“Love & Other Demons. . .”

n.b. Right before this session the pandemic lockdown came down and we decided to play remotely. One of the players had access to a Zoom account from her job, so we took advantage of it. Since the plan was to eventually move back to in-person play and I was against doing the work of learning and setting up a VTT (and all the limitations that go along with those), I set up a camera to point at the battlemat and minis. It worked great (and continues to do so for my Revenants of Saltmarsh game and when we need it for this one).

‹Recap for Session #3 (played [remotely] 3/28/20)›

In finishing up searching the chest and smashing bookcase in the hidden room, the party find a couple of other interesting things among the detritus: the cover to book that has been torn apart, entitled The Making of Good Tyrant, and a scrap of a letter upon which a love poem is inscribed.

A scrap of a letter including a love poem was among the things found by the party.

Unsure if this is a valuable clue, the adventurers decide to go back and examine the other doors they hadn’t been able to get past before. The trapezoidal door with the bas relief gargoyle has a large keyhole that they think the large bronze key they found might work in, but before trying the ornate door, they decide to try the smaller bronze and brass keys they found on the other doors. They try both keys on the first locked door but neither works. Rollo continues to insist they search for traps on every door but no one in the group is well-equipped to notice such things, so they just do their best. Since the keys do not work, they try knocking down the heavy oaken door with iron bands, but it withstands their efforts. Unwilling to go at it with Rollo’s axe, they move to the other locked door.

This one has what Alston could tell is a low-quality lock, but it doesn’t matter much because the brass key opened it. Beyond is an unlit chamber, but between darkvision and Thron Greenman’s torch they can see it is appointed with a dirt stained rug. On one side a smashed table is joins the shattered remains of multiple dishes, jars, bowls and pots that once were atop it. The mess smells nasty. At the far end of the room is a writing table, behind which is a beautiful young woman with long raven hair and in a dirty lavender dress. They assume this is Erilyn Windfellow, but she does not react to their arrival. She sits placidly, hands upon the desk, her face pale and unexpressive. Behind her and to the right stansd the animated corpse of some of kind of tall hairy goblin, its body desiccated, with flaps of dead skin covering rotted out flesh and organs. It hefts a huge morningstar in its meaty paws and growls mindlessly as it lurches forward.

While it is a tough fight, the foursome is able to defeat the skeletal undead. The girl is indeed, Erilyn Windfellow, and she snaps out of whatever trance she is as in the moment Alston touches her. She is confused and frightened, wailing about the loss of her beloved, Elzid. Once the party explains they are there to investigate and rescue her, she tells them that the wizard’s familiar, Zotzpotz was behind the tower’s explosion and Elzid’s death. She explains that the last thing she remembers is coming out to the tower when she heard the explosion and the crow mocking her grief. The next thing she knew, she was waking up when Alston touched her. She also claims that the crow is not what it seems and is actually some kind of infernal being. According to the girl, Elzid was having a change of heart and turning towards the good with her influence and his imp familiar was not having it. Nora seems convinced. The poem scrap they found confirms this narrative. The familiar is clearly jealous of the young woman! Encouraged by the arrival of the party, Erilyn seems eager for some vengeance against Zotzpotz and expresses her desire to kill the creature.

It does not take long for her to change her mind and begin begging and then insisting that they party just leave and escort her out.

On the desk, the party finds a wooden key very similar in size to the large bronze key they had found earlier. The mess atop the broken table is the remains of various arcane components and ingredients. The awful smell is from bat guano smeared all over everything. Nevertheless, the party salvages a handful of things that were unbroken, including a bottle of Thrician wine and an intact jar of rose petals. Thron also captures a handful of live crickets that were hopping around the room.

Rather than continue their search, the party decides it might make sense to rest some. They have been wandering around this dungeon for many hours, and though they can not tell what time of day it is, they are exhausted and both Rollo and Thron are very injured. Nora has other ideas, however, and while agreeing the two men should rest (watching over Erilyn), she and Alston decided to check out the first door again. Rollo and Thron lock the door behind them. Alston manage to pick the lock on the first door using Nora’s thieves’ tools, but the moment he hears the lock click open, Zotzpotz attacks! This time he appears, not as a crow or a spider, but in what is presumably his true form, a little impish devil, with horns, wings, and a long spindly tail tipped with a nasty bone stinger at the end. The gnome bard feels the whip of the tail’s sting, and though Nora is able to act quickly, push open the door and pull in Alston behind her, the gnome collapses due to the poison in his system pushing the door closed with his final effort. The imp mocks and teases from other side, thanking Nora for her help. It turns out she had been charmed by the creature earlier (when everyone else was too distracted to notice) and it had been invisibly whispering in Nora’s ear and convinced her to help split the party, so he might attack.

Free from the spell, she uses her thieving tools to lock the door from the inside and wait, hoping that the gnome might recover on his own in time.

A partially labeled map of the exploded tower’s dungeon levels.

The room the tiefling ranger finds herself in is the only one so far that seems untouched by the exploding/collapsed tower above them. The arcane circle painted in the center of the floor and surrounded with runes is unmarred. A stone lectern to one side is flanked by small stone statuettes. One looks like Zotzpotz, the other looks like the larger statue of the demonic warrior woman they had seen in the antechamber (and that Nora had seen come to life). On the lectern is an unfurled scroll that has the following inscription in the Infernal tongue:

With tongue of flame, I send thee on

Thy journey into fire;

To infernal planes, I say “Begone!”

Lest thou arouse my ire.

Able to read this language, Nora assumes this is part of a ritual to banish Zotzpotz to wherever he came from, but that the incantation probably requires the creature to be in the circle. Just to be safe, however, she hefts the 50-pound stone statuette of Zotzpotz above her head and smashs it against the wall and floor. Hidden in the lectern she  finds a large iron key similar to the bronze and wooden ones they’d already found.

Outside the room, Zotzpotz continues to try to tempt the ranger with promises of power and the ability to do good if she embraces her infernal heritage.

Meanwhile, the other two members of the party try to rest, but the anxiety of their companions not returning after more than an hour had passed drives them to go out and search. Erilyn is now convinced that the elapsed time means that Alston and Nora are already dead and thinks perhaps they should leave. Rollo becomes suspicious of the woman and gives her a choice, come with them to search, or get locked back up in the room they found her in until they could all leave safely. Erilyn is upset with her choices­—not wanting to leave the room to search, but also not wanting to be left behind—but acquiesces to coming along. She asks for a weapon—though she explains, she is not trained to use one—but Rollo and Thron decide against it, still wondering if she can be trusted.

The barbarian and the druid have barely made it out of the room where they were holed up in when Zotzpots attacks again, appearing out of nowhere, hovering above them with leathery wings. “I won’t let you take my offering to my infernal masters!” the imp hisses, referring to Erilyn. The two adventurers are able to drive off the imp once again and hearing the commotion Nora joins them in time to see it disappear. Explaining what happened (including the fact that she’d been charmed), the party decides to hole back up in the other room and wait it out. By this time, Alston has partially recovered from the poisonous wound he’d suffered and drags himself back with the others.

Despite sleeping fitfully on stone floors, the party is able to regroup and heal some. In the middle of the rest, Thron hears what sounded like stone scraping against stone in the distance. He tells the others and they speculate it might be the stone block trapping them in this place resetting. For some reason, however, they decide not to go check, but go try the keys they’d found on the ornate door. Erilyn continues to express her change of heart regarding vengeance on the imp, explaining that after a night’s sleep she’s decided she values her life more than revenge. Furthermore seeing how injured her would-be rescuers are, she is coming to doubt their chance of success. “We should just go. Take what you’ve found and go!”

Thron suggests she could leave on her own if she wants to try, but it is dangerous for her to be on her own. She agrees and explains that is why she is begging them to leave with her. “We didn’t come this far to turn back now,” Nora says. Alston does voice some concern since he feels the party had been hired to rescue the maiden, but he is overruled.

Zotzpotz (art by Bob Walters, ©1992)

Rollo puts the bronze key in the large keyhole in the door with and ornate gargoyle face and turns it. The door disappears, key and all, revealing another short hallway and other door. This one is a perfectly smooth stone circle with a keyhole in the center. Rollo tries the iron key in this one, but as he begins to turn it, it grows hotter and hotter until he can barely stand it. Alarmed, he pulls the key out, certain he is setting off a trap. Examining the keyhole closely seems to suggest there is some kind of trap mechanism within, but none of the adventurers has the expertise to identify or disarm it. After arguing about it a bit, they decide to try the wooden key instead. This time a blast of fire shoots out of the keyhole, singing Thron and sending Rollo to the floor to roll around and bat at his bearskin cloak to put out the flames. The wooden key pops out of the door, blackened, but still intact. Turns out the iron key is the right one after all, and since Nora’s infernal heritage makes her resistant to fire, she turns the key, the heat being less than a tickle to her. Once again, the door disappears key and all, revealing another short hall and yet another ornate door.

This one is diamond-shaped and bears the inscription, “Let he who would enter speak his name.” After some discussion about whose name should be spoken (Erilyn rolling her eyes at the suggestion it is any name but Elzid’s) they use the wooden key and speak the necromancer’s name. This door disappears as well.

Beyond is a circular room, its walls lined with detailed tapestries depicting a castle under siege. Standing out are three woven figures emerging from the castle to face the army alone: a knight, accompanied by two men-at-arms. Across the room from the door float five bluish metal spheres. They bob in midair as if on water four feet off the floor. They are about two feet in diameter. Each one has a seam about its equator.

Alston casts detect magic and can see that the spheres and tapestries are magical, as is the ornate dagger they had found in the secret room the day before.

Alston walks over to the spheres and reaches out to grab one. Thron and Rollo come into the room and flank the door, prepared, while Nora stands in the corner outside the threshold—bow at the ready—and Erilyn crouches, cowering behind her. The moment Alston touches the center sphere, whatever spell is holding it in place breaks and it begins to fall. While the gnome is able to reflexively catch it, whatever is inside is very heavy and he nearly drops it as soon as he has it in his grip. At the same moment, the three central figures in the tapestry leap into the room, growing instantaneously into full-sized armed and armored men.

“Evil allies of the foul necromancer! You shall not prevail!” the plate armored knight calls out swinging his great sword over his head.

As the battle begins in earnest, the adventurers worry that the magic warriors that emerged from the tapestry are potential allies against Zotzpotz and that this is a misunderstanding. Despite a few half-hearted entreaties to parley, the knight and his guards refused to listen, insisting that allies of the evil wizard would say anything to trick them. Of the group, Thron is the least interested in trying to parley, convinced these magical warriors were not actual people at all.

Luckily for the adventurers, Rollo seems to have over the fit of clumsiness that had beset him the previous day (during the fight with the undead bugbear, Rollo was struggling so much that at one point he hit himself in the face with the flat of his axe in barbarian rage and frustration) and very quickly dispatches both of the guards that attack him. With one mighty blow the first guard fell backwards, transforming into an explosion of thread and fabric, distended on the floor. The second tangle followed soon after. The guardian knight, however, is a tougher foe. At first the righteous warrior focuses on “the wielder of the heathen blade!” attacking Thron who attacks with his scimitar, but after suffering a couple of deep hits from Alston’s magical dagger, the knight turns his attention to the gnome. Thron tries to press his advantage, but a passing blow from the knight drives the druid to the ground, on the verge of death. Alston, however, ducks away from the fight to release another of the spheres from its floating enchantment. When this one drops to the floor it slips open a bit and a loud hissing emerges from within. The gnome also sings out a healing word to aid Thron, but the druid stays on the ground to play possum.

At just about the same moment, Zotzpotz appears behind Nora, who is firing arrows from the doorway. Bemoaning the fact that Nora would not join him, the imp attacks, stinging her with his venomous tail. Once again near collapse, she hurries into the room away from the imp, who does not seem to want to enter while the knight is still around. Erilyn hides behind one of the tapestries and chastises the group, “I told you we should just leave!”

Since Alston is gravely wounded from the knight’s pressing attack, Thron casts a cure spell on the gnome, allowing him to carry on. Unfortunately, however, the moment Rollo runs over to finish off the knight, Zotzpotz enters the room and with a whip of his tail, dropping Thron to the ground once again—this time poisoned. Angered, the gnome goes in for the attack, finding his magic dagger seemed to slice into the imp like a hot knife through butter. The shrieking imp once again disappears, reinforcing the problem the party had discussed earlier, that every time the party took time to rest up and heal, Zotzpotz is doing the same.

Everyone is at a loss in terms of the next course of action (except Erilyn who is still arguing for finding the way out and leaving). Alston opens the first metal sphere he touched and out comes a cascade of hundreds of lead coins. Stamped with a laurel leaf, the coins are foreign and unfamiliar to the group. Furthermore, they seem heavy and worthless given the metal they are made from, confusing the adventurers as to why keep such a thing guarded. They then discuss which sphere to open next and decided on the one that let out the hiss, despite some people’s concern about what is inside. When Rollo hefts the sphere, he could feel something thrashing around inside it and hesitates.  “Just open it!” Thron croaks from where he lay incapacitated, drifting in and out of consciousness.

And so, gather in a ready position, with Rollo in the middle and Nora and Alston on either side of him, they do just that and immediately regret it.

Out leaps an enormous cobra made of iron segments, with glowing black eyes and shining fangs that drips with green venom. It is as tall as Alston.

“Why is everything in this place poisonous!?” Nora complains aloud.

“Elzid was a very powerful wizard! I told you you were better off leaving well-enough alone!” Erilyn chides still hiding behind a tapestry. From beyond the room, they could hear Zotzpotz cackling, “You have no idea what you’re in for now!”

The iron cobra is quick and bites deeply into Rollo’s calf. The barbarian feels a shock of poison that makes him almost immediately start to hallucinate. Catching a glimpse of Nora out of the corner of his eye, she looks to him as a demon engulfed in blue and black fire and he can not resist taking a swing. Luckily, Nora noticed the wild look in the barbarian’s eye and avoids the blow, moving away from the snake and toward the spheres. Alston does the same thing, leaving Rollo to face the automaton serpent alone. Thankfully, he is able to shake off the confusing hallucinogenic effects of the magic cobra venom almost immediately after attacking his companion. Instead of fighting, the gnome and the tiefling decide to look in the spheres for something that might help them.

In one, Alston founds a fine mahogany box holding inset labeled glass vials of liquids of various colors: a light blue one labeled “shrink,” a clear one labeled, “sweet,” a dark green one labeled “speak,” and a dark blue one labeled “swim.” In another sphere, he finds three stoppered small clay pots that are bound together by a leather thong, and a bone scroll tube. Meanwhile, the sphere Nora opens drops a pile of books, which Erilyn recognizes as Elzid’s personal journals. The girl leaps to grab the books, anxious to keep something of her former beloved. Nora is not ready to give them up and the two women start grappling over the books. While Nora is a trained warrior, true love seemed to gird Erilyn’s limbs and she tears a journal from the tiefling’s grip. Nora snatches up another that looks like a wizard’s spellbook but Erilyn seems less interested in that and lets her have it.

While Rollo is able to avoid another iron cobra bite, he is having trouble making any headway against it. Thankfully, he starts to get the impression that the thing is fighting him because he is between it and the door, so he lets it go around and it takes off down the hall. The party does not give chase. Instead, Alston samples a bit of the liquid in one of the clay pots and determines it is a healing potion, so he feeds it to Thron, who wakes up with a sputter.

“Now can we please leave?” Erilyn asks, her voice cracking in fear.

‹End of Session ›

Next: The final showdown with Zotzpotz!

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