Session 20: Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle: Souls of the Damned (****)
Our ninth-level heroes, dwarven cleric of life Tobias Ironaxe (my character), halfling ranger beastmaster Lektra Alderleaf (my five-year-old daughter's character), and gnome arcane trickster Elec Alderleaf (my eight-year-old son's character) are joined by the paladin Sir Isteval to explore the ruins of Dragonspear Castle and thence on to Skyreach Castle. To their dismay, Skyreach Castle had already departed!

They made their way to the front hall of Dragonspear Castle, encountering six gargoyles. After defeating them, Sir Isteval sensed another person nearby and they made their way to a tower containing Darrondar Gweth, a priest who was lured to the ruins under false pretenses by an old comrade, Alwern Mulverax. Gweth's plan was to strengthen the bonds of a ritual to keep the Hell portal beneath Dragonspear closed. Instead, Mulverax was handed over to a coven of vampires and disappeared.

The PCs freed Gweth and agreed to assist him in resealing the portal, but it didn't quite work out that way. Gweth led them to the Hold of the Battle Lions, which held the shrine of Tempus. Gweth reached into the altar and pulled forth the hilt of a holy relic, Illydrael...and promptly committed suicide with it.

Gweth's blood spilled over the altar, reopening the portal to hell. Haunn, Isteval's dead squire, reappeared. Elec asked his amulet of augury (which contains a goldfish that you can ask a question once/day) if Haunn was a good guy and discovered he wasn't. Haunn revealed his true form: Nadir the Rakshasa, sworn enemy of Sir Isteval. Nadir teleported to the far side of the portal as two spined devils and six lemures crawled out of the pit.

Isteval, convinced the only way to close the portal was to sacrifice himself, asked the PCs to clear a path. Once again Tobias' spirit guardians cut a swath through the lemures, bolstered by his aspergillum of exorcism. Taking careful aim, Lektra fired an arrow into Nadir from across the pit. My daughter rolled a natural 20 and we use a spinner to determine critical effects -- sure enough, Nadir died on the spot (the original means of instantly dispatching a rakshasa was with a critical hit by a blessed crossbow bolt).

The tide turned. By round two the devils were cleared out and Isteval was on his way to the pit. Another round of spined devils failed to stop the heroes. It was here that the PCs had a choice as Isteval prepared to throw himself into the pit. Tobias's spirit guardians was holding the devils at bay, but performing the ritual to close the portal required Tobias to be too far away to help and the ritual would take far too long to complete in any case. Instead, Tobias opted to cast a commune spell on the amulet of augury to ask what to do. Isteval agreed to wait the minute-long casting time to complete the ritual.

During that time an enormous, demonic skeletal being crawled out of the pit. The heroes threw everything they had at it as Tobias worked as fast as he could on the ritual. More lemures and spined devils emerged only to be beaten back. Elec defeated the bone devil with his sneak attack.

The ritual enabled Elec to ask three questions of the magic fish (a fish he named Darwin, after The Amazing World of Gumball). To heighten the tension, I allowed Elec to ask one question each round in the final rounds of the ritual. His questions were:

  • "Is there a way to stop the portal besides Sir Isteval sacrificing himself?" Yes.
  •  "Do we have the means of stopping it ourselves?" Yes.
  •  "Is it an object we have on us?" Yes.

Isteval realized that he still had Eldrin Haunn's holy symbol. Lifting it high in the sunlight, he threw it into the pit, closing the portal once and for all.

This is an adventure for D&D Next and as such has some curious discrepancies, like a reference to casting raise dead on Gweth to finish the ritual. Raise dead in 5E takes an hour to cast, which would make it futile to ask for Gweth's help to perform a 10 minute ritual. The adventure also plays fast and loose with the rules -- Nadir can cast teleport when he has no reason to other than for plot purposes. There's also a lot of monsters in the castle ruins that have no purpose -- there's a behir who is curiously detached from the events taking place there.

Like most of Dragonspear Castle, this chapter has lots of good ideas and a rough execution. But it was a satisfying conclusion to the series. Of course, it wasn't over yet, as a death knight and two red wizards showed up soon after...


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