Now that I've met my quota of professional looking posts, it's time to get down into the weeds again.
Yup, that was the first in a long line of plant puns because today I'm going to recap an interesting encounter in my perpetual dungeon campaign.
Entangle yourself for the long haul, because it's an almost unbeleafable story, featuring a forest, a fire and a fierce female.
It's also a story about clearly signposting danger and then watching with a mixture of horror and glee as those signposts are summarily ignored.
If you're planning on playing through the Dungeon of the Mad Mage and want to go in blind, this blog post spoils a part of the second level and some other stuff as well.
You have been warned.
The Garden Needs Tending
There are many interesting things on the second level of Undermountain, the dungeon situated under the city of Waterdeep.
These things include a goblin market run by an incredibly handsome man, guard posts belonging to the Xanathar Guild and old magical laboratories that are still inhabited by the crazed remnants of their former occupants.
But this story doesn't start in any of those obviously interesting places.
It starts in a non-descript room. One that features an archway chiselled into the wall, with a leafless tree carved into its keystone.
Being an obvious portal to parts unknown, my players spent some time snooping around and generally trying to make it do something. It didn't take them long to figure out that simply poking it with a stick caused the stone wall within the arch to shimmer and warp and then dissolve away to show another scene entirely.
On the other side? A dilapidated stone building, with dappled sunlight streaming through its windows.
No good adventurer is going to leaf an opportunity like that alone, and true to form, my players didn't either. They were eager to branch out.
However, attempting to pass through the apparently open space of the portal proved difficult, with the air resisting their initial incursion. Not enough resistance to stop them, but enough to give them pause.
As they continued onwards, walking through the syrupy atmosphere, a quiet yet insistent voice echoed in their minds to turn back before it was too late.
Obviously, they ignored it.
Flowers Always Cheer Me Up
On the other side of the portal and outside the building was a vast forest, stretching out in every direction as far as the eye could see. Green and lush, there was sunlight streaming through the branches, a bright blue sky above and a slight breeze that brought the scent of flowers.
In comparison to the relatively dark, claustrophobic confines of the dungeon, with its right angles, stonework and doors, the forest was unbounded.
Which made the players positively prickly with anxiety.
Just the way I like them.
Having successfully made their way through the portal, they cautiously explored and quickly discovered:
- That the portal closed after a short amount of time, but could be re-opened using the same method as before
- That there were more buildings and ruins, all heavily run down and overgrown
- That there was a corpse not far from the portal, clearly having died during significant distress
I don't know about you, but if I found a corpse, I generally don't take it as a sign of encourage-mint. Not my players, if anything, it just spurred them on.
Thus warning number two was given and summarily ignored.
That's Not The Way To Get A Lady's Attention
To the north of the small cluster of buildings was a section of forest laced with spiderwebs. To the common adventurer, it was thus a clear direction to investigate, because where there are spider webs, there are spiders. And sometimes ettercaps.
What followed was a pretty standard encounter with some hostile spiders and their ettercap friends. It involved copious amounts of webbing, some light screaming, fire and a lot of good old fashioned fun.
During the fracas, some of the players took to the high ground in order to get a better strategic position.
The view from the top was spectacular, showing that the forest was just as massive as originally perceived. It also allowed the players to catch a glimpse of a tower, some low ridges or mountains and a long gap in the trees that was very likely a river.
It also allowed me to give the third warning that maybe their thyme was running out.
Attracted by the burgeoning forest fire, something was approaching their location from the general direction of the tower. Flitting from tree to tree, it was moving at a rapid pace and wouldn't take long to get there.
To my surprise, the players finally heeded a warning and decided to retreat.
Mother Nature Just Got Herself Some Muscle
It wasn't easy though, as the remaining spidery foes weren't exactly rolling over without a fight and the forest fire was starting to gain some serious momentum.
The players were quickly running out of places to grow.
Felling the last of their foes, they made a dash for the safety of the building with the portal in it and arrived just in time to hear the entity arrive.
It emitted an anguished scream, and started ranting an a language that only one of them understood. Questioning why they would do this to the forest.
To her forest.
From their vantage point, they watched as the entity immolated an entire section of trees with a giant column of flame, thus starving the fire of fuel and immediately putting it out.
The scream, the ranting and the firestorm were the final warning, given by a helpful DM, to help the players understand that whatever this thing was, it was powerful and it was angry. It might even have a violet streak.
Some of the players decided to wisely leg it through the portal.
Some of the players decided that they wanted to snag a look before escaping.
And then the warnings stopped.
Nature Always Wins.
From the dungeon side of the portal, the players who managed to escape saw a brilliant flash of light and then the portal was choked with seething brambles that lashed out at anyone who came close.
It was the last time they ever saw the two adventurers who stayed on the other side.
Of course, the story is slightly different from their point of view, but I'm not here to spoil their secrets. Lets just say everything wasn't exactly rosy for them.
Bringing it all back together, I wonder whether or not I gave the players enough warnings that they were in real danger. Like, beyond the normal setting of atmosphere, but real, honest to dungeon master danger, that might result in the permanent death of an adventurer or two.
I think I did.
But even if I didn't, I think it still makes for a fun experience and a great story and that's all that really matters when it comes to D&D.
Is there a lesson for my players here?
Possibly that the root of their problems stems from not seeing the forest for the trees.
Okay I'm done now.