Curse of the Black Pearls
After a bit of a break from Dungeons and Dragons, it was time for the glorious return of this game and a decision to increase the pace. With my DnD game moving from weekly to biweekly, in combination with some long breaks, there was always the chance of things bogging down a lot. After some thought, I decided to pick up the pace by scything through some of this adventure and getting to the conclusion. Here I decided to design a really dramatic, tense final battle atop the Ziggurat that Yigkari was using to channel energies from the depths of Khyber into the pearl. Now I just needed a way to get the players there logically and without it feeling like too much of a narrative/railroad cudgel.
This is where an encounter I had already planned where the players could enlist the aid of frustrated Greenscale Lizardfolk (smaller cousins of the Blackscale Lizardfolk) who the Yuan-ti have overrun and enslaved. These Lizardfolk would assist the PCs in getting past the enemies defenses without being noticed and provide an easy narrative “Skip to the end part of the adventure” mechanic without feeling overly artificial. Plus this was already in the game, it was just going to have a different end point and so it didn’t require me to invent anything that didn’t fit or was overly novel.
In the end I probably ended up removing up to two entire sessions of material in doing this. Of course you might now think that was a gigantic waste of my time and resources – but not so! Instead of using some of what I did now, many of the things I wrote like the basic map layouts and similar can be modified for use on other adventures later on instead. Although not all of the encounters will be valid – I don’t intend to suddenly have Yuan-ti turn up everywhere – the majority of this work can still be very useful later on with modification. Pro-DM tip right here: Never throw anything away, just find another use for it later down the track.
In any event with the Lizardfolks help and sacrifice in distracting the Yuan-ti, the characters got one desperate chance to assault Yigkari – still in a weakened state thankfully – at the top of the Ziggurat in the heart of the Yuan-ti city. The Lizardfolk accomplished this by taking the characters through a series of aqueducts and waterways not patrolled or frequented by the Yuan-ti often. Despite wanting to move the pace of the game along substantially I did actually have a potential encounter in here, but thankfully even the paladin in his clanking suit of full plate wasn’t loud enough to alert the monsters in the tunnels that the PCs were coming.
This ended up being fortunate for me, because the encounter with Yigkari was pretty complex and actually took the majority of the time to play through. This encounter began when the Lizardfolk launched their final (suicidal I might add) assault on the Yuan-ti, drawing away her bodyguards and defenders from the Ziggurat. This gave the players a precious amount of time to get up to the top and attempt to put an end to the vile beast.
So let’s explain this encounter first: When it begins the PCs are on the main stairs leading up from the ground, except for the thief Calliara who used their climbing ability to come up from a different direction. At the top of the ziggurat is Yigkari, who is currently channeling energies from the deepest reaches of Khyber (the underdark in Eberron) into the Pearl. In doing so, she’s basically opening a portal to the Eberron equivalent of the Abyss and bringing forth an army of allied demons to her aid. This would be very bad for Q’Barra had she succeeded and was one of the main impetus’ for the parties pace through this adventure (as opposed to long resting in safety in the tomb previously, for example).
Four of these crystals help her accomplish this goal and they also provide the marilith with additional power: Each one that is active gave her a legendary action to use (so 4 in total). She could do a few neat things with these legendary actions as well, including dispelling effects, making another multiattack, using her tail, take a swipe with one of her melee weapons or the most dreaded effect of all, she could heal herself. Nothing annoys a player more than a monster that can heal itself! Additionally these crystals also channeled energies into the pearl itself, protecting it from being easily grabbed by characters or by magic: Anyone silly enough to try to do so before killing Yigkari would take 10d8 necrotic damage and by paralyzed (until they made a save!). A nasty fate! Of course a very easy DC 8 investigation/arcana check would conclude that touching the pearl would be extremely hazardous to ones health.
So this battle had an interesting dynamic where Yigkari could be weakened indirectly by characters either shattering the stones powering the pearl (bludgeoning and radiant damage did double damage, while piercing and slashing attacks only did half) or using an arcana check to disable them. Of course if you failed the check or didn’t do enough damage that was your turn entirely wasted, which could have been spent damaging Yigkari instead. So there was an interesting trade off here and I think that it worked extremely well. One final mechanic was how the Yuan-ti, not being entirely stupid, would figure out something was going on at the top of Ziggurat and send reinforcements back to engage the characters. So while escalation represented the dramatic tension of the fight increasing, the other die counting down kept track of how long it was before Yuan-ti support arrived at the battle. This provided another element of drama and danger: Especially because it was only a mere 5 turns before the Yuan-ti arrived!
The battle began with Calliara moving up the side and then failing a stealth roll by a long way, with Yigkari spinning around to loose an arrow at her using a legendary action at the end of the thieves turn. Calliara unfortunately couldn’t do a lot to the stone, because the rapier being a piercing weapon was half damage and couldn’t penetrate the thick stone sufficiently. The players quickly inferred the best way to damage it would be through bludgeoning damage and so the paladin chucked a light hammer at it, nearly doing enough damage (only a bit off) before marching up to Yigkari to get the first attack into her.
Yigkari then got stuck into the Paladin and did a substantial amount of damage and loosed another arrow at the party. The great thing about a marilith is the tail wrap ability grants an enemy the restrained condition, which means the rest of those melee attacks (4 in this case, she uses her lower two arms for a greatbow) have advantage on each of their strikes. So she took quite a chunk out of the paladin at this point and another arrow rammed into Calliara! Rowan and Narvarie quickly tried to attack the marilith at first, but found her a difficult and nimble target to hit. Rowan managed to hit her with faerie fire, but this is when Yigkari revealed her dispel magic trick and quickly removed the effect! Reebu meanwhile, despite being only 3ft tall, scrambled up the 20ft of the upper pillar and got behind the stone to have a look at it with an arcana check: Here he concluded that the stones could be damaged by bludgeoning damage but also the important part: Radiant damage could badly damage them.
Narvarie and Rowan (who has a level in Cleric) immediately set about using sacred flame to take out as many of the crystals as possible, while Calliara and Kasswok attempted to fight the Marilith. Eventually the PCs took several of the crystals out and Kasswok did sufficient damage to the vile creature to bloody her. When this happened:
Here Yigkari has been badly wounded, but rather than act in any kind of fearful manner or similar she simply laughed, mocking the party for their “pointless struggle” and insisting that she would simply be back in a matter of months even if they did win. In any event, she was more than a bit angry and split into several mirrored images. In addition to this, she also used her ability to gate to bring in two shadow demons (both bloodied however) to make life for the PCs even more difficult. The mirror images in this encounter basically got extra tokens, which were roughly where the thing was standing at the time: I would determine where Yigkari actually was and then the PCs had to guess. Guess correctly they hit her, but fail and they would only hit a mirror image. As a final bonus, she now added the escalation die to all of the damage she did.
Things got really intense quick!
This also meant there were other ways of determining what was real and what was an image. Yigkari could only attack from her real self, so moving away from an image and not suffering an opportunity attack could be one way of finding out. Alternatively, damaging an image made it disappear permanently and leaving fewer potential targets. This is where she really tore into Kasswok and downed him, plus badly damaged both Rowan and Narvarie. Here Reebu attempted to clear the field of the images by using a fireball, but hit the real one first and she revealed her demonic trick: Being able to resist fire, which she succeeded at the roll for (12+). Now she was on fire, dealing extra fire damage and immune to fire – which spared her images as well! Unfortunately the shadow demons were nowhere near as lucky and writhed in the magical flame, being dealt extremely heavy damage.
The fight continued with Narvarie and Rowan barely managing to just keep everyone alive from Yigkari and the Shadow Demons ferocious assaults, with Kasswok needing to using a 1hp healing hands on Rowan at one point (who nearly got a lasting injury from this, which is being knocked to 0 HP 3 or more times in a single encounter!). Yigkari’s constant switching between the mirror images (as a free action 1/round) certainly helped keep them guessing, but removing all of her legendary actions by breaking the final two stones with sacred flame was definitely reducing the total amount of incoming damage!
Eventually Kasswok was able to ram his blade through the whirling blades of the vile marilith and send her back to Khyber, right before reinforcements from the Yuan-ti were due to arrive! However as Yigkari was keen to point out while her essence faded, she had not been genuinely killed. Only temporarily sent back to Khyber and she would be back again, this time with a very clear purpose as to who she was going to kill in future. Of course at this point the pearl, which was suspended some 50ft in the air originally, plummeted to the ground with Calliara making a brilliant catch to retrieve it. This proved to be fortuitous because the ziggurat began to destabilize and crumble underneath the parties feet!
Some athletics checks, desperate leaps and a rapid run down the crumbling temple later we ended up with the PCs managing to not die horribly, defeat Yigkari and most importantly acquire one of the Black Pearls. Not a bad day of adventuring and because I wanted to end the session at this point, I decided to leave certain other events alone until next week and informed the players they were now level 7!
Overall a good return to DnD and I am excited to see what the players do with the pearl now they properly have one. Assuming it doesn’t just immediately get given back to the enemy like last time of course….