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Ryan Veeder
I am terrified of everything.
I am terrified of everything.
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Dungeons & Dragons: Zehir's Faithful: Part V: The Reach of Cryonax

Our PCs tonight were:

Sussus, the assassin, the most craven of the yuan-ti, who will always retreat and save his own hide when in a bind, even if it means leaving his comrades to be destroyed

Thewlis, the mummy warmage, who thinks tactically and isn't afraid to use damage types other than poison when the situation calls for it

and Shu'Bessss, formerly Sssshu and Bessss (a two-headed snake), now a four-armed Abomination, resurrected from the death he suffered by wading directly into the fray without thinking very strategically

First we had to establish that, although the yuan-ti empire of Seshesh is deep in the Underdark, the pharaoh's most elite warriors had at some point traveled to the surface world (like, on a mission to kill somebody, probably) and experienced things like "the sun" and "weather." They didn't like it.

But they recognized the sensation when the "weather" in Seshesh started getting colder. It was a subtle shift in temperature, but yuan-ti are sensitive to these things, and they started getting worried right away. The pharaoh Bekhest sent his top operatives, Snake Team Six, out into the Underdark to figure out what was going on.

The yuan-ti used their powerful noses to follow the currents of cool air south, unsurprisingly, toward the ice-caves of Feldspat, populated by blue-skinned ice kobolds. They encountered one such kobold in a chilly cavern. The kobold was in the company of a FROST ELEMENTAL!

Shu'bessss waded directly into the fray without thinking very strategically. He knocked out the flimsy kobold with a couple punches, then turned his attention to the elemental. But each time he punched the creature he took damage from how freezing cold it was! Not a good plan.

Thewlis hung back a little and used Poison Spray on the elemental, but that didn't work because elementals don't care about poison. So Thewlis started throwing Magic Missiles instead.

Sussus hung even further back and shot mundane arrows at the elemental, which wasn't very effective, but he didn't end up taking any damage himself either. It's a question of what your goals really are.

After taking plenty of damage, Shu'Bessss decided to hang back and let his teammates take care of the elemental. Then, when it was reduced to just a few angry wisps of primordial cold, he rushed in and smacked it into snow-dust. Okay.

The guys decided to take a short rest. The ice kobold woke up and started trying to get away, so Shu'Bessss grabbed him. The snakemen ganged up on the little guy and tried to beat some answers out of him. Then they remembered they could cast Suggestion three times a day each as part of their innate spellcasting abilities, so they Suggested that the weak-willed kobold tell them waht the heck was going on.

The Feldspat kobolds had constructed something called a Frozen Cauldron, which would extend Feldspat's borders like building a new city in a Civ game. The Frozen Cauldron was a small portal to the Plane of Ice, which besides spewing out frigid air would occasionally dispense frost elementals, ice mephits, yetis, etc. as gifts from Cryonax, the Evil Elemental Prince of Ice.

The concept of a "Plane of Ice" was foreign to the yuan-ti, who understood that there was only one elemental plane: the Elemental Chaos. But their captive, Holden the Ice Kobold, supplied them with a pamphlet called the "Manual of the Five Planes" which explained how things really worked in the elemental realm.

There are five elemental planes, the pamphlet explained, arranged in a pentagonal ring: Fire, Air, Ice, Water, Earth, and back to Fire. Each plane is ruled by an Archomental, or Elemental Prince/Princess. The planes adjacent to each other on this ring are allies, but those on opposite ends of the ring, along pentagram lines, were enemies. It is perhaps intuitive that Water and Ice are allied with each other and both enemies of Fire, but some of the other connections did not make a whole lot of sense on their face, and much of the pamphlet was devoted to justifying these purported politics.

Holden easily led his captor-hypnotists to the Frozen Cauldron. The yuan-ti re-hypnotized him to supply Sussus with burning arrows. A wise strategy, if the guys were about to meet another frost elemental.

But they didn't! Standing around the Frozen Cauldron were those ice kobolds from the hydra's cave in the adventure where Sssshu and Bessss got killed. Their names were Wildrose, Goldenrod, and Emerald.

They recognized Sussus as the guy who killed Racasta the hydra. (Sussus actually spent most of that fight being ready to run away but the kobolds didn't know that.) They thanked him for killing Racasta, because they were able to sacrifice its corpse (sans heart) to Cryonax, who rewarded them with the components for the Frozen Cauldron! The poets speak true when they say that Fate often furnishes us with the instruments of our own destruction.

Shu'Bessss explained that the Frozen Cauldron had been placed way too close to Sesheshian territory, and would need to be removed. The kobolds said: "No way." Shu'Bessss said: "You wanna reconsider that?" The kobolds said: "You wanna roll initiative?"

These kobolds were tougher than that Holden kid, and Wildrose the warmage was particularly adept at dealing damage from the other side of the Frozen Cauldron and its aura of deathly cold. The snakemen were on the ropes until Shu'Bessss used Shadow Step to teleport over to Wildrose and start Stunning Striking him into uselessness. Then Sussus and Thewlis got the upper hand on Goldenrod and Emerald.

Emerald ran away. Goldenrod and Wildrose got knocked out, and the yuan-ti tied them up for questioning.

They woke up the kobolds and demanded to know how the Frozen Cauldron could be deactivated. The kobolds said it was impossible. The yuan-ti said: If you don't tell us, we'll drop you in the portal. The kobolds were not sure how bad that would be, and wouldn't give an answer right away. So Shu'Bessss, aiming to show he was serious, heartlessly dropped the hypnotized Holden into the Cauldron. This didn't yield any additional answers, so the snakemen proceeded to dump Wildrose and then Goldenrod into the portal.

Now the snakemen were stuck. They couldn't push the Cauldron over, and they didn't know any spells for closing portals. They tried turning into snakes, to pray to Zehir for insight. After some writhing around and hissing, all they came up with was "maybe we should smash it."

Shu'Bessss's magical fists were more than a match for the Frozen Cauldron, and he busted it open in a trice. The portal exploded in a bright flash—brighter than "the sun."

When they recovered their senses, they were somewhere else: A vast expanse of ice, beneath a white sky. Scattered all around were pieces of etched stone. Also scattered around were some dead kobolds.

There was a sharp-chinned flying thingy nearby as well. The snakemen demanded to know who it was.

"I am an ice mephit," the ice mephit said. "Nobody has given me a name yet."

Shu'Bessss and Thewlis went halvsies on naming the ice mephit, which is how it ended up being known as Abraham Meph. The elemental creature was grateful enough to have a name that it didn't start attacking the yuan-ti, and even explained what had happened: The portal to the Regular World had been broken, and the runic stones would have to be realigned in order for the snakes to return home. This they accomplished quickly, like little bunnies, before they froze to death.

But if the portal was open on the Plane of Ice side, then it'd be open on the Regular World side as well! How to resolve this conundrum?

Shu'Bessss valiantly volunteered to jump through the portal last. He pulled one of the stones out of place as he passed through, deactivating the portal at the very last moment—and without the closing portal chopping off one of his many arms. Well done.

Now the snakes were safely returned to the Regular World, and the offensive Frozen Cauldron was gone, but there was a matter to attend to before the guys could get back to Seshesh.

Sussus put his nose to the ground and picked up the scent of kobold. He led his companions through a series of tunnels until they happened upon Emerald, cowering behind a giant mushroom. Shu'Bessss straight-up murdered that kobold, who in his opinion had caused him problems two different times (although I don't really see what Emerald did to harm Sssshu and Bessss in the hydra-slaying adventure).

Then the guys went back home. When Shu'Bessss attended the pharaoh's next Board of Abominations meeting, he gave a passionate speech about how Seshesh needed to invade and destroy Feldspat, ridding the Underdark of the menace of ice kobolds forevermore. Pharaoh Bekhest nodded patiently, but we all know what Snake Team Six's top priority really is: THEY NEED TO ASSASSINATE THE QUEEN OF THE DROW SO THAT THE HERETIC PRINCESS SOLANDRA CAN ASSUME THE THRONE OF VELVE.

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This new game from the 90s is called CROCODRACULA

Dungeons & Dragons: Zehir's Faithful: Minisession Extrasode #001: An Evening with Zosma

Opero was a shadar-kai bureaucrat working in Letherna with a number of difficult cases:

- Boltulmak, the kobold who insisted that it was impossible for him to die, because he was actually the kobold god Kurtulmak

- Ahoy, the kenku who just would not accept that he wasn't gonna get resurrected eventually

- Sssshu and Bessss, the yuan-ti who had been assured via Speak with Dead that he'd be revived by his pharaoh any day now

- Zosma, the eladrin who claimed she had been granted immortality by an unpronounceable Far Realm entity

Opero didn't really like his job, and he wasn't really good at it, and the mounting impatience of the shades assigned to him was beginning to wear him down emotionally. He had to figure out how to distract them. So he asked if they wanted to fight in the Skeleton War.

The Skeleton War was a combat simulation that Rachel the morale coordinator had devised to take advantage of Letherna's infinite supply of skeletons. It was a wave-based deal where teams destroyed as many low-level skeletons as they could until they hit 0 HP—at which point they would be removed from the arena and restored to full health, because all the participants were already dead.

These dead guys weren't sure how fun the Skeleton War would be, but they figured it was less boring than sitting in bureaucratic limbo for another indeterminate period, so they followed Opero down the hall to the arena. They took their positions in the center. Some skeletons appeared. Opero told his cases to wait for the whistle, and then roll initiative. Then he left.

The whistle sounded; the battle began. The skeletons summoned by the simulation were far too brittle to stand up to the combined might of Ahoy, Sssshu, Bessss, and Boltulmak. Zosma wasn't especially effective in combat but even she was deeply underwhelmed by this supposed challenge.

Isn't this kind of dumb? asked Ahoy. Yeah, said Sssshu. Yeah, said Zosma. This place sucks. We should go to the Far Realm. What's the Far Realm? asked Bessss.

The Far Realm, Zosma explained, is the space outside space, an infinite and ineffable and awesome universe beyond our own. The world we think is real is just a bubble on the edge of some Far Realm monster's dream. Uh-huh, said Bessss.

Another wave of skeletons appeared, and they went down with basically zero difficulty. Zosma, bored of skeletons, poked her head through the arena door and found that the coast was clear. She ran off.

Ahoy ran after her, and everyone else followed suit. They followed Zosma down the boring hallways of Letherna—but as Zosma ran, the hallways got weirder. They started to curve, and twist, and ooze, and then the guys turned a corner to see Zosma dashing away down some sort of throat. But, with nowhere else to go, they followed her.

They stopped in a chamber of mingled flesh and stone that seemed to heave like a living thing. I think we're here, Zosma said. I think we're in the Far Realm. And now I'll feed your souls, Zosma said, to...

And Zosma said something unpronounceable.

Nobody was cool with this idea. Zosma said no, it was cool, the Great Old One would give them powers like it had given to her. Ahoy said, based on her lackluster performance in the Skeleton War, the powers couldn't be that great. Zosma got mad.

She turned into a bizarre octopus-woman with snakes for tentacles. Sssshu and Bessss told her that she should align herself with Zehir. Boltulmak cast Confusion on her.

It was a three-on-one fight, and despite her incredible powers Zosma didn't really have a chance. She transformed into a fungus monster, but was too confused to use her fungus powers. She transformed into a giant floating claw-bug, but didn't get a chance to pince her assailants to death.

Finally she transformed into a tiny turtle-beetle. Her tough carapace was powerful enough to brush off Boltulmak's scorching rays and Sssshu's and Bessss's headbutts, but a perfectly placed thrust from Ahoy's rapier finished her off. She withered up into a little worm, and the guys were transported from the Far Realm back to Letherna.

Where's Zosma? asked Opero. The guys made various contradictory excuses for her absence. Did you guys beat the Skeleton War? asked Opero. The guys said they had. Opero said that was a trick question; the Skeleton War was programmed to go on indefinitely. The guys made more excuses. They didn't want to admit that Zosma was now double-dead.

Opero explained that he couldn't process any of their cases until after he finished Zosma's. The guys admitted that Zosma was now double-dead. Opero didn't ask further questions; he dumped his Zosma file into the trash. Then he looked at his inbox. It looked like a request had come in to reincarnate Sssshu and Bessss in the form of a yuan-ti abomination: Specifically, a snakeman with two sets of punching arms and one mean-looking head: A head named Shu'Bessss. Sssshu and Bessss said that sounded fine to them.

Dungeons & Dragons: Zehir's Faithful: Part IV: Feldspat

Here's a detail about Richard's character that he never bothered to tell us until after this session:

Sssshu and Bessss, the two-headed yuan-ti malison monk, was/were originally two different (human? yuan-ti pureblood?) monks devoted to Zehir. They fought so well together that (possibly after they both died?) Zehir bestowed upon them the favor of occupying the same snakey body, with two heads, but no arms.

MEANWHILE IN THE PRESENT:

Pharaoh Bekhest wanted to have a word with the malisons who had so expertly instigated a slave revolt over in the drow kingdom of Velve. He reported that the royal family had gone into hiding! Then the DM retconned it so that Sussus the malison had found directions to the royal family's stronghold while snooping around their palace at Velkyngrenat. This was to set up a future adventure.

But in the present, Bekhest had an unrelated mission for his evil, evil yuan-ti minions. According to the Book of Vile Darkness, to become an anathema, Bekhest would have to perform a complicated ceremony that involved eating a hydra's heart. So he needed one of those.

There was known to be a hydra in the nearby subterranean realm of Feldspat which the local kobolds revered as a god (or something). Bekhest told the guys to go get that hydra's heart.

While they were walking rom Seshesh to Feldspat, the Dungeon Master remarked upon the Underdark described in Out of the Abyss, and recalled that there were no ice caves in that adventure. This struck everyone as odd. Ice caves are cool. Why not ice caves? Getting back to this adventure, the Dungeon Master decided that Feldspat was actually an ice cave area full of ice kobolds who worshipped an ice hydra. And this became canon.

In Feldspat, the hydra's lair, I mean the ICE hydra's lair, was guarded by three ICE kobold stewards named Emerald, Wildrose, and Goldenrod. They asked the yuan-ti's business, and the malisons claimed they were on pilgrimage to see the incredible hydra. To Ritsake the deception expert, the kobolds seemed suspiciously enthusiastic about letting the malisons have an audience with their hydra, but if this was a trap, he couldn't see how it worked.

The kobolds were led into a chamber of preparation. Instead of meditating and centering themselves, the yuan-ti waited around suspiciously, wondering how the kobolds might be trying to double-cross them. Sssshu and Bessss used an interesting interpretation of monk powers to pace on the walls. Then they hung from some stalactites.

Ritsake used his snake-arms to determine that there was no obvious ambush waiting in the hydra's chamber, so eventually they all ambled in. A mazelike system of frigid tunnels surrounded a central chamber with a big pool of crystal-clear but unfrozen water. At the bottom of the pool was the hydra. It arose and attacked!

Ritsake used his Invoke Duplicity ability to cast Inflict Wounds without getting too close. Sssshu and Bessss ran along some walls and tried to attack the hydra from behind. Unfortunately this hydra had some unusually long reach, given its unusually long necks, and it was able to attack everyone except Sussus.

Sussus had his own problems though because his sneak attack powers consistently had him deal enough damage to destroy one of the hydra's heads, and we all know what that means. IT MEANS EVEN MORE HEADS GREW BACK. It was a really bad scene.

Sssshu and Bessss tried to climb on the hydra's back. The incredible symmetry of a two-headed snake climbing on a six- or seven-headed hydra was not lost upon the DM. It was a beautiful moment.

The hydra got a really good hit in on Ritsake, forcing him to retreat. Sssshu and Bessss cast Darkness around the hydra's heads to facilitate this escape—but, with no visible prey, the hydra's obvious strategy was to bite the thing that was riding on its back.

Sssshu and Bessss got the heck bit out of them and fell into the frigid pool. They sank down slowly, their four unconscious eyes staring at nothing. They got a 1 on their first death saving throw.

Sussus turned into a snake to dive into the pool and pull Sssshu and Bessss out. It was too late: Sssshu and Bessss were dead.

Ritsake cast Mirror Image and engaged the hydra, trying his favorite spell over and over again: INFLICT WOUNDS. He could not land a hit with Inflict Wounds. This happened last time too, when he was trying Inflict Wounds on that yochlol.

Sussus, either in snake form or in snake-legged form, I forget, came in and tried the unorthodox strategy of constricting the hydra's necks. This worked a treat: He basically squeezed a bunch of heads off, getting sneak attack damage because Ritsake was in melee range for his failed Inflict Wounds attempts. The hydra was soon in a bad way, but it also had like eight or nine heads with which to bite the remaining yuan-ti. Sussus decided that the smart evil thing to do was to run the heck away, leaving Ritsake to get ripped in half.

AT THIS JUNCTURE, THE SPIRIT OR SPIRITS OF SSSSHU AND BESSS POSSESSED TWO OF THE HYDRA'S HEADS. This makes perfect sense. They made the hydra bite itself. They made the hydra kill itself. With Ritsake nearly bitten to death himself, the fallen snakemen defeated the ice hydra, and then went to—we know not where.

Ritsake expertly cut out the heart of the hydra. Sussus stopped running away. Ritsake then cast Speak with Dead on the body of Sssshu and Bessss, allowing them to reveal how they had saved everybody. Ritsake and Sussus decided to carry the body back to Seshesh, so that Bekhest could hopefully revive the amazing warrior or warriors.

Ritsake cast Pass Without Trace with what had to be his last remaining spell slot, allowing the team, dead body and hydra heart included, to sneak out of Feldspat while avoiding the ice kobolds who were lying in ambush on the way out. What was the ice kobolds' deal? Why did they wait to ambush the guys until after they had killed the hydra? We were kinda too busy to get into any of that.

It was no problem to get back to Sesheh and present the hydra's heart to Bekhest. He was thrilled that the mission was a success, and sympathetic to the proposition that Sssshu and Bessss be brought back to life. First, though, it was ANATHEMA TIME.

A great number of captured non-yuan-ti humanoids were sacrificed; their blood was mixed with the venom of hundreds of snakes in a giant roiling black jacuzzi. Everyone danced and screamed; Bekhest and his high priests screamed various prayers to Zehir, begging for the favor of the god of poison. Bekhest swallowed the hydra's heart and submerged himself in the jacuzzi. More screaming, more dancing.

When he emerged, Bekhest had changed into an anathema as planned: He was huge, and terrifyingly beautiful, and he had seven or eight snake heads.

When Ritsake and Sussus got a chance to talk to these snake heads during the after-party, they discussed ways to bring Sssshu and Bessss back. Maybe they could graft their heads onto the shoulders of a different yuan-ti. Maybe they could be reincarnated as one humanoid-looking yuan-ti and his snake familiar. Or maybe Zehir would think to reward their success by fusing them into a single incredibly powerful monk, maybe a yuan-ti abomination... by the name of Shu'Bessss???

WE SHALL SEE

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HALLOWEEN ZEEN 2017 exists! Download it! rcveeder.net/zeen
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Dungeons & Dragons: Zehir's Faithful: Part III: Velkyngrenat

This adventure was S2NB (soup to nuts bonkers) and it would be madness to try to write an actual recap but here's what I remember:

Pharaoh Bekhest had heard that there was an anti-Lolth heretic among the children of the drow queen Mandragore. He also heard that all these children were vacationing at the palace of Velkyngrenat. He sent some assassins over there to figure out which heir was the heretic so they could kill all the other heirs.

The assassins were Sussus, an actual assassin; Ritsake, a cleric of Zehir with mad Inflict Wounds skills; Sssshu, one head of a two-headed giant snake with monk powers; and Bessss, the other head of that snake guy.

The children of Queen Mandragore were Solandra, a priestess of Lolth; Atropa, who had just returned from wizard school; Physalis, an angsty unloved male child; and Latua, who carried a sword everywhere.

Bekhest brewed these magic tablets that were like gum that turned you into a quaggoth when you chewed it. The assassins used these tablets to infiltrate Velkyngrenat, posing as quaggoth slaves.

The assassins went around collecting clues, trying to figure out which prince(ss) was the heretic. This involved pretending to fetch sweet-cakes for the princesses, sneaking into the royal bedrooms, and trying to engage the real quaggoths in conversation. Ritsake tried to teach the quaggoths about workers' rights and collective bargaining, finding more success with some slaves than with others.

Sssshu/Bessss, hoping to sow dissent among the princesses, tried a trick where he used his snake form's poison to befoul all the sweet-cakes but Solandra's, and found that Atropa didn't mind the poison.

Eventually Ritsake got cocky and started casting Disguise Self to imitate the princesses, hoping to draw information out of them in conversation. This ended up arousing Atropa's suspicion, and soon she confronted the "quaggoths" in Solandra's bedroom. Next Ritsake tried to impersonate the Drow Police, but this didn't work because Atropa was really a yochlol in disguise! She was an assassin looking for the heretic, too, but she wanted to assassinate the heretic.

Ritsake was able to beat up the yochlol almost single-handedly (Ritsake's hands are snake heads), but Sssshu and Bessss got the last hits in, removing the demon from the equation. In the ensuing huddle the assassins determined that Solandra and Physalis must be the heretics, in cahoots, so they had to make Solandra the sole heir.

To this end, Ritsake used Disguise Self to turn into Atropa, found Solandra, and said "Look, I'm going back to the surface. You can do whatever you want." Solandra thought "Atropa" was talking about her secret desire to marry Physalis and ascend the throne of Velve as a husband-wife/king-queen/brother-sister team. Ritsake decided to roll with this. They hugged awkwardly.

As the conversation ended, he called out something like "Just make sure you kill Latua!" in a loud voice. Latua heard this.

Latua found "Atropa" in the main hall of Velkyngrenat and challenged her to a duel. Sssshu rushed in to help in the fight, while Sussus ran into the courtyard to spur the quaggoth slaves into revolt.

Latua was an incredible swordsdrow, and stabbed Ritsake to death real fast. This created a bizarre situation where someone who looked like Atropa fell to the ground and assumed the form of a quaggoth, which then spat out its gum and turned into a yuan-ti malison with snakes for arms. With his original form's HP, Ritsake tubthumped himself up again just as Sussus's quaggoth army entered the fray.

Latua found herself outnumbered by bloodthirsty quaggoths. She ran into her bedroom. She tried to barricade the door but could only hold out so long: The quaggoths busted in and tore Latua to shreds.

Ritsake turned himself back into the original seditious quaggoth and rallied the revolutionaries around him. He convinced them to let him talk to Solandra and reach an agreement that would avoid further bloodshed.

Solandra was pretty sure Ritsake wasn't actually a quaggoth but she wasn't prepared to get in a big fight with the leader of the slave revolt. She was glad to let the quaggoths go free, and accept the political assistance of another enemy of Lolth—but, she said, this quaggoth insurgent would have to do something she couldn't do.

She told Ritsake he had to assassinate the queen of Velve, Mandragore. Then, with all the other heirs out of the way (assuming Atropa was dead, which, everyone agreed Atropa was probably dead), Solandra could become queen of Velve, rewrite the constitution, marry her brother, and live happily ever after.

Ritsake said he could handle that.

Dungeons & Dragons: Zehir's Faithful: Part II: The Conclusion

Ritsake and Sussus and Thewlis, evil yuan-ti malisons in service of the pharaoh Bekhest (oh and also the snake god Zehir), had claimed the Book of Vile Darkness from the Vault of Rhamnales, and now they had to go home. Through the Underdark! Ugh.

A couple days of travel passed uneventfully. Then, as they trudged/slithered through the labyrinthine caverns, they heard the noise of something approaching.

It was LaTanya! That smarmy Torog cultist. She was hurt. As she saw her old enemies ahead of her, she adopted a smarmy stance and said: "Can I team up with you guys?"

While passing through the Gullet, an inconvenient but heavily trafficked region of the Underdark, the Torogians had been ambushed by none other than THE VALOR TEAM, a detestible group of Good-aligned adventurers. It was those accursed Valor Team that had defeated Rhamnales: Now, they were camping out in the Gullet, kidnapping evil folks and asking about the whereabouts of the Book of Vile Darkness. The Torogians wouldn't talk, so they got abducted. LaTanya had escaped, but she fled into the lair of a hydra! After getting beat up but good, she escaped that, too. Would the Zehirites finish her off?

No! The Zehirites needed to get through the Gullet to get home, and they figured the shadar-kai could be useful, if only as a meat shield. She showed them a way toward the Gullet that wouldn't go past the hydra.

Raw black rock gave way to smooth greenish stone, hewn in accordance with unearthly geometries. The group entered a hallway where there were no right angles—and then they felt a wave of psychic energy.

As Thewlis moved forward, he felt a voice in his head. It asked for his assistance. Thewlis turned a corner and realized the voice was coming from an illithid, a mind-flaying aberrant creature that was inspecting a huge glass vat.

Thewlis was not inclined to engage with the squid-face or its quaggoth companions, so he motioned for his friends to walk past the group toward the next tunnel. The mind flayer opted for a more direct approach, revealed that it wanted to take the Book of Vile Darkness, and attempted to take control Thewlis's mind—but Thewlis was not so easily dominated.

Battle ensued! The mind flayer managed to get its tentacles around Thewlis's head, but was dismayed to learn that the yuan-ti mummy's brain had already been removed during the embalming process. Aftr knocking Thewlis down, the mind flayer switched to attacking Ritsake, but arrows and crossbow bolts from Sussus and LaTanya managed to take down the illithid and its quaggoths, and everybody survived with minds intact.

What was the deal with the vat? Ritsake bravely looked through the curved glass sides and saw a tiny, emaciated brain sitting in the bottom of the pinkish liquid. Something weird was going on. How to solve this mystery?

Ritsake had LaTanya fire a crossbow bolt at the vat, but she couldn't make a scratch on the glass. Ritsake gave up on figuring out this stupid vat. Everyone took a short rest so they could move on to the next cave.

A few caves later, LaTanya announced that they had reached the Gullet. The walls were of warm red rock, and tiny floes of red-hot magma appeared at increasing intervals as the party moved through the tunnels.

This section of the Gullet appeared to be the hive of a colony of giant fire ants, which did not mind the lava at all. They didn't mind the evil adventurers, either; they just crawled around, minding their own business.

Thewlis took a corner kind of fast and came face to face with a minotaur—It was Thurl, of the Valor Team! Ritsake quickly cast Silence on Thurl so he couldn't call for his teammates, and Sussus rushed in to strangle the minotaur in his sinuous coils. As massive as he was, he couldn't throw the snake-man off, and eventually he succumbed to Sussus's superior strength, plus damage dealt by the other guys.

There was no longer any need for Ritsake's cone of Silence, but he decided to keep concentrating on it, for fun.

Sussus took a stealthy look down the tunnel that Thurl had been guarding. It led to a tiny cave where the other Torog cultists were being supervised by another Valor Team member. He exited the hallway, told the party what was up, and asked Thewlis for the Book of Vile Darkness.

Using the Boook of Vile Darkness, Sussus made himself invisible and slithered back down the tunnel. He crept up on the Valor Team guard and coiled around her. Thewlis came in with the intention of leading the Torogians to safety.

Unfortunately the Valor Team lady, whose name was Cora, was able to escape Sussus's grip and decided to run away from the invisible snake thing that was trying to kill her. Sussus and Thewlis had to pursue her, but first Thewlis told the Torogians to stay put.

Cora ran out into the caves, with Sussus and Thewlis close (well, not that close) on her tail. LaTanya took the chance to jump down the tunnel and reunite with her fellow Torogians. Ritsake semi-wisely attempted to cut Cora off...

Sussus lost sight of Cora, but he could see a couple of eladrin on the other side of a lava pool, so he shot an arrow at one of them. Apparently Sussus forgot that eladrin have limited teleportation ability, and apparently Sussus was no longer invisible, because the eladrin saw him shoot them, teleported across the lava pool, and started stabbing him.

Thewlis reached for a drawer labeled "ALL THE STOPS" and pulled it out. He channeled Zehir's trickster aspect to summon an illusory duplicate of himself. Then he cast Mirror Image, creating three more duplicates. Then he cast Blink, so that he and three of the duplicates would disappear to the Ethereal Plane.

By this time, Cora had found Ritsake and started trying to stab (what she thought was) him, but so had Sigrid, the villainously Lawful Good leader of the Valor Team. Ritsake was proving to be a very effective distraction.

LaTanya led the Torogians down another hallway, but they ran into a giant soldier ant.

Sussus and Thewlis managed to strangle-stab both eladrin with no difficulty, but when they met up with Ritsake (actually, when they met up, it was just one of Ritsake's five illusory selves that they met up with), Sigrid channeled the divinity of Moradin and uttered a prayer that petrified them with fear. Not Ritsake, though. He was on the Ethereal Plane at the time.

LaTanya led the Torogians back past the fight and down another ant-hewn hallway.

Being petrified with fear, Sussus and Thewlis were doing a bad job of fighting Cora and Sigrid, and after a few bad rounds Ritsake was running out of spell slots and illusory selves.

The giant soldier ant, following the Torogians, noticed a big group of non-ant creatures fighting each other. They were not threatening the hive, so the ant turned around and returned to her post.

Then! All of a sudden! Sussus and Thewlis shook off their fear! They started stabbing and shooting Cora and Sigrid until the two goody-two-shoesers fell to the ground.

At this juncture the Torogians reappeared, at the other end of the hall. It was an awkward moment: The Zehirites were really beat up, and it wouldn't have taken much for the Torogians to murdelate their enemies. But they weren't enemies anymore: The yuan-ti had decided not to kill LaTanya, and they had defeated the villainous Valor Team. "You guys are cool," the Torogians said, and they went along their way.

The Zehirites needed to go the other way, though, to the other side of the Gullet. This involved going through the fire ant hive.

But Ritsake had one last trickster trick up his snakey sleeve: He cast Pass Without Trace, and the party was able to slink unnoticed past the giant soldier ant guards, through the chamber of the fire ant queen and her piles of larvae, and down some more tunnels until they were out of the Gullet.

Their journey to their yuan-ti homeland was not yet over, but the most inconvenient parts were. As they climbed upward through more tunnels, the group looked forward to finally re-emerging into sunlight. They looked forward to presenting the Book of Vile Darkness to their pharaoh. Sussus specifically looked forward to climbing into bed and covering himself with his pet snakes.

THE END

Dungeons & Dragons: Zehir's Faithful

The news going around the evil-aligned community was that the mage Rhamnales had been defeated, which meant his copy of the Book of Vile Darkness was up for grabs. Among the many evil factions eager to claim this loathsome artifact was a group of yuan-ti, ruled by the pharaoh Bekhest, who worshiped Zehir (the evil god of poison and snakes and assassins). Bekhest sent three of his nastiest malisons into the Underdark to find the vault of Rhamnales and pick up the Book of Vile Darkness before anyone else did:

RITSAKE, a cleric of Zehir with snakes for arms

SUSSUS, an assassin with a snake tail instead of legs

and THEWLIS, a mummy battlemage with a snake's head, dual-wielding khopeshes

After a harrowing journey throug the Underdark, the malisons arrived at the vault. Its central feature was a giant metal door embossed with weird symbols, including the symbol of an evil face. It said: "WHO IS THE MASTER OF THE EVIL ELEMENTS?"

Sussus figured that, since Zehir is the best entity in the universe, the answer must be Zehir. "Zehir!" he answered.

The face said "THAT IS INCORRECT. YOU HAVE TWELVE ATTEMPTS REMAINING."

Sussus pouted a bit, but Thewlis thought about it a bit, and when the face asked again, he said the master of the evil elements was "Rhamnales."

"USERNAME ACCEPTED," the face responded. "WHAT IS THE SECRET NAME OF SLIME?"

This was a concept the yuan-ti had never heard of before. They made a random guess (I think?), and the face said "THAT IS INCORRECT. YOU HAVE ELEVEN ATTEMPTS REMAINING."

The angry voice of the metal face attracted the attention of some other people hanging out in the dungeon: worshipers of Torog (the evil god of the Underdark and jailers and torture). The Torogians told the Zehirites to cut it out with the random guesses. The Zehirites told the Torogians to back off. The Torogians called the Zehirites "snake-faces." One of them, a shadar-kai named LaTanya, got up in Sussus's face.

But the Zehirites weren't inclined to start a fight—for the moment. They backed off and checked out one of the hallways off of the central chamber.

They found a series of chambers infested with bugs! Spiders and ants and cockroaches and buzzing flies and moths were all over the place, and a couple of kuo-toa were standing around trying to figure out a way through this thoroughly disgusting mini-dungeon. The kuo-toa were worshipers of Blibdoolpoolp, who, if you don't know who Blibdoolpoolp is, just look her up. These kuo-toa were no more excited to see the Zehirites than the Torogians had been, but again nobody was eager to enter combat. Besides, there were giant centipedes to vent your frustrations on!

The party fought a bunch of giant bugs on their way to the back side of the mini-dungeon, where all the vermin of various sizes seemed to be born from a huge mass of maggots etc. in the wall. Ritsake bravely stuck his snake-arm through the bug-curtain and used its snake-eyes to see a room on the other side!

The room had a word engraved on the floor: "KARTEVO." With this information the group made to exit the mini-dungeon, deliberately deciding to leave the kuo-toa priestess and her attendant (a "whip" armed with a pincer staff) to fight more of the giant arthropods on their own.

The next available doorway led into an area of pitch blackness. A bit of experimentation established that there was a navigable pitch-black mini-dungeon beyond. Ritsake tried to cast Dispel Magic, but apparently his spellcasting ability was not equal to that of the dark mage Rhamnales.

So the snake-faces walked in, and soon discovered that they were in a maze where they could not see the walls or floors. This would have inspired most adventurers—evil, good, or neutral—to turn around and leave, possibly smacking the Dungeon Master in the process, but Ritsake and Thewlis immediately set into action a plan to comprehensively map the maze, using Thewlis's mummy wrappings as graph paper.

This process was interrupted briefly when Sussus, following the right-hand wall, ran into a mysterious figure who was following the left-hand wall. It was a SPAWN OF KYUSS—yech!—and Sussus responded by changing into a giant snake. He constricted the Spawn of Kyuss as his compatriots rushed into attack positions. (Ritsake inexplicably found an invisible passage that led him into a flanking position!) The horrible worm-infested shambling corpse didn't stand much of a chance, and soon it disintegrated into a bunch of worms and an empty cloak.

An exhaustive search of the maze led to a dead end where floating glowy letters spelled out the word "IMHULLU." The guys wrote this down. They exited the maze, and found the kuo-toa and Torogians standing outside waiting for them.

"Did you solve the puzzle?" they asked.

"No, we had to give up," Ritsake said. "We might come back and try again a little later."

The enemy groups were not especially convinced, and as the yuan-ti crossed the dungeon's central chamber, they were followed at a close distance by a crowd of suspicious evil people. Sussus tried to scare them off by rearing up on her snake tail and hissing at the shadar-kai, but only succeeded in looking stupid. Then Thewlis tried to recover the party's cred by using his Dreadful Glare, but that didn't work either.

The next mini-dungeon was a cave where the ceiling, walls, and floors were coated in slime in various fun colors, and animate oozes oozed around in their oozy way. The party saw that some more bad guys were already here: a couple of gnolls and their witherling assistant. The yuan-ti came together for a huddle and decided that they should get the gnolls on their side, in case a fight broke out with the kuo-toa and Torogians. Thus Ritsake cast Charm Person on the gnolls, and ensured their cooperation for the next hour.

They informed the yuan-ti that the giant ooze in the center of this mini-dungeon kept re-forming after anyone killed it, so apparently that wasn't the solution to the puzzle. Nonetheless, the yuan-ti asked the gnolls for help in killing the giant ooze.

Fighting with oozes had wrecked Ritsake's armor and Thewlis's khopeshes, so they had to think of ways to fight this Master Ooze from a distance. Thewlis unfortunately wasted his 2nd-level spell slot on a spell that dealt acid damage. WHOOPS! Also, the ooze absorbed and destroyed the poor little witherling. WHOOPS!!!

When the ooze was destroyed, Ritsake told everyone to try and wipe the floor clean of slime. This revealed the presence of a word engraved in the stone beneath: "BWIMB." Ritsake tried his best to prevent the gnolls from noticing this, but they weren't that stupid.

A final mini-dungeon remained! The Torogians warned the yuan-ti that this mini-dungeon was home to a giant floating skull. This claim was substantiated by the appearance of a giant floating skull, which floated around the mini-dungeon in anticlockwise fashion at a steady pace. The yuan-ti were smart, though: They jumped in right ater the skull, and explored the mini-dungeon mostly safe from the threat of being chomped.

This mini-dungeon contained a bunch of piles of broken bones etched with letters. The guys had to collect all the bones, then squeeze into an alcove and try to piece the shards (pieces of various animals' skulls) together. This puzzle proved kind of tough, as Ritsake overestimated the Dungeon Master's sadistic streak: The answer was that only one skull could be completely reconstructed, and once restored the engraved letters spelled out "NERULL." Easy.

The guys returned to the dungeon's central chamber, where of course the Torogians and kuo-toa were waiting. A big showdown was clearly about to begin: Sussus saw a chance to slither to the opposite hallway and hid in the entrance to the dark maze.

Now let us go over the characters. We have the three yuan-ti malisons, of course. Their allies were

DEDEBI, the more articulate gnoll, armed with a pitted glaive

K'ILI, the gnoll who spoke only in grunts, armed with claws and teeth

On the other side of the battle:

JHAENICE, the drow priestess of Torog

AAGLU, a bugbear Torogian with a leather jacket

LATANYA, a shadar-kai Torogian with a spiked chain

QUULTEEPS, a kuo-toa priestess

and LEEMOOTHEEN, a kuo-toa whip.

Ritsake and Thewlis managed to knock out Jhaenice basically immediately. Sussus took pot shots at LaTanya until the Shadar-kai decided the wise thing was to run away. Aaglu tried to tend to his priestess; Leemootheen tried to fight the gnolls.

Quulteeps cast Mass Healing Word or whatever you called it, and the yuan-ti/gnoll contingent's early lead was basically negated. Then she cast Hold Person on Thewlis, paralyzing him!

I think Thewlis managed to regain mobility and fell Leemootheen. But another shot from Sussus distracted the kuo-toa priestess from her fallen comrade, and she figured this assassin needed to be taken care of. She turned away from the main battle and stalked down the hall toward Sussus's hiding place.

Jhaenice was healed but still on the floor, and forced to cast spells from a prone position while Aaglu attempted to protect her from the attacks of K'ili the crazy gnoll. Finally, seeing her bugbear was outclassed, Jhaenice asked for mercy. Thewlis and Ritsake decided to acquiesce. The Torogians slunk out of the dungeon.

Quulteeps took a step into the pitch-black maze. This was a mistake. Sussus had already transormed into a giant snake, and when he heard Quulteeps come in, he wrapped himself around her effortlessly, and began to crush the life out of the fish-woman.

With no Torogians or kuo-toa in sight, the yuan-ti and the gnolls in the main chamber were victorious! Ritsake reached out to congratulate K'ili—and cast a 4th-level Inflict Wounds. The attack missed, and the element of surprise was lost: Now the battle was between yuan-ti and gnolls.

Well, the gnolls were tough, but the yuan-ti had class levels and spell slots, and they were victorious.

Meanwhile, Quulteeps put up a mighty struggle as Sussus strangled her. At length the priestess gurgled her last. Sussus turned back into a snake-person and rejoined her companions. She had handled her targets without taking any damage, but the others took a quick rest, just in case.

Then it was time to conquer that evil door! The yuan-ti again engaged Rhamnales's security system:

WHO IS THE MASTER OF THE EVIL ELEMENTS? Rhamnales.

WHAT IS THE SECRET NAME OF SLIME? Bwimb.

WHAT IS THE SECRET NAME OF VERMIN? Kartevo.

WHAT IS THE SECRET NAME OF BONES? Nerull.

WHAT IS THE SECRET NAME OF DARKNESS? Imhullu.

CREDENTIALS ACCEPTED. WELCOME TO YOUR VAULT, RHAMNALES. The door faded and disappeared, revealing a dark hallway beyond.

At the end of the hallway was a chamber where the very stone had cracked and crumbled in the presence of the unthinkable evil of (a partial copy of) the Book of Vile Darkness. Thewlis grabbed it.

Then the guys stood together quietly and wondered: Should we betray Bekhest and claim the book for ourselves? Should we turn on each other now? Nah, let's go with the original plan.

They stowed the Book of Vile Darkness and prepared to return to their kingdom of snake-faces.

She was probably human, although so much of her face was covered in piercings that it was difficult to tell. Her skin was limestone-white, her lips were painted black, and her eyes were impatient. That was fine. He knew how to handle impatient humans—or whatever she was.

"I'm gonna need you to fill out the whole form," she said.

"Yeah, I had a question, actually." He flipped the clipboard around and pointed at it with his pen. "This part doesn't seem to apply to me."

She leaned over, careful not to touch the form herself. He tapped the tip of his pen on the "Primary Object of Worship" column.

"If your god's not on there, just mark Other. Or you can just mark None (apathetic), or None (atheist) if you want," she said. "You have to mark something, though, so we know what afterlife you're supposed to go to."

"That's the thing. I'm actually a god myself, but I died in kind of a stupid way, so, I think there's been a mistake. Maybe this isn't the right form?"

"Did you say you're a god?"

"Yes."

Her lips tightened. Reluctantly, she pulled the clipboard out of his hands.

"You claim to be a... Lawful Evil god, named Boltulmak?"

He tilted his head. "Well, Boltulmak was my name in my mortal kobold form. I'm actually an incarnation of Kurtulmak—which, I don't seem to be on your list, for some reason."

"I'm afraid I haven't heard of Kurtulmak. When exactly did you achieve divinity?"

"Oh, hecks, I don't know. I only have my memories from my mortal incarnation. But kobolds have been worshipping me for years and years."

"And you died when a human fell on you?"

Boltulmak smiled patiently. "Yeah. He was a big human, and he jumped on me, from a great height. It was during a really epic encounter."

"I see. Well, unless you can supply proof of divinity, I'm afraid we'll have to process you as a dead mortal."

"Look, I know lot of non-kobolds don't know about me, but I should be in your records. Don't you have a Big Book of Gods?"

The shadar-kai's nostrils flared. Boltulmak smiled innocently.

She spun her chair around and reached for a low shelf out of Boltulmak's view. With both hands she withdrew a tome with the heft of three bricks glued together: Verber's Comprehensive Index of Divinities. It landed on her desk with a sickening crack.

"And how do you spell Kurtulmak?" she asked, moving her jaw as little as possible.

"Same as Boltulmak, but with a K-U-R instead of a B-O-L."

"Mm-hmm," she responded tonelessly, and began flipping through pages.

"And how about you? What's your name?"

"Catena."

Boltulmak nodded.

For a moment, but for the rustling of pages, the office was silent.

Then: "Oh." There was a tiny note of surprise in Catena's voice.

Boltulmak tried not to grin. "Did you find me?"

Catena cleared her throat. "Kurtulmak, patron of kobolds, Lawful Evil. It says here you're an exarch of Tiamat."

Boltulmak shrugged. "I'm not sure that's entirely up to date. I think I have full god status—That's what my worshipers believe, anyway."

"So you have your own domain in the Astral Plane that you expect to return to?"

"Well, yes. I mean, I'm sure I do. It doesn't say in there what my domain is, does it?"

She shook her head. "If you're Tiamat's exarch, you should probably be directed to her domain in Tytherion."

"Oh, we don't have to do that. We definitely don't have to do that. The thing is, I'm pretty sure I incarnated myself as a mortal kobold for a very important divine purpose, you know? Like, only as a mortal could I accomplish, whatever it was."

Catena nodded slowly.

"And I obviously didn't carry out that cosmic plan successfully, because otherwise, I assume, I would have regained my divine majesty and all my memories. Including the name of my astral dominion."

Catena continued to nod demonstratively, and Boltulmak almost started to think he was being patronized.

"So I think the best thing would be for me to get reincarnated right away, so I can complete my mission as a mortal, and then I can regain my divine majesty and be out of your hair."

Catena smiled a huge fake smile. "So, should I give you a moment to reincarnate yourself?"

Now it was Boltulmak's turn to flare his nostrils. "Under the circumstances, I'd appreciate any assistance that the friendly staff at Letherna can afford me."

"Well, in that case, I'll have to transfer you to another department."

Catena uttered a spell, and currents of smoke poured into the room from nowhere, quickly coalescing into the shape of a wispy floating skull.

"Just follow my assistant to Returns. Make sure you don't get separated. Once you're there, you'll have to fill out some more paperwork. You might want to give your name as Kurtulmak this time, so everyone knows you're the god of kobolds."

Boltulmak chose to ignore Catena's tone. "Sounds good," he said, and rose from his chair. Catena stood up and walked around her desk to face him. The skull bobbed over to the doorway and waited patiently.

"Before you go," said Catena, "is there anything else I can do to provide you with excellent service today?"

Boltulmak gritted his teeth. "No, you've been wonderful."

"Thank you," said Catena, extending her hand, still smiling.

"Oh, no, thank you," Boltulmak replied, as he shook Catena's hand and memorized her face.

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The thrilling conclusion to the Agents of IPSO adventure (described correctly by one player as "the Curse of Strahd DLC") is up at my blog http://www.rcveeder.net/blog/2017/06/13/dungeons-dragons-alan-smith-returns-to-ravenloft/ because there are a bunch of in-line photos of the epic proceedings. Check it out please thanks!
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