The Menagerie travels to the actual Sword Coast where they deal with banshees, the world’s ugliest harpy, and their own destructive tendencies.
When last we left our heroes, they had managed to convince a Manticore (of all things) to become a Defender of Phandalin by keeping it hopped up on hallucinogenic purple ‘shroom bread. This week, Andrew doesn’t want to be the DM (again), so I have to take up the mantle (again). Also, for some reason, Andrew doesn’t want to play his Minotaur ranger and instead wants to play my Tortle monk. Whatever. James is still playing his Bullywug barbarian/druid, and since it is just the three of us playing this week, I added the Minotaur as an NPC “sidekick” (I hate this term WotC, just call them followers or retainers or anything else!)
Ignoring all of the actual missions on the bulletin board, they decide to take on one of the rumors heard around town, which are just missions that don’t get a nifty little handout They want to check out the mysterious and creepy lighthouse, oooohhh. They chose this one because it has a lighthouse and immediately both boys are thinking New Player Home! Video games have seriously ruined the decision-making process of playing pen & paper RPGs. It’s only a matter of time before they’ll want to upgrade to a new “skin”. They even call treasure chests, “loot crates”! Damn you, Fortnite!
As the group leaves Phandalin, I roll to see where that pesky dragon, Cryovain, is terrorizing today and he’s off on the other side of the map. So, halfway to the coast, I throw a couple of orcs at them. True to form, this simple encounter proves to be way more challenging than it should, due to some abysmal dice rolls. Not as catastrophic as last week, but bad enough that they had to take a nap on the way to the coast.
I am immediately miffed at how Andrew has decided to play my character. My monk is reserved and contemplative, slow to act but a whirling dervish in combat. And he’s taken a vow of silence, making him a perfect DM-run NPC who never has to make a decision. Andrew’s take on MY monk is the same as his human fighter, his Minotaur ranger, and his short-lived Kenku assassin; bold and brash, a hit first and ask questions never bad-ass, who has loads of opinions and talks. All. The. Time.
Now, I know that he is only playing the monk to try out his abilities to see if he likes them, so I am ignoring this alternative-universe-take on my guy. But I wish that Andrew could expand his role-playing horizons and play more than this one-dimensional personality.
Arriving at the shore, the weather has turned foul, as required by all good lighthouse stories. Despite being mid-afternoon, the sky is black except when illuminated by a crack of lightning or the cycle of the lighthouse with its ominous green beacon. The waves are pounding against the rocky shoals below and a torrential downpour has soaked everyone to their bones. The frog and the turtle are relatively unaffected by this, but the minotaur is miserable, and there is nothing worse than a wet, shaggy bull.
Finding a set of rough-hewn stairs, our heroes make their way down the cliff side through a narrow crevasse to the beach. On the beach, they are greeted by a charmingly British voice calling out from the shadows. “Ello? I say good chaps, perhaps I could take a moment on this dismal day to ask your assistance in a small, trifling matter?” The voice turns out to belong to an enormous lobster that seems to be unaware that most shellfish are incapable of speech. In the book, this is a giant crab, but since I used my giant crab to make James’ barrel-crab contraption from Session 3 and one ridiculous crustacean is no different from another, so here it is a lobster. And he has a convenient mission for the players. How serendipitous.
Anywho, the lobster spells out the classic, contrived, and mundane task of finding an item (a magical conch shell) and putting a restless spirit (a banshee) to rest story. By the way, is it “conk” or “con-ch”? This tale of woe is then shoved down our throats by said banshee in the cave in the very next encounter, just in case you missed the giant talking lobster outside. Yeah, yeah, we get it. Get the thing and bring it back or we’ll die. Can we go now?
Moving on, the party makes their way up the perilous, slick, slippery steps. Ooh, and they’re narrow too. And crumbling apart. They’re very dangerous. To make matters worse, three harpies swoop in to make life miserable for the players. Instead, one of the harpies nearly brings the entire session to a screeching halt.
“What the hell is that?” says Andrew, pointing to the mini. I see my son has moved into the casual swearing phase of our relationship.
“It’s a harpy.”
“No. Those two are harpies. What the hell is that?”
As everyone knows, Nolzur’s miniatures usually come in two-packs. And I’d bought a two-pack of harpies. But I wanted three harpies. A while back, I obtained some cheap pack of fantasy monsters, and a harpy was one of them. It’s not as detailed or even good looking, but it did the job and who cares?
My son cared, that’s who. “I am deeply disturbed by this thing. Where are its arms? Why is it naked? Why would you show me this? I think I’m scarred for life.”
“I think you’re gonna pull through.”
“I don’t know Dad. Child Services love abuse cases like this.”
“That depends on if you can live long enough to get to a phone and call them.”
Son #2, James, joined in on this meandering, pointless, witty banter which went on for about a half hour. This counts as bonding, right? We finally stopped bickering and got back to the game. “But seriously, Dad. I hate that mini.”
This combat was a fun encounter. The harpies refused to fly into melee range, instead hovering just off the cliff’s edge, using their luring song to compel victims to walk over the edge to their death. During each round, one character or another would be charmed and mindlessly walk toward the cliff’s edge. The other characters, would focus all their range attacks on that harpy, trying to break the spell. I allowed that if a harpy was hit, then that would momentarily stop the harpy from singing, releasing the charmed character.
This went on for a number of rounds. The closest I got to killing a character occurred when my Tortle was charmed and walking toward his doom. Both the Minotaur and the Bullywug missed their attacks, but I allowed a disadvantage roll to tackle the transfixed turtle. Unfortunately, they made the roll and saved Shang’s life. For now. Finally, they managed to kill one of the harpies. Andrew insisted that it be the ugly one. The other two flew away to harass them another day.
The storm has reached a crescendo just as the party reaches the lighthouse. Andrew is very excited when he sees all the lightning bolt motifs carved in the doors. (“Hee hee, it’s Talos”.) Clerics of Tempest and anyone passing a DC15 Religion check recognize this symbol. As do players whose characters in a completely different campaign happen to be possessed by this guy. The word of the day is metagaming. Meanwhile, James is lost, “Who’s Talos?” James may be my most inventive player but he doesn’t give a crap about the lore of this world.
Going inside, they ignore the tower for now and head straight toward the temple. As soon as Andrew sees the shrine, he blurts out, “I worship at the Shrine of Talos!” So now, out of the blue, Andrew wants this character, my character, to worship the evil God of Storms and Chaos too. Never mind that these characters have never even heard of Talos.
I tell him that his minotaur ranger can worship whomever he wants, but my monk will not. Not to be deterred, Andrew takes back his Minotaur and I get back my precious turtle. “There, there, it’s okay. Did the crazy murder-hobo scare you? Don’t worry, he can’t hurt you now.”
So, Mini the Minotaur, recent convert to the Cult of Chaos, touches the Shrine of Talos. With great trepidation, I hand over the Charm of the Storm ability card. This gives him the power to cast Lightning Bolt three times, and this ability can be theoretically recharged an unlimited number of times. Andrew cackles manically. Dear God, what have I done?
Moving on, the players go back outside and discover the Harpies’ Aerie. Here, they confront the two harpies that escaped their clutches earlier. I put down two minis, making sure that one of them is the ugly one. “No, no, no! We already killed that one,” Andrew protests. I explain that whenever the ugly one is killed; a new harpy steps up to become their leader which they call “the most high handsome harpy.”
“Fine. I hit it with a lightning bolt!” This obliterates “her highness” and sends her mangled corpse crashing to the jagged rocks below. The other two are able to take down the second harpy before Andrew wastes another lightning bolt on her, because he would have. They discover a Potion of Water Breathing which also goes to the Minotaur since the frog and the turtle don’t need it.
Next, the party explores the lighthouse proper for the shortest boss battle I’ve ever had. The flavor text lasted longer than the fight. “You enter a 20-foot square room. Two windows on the north wall reveal the almighty forces of nature as she unleashes her full destructive glory in the storm outside. Between the windows is a single throne covered in barnacles and seaweed. Upon the throne sits a menacing figure. He is a huge half-orc, wearing the skull of a boar and the glistening hide of a giant octopus. On his lap, he holds a gorgeous opalescent conch shell. He looks at you. The fury in his eyes is matched only by the fury outside. He speaks in a low growl, “Begone, or face my wra…”
“I hit it with a lightning bolt.”
“But you’re in a 20-foot room and the lightning bolt is 80 feet long.”
“I…hit…it…with…a lightning bolt.”
“Okay, let’s get out the ruler and the protractor. At this angle (about 60 degrees), the lightning bolt will bounce off 4 walls hitting the half-orc twice, before it bounces back striking you. Then it careens off this this wall, striking the half-orc again, before it blows out the window and joins his friends outside in the storm. Roll damage and your Dexterity saving throw.”
“33 points of damage and I made my saving throw.”
“You take 16 points of damage and the half-orc’s saving throws… fail…fail…and fail. “Ugh. He takes 99 points of damage is now a smoldering husk of still crackling flesh. You know, this guy had a name.”
“Names are for tombstones, baby.”
“Well, he needs one now. Are you gonna make it for him?”
“Nope. I chuck his corpse out the window to the rocks. This is my house now!”
James finally speaks up. “Wait! Before you do, I take his octopus armor.” I miss the old days when objects had their own saving throws if subjected to damage. This hide would have been toast, but it is way cooler to let James have this awesome armor and there is an important plot element here so I’m glad that he thought to loot this guy’s stuff.
“You remove the octopus hide armor and you realize that the half-orc has a giant hole in his chest. In the cavity where his heart should be there is just a void. This guy has no heart.”
“Cool. Can I throw him out the window now?”
Quickly searching the rest of the lighthouse, they come across the enlarged, floating, beating heart that is the source of the sickly, green light emanating from the beacon and completely ignored it. This made me happy for the day when the players return to their new home, only to discover that it is still occupied by a very angry, wet, and naked Moesko, the half-orc who cannot die. Or maybe I’ll have him hunt the players down to reclaim his property; he had become quite attached to that conch shell.
They return the shell to the banshee, who is released and disappears without any fanfare. She does leave behind her shell which the players may sell, but I know they won’t because they are a bunch of hoarders. We are playing milestone XP, but if I did award individual XP, I would give them full XP as if they had defeated her in combat. A win is a win. The very large, very British lobster is very happy as well and retrieves the magical +1 Long Bow from one of the wrecks, which I give to Andrew, since he did kill the guy.
Curiosity and greed get the better of them and they go for a swim looking for more treasure. They eventually find all the treasure, but not before disturbing three sharks and their weekly “Fish Are Friends” support group. Fish might be thier friends, but frogs, turtles, and bulls are not, so they attack. The players insist on calling the big one Bruce but they can’t remember the other two.
This was another fun combat utilizing the underwater rules of combat. Basically, anyone without a swimming speed fights with disadvantage. This only affected Andrew’s Minotaur, but it is always fun to mess with him. Plus, the limited visibility allowed the sharks to attack with surprise. A lot. The fight culminated with James’ Bullywug raging on Daggermaw, aka Bruce, and scored a critical hit killing it, causing his former friends to frenzy feed on his corpse. This allowed the group to pick off the other sharks, thus ending the squalus scourge.
The group was pretty beat up by this time and decided to take a long rest in their new home. It’s unfortunate that Moesko’s resurrection ability takes 24 hours and not eight. That would have been a nice interruption of their unguarded nap.
As they prepared to leave the next morning, I rolled again on the Cryovain location table. I love this mechanic of the constant threat of a dragon attack and I’m amazed a how often this occurs naturally. The next morning, the storm has abated and the skies are clear. As the party exits the lighthouse, they see the white dragon circling above and he swoops down for a little snack. Everyone runs back inside the lighthouse.
I’m waiting for anyone to have a clever idea to drive him off. They have yet to pick up on the fact that the dragon will abandon the area whenever he takes a mere 10 points of damage. Yet they do nothing even when Cryovain breathes in through the busted window, damaging everyone. They do nothing when Cryovain tries to smash through the building, damaging one of the walls. They do nothing at all. They are frozen with fear.
I don’t like penalizing players the first time they are paralyzed with indecision. The second time all bets are off, but not the first. To save the day, I’m prepared to sacrifice my baby. I’ve been playing with the idea of killing off Anjing Shang in a memorable fashion, and this might be it.
“Peeking out the window you see that the beast is rearing up to deliver another blast of icy, cold breath when you realize that the tortle is no longer in the room. Then with a cry of “cow-a-bunga” the middle-aged mutant ninja turtle launches himself from the parapets and lands on the back of the dragon’s neck. Using all of his Ki energy, Anjing delivers a furious flurry of blows, mercilessly hammering away at the back of Cryovain’s skull.
Cryovain roars in pain and launches himself in the air, the monk hanging on for dear life. As the drake flies away, Anjing can no longer hold on and falls. Falling, falling, falling forever, Anjing Shang’s body slams hard into the ground with a sickening crack.”
And then I chickened out and didn’t have the guts to pull the plug. “When you run to him, you see that he is barely alive. He is unconscious and where his shell should be there is just a horrific, jagged void. His shell is cracked in two like a monstrous bony canyon. He might survive, but you don’t know if a wound like that will ever heal.”
The party fashions a pallet to carry their mortally wounded friend and they begin the long haul back to Phandalin. Hopefully someone in town will know of a way to save him. Next week, I don’t know what happens because for the first time in forever, I am actually caught up with my D&D Diaries and the Misadventures of the Menagerie. Stay tuned.
As always, if you fight a dude who is missing his heart and then you find a random disembodied heart, destroy that heart, and Game On!
“Worth It! Now get me a pizza!” – Anjing Shang, upon breaking his vow of silence after 121 years.