Dungeon Master Preparation

My method is super simple. I see everything as an ingredient in a recipe for a great Dungeons and Dragons Session. Here is a sneak peak into my recipe care for developing a session. Please note that the ingredients occur as the players act, considering all of these goodies to be sprung upon the players when they participate in the adventure.

Sojourners in Avernus – Session 4

Title : Arriving at Fort Knucklebone

Sojourner’s Spotlight and Challenges

Feltran – remember abyssal corruption on a natural 1 roll

Hey – introduce the lady as a jealous woman, desiring a means to destroy noble fiends

Bramble – bring the presence of invisible creatures

Garindan – pressure him to bring someone back to life

Introduction: After the victory over Tiamat’s rise to power, the sojourners debriefed in their respective homes. But soon enough, they realized their mutual home, the plane of Bonzarel, stood in the shadow of the Blood War. They reunited to become informed and to act. The Sojourners were informed that the Blood War could spill over into their own plane if they didn’t take steps to hold back the spread within Avernus. For reasons of their own, they banded together to venture into Avernus not to win, but to restore the balance of the war, for if they didn’t the conflict between the demons and devils would eventually swell into an uncontestable force. As it were, Zariel, the leader of the devils, stood now with a hammer and battleaxe, two weapons of leadership to unite the hells into her victory. But the demon lord Yeenoghu, crept silently from the shadows of the Abyss and readied his horde with an evil grin. With the sojourners now travelling across the plains of fire and searching for Fort Knucklebone, they found themselves in desperate need of food and water and healing from the unforgiving heat of Avernus.  And so our story continues.

Incidents:

  • a thief manages to attempt a pickpocket, revealing themselves to be a madcap from Mad Maggie
  • Bel contacts the sojourners to recover the Burning Beacon from the abyssal horde, in exchange he will offer an invitation to the veteran’s party. 

Events:

  • Zariel scours the plains in her airship for demonic incursions.
  • Yeenoghu lies in wait within the Croketoeak.
  • Smiler the Defiler arrives in Knucklebone.
  • A new demonic wave attempts to wreck the Stygian Docks, leaving it damaged, but functional.

Contacts and NPCs

Villain: Mad Maggie aka Granny Nightshade

Partner: Bitterbreath, aka Philmore the Bone Devil

Servant: Mickie, the flesh golem

Lackey: Smiler the Defilier, drow warlock of Yeenoghu

Guard: Macabella, the tiefling defected warlock, characterized by her rearranged face. Runs the hellhound brigade.

Pet: Enlarged Dretch: bat faced, bipedal with large nailed claws and feet that spring it into a flying leap. It roots for flesh to gnaw and suffers from blindness as it’s eyeballs have been surgically removed. 

Victim: Thicket Heartwood

Bystander: Mordenkainen, archmage, currently polymorphed as a tiefling visitor

Ally: Thaddeus Banks, imp

Problem: The sojourners lumber onward through the plains. Between steps you encounter a few craters and pits, now drained from their black sticky demon ichor. Various tire tracks trail through the dirt and over sharp ridges of rock that lines the land like a spiny backbone. Suddenly, your blood begins to drain from your face, and we see your footprints left behind in a sidewinding fashion. Roll a constitution saving throw. How do you manage through this mirage?

Discovery: magic takes on an infernal theme in order to appear like a natural spell, but any spell may betray the party as foreigners or good. There are actually 9 suns on the horizon. Demon ichor causes abyssal corruption, and wards off natural predators of avernus. Hellwasps can be sourced as nourishment. Telepathy, scrying, message can all be intercepted. Mad Maggie, formally Granny Nightshade of 100 years, and she boil down frog eyes in a ritual designed to create a non detectable camouflage paint. 

Natural Predator: hell hounds

Victim – Thicket Heartwood, Brambles Brother. a mild mannered looking hinfolk man with sandy curly hair. He is barricaded by a wooden pen, shoveling feed into a den of rabid Cuchvillas, cattle sized pigs with bodies of alligators, appearing as rabid pigzillas. He wipes the sweat from his filthy brow and looks up towards the exit. He sold his soul in exchange for financial success in the family manor without Bramble’s knowledge. He pays now as a slave in Fort Knucklebone. 

Rewards – Metallic war machines  built in the Nine Hells, fueled with ichor, tear through the dusty landscape on wheels made from demon hides. Bristling with spikes, blades and chains, they prove not only to pose as menacing engines, but also able to impale through a horde of demons spawn with no loss of soldiers. Their engines bellow and rumble, issuing thick black smoke from their exhaust. A dinner plate sized thick metal coin rests in your hands. Carved with infernal runes, it signifies a single soul for exchange and payment. The foul smelling demon ichor sloshes back and forth, seemingly moving at a nauseatingly slow rate. It splashes easily and rather than sizzling with heat, it soaks directly into unprotected skin, leaving behind a noxious gas released into the air. 

Mysteries – Where is Cerecio, the former consort lover of the Lady of Air and Darkness? Where is the Sword of Zariel? What is Hey’s mission? How does a soul form?

Area Effects –  the swarm of cuchivillas, use hell hound stats x 5 attacks, Dex Save 12 6d6 piercing dmg, vulnerable if prone. A herd of pig faced cuchivillas storm upon you, trampling past with mad fury and a blind rush. 

Traps – Pit Trap Int Save DC 15, 90 dmg on sleep spell –

Conditions – Incapacitated, Frightened Blind DC 15 – use to further complicate a combat scenario, through a powerful devil, or frightening spell.

RP Friendly – Thaddeus Banks, the imp, shows interest in the sojourners appearance and mortality

RP Hostile – Barnabus, the Flameskull seeks to trade magic items, and then deceive on the payment

Drainer – burn out player’s spell slots with effects to end conditions

Boons and Banes –  Abyssal corruption on a 1, Devil’s charm on Natural 20’s page 215 of Descent into Avernus.

Pleasant Surprise – Professor Banks, although spying for Zariel, can aid in numerous helpful ways navigating through Avernus and in the interest of keeping them on Zariel’s team, grants them insights.

Lore Drop –the abyss is a vast wound in the space of the universe. The truth remains that the demon princes remain the mightiest force in the universe. Most other creatures believe demons to be little more than mindless engines of destruction and violin. If that supposition were true, the Blood War should have ended long ago, since the tactical and strategic genius of the archdevils would have made quick work of the hordes that erupt from the Abyss. The Blood War offers an endless source of diversion underscored by resentment of  acosmic order that refused to admit their superiority. Avernus is the most easily accessible from the River Styx. To strike forth anywhere else would play right into the devil’s hands so they can finally launch a force to end the Abyss. 

Problematic Intrigue – Smiler the Defiler, the drow warlock of Yeenoghu proves to distract the sojourners once again by stealing items, making deals, offering bargains and doing everything within his power to draw away their attention from the Blood War.

Setbacks – Mad Maggie insists the sojourners stay within the Fort as entertainment for an indefinite amount of time. Upon entering Fort Knucklebone, the sojourners must deliver a dream or thought to enter, within the shop, a satyr currently is being harassed by Smiler the Defiler, upon any combat, the Lightning Ring round begins, if the sojourners aid the shop keep, a set of keys to a war machine is granted. 

Fort Knucklebone Shop: The Witches Wart: a shop located with a gargantuan human skull, where magic weapons, spell components, cursed items, bomb making equipment, war machines and food and drink.

Puzzles –  a broken war machine exhales a large pop and the engine flares up quickly, and then dies down. The madcaps curse as they attempt to repair the vehicle, but to no avail. The secret lies in the repair of the crankshaft, where a hellwasp got caught and it’s body impedes the ignition. A large level of acid or radiant energy can decrease the body size, wresting it from it’s position. 

Villain – Mag Maggie, formally known as Granny Nightshade, arrived in Avernus after Bel resurrected her body from an auction he won, and planted her to manage the rogue warlords to keep Avernus’s factions growing with the hopes that one day he can win her loyalty and overthrow Zariel. In the meantime, Maggie plays both sides of the war, supplying weapons and intel to keep the balance going strong. She holds a personal grudge and gratitude to the sojourners for her decapitation. Now holding a demon skull for a head, she rules Ft Knucklebone and the ragtag group of devils and demons who skirt their responsibilities in the Blood War. She also holds a connection to the feywild and employs people like Smiler, the Madcaps and Petrified Dryads from the Lady of Winter. She plans to host the sojourners with no hard feelings, toying with them and exploring their motives, all the while planning to keep them imprisoned as gladiators in her Lightning Ring, where mortals battle immortal beings, namely Philmore the Bone Devil who defected from the Blood War. The fiends enjoy the carnage of watching a mortal die, or an immortal annihilated. 

Lead – A vampire named Cicero hangs on a tree imprisoned by striges feeding him mortal blood and suffering under Haruman, a betrayer paladin of Zariel’s celestial army.

Extra Story Detail: Either by chance or by choice, they arrive at the base of Fort Knucklebone. If they arrive at Fort Knucklebone. Inside of Fort Knucklebone, the sojourners witness the junkyard graveyard of metal gears and all terrain vehicles. By harvesting the residue of demonic ichor, these war machines plow across the plains in service to the infernal forces. By selling these demon grinders, Mad Maggie ensures her place in the blood war. And within her courts, each can find that she uses the pickled frog eyes to cast an anti scrying spell to conceal Yeenoghu’s pet, the Crocatoek, a large slug holding hundreds of demons, slithering across the plains undetected heading for a mysterious location. Mad Maggie presents as Granny Nightshade, beheaded and now holding up a shrunken demon head by which to speak and see. She holds no grudges at this time, but eventually seeks a way to impart misery to the sojourners along the way. By playing both sides, and keeping the renegade devils in check, she holds the gunslinger’s position in the saloon and knows her power. She could become a powerful ally, or a source of pain and misery at the cost of performing her dirty deeds. If the sojourners are captured, she will allow them to participate in the Lightning Ring, where devils compete against monstrosities from other planes to the death. Here, your word is your bond and Granny Nightshade respects no liar.

Things to steal within Fort Knucklebone:

  • A powerful spellcasting component
  • A prisoner working in the slave pens, a hinfolk man, Thicket Heartwood
  • A bag of soul coins (4 souls for sale) Macabella, Dagult, Yeshem and Perseus BigToe.

Thicket Heartwood, Bramble’s brother, certainly died in the attack on his home, but before that, had privately enlisted himself to the service of Zariel in exchange for financial success. He had borne the burden of keeping his family’s estate afloat and for many years kept up the appearance while serving Zariel. While he committed no major crime beyond a few recruitments here and there, he bemoans his fate, for instead of being enlisted into the blood war, he has served as a spy within Fort Knucklebone feigning as a planar traveler. 

Within Fort Knucklebone, the sojourners can learn of the assault upon the Burning Beacon, the celestial prisoner, and meet Professor Thaddeus Banks, Upon leaving Fort Knucklebone, the sojourners are chases out violently for a false report among any enemies they have made and they are framed for a crime they didn’t commit. Any allies they have gathered assist them in the escape and tell them to head for the Stygian Docks. The war machines light up and the chase is on!

From this point, the sojourners will leave with Professor Thaddeus, Thicket and possibly some loot and a stolen war machine. They will witness alongside the road, the behemoth slug slithering across the plains, painted lightly with a glaze that keeps it obscured from prying eyes from hell. Various madcaps, little fairie women run up and down on their racers painting the creature and then leaving. One could easily surmise a hundred demons dwell in the belly of this abyssal transport vessel and appears to be heading roughly in the direction of the Stygian Docks.

Beyond this point, the sojourners can see the scattered remains of dead devils, left to decay into ash along the plains, and in the distance, the tower of the burning beacon, crashed over on its side and straddled by numerous demons. One can guess the tower once appeared as a beetle standing on its hind legs, and up high in its pinchers, held a large glass orb, now shattered into bits. The tower, with enough strength, can be easily resurrected upright and somehow, theoretically restarted once again as Talis had mentioned. The forces of demons would fight to consume intruders, possibly take one in for questioning and mirth. Along with a horde to fight through, predatory vultures swoop through the sky, alerted to your presence. Beyond the demons, the tower must be restarted and in surprise, they find a bruised unicorn, left for torture, who’s name is Moonglow, and indeed, was the source of the radiant power that vanquished the fiends. Now injured and off of the tower, he can do no good. But once placed upon the tower, he may recharge the beacon, summoning the glass orb in his periphery and blast through the remaining fiends. This is one of the few safe places for non fiends upon Avernus.

After aiding in the Burning Beacon, the die is cast. Upon beginning this journey, Yeenoghu led by 2 points, if the sojourners aided in any way to assist the devils, Zariel gained a point for each success. But if the sourners failed to help, Yeenoghu gained 1 point as the Stygian Docks took an assault. If Zariel is aided by starting the beacon, or alerting Zariel to the presence of Croketoek, then 1-2 points can be gained to level the balance. Back into the wastelands, the sojourners march on. Now, knee deep in the blood war, the heat begins to rise, commanding them into action. And so, our story continues!

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