Last time, the group made their way to Gracklestugh and realized something was amiss. Chaos was spreading in the orderly duergar city as they tried to find information on how to escape the Underdark…
The next day the group headed out into the city, in the hopes of finding some information on a way out of the Underdark (as well as a way to get out of Gracklestugh…). While walking around the market, they bumped into another group of orcs. The orcs, eying the half-elves, tiefling and deep gnome, decided to try and pick a fight. They didn’t have much luck until they made a crack about tieflings, at which point Barakus stepped up to the orc and deployed his monk martial arts, felling the orc in a flurry of blows. Suddenly 6 duergar appeared out of thin air, and ordered both groups to come with them. [I thought about warning the group that any fighting would lead to arrest, but this was more fun]
Navarre immediately began plotting an escape, but they agreed to go with the guards. The party was shackled, and led through the market. After a short distance, a horrid shouting interrupted their arrest. A two-headed stone giant was rampaging through the streets, crushing any duergar who got in its way. The group suggested the duergar release them so they can help, and—after assuring the group the punishment they would receive if they tried to escape—the duergar removed the restraints.
The group leapt into action, trying to counter the giant’s advance. As they began to fight it, Zinaella [thanks to a good insight check] realized that something was wrong; not only do giants not often have two heads, but this one seemed terrified, not angry. He informed the rest of the group, and they agreed to try and subdue it without killing it. The duergar were not interested in this course of action, but thankfully the group was able to get in several good hits before the duergar could mobilize. They brought the giant down without killing it.
After it fell, another giant (this one one-headed) came into the market, and bent over its fallen comrade. He informed the party that the giant had suddenly sprouted a second head and went mad, rushing out of their haven. The giants lived in the southern part of the city, helping the duergar secure it in exchange for maintaining their separate abode [the group didn’t ask why the giants were here, so I didn’t tell them any of this]. He expressed appreciation for the group’s mercy towards his comrade, and informed the guards that he wanted the group brought to see his leader.
The duergar grudgingly agreed, leading the group towards the giant’s enclave. They passed through strong gates into a furrow in the ground, with residential areas visible at each end of the furrow. The party then moved into the southern, secluded section of the city and were eventually brought to the giants.
Their restraints were removed, and the guards warned them they should not try anything funny, as they were being watched. The group moved inside, whispering to each other about how to escape as they went [I think they were over confident after their relatively easy escape from the drow]. They were brought before the giant’s chief, who thanked them again for their help and told them of his concerns for the Underdark. He spoke of horrors emerging from the shadows, and madness spreading. He also told them of a vision he had of a elven temple near the city of the Deep Gnomes that could guide them to the surface [they have been getting pieces of this information since their escape from the drow]. Finally, the chief gave them a stonespeaker crystal as a sign of thanks, and bid them farewell.
When they left the audience chamber, the duergar guards were waiting for them, so the group thought it best to cooperate. They were restrained again, and brought to the dungeons in the city government building. After waiting a few hours, they heard a group of duergar approaching.
Out of the gloom appeared several duergar guard, and a woman who was obviously their leader. She introduced herself as Errde Blackskull, and offered to release the group if they would do her a favor. They immediately agreed, and she told them of her concerns about corruption spreading throughout the city, which she attributed to the derro leaders. She wanted the group to find a derro she believed was their agent—named Droki—and track him to his compatriots. Agreeing, the party was given insignia that would grant them free movement throughout the city. Finally, after a long and eventful day, they grabbed a few more drinks at the tavern, then returned to their rooms at the inn.
The next morning the group headed into the market to look for Droki. They attempted to question a few merchants, but had little luck and experienced more of the strange behavior. One merchant kept talking to what he claimed was his invisible twin brother, who advised the merchant to not help the group out. Eventually the group got frustrated, and began to search for themselves [the book instructed the DM to not have merchants tell the party about Droki, and I just told the group this after a few tries as I didn’t want them to get annoyed].
After walking around a bit, the group noticed a shifty looking derro with a strange tentacled hat darting through the stalls. They tracked him through the crowd until he noticed them following him and took off. The group decided this must be Droki [they were right] and ran after him. They lost him in the crowd for a bit, but managed to circle around possible exits and find him again as he went through the gates into the furrow.
Following behind, the group saw him heading towards one of the derro settlements at the end of the furrow. He knew they were behind him, and took off running but the group generally managed to keep up. At one point Zinaella tripped and fell in a pile of muck he hoped was mud, and Varys got slowed down by obstructions but Barakus and Navarre kept up with the derro. [I ran this as a chase with complications, although few came up so I tried to provide a narrative when characters rolled badly]
Suddenly they found themselves in a cramped, dank, filthy residential area. Crude huts were carved into the cavern walls and hundreds of derro milled about, screaming at each other when they bumped into another derro. Nearly as one, the derro noticed the interlopers entering their home, and followed them with their eyes as the group advanced, gradually closing in around the group.
The group tried to push through to keep an eye on droki, but were struggling thanks to the derro who now crowded around and occasionally pawed at them. They managed to carefully make their way through the district until they saw Droki disappear into a crack in a wall that leaked a strange glowing mist. Navarre suggested returning to Errde Blackskull to let her know where Droki went and get reinforcements, but when they turned around they saw the entire population of derro were now in the streets watching the group. They decided to press on, and figure out what to do about the derro later, so they went into the caves.
As they entered they saw Droki look back and notice them still behind them. He shrieked, ran to a crack in the wall, picked a mushroom and—after eating it—shrunk down to the size of a mouse and disappeared into the wall. The group moved forward when they heard a familiar sounding cackling behind them. Buppido stepped out of a side passage, thanked the group for coming to worship at his ascension, and asked them to join him in his haven.
The group was not interested, and ignored Buppido. He flew into a rage and attacked. The group rushed away from him in an attempt to follow Droki. They grabbed the mushrooms he ate, shrunk to his size and followed him into the crack. [once again, the NPC twist reveal didn’t work out]
The group ran through the crack behind Droki and emerged into a broader tunnel. He ran forward into a dense thicket of fungus and disappeared again. The party ran after him through the thicket. As they went, they inadvertently disturbed a swarm of centipedes who attacked.
This was a bigger danger than it would have been if the group was normal sized. The centipedes scored numerous hits, with Zinaella and Navarre in particular taking serious damage. Barakus and Varys managed to push their way through the thicket; once they were clear the centipedes stopped following them (focusing on their friends instead). Navarre soon made it out, injured but alive. Zinaella—about to fall to the centipedes—cast “misty step” and teleported past the thicket, landing on top of Droki.
The rest of the group caught up to them, helping to restrain the derro. Suddenly they felt a tingling and they all burst back to their full size. In the confusion, Droki broke free but the group grabbed him quickly and pummeled him until he submitted [I think they enjoyed that]. The group tried to get him to talk, slapping him a bit, but he wouldn’t say anything besides squeaks and snarls [bad intimidation rolls]
Eventually, the group decided to go through his pack. This set him off, and he became panicked when they found some strange pieces of rock and a sack of giant skin flakes and fingernails. He begged them to leave the objects alone, as “the cult” would kill him if anything happened. Realizing they were making progress, the group suggested they take the bound Droki and his objects to the cult themselves to see if they would talk. This scared him and he told them everything. He admitted to working for a cult of duergar attempting to corrupt and spread madness in the giants and eventually the city itself.
Satisfied, the group left the caves [there was a much bigger dungeon to explore, but we decided to move past it as we were running out of time in our session]. As they were leaving, they noticed a disembodied gnome hand crawling on the ground. The ghost of a deep gnome then appeared. He told the group he had been killed by Buppido and asked them if they could return his hand to Blingenstone so he could rest in peace. They agreed—although they were a little unsettled to have an animated hand in their packs—and headed out with Droki.
For the sake of time, I narrated the rest of their time in Gracklestugh. They made their way past the derro crowds, and returned to Errde. They told her of the cult, and she ordered her forces to arrest all suspects, and to prepare plans to get rid of all the derro [this was meant to be some hints of Errde’s own madness, but the group didn’t focus on it]. She then gave them exit papers for the city and general directions for Blingdenstone, thanking them for their help.
The group, now accompanied only by Topsy (and a disembodied hand) headed back into the Underdark, hoping they were getting closer—and not farther away—from escape…
And that was session 3. I am a little torn on whether or not skipping past random encounters is a good idea. They provide a lot of flavor for the journeys through the Underdark, but do take up a lot of time. I’m anxious to keep the story going (as we’re not even halfway through the campaign) so I think the approach I used this time works, but I’ll continue to adapt in the future.
The hook horror hunt was a good set encounter. Just a straight up battle, but it had some foreshadowing of more serious developments later, especially after the group rolled history checks to identify “Yeenoghu…”
And Gracklestugh was a lot of fun. I’ve seen others complain about it, and it was rather complicated (this site even had a flowchart for the chapter). It was basically the characters being forced into adventures, and there was little they could do with the stone giants (although being merciful did help them out, even if they don’t know yet what the crystal can do…). That being said, there was a bit more to do than with Neverlight Grove.
My only complaint would be clearer evidence of demonic corruption in Gracklestugh. There are hints of madness spreading, but nothing as dramatic as seen in Neverlight Grove or Sloobludop. But it was still a lot of fun, and I think my group enjoyed it even without a dramatic boss battle (thanks to us skipping most of the Whorlstone Tunnels dungeon).
Next time the group will be heading to Blingdenstone, and hopefully freedom from the Underdark…