The Red Wizard
As the group prepared to leave the observatory in search of a safe place to rest, they heard footsteps on the stairs. A friendly voice called out not to shoot as Azbara Jos, the Red Wizard from the caravan, came into view. “Aha! I thought it was you fellows from the caravan!” he exclaimed as he came to a stop at the top of the stairs.
What ensued was an awkward conversation where the heroes attempted to position themselves to grab the wizard while he questioned them regarding what they knew about the cults’ plans, where and how they had obtained their information, and whether or not they thought the cult had much of a chance to succeed. The heroes seem disinclined to answer, so Azbara threw them a bone: he told them that the cult had a magic portal in the caverns beneath the castle.
When the group asked where the portal led, the wizard simply told them that they’d have to go through it to find out. They asked him what his involvement was, and he replied that he was a member of the Thayan Resurrection – a resistance movement intent on driving out the undead rulers of their homeland – and it just so happened that the cult’s plans aligned with theirs at the present time. Azbara also informed the group that Rezmir had gone to quell their little lizardfolk rebellion, while Dralmorrer was rallying his troops in the great hall.
When Azbara sensed that the heroes were getting ready to jump him, he took his leave, quickly scurrying down the stairs. As Keo made to follow, the wizard muttered a word of magic and disappeared. Frustrated by the wizard’s escape, the heroes decided to make the most of things and searched around the second floor of the keep. The main room appeared to be a sort of common area and office, with a small hearth and a writing desk. A door led to Dralmorrer’s private quarters. The PCs spent a good few minutes searching around. Erevan even thought to look under the carpets, where he found a loose floorboard, under which was hidden a small lockbox. He managed to pick the lock on his second try and found Dralmorrer’s emergency funds inside (some gold and silver coins and a mix of precious stones). Flint dumped the box into the bag of holding.
The heroes then used their sending stone to let Leosin know what they’d learned so far. He thanked them and asked them to head through the portal if they could to see where it led.
The dwarf then cast rope trick and the companions crawled up into the extradimensional space to get some much-needed rest. At one point, they noticed a couple of cultists poke their heads around the door, but seeing no one in the room, they departed again. It would appeared that the cultists had been mobilized and were searching the castle for the intruders.
The heroes chose not to go up against the full might of the castle’s forces, so they retreated to the lizardfolk camp. There they met up with Snapjaw, who told them of the glorious victory against the bullywugs, most of whom had turned and run at the sight of Pharblex’s head being paraded around by the lizardfolk. By the time Rezmir had arrived to put a stop to the fighting, most of the bullywugs were either dead or fleeing into the swamp, and the lizardfolk were celebrating. Snapjaw invited the group into one of the longhouses and told them that they could spend the night there safely. His people would cover for them if the cultists came calling.
In the morning, the companions resolved to find a way down into the caverns. They recalled that the lizardfolk had suspected that Pharblex had an underwater access, so they asked Snapjaw to find out. He sent some lizardfolk out to investigate. They located a tunnel in the murky water south of the bullywug camp. Flint was not keen to go in the water at all, so Erevan offered him an entire bottle of Berduskan dark wine to help him steel his nerves. Once Flint was pleasantly drunk, Keo cast water breathing on everyone, and they slipped out of the longhouse and headed towards the pool.
The journey through the tunnel was unpleasant but relatively swift and painless, thanks to Keo’s magic. The goliath also cast darkvision on Mara and himself, as they were the only ones who couldn’t see in the dark. After about 300 feet, the group emerged into a large underground lake. As they surfaced, they could see that the ceiling was only about 30 feet above them. The chamber was filled with the croaking of frogs, and they could make out a few of the amphibians lurking on the dry land.
As they emerged from the pool, they discovered that they had three options: a passage to the south, stairs ascending to the east, and a path leading north along the shore of the lake. They went south first and found two bullywugs guarding what turned out to be a frog tadpole hatchery. They intimidated/persuaded the bullywugs to run away, and the cowardly creatures both dropped their spears and dove into the pool.
They then went and checked out the stairs, which led up into an empty chamber that opens into another chamber filled with centipedes. They could see another set of stairs heading up on the far side but weren’t too keen to cross the centipede lair to get to it, so they returned to the lake and moved north along the shore.
As they reached the north end of the lake, they found a mist-filled passage leading up to an intersection containing a bank of fog rising three feet off the ground. Two passages led west, while a larger passage headed east. Since the mist seemed to be coming from that direction, they went that way first. They soon came to a tall cliff, at the top of which was a wooden crane and pulley system. Next to it was a ladder. Up they went and another flight of stairs led them up to a large chamber lit by a single torch burning brightly next to a set of ascending stairs. Beyond that was another, rougher flight of stairs leading down. In the middle of the room was a shallow pool of water, which appeared to be seeping out of a crack in the north wall. They headed down the far stairs and found a large chamber filled with mud, in which two bullywugs were happily making sure it was just the way they liked it. They let them be and headed back into the main chamber.
Next Flint turned Erevan invisible, and the half-elf slipped through the crack in the wall to see what was on the other side. (He was somewhat obsessed with figuring out where all the mist was coming from.) He saw nothing, but something saw him, despite the invisibility. A section of the wall next to him started oozing down and a pseudopod lashed out at him. Ducking, he retreated back through the crack, grateful that the thing didn’t follow.
Then Flint decided to cast detect magic as a ritual and walked around the caverns looking for magic. He didn’t find any until he pushed on through to the mist-filled room in the northwest corner, where he picked up conjuration magic emanating from the floor. Erevan and Flint used prestidigitation to briefly clear away some of the mist so they could see what was down there. They caught a few glimpses of what looked to be a permanent teleportation circle etched into the rock. Flint knew he’d need some kind of passcode or key to activate it, which meant heading back up into the castle.
It’s a Trap!
Before heading into the castle, however, they reckoned they’d better check out that last unexplored passage to the south of the portal chamber. They found some stairs descending to what looked like a shrine. The room was filled with frog carvings of various sizes, many placed on niches in the walls, as well as seemingly random collection of religious iconography that appeared to have been included for no discernible purpose.
They pressed on to the south and found Pharblex’s sanctum, with a muddy desk and chair, a box of candles, and a wooden chest. Treasure! Erevan headed over and checked the chest for traps. He could tell that it was rigged up so that anyone who wasn’t careful would cause some cleverly hidden clay pots in the ceiling to fall down around the chest. He gingerly set about disarming the trap but unfortunately only succeeded in setting it off! Five clay pots crashed to the ground, releasing a potent hallucinogen that quickly spread through the room!
The entire group succumbed to the poison. Keo came to believe that he was a frog and felt called to go and dive into the lake. The others, however, all saw each other as nightmarish frog-like monstrosities and proceeded to attack each other. Jamna turned on Erevan and took him out with two quick jabs from her poisoned shortswords. Mara attacked Jamna, and then Flint attacked Mara with bolts of fire. With Erevan down, Jamna turned to attack Mara. The warrior woman didn’t stand a chance and soon fell to the ground. Flint then shot his fire bolts at Jamna and nearly took her out before he, too, felt the call of the lake. He turned and ran out of the chamber. Jamna followed. Flint fired a shot back at the gnome, dropping her to the ground, then ran and dove into the lake and started swimming after Keo.
Luckily for the heroes, the druid’s water breathing spell was still active, so there was no need to worry about drowning! Eventually, the hallucinogen wore off, allowing Flint and Keo to come to their senses. Climbing back out of the pool, they hurried back to the sanctum. They found Jamna unconscious but stable in the shrine room. Unfortunately, when they reached Pharblex’s sanctum, they found that both Erevan and Mara had succumbed to their wounds. Flint took the opportunity to look in the chest, now that the trap had been sprung. Inside were two spellbooks! Flipping through them, he saw that one had once belonged to a slightly more powerful evoker, while the other had belonged to a significantly more powerful mage with an eclectic taste in spells.
Reviving Jamna, Flint and Keo dragged their fallen comrades’ bodies out through the underwater passage and back to one of the lizardfolk longhouses, where they proceeded to loot their bodies. They also let Leosin know via the sending stone that they’d be in need of reinforcements.
What will happen next?! Tune in next time to find out!
DM Note: Mara’s player was out sick, but her husband, who plays Erevan, was directed to play her. He is considering the possibility of bringing back his halfling rogue from our previous Lost Mine of Phandelver campaign (seeing as how Phandalin is practically a stone’s throw from the Mere). For his wife, I have extended the same one-time offer I gave him way back at the beginning (when Erevan was slain by Lennithon the blue dragon in Greenest) and my own wife just recently (when Flint was slain by the giant crocodile in the swamp): namely, that she can choose to have her PC survive at the cost of suffering a (semi-)permanent injury of some kind. Erevan’s injury was that neurological, confusion-based injury, while Flint’s was the loss of his arm. We shall see what Mara’s player decides. She could also potentially bring back her LMoP character, although you’d be forgiven for not being able to tell the difference between that character and Mara, as they are both based on the Starter Set noble fighter pregen.