Trigger Warnings: Spoilers, breaking in new players, Disney Culture Appropriation, salty language in Dwarven
At first, I thought that there wasn’t going to be a session because none of the kids showed up. But then at the last second, a father and son team of Dillion and Travis showed up wanting to play. Those two plus my three mainstays means I actually have a group and I can actually return to Out of the Abyss.
The second half kicked off in royal fashion: King Bruenor Battlehammer of Gauntlgrym invited them all to speak with the party with upmost importance. It seems like all of the first half was just the tip of an Underdark-sized iceberg, and it’s not because of the Fire Elementals that you have to help Bruenor beat (Actually, it was the reincarnated king’s idea of morning calisthenics. Dwarves, go fig.)
At this point, I have to talk to you about a design form of madness that will take place in Æthercoil. I call it The Alice. There is a male version known as The Hatter. In my custom campaign setting, there will be an Underdark. But it will not be occupied by drow and their worship of Lolth. Oh, Drow do exist, but they will be more prevalent in the African region, from the Sahara on south. They’ll still have more traditional drow trappings with some African appropriation thrown in for flavor, and the spider goddess some of them worship is actually a Chaotic Good trickster goddess named Aransi.
Back to the Underdark though. Although there are no drow or demons in this setting, there will be Faerzress. Æthercoil’s Faerzress not only produces the dim light and twisting of magic spells (Any critical fail on the side of the party will trigger a roll on the Wild Magic Surge table) but it also creates a psychedelic effect on the equivalent of a hit of LSD. The character’s perceptions start twisting into a twisted combination of Lewis Carol and Walt Disney, after both of them were toking on a blunt. This effect is cumulative, the hallucination becoming more and more real as their sanity (represented by Stress Quotient in both Æthercoil and Out of the Abyss1) frays away. Eventually they become convinced that this psychedelic wonderland is not just real, but they are part of this.
Hence, the Alice and the Hatter. While they retain most of their race and traits, they are compelled to dress in accordance to the characters mentioned, or in some variation thereof. Oftentimes, they discard armor in order to conform their bodies to the mindset. All of their magical sources, be it Arcane or Devine, is instead powered by the Faerzress, thus retaining their madness-inspired roles. Their mentalities have regressed to a child-like mind, not remembering or caring who they were before, their twisted minds creating their own variation of an Alice in Wonderland character. (Player’s Choice.) Lastly, when more than one Alice/Hatter/whatever comes in, not only do they address each other in character, often wondering about why there are two of them for a bit, they end up teaming up because their Faerzress minds attune to each other. You can notice this by the way they talk; one will start speaking, then another one pick it up after a line or two, followed by any third, and so on. When enough characters join in, they form a Court where each member assumes a different character; this will turn an Alice into a Doormouse, for example. While it might be possible to cure an Alice by herself if she was dragged out of the Underdark and kept on the surface, their former selves are irrevocably lost when they form a Court, because this is where the Faerzress spreads.
By the time the Æthercoil setting begins, there will be about a dozen such Courts in the Eurpoean region alone. But that’s for another post.
The main part of the session is where the party decides on talking to three or the five representatives of the various factions2. I was disappointed that they didn’t pick Harpers, because I bought a glass chess set for the game shop just for the occasion and donated it into the game library. I don’t know if it’ll be used though, the kids don’t look like Chess Players.
They chose the Emerald Enclave, the Lord’s Alliance, and the Zhentarim, in that order:
Morista Malkin of the Emerald Enclave
A dwarf peeks out from her small tower of notebooks, with a pencil behind both of her ears and some in her hair. “Oh, hi there, I dinnae see ye come up. I be Morista Malkin, formerly of the Emerald Enclave, currently the one dwarf with the weight of rebuildin’ Gauntlgrym on her shoulders. And now we have Demon Lords running amuck down in the Underdark.”
“From what I heard from ye talk with King Bruenor, you’ve heard about Zuggtomy and Jubilex, two of them, they’ve been several others as well. Dealing with them were bad enough if it weren’t for the madness they make. I’ve seen plenty of people I used to know turn into someone I wouldn’t recognise. Remember Eldith? She was my best friend. Now she doesn’t even recognize me. She’s become someone else, Alice, I call her. She’s wearing a blue dress with an apron all the time, and she’s talking to her smithing items as if they could talk back to her.” she sighs, “They probably do in her shattered mind. And she’s not the only one, there’s several others like her, and when two or more Alices are together, they act like they’ve got a single mind. It’s….” she sighs again. “I do hope we find a cure for this: I have a lover named Sladis Vadir. He’s lost in the Underdark and I fear for him. What if we find out he’s like…her?”
“The Enclave has some scouts that will go forward and give you some needed reconnaissance on what is ahead of you. We also have some Riding Lizards that will help with traveling. I’ll give the word to let you have them in your efforts. Oh, and if you do find Sladis, tell him I miss him, and to come back.”
The party will have access to these Riding Lizards and will have enough for each lizard to carry two characters each. They will also have Scouts going ahead for recognizance at a regular interval.
Eravien Haund of the Lord’s Alliance
A Half Elf who still has his youthfullness greets you. “Greetings heroes, I hate to have to call of you to return to a place you’ve been happy to leave, but it’s a very important matter. I am Lord Eravien Hound, and I’ve been working with the Alliance’s telegraph company to connect all of our settlements together. You’ve probably heard of Justin Mercrial’s telegraph, I’d call it a gift from the Gods, but the chap’ll punch me in the face for it. Ornery character, that Lord of Greypeak, but a good man to know when it comes to technology. I fear he can only do so much in this case.
By the time the Alliance received word of the Demon Lords, we lost all contact form our settlements and watchpoints in the Underdark. No call of raids, no flow of trade, not one bit of information. “Total Radio Silence,” we call it in the Alliance, and nobody likes it. We’ve just recently got back some communication from Blingdenstone, but that’s it. We’re going to need more. The Alliance has some guards and spies that will join you. While they’ll assist you if you need them, they’re really here to set up more relays to improve our network. With our lines installed, we can easily assist you further.
While you’re there, keep an eye out for my paramour, Khelessa Darga. She’s a Moon Elf from Silverymoon, but she’s been spying on the Drow for too long, I fear. I don’t know where she is, last time I heard, she was in Menzoberranzan, and that’s been two months ago. Please find her and get her back home, I fear for her safety. And Sanity.”
The Lord’s Alliance Guards will be more interested in regaining the communication links in the Underdark, and use Blingdenstone as a relay point. But they will assist when needed.
Darve Jassur of the Zhentarim
A human in a skin-tight black dragonhide catsuit–so form-fitting it looks painted on her–balances a razor sharp blade on a gloved finger. “You must be the ones Bruenor waned us about.” She says. “I’m Drava Jassur of the Black Network, I’d tell you more, but then I have to kill ya. Don’t worry, I won’t make it hurt.” She chuckles a bit.
“You don’t need to be Zhent to know that we value the resources down there in the Underdark, and those Demon Lords out there are, you can guess, very bad for business. We lost about half of our assets in the first month alone, and we definitely need these Demon Lords taken out before we can recover our losses.”
“We have a passages that will take you straight to Mantol-Derith, so that you don’t have to step on anyone’s toes. It’s a secret for Zhent members, of course, but in this case, I think you can be an exception, as long as you can keep it secret of course. There are also a couple of my own useful items that you might need, if you got the coin for it, that is.”
The next session will skip ahead and start right at Mantol-Derith, thanks to the Zhentarim’s secret passage. The party has also bought the Goggles of Night and Dust of Disappearance.
At this point, the wall of text about Alices and Hatters come into play, because appearing in a puff of smoke is Asha and Jorlan form all the way back to Chapter 1 in Velkynvelve. However, they are no longer Asha and Jorlan. They now look like a dark-skinned Alice and Hatter, costume and all, and even looking at each other in Mad Love. Accompanying them, on top of this, is a second Alice: Eldith!
“The time has come,” the Drow Alice said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”
“But wait a bit,” the Drow Hatter added,
“Before we have our chat;
All we need is our lost oysters, (Points to the party members)
And we’re here to get them back!”
Then the Dwarven Alice pipes up, “No hurry, says I, but do be quick.
And we’ll thank ye and be on our way.
Or we’ll drop this little summon ball,
And we’ll have a glorious day!”
Cue Mexican Standoff.
Or at least what would be a Mexican Standoff if it weren’t for the party, and Bruenor, and about a dozen other Dwarves, didn’t just start attacking. After an attacking drow party—this one dressed up like playing cards—and later on the saltiest rendition of Dwarvish ever spoken. (We’re talking about salt that will make Drill Instructors go, “Hey Hey HEY! There are RECRUITS here! You wanna tone that down!?”) Once Bruenor finally gets it all out of his system (and casts Greater Restoration on everyone who got struck deaf by his Beast Mode) The party prepares for their second excursion in the Underdark. They will start with, as I said, the Mantol-Derith chapter next Wednesday.
1 Stress Quotient is how I measure a player character’s hold on his sanity. You add the scores of your Intelligent, Wisdom, and Charisma together and use that number like “mental hit points,” psychic damage, fear effects, horrible scenes, and the like will eat away at your SQ. During Sanity checks, you roll 1d20+your stress quotient, and compare that to a uniform DC, like 40 (adjusted depending on the situation). As expected, higher than that DC is a save, a fail however, see “The Safety of a Shattered Mind”
2 I do not force player characters to choose a Faction. In fact, most players are quite content in being unaffiliated. No problem for me. Instead I treat the Factions as NPC characters, supporting the party in the background and providing enough plot points to keep the gameplay moving.