Dramatis Personae: Gil, Keluak, Keth, Tasklar
Source: “Fane of the Sun Swallower” (Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle)
Prologue: Some Magic Fruit
Before setting off on another adventure, the PCs decided to plant another of their magic beans. This time it produced a tree with some magical fruit on it. After a bit of experimentation, they discovered that each fruit produced the effect of a different magic potion, although one of them actually turned out to be poisonous instead. They wasted two potions in the process – one was given to the donkey, with no apparent effect (wasn’t sure how to roleplay a suddenly clairvoyant beast of burden), while Tasklar ate another and was turned into a gaseous cloud for an hour. The others were, in effect, potions of invisibility, growth, fire breath, and water breathing.
Having heard reports of diseased lizardfolk raiding isolated farmsteads and villages to the southwest of Larchwood, the PCs set off to investigate. On the way, a storm rolled in and drenched them with rain. Seeking shelter in a one-horse village, they were somewhat taken aback to find the locals in the process of hanging a wizard with sinister tattoos all over his body. His crime had something to do with the local lordling.
The next day, they continued on their journey to Cromm’s Hold, an old castle overlooking the swamp in which the lizardfolk lived. The baroness of the castle welcomed them and informed them that a large black dragon had come to the castle the other day looking for a lost egg. The dragon had identified itself as Thoss Fyurnen, the Sun Swallower and Chosen of Talona. While the baroness had managed to pacify the dragon by offering it some tribute, a large force of the diseased lizardfolk attacked the castle shortly after the dragon left. She lost six men in the attack and her sergeant was currently dying of a poisoned wound.
Keth offered to administer to the sergeant. Fearful of persecution, though, he disguised his restorative spell as mere herbalism.
In thanks for healing her sergeant, the baroness invited the PCs to dinner, over which she told them what she knew about the swamp and its denizens. She explained that, while she knew there were dragons in the swamp, they didn’t normally show themselves. Nor did the lizardfolk, who weren’t normally so bold as to raid human settlements and carry off victims.
Since the PCs seemed determined to venture into the swamp, despite the fact that the baroness couldn’t spare anyone to guide them through it, she instead offered them each a healing potion. She said she’d like to know where the dragon’s lair was but suggested they avoid a direct confrontation with it.
Into the Swamp
Not long after venturing into the swamp, the PCs nearly met their end after being lured towards a patch of quicksand by a will-o’-wisp. Though the PCs all managed to avoid the quicksand, they were soon set upon by several skeletal warriors that rose up out of the murky water to attack them. Keth also found himself repeatedly under attack by the wisp, which kept zapping him with lightning. He almost succumbed to the creature’s attacks, but his orcish heritage saw him through in the end.
As a reward for their efforts, the PCS found that one of the skeletons had been carrying a fancy, gold-plated shield emblazoned with a painting of a withered tree. Keluak picked it up and, much to his surprise as he cleaned off the mud, the tree seemed to come to life, growing new leaves and even a single apple! In fact, he got the strange feeling that he could reach into the picture and pick the fruit and that, if he were to eat it, it would heal some of his wounds – and, furthermore, that the tree would grow a new fruit each day at dawn!
That night, the PCs took shelter in an ancient elven gazebo that not only kept the rain out but also the ubiquitous bugs and reptiles. Weary from their slog through the thick mud and tangled underbrush of the swamp, the PCs were glad to get a good night’s sleep in the relative comfort of the dilapidated structure.
Mama Booga and Her Boys
The next morning saw the rain continuing to bucket down unabated. The PCs left the gazebo and trekked back into the swamp. Eventually they found a clearing in which stood the partially submerged ruins of an old manor. Through the gaps in the walls they could make out the light of some campfires, and they could also hear the sound of someone coughing badly.
Sneaking forward to investigate, Gil spotted an old, one-eyed orc woman huddled by a fire, seemingly coughing up a lung. Keth decided to approach her openly, and she invited him to sit with her, introducing herself as Mama Booga. She gestured at a number of squat, camouflaged figures lurking in the ruins who she said were her “boys” – four half-orc/half-dwarf mongrels. After another coughing fit had passed, Mama Booga complained about the effect the swamp was having on her health and mentioned how she longed to return to the mountains.
Keth offered to use his “shamanistic powers” to cure her of her malady, for which she was very grateful. He then asked her why she was hanging around, to which she replied that her boys had stolen a dragon’s egg for a human wizard, and they were waiting for him to come back to collect it.
Keth then asked if his companions could join them, and they surmised that the wizard was the same one they’d seen being hanged in the village, though they didn’t share their suspicions with Mama Booga. Instead Keth offered the old orc his poisoned apple, which she happily ate. As she fell into a sort of stupor, her boys roused enough to grumble at the PCs, but some fast-talking from Keth was enough to get them to back off. Tasklar then used his charm to persuade them to take their mama back to the fresh mountain air while they looked after the egg on their behalf.
The boys, none too bright, accepted this proposal and summoned their pet crocodile from a nearby pool. Placing their incapacitated mother on its back, they made their way off into the rain. As soon as they were gone, the PCs rushed over to the dragon egg. Almost immediately it started to hatch, and Keth soon found himself with an almost man-sized “pet” as it quickly imprinted on him. As cute as the baby dragon was, the PCs all agreed that it would be best if they returned it to its father.
Having gotten a bit of info regarding the dragon’s lair from Mama Booga before poisoning her, they had a fairly good idea of where to look.
The PCs soon found themselves looking at the ruins of an ancient sun god’s temple from across a murky, leech-infested lake. Tasklar identified some bright yellow flowers growing on the lakeshore as being a good herb to ward away bloodsucking insects, and while the others all agreed to smear some crushed up flowers on themselves, they also insisted on building a raft.
Inside the temple, they found giant fire beetles crawling over an altar heaped with offal. Spooked by the size of the creatures, Tasklar cast a shatter spell at them. The beetles exploded – and the altar gained a few more cracks – and then some diseased lizardfolk leapt out of some shadowy alcoves and attacked. Some more lizardfolk from adjoining rooms soon joined the fray, and the PCs had a real fight on their hands. The little dragon proved to be quite eager to slay the lizardfolk, though they went out of their way not to attack it back. Eventually the battle was won, though Tasklar had been bitten by one of the lizardfolk and felt “unclean” as a result.
Keth insisted that they clean off the damaged altar, which turned out to have a small circular indent on the top of it. Searching through the rest of the upper level of the temple, they found a small dwarf statuette with a circular base that looked like it might fit into the altar’s indent. Sure enough, it did, and the statuette animated, clasping its hands together and babbling incoherently for several moments. At one point, however, it smacked itself on the head and proclaimed in Dwarvish that the key lay under the midday sun.
Having earlier found a room with several murals depicting the sun traveling through the day, they went back and searched around the panel depicting the sun at noon. Sure enough, one of the priestly figures in the mural was actually a cleverly hidden key … which turned out to fit into the keyhole of a lockbox they’d found in what was most likely the head priest’s room. The lockbox contained some minor treasures, including a glowing gem and a candle that could be used even underwater!
They also discovered that several rooms in the temple were filled with dangerous, bad-smelling swamp gas. Luckily, they had their driftglobe for light. Plus, they observed that the lizardfolk seemed to be using the fire beetles’ glowing glands as safe light sources, so they harvested some of those for themselves too in order to avoid the risk of a fiery explosion.
Elsewhere in the temple, they found the lizardfolks’ larder, in which the body of a halfling was currently being drained of blood by several stirges. Remembering his last encounter with the bloodsuckers (see “Bloody Treasure” above), Keth recoiled in horror and demanded that Tasklar eliminate them with his thunderwave spell. This worked a treat, and the PCs went in to investigate. In addition to the halfling, who looked like a lowly farmhand, there were also corpses of two giant frogs and a large python. But no treasure, much to Gil’s dismay.
Plenty of treasure was to be had in the lizard queen’s throne room, however! But first the PCs had to dispatch the queen’s pet drakes. Afterwards, they found an old lizardfolk male cowering behind the throne. The lizardfolk spoke flawless Common, introducing himself as Wrecan, the queen’s reluctant advisor, and explaining that he used to negotiate treaties on behalf of his people before the queen came to power and corrupted them.
Before he could tell them anything else, however, the black dragon wyrmling – sensing easy prey – pounced on him. It was all Keth could do to wrestle the wyrmling off him so that Tasklar could quickly hurry the old lizardfolk into a different room. Once out of the wyrmling’s sight, Wrecan relaxed and told the bard everything he knew: the lizard queen, Vethka, believed the dragon, Thoss Fyurnen, was the Chosen of Talona, an old god of disease and pestilence. She and her followers had all contracted a leprous disease that she maintained was a gift from her goddess, but which Wrecan believed was a curse from the sun god whose temple the queen had defiled.
Wrecan also gave Tasklar a quick description of what lay ahead – first, the temple’s crypt level and beyond that, the caves containing the dragon’s lair. Before heading off into the swamp, Wrecan shared one last piece of information: Thoss Fyurnen had a mate who was currently elsewhere. The dragon knew he would be in big trouble if his mate, Cheleen, found out that he’d lost one of her eggs, which was why he was so desperate to get it back.
Further exploration of the temple’s upper level revealed little more than some green slime and a seemingly empty chest that turned out to have a false bottom concealing a well-preserved sun priest robe and medallion, as well as a scroll tube containing lesser restoration and speak with dead scrolls. Gil tried on the robe as a joke, then passed it to Keth, who decided to wear it in the hopes that it might enable him to fool any restless spirits in the crypts into thinking he was one of them.
As it turned out, there were no undead in the crypts. Instead, they found quite a lot of swamp gas and a magic fountain that healed them of their wounds and refreshed them as if they’d taken a long rest. They also found some more statuettes like the one of the dwarf priest – one human male and one elf female. Tasklar took the human and nearly dropped it when it screamed at him. The elf, on the other hand, did not scream when Keth picked it up. Taking them back up to the altar, they found that the human male was full of BS, including offers of protective spells that didn’t actually do anything, while the elf female hurled insults at them in Elvish until finally breaking down into inconsolable weeping (though she did, during a brief moment of lucidity, offer to cast a healing spell on them).
Meanwhile, Keluak was attacked by a gray ooze that had been attracted by the statuette’s scream. Though he and Gil made short work of it, the dwarf made the mistake of hitting it with his warhammer. Much to his horror, the hammer’s metal head began to corrode!
Elsewhere in the crypts, the PCs found a magic mace that was glowing faintly. It was clutched in the hands of a long-dead, mummified sun priest. Keth used the speak with dead scroll to converse with the dead priest’s spirit, finding out that the mace’s name was Dragonthumper and that it glowed faintly when near dragons and was more effective in battle against them. He asked the priest if he could have the mace, and the mummified hand released its grip. Thanking the dead priest, the half-orc and his companions continued on their way.
Down a long passageway divided by several short flights of stairs, the PCs found themselves entering a cavern bisected by a swiftly-flowing stream. Here the air was fresher, and off to the right they observed a group of lizardfolk chanting to the beat of a drum. The leader of the chant appeared to be none other than the lizard queen herself, the vile Vethka. All the lizardfolk in the group bore the signs of the leprous “gift” of Talona. Behind them stood a statue of a lizardfolk that had been crudely modified to look like a black dragon.
Tasklar dropped another shatter spell on the group, while Keluak ate one of the magic fruits, which caused him to double in size as per the enlarge spell. Gil then cast sleep, taking out two of the lizardfolk, and the fight was on!
Vethka proved to be a formidable warrior, repeatedly skewering the enlarged dwarf with her trident, seemingly gaining great power with each hit. Soon the dwarf was on the ground, bleeding from multiple wounds, but a healing word from Tasklar and a potion of healing from Gil brought him back into the fight. Kel insisted that the others retreat behind him while he got into a defensive stance to hold the lizard queen off.
This tactic worked wonderfully, as Vethka grew more and more frustrated with her inability to hit the dwarf, now that he was focused on defense instead of attacking her back. Meanwhile, the other PCs were able to pick off the remaining lizardfolk minions from the safety of the passageway. The last one standing, a frustrated Vethka leapt into the stream and swam off.
Keth and Keluak climbed a waterfall on the east side of the cave only to find a carrion crawler guarding its clutch of eggs. They quickly retreated back down the waterfall, but the crawler didn’t follow them. Meanwhile, Gil and Tasklar inspected the makeshift shrine and discovered a secret door in the cave wall behind it. This door opened into Vethka’s private sanctum, which they summarily looted, of course. The best prize turned out to be a magic mirror of elven make that reflected the viewer in the most flattering way possible (for instance, it made Tasklar look like he still had both his eyes).
From there, a narrow tunnel and a long flight of steps brought them down into the dragon’s lair – a large cavern mostly taken up by a large pool. Wrecan had warned them that the dragon had an underwater exit to his lair. Before they could go exploring, however, an enraged Vethka leapt out of the pool and attacked Keluak as soon as he’d squeezed his magically-enlarged bulk out of the tunnel. Again the dwarf went on the defensive, and again she was unable to do much while the others pinged away at her until she finally dropped, dead, into the black water.
At that point, the massive skull-like visage of Thoss Fyurnen himself surfaced near the edge of the lake. The PCs immediately started yammering on about how they’d found his lost offspring and were returning it to him. As if to prove their point, the baby dragon came pushing past them and leapt into the water. The dragon thanked them and then suggested they be off before he changed his mind and decided to eat them.
And thus ends the story of how our brave heroes encountered an adult black dragon and lived to tell the tale! And not only that, but they emerged from the swamp substantially richer men than they’d been when they went in.
Some thoughts on the adventure:
I found it pretty easy to strip out the FR-specific stuff and run it as a generic, standalone adventure. I was attracted to it by its many old school touches, and much to my delight, my players picked up on all the little cues and really got into it. They loved the quirky magic items, like the apple shield and the mirror of flattery. They loved exploring the temple and playing around with the magic statuettes and finding the key in the mural and the false bottom in the chest and so on.
It was quite a long adventure, though. It took us nearly six hours to play through, and by the end of it, when it was nearly 2 am, I was feeling so exhausted that I just couldn’t think of what to have the dragon say to the PCs. Somehow I don’t think a black dragon would ever stoop so low as to actually thank such mere mortals morsels, but whatever. My players had heaps of fun, and they really gelled as a team, which was possibly the best part for me (if you’ve been following my other threads, you’ll know this has been a long-running problem for my group). I think the guy playing Keluak has really found his niche. He seemed quite happy to spend his turns taking the Dodge action so the lizard queen had trouble hitting him. He also quite enjoyed being Large and being able to block off passageways, so his allies could stand behind him and attack past him without worrying about being attacked in return. Of course, he’s not always going to be able to do that, but it worked well in this instance.
The guys playing Gil and Tasklar are both new to 5e. Gil’s player skipped 4e, while Tasklar’s player hasn’t played since 2e was the current edition. They’re both having an absolutely blast! So great to see.