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Curse of the Black Pearls

Where one of the titular pearls actually makes a formal appearance.

In this session the first and most important duty was getting past the newly raised skeletons and the ghost of the former monk (Curvan) who were attempting to stop the “Cultists” from accessing the Black Pearl. The ancient skeletons and the ghost were not an encounter I really wanted the players to fight, but unfortunately pretending to be cultists rather openly has some consequences from time to time. As is always the case with my rolling, nearly every one of the monsters went pretty close together with one of the PCs first, maybe one in between and the rest at the end. This gave the undead plenty of time to really hammer into the Cleric, which hampered the characters plans to use turn undead. This was especially problematic given that the ghost successfully possessed Glorkk, who then proceeded to be a major problem for the players.

Undead ghosts do not like cultists!

Having read over the stat block earlier, I didn’t really modify the possession power very much from the way it was written except to add a charisma save at the start of each subsequent round (as I felt the 0 HP part was too harsh and a level 4 party was not adequately prepared to deal with that). After seeing this in action, I actually have some much better and more entertaining ideas for how this could function for possible uses in future. One thing I did note was had the cleric not been healed by the Bard (who ran out of healing at this point it should be noted), that heroic use of turn undead that basically ended the encounter would quite possibly have turned this encounter into a TPK with the way the barbarian was cleaving through his own allies.

In essence, the ghosts possession power, which recharges on a 6 IIRC, can instantly give it a large chunk of HP instantly when it takes a character. Outside of a handful of specific spells, there isn’t a terrible amount you can do about it either. It’s a good example of a monster that if you have proper preparation or in this case, the correct class, it’s CR doesn’t feel right at all. Being able to permanently remove a player from the combat (well, at least until they hit 0 HP) is pretty damn powerful and I’ll definitely rework this monster before using it again in future (the save IMO didn’t really do enough to make it feel interesting and not a “Haha, you’re just screwed” gotcha creature).

Once the undead were in retreat and the PCs spite killed some skeletons – some of whom were running away – the characters decided to convince the ghost that they weren’t in fact cultists and they could explain their actions. With Calliara (the Rogue) firmly restrained by Navarie (the Cleric) and Amaund (the Bard) taking firm control over the negotiations Curven was eventually persuaded that the party were *not* hostile cultists bent on world domination through demonic summoning. With hostilities over, Curven told the party some further background information about the monk vs. cultist battle that happened over 100 years ago – notably that everyone lost. Ezrakiel successfully summoned the demon, only he got more than he bargained for as he exploded violently upon its arrival and then the fiend tore into everyone on both sides.

Nobody survived.

He also told them a couple of other things: The terror that lurks in the waters around the sunken temple isn’t the only guardian of the pearl, before it departed the fiend left some other monster in there which guards the pearl to this day. He doesn’t know what it is or what it does, but he does know he cannot face it. Only the death of that creature would release him from his torment.

With that done, the characters opened the inner sanctum and finally came face to face with my (as the DM) most nervous moment: Was my battle against a “solo” monster going to fly? Here I took the base stats of the Chimera from the monster manual and then applied my own fiendish twist, creating an aquatic abomination that was a combination of Bronze Dragon (defeated with the monks during the battle), Shark and Octopus (sealife available to Demogorgon as he departed). This powerful creature is infused with the essence of the black pearl and intense demonic magic, making it much more powerful than a regular chimera by a considerable margin. As a result, I gave it both legendary actions and lair actions: Fitting for an end of adventure adversary:

Okemera (Aquatic Chimera)
Large Monstrosity, Chaotic Evil
AC 14
Hit Points 140
Speed: 30ft, Climb 30ft, Fly 30ft, Swim 40ft.
Strength 19 (+4), Dex 14 (+2), Con 19 (+4), Int 3 (-4), Wis 11 (+0), Cha 10 (+0)
Skills: Perception +8, Stealth +4
Senses: Blindsight 30ft (Water), Darkvision 60ft, PP 18
Languages: Can understand Draconic, but usually cannot speak

Amphibious. The Okemera can breathe both air and water.
Bloody Escalation. Once reduced to half its hit points (70) or lower, the Okemera can add the escalation die bonus to its damage rolls on all attacks.
Legendary Resistance (2/day): If the Okemera fails a saving throw, it can choose to succeed instead.

Multiattack. The Okemera makes three attacks: One with its bite, one with its coral frills and one with its lashing tentacles. When its lightning breath is available, it can use the breath weapon in place of the draconic head attack.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5ft, one target. Hit: 2d6+4 piercing damage.
Coral Frills. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 10ft, one target. Hit: 1d12+4 slashing damage.
Lashing Tentacle. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 15ft, one target. Hit: 1d6+4 bludgeoning damage, and the Okemera can choose to grapple the target (escape DC 14) and pull the target directly into an unoccupied area adjacent to it or it can push the target up to 15 feet away, also knocking the target prone on a failed DC 10 dexterity save. While grappled, the target is restrained and the Okemera cannot use lashing tentacle on the target again. The Okemera can restrain up to four creatures at a time in its tentacles.
Lightning Breath (Recharge 5-6). The dragon head exhales lightning in a 20 foot line (5ft wide). Each creature on the line must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw, taking 4d10 lightning damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
Lightning Invigoration. Whenever the Okemera makes a saving throw when damaged by a lightning attack, if the roll is naturally 12+ the Okemera gains a +2d6 lightning damage bonus on its next attack and its breath weapon automatically recharges.

Legendary Actions
The Okemera can take 3 legendary actions, choosing from the options below. Only one legendary action can be used at a time and only at the end of another creatures turn. The Okemera regains spent legendary actions at the start of its turn.

Disengage. The Okemera ends any effect that impedes its movement (EG Restrained, Grappled) and takes a disengage action. If it is within 10 feet of a sinkhole, it can choose to enter the sinkhole and reemerge at any other sinkhole of its choice instead. Any creatures restrained by its tentacles are automatically let go.
Lashing Tentacle (Costs 2 Actions). The Okemera strikes a target within reach with a lashing tentacle attack.
Breath Weapon (Costs 3 Actions). The Okemera uses its Lightning Breath if it has it. If it does not, the creature can make a recharge roll instead: If it succeeds it can instantly use its Lightning Breath.

Lair Actions
The Okemera can take one of the following lair actions on initiative count 20 (losing initiative ties) once per round. It cannot use the same effect twice in a row:

Sinkhole Reemergence. If within 5ft of one of the three sinkholes in the floor, the Okemera rapidly moves through one and can reappear outside either of the other two sinkholes at its choice. It can carry a single restrained creature through the sinkhole with it during this action.
Rushing Tide. Water suddenly bubbles up from the depths of one of the sinkholes of the Okemeras choice and lunges towards a character within 30 feet of the hole. Each character within range needs to succeed at a DC 13 strength (athletics) check or be sucked down into it where the target is buffeted and slammed into different objects, sharp coral and the walls of the narrow sinkhole, taking 2d6 slashing and bludgeoning damage in the process and appearing prone next to one of the other two sinkholes (at random).
Harsh Currents. The water in the chamber churns and spits violently in a 20 foot radius around the Okemra, making it difficult terrain for all creatures other than the Okemera until initiative count 20 on the next turn.

Tactics: The Okemera attempts to rip into as many characters every turn as it can, grabbing them with its long tentacles and attempting to restrain as many individuals as possible for its devastating shark head to bite into. If it can grab multiple characters with its tentacles (up to 4) it will line them up and use its lightning breath on them for maximum damage. Whenever the Okemera feels threatened from being surrounded or put into difficult positions, it will disappear down a sink hole or change the orientation of the battle in the room, dragging a vulnerable creature with it to attack in peace using its lair action when possible.

The powers and abilities of this creature suit and complement its environment, being very slippery and so hence the disengage legendary action. To compensate for this maneuverability, the creature automatically lets go of anything it is grappling when it does so: making this a purely defensive ability. Tentacle lash costs 2 actions simply to ensure it can’t attack an absurd amount of time as 3 times on its own turn, with a potential high damage breath weapon was more than enough. Restrained is a good option for giving a monster advantage, with the general concept of the creatures attack being to restrain a target to draw them towards it with lashing tentacle, then bite (with advantage) the restrained target. Basic tactics, but it worked exceptionally well in play! The coral encrusted dragon head, that was rather like a mass of sharp jagged blades, was designed to pick off wounded characters at a distance and provide a mid range melee option (you’ll notice each attack has a distinctly different amount of reach – deliberately so).

The terrain looked like this:

The Chamber

The three sinkholes in the room (the black circles, the red one in the center is the former demonic summoning circle) allow the monster to quickly move to a new position, particularly where it can easily get full cover away from the doorway (hence standing in the corridor outside does little to help, as the Okemera can easily avoid ranged attacks from outside or at least force the character to move). These sinkholes are defensive in nature and can also be used offensively with the Lair Action, dragging a character through the rocky sharp confines of the tunnel brutally bruising them in the process. Rushing Tide is inspired by a similar ability on the Aboleth and basically isn’t really there for the damage: It’s designed to disperse players around the room and provide potentially prone targets for the Okemera to attack. Finally, the difficult terrain power gives it some space and allows for breathing room from melee combatants when needed.

Incidentally before I continue, had the players not engaged with Curwan and placated the spirit, he would have faked out his death at below 15ish HP or so. Hiding under the floor (he’s a ghost after all) he would have waited for the characters to enter the chamber and then using the last of his spectral energies sealed them in with the Okemera (potentially trapping a character outside). That could have made things pretty interesting, but alas my players went the whole “diplomacy” thing and decided to actually talk to these monsters like they were people! Ruining all my tricks 😦

How did it work in play? Brilliantly.

It accomplished everything I wanted from such a battle: The monster inflicted a substantial amount of damage, it was tactically interesting with players having to rapidly adjust to changing situations (I knocked Navarie to 1 HP, mauled Reebu and Amaund was unconscious for the first couple of rounds after a painful looking bite after a good tentacling). It was even good to see a magic item I handed out, the poison generating Sharkbane Crossbow actually working well and dealing a good amount of damage out front from the Cleric. Overall by round 3-4 the situation was well under control in many ways, but the monster still remained a substantial threat and inflicted a good deal of consistent damage: Only the rogue managed to consistently avoid all of my attacks (which is a bit different from last session where, IIRC I think I critically hit Calliara about 3 times in total). If there was one disappointment to this battle it was the miserable recharge rolls I got, which did reduce some of the threat of the creature as it only got one use of its breath weapon.

In the end the unhittable rogue did the final deed and critically hit the Okemera right in a very sensitive spot – ending the horror once and for all. Regaining some of the sense it had before it was turned into a twisted monstrosity, the part of the chimera that was the Bronze dragon was able to communicate with the characters in its final moments. Here I wanted to give a clear idea of what the pearls were about, that anyone who wants them is generally insane and that there is no positive resolution. I also named the creature that the pearls are behind: The Prince of Madness, Demogorgon. Naturally, with some new to DnD players, this name doesn’t really conjure the same kind of fear but we’ll certainly get there!

Most importantly, I was able to give some important exposition about the battle (spoiler: Everyone got their ass kicked) and what the deal with the pearls is. Plus the characters now know something the villain, Talitha, does not: There are in fact nine pearls, not eight as she believes, which could be very important in future.

And now one of the foul Black Pearls is within my parties possession and they have plenty of time (albeit, not Long Rest time by a couple of hours) to contemplate what they are going to do. The Black Pearl is a powerful artifact and just touching the foul thing causes whoever holds it to hear terrible whispers and the sounds of rushing tides…. amongst other things.

All I know is that when we have our final session for the year next week, is that the return to Talitha’s ship with the pearl is going to be something really special!