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Many Alternate Doors, No Exits in Sight (MADNES) 21: An Unassuming End

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Image: A Loki that got off light.
When DND players act out dramatic sequences

Christmas is a magical time for children. The anticipation. The determination that, this year, you'd stay up and catch the red clad reverse thief in the act. The joy of presents.

Even as an adult, there's still that inner child that delights at that time of year. Of course, some people's inner child is bigger than others.

Which probably explained why Loki had trouble sleeping that night. After all, he'd been promised a chest of loot. Okay, it wasn't all for him, but still.

{Player's Note: The DM had given each of us 4 minor and 3 medium items of our choice, so he had every reason to be excited.}

The next morning a hole opened up in the middle of the camp. And out of that tunnel came four very large beetles, towing a massive chest. They pulled it the distance of their harness, disconnected, and headed back the way they'd come.

The cupcakes rushed over, their inner children just oozing out of their pores. Thor got there first, and flung the lid back. To reveal, a mass of squirming insects. Which was not at all what they'd ordered for this day.

(Or any day for that matter.)

All attempts at magical detection, illusion detection, and alignment detection (not to mention sleep detection) revealed the same thing: This was a massive box of insects.

Loki immediately started on about how they should have been paid up front. Agreeing to a random chest of 'loot' with someone of Zha'luski's reputation was just asking for it. Always check the order.

Thor preemptively suspended Loki by the scruff of his collar, just in case he decided to take vengeance on . . . anything. Probably a wise precaution. Loki struggled for a moment before crossing his arms and assuming the prose of a pouting child. Not that that stopped his ranting.

While Loki ranted, Hazel thrust her arms into the bugs, most likely hoping there was something beneath them that would make the entire ordeal worthwhile. Immediately, the bugs started crawling, in masse, up her arms. Trusting that this had some purpose (besides some demented crossover between Candid Camera and Fear Factor) she held her arm still. Well, as still as possible.

Once her arm was completely covered, the creepy crawlies moved on to the rest of her body, until they'd completely covered her. Once completed, they reversed course, heading back into the box. As they cleared her body, they revealed that they'd deposited her new gear directly on her person. The only odd thing was that everything had a spider motif. (For instance, say it was a ring of the ram. It would show a spider symbol instead of that of an ox.)

After seeing this, each of the other members took their turns in attaining exoskeletal armor briefly. Well, except Loki. He wasn't given a choice, being directly connected to his brother. Still, he bore the entire ordeal quite well, simply maintaining his prose, although without the talking. No need to give those disgusting things direct access to his mouth right?

{Player's Note: On a personal note, there is no treasure in the world that would get me sticking my hands in there. The fate of the world could hinge upon whatever was in that chest and all I'd say was that Zhaluski probably shouldn't have delivered it that way. Then I think I'd go play a fiddle . . .}

That . . . transaction, completed, they set out as members of the advance scouting party.

The trip to the first stronghold was inconsequential. There wasn't even a good bickering to be had. {Player's Note: It's amazing how productive this group can be when the DM skips a bit.}

Lt. Fauralyn Herelon, the Elf archer in charge of the advance party, led the way to the secret entrance and ushered them through it. Thus proceeded a series of stealth checks that even Thor (try as he might) was unable to fail. The goal was to get to the other side of the fort whilst the majority of the army prepared to ambush the main gate. They would then open the rear gate to allow a smaller force in. Classic pincer move.

In this pussyfooting they came upon a large hall studded with massive columns. Again it was clear they were in the presence of dwarven workmanship. If the quality of the edifices wasn't a clue, then the disconcerting array of dwarf skins piled on the floor would have been.

And I don't mean someone skinned a dwarf. It was as if someone had inserted a straw and sucked all the innards out, leaving but a skinny shell. {Player's Note: My brain insists on conjuring images of massive Capris Suns, bent on revenge . . .}

As they snuck through this forest of pillars, they caught sight of a peculiar wolf like creature, walking on two legs, dragging said skin over to the pile. Another was caught dragging a full dwarven corpse down into a side passage.

The entire party (NPC tagalong included) agreed that whatever was down that passage could damned well wait until they'd brought the required reinforcements inside, and continued on.

They found the gate with little issue. What was of considerably more issue was the mass of flesh that seemed to have been embedded within it, as if part of it. And, of course, it was covering the lock.

Oh, and it had eyes. Not very good eyes, because it did not immediately detect the party, even with Thor's abysmally low stealth scores. In fact, they were all starting to wonder why they'd brought him. He was great at strength checks, particularly when that strength check was accompanied by an attempted escape from captivity, but lousy at sneaking.

While they were pondering said device (having rolled terrible Knowledge checks) the sounds of battle came to them from the front gate. All creatures in the area immediately rushed in that direction. Meanwhile, the Cupcakes could almost hear the sound of a ticking clock.

Fortunately, even the sounds of battle did not rouse the gate. Nor did it so much as rustle when Loki cast Auditory Hallucination on it. No, it wasn't until Loki cast invisibility that it was alerted. Its eyes then immediately focused on the Gnome. To make matters worse, a mass of muscle then detached itself from said gate, and formed a large flesh golem with three faces.

A flesh golem that could also see Loki.

The Cupcakes reacted to this development in fine pastry fashion . . . they attacked.

And, in what turned out to be an immeasurably bad decision, Loki told Thor to throw him behind the newly formed flesh golem. That was still out of reach of the rest of the group. Never the one to pass up an opportunity to throw his brother, Thor complied without so much as a first thought. Nebula tried to close the distance, but didn't quite make it, having been the furthest back of the party. Only Steve was able to make it close enough to the golem to take some of the heat off of Loki.

Sadly, this development occurred after both Loki and said mass of muscle (heretofore to be called: The Muscle Mass) had taken their turns. Upon finding himself flanked by a fleshy door and its fleshy offspring, Loki did the only sensible thing a person could do. He stabbed the golem, dealing all of about 3 damage.

It retaliated with 17, more than a quarter of his life. Fortunately it missed the second attack. The Cupcakes used their next turns to array themselves around it in their traditional mob tactic. Their Elfin party escort filled the air with arrows. Sadly, she did so with all the precision of a blind drunkard who'd never seen a bow before. Honestly, the Cupcakes were beginning to get a little nervous. Well, all except Loki, who had other concerns.

Then it was the Muscle Mass's turn again. It pounded Loki with two hits (one being a crit), knocking the Gnome unconscious. Hazel rushed to his aid on her brand new spider insignia broom stick, managing to get a channel off that rose the Gnome from his near deathly slumber.

On its next turn the Muscle Mass critically failed on its attempt to put Loki down once and for all. Sadly, the crit card still allowed the hit, merely provoking AOOs from all enemies. Which, at this point, was pretty much the entire group. Even Loki got in on the action, actually critting the creature. His crit card? He got a free grapple. Which is so incredibly useful for a Gnome caster with a strength score of 10! (I think the crit cards are laughing at me.)

Then it's hit landed, and he fell unconscious, still grasping its ankle. Thor responded to this by hammering at the thing, causing it to reabsorb half way back into the wall.

Loki, being between it and the wall, and in no condition to roll out of the way, was taken with.

Hazel then attempted to reach him with a cure spell, following it up with a grab and yank that pulled Loki from the wall. Yet, before the Gnome could extricate himself, or the witch could pull him to safety, the thing descended upon him again. (Apparently this thing hates Gnomes too) But this strike was another crit, more than enough to flat out kill Loki.

As they watched, a tubule emerged from the wall, imbedded itself in Loki's rather flattened form, and began to suck his innards out. {Player's Note: A very ugly Capris Sun . . .} After that, the golem reemerged from the wall, this time with four heads.

Hazel again tried to rescue Loki (which should have been much easier, considering the loss of mass) by holding onto him and flying away. Sadly, the AOO this provoked knocked her unconscious too.

It was about that point that the Cupcakes decided a little reevaluation was in order. They had one dead character, an unconscious healer, and an ineffectual NPC leader (whom they were most certainly going to blame entirely for this debacle). It was then decided almost unanimously that the most prudent course of action was to cut and run.

Nebula answered that call by booking it, as only a Monk can. Steve grabbed Hazel's unconscious body and pulled her back to where their ineffectual leader who was still peppering this mass of muscle with arrows. Thank the Gods (not the DM; screw that guy!) that the thing didn't have combat reflexes, or Hazel would probably have gone the way of Loki too.

Once Steve had his unconscious charge out of immediate harm, he located a healing potion in her bag and force drank it to her. Meanwhile, Thor backed off, dropped his Greater Mace of Smiting, and readied his brand new spider wrapped (literally) called hammer. Which he proceeded to fling at said construct (in a very Thor like manner).

Which was an odd form of retreat to the rest of the group. Apparently, Asgardians retreated through the enemy. Either that or Thor was determined to get some payback against the gate that was busily treating his brother's corpse like a juice box.

Seeing this, Steve halted his withdrawal and moved in front of the vengeance minded Bloodrager. He then pulled his shield out and activated total defense. As the mindless construct focused on him, Thor continued to pepper it with hammer throws.

As those two fell into their own little rhythm, the group's captain found herself in the midst of a crisis of identity. As Steve looked at her from where Hazel was just regaining consciousness, he noted that her eyes had changed from the normal elf eyes she'd worn until now, to Zha'luski's eyes. And apparently, Zha'luski was not good with a bow, despite her having bartered for one on the previous day.

After a couple of rounds of the Brawler and Bloodrager's virtual tank and spank the golem again returned to meld into the wall. When it emerged, it now had 5 heads, and was even bigger. Each time it reemerged, less and less of the flesh remained on the wall. Which certainly would have suggested to them that they were on the right track.

(Well, except for having lost one member, and almost lost a second.)

Unfortunately, each time it reemerged it was also more powerful. So, as it emerged this time, Steve found that total defense was just not as total as the name described. (See: Ferengi Rule of acquisition number 239)

By this point, Hazel had channeled to heal everyone up, so their captain/Zha'luski gave her her bow, and began focusing a gaze attack on the golem.

Not that Hazel got to use it much. Steve found himself getting pummeled rather hard by the Golem, forcing her to focus more on healing. Which was becoming harder and harder. It didn't help that Thor's attacks were doing minimal damage, when they hit at all. (Hey, the guy just watched his brother get slammed and slurped; cut him some slack!)

In fact, things were starting to look as if the thing might just add another notch to its belt {Player's Note: it's quite humiliating to be killed by a door. I can't imagine anyone getting into Valhalla for that . . .} when the Golem critically failed an attack. The card: a hangnail. The thing couldn't use it's slam attack (the only type it had) for 3 rounds.

As if rejuvenated, Thor's thrown hammers became much more effective. Steve dropped his total defense to begin attacking with his Holy Handwraps, doing significant damage. Hazel went back to using the bow. They could have used Nebula's help here, but she was currently all the way outside the keep, probably just thinking that the rest of the group was just slow.

Even without the Monk's help, the remaining group's onslaught, caused one of the Muscle Mass's faces to disintegrated, for as yet unknown reasons. {Player's Note: I'm thinking the possessed captain had something to do with it.}

And still the thing wouldn't die.

As they came upon the third turn of the golem's penalty, all began looking rather frantically back the way they'd came. Then they heard the sound of a large group of someone's on the other side of the gate. Before they could make much of that, a massive ballista bolt exploded through said gate, impacting into the ceiling. The chain wrapped about it's shaft went taut and the missile was ripped back from whence it had come.

Apparently, the reinforcements they'd been tasked to open the way for had become impatient.

Steve quickly yelled out "I don't know who you are, but I love you," followed by "Aim lower!" Their unknown allies did just that. Before the golem could regain the use of it's primary attack, that same bolt made a second entrance, passing directly through its head. The Golem, and remaining flesh left in the gate disintegrated.

The group immediately turned to their captain to ask WTF? But all she would say was that she was starting to rethink this whole deal. Before they could press her for anymore, the rest of the gate was torn off of the hinges, revealing the group's saviors.

Their leader's hadn't informed them that they would be Drow. Still, they had just saved them, and did not appear hostile. Sensing that said Drow would not attack, Thor bent to his brother's fleshless body.

{Player's Note: It was at this point that Alex went into grizzly detail about what a bag of skin and bones with no flesh or muscle would feel like when being handled. I think the term he used was 'skin maraca'.}

Thor was just moving to add his brother to the Bag of Holding when a portal opened, admitting the ghostly grave keeper Loki had so unwisely made a deal with. He then stated that he had a contract to fulfil and took Loki's body -including all gear- into possession. Thor tried to object, but could not refute that Loki had made that agreement. So he reluctantly let go of his brother's remains. Thor did manage to talk him into leaving the Handy Haversack. Then he was gone.

(Of course, this could all have been an illusion created by Loki. There was no way to be sure, really.)

Before anyone could comment on the . . . commitment, of the grave keeper, Nebula returned with unglad tidings. Apparently she'd tracked many of those dog/wolf bipeds, and they were all converging on the group. Without a word the two groups left. (So much for leading another group through in a pincer attack . . .)

They followed a large tunnel carved into the ground that led all the way to the next town. About half way there they crossed two opposed 30 foot holes in the walls. They stopped long enough to examine them, realizing they had been corroded away, most likely by a Purple Worm. They all shuddered, and continued upon their way at a quickened pace.

Hazel spoke little during the trek, but it was obvious to everyone that she was taking the loss of the Gnome very hard. Even harder than Thor. When asked she immediately started crying, begging Thor's forgives for letting the Bloodrager's brother get killed. Thor was quick to point out that she had nothing to feel guilty for; she'd done all she possibly could, right up to the point of almost getting killed herself.

The next town had already been retaken by their Gnoll allies, making it the perfect place to unwind. But first they had to report on the events of the day and receive their next orders.

As they entered the command tent, before any introductions could be made, their Lieutenant was embraced by a female Gnolls, calling her sister. The Lieutenant in question returned the embrace, calling little sister. To Thor this was normal, but it did draw attention from virtually everyone else.

Once that reunion was finished the Cupcakes reported the doings and goings on of the previous fort. They were informed that, despite the failure of the pincer attack, the fort had been taken. Then it was time to make plans for their next objective.

This time they were to march with the army to the next town. The Gnolls had already scouted it, even making an attempt to clear the town. Unfortunately, this attempt had been met by some strange gremlin like creatures that simply reformed once they'd been killed. The tale reminded the Cupcakes immediately of their first fight after awakening in that strange place they'd so recently escaped from. But this version of the tale came with an interesting twist: instead of simply forming balls of goo, or grouping into larger versions of themselves, these gremlins formed together to create Gibbering Mouthers. What's worse, once defeated, these Mouthers would group together, making bigger, meaner mouthers.

Thor quickly explained the manner in which he'd kept the gremlins from reforming, namely by burning the goo. The leaders of the various armies assured them that they would ensure they had enough fire to take care of the remains.

They had penetrated far enough to trace what they believed to be the source of the contamination in the town to the church. When asked, all they'd said was that it was 'different' than the rest of the town.

About the only other interesting information was that this town also had a two meter tall purple crystal hovering over a fountain near the center. This one was dull, as if not charged yet, or as if it had discharged recently. The Cupcakes informed the council of the purpose of said gem. A new priority in the battle plan was added: destroy, or in some way neutralize the crystal.

Then it was time for orders. The Cupcakes were to move with the Army to the town, then split off. The various armies would engage the main enemy forces while the Cupcakes would make a beeline to the church. All units were given orders to destroy the crystal if they came in range of it.

As the Cupcakes were leaving, the Gnolls shaman asked if they could obtain some of that silver thread that held the gremlins together. They agreed, Hazel bickering about how she used to have some.

Once that task was completed the group did what any adventuring group would; they found the nearest tavern and got stone drunk. Thor started off by pouring a Gnome sized portion out of a mug onto the floor. Then he attacked his drinking the way he attacked everything.

The only person to get more drunk than him was Hazel. A couple of drinks in and she tried (again) to apologize to Thor for not having been able to save his brother. An apology he simply waved away as unneeded. It was doubtful if she saw the gesture as such. Which only caused her to drink more.

Eventually they fumbled their way to the tent that had been set up for them and passed out.

{Player's Note: And now I get to play Frank Castle!}

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