Dramatis Personae: Calla, Keluak, Keth, Tasklar
Source: “Neverlight Grove” (Out of the Abyss)
After their adventures in the swamp, the PCs head back to Larchwood for some much-needed downtime.
During this time, Keth wanders off into the wilderness on his own, getting to know the land. He returns ten days later, looking rather worse for wear and with a fresh scar in the vague shape of a bird burned onto his face. He refuses to talk about his ordeals, saying only that he was on a spiritual journey.
Calla, meanwhile, returns from attending to some personal business and devotes herself to honing her magical skill under the watchful eye of Kaylessa, the proprietor of the Swinging Sword Inn and a fellow sorceress (though she keeps her abilities a secret from most of the rest of the villagers).
Gil goes spelunking with his bat familiar and hones his magical legerdemain skills, while Tasklar goes on a magical mystery tour, picking up a new cantrip and spending a bit of time honing his aim with it (in hopes of compensating for his lost depth perception). [In game terms, Gil pumped his Dex to 18, while Tasklar took the Spell Sniper feat, selecting eldritch blast as his cantrip.]
Keluak, who has become completely besotted with Kaylessa, gladly donates his time and expertise in helping redesign and rebuild the inn’s kitchen so that its chimneys function properly and no longer run the risk of causing fires. He also spends a bit of time improving on his defensive fighting style [by taking the Heavy Armor Master feat].
To celebrate the reopening of the kitchen, Kaylessa serves up a fancy meal with roast veges, spiced potatoes, and mutton topped with mushroom cheese sauce. Plenty of wine and ale is passed around, and a good time is had by all.
That evening, after the inn’s other patrons have retired for the night and Kaylessa has also turned in, the PCs find that they have the common room to themselves. As they sit there relaxing, they begin to hear faint music and singing, seemingly emanating from beneath the floor. They decide to take a look in the inn’s cellar, first by sending the driftglobe down. They can’t see anything from the top of the stairs, but they can hear something scuffling around down there, so they figure they’d best “suit up” before going to check it out. Keth also rouses Elia and drags her back to the inn with him.
Down in the inn’s cellar, they find that one of three man-sized wine barrels standing against the far wall is open slightly. And at the other end, there’s a tunnel leading down into the dark, from whence issues the faint music they heard in the inn above. But before they can go investigate, a wine bottle crashes to the floor. As Keluak sends the driftglobe in that direction, a small cloud of spores puffs out and he hears a childlike voice call out in his head, “Please don’t hurt me!”
Out comes a squat little myconid sprout that introduces itself as Stool. It’s lost and wants to go home. The PCs reckon it must have stumbled through the secret passage in back of the wine barrel and gotten stuck in the cellar. After questioning Stool about its home (a wonderful grove full of fungus!) and its parents (what are parents?), they offer to escort it home through the secret tunnel.
After traveling for what feels like forever, they come into a cavern with a bunch of larger myconids dancing an eerily silent dance. A rather uncomfortable-looking drow is dancing with them. Two moldy quaggoth things stand off to one side, while another myconid sprout stands alone, looking somewhat apprehensive.
Stool recognizes the other sprout as its friend, Rumpadump. It takes the PCs over to its friend and introduces them all. Rumpadump is shy and uncommunicative, but the PCs get the sense that it’s feeling anxious about the other mushroom people’s strange behavior. Stool explains that it’s not normal for myconids to dance like that but doesn’t seem as bothered by it as Rumpadump is.
The PCs go over and try to talk to the dancing myconids. Their leader – who introduces itself as Voosbur – welcomes them and offers to let them experience the Lady’s Dream, just like they are. The PCs decline, and a short while later, the myconids – along with the scared-looking drow – disappear into some of the large, inanimate mushrooms around the cover. The PCs are a bit taken aback by this turn of events. They take Rumpadump under their wing, though, and offer to guide it home too.
As the PCs neared the Rumpadump and Stool’s home, they passed through several caverns filled with fungus farms being tended by adult myconids, all of whom urged them on to meet Sovereign Phylo, who had great plans for its people!
Upon entering the grove, they were taken aback by its alien beauty, with its soft, multihued radiance emanating from numerous types of glowing fungi. The scent of rot and decay hangs heavy in the humid air, and the ground is squishy underfoot. Stool and Rumpadump lead them through the “fungal wilds” to a great mound at the base of a cliff. Here the music is a bit louder and seems to be coming from somewhere beyond the plateau at the top of the cliff. Here, also, they meet the grove’s two leaders: Sovereigns Phylo and Basidia. Phylo welcomes them and thanks them for returning their wayward sprouts. It invites them to stay and explore the grove but politely asks that they avoid the plateau for now, as the Circle of Masters is preparing a surprise in the Garden of Welcome. Phylo talks at length about the “Great Seeder” and the wonderful plans “she” has to bring about paradise for the myconids of Neverlight Grove.
As Stool eagerly drags them off to show them around its home, Sovereign Basidia catches them up. It indicates that it has reservations about recent changes in the grove’s social structure. Ever since the coming of the Great Seeder, Phylo has been coming up with all sorts of “progressive” ideas, such as only letting the leaders of the various circles rapport with each other, instead of having the entire community rapport as is traditional.
Basidia proceeds to take over from Stool, guiding the PCs on a tour of the grove, introducing them to the various circle leaders and indicating which ones are on its side, and which ones have been swayed by Phylo’s assurances of a future filled with shiny happy fun times. The PCs are mostly able to tell for themselves which myconids are the mad ones, though. For instance, Calla is able to discern snatches of the Circle of Sporers’ song to the little sproutlings and it is bonkers. Keluak, meanwhile, spends a bit of time answering the Circle of Builders’ questions about “softer” architecture, despite the obvious lack of any need for such structures in the grove.
When they get to the Circle of Hunters, the leader informs them that it has a job for them, if they’re keen. Taking it as a sort of “test”, the PCs readily agree. The job is to “put down” a shambling mound that is ruining part of the wilds and also hunt and kill an otyugh that has claimed part of the wilds for its own.
The PCs find the mound with little trouble, or rather, it finds them. The mass of writhing vines and organic filth lurches up from the ground and envelops Tasklar in one fell swoop. The bard struggles desperately to free himself while his comrades hack away from the outside. Calla quickly discovers that fire is not so good against such a wet mass of organic material, so she switches to using her crossbow (and to great effect!). Tasklar manages to wriggle free before it can crush the life out of him, and together they all chop the mound into little pieces.
Next up is the otyugh, which again surprises the PCs. Two nasty spiked tentacles lash out of a pile of rotting vegetable matter, wrapping around Keth and Elia and slamming them together. Elia is knocked out but Keth continues to struggle, fighting back with every ounce of strength he has as the monster reels him in for a quick chomp. Calla sends bolts of fire into its gaping maw, then sprays fire from her fingertips, while Keluak pounds away at it with his warhammer. Keth manages to free himself and proceeds to drag Elia out of harm’s way, healing her with the power of his faith in Freya.
The monster is soon defeated and its belly searched for treasure. The carcass is then dragged back to Basidia, who emits some spores at it and informs the PCs that after one cycle (which they presume to mean 24 hours) it will rise as a spore servant to help defend the grove. In thanks, Basidia gives them each a hollowed-out mushroom gourd filled with what it claims is a medicinal liquid it has brewed itself (and which would function as a potion of greater healing once drunk) and a single, moldy scroll case containing a scroll of protection from fiends in it. Basidia then asks if the PCs would be willing to investigate the plateau. The sovereign has become increasingly concerned that Phylo has caught some kind of disease. It is also worried because the leader of the Circle of Masters, Yestabrod, hasn’t come to the leaders’ melding in some time.
The Garden of Welcome
Basidia takes the PCs to the southern terraces, where the Circle of Explorers shows them a secret way up onto the plateau. The PCs soon find that Phylo’s Garden of Welcome is something else entirely. The flowers are all humanoid creatures, buried up to their necks in muck, with fungus growing all over them. A female drow is lucid enough to call out a warning that the Demon Queen of Fungi, Zuggtmoy, has come. She asks them to put her out of her misery, which Keth is only too glad to do. He asks for Freya’s blessing in freeing as many of the poor souls as possible.
Just then a horrible monstrosity slithers into view, bearing a closer resemblance to some kind of giant larva than a myconid. It speaks with both its mouth and its spore-borne telepathy, welcoming the PCs to the garden and inviting them to join Zuggtmoy’s wedding. Several of the wretched creatures planted in the garden rise up as spore servants – including the poor drow the PCs saw with the dancing myconids – as three myconids from the Circle of Masters come to the aid of their monstrous leader as it orders an attack.
The ensuing battle is a difficult one, with the monstrous Yestabrod able to cause corpses in the garden to explode. It also proves able to absorb the essence of the trapped creatures in order to heal itself. Calla burns the horrid monsters with fire, while Keth stands back and blesses his comrades in Freya’s name. Keluak hammers away at his enemies, while Tasklar stabs with his rapier. In the end, the PCs are victorious, but at the cost of Elia’s life.
Before the PCs can mourn her loss, however, a procession of fungus creatures wends its way up onto the plateau from the cavern beyond. The procession proceeds into the Garden of Welcome, whereupon two of the creatures move to the front as though they are bride and groom. Meanwhile, some more spore servants sprout from the garden and pick up Yestabrod’s corpse, moving it about as though it were the priest conducting the wedding. At this point, the PCs receive a vision of Zuggtmoy floating in the midst of a tower, while her fungal “bridesmaids” weave her mycelium into a bridal gown and veil.
Once the vision ends, the “wedding” procession heads back down into the far cavern. The PCs feel somewhat compelled to follow. As they enter the mist-shrouded cavern, they catch sight of a colossal mushroom tower – the great Yggmorgus that the Circle of Builders’ leader had mentioned to Keluak earlier. All around it are fungus creatures and spore servants dancing and singing to some strange atonal music. The PCs realize this is the source of the music they’d heard all the way back in the inn. As they approach warily, they catch sight of a drow partially consumed by fungus. Keth quickly puts an end to his misery, but a little while later, they see his reanimated remains emerge from the fungal muck and join the party.
Going Slightly Mad
At this point, the PCs have witnessed about as much as their minds can take, and several of them start to go a bit mad. Tasklar begins to feel like he’s got itchy patches of fungus growing on him that he just can’t stop scratching at, while Keluak suffers from partial amnesia – unable to recall how he got here or who his companions are – and becomes convinced that the way out is through the mushroom tower. Keth, meanwhile, starts babbling incoherently. Calla is the only one who manages to maintain her sanity, but she is powerless to stop her companions from wandering toward the tower. As they enter, they find themselves looking up at the massive form of the Demon Queen of Fungi herself! She appears to be meditating, and her bridesmaids come rushing forward to shoo the PCs way, telling them it isn’t right to see the bride before she’s ready! Keluak brushes past them, adamant that he must ascend the tower. As he comes face-to-face with Zuggtmoy, she opens her eyes. Seeing the intruders, she emits her mind control spores, ordering them to leave at once!
As the PCs trudge back through the mad dancers, the world spins and everything goes dark … and they wake up safe at home in their beds! Except for Keth, who strangely finds himself in Calla’s bed, much to their mutual horror. Was it all just a crazy dream, brought on by the mushroom cheese sauce Kaylessa had served with dinner, which they’d followed up with perhaps one too many ales? Perhaps. Elia is still alive, for one thing, and it turns out there’s no secret passage behind the middle wine barrel in the inn’s cellar. But then what are those gourds with liquid in them doing there? And how come Calla still has that moldy scroll case Basidia gave her? And why is Tasklar still scratching at his imaginary fungal infections?
Gil is gonna be so disappointed he missed out on all that!