. By morning the storm was subsiding, heavy rains descending from grey clouds and booms of thunder out in Refuge Bay. YARGLE was still recovering from exhaustion and RANDOLF was looking haggard. Preparing themselves for a fight, the party honed their weapons and studied/prayed for spells before KOKO cast transport via plants, the party vanishing into a nearby banyan to emerge from the treehouse banyan in the horrid muck of the Nsi Wastes. KOKO called lightning, empowered by the stormy conditions, blowing open a hole in the roof of the treehouse. YARGLE steered the gigantosaurus zombie through a wall, zombies spewing forth from its mouth. Within was a cauldron bubbling with green vapors, multiple magical lanterns glowing amber and purple, and three beings gathered around – Widow Groat, Peggy Deadbells, and a ghoulish Xandala. YARGLE leaping in to smite his wife Widow Groat. Strangely, Widow Groat dissolved into poisonous vapors sprinkled with spores and vanished, whereupon YARGLE turned his spear upon the ghoulish Xandala, who was struck down as she uttered: "Sister, the cauldron must be protected!" Again, the ghoulish Xandala dissolved into poisonous vapors and vanished. SCOMETT followed behind YARGLE, climbing up the gigantosaurus to launch attacks at the cauldron's legs. As soon as the cauldron tipped, a glyph of warding released a blast of thunder, destroying the zombies, destroying Peggy Deadbells who dissolved into poisonous vapors, blowing out the walls of the treehouse, dropping YARGLE 40 feet, and causing the treehouse and banyan to collapse upon him, burying him under 5 feet of debris. Streams of amber and purple flames erupted from the lanterns, cascading outwards as if following a gasoline trail, wracking the party on the ground with fire and necrotic energy. Gowl was drained of life by the purple necrotic flames, collapsing dead. With Artus, Salida, and SCOMETT digging, and RANDOLF casting Otiluke's resilient sphere, the party was able to haul the suffocating YARGLE out in time. KOKO's locate creature confirmed there were no night hags within 1,000 feet. RANDOLF recognized the spore-filled poison gas as coming from a gas spore – a type of fungal creature that usually resembled a beholder to the untrained eye. It had all been a trap.

Defense Against the Dark Arts. Flying just outside of the Nsi Wastes with the Dance of the Seven Winds, the wounded party settled in for a long rest and burial of Gowl. Wracking his brain, RANDOLF realized a magic circle against fiends might protect them from the Sewn Sisters' nightmare haunting. YARGLE was able to make enough holy water to cast multiple magic circles to protect the party through the night. For the first time in days, they were able to rest peacefully.

Day 67 (88th Day of the Death Curse). Arriving at the Forbidden City. After wind walking across 200 miles of undead-infested jungles, the party arrived where Omu the Forbidden City should be located. However, while they found outlying ruins of Omuan craftsmanship there was no sign of a city. Fortunately, their old ally Salleek along with 3 fellow aarakocra archers descended from the trees, praising KOKO's wisdom in removing the Hand of Vecna. He explained he'd come to meet the party, either to aid them or force KOKO's hand to severe the evil artifact. Salleek bestowed them with the Blessing of Aerdrie Faenya (Inspiration) and gave them a set of magical chrysoprase dice so the party could see the city. Omu was sunk in a steaming 150' deep basin, with a flooded river flowing through it from north to south, before plummeting off cliffs into lava, causing hissing steam and vapors to rise over the city. There were two signs of habitation: to the southwest was a long stair down into the city and a small camp amid ruined buildings, while to the east in the ruined circular palace were multiple small campfires. Intermittent bursts of magical light flickered along the river and near the northwestern amphitheater.

Seeing that Salleek's wing was broken from a fight with gargoyles, YARGLE lay his hands to heal the aarakocra. Salleek then shared the following information:

Gargoyles (their faces looking like the screaming devil face) are spaced every 100 feet on the cliffs and attack aarakocra, flying creatures, and creatures climbing the cliffs. Other creatures he'd spotted in Omu from afar include grungs, Red Wizards, tabaxi, vegepygmies, yuan-ti, zombie Batiri, and a feathered tyrannosaur.

He also reported that in his quest to learn how to safely remove the Hand, he received a vision which revealed that the Eye of Vecna was somewhere in Omu, warning the party to maintain their moral compass and not give into Vecna's temptations, or else Salleek would be forced to take action. He did not relish the thought of facing his mighty former companions in combat.

Camping for the night, RANDOLF cast 8 rope tricks for the party to rest within, the extradimensional space providing an effective countermeasure to the Sewn Sisters' haunting.

Special Rule: Inspiration for Clues. You can spend Inspiration to gain a clue on a puzzle, either asking the DM a specific question or just getting general help.
If you also cast sending to contact Drake (or use the scroll of sending to contact him) – in addition to spending Inspiration – Drake can work out the answer to a puzzle that you're particularly stumped on, and communicate that to you in 25 words or less.


Day 68 (89th Day of the Death Curse). Entering Omu. Waking relatively rested, the party enjoyed a sumptuous heroes' feast prepared by KOKO using the lizard king skull-bowl crafted by SCOMETT. They were rested and full of vigor as they descended the stairs into Omu. They found a gated guardhouse, with the gate long since broken, and graffiti etched into the soft stone in Common:

  • "Fear the fangs of Ras Nsi!"
  • "The vorpal blade of Omu is out there."
  • "The puzzle cubes are the key."
  • "Beware the frog monster!"
  • "Who is Unkh?"
  • "All hail the King of Feathers!"
  • "The snakes are not what they seem."
  • "Kubazan =bravery. Shagambi = wisdom. Moa = ?"

Adventurer's Base Camp. Gargoyles looked down from above, seeming to subtly shift position of their heads from the corner of your eye. Entering a base camp used by past adventurers, the party found more graffiti listing names of those who'd braved Omu in the past:

  • "Force Grey: Arkhan the Cruel, Calliope, Clarapin, Hitch, Jamilah, Tyril Tallguy"
  • "Company of the Yellow Banner: Lord Brixton, Bravus Boulderborn, Devlin Bashir, Sephirius, Seward, Biff Longsteel"
  • "(the names of all your backup PCs"

KOKO made a point of adding her name and full queenly title to the graffit-covered rocks.

While it seemed like there was bedding for more people, the base camp was currently occupied by two tabaxi merchants/scavengers (Hooded Lantern and Copper Bell) and their old companion E'kama!

Greeting his old companions KOKO and SCOMETT was bittersweet for E'kama, who'd suffered being cursed, nightmare haunted, life drained by a wraith, and driven mad since they'd last seen each other. Exchanging introductions with RANDOLF, he introduced himself as E'kama of the Natombe tribe who'd come to Omu seeking to reclaim his family's old lands from undead. However, he was no longer in any condition to adventure, so he guarded the base camp for other adventurers. E'kama gave the party a scroll of sending from their old companion Drake, as well as a strange cube bearing the image of a displacer beast or kamadan (jaguar with snake heads), sharing the following information:

1) Cubes – like this one I took from the shrine of Shagambi – somehow open the Tomb. They’re in shrines to the Nine Trickster Gods scattered throughout the city. Besides this one, others have already raided the shrines of Obo'laka the Zorbo and Papazotl the Eblis. Red Wizards are in Omu and know the Tomb's location.

Shagambi was regarded by the Omuans as a paragon of valor and patron of paladins. The Shrine of Shagambi was an ordeal, but thankfully I had Dragonbait with me, at least before the yuan-ti captured him. Old Omuan was inscribed “Shagambi teaches us to fight evil with honor.” It was trapped with purple gas that was not resisted by holding our breath. We fought 4 animated terracotta warriors. Reaching the cube required taking the 4 bronze spears from the terracotta warriors and placing them in the hands of jaguar-masked statues to open a hatch on a stone pedestal. 

I’ve found the nine shrines of the Trickster Gods, and can point them out on your map, but I don’t know where the Tomb lies. Besides Shagambi’s Shrine, I know that Obo’laka’s Shrine in the east is empty, as is Papazotl’s Shrine to the north. I don't know who raided those shrines, but there are Red Wizards in Omu hunting for the cubes as well. It seems that the Red Wizards know the Tomb’s location.

2) A night hag with a peg leg hunts adventurers in Omu by night.

You’ll know her by the thumping of her peg leg, and if you hear her, run. You remember my brother-in-law Enoch Zefiri at the temple where we found the Zombie Killer? (see Session #13 & Session #14) He has fallen under her sway. She has others that do her bidding as well. I cast nondetection on myself nightly and never sleep in the same place twice, but even that doesn't always protect me.

3) The yuan-ti live mostly across the water where the palace is. They took Dragonbait captive and take other prisoners.

There's a lot of them. Most of them cavort with undead and engage in grisly rituals. The yuan-ti seem to know the Tomb’s location. Dragonbait was taken captive by the yuan-ti on Day 57 (Death Curse Day 78) after he and I teamed up to retrieve the cube of Shagambi.

#43. Valley of Dread, part 2

Night 59 (80th Day of the Death Curse).

Friendship Tree Ceremony. As a symbol of friendship between the grungs of Dungrunglung and the Zopchik lizardfolk tribe, KOKO planted a ceremonial tubtub tree outside the Cave of the Six-Eyed Lizard, imbuing a permanent plant growth spell (and giving KOKO a familiar tree to use tree stride to teleport to) upon the territory. Each member of the party – including Artus, Zoshk, and Drazzt – made a quick speech, steeling themselves for the challenge ahead. Miraculously, the Cave itself imbued the magical tree with an additional property, allowing KOKO to predict the weather 10 days in advance when resting beneath the tree; this became instrumental to the party's plan to launch their attack on the Lizard King's camp during heavy mists.

Nightmare Haunting. While trying to sleep fitfully, KOKO had a vision of a hag with a bag over head standing over her and animals seemed to squirm inside the sack. Baggy Nanna prevented KOKO's rest and reduced her maximum hit points by 1.

Days 60-61 (81st-82nd Days of the Death Curse).

Mordenkainen's Disjunction & The Hand of Vecna. Realizing KOKO was at risk of the Hand of Vecna soon compelling her to commit evil unspeakable acts (like killing her daughter in law in Dungrunglung and stuffing her head as the "Head of Vecna"), the party deliberated and decided to risk using the scroll bearing Mordenkainen's Disjunction upon the Hand to sever it from KOKO. Upon the basking stone outside of the cave, RANDOLF enacted an inverted magic circle around KOKO, while YARGLE used a ceremony to prevent her from raising as undead. Together, her companions wove the ritual and as their minds were filled with pain of past wielders of the Hand, SCOMETT swung his shadowy blade down, severing the Hand the moment its magic was annulled. KOKO was a tough old grung and clung to life despite the havoc the ritual wrought upon her psyche. YARGLE was quick to stem the flow of blood and KOKO took a sip of the elixir of regeneration she traded from Etiriss the Herb Speaker. At last, she was free of the Hand! Try as he might, YARGLE could not destroy the artifact, though it was badly burnt and its little finger, ring finger, middle finger, and index finger were all severed; the party distrubted the pieces among them and agreed to leave the evil affair behind them.

Travel & Planning. It took the party two days to hike to a point roughly 3 miles outside of the Akabkan war map, during which time they discussed their plans. Here they established a quick base camp, where they left all their dinosaurs.

Special Rule: Flashback Planning (Inspiration). The players were able to spend Inspiration differently if they wished, to have a flashback moment where they explained some preparation their character would have made that the players overlooked during their planning phase.
Special Rule: Stealth Takedown Pool. For every edge the players gained over the Akabkan lizardfolk war camp – e.g. learning useful intel, distracting a patrol, loosening the straps on a dinosaur howdah, poisoning food or drink – they add a d6 to their Stealth Takedown Pool. When a PC surprised an enemy and their initiative came before that enemy, the player was allowed to spend any number of dice in the pool and add the result to the damage of their first hit against that enemy on the surprise round. Kills using a stealth takedown die were interpreted to be totally quiet and there was cover to stash the body behind.


Day 62 (83rd Day of the Death Curse). Reconnaissance. Heavy mists crept through the jungle, severely limiting visibility, and RANDOLF sent his arcane eye along the jungle floor, witnessing 3 concentric rings of defense (lizard-mounted patrols, rivulets of water with bamboo bridges, and haunted trees with something in the waters), and establishing approximate forces and their location in the heart of the camp within the razorvine covered stockade. Ruins of druidic origin served as an impromptu audience hall for the Lizard King. Preparing, RANDOLF cast water breathing upon the party while KOKO enacted pass without trace, and their infiltration began…

Concentric Rings of Defense. The party moved like shadows beneath the canopy, completely unseen by the lizardfolk riding giant lizards, allosaurs, and pterodactyls that patroled up to 2 miles from the camp. Next, the party came to corpses of goblins, humans, and lizardfolk strung up or speared as macabre trophies and boundary markers. Noticing a goblin had a gilded longsword in a back scabbard, SCOMETT scampered up a tree to retreive it, triggering a nasty silverlust ditherbomb trap sewn into the corpse's gut and attached to the hilt of the sword by a thin string. SCOMETT took acid damage, was momentarily blinded, and his skin stained bright blue as the caustic mineral dust erupted around him. Fortunately, it was not too loud and he was able to wash and use his ring of color-changing to mitigate the bright staining.

Reaching rivulets of murky water some 2,000 feet from the camp, the party was presented with three options for crossing – crude bamboo poles lashed together as makeshift bridges, clumps of grass suitable for a jumping character, and massive rotting deadfalls allowing crossing in the canopy. SCOMETT, Zoshk, Drazzt, and the drake were able to swim through the waters without issue. YARGLE sent the Hooting Skulls goblins over rotting deadfalls which proved to be a wise move – the lightweight goblins avoided triggering a loud crash of the trees (1st edge). However, while RANDOLF and Artus crossed the bamboo "bridge" it twisted violently underfoot at the midway point, threatening to toss them into a bamboo cage suspended under the water, but RANDOLF's sure footing saved himself and Artus. KOKO landed in several poisoned caltrops, one imbedding in her foot, which she summarily collected into a pouch and quaffed a potion of healing so she wouldn't be limping. Despite these nefarious kobold traps, the party remained undetected by the trained archaeopteryx flocks.

Lastly, some 200 feet from camp, the party approached trees with burls twisted into approximations of tormented humanoid faces. KOKO recognized this as a side effect of a defiled druid grove. Opting to slip into the water instead of walking through the twisted grove, the party followed SCOMETT who trailed far behind a fearsome giant crocodile enchanted with a hag's transmutation magic; the party was quiet as the grave and avoided drawing the crocodile's attention. They emerged from the mist-shrouded waters in the innermost camp.

Assassinating the Lizard King. The party split into 3 aqueous assault groups: First, SCOMETT with Zoshk and Artus Cimber focused on the middle of the camp where the ghouls were being penned and mounted predatory dinosaur lumbered by. They overheard lizardfolk talking mere feet from them, but the Akabkan were none the wiser to their presence. Second, KOKO went solo creeping through the shallows toward a massive spinosaurus with howdahs as well as a ruined landing that could serve as a defensive bastion if the alarm were raised. KOKO cleverly cast a locate creature spell while underwater, sensing not just one lizard king, but two! Third, YARGLE and RANDOLF, accompanied by Drazzt and his drake Gwevar, slipped in close to druidic ruins where Nataxl / Baggy Nanna advised the Lizard King, who had a Chultan woman in chains at his side. From under the water, RANDOLF cast Mordenkainen's private sanctum to great effect, preventing sound, teleportation, and plane shifting from passing into or out of the ruins (2nd edge).

When SCOMETT sounded the silent horn (Inspiration – flashback planning), the party's plan sprung into motion!

SCOMETT lifted the gate to the ghoul pen with his clutch-brother Zoshk, releasing the ghouls which swarmed around a carnotaurus mount, paralyzing it (3rd edge). Artus covered their retreat back into the water and unleashed a cone of cold on the nearby ruined platform, clearing it for the PCs, but was himself ambushed by a hidden lizardfolk blowgunner who hit him with a sleeping dart. While sneaking through the mists, SCOMETT came face to face with a fearsome lizardfolk wearing a cloak made of lizard king hides, bronze pauldrons in the likeness of demonic claws, and a javelin tipped with a metallic red metal. Trading denigrating words to their respective faiths, the two locked weapons in battle. Zoshk came to his clutch-brother's side.

KOKO felled several kobolds, her diminutive golden form slinking through cracks and small pools, until she had sight of the massive spinosaurus with howdah full of kobolds and lizardfolk. First, she blanketed the war camp with overgrown brambles, ferns, and vines thanks to plant growth. Reaching out, she dominated the spinosaurus, directing it to run away (4th edge). In the ensuing chaos, the spinosaurus waded across the deep stream, nearly ramming into the carnotaurus as the lizardfolk yelled and tried to get it back under control. The murky flooded stream was KOKO's ally, allowing her to slip back in to avoid detection until she saw SCOMETT engaging with a fearsome lizardfolk, and she cast blight followed by scorching rays from her queenly circlet; when she cast these spells, KOKO noticed the latent magic of the defiled druid grove stirring.

RANDOLF cast gaseous form upon YARGLE as they emerged from the water. Surprising the one lizardfolk lookout, RANDOLF, Drazzt, and Gwevar finished it off by the skin of their teeth (2 stealth takedown dice), creating the opening for YARGLE who slipped through cracks in the ruins to lurk behind the Lizard King. Nataxl / Baggy Nanna slowly realized the nature of the abjuration magic cast upon the ruins and noticed the hazy goblionid form of YARGLE taking on a physical reality. But it was too late. YARGLE plunged his spear through the Lizard King, and the keen-eyed slave pulled the chains to throw the hateful tyrant off balance, giving YARGLE the opening he needed to land a killing stroke. The Lizard King was dead! RANDOLF emerged from the steps to fireball the disguised hag and several lizardfolk; the ground trembled as sparks of light emerged above a mound littered with bones deeper in the camp. The druidic magic – or some corruption of it – was awakening Nataxl / Baggy Nanna cast horrid fusion upon YARGLE, teleporting the goblin's hand into the stone of the throne room, but her escape route was cut off by YARGLE's summoned raptor (alas, short lived as an allosaurus tore it apart) and by RANDOLF. Nataxl / Baggy Nanna offered the diviner many things – crafting the sword of life stealing that SCOMETT desired, telling him how to find Semuanya's shadow, and even revealing the secrets of her sisters Widow Groat and Peggy Deadbells. But RANDOLF would not be swayed. With spell and sword, he struck the hag down dead, and she assuemd her true horrific visage as three animals – cockerel, viper, and terrier – emerged from the sack about her head, he fireballed the remains. Baggy Nanna was dead, the coven of the Sewn Sisters broken. Weathering several blows, YARGLE cut his hand free (a stone chunk), quickly looted Baggy Nanna's corpse (finding 3 things: a demonic amulet, a heartstone, and a soul bag), and escaped with the freed slave who identified herself as Salida, a seasoned guide and enchantress; Salida hastily warned him, "But that lizard king was just the emperor's decoy!" As more lizardfolk and kobolds converged on the ruins, Drazzt fell to a greatclub smashing in his skull. Sparkling lights crept up the sides of the ruins, dispelling RANDOLF's private sanctum and allowing the gravity of the party's situation to come roaring in!

A horrific gigantosaurus zombie heaved itself from the ground, animated by some fell force or druidic magic, and began tearing through the overgrown camp, stomping kobolds and flinging howdahs off the spinosaurus. The fire-based magic and/or necromancy seemed to draw its ire, and the huge zombie trundled toward SCOMETT and Zoshk who quickly scrambled out of its path even as Zoshk revealed that the fearsome lizardfolk they'd been fighting was the real Lizard Emperor! Teleporting through the mists to avoid the oncoming horror, Kes'thak the Lizard Emperor appeared in the saddle of a quetzalcoatlus flying above to dive at Zoshk as the brave lizardman kept the sleeping Artus' head above water. Knocking Zoshk unconscious, the quetzalcoatlus began carrying him upwards, but SCOMETT – as a giant ape – wrenched the quetzalcoatlus' talons open to safely catch his clutch-brother. KOKO cast a hasty healing word to bring Artus back to consciousness, then took to higher ground as zombies spewed out of the undead gigantosaurus' maw. RANDOLF and YARGLE emerged from the ruins on to the misty war camp which had become a battleground with horns being sounded from the watchtowers.

Watching the silhouette of the quetzalcoatlus disappear into the mists, flying toward the west, SCOMETT cast thaumaturgy and delivered a powerful speech, causing the Akabkan – already in disarray from the well-planned assault – to be demoralized and break off from fighting the PCs to deal with the gigantosaurus zombie and regroup. YARGLE reached out with his divine powers to seize control of the gigantosaurus zombie as the party gathered together on the ruined platform. They were in agreement. They would hunt down Kes'thak the Lizard Emperor and finish this together!

Next Session: Aerial Chase of the Lizard Emperor & Omu-bound!

#42. Valley of Dread, part 1

Day 56 (77th Day of the Death Curse). Leaving Kuluth-Mar. As undead and lizardfolk closed in, the party decided to leave the Ring of Winter receptacle alone after Artus ate one of the gathered knowledge worms, learning that the receptacle weighed the hope and despair of the Ringbearer, offering a way to gain intelligence on Kyuss the Forsaken One, but risking draining the Ring empowering Kyuss. Descending to the lower level of the Ziggurat of Kyuss, the party quickly set to their tasks: SCOMETT kept watch with Artus, KOKO scribed the sigil sequence of the magic teleporter, and RANDOLF cast water breathing. YARGLE summoned a crocodile steed, using it as a decoy to distract a purple worm lurking in the water, and then the party fled down the submerged western tunnel. Emerging at a collapsed wall, KOKO used move earth to clear the obstruction, causing lots of noise in the process. Slipping through the underground below the arena, the party heard the spirit naga's disembodied voice warning them "never return to this city again, or your skulls shall join my collection." They didn't need any more encouragement to leave the Sideways City of Death. Exiting out the arena, the party came to an ominous pale stone bridge, and KOKO wildshaped into a giant eagle to ferry the party across.

Returning to their base camp, the party found several dead goblins wearing Fanged Ape masks, while Gowl and their Hooting Skulls goblin allies were tending wounds and cleaning weapons. Gowl reported that the goblins attacked as if they'd gone mad, and during the fighting the Hooting Skulls behaved erratically as if afflicted by the same confusion the nilbog had once hit Gowl with. RANDOLF confirmed via Xandala's crystal ball that Wangrod was lurking in the southern quarter of Kuluth-Mar as if waiting for something or someone. Deciding to move their camp to confound any pursuers, the party fortified their new campsite with berms and trenches, cobweb, alarm, and two Leomund's tiny huts.

Night 57 (78th Day of the Death Curse). Waiting until nightfall, the party took care of harvesting herbs, reviewing their journals, and preparing spells. As the sun set, they enacted the Dance of the Seven Winds rite, flying across the jungle canopy as fast as the elemental magic would carry them, Sir Stampington baying dubiously. By sunrise, they'd entered the Valley of Dread, skirting the edge of the warmongering Akabkan lizardfolk territory and the Kron'eech pterafolk territory. Finding a glade of suth trees, the party found the flora different and wilder than the rest of Chult, though for SCOMETT the strange plants were familiar. Communing with nature, KOKO sensed many dangers nearby, including undead dinosaurs. Concerned that the Sewn Sisters might be pursuing them, RANDOLF elected to cast Mordenkainen's private sanctum around the party, focusing on protecting them from divination. A huge bipedal dinosaur came nearby while party rested during the day, but did not find their camp, instead continuing upriver.

Dance of the Seven Winds: By this point, the party has used 62 hours magical flight out of a total of 72 hours bestowed upon them by Asharra in the Dance of the Seven Winds.


Night 58 (79th Day of the Death Curse). Cave of the Six-Eyed Lizard. The party flew the remaining distance, landing amid the cloud forests that demarcated the Zopchik lizardfolk territory. There were ruined huts, toppled treehouses, and signs of a great exodus up the slope. SCOMETT grew sullen, recalling his tribe's suffering at the hands of the Akabkan. Emerging at the edge of a mist-shrouded lake, the party encountered a pair of lizardfolk young named Ursk and Irtos, who revealed that the old chieftain Kassos was dead and his daughter Sissanna was now chieftain. Conjuring his folding boat, RANDOLF managed to ferry the party and their dinosaurs across the lake. As the mists parted, the party beheld towering cliffs with a yawning six-eyed reptilian monster carved into the cliff, its toothed mouth opened in a 20-foot-tall cave. Rasping winds and indistinct voices speaking Draconic echoed from within. RANDOLF thought it bore an uncanny resemblance to a tarrasque, but kept his concerns to himself.

Within, the party found a dark cave filled with water, stalagmites and stalactites growing from the floor and ceiling, as well as ruins from the extinct Eshowe culture emerging from the lake. Though the boat could go no further, RANDOLF was not to be deterred, simply folding it up for the time being. As Gowl backed away from the stairs, a ferocious ambush drake face to face with him, several expertly camouflaged lizardfolk peeled off of the walls. One with white stripes his head and a pair of scimitars at his belt identified himself as Drazzt, and welcomed the party to the Zopchik's home, warning them to follow the trail of bioluminiscent lichen to avoid piercers which hid among the stalactites. With the light staff extinguished, only those PCs lacking darkvision could see the bioluminescence, and they carefully weaved their way through, all soaked in the water save for KOKO who cast water walking on herself.

The Herb Speaker. Venerable Etiriss met with the PCs, welcoming SCOMETT home and beseeching him to be partake of her wisdom when she went on to the "Great Feast", which she felt was coming soon. Generations of tribal wisdom regarding medicinal plants of the Valley of Dread were written upon stretch dinosaur hide. The party traded for several herbs, and later learned that she had an elixir of regeneration (1,000 gp) which was of great interest to KOKO.

Iguamoto's Watering Hole. Waiting for their audience with chieftain Sissanna, the party enjoyed some extremely potent goldfish alcohol at a makeshift lizardfolk tavern run by the eccentric Iguamoto, a green basilisk lizardfolk merchant. While stomaching the salty libation, the party traded for some items and discussed local rumors with Iguamoto:

  • The Lizard King Kes'thak has taken to calling himself "Emperor."
  • Dozens of lizardfolk were left behind at lower elevations by the now-dead chief Kassoss when the tribe fled the Akabkan, and some are still salty over it.
  • The Herb Speaker Etiriss is nearing her end of life, and when the great feast is held for her, the Herb Speaker’s knowledge of plant medicines shall be distributed to all honored to partake of her body
  • The albino archdruid Spirit Scale – once Semuanya's proxy to the lizardfolk tribes – is believed to have perished in the Greenspires where his famed staff lies. Now, one of his albino clutch-mates serves the Lizard Emperor Kes’thak as a foreign emissary.​​​​​​
  • Nataxl, a female lizardfolk mage, has convinced the Lizard Emperor to move his forces close to Semuanya’s Birthing Stones. It’s only a matter of time before the Akabkan claim the holy site.

The Clutch-Brother. As SCOMETT introduced his companions to his home, the party's next stop was SCOMETT's clutch-brother Zoshk, a retired warrior who'd hung up his magical star tortoise shield after the fighting retreat to the cave in which his sons Sauriv & Temet were taken by the Akabkan. Rejoicing in reuniting, Zoshk was quite curious about SCOMETT's companions. Though Zoshk had little information, he agreed to help the party if they quested further in the Valley of Dread and gifted them his old magical shield. He directed them to speak with Ichax, the priest of Semuanya.

Shrine of the Swollen Belly (Quest for the Sword of Life Stealing). From Ichax, the priest of Semuanya, SCOMETT learned that there were 3 creatures with the ability to craft a sword of life stealing from the dracolich horn he took off Mergandevinasander's corpse: Kaharis, a crafter of his tribe who was taken captive by the Akabkan confederacy (and probably killed); Sakatha the dead lizard king, whose skull was kept in the Catacombs of the Lizard Kings some 80 miles south; and Nataxl, the mage advisor to Kes'thak the Lizard Emperor. Ichax informed the party that he'd sensed Nataxl was actually a fiend that was looking for something or someone, and the party came to strongly suspect "Nataxl" is Baggy Nanna in disguise. When SCOMETT attempted to introduce Ichax to the gecko-fied Semuanya, the gecko took off to explore the Cave. When RANDOLF cast detect thoughts on Ichax, he found the priest had disturbing surface thoughts, seeking death because he could no longer sire children as was his sacred duty.

Trade Goods. Over the course of the night, the party traded for the following items:

  • 12 barbed darts (non-magical, reduces speed by -5 on a hit)
  • Sunstone talisman (non-magical, absorbs up to 8 hrs sunlight and emits sunlight)
  • Tail scythe (non-magical, Light exotic weapon attached to tail dealing 1d6 slashing)
  • Verdanis elixir (potion making you seem like a plant creature)
  • Star tortoise shield (+1 shield granting immunity to decaptitation)
  • 3 Wildroots (removes poisoned condition)
  • 2 Ryath roots (ingest to gain 2d4 temporary hit points)

Chieftain Sissana. Late in the night, the party met with the chieftain Sissanna and discussed how her enemy – the supposedly two-headed Lizard "Emperor" Kes'thak – was in league with Acererak, the party's nemesis. Sissanna presented several courses of action for the party to consider:

1. Assassinate the Lizard Emperor Kes'thak (stealth infiltration). Apparently, Kes'thak has led his forces to a forward operating base / war camp 25 miles to the southwest of SCOMETT's tribe (at hex #6956). The war camp has heavy opposition – kobolds, lizardfolk warriors, blackscale lizardfolk, thunder lizards, the Lizard Emperor, his captains, and his lizard mage adviser Nataxl / Baggy Nanna. It seems that Nataxl / Baggy Nanna has encouraged Kes'thak to move close to Semuanya's Birthing Stones to head off any attempts to restore the missing lizardfolk god Semuanya. Though the Birthing Stones are sacred ground, there is the risk that Kes'thak will decide to claim them for the Akabkan confederacy. The party discussed the possibility of either making Nataxl / Baggy Nanna forge a sword of life stealing for SCOMETT or just including her as an additional target. Sissanna thinks assassinating the Lizard Emperor is the best option.

2. Stop Ossil's ritual to summon Sess'innek (mini-dungeon). However, Ichax, the lizardfolk priest of Semuanya, believes that the real threat comes from the Lizard Emperor's emissary – the albino warlock Ossil. The PCs heard of Ossil from their old traveling companion Rashaaz who was exiled from the Akabkan confederacy when Ossil (a worshipper of the demon lord Sess'innek) came to power. In fact, when the party surveilled Kuluth-Mar, they briefly saw an albino lizardfolk among the lizardmen there and they also witnessed these lizardmen working with the wights. According to the priest Ichax, the summoning is to take place at the Pyramid of Sess'innek (hex #6557, a few miles from Zerzurza, central city of the Akabkan confederacy) which is built over a sacrificial maze called Labyrinth of the Crocodile God, though he doesn't know when it will happen.

3. Gather allies and go to war against the Akabkan ("Braunstein" war game). Differing from his chieftain and priest, the veteran warrior Zoshk – SCOMETT's clutch-brother – believes that the Akabkan confederacy is the problem. It divides and conquers everything it touches. Eventually, unless the Akabkan are stopped, it will swallow all tribes. Kill one Lizard King or Lizard Emperor, and another will rise to take his place. The root of the problem is the conquering civilization that the Lizard Emperor put into motion but now the wheel spins of its own accord. Instead, a strong coalition among the other lizardfolk tribes needs to be formed and the Lizard Emperor's forces need to be crushed on the field of battle.

4. Sow discord within the Akabkan and turn them on each other (? might take longer than we have time for in real life). Apparently, one of the more reclusive lizardfolk tribes believe that a less violent solution could work. The Akabkan confederacy is not as unified as it appears, and the forces vying for control of it might be turned against one another. This could include digging up dirt on the Lizard Emperor, his warlock emissary Ossil, or his mage advisor Naxatl. It could include inciting rebellion. It could involve framing or exposing some of the Lizard Emperor's allies. Or something else entirely.

After deliberation, the party decided they would assassinate Kes'thak the Lizard Emperor and possibly Baggy Nanna along with him. Artus Cimber agreed to help them, as they'd potentially averted a grim fate for him in Kuluth-Mar. Kickawicka and the Hooting Skulls goblins had come to avenge their fallen tribe against the Lizard Emperor, so they were in. SCOMETT secured the aid of the lizardfolk warriors Drazzt (along with his ambush drake) and Zoshk (SCOMETT's clutch-brother) who joined the party…

#41. Artus Cimber and the Sideways City of Death, part 3

Day 55 (76th Day of the Death Curse). 

Escaping the Goblins in the Gypsum Mines. As SCOMETT scooped up Xandala's corpse, RANDOLF told Artus Cimber to jump and caught him with feather fallKOKO scouted a tunnel leading to the east, and YARGLE covered their retreat. The goblins led by Wangrod hauled two writhing yellow musk creepers, dropping them down the mineshaft; thinking fast, RANDOLF used feather fall to slow the creepers' descent and buy the party time. Shaking off the yellow musk spores, YARGLE followed the rest of the party into the passageway littered with human bones. RANDOLF confirmed this was evidence of ghoul feasting. With the rest of the party moving quietly behind her, KOKO and the newly zombified Xandala (Zombdala?) found signs of a partially collapsed quarter wall which fell through the ceiling. Tiny fissures could fit a Small-sized snake shaped creature. KOKO wildshaped into a giant centipede, scuttling up the fissures to the surface where she spotted a giant skeleton guarding an archway through the quarter wall, and an old slave trading block swarming with ghouls. Deciding to press ahead, the party found the passage sloping up into the slave trading block. SCOMETT's archaeopteryx Maka flew over the ghouls, discovering they seemed to be held in a trance by a tall creature with a tattered hooded robe and long claws. Recalling the past vivid unpleasantness of ghouls, the party elected to follow Artus Cimber's advice to sneak around, avoiding the ghouls, and finding themselves outside the arena.

Resting in the Arena. In desperate need of a long rest, the party returned to the first chamber in the hypogeum where RANDOLF fortified their position with alarm and Leomund's tiny hut. During RANDOLF and Artus Cimber's watch, they spotted strange shadows, but when RANDOLF's owl Hootsworthy found no sign of creatures, they opted to continue resting and inform the party when they woke up. It was very likely that the spirit naga Vormayal knew the party had found Artus after resting above the naga's lair, but YARGLE assured the worried Artus that Vormayal was afraid of them and had lost too many minions to be of much threat.

Day 56 (77th Day of the Death Curse).

The Nilbog Returns (aka It Never Left). Come the morning, rain clouds obscured yesterday's patches of sunlight. While KOKO questioned YARGLE about his strange resistance to healing magic, YARGLE revealed that he sympathized with the nilbog back in Swampsail and helped the nilbog escape by "riding" YARGLE. At this point, the alarmed nilbog demanded YARGLE indulge its whim to drink all potions, thinking that one might be an invisibility or fly potion to escape; YARGLE tried to resist, but the nilbog took possession of the goblin paladin. After some hijinx, the possessed YARGLE took off running, with SCOMETT in hot pursuit. Grappling, stabbing, and sliding down the sloped city streets, SCOMETT followed YARGLE out of the arena and toward the citys western bridge where Wangrod and his five goblin henchmen were camped and plotting their next move. Just as SCOMETT closed on YARGLE, the ruined stairs they were running across groaned and shifted, sliding down the sloping city with a grinding rumble of stone! KOKO wildshaped into a giant eagle, carrying RANDOLF and Artus Cimber aloft in pursuit. The sliding staircase was picking up speed, headed for the quarter wall, but RANDOLF's haste spell on KOKO gave her the boost of speed needed to catch up with the sliding goblin and lizardfolk. Artus managed to grasp YARGLE with an icy Bigby's hand cast from the Ring of Winter, and SCOMETT made a spectacular rolling tumble off of the sliding staircase before it slammed into the wall, crushed 2 giant skeletons, and plummeted into the lake below in a shower of water. YARGLE seemed to be restored to his senses, and SCOMETT detected no enchantment magic upon him. RANDOLF sent his owl Hootsworthy to spy on the Fagned Ape goblins, noting that Wangrod seemed to be staring off as if in a trance, and concluded that Wangrod was the nilbog's new victim.

Ziggurat – In Through the Top & Eldritch Horror. KOKO (as a giant eagle) carried the party across the fast-flowing stream up to the pinnacle of the Ziggurat. Artus believed he could purge the Ring of Winter of its evil within this Ziggurat, for it was once where the Ring was used to bind a great evil – Kyuss the Forsaken One. It was still morning and the rain was just beginning to fall. After some deliberation about how to enter the Ziggurat, KOKO cast transmute rock to mud, causing the eastern wall to melt away, revealing the uppermost chamber with an illusory night sky depicting the Red Star at its zenith. Emerging from the northern wall was a statue of a monster merging features of a dragon, snake, and tarrasque; its mouth was just open wide enough for a human arm to be slid within. Stairs led down to the ground level. Cautiously entering, RANDOLF searched the room for dangers, finding that the mouth of the dragon statue moved, it was ringed by glyphs resembling those on the Ring of Winter, and there was a hidden needle within the mouth and hints of dried blood. SCOMETT detect illusion and conjuration magic upon the ceiling; when he sent Maka through the ceiling, SCOMETT beheld a horrific phantasmagoric scene of the Far Realm.

As the party examined this room, several stars seemed to "drip" down to the floor, forming a hideous humanoid form comprised of writhing worms. Securing an alabaster mask to its face – a mask with an uncanny resemblance to the one Syndra Silvane wore when the party last spoke with her project image to hide the ravages of the Death Curse – it identified itself as the Herald of Kyuss. Kyuss, the Wormgod, the Forsaken One, the Worm That Walks. RANDOLF quickly recognized this was a star spawn, an eldritch horror from beyond the known boundaries of space and time. The Herald said that its master Kyuss was bound within the Ziggurat long ago by a coalition of druids, albino dwarves, and wild elves led by the last couatls; they wielded the Ring of Winter at the zenith of a ritual intended to catapult Kyuss to god-hood. Then, just over a century ago, the Sewn Sisters and the Devourer (Acererak) penetrated the magical seals, broke into the Ziggurat, excavated the frozen Kyuss, and took his remains to the west, where he is kept in a suspended state. The Herald claimed the Ring of Winter had formed a psychic bond with Kyuss after being used to seal him away, and that if the Ring were placed within the dragon's mouth receptacle it would awaken Kyuss from his suspended state. When questioned about what Kyuss would do once awakened, the Herald unequivocably answered: "Kyuss preached that Ubtao's maze of life was a lie. The only enduring truth can be found in undeath. Kyuss will usher in an end to life, all beings shown the truth of death."

Debating how to deal with this Herald, the party settled on trying to surprise it. YARGLE came forward with the false "Ring of Winter", offering it to lure the Herald into complacency, before striking without warning with the Burning Spear of Asharra. A terrible battle ensued, with the Herald teleporting around the chamber (until RANDOLF cast dispel magic on the Red Star constellation) and swapping places with the PCs when attacked. It teleported Artus downstairs, letting it wreck havoc with the party who played a cat-and-mouse game, attempting to lure it into dropping its guard. The party held it off long enough for Artus to return, narrowly avoiding a cone of cold emitted from the dragon statue's mouth, as if some powers of the Ring of Winter were being used by the Ziggurat itself. Artus eventually cast flesh to stone (ice) upon the Herald, which would be the decisive factor in the party destroying the eldritch horror.

The magics unleashed during the fight had drawn attention from the eastern quarter of the city, and a troupe of 11 wights, along with a wight riding a wyvern, and supporting armored lizardfolk were marching toward the Ziggurat. YARGLE hastily cast dispel magic on the mud-transmuted wall, causing it to reform and – for now – sealing the party within the Ziggurat. RANDOLF spent 10 minutes identifying the Herald's staff, which was a "comet staff" (a magical quarterstaff dealing an extra 4d8 psychic damage on a successful hit!), while SCOMETT used Maka to scout out the lower levels of the Ziggurat, and the party debated whether the prospect of freeing Kyuss to weaken Acererak and the Sewn Sisters was worth the potential risk of an undead apocalypse…

Next Session: Since we only have 8 sessions til Thanksgiving, I'd like to save time and wrap up Kuluth-Mar and the Ziggurat at the start of our next session. I'll want to know your overall strategy, but not get lost in the details exploring room-by-room.
Here's the situation we'll start with: A lot of wights – supported by a wyvern and their Akabkan lizardfolk allies – are closing in on the Ziggurat. Your base camp (with Gowl, Ma'o, Sir Stampington, Kickawicka and the Hooting Skulls goblins on their triceratops) is located ~2 miles west of Kuluth-Mar.
As you finish resting from your battle against the Herald of Kyuss, the sending stone that SCOMETT took from Wungo Vilehorn of the Gouged Orbs (see Session 34) activates and a voice speaks a warning: "Abandon your vendetta. Deadbells hunts Sharptooth's party. Baggy Nanna infiltrates the Lizard King's court. The Sewn Sisters turn the clans against each other. Return home."
Additionally, nobody asked about it yet, but after your rest Artus will reveal he has the ritual scroll for Mordenkainen's disjunction.
There are 3 levels in the Ziggurat which Maka scouts out and you discuss among yourselves: The upper level has the illusory night sky / Far Realm portal and the dragon mouth receptacle for the Ring of Winter. The ground level has a library of jarred "knowledge worms" that can bestow information (though there's a risk, requiring a DC 13 Intelligence save); they are labeled in Chultan: Bone Nagas, Dead God Dreams, Entropy, Eshowe Tribe, Lichdom, Knights of Kuluth-Mar, Mezro, Omu, Power of Skulls, Ring of Winter, Sewn Sisters, and Yuan-ti. The lower level holds a magical teleportation gate (that can be used to teleport to any teleportation circle whose sigil sequence you know) which rests amid an underground lake in which something lurks, as well as underwater passageways leading to the Arena (west) and to the Wight Estates (east).
#40. Artus Cimber and the Sideways City of Death, part 2

Day 55 (76th Day of the Death Curse).

Xandala's Story. Reunited with the party amidst troglodyte and pterafolk carcasses roiling with smoke from multiple fireballs, Xandala explained how she came to be in Kuluth-Mar. After finishing her contract for the goblin Queen Stiltkiss – discovering that the nilbog was nowhere to be found in Swampsail, and had likely left with one of the many goblin traders who come and go – Xandala cast a teleportation circle, using the sigil sequence the party shared with her to reach what she dubbed the "parade ground" just south of the ziggurat. She claimed goblins with girallon masks pursued her through the circle, seeking to ambush her, but four giant skeletons animated to attack everyone, and in the chaos Xandala escaped. She was able to establish a basecamp in the gypsum mines. The blonde half-elven mage was soon found by pterafolk who took her captive and dragged her before Vormayal the spirit naga. Xandala claimed that she was close to getting Vormayal to divulge her father Artus Cimber's location when the fighting broke out, though clarified she was not ungrateful for the rescue. In exchange, Vormayal seemed to be interested in collecting skulls or in getting rid of the yuan-ti inhabiting the western quarter.

The party recognized those masks as belonging to the Fanged Apes. YARGLE asked her about the alleged "ring of winter" they found in the dracolich caverns (see Session #37), and Xandala reported that her pseudodragon familiar Summerwise sensed it was imbued with evocation magic, and agreed it was a convincing decoy.

The Hypogeum. Thinking that the spirit naga Vormayal's lair was below, the party descended into the underground below the arena, the party found a macabre hypogeum with skulls worked into the architecture. Once, this underground seemed to have consisted of two levels, but the floor dividing them had cracked when the city went sideways, leading to narrow 5-foot passages that were double-height at roughly 20-feet. Taking a short rest within Leomund's Tiny Hut and sealing off the main entry with a wall of stone, the party began exploring. There were gladiator staging grounds, eerie statues of a robed faceless figure holding an executioner's mace, and many arches opening into a maze-like center directly beneath the arena floor filled with wooden elevators, turn-cranks, trapdoors, animal cages, and echoing groans of zombies. SCOMETT observed that the arches opening into the central maze-like area were enchanted with weak abjuration magic.

Discovering a "necrophagium" with two emaciated chained ghouls, the party destroyed one with missile fire. Working together to turn the turn-crank and lift the crude metal portcullis, the party cornered the remaining ghoul and YARGLE seized control of it. He identified himself as Juma, a grammatical ghoul once in charge of signage for the arena. Juma was compelled to give the party a description of this hypogeum to the best of his ability: to the north was an ossuary holding skulls of those who died in the arena, to the northeast was another "necrophagium", to the north was a "spoiliarium" where spoils of the dead were taken, to the west was a "saniarium" where the injured were treated, and to the south were gladiator barracks and staging grounds. Juma also was compelled to reveal that the way he intended to guide the party led by undead guardians. Instead, the party opted to brave the maze-like center. SCOMETT crept ahead stealthily, examining an entry arch. Besides the abjuration, there were no sign of trap triggers. RANDOLF extended his collapsible ten-foot pole through the doorway. Immediately, SCOMETT saw the abjuration magic dissipate.

Nothing seemed to happen at first, but then six seconds later there came a terrible clattering rumbling sound which caused the floor to shake beneath their feet. Withdrawing to the room they'd come in from, the party beheld hundreds upon thousands of skulls pouring down the sloped floor toward them – a veritable wave of skulls reaching nearly all the way up to the ceiling. Shocked by this horrific trap, Xandala cast misty step into the adjoining royal tunnel, buying herself time but not escape. SCOMETT clung to the ceiling and quickly scampered to the south. YARGLE swung up into the saddle of his giant lizard steed. RANDOLF signaled retreat back to the "necrophagium" where he intended to drop the portcullis to protect the party. KOKO leapt into the room as the portcullis came smashing down. YARGLE braced his flail snail shield against the portcullis. The clatter of the skulls was deafening. As the portcullis deformed above him under the direct impact, KOKO pushed against YARGLE, vibrations running through their small frames. SCOMETT realized they were trapped and anxiously began cutting at the other side portcullis with his adamantine sickle to create an escape route. RANDOLF could see a vague sphere of acid close to Xandala's position which seemed to be dissolving skulls, buying them a little time. When the portcullis finally broke, KOKO's readied teleport went off, bringing the party back to the aboveground arena.

When SCOMETT sensed enchantment magic upon KOKO, the party grew concerned the Hand of Vecna was controlling her, and YARGLE began grappling the grung, putting her in a headlock much to KOKO's upset. Meanwhile, SCOMETT used acid to melt through the wall of stone over the course of a minute. RANDOLF called within "Xandala?" but there was no response. Acid vapors and clouds of bone dust poured out of the man-sized hole SCOMETT made in the wall. Diving inside, RANDOLF found shattered skulls everywhere, dripping acid, and a temporary shield holding several rocks in place as a last ditch fortification; when these drops, a battered Xandala emerged with some pointed words. At last, RANDOLF was able to dispel magic on KOKO, much to his surprise, removing the enchantment effect. While the party recuperated from this ordeal and YARGLE used Lay on Hands on Xandala, they debated whether to delve back inside. Xandala assured the party she had secured a safe resting place in the Gypsum Mines, and encouraged them to press ahead before the spirit naga had a chance to entrench her position.

The Spirit Naga. Having survived the skull cascade trap, the party made their way back into the hypogeum, this time with 3 troglodyte zombies animated by KOKO. In the "spoilarium" SCOMETT found a few magical items: a necklace (abjuration), a javelin (untyped magic), and a belt (transmutation). Donning the necklace, SCOMETT was quite literally shocked as a glyph of warding flared to life, sending streams of lightning through the clustered party. Their resources taxed to the limit, KOKO cast mass cure wounds while YARGLE and RANDOLF spoke with two more chained ghouls; lured into carelessness by the troglodyte corpse SCOMETT fed to them, the ghouls whispered among themselves that they must not let the party use the javelin on them. Some hysterical intimidation ensued on the parts of YARGLE and RANDOLF, and ultimately the ghouls divulged that the javelin could be used to control them with the Chultan command word: "Bleached Bone." Bolstered with magic and undead minions, the party found stairs descending into a ruined sewer system (which seemed barely supported), and SCOMETT spotted the reflection of the spirit naga in a dark shallow pool.

The party choose to parlay. SCOMETT and Xandala realized the spirit naga was actually an illusion, but it didn't deter them. SCOMETT emphasized that they already killed the spirit naga once before – by collapsing the ceiling upon it! – and asked for Vormayal to divulge Artus Cimber's location (which the naga pronounced "Artuus Cimbwe"). Vormayal explained that Artus was seeking one of 7 keys that opened the magic doors leading into the Ziggurat of Kyuss, the Forsaken One. Artus attempted to deal with the death tyrant Ballaxus in the bath house, but that deal went south, and so he was now seeking out another powerful ally in the ruined city which held one of these 7 keys. Any one of the 7 keys could open the magic doors, explained the spirit naga. In exchange for revealing Artus' location, Vormayal requested they perform one of two tasks for her: 

(1) Get rid of the yuan-ti heretics worshipping Kyuss in the western quarter (#8 on the cardboard model) – either kill them or drive them out. These yuan-ti apparently held one of the keys. Vormayal explained that long ago other yuan-ti from Narubel, City of the Seasnake, brought tribute to the spirit nagas of the Chultengar. However, they avoided Kuluth-Mar due to heretics of their kind dwelling there. Vormayal believed that getting rid of the heretics would encourage the yuan-ti to resume bringing her tribute.

(2) Having lost her collection of skulls when the PCs killed her the last time, Vormayal wanted them to steal the skulls held by a "triumvarite being" known as a skull lord (3 mages cursed by Kyuss to become one in undeath) who inhabited the old headquarters of the Horned Cabal (#5 on the cardboard model).

Agreeing to get rid of the yuan-ti heretics, the party asked if they needed to return to report back, but Vormayal claimed her pterafolk spies would keep an eye on them and she could cast a sending spell to reveal Artus Cimber's location once their task was complete. The party warned Vormayal not to betray them; nobody actually trusted the spirit naga to earnestly keep up her end of their deal, but it was the best they had. As the illusion faded back into the pool, the party eagerly climbed out of the hypogeum and left the arena.

The Real Artus Cimber? While heading down the sloped city into the eastern quarter toward Xandala's basecamp in the gypsum mines (#18 on the cardboard model), they spotted the circling pterafolk spies of Vormayal. Creeping through crumbling narrow alleys, they spotted a man in a dark olive cloak climbing up the city streets. Using his spyglass, RANDOLF recognized the man's appearance as that of Artus Cimber. He had dark brown hair and a goatee, tanned skin, glassy green eyes, gloved hands, wearing a bow and quiver over his shoulder, a small pack, belt pouch, and dagger at his side. Had Whisper miraculously survived? Was this another doppelganger? One of the wights disguised with magic? SCOMETT detected no illusion magic upon the man, but did see blinding magic under the man's gloved hand as well and magic upon his dagger; SCOMETT thus called out to him "We are friends of Dragonbait / P'Chamian!" Startled, the man watched the party approach carefull, climbing up to meet them halfway. Artus – if that's who he was – said he'd seen spears of ice launched from his decoy house & he'd seen streams of smoke from the arena, and he'd been traveling up-slope to investigate.

Xandala proclaimed Artus was her father, but he claimed he had no daughter. The party used a series of questions to ascertain the man's true identity… YARGLE inquired about the name of the man's dagger (Dragonbait once told them a story that Artus had a magical dagger called Bookmark), and he explained it was known other than Bookmark, with which he'd slain Grumog and other monsters. SCOMETT introduced himself as Shadowhawk (the name of Artus' father's name), to which Artus was taken aback, and narrowed his eyes, asking who they really were. Xandala explained the circumstances of her birth, and recognition flashed in his glassy eyes; Artus explained he found a sick child in a devastated village and he took to a midwife named Matrisa who was the only healer he knew capable of treating the child. Xandala was shocked, for she grew up thinking Artus was her father. SCOMETT explained that their path had lead them to Artus, and asked what he was doing in Kuluth-Mar; Artus explained he'd brought the Ring (which he always referred to obliquely and cautiously) to the last place it was used to imprison Kyuss the Forsaken One, thinking he could purge the Ring of the evil corrupting it within the ziggurat. However, he needed one of 7 adamantine keys, to which RANDOLF pulled out a key he'd found in Castle Nimentar on Lake Luo (see Session #33), inquiring if it might be one of the 7 keys. Artus was surprised and thought it might work – now they just needed to find out the secret of revealing the keyhole in the ziggurat's magic doors. YARGLE inquired whether the Ring would protect the party, and Artus agreed that those who traveled with him were hard to find with divination, but he also was adamant that he was the last person the party wanted to make a companion of as he was hunted by everyone from Red Wizards to frost giants… Wisely deciding to get to cover, the party proceeded  as KOKO cast pass without trace upon them to evade the pterafolk.

When Artus heard they were heading to the gypsum mines, he agreed to accompany the party and talk more about allying – YARGLE asked for his help fighting the Death Curse, and Artus could use their help getting into the Ziggurat of Kyuss – but he expressed concern over the many yellow musk creepers that had overgrown the gypsum mines. Xandala countered that she'd mounded bone powder at the base of the yellow musk creepers, and this discouraged the plants from moving as the bone cased micro-slicing to the creepers' roots if they tried to move through it.

The Gypsum Mines / Xandala's Betrayal / Goblin Ambush. As the party approached the cavernous entrance to the gypsum mines, Artus and Xandala were in the league, sharing a quiet conversation. Sure enough, yellow musk creepers were kept from moving by mounds of bone powder. Suddenly, a goblin attack cry went out as 10 goblins wearing dinosaur bone breastplates and girallon masks popped out of the jungled cliffside (which they seemed camouflaged with supernaturally), raining poisoned arrows upon the party! The goblins were led by none other than Wangrod, and soon receded back into hiding. Artus was mortally wounded, removing his glove and lashing out with a cone of cold that annihilated 4 of the goblins instantly, his eyes glowing blue momentarily. Xandala pleaded with the party to hold the goblins off as she led her wounded "father" into the safety of the mine.

KOKO sent the ghouls – which she now controlled as RANDOLF gave her the javelin – to climb up the cliffside, and arrayed her zombie minions in a defensive perimeter, while she cast a stinking cloud which washed over the hidden goblins, buying the party time. RANDOLF took cover, preparing to launch fire bolt at the next goblin revealing itself. However, YARGLE blanketed the party in darkness as a defensive measure; astride his giant lizard steed, YARGLE climbed up the cliffside, calling out for Wangrod to stop attacking. Wangrod claimed that "I know what you did!" as he launched two attacks against YARGLE and dove back into hiding. SCOMETT dashed ahead through the magical darkness, hiding within the gypsum mines, his coloration changing to match the pale veins of gypsum. Within the mine was a wide 120-foot deep shaft going down, ringed by a rickety wooden staircase.

SCOMETT beheld Xandala turn to Artus and whisper in an unnerving voice: "The burden is too great, father. Give my the Ring." Eyes glassy, Artus removed the Ring of Winter and handed it to Xandala, then took up a defensive stance with his bow. SCOMETT emerged from hiding, taking an arrow to the shoulder as he grappled Xandala. Slipping from the lizardman's grasp, Xandala launched a fireball at him and Artus, leaving Artus burnt and dying, before leaping off the edge of the shaft, disappearing into the darkness. SCOMETT yelled out "Xandala betrayed us!"

As KOKO and YARGLE covered the party's retreat into the mines, KOKO killing another goblin with a readied Melf's acid arrowRANDOLF rushed ahead, leaping after Xandala with staff of light at the ready, both feather falling to the bottom. Turning invisible, Xandala slipped away from RANDOLF taking cover from the party above in a side passage, but he sensed her location with detect thoughts, and advanced, avoiding a tail sting from her reluctant pseudodragon familiar. RANDOLF yelled up to the party that Xandala was getting away. YARGLE bravely dove down into the shaft, only to hit the bottom with a sickening thud, falling unconscious. KOKO brought Artus Back with a healing word, leaving him in a horrified shocked state as she dove into the shaft, becoming a giant owl. SCOMETT scampered down, leaping off and calling for RANDOLF to catch him; feather falling down, he unleashed arms of Hadar causing shadowy claws to ravage Xandala and kill the pseudodragon. Desperately attempting to call upon the powers of the Ring of Winter, Xandala cast an ice storm upon the party, inadvertently catching herself in the blast, causing her hand to freeze and shatter as veins of ice ran through her body, turning her skin pale as she breathed her last breath. The Ring of Winter clattered to the stone floor. SCOMETT was knocked unconscious by the ice storm, while KOKO was returned to her natural grung form. RANDOLF hastily administered a frosty potion of healing to YARGLE, saving him from the brink of death, and YARGLE used Lay on Hands to bring SCOMETT back. RANDOLF picked up the Ring of Winter, eyeing the artifact suspiciously. In the mines above, a badly wounded and Ring-less Artus called down that the goblins were coming…

Death Saves: Artus Cimber 1 fail out of 3. YARGLE 2 fails out of 3.