ancient ruins

Game Master Ramble 2 – Soooo blue

Sunday Group, Blue Dragons, and Rope climbing

I run 2 games, the newer group on Saturdays and the other group that’s been going for a while. The longer running group ran through the Champion’s Lost story arch has since moved onto bigger things… like setting a blue dragon loose on the city of Obsidian, though not completely on purpose. They did intend to stop it before it got loose.

Deadly encounter

What amazed me about that group during the last gaming session, is the deadliest part of the encounter with the blue dragon was not the blue dragon (that they named Azure). Nope. It was the 300 foot climb up and down a rope that almost caused a TPK (total party kill). Three of the five party members now have a fear of heights. Twenty 6-sided dice is a lot of damage to roll for a 200 foot fall. I am amazed that the dwarf fighter, Barbang, survived that fall by mere single digit hit points. Sturdy buggars. Before that the druid, Gozmeer, had fallen 100 feet. She was in the negative hit points, but not at the dead-dead level of taking more damage her maximum hit points.

Let me back up a moment and tell you how they got there.

The much longer story 

The Party consists of :

  1. Annabelle, Level 7 Cleric
  2. Kethra, Level 7 Sorcerer
  3. Aphodel, Level 6 Ranger/Level 1 Bard
  4. Barbang, Level 7 Fighter
  5. Gozmeer, Level 6 Druid (NPC)

… the quest

The party has been in the city of Obsidian, prepping for a rescue mission and a potential big boss battle. So they go shopping, hoping to find better protection and deadlier weapons. They find a vendor willing to take some cursed items off their hands at Berrtle’s Bloody Blade. The fighter of the group, Barbang, has bupkis magically speaking for his weapons. When they inquire as to what Berrtle’s Bloody Blade has for sale, he offers to forge Barbang a set of magical weapons if they can retrieve a rock from beneath the mines of Obsidian. (See Berrtle’s Bloody Blade quest in the Town of Obsidian post.)

The group disguises themselves in rags purchased from a family in the poorer end of town and sneaks into the mine warehouse entrance with other workers at a shift change. Once down in the mines, they follow the crudely drawn map provided to them by Berrtle. They only get lost a few times before making it to the end of the first section of map. (D) Dead end. No rock. They discover the hidden pressure plates on the four corners of the circular space. By pushing rusty plates at the same time, they are able to trigger the large aperture in the floor to open.

rough sketch of path through mines to Berttle's rock
Roughly sketched path to Berttle’s terrunium boulder through the diamond mines below Obsidian (Player Version). While the path looks flat, they tunnels are constantly slopping off in different up/down angles

Gozmeer drops a torch down the hole. The ground is 300 feet down. They cleverly tie together alternating ropes of climbing with standard rope to reach the ground below. There they find themselves in a huge, cavernous space and locate where the lower mine map continues. They get to a spot on the map with a little squiggle next to it, but no visible continuation of the tunnel. Eventually they spot a small hole in the wall about an inch tall and 1/4″ thick. After trying to poke many items into the hole, someone tries a platinum coin. This causes the hidden door on the side opposite to rotate open. Continuing down cobweb choked tunnels, they are jumped by 4 phase spiders. The 4th spider gets wise after seeing is 3 buddies destroyed and phases the hell out of there.

Reaching the end of the map, they find a collapsed tunnel. Between the mountain dwarf’s stone cunning (Barbang) and the druid (Gozmeer) wild shaping into a giant badger, they are able to dig through the rock and secure a hole for the others to climb through.

Here the space opens up to the ruins of an ancient fire giants’ city. It’s like being a mouse in maze with the high, crumbled walls and the ceiling for above their heads. Crystalized formations sprout from the walls and random tunnels completely composed of crystals erupt from the ground and cave walls. The party marks their path as they wonder through this huge, dead city. They fight off a pack of basilisk that trapped them on a land bridge over lava. Discover a flail snail chomping on the crystals (and wisely leave it unmolested). There they spot an area of “shiny new” crystals which they follow into a blue dragon’s nest, which has a large pile of gems and treasures that include a large boulder with streaks of iridescent metal (the terrunium rock they’re looking for). Through sheer charisma, flattery, bribery, and fast talking, they are able to convince the young adult blue dragon that they have come to worship at its feet. They also tell the dragon, dubbed Azure …

  1. that there is an entire world outside of this cavern for the dragon to explore and find things to play with, like undead armies
  2. that there is a horde of undead heading towards his domain (Spawn of Kyuss in the underdark)
  3. that the person that kept sending adventurers to steal from the dragon’s horde lived in the city above

They head back to the mines with the dragon burrowing a direct route to the collapsed tunnel entrance. They use 5 flying potions to get back up that 300-foot hole. Once back in the main mining tunnels, they have second thoughts about letting a blue dragon loose on world above. They coordinate a surprise attack and do an impressive amount of damage before Azure can react. The dragon fries them with his lightning breath before collapsing the tunnel around them.

It takes them a while to dig out, and by the time they do the dragon has an hour head start on them. Nearing the surface, they find destruction and dead minors marking the dragons passage. Aiding the survivors slows them down more. By the time they emerge in the town, much of it has been destroyed … especially the area around Berrtle’s (that the group had earlier described to the dragon). The dragon is nowhere to be seen. The adventurers help with triage before finding their way back to the Dizzy Dragon Inn and getting a long rest.

So where’s the TPK, you ask?

The day after the dragon runs amuck

The party awakes the next day with dreams of an unguarded dragon horde dancing in their heads. They return to the mines and are recognized as people who had helped with the wounded earlier, and are allowed through without question. They get back to the hole that drops 300 feet down.

Going down

Climbing down, Gozmeer fails on the 2nd climb check (DC 10) and takes 69 points of damage from the fall, not quite dead-dead but bleeding out.

Gozmeer is an NPC that helps the party with healing mostly. My hope being that by having a healer there, Annabelle the cleric would not feel pressured to heal. I forget that Gozmeer can shape change into animals that would be helpful in various circumstances, like climbing and burrowing. Because she’s an NPC, I try not to use her for more than the other players request of her. I don’t want to be one of those game masters.

They manage to stabilize Gozmeer before she’s a complete goner. Following such a traumatic fall, Gozmeer fails to make her wisdom save versus fear (DC 10) and now has disadvantage on climbing.

They get to the lower mine entrance only to discover it collapsed. Sending in the giant badger (Gozmeer) to see how far it goes, they discover that the entire lower tunnel structure  there has been collapsed. They aren’t able to return to the blue dragon’s horde of treasure. He had already collapsed the tunnels and moved it away by the time the group returned.

And back up

The frustrated party returns to the rope up to the main mine. Gozmeer refuses to go near the rope (having failed at that fear of height save). Kethra eventually convinces her to transform into a rat and hide her pockets. Kethra and Annabelle take the last 2 flying potions to reach the ledge above. Aphodel makes the climb, no problem. Barbang makes it up to 200 feet before slipping. He makes his dexterity save to catch himself and tries climbing that last 100 feet again. He rolls a a 1. He falls 200 feet and takes 75 points of damage. He’s not insta-dead by only a couple of points, but bleeding out. With only a few seconds remaining from the flying potion, the cleric flies down to heal the damaged climber.

Once healed, Barbang rolls vs fear of heights. (Rolls a 7 total). He ain’t climbing no stinking rope.

Clever Plan 1

Kethra and Aphodel come up with a clever plan to send Gozmeer down the rope (in Ape shape) with the Bigsby’s Fist glove and use that to carry up Barbang and Annabelle. Kethra does a really impressive job of convincing the terrified Gozmeer (persuasion 25) to climb down. Gozmeer starts down the rope but freezes after only couple of feet down. Gozmeer is pulled back up by Aphodel and Kethra.

Clever Plan 2

Kethra then suggests that Gozmeer become a horse and tow the others up. They secure the rope around Barbang and with the horse pulling and Aphodel guiding the rope, they are successful. They send back the rope with a seat looped for Annabelle to ride up in. Using the same method, they pull up Annabelle. Only part of the way up, the rope snags and breaks. Annabelle falls 50 feet and takes 15 HP of damage.

Annabelle rolls versus getting her own fear of falling. Her difficulty is much lower, not having drop as far. She rolls a critical fail (a 1). Enraged at being trapped below, Annabelle shoots 4 fireballs into the open space 150 feet above.

And that’s where we left things … with 3 players afraid of heights, one player stuck in the space below, one blue dragon running amuck, and no dragon horde.

As a game master, you just never know where a game session will take a story. At least I’m often surprised. It’s one of those things that makes running a dungeons & dragons game so much fun. And difficult.

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