The Let's Play Archive

Temple of Elemental Evil

by Bobbin Threadbare

Part 24: Session 22 Part 1: Nodes and Nonsense

I’ve long since thrown out my notes, so I can only remember about half of the quests the party went on during the Epic campaign. I recall they once made a trip to the City of Brass on the Fire Elemental plane, hung out with an efreeti who knew that politeness encouraged business, and killed an Epic slaad or two while hardly breaking a sweat. Still, I can recall that the pattern was: climb a layer of Celestia, get an obscure riddle, get Sam to translate it, jump through a few hoops to get the item, and then get ambushed by the forces of Evil on the way out.

The one that really stands out in my memory was pretty unique. The outer plane of Acheron is full of warring factions who fight on giant battle cubes floating in an abyss. As you travel lower, the cubes break into more complex geometric figures until they finally fracture into a storm of flying shards at the bottom. Thing is, they’re always polyhedrons, but the artifact the party is looking for is apparently hidden on a perfect sphere. And sure enough, when they get there, they find an unblemished sphere somehow hiding among the ruined pieces and avoiding collision with the other cubes through some unknown means.

The party travels through a solitary passage that leads to the center of the sphere, where they discover a giant statue made all of adamantine holding the rod they came for. I remember the Wizard tried to Disintegrate the statue to take some of the metal home, and they got rather pissed off when I explained the spell didn’t work. They thought I was being a stubborn ass, but after all, adamantine golems are immune to all magical and supernatural effects; they were just lucky they were the Chosen Ones, or else that thing would have activated and smashed them to bits. Or tried, at least. As it is, when a battle cube came barreling down from a higher layer to smack into the sphere, the golem came rushing out of the center to go pummel the unchosen ones (to a chorus of “ohhhhh’s”). Then they fought an Anaxim abomination and got the hell out of there.

The one artifact that didn’t follow the formula was the last one, demanded by the sixth ruler of Heaven. It was “a mirror that reflects all that it sees, hidden in the center of the mind’s reflection.” This one stumped Sam, so the party had to search around until they got a tip that Ravel (yes, the one from Planescape: Torment) might have a clue where to search. What can I say? I liked her so much from the game that I decided she didn’t die, but just hid very, very carefully until The Nameless One’s issues were resolved. Anyway, she tells them to visit the center of the Plane of Dreams, they do so and find the mirror, and encounter surprisingly little resistance on their way out.

This finally gets them an audience with a solar angel who apparently knows what’s going on, and they finally get their explanation. Their enemy was, from the very start, the Duke of the Nine Hells himself, Asmodeus. Some time ago, one of the archons penned a prophecy that would, if fulfilled, spell the downfall of the devil. In my campaign, prophecies are more like recipes than absolutely true forecasts, and so an exact sequence of events had to be observed and followed by the forces of Good in order to groom the Chosen Ones. In addition, given the near-infinite nature of the planes and alternate dimensions, the prophecy was actually very long and detailed, including many minor events and character traits in order to clarify who was qualified to take on Asmodeus.

As it turned out, Asmodeus had been grooming the party as well, though only from bits and pieces of the prophecy that had reached him. His reason for doing so made sense in a layers-on-layers sort of way: he figured that, if he was aware of the powers and capabilities of the Chosen Ones, he would be able to counter them effectively when the final confrontation came. After all, it’s not like you can ever stop the damn heroes once they get rolling, right?

The trip to the bottommost pit of Hell was surprisingly uneventful, mostly because everyone knew who they were and what they were there to do, and that meant promotion opportunities for everyone so long as they didn’t lift a finger. They did get stopped by Bel, however, mostly because someone drew the “a high-powered devil has become your sworn enemy” card from a Deck of Many Things. I have to say, out of all the cards they could have drawn, that one was the most thematically appropriate. Anyway, after curbstomping Bel, the party made their way to the throne room of Asmodeus.

Incidentally, the angels weren’t demanding artifacts just for the hell of it. Each one, except for the mirror, was modified from its original state to protect the party from one facet of Asmodeus’ powers. A staff to counter the Ruby Rod, sunglasses to avoid his gaze attacks, that sort of thing. The fight itself was short and embarrassing, but I had counted on it: after killing the Devil, Sam came out from behind the throne with a wry grin and a slow clap. See, all those cults to Asmodeus had lifted him to godhood after all, and they had merely killed the avatar Samael left behind to rule Hell while he could move around freely. Somehow the players had never figured out that the reason Hell’s minions knew exactly where they were was because they were being shown to their destinations by their arch-nemesis.

Still, they remembered the mirror, which Sam knew nothing about, and which hadn’t worked on the Asmodeus construct, but when they pointed it at him, it did the King’s Quest 6 thing where it flashed Sam’s life before his eyes. See, I went with the “fallen angel” explanation for Asmodeus’ origin, so it starts out with him as a mortal Paladin, maybe the most powerful who ever lived, followed by his death and rebirth as a lantern archon, then his slow climb up the ranks of Heaven’s angels, then the growth of his arrogance and pride which led him to storm the Seventh Heaven by force, only to Fall into the deepest pit of Hell. Still arrogant, still prideful, and now angrier than ever, Asmodeus quickly asserted his dominion over the ancient Baatezu and spent eons planning his revenge and eventual invasion of Heaven, only mildly distracted by the Blood War against the demons.

Upon seeing his life’s story told back to him, Samael felt regret for the first time in his existence, slowly went to his knees, and told the players, “Kill me now. While you can.” The Barbarian obliged, and so ended a five year campaign.

With any luck, we’ll be ending this campaign tonight, as well. You got the pizza?
I got the pizza!
You got the beer?
I got the beer.
Then let’s do this. Air Elemental Node first.

Each of the four nodes leads to a small, stable region on one of the four elemental planes. Each region connects to the other three, and all four connect back to the fourth floor of the Temple. However, a demon of some strength protects each of the four paths back, as well as guarding a gem that fits in the golden skull. I’ll need all four if I’m going to get the best ending.

Meanwhile, the rest of the plane is full of minor creatures like the vortex or these vapor rats. They may be exotic, but they barely qualify as speed bumps. However, there are at least a few interesting encounters along the way.

He wonders why we’re talking in first person plural.
“We are not in the habit of attacking those who do not attack us first.”
“Then all is well. Friends are not easy to come by in the inner planes. We are called Ashrem, formerly High Priest of the Air Temple. ‘Tis a pleasure to meet you.”
“So how did you get here? And how did you survive without help?”
“We were betrayed by our disloyal scum of a brother, Alrrem of the Fire Temple. He sacrificed us to the nodes and left us for dead. But we do not die so easily. Oh no.”
Piss poor sacrifice if he’s still alive. What, did they just kick him into the portal and shout, “Hope you’re happy, Eons!”
“Actually, your brother is dead, Ashrem. We killed him.”
“This does not displease us. We wish we could have been there to see him fall or that he could have seen our face laughing at him one last time, but he will learn of our absence from the Abyss upon his arrival there. Sadly, I am still trapped here with that demon guarding the gate home.”
Should we take him with us when we leave?
He’s still evil, isn’t he? Maybe he’ll start the Temple back up if we let him go back.
Still, it seems like it would be evil to just kill him where he stands.
Then it’s agreed: we leave him here and never speak of him again.

“Greetings, Taki. I am Josephus, and this is my team of Temple cleaners. I must say, I’m surprised to meet someone so polite in the Elemental Nodes.”
“Well, a rough life is no excuse for a rough bearing, you know? I take it you stumbled into these Nodes as I did.”
“Not exactly stumbled, but something like that. How did you get here?”
“Four months ago, I was in a party of adventurers that came to destroy the Greater Temple. During combat, I was separated and forced down a side corridor. I ended up…here.”
Ah, so he literally stumbled into the Nodes.
“No need to worry about the Greater Temple now, my friend. Or the lesser temples, for that matter. I and my fellows have slain them all.”
“You must be remarkably powerful, then. Pelor must shine upon you.”
“Oh, I make certain of that.”
Shall we take this one with us?
Sure. He might be able to help us out, too.
Well, he won’t be too much help; his gear is good, but it’s all nonmagical.
What, really? How the fuck did he even get to the fourth floor with normal shit?
A question for another day. Taki follows you as you leave.

Say, what happens when you kill a demon?
“I get banished to the Abyss for sixty six years, if you are curious! But mortals like you shall be tormented there forever!”
Fat chance. Vrock: large demon, average of about 100 hit points. It can use a Dance of Ruin, which would be a decent attack spell if it didn’t take 3 rounds and 3 birds to cast, it can release spores as a mild annoyance, and it has a variant of Sound Burst, which may be its only useful ability. CR 9: it should only be a minor challenge to us at this point.
It does have a couple large air elementals to back it up, keep in mind.

And then Josephus cast a Hold Monster and turned this fight into an absolute laugh.

Coup de grace.
Fortitude save versus 45…yeah, it’s dead. On the body, you discover a small gem which fits perfectly into the Orb of Golden Death.
Is that anything like the gold skull we picked up?
It’s a fancy name for the same thing. Anyway, it can do three more things than it did before:

For each gem you pick up, you can expect one high-level spell per day, one elemental per day, and you can summon the demon you killed once per week.

Oh, sweet! Although getting a vrock doesn’t seem all that useful.
Oh, just you wait.

I forget which one’s which between earth and water. Mmm, I’ll say earth first.

Like the Air Elemental Node, most of the critters are worthless. The galeb duhrs here are only notable in that, thanks to their high Spell Resistance and surprising number of hit points, this fight lasted far longer than it should have.

And then there were the gorgons. I never really knew why Gygax made “gorgons” mean “metal-plated bulls with stoning breath,” considering that it actually means “one of three Greek goddesses, one of whom was Medusa.” Kind of an odd leap to make, is what I’m saying. Fortunately, this particular variety’s paralyzing breath wears off, I guess because they didn’t want to implement Stone to Flesh spells just for this sole random encounter.

“Alright, so what’s your story?”
“Oh, yes, sorry! My name is Jaer. I’m a weaver from Nulb, and I’ve been trapped here for weeks. At least, I think it’s been weeks. It’s kind of hard to tell time in here.”
“How did a weaver from Nulb end up here?”
“There’s not much call for weaving in Nulb, and I fell on some hard times. Then I made a stupid choice and fell in with some bandits. I figured I could make some money doing that for a while, enough to move somewhere better.”
“So what happened? Did you pick the wrong caravan, or the wrong bandit group?”
“What happened was I regretted my decision almost immediately, and when I tried to back out, they threw me in here. Said it was ‘my retirement package.’”
“One last question: why aren’t you dead yet?”
“I use my fire balls! See? Little woven bundles I can light and throw. They keep the worst away long enough for me to run and hide.”
So do we take him?
Sounds like he’s good at keeping out of the way. Let’s lead him out.

“We aren’t demons.”
It’s pretty obvious.
“I, Sargen, beg thee for release from this hell!”
“But we’re not the ones keeping you here.”
“I beg thee further! I have gold! Thousands of gold pieces! Back at my home in the Prime Material. Just let me live again!”
“Like I said—”
“How much gold are we talking, here?”
“I can pay thee, demons, five thousand gold pieces for delivering me safely to the living world!”
Pretty good! But can he do better?
It’s not like these other assholes are paying us to rescue them! We are performing a valuable service, and we deserve to be compensated for it. It’s all the same if he thinks we’re demons, since we’re still saving him and getting our money.
Fine. I…I try to see if he’ll go any higher.
Roll Diplomacy…yes, Sargen will go up to ten thousand gold if you rescue him now.
“Thank thee, demons.”

“What, do you think you’ll be able to stop us, demon?”
“I think I’ll be able to eat you, mortal. Mmm, I haven’t had mortal flesh in years.”
“You won’t be eating us today!”
“A shame you are so small, though. Hardly more than an appetizer. Well, beggars can’t be choosers and all that.”
“He said you’re not eating us! Goddamn!”
Glabrezu: huge demon, average of 175 hit points. Spell resistance 21, Damage Reduction 10/good, permanent True Seeing. He can use Improved Grapple thanks to his claws, and he has a decent selection of Spell-Like Abilities, although they’re rather underpowered for his CR of 13. A decent fight, but one we should manage without much trouble.

Not a bad idea, now he can’t use his Spell-Likes. Of course, he still hits like a truck, so it would have been nice if you’d brought a Ray of Enfeeblement, too.

Damn it, why did he kill me?! I was already on the ground!
Sorry, hon, but he’s a demon. They’re pretty mean about that.
Tonight is probably the last session of this campaign, if that helps. Plus we were heading into town anyway to drop these losers off.
Say, you’ve been able to cast Raise Dead for a while now, right? How come you don’t cast it yourself?
Because the Cleric in Hommlet does it at less than cost.
We gonna start the pizzas yet? I’m starving.

Yeah, sounds good. We can handle the trip back to Hommlet while we’re eating.