(This is a log of my players run through the Out of the Abyss campaign (After a brief dabble with Harried at Hillsfar first. Spoilers abound, though it’s likely the team won’t play the module in the way you, the writers or sanity intended).
Having caused an enormous explosion and cavern collapse by accidentally stopping someone saving the world, the team paused at the outskirts of an sprawling subterranean city to plan their next move.
Aiyu had been trying to persuade his teammates that his brutal murder of the dwarven researcher was, in fact, justified and he really didn’t need to be tied up.
Sargen: “You’re clearly not yourself. It’s probably safe if you stay tied up. “
Aiyu: “Safe? Safe from what?”
Sargen: “Safe from me killing you.”
Anastasia: “What about Dawnbringer? Has she said anything?”
WhiteEagle: “Not since her tirade about Aiyu’s pre-emptive retaliation.“
Zook: “Did you find anything useful about the city when you scouted it out?”
WhiteEagle: “There’s lots of trade caravans going to and from. The city is called Gracklstugh; it’s apparently run by Duergar.”
Zook: “The Grey Dwarves? An evil bunch, but they’re no friends of the Drow. We’d be safe for a bit. They’re militant xenophobes; obsessed with order, profit and the superiority of their race. They’re paranoid too.”
Targen: “Notably we’re neither rich nor are we dwarves. Getting in could be a problem.”
Anastasia: “I’ve had some experience with them and I can speak Undercommon. Let me do the talking.”
WhiteEagle: “We’ll need to be careful what we say. Some precautions could be in order.”
Everyone was agreement, so Aiyu was gagged as well as bound (“the only way to be sure.”). As the party approached the main gate, they were confronted by a squad of Duergar guards, all armed with crossbows.
Zook, whispered to Anastasia: “Remember; they’re paranoid, racist and devoted to law and order.”
Anastasia rolled her eyes and winked.
Duergar Sergeant: “Halt!
Anastasia: “Greetings, noble Duergar! We come seeking entry to your city.”
Sergeant, bored : “What’s your business in Gracklstugh….. wait. What’s up with him?”. He gestured at the naked, bound, gagged Aiyu.
Anastasia: “He’s controlled for everybody’s safety. He went crazy and murdered some people.”
Sergeant: “What!? Killed people?”
Anastasia: “Yes, he murdered a Duergar researcher so we’ve kept him chained up.”
The Duergar started muttering angrily and fingering their crossbows. Aiyu began making desperate noises behind his gag, trying to back as far away from the dwarves as he could.
Anastasia, quickly: “Don’t worry, it’s just because he’s sick.”
Zook and WhiteEagle frantically tried to catch Anastasia’s eye while she was talking.
Sergeant, taking a few steps back: “Sick? What’s wrong with him?”
Anastasia: “We don’t know. But he’s seeing things and thinks he can fly. He’s always been a bit of a loose-cannon but he’s got a lot worse since he was infested with demonic influence.”
Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour the Dwarves loosed their crossbow bolts at Aiyu, who promptly collapsed, gurgling, to the floor.
Anastasia: “What a senseless waste of life.”
The situation went from bad to worse as the guards noticed Zook stealthily preparing a spell (stealth in this case equaling ‘hand gestures made behind his back while reciting the words of the spell between coughing bouts’). A melee broke out with the heroes holding the guards off while desperately trying to keep Aiyu alive. In the end, they were forced to parley with a Duergar captain in order to brook passage into the city. This gave Anastasia the chance to use the subtle diplomatic skills that had served her so well earlier.
Anastasia: “Good news everyone! First, they’re not killing us. Second, the captain is allowing us in and all we had to do was give him Dawnbringer.“
Targen: “Wait, we’re giving the evil guards our only magic weapon?”
Anastasia: “It was either that or Aiyu.”
Targen: “That doesn’t sound like you did a proper cost/benefit analysis before making that decision.”
Gracklstugh an oppressive city; it’s buildings were constructed for strength and efficiency. The glow and stench of forges bathed the cavern in red light and it’s inhabitants walked quickly through the streets, looking over their shoulders as they moved under the watchful eyes of omnipresent Grey-Dwarf guards.
The heroes found an inn with a reasonably high chance of them surviving the night that was willing to accept the coin of foreigners. Slavery was legal in Gracklstugh so the fact they were hauling a badly damaged Aiyu around in chains barely raised an eyebrow.
Whether it was a night’s rest, the additional treatment received from Targen or the whims of a fickle god, Aiyu’s mind had finally cleared. He pleaded that he was a changed Eladrin and while still wary, the party decided they couldn’t keep him chained up while in the hostile city.
The next day, they found the local market and started finding out about the local area and if anyone knew a way to get out of the Underdark. There were rumours of a local merchant who supplied caravans to some of the kingdoms on he surface. There were stories of all the merchants being lost of rampaging creatures, monsters who were far more aggressive than usual.
Merchant: “And that’s not even the worst of it. Thousands have died in some of the tunnels leading to the Deep Sea.”
Anastasia: “Monster attacks?”
Merchant: “No there was a massive collapse of the caves. The mages say it was caused by an enormous explosion of planar energy. At least the sun-loving surface maggots suffered worse; the magic-users said it caused some of their big cities to collapse into the earth!”
Anastasia coughed and tried to avoid making eye-contact with the rest of the team, all of whom were looking at their shoes or examining their fingernails.
The guilty, uncomfortable silence was interrupted by a huge Stone Giant smashing through the marketplace stalls, screaming incoherently and clutching at it’s head. Strangely, the party managed to keep it’s more homicidal members in check and subdued the giant without killing it.
Soon after the giant fell, the heroes realised they were surrounded by a pack of heavily armed Duergar guards.
Lead Guard: “Outsiders! You are under arrest!”
Aiyu: “MUST I KEEP APOLOGISING! IT WAS ONE DWARF!”
DM Notes: The parley with the guards wasn't caused by any failure in dice-rolls, Anastasia decided that telling them about Aiyu's murder was the best way forward. It might have been a desire for "honesty is the best policy", an attempt to get Aiyu to pay for his crimes or just general mischief. Trading Dawnblade came about pretty organically and managed to solve story stalemate: They really shouldn't be able to fight their way into a big city and there was almost no way the guards would just turn a blind eye to them. Bribery though.... Aiyus insanity had run it's course; I "fudged" yet another failed save to get things moving. Plus he was more than capable of causing trouble without it 🙂 Was pretty surprised they decided to keep the giant alive. It was clear it wasn't in control of it's actions but there'd been plenty of random murder in the past. Also "I try and knock the giant unconscious by hitting it in the head with my great-axe" was a very real possibility.