Side Quest

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I have been running Dungeon of The Mad Mage for my D&D group for about a year and a half of monthly sessions. To mix things up a bit and get them some extra XP for my sixth PC, I have added a little side quest to their Mad Mage delve. I’m calling it: the Nightmare King’s Realm, and it will consist of three “levels” accessed via three different levels of Under mountain.

Concept

These side quest levels are inserted as a game within the game. Each player created a new PC for their Mad Mage character to play. Too meta? Eh, even down the rabbit hole, it is still the player playing a PC. No need to overthink it. This is a chance to try something new or something you have not been able to play in a while. Massive dungeons can also feel stagnant, so this changes the game in a way that doesn’t disrupt the broader storyline.

Introduction

When asking about a specific magic item, one of my PCs was told of a realm that could provide you with any item you might dream. The catch was if you do not complete all three levels before a year and a day passes, then you will never leave. Your body disappears forever, and you become part of the game.

Curious, and wanting those magic items, the party traded for the key allowing them access to this mystical realm. The door to the first level was said to be on the dungeon’s third floor. As they approached the base of the stairs leading down, a glow drew them down a corridor.

At the base of the stairs, a tunnel comes into sight as Ashe draws near. You follow it a short distance to what appears to be a dead-end, but as you approach, an arched door shimmers into existence, glowing with a malevolent purple light. A detailed jungle carving glowing a sickly green takes up most of the door, with a plaque in the center engraved with words. ​

The carving details appear almost lifelike, as though a jungle wilderness opens incongruously before you through the end of this subterranean tunnel. While there is no door handle, a metal panel with a keyhole matching the metal of the key given to you is set where a handle should be.

Above the plaque, stylized lettering carved into the door reads: Welcome to Omu. The Forbidden City stands sentinel.

Stepping closer, you can make out the words engraved upon the plaque.

Withdrawing the key from your pocket, you look at your party one last time to receive their nods and shrugs of acceptance. You insert the key and turn it, hearing a faint click. The glow from the door flares, and your world turns black.

Mechanics

For the fun part… I’m running pieces from Tomb of Annihilation and Tomb of Horrors for these levels. There will also be no death saves. If your PC drops to zero hit points, they die. As this is a game within a game, there are respawn mechanics. I am not sharing those here though. some of this my players have to figure out as they go, and a couple of them read my blog posts.

Time passing in this game will also be different. Playtime and their actions in-game will translate to time passing in Mad Mage and tie back to the “year and a day” timeframe. There will be no rations or water needed, but some conditions will last specific in-game durations.

They will need to defeat enemies and monsters, solve puzzles, and find the keys to escape the level. If at first, they don’t succeed? Try, try again. Just don’t die too much. If certain conditions are met, it will not only be these PCs to suffer. They could end up killing their Mad Mage characters as well.

GenCon Indy 2022

Whooo! First time at GenCon Indy, my friends! August is a big event month for me, and this was just the start.

My favorite event we did was a bank heist escape room. We “got caught in the act” by not making it out in time. I always end up a handful of minutes away from escaping, but we get bogged down in the final room thinking we found all the hidden clues and only need to open one more box when there are about seven things left to locate. Despite that, I love escape rooms. I think they rank right behind ziplining for me. 

Ebony Bay is one of two True Dungeon events we participated in. This is the only one we survived. Despite a valiant effort in the other, we failed to defeat the boss.

My husband enjoyed the True Dungeon the most. These are half role-playing games, half escape room stories you do with a group. There were seven rooms in each of the two dungeons we were able to sign up for with shuffleboard combats and creative puzzles to solve. The item pucks do matter, so I appreciated that the experienced TDers did not push for hardcore mode with all of us noobs tagging along with only a handful of pucks on our cards. 

We also tried out the Artemis Bridge Simulator. This is a game where each person plays a role on a starship bridge on a separate computer screen. We only did the training version, so it was mostly us flying around, engaging poorly in battle, and running into docking stations. There were also two D&D games in which we participated. One was more role-play-focused, where you tried to play to your backstory. The other was a first edition game in which we did not do too poorly, avoiding horrific deaths at the hands of monsters and dangerous items. 

The dangerous Tower of Gaxx! My fighter/magic-user came away with a magic shield, while my husband’s paladin found an Ioun Stone! Not bad for first time AD&D players.

Early this year, my husband and I decided to volunteer as GMs for a company running some D&D games at GenCon. I think the games went pretty well. We each ran four separate 4.5-hour one-shots, deciding to do one a day and pack in other fun around them.

If I had to pick a couple of favorite parts from the games I ran, they would be: 

  1. My groups usually barred the doors the second time the ceremony was interrupted, thereby trapping themselves and the parishioners inside with the next monster to emerge. 
  2. One of my groups made an elaborate plan to distract the monsters while one party member snuck forward to rescue the high priest. The approach was very clever and unique, as most of my groups ignored him lying on the ground. 

Would I volunteer again? Maybe, but probably not for four games. We had little time to attend the convention center and had to scramble to get from one event to another. We volunteered to ensure we would not have large chunks of time without anything to do, but that would not have been a problem. There would also need to be some changes to the coordination up front for me to feel comfortable volunteering again. I had too much to carry around with me all day because of how much I needed to bring. I enjoyed running the games, and I hope my players had fun. 

For anyone concerned: Gen Con had fairly strict COVID restrictions (I fully support). My husband and I also double-masked the entire time and brought our hand sanitizer with us for liberal use throughout. We will monitor for symptoms and test before we head to the Renaissance Faire this coming weekend for more crowds of awesome nerds.

Stay safe, stay cool, and stay awesome everyone!

Coulda Been a TPK

First, I would be remiss if I did not start this post by saying, “The Seattle Sounders are CONCACAF Champions League Champions.” Wednesday night, I joined nearly 70k others at Lumen Field for the game.

It was amazing! Suspenseful until the very end. Full of heartache and drama. Filled with career performances. The opposing fans were energetic and awesome as well. Great food, great friends, and a great game!

Go Sounders!

Back to Undermountain

The day after the Sounders game was my monthly D&D session. We busted out the tacos, margaritas, and dice bags for a rousing game of role-playing!

Not Everyone Makes It

In a prior session, the group snuck past a Xanathar’s Guild (XG) outpost to do more exploring of level 2. They ended up finding barrels of dwarven ale and rescuing a young man. Those two events kicked off another round of creative strategizing.

XG knows the groups’ faces and will attack them on sight, but they—hopefully—did not also have a kill-order out on the stranger the party saved. If they dressed him like an XG member, he might be able to, safely, get in for a delivery and get out again.

While some of the party patched up a few cuts and bruises, Ashe snuck back to a potential ally they affectionately gave the code name “Invisidrow.” At the same time, Hudson went to retrieve the keg of beer they opened earlier in the day and doctored it with some poison they had on hand.

The plan was to deliver the ale, referencing the other XG captain on the level, whose name Invisidrow previously gave them. This time, he also agreed to lend them five of his wererat minions for the fight. After enough time passed for those in the XG camp to drink the ale, they would bypass the two beholder zombie watchdogs, charge forward, and open up on them.

It worked brilliantly!

A few of the humans stumbled around, a little drunk, and the wererats kept the bugbears occupied. Urg ran to the middle of the room and cast an area of effect, war cleric, damage spell. Rose and Valorik fought to keep everyone off Urg so his spell would remain up as long as possible.

Something alerted the zombies, and they started floating down to join the fight. Hudson called out a warning, and they doubled their efforts to eliminate the humanoid opponents.

Turn Undead sent one of the zombies fleeing, but the second shot a discintigration ray right at Valorik. He staggered against the blow but remained on his feet to keep fighting. Soon enough, only the zombies remained. They took them out, one at a time, dodging multiple rays.

As another blast came his way, Valorik said, “I am at peace with this.”

The ray hit, but instead of turning to dust, he ran in fear.

Finally, it was over.

They searched the room before continuing to explore to the south.

A little later, Ashe listened for movement beyond a closed door.

“Sounds like animals,” he said.

“Let’s find out what kind,” Urg said as he opened the door wide.

Three ravenous owlbears picked up their heads and charged.

The sight freezes the group in place, and Ashe barely got off a couple of arrows before the beasts barged through the doorway, biting and clawing.

Valork went down.

Ung went down.

Rose took another round before she, too, fell.

As they lay bleeding on the floor, Ashe and Anakis tried desperately to kill the creatures and keep their friends alive. Hudson flashed forward with a sword of shadow and flame even as one of the owlbears started to drag Urg off into the other room.

One down.

Another.

As the fallen gasped for breath upon the ground, the three combatants charged forward and eliminated the threat. They scattered, rushing to stabilize their comrades, only to find Urg had already breathed his last.

With tears in their eyes, they carried their fallen, dead and unconscious, to a secure location. All thoughts of exploring further faded; they are headed back to Waterdeep.

Elemental Rage

Our regular monthly D&D session for March happened this week, and my players took some highly entertaining actions. I’m running Dungeon of the Mad Mage with six players. Each month, we get together for a short evening session after work, targeting a minimum of four players. 

(Warning: The following will include mild descriptions of RPG violence.)

Setting the Stage

In a recent session, the party faced some rough encounters leaving them low on resources and considering a long rest to recover. Unfortunately, as they lay down to sleep, none of them were tired…at all. It would be many hours before they could settle enough. After an hour’s recuperation time, they instead returned to level 1 to send a message to their associates in Waterdeep requesting supplies.

Once negotiations with the Fampires for a tentative support alliance are complete, their new hallway base established for the donkeys, and the message sent, the group sets out to explore more of the first level. Their goal is to eliminate Xanathar’s Guild’s (XG) influence from the early levels of Undermountain. They have a strong suspicion more XG outposts remain up here on level one.

Thinking the mirrored hall safe, they elect to take the direct route to the west, where a few hallways remain un-scouted. As Urg and Valorik pass between one pair of mirrors, replicas flow out and attack the group. Before all of the duplicates disappear, one latches onto Rose, draining her of strength before she eliminates it. Urg breaks the mirrors, smashing them to pieces, hoping the act will eliminate the threat for good. 

An XG Infestation

Crouched in front of the door to the final unexplored area to the west, Ashe listens intently to the indistinguishable sounds coming from the other side. 

Are those voices? he wonders. 

The group prepares. They open the door. 

Javelin and arrows fly out! Most ping off Valorik’s armor, but a couple find their mark, drawing blood. 

Melee fighters charge forward. Others linger behind, using the doorway for cover, but leaving their monk to get mobbed. She eventually goes down—knocked unconscious from a morningstar to the head—but not before most of the enemy falls. 

Using more of their quickly dwindling resources, the group patches everyone up before slogging to the east. 

Secrets

Another hall opens up into a room where two bugbears stand watch. Seeing the party, they bolt down a curving hallway, but not before receiving slices from thrown axes across the back before they are out of sight. Rather than pursuing the bugbears into a possible ambush, Ashe points out a hidden door to the north. They enter cautiously, hoping XG doesn’t know about this area. 

Careful exploration reveals an entire hidden section of additional rooms. Behind one door is a howling sound, as the blowing of a gale. Hudson sends in his trusty feline familiar to scope out the noise. 

Archimedes: Hudson’s familiar in animal form.

Archimedes paws forward silently, but the wind grows into a billowing scream of rage. The last image he sends to Hudson before being dispelled back into his realm is a tornado barreling down the hall with what appears to be a distorted face in the wall of wind. 

The door rattles as the elemental pounds against it, but the latch and hinges hold. As the party debates facing the air elemental now—despite limited health and healing—or exploring another section of the secret rooms, one of the two lanterns sputters, then dies. Standing in the dark hall, huddled around the dim light of their remaining lantern, the party reconsiders their options. 

Crazy Ideas

Valorik has little interest in continuing to walk around when their last remaining source of light could go out at any moment. Based on scientifically tapping on the can and swishing it around a bit, Hudson thinks there is probably a couple of hours of oil left. 

“We’ll be fine for a while,” he assures Valorik. “Besides, Urg can always guide us in the dark.”

Not at all comforted, Valorik begrudgingly agrees to check out the other rooms. They find giant rats, seemingly uninterested in the group, and leave them alone. There are also a few statues with a handful of tiny gems missed by previous adventurers. Once again, Valorik campaigns for a strategic retreat back to their new base, but Ashe has an idea. 

“Guys!” he calls out. “I have an idea!”

Valorik groans. 

Rose raises a skeptical eyebrow. 

Hudson tilts his head in curiosity. 

Urg grins in anticipation. 

“You all hide around the corner there,” he points, “while I open the elemental door to get its attention. Then I run south, bringing the air elemental straight to the XG camp that’s there!”

“The door seems warded,” Hudson comments, scratching his chin. “I think I can take care of that, though.”

“Presumably,” Valorik emphasizes. “The XG camp might be there. We don’t know what is on the other side of that door.”

Ashe waves him off. “I will run until I find them.”

Rose puts her face in her hands, slowly shaking her head. Eventually, she shrugs at their antics. “Sure,” she says. “Why not? Let’s give it a go.”

Urg bounces with glee as Valorik throws up his hands, groaning, “You are all insane.”

They get in position, and the light fades from around Ashe, who doesn’t seem to notice in his state of adrenaline-fueled anticipation, as they depart. It is not until he runs blindly into the door with the air elemental on his heels that he recognizes there is no light and finally remembers his charm of darkvision. 

The elemental gets one good slam in on Ashe in the moment of confusion, but the rogue shakes it off and runs out into another room, past goblins and bugbears, searching for any path leading west. A javelin flies past his head as he runs, but the group behind is soon distracted. A berserk air elemental wreaks destruction, and goblins scream while violently blown about. 

“Okay,” Valorik says as they regroup. “Now can we go rest?”

Four people exchange glances around him, then Urg looks him straight in the eye, grinning once more. 

“Now we go take out whoever is left!”

Deafened and Blinded

This week continued the trend of super busy weeks, with a Sounders game on Monday evening and D&D on Thursday. While still a lot to handle, both were fun escapes from all the learning and deadlines at work. I was cracking up at the D&D session this week, and I was not alone. 

Mad Mage – Continuing Level 2

Nothics informed the group of a locked door to the west in the prior session, so they planned to address that door first. Well, it turned out that the door in that room was not locked, and it opened just fine into a hallway heading off in multiple directions. They already promised the revenant, tagging along with them to get some healthy revenge, that they would go after his former partner after addressing the door. So, they turned around and headed east instead. 

It ended up being a riskier situation than they previously thought, as they ran smack into a fight with a fiend who could cast cloudkill. That is enough damage from one spell to drop a couple of the party members in one turn. If they had known this upfront, they might have retreated and adjusted their strategy. Unfortunately for them, they found out about the cloudkill after two of their party had already charged forward, and the revenant ran in shouting accusations of betrayal at the human in the room. Backing out? Not an option anymore for some of them. 

Two people went down more than once. They threw a ton of party resources into that victory, but everyone survived. The combat took a long time (real-time), but it did not feel like it dragged because there was so much going on that the dynamics and sense of dread it conveyed kept you invested. I’m happy with my revised combat note page, as it helped me keep track of all the special monster abilities. It all adds to the atmosphere. 

We had time for one more room after the first big battle. They decided to take the remaining hallway to the east in that same section and heard muttering as they moved down a hallway. 

“Does this sound like the same kind of muttering we heard from the first gibbering mouther?” they ask. 

“Why, yes. Yes, it does.”

“I prepared silence,” the cleric noted during their planning. 

So they plan to go in, the cleric casting silence on the mouther when he sees the monster so that its muttering won’t drive them insane. The PCs will be deafened in the radius too, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Plan in place, they charge boldly forward…it turns out there are three mouthers this time. 

Okay. No problem. I allow the cleric to catch two of them in the zone of silence. They can deal with those first. This plan will still work. 

As they are charging in, the mouthers shoot off these phlegm-bombs of flash-spittle that can blind you. Now they are in the room, right next to a blob-like mass of mutely muttering mouths, and they can’t see or hear them. Even better, the ground sucks them in, so they can’t move away. 

I’m rolling really well with this flash-spittle reload and can shoot it off every round, while they are rolling poorly and are continuously blind at this point. The mouthers are not doing much else, honestly, but the fumbling around is pretty hilarious. 

To be fair, rules-as-written for blinded and deafened means that they can attack and move around with the knowledge of their player. A character simply has disadvantage to represent the impact. I think this is dumb and makes no sense with stacked status effects like this, but some of my players get rules-grumpy. It is my game, and I can overrule them, but I did not think it was worth it this time. Instead, I told them to play it how it made sense to them. 

(Two of my players did end up playing the situation more realistically how I would have. Guess who is getting inspiration in the next session!?!)

Once they dealt with the two in the zone of silence, there was one left, and now the muttering madness came into play again. Most people only lost their turn when hit by the insanity, but one of my newer players got hit by it where she would end up attacking a random person. 

“Go ahead and make an attack,” I tell her.

“I’m going to use feinting strike,” she replies.

Everyone else at the table groans while I laugh maniacally. 

“What?”

Ashe is now chuckling as well. “Nothing. Do what you are going to do. This will be entertaining.”

“Does an 18 hit?”

“I don’t know,” I say with another laugh and evil grin. “Ashe, does an 18 hit you?”

It did hit him, and she ended up doing more damage in one strike than all three mouthers had managed the entire combat. We were all in stitches by that point. 

It was a good night. 

Photo by Will Wright on Pexels.com

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you found some humor here as well. Until next week!