Planescape: The Great Modron March by DAD LOST MY IPOD
IntroOriginal SA post
Here we go!
Welcome to the Great Modron March. This is a Planescape adventure by the redoubtable Monte Cook and Colin McComb. The former you may know, the latter was heavily involved with Planescape and with Black Isle during the development of Fallout 2 and the amazing Planescape: Torment. TGMM is in fact more of a linked series of mini-adventures detailing the events around the titular March. I’ll begin with a brief overview before diving into the adventures one at a time.
So what is a Modron, anyways?
I don’t know if any TG regulars don’t actually know what a modron is, but I figured it might be helpful to lay it out. Modrons are the characteristic race of Mechanus, the plane of absolute Law. They are strange, part-clockwork beings that live lives of perfect order in a realm of perfect law. The closest analogy to modrons might be an insect hive crossed with a bureaucracy; they come in many types, each of which has rigidly defined capabilities, characteristics, and responsibilities. The five lowest-ranking types are, in ascending order, monodrones, duodrones, tridones, quadrones and pentadrones; these increase in complexity and intelligence from the near-mindless monodrones to the intelligent (if very alien in thought) pentadrones. Above these five ranks, which may be considered the commoners of Modron society, there are the hierarch modrons: decatons, nonatons, octons, and so forth up to Primus, the unique and solitary ruler of all Modrons (and a power in its own right).
Each rank obeys the rank above them unquestioningly, although that statement doesn’t fully take into account Modron society. It is more accurate to say that each rank only recognizes the ranks above and below it. A duodrone will unquestionably obey any order by a tridrone and will in turn instruct the monodrones under its care, but it cannot even recognize a quadrone or higher ranking modron as a member of its own species. If hauled before a hierarch modron judge to answer for some crime, it can only perceive the judge as a terrifying embodiment of ultimate Law—maybe a “super-tridrone” of sorts. Orders are thus passed along the chain from higher ranking to lower ranking modrons, who execute them flawlessly.
Modrons are living beings and all but monodrones must eat and drink. However, they are partially clockwork, or at least seemingly-clockwork. They’re not golems. They’re also immune to lots of magical effects. I’m not gonna post modron stats unless it’s relevant, but generally assume that hierarch modrons are all spellcasters (clerics of Primus, the source of their spells) and drones are fighters with some spell-like abilities.
So what happens if you knock out a link in the chain?
Modrons are asexual and are not born from anything. The number of modrons at each rank is specific and fixed and cannot be changed. If a modron dies, a nearby modron is “promoted” to its rank. This entails an immediate and shocking physical and intellectual transformation, as the newly promoted modron becomes aware of a whole new rank of modrons above it and immediately begins issuing orders to its new inferiors. Of course, modron minds are perfectly prepared for this and don’t suffer at all from it. This promotion leaves a gap in the rank below it, which is filled immediately by the same method, and likewise down the chain until a new monodrone is spawned from a pool at the heart of modron territory. It doesn’t matter which modron gets promoted, because all modrons of a given rank are identical, except for…
Except for what?
Well, some modrons go rogue. Nobody knows why and there doesn’t seem to be any consistent way of inducing it, although chaotic creatures love to try. A rogue modron typically takes the form of a quadrone (a box with legs, arms and wings and a face on the front) and sets out exploring its independence. Rogue modrons are hated by regular modrons because they retain their ability to command lesser modrons (who can command their own lessers, and so on) and therefore pose a serious threat to modron society. Modrons will do anything they can to eliminate any rogues they find. They’re never intentionally cruel or barbaric; they’re creatures of perfect law and order, nothing more, nothing less.
So what’s this “March” all about?
Well, once every 289 years (17 times 17 years, or how long it takes the largest wheel in Mechanus to turn once) thousands of modrons spill out of Mechanus and begin marching through the planes. Nobody knows why and the modrons aren’t telling, but the common belief is that they are gathering information on the state of the planes for Primus. This march weaves through all of the Outer Planes and their associated gate-towns in a clockwise pattern and ends up back in Mechanus. This is extremely destructive, because the modrons do not stop for anything and will batter down and trample anything in their way, although they are not actually aggressive. Monodrones don’t sleep and higher-ranking modrons push themselves beyond their normal limits for the March. When they absolutely must sleep they are carried on litters. Some modrons can fly, and they carry non-flyers when necessary. All modrons can either swim or be instructed how to swim on a discretionary basis. Nothing stops the March.
Naturally the inhabitants of the places they go bitterly resist them, and since the March’s exact path changes each time, there’s no way to know in advance who’s at risk (it is believed that in their inscrutable fashion, modrons calculate the “optimal” route each time). Combine this with the inherent danger to the modrons of marching through the chaotic planes or, worse, the Lower Planes, and it’s no wonder that the March sustains horrendous casualties each time. Due to the modron promotion process, the later stages of the march end up with all higher-ranking modrons, and if there’s only one survivor it’ll always be a Quinton. There’s never been a march where no modrons made it back, but chaotic bloods always try, and Factol Pentar of the Doomguard is keen on seeing it stopped for good.
So where do we come in?
Well, you’ll see. This adventure takes place at various stages throughout the March, as the PCs are called upon to help, hinder or simply deal with the disruption the March always leaves in its wake. There’s one thing about this March that’s unusual, though: this time, for the first time ever (as far as anyone can tell), the March has started early. About a hundred and fifty years early. And nobody knows why. The idea that something is able to disrupt the routine of the logical modrons is pretty chilling, and a lot of people want to know what’s up.
I’d be happy to answer any other questions that crop up, but I think that’s solid background for now. Next post I’m going to begin the adventure.
The Cat’s BiddingOriginal SA post
The Great Modron March Part 2: The Cat’s Bidding
And so we set off on the great adventure.
As I mentioned earlier, The Great Modron March is actually a linked series of mini-adventures that tell the story of the March. This format is carried through in the direct sequel, Dead Gods, and I like it; it makes it feel more organic, like you can inject these scenarios into an ongoing campaign. A March takes a long time to finish, after all, and running the adventure this way can make it feel like an epic event going on the background that the PCs will periodically have reason to involve themselves with. It’s less railroad-y.
Each adventure tells you how many PCs are appropriate, what levels they should be, what kind of PCs are best, how the factions will get involved (which is useful if PCs have strong faction affiliations) and has a brief synopsis at the start. This also lets you pick and choose which parts are appropriate for your campaign. If you want, you can run them all very gradually as the PCs level up, and thread the narrative of the March through the campaign as a whole. It’s a neat idea.
We begin with Chapter 1: The March Begins. This is meant for 4 to 6 PCs of 1st to 3rd level, and is ideal for fresh PCs since it brings them together and begins in Sigil. Good-aligned PCs are probably more likely to want to help, though any will do so for the reward. No faction alignment is required.
Our story begins in Sigil, where the PCs, either individually or collectively, are minding their own business. Without warning a psychic pressure begins to push at them, beginning as annoying but growing to a throb that threatens unconsciousness. They find that stepping forward relieves the pain ever so slightly, and if they do not do so, they fall unconscious in three rounds. Ok, so it’s a little railroad-y, but only at the beginning. Anyways, the pain is relieved by following a specific route which they can discover through trial and error, and it takes them to a little two-story building a couple of blocks from the Bazaar labeled “Jysson.” The door is unlocked and entering ends the pain completely.
Inside, it appears to be an abandoned clerk’s office, strewn with papers and debris etc. They have a moment to investigate, but soon hear a quiet voice say “Oh, dear. I had no idea that would be so… painful for you. Please accept my apology.”
The voice comes from the back of the room, but there’s nobody there. If the PCs check it out, a small grey cat jumps up on the table; if they ask the cat if it just spoke or summoned them, it’ll say “Nope. It wasn’t me.” In response, a large leather-and-metal bound book will flip itself open, revealing a face between the pages (which are blank). It tells them, in that same voice, “I really am sorry,” before continuing using a long-outdated version of Sigil’s street cant:
“I needed to call for help, so I reached out and tried to curb some ‘pertish folks off the street. It’s been so long since I’ve done that, I guess I grabbed too hard. Perhaps some sparkle would make it up to you? After you’ve heard me out I’ll see to that, I promise. You see, we need a few kind pivers who will take myself and my associate here to the gate-town of Automata. Have you heard of Automata, gate-town to Mechanus? It’s still there, isn’t it?”
After this, introductions all around. The cat is Ydemi Jysson and the book is just called The Book. Jysson is, naturally, the former owner of this building. He died, as mortals do, and became a petitioner on the Beastlands, where he was very happy. One day the cat lord of the Beastlands asked him to deliver a message to someone in Sigil, which he agreed to do (though he hated to leave). On his way back, something seemed to beckon him into this building, where he met the Book and was told about his past life.
When he was a human, he had owned this building and lived overhead, working here as a clerk. He bought a magical book to help him with his work and made regular payments on it, but when he died he defaulted on the terms. He feels bad about that and wants to bring the Book back to its creator, but as a small cat there’s no way he can carry a big book like that all the way to Automata. The Book therefore called out to the PCs to help them return it to its rightful owner.
The Book was created by a wizard named Heiron in Automata, who specializes in powerful sentient magical items. Jysson doesn’t remember anything from his previous life and knows only what the Book told him, but the Book is pretty sure it can find Heiron. It also offers all of Jysson’s stashed money to the PCs, as well as the building (a handy base of operations in the City of Doors). The Book has some limited ability to read minds and defend itself, but isn’t really a tome of great power. It’s really good at math, I guess, but very uncreative. It is impressive looking at least, with an intertwined HL on the cover, the sigil of Heiron Lifegiver.
So, assuming the PCs want to help, the first question is how to get to Automata. Finding a good portal and key is an adventure in itself but the Book happens to know one. In the Clerk’s Ward of Sigil, one scribe’s shop has a portal in the doorway. The key is a piece of paper torn in perfectly even halves with the letter E printed on each half. The DM is encouraged to add some Sigil flavor and maybe some trouble getting to and through the portal, but not too much; the real challenge is in Automata.
See, Automata’s a lawful place, but people there aren’t automatons. There’s a black market and a whole criminal underworld, the Council of Anarchy (though they’re more organized than most organized crime, it must be said). Heiron’s got one foot in each world and he’s been shorting the Council their fees. They’re not pleased, and he’s had to go into hiding to escape them. They’re on the lookout for intelligent magic items, his tell-tale handiwork, and the PCs are about to bring one right into the middle of Automata.
Anyways, the portal drops them off outside a building in Automata, where they get their first look at the gate-town. It’s composed of regular rows of well-made, well-organized buildings of identical grey-red stone, all at right angles and set out in orderly straight lines. The people wear grey robes and likewise move in neat little rows. An armored guard greets them and informs them that they must register at the Office of Visiting Entities. They can skip this—Jysson, a chaotic petitioner, certainly wants to—though doing so means that later on they’ll have to pay a 10gp fine if they are stopped by a patrol or approach a minor official. The procedure for registration takes three or four hours in a large office staffed by petitioners and modrons alike, and after a lot of boring lectures and a 5sp fee each the PCs will get street passes.
Either way, they should find navigating Automata easy; it’s all uniform, rectangular buildings, with all of the blocks being dedicated to one thing (offices, homes, shops etc). The identical grey-robed inhabitants are petitioners, but there are a number of planars and primes as well, and you might see rilmani, baatezu or archon walking around. Of course there are a few modrons here on inscrutable tasks of their own. The Book can lead them right to Heiron’s home, but upon arrival they see they’re at a shopping district and the exact address is now occupied by Thandol’s Smoked Meats. Inside, the petitioner Thandol can tell them that Heiron’s not around anymore—he left a few months ago. He doesn’t know where, but he knows that the wizard used to hang out at The Divine Machine, a nearby tavern. He suspects that Heiron wasn’t completely on the up-and-up, but doesn’t know anything concrete.
The Divine Machine is a Halfling-owned and Halfling-sized tavern, so PCs may have some trouble sitting comfortably (although most of the patrons are not halflings). PCs who want to mingle, buy drinks, and rumormonger will hear that Heiron’s in hiding. He sold his shop, packed his things and vanished a while back. Some think he skipped down, but others remember that he’s occasionally had to hide out to let something blow over before. He’s a law-abiding guy, but it’s hard to live in Automata and never break a law. He’s hiding somewhere around, they assure the PCs.
They can’t get more information than that, but they catch a lucky break here. One of his friends, a tiefling named Muenscaal, sees the PCs asking about him and recognizes the Book. She’ll watch them long enough to be sure they’re not Council of Anarchy stooges and then approach them privately outside the tavern to ask what they plan to do with the Book.
If they tell her that they want to give it back to Heiron, she’ll help them find him. If not, she’ll shake her head and walk away, using darkness to escape undetected. There are other ways to find him, but they’re more difficult. Meanwhile, the Council has spotted them and is tracking them; if they’re being careful, the DM should give them a chance to spot their tail, though it’s difficult and losing them is even harder. They can pick a fight with the agents, though they’re outmatched, and it’ll bring the town guards down on both of their heads and a short stint in the pokey to cool off.
Heiron’s actually hiding in a pretty safe place: the Council of Order building. A closet inside the building, to be precise. Now, he likes some space, so he’s been casting Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion every 14 hours or so to maintain a luxurious dwelling, while he keeps his belongings in a portable hole. He figures nobody will think to look for him here and he can just hole up until the heat is off. To get him to come out, enter the closet, knock five times and whistle.
Getting into the building at night is very difficult, since it’s patrolled by Fraternity of Order guards. Getting in during the day is easier and might just take some forging or creative lying. Remember that you need a permit for just about anything in Automata, but failing to have one generally just results in a stern lecture and directions to the proper office. This isn’t a very violent place.
Once the PCs make it to Heiron’s closet, they can give the signal, which causes a previously invisible door in the wall to appear and open. Heiron sticks his head out but, not recognizing the PCs, he’ll immediately gasp and pull back. He’s recognizably cagey at the moment but quick thinking can get his attention—that or the Book. He likes the Book and always did, and he assumed it was stolen; getting it back is a pleasant surprise, as is getting an apology from a cat. Heiron will admit that death is a good excuse and will even invite particularly polite and friendly PCs into his mansion for a meal and a rest.
Unfortunately, it’s not to be. The Council of Anarchy have used the PCs to find Heiron and use this moment to strike. They have the proper permits to get in, and they fling open the door to the closet. It’s a gang of human thugs led by an elf wizard named Jezrene Quickeye, and she orders them to “capture the old man but kill the rest of these sods.”
The PCs should be a little outmatched by this—the suggestion is one 1st level thief and one 1st level fighter per PC, but the DM is encouraged to tune the encounter based on the group’s capabilities. Heiron will, of course, immediately retreat into his mansion, but it’s no good; Jezrene will cast dispel magic to shut it down and dump everything inside out in the closet.
Jezrene and Heiron will focus on each other. Good thing, too, since she’s a 10th level mage/10th level thief and would mop the floor with the party. He’ll be trying to escape, and she’ll be trying to capture him. Meanwhile the low-level thugs square off against the PCs. Nobody’s attacking the cat, but PCs should still protect him, since if he dies off of the Beastlands his essence is forever lost.
This is a chaotic little brawl in a confined space, and of course the guards are immediately alerted, but in a moment everyone’s going to have more on their hands: the gate to Mechanus slams open and wave after wave of modrons starts pouring out. The Great Modron March has begun… 150 years early. Everyone in town is completely floored by this, even Jezrene, and this is the PCs’ (and Heiron’s) best chance to make a break for it. He can use fog cloud to cover their getaway if need be.
So, hopefully Heiron and the PCs escape and hole up somewhere safe. He’s grateful for the assist and the return of the Book, but not particularly generous. Jysson and the Book will happily tell the PCs where to find Jysson’s secret stash (734gp, plus the deed to his building). Of course, all of this is secondary to the main thing of note: the Great Modron March has started and it’s off schedule. Everyone’s talking about it and Automata is thrown into temporary chaos. People are predicting doom or salvation, calling it the end of the multiverse, and so on. It takes 20 hours for the full March to pass through the gate, after which people calm down a little—but it’s still the talk of the planes, and it’s only just begun. At least there’s no devastation. Automata has a great open lane called the Modron Way kept permanently clear for the March and thus avoids the ravages and trampling that occur elsewhere.
PCs can head back to Sigil the same way they got in, with only an inkling that something weird is going on, but they’ll soon be drawn into the orbit of the March for real.
A note on art: the art in this book is mostly the incomparable diTerlizzi, but unlike in RTTOH it’s not all neatly encapsulated at the end. I’ll do my best to cut out some good pieces to break up all my text.
Romper StompersOriginal SA post
The Great Modron March Part 3: Romper Stompers
The March has begun.
As I said before, the modrons march in (appropriately enough) clockwise fashion around the planes. Their first visits, therefore, are to the lawful and good planes of Arcadia and Mount Celestia and their associated gate-towns. These places are not particularly thrilled the host a destructive Modron March, but they’re not exactly about to slaughter all of the defenseless modrons either, so it’s a good threat-light environment for PCs to get their feet wet (so to speak). Part two of the adventure, The Unswerving Path, demonstrates a paradoxical outcome of the March: though the modrons are law incarnate, their passage (especially as untimely as this one is) tends to create chaos. This adventure is meant for a party of 2nd to 4th level. As before, the adventure suggests how the factions might get involved, though at this early stage it’s pretty much “find out as much as you can about this weird March.”
The adventure begins on Mount Celestia, so step one is getting your PCs there. This shouldn’t prove too difficult in a Planescape game. Mount Celestia is the plane of absolute law and goodness, and it’s actually a very nice and pleasant place for non-evil visitors. It’s chock full of archons who normally protect the inhabitants from any invader daft enough to take a run at the Mount. This time, however, they’ve been ordered to keep their distance; some kind of chaos has infected the modrons, the archon leaders fear, to make them march out of tune like this. Best to avoid any possible taint.
The PCs are crossing Lunia, the first mountain, enjoying another beautiful day in God’s country. They are approached by a lantern archon, basically a good-aligned will-o-wisp and the lowest rank of archon. The lantern archon addresses the PCs politely and asks that they accompany it, as its superiors wish to speak with them. It doesn’t know exactly what they want, except that it has to do with the modrons. The PCs are free to refuse (and thus prematurely end the adventure), but let’s assume they follow.
The archon leads the PCs along a trail that was not visible before, illuminated by its light. There’s some lovely description of the sweet breezes and beautiful scenery before the archon leads them to a balcony on a great silver and marble arch. They are met there by a sword archon named Alziel, who beseeches them for help (and offers to pay them if they are not honorable souls; archons understand not everyone shares their commitment). She explains that the modrons are marching, nobody knows why, the archons are afraid to come into contact with them, etc. She also explains that the march is heading for the town of Heart’s Faith. The archons are afraid of the destruction the modrons will bring to the town, but are also afraid to directly intervene. That’s where the PCs come in. Alziel asks them to do something to save Heart’s Faith.
She will offer 5000 gp if the PCs ask for a reward, but not asking gives them the esteem of the archons, which might be nice to have later. She can also offer knowledge, a pledge of later aid etc. Regardless, if the PCs accept the quest, we’re off to the races.
From here the adventure is pretty open-ended, though I’ll hit all the major points. The lantern archon leads them to a point about 15 miles from the town. From here, they can see a massive line of modrons snaking along the coast, and a host of archons circling and bobbing nervously, unwilling to get close. The modrons will reach the town in about 10 hours, so the clock is ticking. The PCs can see how they’ve trampled the ground and greenery into muck. Animals have fled before the march but the plants are trashed. There are modron scouts ahead and a rearguard behind the march, surrounding the command and control group in the middle.
PCs should definitely NOT attack the March. The modrons will defend themselves and completely overwhelm them. They’re not hostile if not attacked, though, and PCs will be able to speak to high-ranking modrons if they follow the proper channels. This will begin with a quadrone, the first modron that will actually speak to the PCs. It’ll make space for them to fall in with the March, which never stops for any reason. It will interrogate them on important points (their names, their places of origin, their mission) and unimportant ones (favorite meal, etc.) before passing them on to a pentadrone if it is satisfied that they don’t mean harm to the March. If they impress the pentadrone with cleverness or lawfulness, it’ll pass them to a decaton, the highest-ranked modron that will pay any attention to them. Whatever modron they end up dealing with will relay the following:
1) The only way to reach the gate to Excelsior (Mount Celestia’s gate-town) is through Heart’s Faith
2) The modrons signed an agreement ages ago to march through the roads of Heart’s Faith to get to the gate
3) Therefore, they will continue to follow the preset route, regardless of what the roads look like now.
There’s a list of how it will react to various prompts.
-Turn aside and bypass Heart’s Faith entirely? Nonsense. We have maps. The only way to reach the gate is through the town, we must reach the gate, therefore we must pass through the town.
-Look at new maps and find a better route? Nonsense, our maps are correct, therefore other maps are incorrect. Our maps cannot be incorrect.
-Meet with the town’s leaders to renegotiate? Nonsense, if they wanted to renegotiate they would have done so before we left Mechanus. The path is set. We have a long-standing agreement to pass on the roads and will do so regardless of whether the roads are in good repair. Changing those roads was chaotic. Our actions will remind them of this.
-Point out that they will bring chaos to the town? Nonsense. The residents should have avoided change, which would have avoided chaos. Our passage will restore order.
-Bring up contagion in the March? Nonsense. We repel chaos. We do not contain chaos. There is no chaos in modron minds.
-Bemoan the destruction and loss of life? Nonsense. Those who can move will, those who cannot will be trampled. That is one of the laws of the multiverse. We do not make laws, we only enforce them.
(This is a pretty uncharacteristically harsh response even for a modron and should be a subtle, early clue that something is up with the modrons).
-Ask about law, chaos, and disruption? We are ultimate law. All other law is tainted when compared to us. We are order. All other order disappears when held to our light. We are structure. All other structure crumbles when brought against us. We are perfect law.
The modrons are set. They are not going to be dissuaded from marching. There’s only one thing to do: prepare the town. The PCs can make it to the town first, since the march moves at a steady speed of 6, though it might be exhausting to rush all that way. They can send an archon ahead to warn people, but ultimately the PCs will need to be there.
Next we get a little description of Heart’s Faith, including its lammassu militia (the Winged Lions, who are unfortunately absent at a conclave). The town has a huge wooden pier that juts out into the Silver Sea at the base of the mountain. There’s a bazaar in a great plaza (sometimes underwater at high tide) where merchants set up shop, and a great temple at the center of town. The city is on three descending tiers up the side of the mountain. First is the Merchants’ Tier, with inns, banks, guilds, shops, and all the things that pilgrims up the Mountain need. Second is Citizens’ Rest, where the majority of the occupants live. It is beautiful and well maintained and everyone lives in comfort, even the poorest. The third level is Lions’ Pride, which houses the lawmakers and enforcers, such as the Winged Lions.
welcome to scenic heart’s faith
This map shows the path the modrons take. As you can see, they split into three, then split again and again before recombining. The middle path, a road called the Ascension, goes straight through, as do the modrons who pass along it.
Upon arrival, the PCs are told that the leader of the town (the lammassu Lebes) is far away, but the acting leader is an aasimar named Cauldronborn. He’ll listen to the PCs’ warning and take it seriously, though he didn’t expect to be in charge for something like this. He’s not really prepared for it and will listen to any suggestions PCs have, though he won’t accept stupid plans uncritically.
Regardless, soon after meeting him, they are interrupted by a panting boy who dashes in and collapses, saying “My lord! A huge army of modrons advances toward us! We have but a few minutes before they are upon us!” This is a chance for the PCs to take the lead, though Cauldronborn will suggest that they think of the population before the structures. From here on, it’s an attempt to evacuate and protect as many people as possible. You cannot stop the march, but you can mitigate its harm. The adventure provides a number of encounters and suggestions of possible tactics the PCs will employ, and how they will work.
Three defenses suggested are:
1) Topple buildings and build barricades to slow the modrons down
2) Try to engage them in philosophical debate to distract or slow them
3) Perform a chaotic action to distract them and force them to try to re-establish order
Anyways, after a short time, the modrons arrive, and the excretory material intersects with the air propulsion mechanism. Cauldronborn, despite having had the nature of the March explained to him, firmly believes that the modrons will listen to reason. He’ll stand at the gate and demand to speak to the Quinton leader of the march. He bears the signet that demonstrates that he is the duly appointed authority of the town, and the Quinton will listen to him… for a little while, anyways. After five rounds it will announce “You are halting our progress. Therefore, you are an obstacle. Stand aside or be removed.” He doesn’t take the threat seriously, though the PCs probably do. If they don’t yank him out of the way fast enough, the Quinton raises two arms to attack and strikes like a snake. Cauldronborn’s not dead, but he’s unconscious, and unable to direct the defense of the town. That leaves the PCs in charge.
The map has a number of letters on it. Those are various encounters, as detailed below.
Area A is where the modrons arrive and the above scene takes place. Area B is an inn frequented by old philosophers. PCs will see them running into the tavern, instead of away. If asked what they’re doing, they’ll say “Why, defending the town, of course!” They have a plan.
When the modrons are near, one of them steps forward and shouts “Obey the law! We have a treaty with your kind that you shall leave this structure alone!” The modron leader pauses and replies “We are not aware of any such treaty. We shall proceed.” With a theatrical wink towards the PCs, the old man says “I’ve got the contract somewhere around here. Don’t you break that law until I can prove it to you.”
Shockingly, this actually works, a little. The locals head for the hills while the monodrones and duodrones mill around waiting for their section leader to consult the hierarchy. When it returns, it announces that “No such treaty exists. The penalty for attempting to sow chaos through incorrect facts is death.” Five monodrones and two duodrones move to seize the old man. Him and his old philosopher buddies call for PC help, which hopefully they will provide; getting 100 yards away from the march makes the modrons give up, or you could just fight the seven trying to steal him. They won’t be reinforced and the others won’t take revenge (or really notice at all) so if the PCs can beat them they can save the old man. Meanwhile of course the building is utterly annihilated by trampling modrons.
At C, twenty guards have decided to make a stand to protect a building that was once the home of the prophet Kralina. They’re standing in a bold line, weapons ready, hearts pure and full of courage. They’re gonna be a smear on the pavement. You have to persuade them to move, which won’t be easy, since they’re fanatical devotees of Kralina. Appealing to the greater good is a good idea. It’s a popular concept here in Mount Celestia.
Area D is a big apartment building. The modrons waltz right through the first story, critically compromising the structural integrity of the rest of it, panicking the civilians inside. PCs have seven rounds to rescue three old people and two small children huddled in a bedroom on the top floor before the building collapses and deals 4d6 to everyone still inside.
E is the Library. Everyone’s fled except the feeble old librarian, who is holding a tome and shouting about the knowledge that will be lost. The modrons are paused while their pentadrone commander steps forward to confront her, but this statement holds it up. This is one opportunity for the PCs to actually reason with modrons (attacking them is of course futile, though the modrons won’t kill them, just render them harmless and ignore them). If the PCs can appeal logically to the idea of preserving knowledge, the pentadrone will ensure that its subordinates march through the library in an orderly and careful way, avoiding damage to the structure or books and heading out the back door. Otherwise it’s smash time.
Area F is the orphanage, the Heart of the Mended Trust. One of Cauldronborn’s runners will summon the PCs here, shouting “There’s no one else! You have to come!” Local wizards have erected a shield of magical force around the orphanage, which the modrons are busy battering down. Children are fleeing out the windows and shimmying down the drainwork, but the building’s getting more unstable. Simply running in to grab as many kids as you can saves 20 of the 50 trapped, with more or fewer depending on your plan. Fighting the modrons here distracts them—and they won’t kill unless the PCs are obviously trying to kill them back. If the PCs can hold off a force of 20 monodrones, 10 duodrones, and three tridrones for five rounds, they’re relieved by a group of warriors who will hold the line long enough for the PCs and children to escape. Otherwise, the modrons trample right through the orphanage and collapse it on the heads of its occupants, presumably kicking any stray puppies they see in the way.
Area G is the harbor, where the modrons converge and begin tearing apart the ships. They’re obviously planning to build something. The shipowners cry out and demand help in protecting their ships. At this point, most townsfolk are content to let the modrons go, since they’ve passed the town itself. Guards approaching the ships are cut down by the modrons. PCs with seafaring skill can get on a boat and sail it out of range, where the modrons will ignore it. Eventually, the modrons will use all that wood to construct a bridge leading to the gate that hovers 20 feet above the water. They’ll swim if they have to, but some might go under since they are more sinky than floaty. In about ten rounds, they’ll all be gone, one way or another.
So hooray! The village had to be destroyed in order to save it, but hopefully the PCs have preserved most lives. The archons will treat the PCs with utmost respect for their attempts, even if they weren’t all the way successful. The more damage they prevent, the more impressed the archons area, and the lammassu as well—PCs who return to Heart’s Faith will find they have special privileges and are generally well looked upon. This is good for building up a reputation among the planes, and they’ve earned some valuable contacts. Plus whatever monetary reward was negotiated. Also, the mayor of Heart’s Faith orders permanent gates and roads build on the specifications in the modrons’ old maps, to prevent this from happening again. Fool me once, etc.
As for the modrons, they march onward. What else could they do?
NEXT TIME: Frankenmodrons!
Modrons for BonesOriginal SA post
The Great Modron March Part 4: Modrons for Bones
My references are getting more and more obscure.
Anyways, last time the PCs saved the town of Heart’s Faith from complete Modron Massacre. Though there was a lot of stompy damage at least they didn’t have to watch orphans get ground into paste in front of them. This adventure picks up shortly after that one—the modrons have left Excelsior and are crossing the Outlands towards Tradegate, the gate-town to Bytopia. This part should be suitable for 4-6 PCs levels 3-5.
A note: this adventure mostly involves helping the modrons, and its placement right after the last is no accident. PCs should be a little leery about helping them after seeing the devastation they can wreak, especially if it’s fresh in their minds. It’s important to remember that modrons are not evil, but dedicated to a task. When they are attacked by truly evil and despicable villains, the PCs should be on their side.
Anyways, some background (for the GM). The Tacharim are a nomadic order of evil “knights” based in the Outlands. They’re cruel and sadistic, with ties to the Doomguard and Xaositects, and their goals seem to revolve around expanding their power and influence in the planes. They are opposed by the knights of Excelsior, especially the paladin Sir Vaimish Crasad.
Recently, the Tacharim kidnapped some modrons from Automata and experimented on them. They discovered that they could remove some of the metallic, clockwork parts from modrons and attach them to people. These limbs granted enhanced abilities, so the Tacharim are taking advantage of the March to stock up on modron parts to build a part-modron army. The general problem is that killed modrons dissolve and their essence returns to Mechanus, thus leaving no parts to scrounge. A Tacharim sage has figured out how to remove and transplant limbs while keeping the modron alive. That’s really what you need to know for now, I’ll fill in the rest when we get there.
So we start with Vaimish Crasad. Recently, his sister has infiltrated the Tacharim, and hasn’t returned. She sent him a cryptic message using magic, saying “The knights of Tacharim have mastered a new, dark lore. You mustn’t let them get at the modrons. They’re using the modrons to…” and there, conveniently, it cuts off. Sir Vaimish is worried about his sister, but duty comes first, so he’s scouring Excelsior to find mercenaries to supplement his forces. His plan is to guard the March to prevent the Tacharim from stealing modrons. This is probably how the PCs get involved. Their factions could also push them to it, since they all want more information about the March and especially about why Sir Vaimish is so interested in seeing the modrons protected.
Assuming they hire on, Crasad briefs them on who the Tacharim are and warns them to be ready. The PCs can catch up to the March easily and are assigned a shift on the spireward side of the modron column. Sir Vaimish has figured out how to cope with the constant pace of the March: each guard unit stays on shift for 8 hours, then takes a 4 hour break. If they move twice as fast as the March, they remain in basically the same relative position. The different areas assigned overlap and each guard unit has a horn to summon help. Other guard units will share rumors that there have been some attacks by dark-armored adversaries, but they don’t know much.
The March is proceeding through an area of scrubby wilderness, which the modrons trample through, occasionally following an existing path and occasionally not. Things are quiet through the PCs’ first shift, but near the end, as night begins to fall, they see movement: three riders on black horses, plus a number of indistinct smaller shapes. They barge into the March and the smaller shapes let out terrifying howls, which seem to strike fear even in the normally immune modrons. This disorganizes the March momentarily, and each rider takes advantage to grab a modron and toss it on their mount.
These are the Tacharim and their pet yeth hounds. The unusual nature of this March is working to their advantage—the modrons are more agitated than normal, and are briefly vulnerable to the yeth hounds’ fear-causing howl. The Tacharim have practiced this tactic and plan to grab as many modrons as they can carry. The knights will fight to the death if the PCs intervene (they’re 4th-level fighters, and there are stats for the yeth hounds provided. It all happens so fast, though, that they might get away. PCs will notice that their foes’ armor bears a strange bulbous flower sigil, and that they’re trying to abduct modrons, not kill them. If they know anything about yeth hounds they’ll also know that they are only corporeal at night, and if they are a key part of the Tacharim’s plan then the knights can only strike at night.
The next attack comes the next night, and the PCs are warned by a trumpeting horn behind them. When they arrive they find eight guardians dead and see a large force of Tacharim and hounds escaping into the darkness. There are at least 20 knights, too many to fight, but PCs who stay hidden can watch them pile the modrons onto a wagon and take up a guard formation around it. Even if PCs don’t want to follow it, the wagon leaves an obvious trail any ranger can track. If they do nothing, attacks continue every night for the next ten days, at which point the March arrives at Tradegate. Sir Vaimish will want them to follow the trail and retrieve the stolen modrons.
These Tacharim are headed for the Rendering Works, a compound about a day’s travel spireward from the March. Black smoke is visible from an hour away. This is not a nice place. The building was originally a school, but has been modified, with windows bricked up. There are guard towers and outbuildings around as well. Smokestacks have been added, which belch a thick oily smoke into the air. The Knights and hounds enter the building through the main door. The PCs can get within about 150 feet without being seen, due to the rocky terrain providing numerous hiding spots.
Here, have a map.
Not pictured: Area A, a watchtower. (It is pictured in the book, but I didn’t feel like taking a picture). It’s 75 feet tall and made of stone on iron supports, iron-reinforced doors, the works. There are three 2nd-level fighter guards within.
B is the main entrance, with two guards inside peering out of peepholes. Nothing too special.
Area C is the Works. It’s very gruesome. When PCs enter, they hear modrons screaming in terror, smell modron vitals exposed to air, and see helpeless modron captives dangling from the ceiling. The room is part forge, part torture chamber. It’s full of vats and forges full of molten metal and numerous bizarre, acrid chemicals. This is the majority of the interior, which has been converted into a facility to dismember modrons, reforge or melt down the parts, and prepare them for the bonding process. The modrons themselves hang from the ceiling—12 monodrones, 5 duodrones, 2 tridrones and 1 quadrone. There are ten workers in here, unarmed and unarmored but evil and ready to fight with knives and tools if necessary.
D is a series of 15-foot-deep pits covered by grates where modron prisoners await rendering. Six monodrones, one tridrone, and one pentradrone are in here, plus Vaimish’s sister Greir, a 9th level ranger; if freed, she will help destroy the whole facility. There are four guards here as well, same as the door/tower guards.
Area E is just a storeroom for tools, supplies, chemicals etc. Nothing valuable in here.
Area F is the guard barracks. They’re pretty spartan, though the part reserved for the knights themselves is nicer, and has some of the black armor that PCs can loot (enough for two full sets). There’s three rooms that can hold 20 people each. There are about 10 each off-duty guards and workers, and maybe a few knights, but not many.
Area G is the common room/mess hall. There’s a crude kitchen here, and some stores; water comes from a nearby spring, food from Tradegate. Little details like that, I like—they make this seem like a real facility that could exist, not a dungeon that exists to be plumbed.
Area H is an observation gallery. Unless the PCs come at a time when a modron is actually being rendered, there’s nobody here. The tables have papers that explain the whole process of removing parts while keeping modrons alive, revealing a lot about modron anatomy.
Area I is the laboratories. This is where bonding modron parts to recipients takes place, using terrible alchemy. There are some operating tables and surgical implements here, along with detailed documents about the bonding process and books of human and nonhuman anatomy. The first lab has an unconscious man with modron legs—if disturbed, he has a seizure and dies. He’s watched over by a single worker. The second lab is empty. The third lab contains Denrac, a bariaur who has received a quadrone’s arm and a monodrone’s retractable monocle. He’s conscious and very hostile because the process is driving him insane. There are three alchemists here trying to calm him down—if the PCs try to help one side, that side will treat them as allies temporarily (Denrac long enough to get out of the lab, whereupon he attacks them, the alchemists until they figure out you’re not Tacharim). All of them are 0th level, though Denrac has some nasty modron abilities, like enhanced strength. The alchemists will be VERY unhappy if he’s killed, since he represents a lot of work, and his lover is the sage Yissa who developed the bonding process (of which more in a bit).
Area J is where the leaders live. This includes the alchemists, Yissa the sage, and a priest of Set named Sethetis. He’s a Tacharim member and the caster most involved in the whole process, mostly to ensure successful bonding. Given his importance to this operation, the Tacharim have assigned him a bodyguard: a fire grue mercenary named Kr’klckl. Anyways, these rooms have some nice stuff to steal, like art and treasure. At night, the various leaders are here, while during the day the DM should decide where they are.
Yissa was expelled from her herd on Ysgard for being kind of a sociopath, so she traveled to Outlands to study modrons. She met and fell in love with Denrac, then joined the Tacharim to advance her modron studies and gross experiments, and Denrac came with her. She will try to avoid combat, since she wants to continue her research (which requires her to be alive) and she has no real loyalty to the Tacharim. If Denrac is dead she’ll be upset, but not so much so that she loses her cool and does something stupid.
Sethetis is a priest of Set and member in good standing of the Tacharim. He’s also a Dustman. That’s a lot of allegiance for one person, but those organizations have fairly well-overlapping goals and methods. Sethetis wants to see if there’s a way to keeping dead modrons from disappearing so he can create undead modrons. So far, no luck, but he’ll keep trying. He won’t fight—he’ll let his grue do it, while he drinks a potion to polymorph into a snake and slither away.
The grue (I am not typing out his name again) is a mercenary and a bit of a sadist. He likes seeing modrons suffer. He won’t let Sethetis out of his sight, but if the priest gets away he considers his job done and peaces out.
The grue’s a bit tough, but there’s no party-wrecking threats here unless they aggro the whole building at once.
Area K is the yeth hound kennels. There’s no guards, because the hounds are intelligent and willfully aligned with the Tacharim. There’s only 2d4 here at a time, since the rest roam, but they’ll attack anyone who doesn’t identify themselves as Tacharim on sight. Remember, daylight banishes them to the Ethereal.
Area L is the stable. Two guards here, but nothing else really. The horses are well cared for at least, and might be used for escape.
The adventure now suggests how the climax might proceed. There are a few ways to sneak in as long as you can bypass the tower guards. The PCs should learn a bit about the Tacharim and their goals. The knights won’t talk, but the right encouragement can make the workers, guards and alchemists dish the dirt on the whole operation: Yissa, the bonding process, etc. They might also reveal the extremely flammability of many of the chemicals involved. Yup, might be we end up burning it all down. Rescuing the modrons is best, but killing them at least denies the Tacharim new parts and makes existing parts vanish (probably fatally). You shouldn’t burn it down with Greir Crasad still inside, though. A surprise attack might work, but it’ll have to be quick.
Anyways, however they do it, ideally they put the Works out of business for good. Any freed modrons still intact enough won’t be thankful—they’ll just rejoin the March as quick as they can. The disabled modrons are basically doomed; they need high-level healing magic to have a prayer, magic the PCs don’t have, and they can’t survive on their own. You can take them all the way back to Mechanus for repairs, which should be worth extra xp, but that’s a difficult trip to make.
There are a few recommendations for follow-up adventures, but we’ll get to some of that in due time… we haven’t seen the last of the Tacharim.
Next time: A favor for a nymph!
Trade SequenceOriginal SA post
The Great Modron March Part 5: Trade Sequence
Hello again! I’ve got some free time so I’ll keep updating this.
Last time the PCs saved the modrons from some horrible torturers, the Tacharim, and hopefully rescued some non-modron prisoners as well as destroying the awful Rendering Works. As this was happening, the March entered Bytopia, where the gnomish powers completely moved their realms to avoid the modrons. The modrons, ignoring this, moved on through Elysium-- probably the nicest spot on their whole route-- and passed through to Outland again, where they headed for Faunel, gate-town to the Beastlands. They’ve passed through and are now marching below the perpetual noon of Krigala.
The Beastlands is the neutral good/chaotic good plane, so while it’s still not terrible, it’s a bit more wild than anywhere the modrons have been before. This is their first taste of chaos on the March, and they really don’t like it. The Beastlands is filled, as you might imagine, with all manner of animals and animal-form petitioners, which means it’s a pretty feral place and not as civilized as its alignment might have you believe. It’s not overtly hostile, but PCs are encouraged to be respectful and recognize that they’re guests here. The Beastlands are watched over by the mysterious Mortai, phenomenally powerful and aloof cloud-creatures. More than anything else, the Beastlands is the beauty of the natural world, which modrons rather spoil.
The adventure begins when a fighter friend of the PCs turns up hurt. He was bitten by an aeserpent while traveling through the Beastlands, and while he managed to escape, its venom is wreaking havoc on him. He’s lapsed into a coma from which he cannot be awakened. The PCs can easily get information in Sigil that the person to talk to about healing this guy is a nymph named Alisiphone in the Beastlands. He warns them not to look directly at her when they do meet her (seeing a nymph can blind you, or kill you if she’s naked), but that she’s friendly and very capable. He also tells them about a portal in the Market Ward that leads to the Beastlands a few miles from Alisiphone’s lake.
The portal lets them out in Krigala, which is perpetually lit by a noonday sun. It’s an unrelenting and oppressive presence. They are let out on the edge of a savannah, with a little stream running through it. It’d be pleasant except that the stream is full of oily debris and pollution. That’s DEFINITELY not normal on the Beastlands, and warrants investigation, though the PCs might not decide to go looking for it right away. The events of this adventure can play out in any order, but for now let’s assume they beeline for the nymph. Their friend’s life is at stake after all.
The lake is downstream, in a clearing about a mile across. It was clearly once a beautiful place, full of flowers and clear water and fresh, sweet air, but now it smells rank and fetid and the lake’s totally filthy with the runoff from the river. Alisiphone rises from the lake as the PCs approach, and I mean that literally. She draws together the substance of the lake to form her body. She looks awful: her eyes are red-rimmed, her skin is saggy, her hair is like the girl from The Ring. In fact, you can look at her without penalty, which is, uh, fucked up if you know anything about nymphs. She lolls and sways as she talks and her tongue hangs out of her mouth. She’s obviously very fucked up.
Alisiphone doesn’t know why her lake is polluted, though she obviously suspects the modrons-- even though she had a deal in place to route them around the river that feeds her lake to avoid exactly this problem. She can barely answer their questions, and no healing magic works-- only fixing her lake will, and she at least knows that much. She certainly can’t help them with the venom cure. She’s barely alive herself and will only last another week or so.
At this point, if they didn’t before, the PCs certainly head upriver to find the source of the corruption. To nobody’s great surprise, it is in fact the modrons, who are marching straight upriver, leaving behind a trail of oily residue. The stragglers are all monodrones and duodrones who can’t answer any of the PCs’ questions, but perseverance will get them to the hierarchs who might have some answers. Along the way, though, the PCs can figure it out easily enough. One side of the river bed is covered in a huge pack of wild dogs who snap and bark at any modron who strays onto their land. On the other is a constantly growing hedge of thorns that completely blocks the modrons in. PCs can see brown robes through the thorns and hear chanting-- it’s a circle of druids growing the wall to fence the modrons out of their land.
If the PCs stick it out to find a hierarch, they can talk to a decaton, who explains that the modrons pass through the Beastlands by an ancient treaty (“Agreement 512-n-71-75(a)iv”) known as the Defense of the Animals. They were forced off their route by a mortai, and then denied passage along the new path by “lion-centaurs.” Since the treaty forbids them to harm any of the denizens of the Beastlands, they’re stuck marching upriver.
The Decaton states that agreement by any of the parties keeping the modrons off course will allow them to leave the river. However, they won’t try to negotiate such an agreement; they’ll just march upriver as long as they have to.
If the PCs try to negotiate with the dogs, a pack breaks off to snarl at and harry them. They’re extremely territorial. If the PCs persist in trespassing, the dogs will attack, and fighting back is a bad idea. This is a pack of 200 wild dogs led by the Dog Lord himself (each animal on the Beastlands has an Animal Lord, a demipower in themselves). Eventually a speaking dog petitioner named Jhaxon will introduce himself and quiet the pack enough for a conversation. He’s not helpful, though; he’ll just tell them that this is the dogs’ land and they do not allow anyone else on their land. No way, no how. This is their land, and nobody else can have it. They’re real dogs in the manger. They suggest maybe the druids or wemics (aha!) will allow it; they won’t.
The druids are led by the Hierophant of Trees, a female 17th-level human druid. She explains that they’re cleansing the area, which was the site of a recent Blood War battle, and they can’t have any interference-- which the modrons certainly would be. She absolutely will not allow them to cross and is prepared to die first. She suggests they persuade the modrons to turn around (yeah, right) or follow the chain of events to its source. Hm…
a handy map
Clearly neither of these is an option. So the PCs have to backtrack and figure out where things went wrong in the first place. This isn’t that hard, rangers and druids can do it automatically and others can roll wilderness survival. They can pick up the wemic trail there and follow it for a few hours into the savannah. This brings them to a wemic “ambush,” although the lion-centaurs don’t attack, they just want to know what the PCs want.
The wemics will take the PCs to their leader, who’s kind of an arrogant so-and-so named Thrallspur. She’s not openly hostile at least. She explains that the wemics moved the modrons at the request of Prince Allarien of the winged elves to keep the March away from their treetop city. The PCs will have to get the permission of the avariel (winged elves, natch) to get the wemics to permit the modrons back on their march. So, now we’ve got the Odd Potion and we need the Poacher’s Saw.
A few hours away the PCs can find a gigantic tree. You can vaguely see sculpted wood buildings in the high branches, and it’s surrounded by giant birds wheeling and diving… wait, no, those are winged elves. Twenty of them land in front of the PCs to greet them and invite them to the city of Ilifar-in-the-Wind. Their lieutenant has an amulet of detect lies so they had best be truthful. The prince will meet them if they give up their weapons and any means of making fire. They don’t HAVE to come, it’s not an arrest, but if they don’t they’re kind of out of luck. If they agree two avariel each will pick them up under the arms and fly them up to the city.
The city is breathtakingly beautiful and the PCs are free to wander until that evening, when the prince will meet them at the evening revel. Of course there’s no true evening because this is Krigala, but forget it. They can have fun wandering around shopping or, you know, whatever, until they meet the Prince. He’s friendly, and explains that he diverted the modrons after they were blown onto his path by a Mortai. He’s sympathetic to the plight of the nymph and would let them back on course, but he wants to make sure he’s not going against the will of the Mortai, named Breath of Life. If the cloud-creature gives its permission, the winged elves will gladly give theirs. The Prince points out where Breath of Life was last seen and how to get its attention-- say its name and promise a future favor. He’s very friendly and eager to hear news from Arborea, if any elven or half-elven PCs have any. He also knows a lot about the area if you want to pick his brain.
About a half-day away is the mountain range where Breath of Life is often found. There’s a massive storm there when the PCs arrive, but the clouds aren’t moving-- a dead giveaway that there’s a Mortai around. When the PCs call out the name, the lightning stops and a face forms in the clouds. It looks furious, but fortunately, that’s not at the PCs, and it speaks one thunderous word: “Bide.” With that it vanishes and the lightning resumes. This takes about ten more minutes of incredibly violent concussion and shattering noise, and then the storm turns off abruptly and the Mortai returns. If they ask, it turns out it was just driving off a pocket of slaadi. Now it’s free to see what they want.
The Mortai explains, in the voice of the wind, that yes, it blew the modrons off course. It did so at the behest of a nymph named Alisiphone who was afraid that they would pollute her lake.
Breath of Life will gladly allow the modrons to return, but only with proof that Alisiphone allows it-- some token of her esteem. It won’t take the PCs’ word for it.
So the PCs have to backtrack now! This should feel like a real race against time. The route they took to get here is circuitous; it might be faster to go directly, but they might get lost, and of course the Beastlands is full of random encounters. When they reach the lake Alisiphone is in a bad way; her skin is peeling off, she’s sprawled like a dead frog, and the pond itself is blackened and foul, with all of the life in it dead. Alisiphone just about has the energy to peel off some of her nasty-ass hair as a token, and it’s back to the Mortai.
At this point, they have to retrace their steps. The Mortai accepts the token and goes off to blow the modrons back on the path. Next we visit the elves, who are relieved to hear that the Mortai is ok with moving the modrons, since they don’t really want the nymph to die. The Prince gives them an arrow and a feather as tokens, and they go see the wemics, who promise to allow the modrons passage. When the PCs finally return to the river the modrons are already gone, back on their regular path, and Breath of Life is raining furiously on the river to cleanse it.
Alisiphone has recovered by the time the PCs make it back to her pond (so don’t eyeball her!) and gives them a vial of pond water that will heal their friend. The modrons happily march onward… towards the Chaotic side of the Great Ring. Their troubles are just beginning.
Next time: M-M-M-MODRON M-M-M-MADNESS!
M o d r o n i z e Y o u r s e l f a n d F a c e t o B l o o d s h e dOriginal SA post
The Great Modron March Part 6: M o d r o n i z e Y o u r s e l f a n d F a c e t o B l o o d s h e d
When we last left our heroes, they had traded the Dryad’s Favor for the Avariel Feather, and then traded that for the Healing Water, to get the Biggoron Sword…
Anyways, the modrons are well and truly in the chaos side of the Great Ring now, and things are starting to get hairy for them. This adventure builds on some of the themes explored earlier, namely, amoral weird science and modron dismemberment.
The March has left Arborea without incident and is now passing through the gate town of Sylvania. This isn’t a very dangerous place per se, but it’s absolutely party central, which the modrons do not like at all. The locals love it when the March comes around-- it’s fun! It’s something new! They have a tradition of decorating the modrons who pass by using streamers, feathers, paint, bells etc. As long as no overzealous reveler attacks a modron, they remain completely passive and march along ignoring all this buffoonery. They’re focused on surviving Limbo.
This story begins with a friend of the PCs. Any NPC from their past can be used, but in case none is readily available, they’ve provided one: Xaldra Miloni, a manic pixie dream tiefling from the Free League. The adventure begins with the PCs and Xaldra enjoying some well-earned rest time in Sylvania. They’ve got rooms at a tavern called The Drunken Leaf, courtesy of Xaldra, who wants to hang out and party down with them. She’ll try to trick them into coming to Sylvania if they won’t come on their own, but if they don’t come, they don’t come, and you can skip this part of the adventure.
The inn is beautiful and spacious, the innkeeper friendly, the town is fun and relaxing. The DM is encouraged to let the PCs unwind for a while. In Sylvania you can just chill and do whatever and totally relax. "Take it easy" is the Sylvania motto, for example, that's how laid back it is there. Ahem…
So finally, the modrons arrive. If the PCs didn’t bring decoratin’ gear, some will be provided to them by friendly Sylvanians. There’s a huge crowd, and it’s very easy for the PCs to become separated. Everyone’s having a grand old time, darting out to paint a modron or hang a feather boa or whatever. The modrons just silently tolerate this like they do everything else. Of course, there’s bumping and jostling and some shoving (not too much, this is still on the Good side of the Ring) and in all the commotion, Xaldra just up and vanishes. This shouldn’t be too worrying at first-- she does tend to duck out and party on her own-- but when she doesn’t return all night, they might start to worry. If they don’t, some of her local friends will come ask where she’s at. Nobody seems to know, though a lot of people have apparently been going missing lately.
If the PCs ask around, they can get some reports of people who have seen abductions. They’re mostly carried out by a group of thugs that’s recently moved into the area. They’re unfriendly types that don’t socialize, but the locals can point the PCs to their encampment. Before the PCs can head out there, though, they’re attacked at home. There’s a hissing mechanical noise and something metallic thumps against their door, then smashes it in. It’s a creature made of flesh and metal, blades extruding from its arms, staring madly at them-- in fact, it’s recognizably Xaldra, but completely mad. She attacks and fights to the death, wailing in agony the whole time.
When it dies, the metal parts fade away, leaving only Xaldra’s body. She doesn’t even look like she’s at peace now. If the PCs try to capture instead of kill, they’ll have to sedate her, as so long as she’s awake she’ll be trying to kill them. She’s not reachable in there no matter what-- her spirit is gone. Obviously, this event causes a huge stir, and if the PCs aren’t motivated by revenge and wanting to find out what’s happened to their friend, the innkeeper offers them free room and board for a year if they can solve this mess.
The PCs can easily track the kidnapping brigands back to their lair, a set of caves in a hill. It’s deserted during the day and there’s not much to find-- a few tents, a few storage rooms, the whole thing pretty rough and obviously temporary with no real valuables to find. Coming at night the PCs can sneak in or fight their way in (there are 11 brigands total, 3rd-level fighters with a 5th-level rogue leader) but talking might work best. The brigands are Bleak Cabal and don’t give a shit about their employer or anything else. They’re working for a wizard who needed experimental subjects for modron experiments. During daytime they guard him, kidnap new victims, help out with his surgeries etc. A job’s a job. The brigand leader will even point to the wizard’s tower, but will warn that he’ll have to defend it against any attack-- at least until his contract is up. If they describe Xaldra’s fate he’ll say that there are about ten more mechanized creatures.
The wizard is Valran Stonefist is a Sensate who’s obsessed with seeing the world through modron senses, and has been experimenting at merging modron and non-modron life forms. In fact, his notes form the basis for the Tacharim’s similar “research” in this direction. He lives in a bizarre “tower” shaped like a flower fallen on its side, but massive and petrified into wood-- he imagines it was once a celestial rose that fell to earth in the Outlands. It’s mostly underground and the entrance is guarded by two brigands, but if the PCs can sneak past them there aren’t any more standing watch inside.
Area 1 is an entryway and mudroom with bandit boots and cloaks hanging up.
Area 2 is a dining hall/meeting area for when Valran (rarely) has visitors. It’s covered in dirty dishes but no flies, since there’s a magical insect repellant stone hung up above. Some of his notes on modron anatomy and transplantation are here too.
Area 3 is a filthy kitchen. Nothing much to see here.
Area 4 is Valran’s bedroom. His wardrobe is a portal hole full of his colorful clothes. Under his bed is a scrap of paper with the word “rukhalis” on it, the command word for a trap further inside. There’s also a shifting tapestry that, when touched, displays one of a variety of different scenes. It can’t be taken, sadly.
Area 5 is a scrying chamber with a crystal ball plus some other weird stuff (a giant fleshy ear, a megaphone, a telescope). A tapestry against one wall acts as sort of a CCTV monitor showing what’s going on outside the tower. The ball is trapped, and anyone who disturbs it without saying “rukhalis” is magically rooted in place until dispelled or released by Valran.
Area 6 is the library. He has some valuable books, including some of the other Planescape books that exist in-universe like The Factol’s Manifesto and Faces of Evil. The good stuff is locked in a glass cabinet with a wizard lock and a fire trap on it.
Area 7 is the Sensorium, which holds dozens of memory stones containing experiences of both Valran and his victims. Xaldra’s is in here, but the stones lose all effectiveness if they leave this room. Placing Xaldra’s stone on her modronized body will restore her mind, but not fix her body.
Area 8 is a guest room that hasn’t been used in a long time. There’s a ring of free action that’s fallen down behind the bed, and a hoofprint belonging to the bariaur Yissa (from the Tacharim) but nothing else of interest.
Area 9 is a closet. That’s all.
Area 10 is a long passage. Human and modron screams echo down it, and the rooms off to the side hold examples of Valran’s “work.”
10a is a cell holding a bunch of terrified humanoids. They’ve heard the screams and their minds have been dwelling on what’s going to happen to them. They’ll beg to be released and will flee at once if they are.
10b holds seven modronoids (there were in fact 10, but three managed to kill themselves) restrained by a web spell. One has been sawing through the web, and they will all burst free when/if the PCs confront Valran. Whenever they get free, now or later, they will all attack mindlessly and fight to the death.
10c is surgical prep and a guard barracks. Most of the guards will be here during the day, except for the two out front. They might be preparing prisoners for surgery.
10d is a tool shop for repairs and replacements.
10e is a modron prison-- this is where both whole modrons awaiting surgery wait, and where Valran stores partially “disassembled” ones. Valran tries to keep them healthy, because his process links human and modron life force, and if one perishes, so does the other. He’s smart: he keeps modrons separated by more than one “caste” so that they cannot communicate and plan to escape. He currently has five monodrones, three tridrones and one pentadrone.
10f is the surgery. It’s a blood-spattered abattoir lit by stones with continual light cast on them. There’s a nasty crawlspace full of discarded parts and a shell of modron parts Valran plans to place himself in when he’s ready. Currently present is one dead human, totally mangled. Also present is Valran, making notes. He’s totally nuts and very dangerous; he won’t strike first unless provoked, but will fight back if attacked, and he’s a level 7 mage. He has lots of disruptive spells like friends, web, polymorph other, bind, suggestion and hypnotism which, combined with the guards, should sorely challenge the party. If he’s beaten he’ll try to escape using wraithform. If the PCs restrain him he’ll just smile and relax-- he’ll note their faces and make sure to kill them later.
the doctor is IN
He’d much rather talk than fight, though. He wants to tell people about his work and tends to assume that PCs are admirers. He says that he’s using “worthless modrons” to improve people, and as soon as he can figure out how to stop them succumbing to “modron madness” he’ll take part in the process himself. If he could only work out the kinks…
If the PCs mention Xaldra, he’ll express some remorse, and offer them some gold-- 500g to start, but up to 2000g (above that is excessive, he feels). He will get very defensive if criticized and ask the PCs to leave. He thinks his work has to continue and will be very resistant to the idea of setting free the prisoners. However, it is around this point that the modronoids break free, and suddenly everyone has their hands very full indeed.
It’s very difficult for the PCs to permanently get rid of Valran here, and depending on their actions they may have earned a very dangerous enemy. Still, stopping his experiments is a good deed. The bandits may likewise seek revenge later, or they could even become allies; you never know. Surviving humanoids will flee back to Sylvania; surviving modrons will attempt to rejoin the March, while the Modronoids all eventually succumb. And the March goes on.
Next time: CHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSSSSSSSSSSSSSS
How low can you go?Original SA post
The Great Modron March Part 7: How low can you go?
When we last left our heroes, they had found another crazy dickhead wizard trying to Frankenstein modrons and humans. The poor little things are heading into the Chaos side of the ring now, and that’s where shit starts to get incredibly real. In fact, as this adventure begins, they’re heading into Limbo. This is the plane of pure chaos and, as such, is utterly antithetical to modron minds. The creatures of the Lower Planes might be more dangerous, but nowhere are the modrons more out of their element than here.
Limbo is known for the terrifying Chaos Beasts and the bewildering Slaadi, but there are more inhabitants. The Githzerai make their home here and they’re the kind of cutters one can actually talk to without feeling like his brains are sliding out of his ears. Haeronomil is a githzerai official from Shra’kt’lor, one of their most important towns, and he’s come to talk to his fellow githzerai Karan of Sigil with a problem (yes, that Karan-- Factol Karan of the Xaositects, the Sigil inhabitant that a githzerai from Limbo probably feels most at home with). What he wants might seem surprising to someone who doesn’t know how the githzerai think.
See, he’s hoping to get the modrons through Limbo as safely and quickly as possible and on their way. The problem with modrons is that they can’t handle the chaos of Limbo. They get lost and they get stuck. This taints the pure, beautiful chaos, creating little pockets of hateful order. The githzerai don’t want to murder the modrons or marshal the creatures of Limbo against them-- they just want the things gone, the sooner the better. That’s where the PCs come in. They’ll guide the modrons through the chaotic soup and get them on to the next step of their journey.
I haven’t been including these, but this adventure is for 4-6 characters of 5-8th level. Limbo is no joke. It’s a dangerous place even for the prepared. You can’t predict what’ll happen there; all you can try to do is be ready for what comes.
It’s pretty easy to hook the PCs into this. The Xaositects are looking to hire for a big job, chant goes, and they’re offering serious cash. If the PCs agree, they’re brought to a tavern in the Hive called Quake’s Place where Karan (who is visibly struggling to make sense) awaits them with Haeronimil. Haeronimil explains the problem. His people and the Xaositects can’t do anything to guide the modrons. Even if they could stand the things, they won’t follow such obviously chaotic individuals. They’ll pay 500gp each for the PCs’ trouble, but they’ll have to earn it.
See, the deal with Limbo is that it’s made of pure, unrefined matter that hasn’t coalesced into anything as orderly as “land” or “an element.” By concentrating, individuals can impose their will on this raw stuff of creation. It won’t last forever, but you can make anything from a flat path to a whole city just by thinking about it, based on your intelligence.
Here, have a chart.
PCs should do some research if they’re not already familiar with this technique. It’ll be necessary to get the modrons through.
Getting to Limbo is pretty easy. The Xaositects will open a portal between the legs of a statue that leads to a branch of Yggdrasil between Ysgard and Limbo. The PCs arrive in front of the March, which has briefly paused right outside Limbo. Up ahead, they can see the swirling chaos. They can see other volunteers escorting their groups into the maelstrom-- a group the size of the March needs many guides. The githzerai give the PCs directions: they’re to travel to the nearest of Limbo’s whirlpools, which act as massive conduits, about 15 hours away. This one spits them out in a region called The Immeasurable, and from there is a 26 hour trek to the portal to Xaos, Limbo’s gate-town.
Having arrived, the PCs can’t just set off right away. They have to convince the hierarch modrons that they’d make good guides. The modrons know that guides are a good idea, but they’re not happy about it, and they aren’t inclined to trust just anyone-- especially someone they meet on the Chaos side of the Great Ring. Appeals to emotion are going to fall on deaf ears, but praise of the beauty of logic and order, explanations of the party’s precise strengths, and especially a display of chaos shaping (from the chart above) should be useful. Modrons can’t chaos shape at all and it impresses them.
Once the PCs have proved their worth they are given a passel o’ modrons (200 per PC, all drones of various ranks) and sent on their way. It might take the work of a few PCs at once to escort a group this size unless they’ve got some seriously brainy people. When chaos-shaping you cannot do anything else: cast spells, use proficiencies, make attacks, nothing but walk. When you rest someone else has to pick up the slack. This requires your full attention, so you’re not available to defend-- which is trouble, because Limbo is dangerous. It contains all kinds of hostiles, particularly Chaos Beasts, which are very nasty; they can look like anything at all (they are pure chaos, after all), and while they do almost no damage, their touch can destabilize your form, at which point you’re lucky not to dissolve into Limbo soup. Getting involved in combat forces Intelligence checks to keep the path stable, and if it starts to fall apart, you start to lose modrons. They don’t dissolve or anything, but they can’t shape chaos and they can’t move through it, so they get stuck-- isolated, helpless pockets of order in Limbo’s beautiful chaos.
Also a hazard of Limbo-- miniflux. Small, untended objects have a way of changing into something else-- a pile of coins becomes a turtle shell, then a bunch of glass eyes, then a coil of rope braided from angel hair, then a Nalfeshnee’s claw, then maybe swallow eggs. If you want to use a trivial item you have, test Wisdom; on a failure, it has turned into something else. Maybe it’s just blue now. Maybe it’s the same, but weighs 50 times as much. Who knows! That’s the fun of Limbo.
As you travel, you are beset with questions by the higher-ranking (and thus vocal) modrons. “How is it possible that chaos can control a whole plane?” “Why has order not taken hold?” “Is there an order we cannot see?” “Where are the gears?” “What rank are you?” The modrons are curious and want to learn, even about their hated enemy, but they won’t reveal anything about the March, its purpose, what they’ve seen so far or anything. The PCs will have to rest at some point, which bothers the modrons (who REALLY don’t want to stop, especially not here!) but logic might let you steal a few hours rest. You won’t get much sleep, I’d bet, and shaping chaos is impossible while asleep so someone has to stay up. Eventually, red slaadi (the froglike natives of Limbo) will get fed up with the invading modrons and attack, and while you don’t HAVE to guard them, the slaad don’t discrimination between modrons and guides. Once you’ve dispatched your own slaadi, you can help the modrons fight theirs, but they won’t pose a serious threat to the March-- there are just too many modrons. After fighting off the reds, an hour later a bunch of blue slaad (much tougher) attack, but this time the modrons are better prepared and help defend their guides.
Eventually you make it to the whirlpool. This is an extra-violent, extra-chaotic part of Limbo, an uncontrollable, un-shape-able maelstrom. Not only is it VERY hard to stabilize terrain around here, but the modrons will flatly refuse to go in. If they had dreams, this would be a nightmare to the modrons: a node of concentrated chaos. If you can convince them to the enter (perhaps by demonstrating that it’s safe) you’ll be shunted to an extra-unstable area of Limbo called the Immeasurable. You must test Int at -1 to shape chaos here, since it’s so unstable. At this point, though, the Githyanki attack.
Githyanki live in the Astral and hate, hate, hate the Limbo-dwelling Githzerai (their cousins). They therefore dispatch assassins to kill the modron guides, thus stranding the modrons in Limbo and annoying/undermining the Githzerai. Yours is a Githyanki woman named Torrenth, who spies on the PCs to determine the most inopportune time to strike. Before attacking, she casts a special version of Monster Summoning II which summons 2d4 chaos imps, creatures that infest your gear and make it start randomly mutating and shapeshifting. Good luck driving them out! Seriously, it requires magic. Torrenth will try her damndest to kill the lead chaos-shaper, figuring that’ll stop the modrons regrouping after the attack. She won’t fight to the death, but she’ll inflict as much harm as she can before fleeing.
Once she’s been dealt with, you can make it to the guidon, a stable monolith attached to the gate that’s meant to be a beacon to travelers. The happy modrons will escape Limbo through the gate, tramp through the gate-town of Xaos, and be on their way.
This is a nasty episode for the modrons, who suffer more casualties than at any point prior. And it’s just heating up for them. From here on out, the modrons are in the Lower Planes, the nastiest part of the multiverse. They’ll need heroes again. Our PCs should be on decent terms with the Xaositects and githzerai for helping them out of a jam, and they might be contacted as part of a warband seeking revenge on the githyanki for their meddling.
Next time: Judge not, lest ye be Modron’d
Judgment DayOriginal SA post
Look out! It’s
The Great Modron March Part 8: Judgment Day
Hello again! When last we left our poor little Modrons, they had escaped Limbo, the plane of pure fishmalk Chaos. You’d think that Limbo would be the worst part of the trip for the Lawful Neutral modrons, but sadly, their trials are just beginning. See, up until now they’ve been marching through the Upper Planes, the planes aligned with goodness. Chaotic good creatures don’t much like Modrons, but they’re not keen on slaughtering them wholesale. Evil creatures have no such compunctions, and even the lawful ones are not particularly keen to welcome the March into their homes. These are the Lower Planes. This is where people stop being nice… and start being really evil.
Our next adventure takes place in the gate-town of Bedlam. This town is linked to Pandemonium, the lower plane between the pure chaos of Limbo and the chaotic evil of the Abyss. The PCs should be level 5-8 right now, which is fairly tough, and a reasonable match for the malice of Bedlam. See, the town’s full of barmies. The howling winds of Pandemonium’ll drive any sod nuttier than a fruitcake, and most of them end up in Bedlam. The insanity of Pandemonium leaks out and the whole town is one big madhouse. The modrons have already passed through here and are on their way, and PCs are called in to clean up their mess.
This March made it through Bedlam pretty much unscathed (they’re barmy, not stupid) but a past March wasn’t so lucky. Some of the barmies, convinced that what their town needed was some law and order (and prodded to action by the shadow fiend Hrava, who runs the town), waylaid a decaton (the lowest tier of “hierarch” modron, and effectively a cleric of Primus) and installed it as their judge. This was more than a hundred years ago, and since then the barmies have been obeying or ignoring the judge as their crazy whims take them. They’re proud of their “civilized” ways, even if they don’t always remember to bring cases properly, or introduce evidence that actually exists.
the luckless judge
Deprivation from modron contact and living with a bunch of nutters has driven this modron rogue, and it has a name now: Trictacalus. It doesn’t know it’s a rogue, though, and it desperately wants to get back to the other modrons. This is a pretty bad idea; its space in the hierarchy has been filled, and it’s now a kill-on-sight enemy of all modronkind. Nevertheless, the strength of this desire has kept it in decaton form, instead of reverting to a quadrone like most modrons.
The barmies of Bedlam are well aware of this. As I said, barmy, not stupid. The judge is guarded constantly. So it has hatched an escape plan. The latest March has already passed through, but here come some PCs. Maybe they can help? Hrava, though he can’t be seen to help, also wants the judge gone; its presence is stabilizing, so its absence can only bring on more delicious chaos.
Bedlam itself perches on the side of the volcano Maurash. At the bottom of the hill, six gates (called blastgates) lead into Pandemonium. They’re called blastgates because of the constant howl of Pandemonium winds that surges out of them; lessened in strength away from their home plane, the winds can only drive you mad very slowly and gradually. The town is a chaotic tangle of streets and buildings, but it has, broadly, three districts: Gatemouth, right down by the gates (a nasty, crazy place), Midtown a bit farther up the hill, and the Citadel on the top where the wealthiest dwell. Following the Rule of Threes, that are also three organizations that hold sway in town: the Windlancers, who mostly patrol the Citadel and keep it safe, the Sarex, which are basically a criminal syndicate that runs Midtown and Gatemouth (under the direction of Hrava) and the Guiding Lights (who everyone else calls the Misguided), a group of petitioners who try to help people affected by Pandemonium’s winds.
Here, have a map:
The adventure begins in Sigil. Typically it can start with an old contact of the PCs calling in a favor (the adventure offers a character from another published Planescape adventure), but it can be a paid job, too. A wizard needs ash from Bedlam’s volcano for spell research. It’s a valuable reagent, and the PCs are sent looking for it. Easy enough, right? They’re given a baatezu-skin pouch to collect it in (ew, but nice touch) and the location of a portal (in a nasty part of the Hive, the worst district of Sigil).
The PCs arrive in Bedlam to the howling of winds, and one of the first things they hear is another howl-- this one a human voice, shrieking in terror and pain. Investigating it reveals a dead body, terribly mutilated. It’s a githzerai, who’s been nailed to the door and had his organs removed. Each one has a magic mouth reciting its function and how its erstwhile owner mistreated it (“I am Jack’s liver”). Nasty stuff. Naturally, moments after they turn up, the Sarex guards arrive. The PCs are placed under arrest. The DM can run this as a combat if the PCs fight, and stats are provided, but Sarex guards are 7th level fighters at least and five of them arrive every round. They want to capture, and the PCs will probably back down before things get lethal, but they’ll still be, in the immortal words of Tokaii, subdued repeatedly. If they run, the Sarex will chase the slowest and hope the others come to rescue him; the PCs’ shoes will be bloody from the corpse, making it hard to get away.
However it happens, they end up bunged in the clink. Rotten luck. As it happens, the Sarex know full well they’re innocent; they did this themselves at Hrava’s direction, hoping to sow chaos and fear. The PCs are a convenient scapegoat and also make the Sarex look efficient. Not a bad plan.
Imprisoned PCs lose equipment and material components (unless a PC has an “extraordinary way” of hiding an item) and are left overnight under heavy guard. The streets outside are also guarded, in case some PCs got away. The adventure goes into some detail about guard rotas and prison architecture, but it also says “the DM’s encouraged not to allow an escape unless the PCs are exceptionally clever.” So yeah, it’s a bit railroady.
The important moment comes the next morning, when the PCs are bundled off to the Courthouse of the Damned (!). The name should give you a fair warning of the quality of justice handed down here. The whole thing’s made of black marble and it has a Lovecraft vibe to it, with twisting columns that “defy all the laws of gravity and geometry.” The windows are all barred up, to keep Trictacalus from escaping. It’s locked in its courtroom on the second floor.
Trictacalus’s “quarters” are basically just full of its diaries, which record the “laws” of Bedlam (there aren’t any). Amusingly, these are organized by the first digit of the last page number in each volume. Anyone reading it can tell the thing’s gone mad itself from the lack of order. The courtroom’s a massive, cavernous chamber, but it’s full today; a trial is a public spectacle, and all the Bedlamites turn out to see justice done. The heinousness of the crime has certainly got them riled up, even if some are just jealous that they didn’t think of it. The PCs arrive in time to see the previous defendant beheaded, but that’s just a pregame show.
The bailiff describes the PC’s “crime,” and a number of similar murders, elucidating the nobility of the victims, the horror of their mutilation, etc. He assures the court that eyewitnesses saw the PCs do it and evidence links them to the crime, then asks for their plea. If any PCs plead guilty, they are ordered executed at once, so let’s hope they don’t.
If they plead innocent, the trial begins. It’s obviously a sham, but you should play it out. The witnesses lie extravagantly, but Trictacalus accepts each claim fully at face value. It will ignore the PCs as they try to present evidence. Whatever defense they use, the prosecution counters: if they say they just arrived, an old crone will swear she saw them with the victim all day; if they offer to bring witnesses who placed them in Sigil, the prosecutor will dismiss all Cagers as untrustworthy.
After it’s all said and done, the judge will declare its ruling:
“It is apparent to this observing unit that this case has already been proven to the court’s satisfaction. Take the prisoners and lock them away until sundown this evening, when they shall be executed in front of the prison in accordance with all the laws of the city of Bedlam.
This is right because it must be.”
Before the PCs can be taken away, the judge orders them brought to its chambers. This is a bit of a shocking alteration of protocol, but the guards obey. Bedlam’s got a Bedlam-y judge. In the chambers, Trictacalus turns on them and says:
“The fleshy beings’ guilt has been determined in the lawful court of the town of Bedlam. Therefore the fleshy beings now have three options: death by torture, most probable; escape on the beings’ own, highly unlikely; or a third option. Do the fleshy beings wish to pursue the third option?”
PCs can refuse, but it’s likely to lead to a short adventure. If they accept, it outlines its plan: it really, really wants to rejoin the March. Its plan is simple: overpower the guards outside, sneak through the streets, and get to the gate. Once in Pandemonium it can rejoin the March. The PCs probably know that the March will destroy the rogue, but it doesn’t know that and telling it is likely to be unprofitable. This plan isn’t the best, but Trictacalus insists that it is, that it has computed all risk factors, and that they must follow the plan that has the highest chance of success. It’ll allow them to stop off at the prison to retrieve their equipment, but warns “the proposed action will increase the chance of capture by nearly 30%.” Sneaking through town with a hissing, clanking metal being is unlikely to work, but when the alternative is execution…
From here the adventure is much more open-ended. The PCs can do anything they can think of (and persuade Trictacalus to go along with). It can free them from their manacles and it has some powers, though it’s not quite as juiced as a decaton should be because it’s lost its Primus-granted powers. The adventure provides a number of hazards the escapees might run into, corresponding to the numbered zones in the map above. Outside the courthouse, there are Sarex patrols; in zone II, they might run into the old barmy Tharick Bleakshadow, the nominal (and totally senile) ruler of Bedlam, who loudly threatens “the modron traitor.” As long as something, anything, is between Bleakshadow and the judge, he can’t see it… but if he does, he’ll unleash hell. He’s a 12th-level mage and not someone you should be picking fights with. He’ll chase the party for a while as they make their escape, but harmlessly.
In Zone III the PCs might find some of the Misguided, who won’t let the PCs pass without a good explanation of just where they’re taking this modron. Trictacalus will hide from them, assuming what worked on Bleakshadow will work on them, but they’re not quite as mad and will recognize it. The PCs actually stand a chance of convincing the Misguided (who, true to their name, are not really evil), though they won’t actively help the escape.
By the time the PCs reach Zone IV the barmies of town have been whipped up by rumors of escaped prisoners and their kidnapped judge. Roving mobs patrol the area, and if the PCs run into one, flight is the only option. The barmies will give chase, but determined and resourceful PCs might shake them. If they’re captured, the Sarex show up and it’s game over.
Finally, as they reach the tower (Zone V), Hrava appears and ushers the modron through the gate. He’ll thank the PCs for their help and grant them their lives. They can try to pick a fight with him, but, uh, they shouldn’t. He’ll escape easily, in any case, possibly after magic jaring a PC.
From here, getting the ash is easy (it’s all over the place) and they can escape into Pandemonium-- though getting home is its own special challenge, as they’re not likely to be welcome in Bedlam for a while. Nothing barmy about folks’ memories there, and the murderers slash judge thieves are persona non grata. The PCs might have a grudge against the Sarex or Hrava, but that’ll have to play out in its own time. As for Trictacalus-- it’s a modron alone now, wandering the caves of Pandemonium. Maybe it’ll find the March and be destroyed. Maybe it won’t. Pandemonium is a big place.
This adventure is a curious mixture of railroading and open-world exploration. If you can really sell Bedlam as this crazy, sinister place, I think it would be very atmospheric. It’s also important to familiarize PCs with the concept of modron rogues. This topic will be important later.
Next time: we’re not gonna come all this way and skip The Abyss, I promise you that.
Served With a SummonsOriginal SA post
You thought it was dead, but now prepare for the return of
The Great Modron March Part 9: Served With a Summons
Having escaped Bedlam and Pandemonium, the Modrons are just beginning their trek through the Lower Planes, and now they’re arriving at one of the most dangerous destinations in the multiverse: the Abyss. The infinite levels of the Abyss house an infinite number of screaming, bloodthirsty Tanar’ri, and very little unites the squabbling demons like the chance to take a bite out of some modrons. The March is about to get pretty severely downsized.
Of course, it’s not just the modrons at risk, either. By this point in the March, they’ve managed to attract a pretty sizeable following: researchers, mages, and looky-loos, all wanting to study the March and gain some valuable insight into the workings of the multiverse. These followers tend to be pretty hardy and high-level types (they’d have to be, wouldn’t they?) which is good, because they can’t rely on the modrons for protection. Instead, they bring their own. Or,if they’re mages, they summon some help. Summoning always works.
See, the way summons work in Planescape is… weird. The summoned monsters aren’t conjured up out of thin air-- they’re actually brought (or “summoned”) from somewhere else. Nor is this teleportation. Instead, a crystal swoops down out of the sky and imprisons the summoned creature, whisking it to its destination. In fact, there’s a whole breed of creature-- the Demarax (http://www.lomion.de/cmm/demarax.php)-- that feeds on these crystals.
This is all a long-winded way of saying that this part of the adventure begins when our party, minding their own business, is conked on the head by magical crystals and wakes up in service to a mage.
Her name is Taraere Illsmiser, she’s a 12th-level tiefling mage, and she’s not as clever as she thinks she is. See, she’s been following the March, and it happened to pass near a notorious fortress located on the first level of the Abyss-- the constant open-air battleground known as the Plain of Infinite Portals. This fortress, the Fortress of the Fallen Stair, is ground zero for endless tanar’ri factional combat, and right now it’s split between three factions. According to legend, the basement of the Fortress contains a vast cache of powerful magic items. So Illsmiser figures she’ll go check it out as a side errand-- protected, of course, by the most powerful creatures she can summon. She’s modified monster summoning IV, and she thinks it’ll last a week, but the Abyss twists all magic. In this case, the chaotic energies caused the spell to grab the PCs-- substantially more powerful servants than such a spell would normally pick up-- but compels them to serve her for a little less time than she’s expecting.
The trick is to make it through that time.
The DM is encouraged to keep careful track of time. Clever PCs can delay Illsmiser long enough to avoid having to go in for the the really dangerous tasks she wants, but only to a point. The spell compels obedience, and nothing short of a wish or limited wish will get them out of it. They have some leeway in interpreting her orders, but any attempt to disobey a direct command requires a penalized save, and even a success only grants 1d6 rounds of respite, after which they’ll have to test again. It’s mentally exhausting to defy her, and the PCs (being in the range of levels 6-9) will have a hard time standing up to a 12th level mage covered in magic items.
So. The crystals arrive and scoop up our PCs, who are treated to a dizzying and terrifying array of mental images as they speed towards the Abyss; it’s not a friendly place. The light becomes “fractured and chaotic” and they see scenes of demonic rage and betrayal. When the crystals dissolve, the PCs are standing on a vast, heat-baked plain covered in pits and twisted towers; the Plain of Infinite Portals. They’re standing before Illsmiser, whose only description is “a plane-touched woman of average appearance” (though the game notes she’s dressed like a wizard, sparkly symbols and all). She’s a little surprised to see the PCs, but not very; the Abyss’s effect on spellcasting is well known. Attacking her is certainly something they could consider, but doing so is useless; the spell overrides that action easily enough.
Illsmiser introduces herself (“call me Taraere”) and explains what’s happened. She suggests that, as adventurers, the PCs might actually enjoy being her servants, since there’s bound to be excitement along the way. Of course, she also reinforces her dominance by commanding them to join hands and march in a circle.
This they do, eventually (if there are holdouts). Taraere lets them go and tells them that she’d like to be able to give them some leeway in accomplishing what she admits is a very dangerous mission. She tells them that as long as they don’t interfere with her plans or try to harm her, she’ll be hands-off, but if they insist on messing with her she will exert her will. She’d prefer that they act of their own free will (“If I wanted zombies, I’d have created some myself”) but she’s utterly amoral and willing to toss their lives away to serve her mission. She tells them that they’ll serve her for one week and then be free to go; the spell will drop them back off where it found them.
As she says this, the certain knowledge enters the PCs’ heads that the spell will actually release them after one day.
So once the terms of service have been laid out, Illsmiser explains what they’re after: a magic book, the Mors Mysterium Nominum, which contains the true names of dozens of Tanar’ri and is supposedly held in the basement vault of the Fortress. The first thing she has the PCs do is pick up her belongings and carry them for her like pack mules.
This is an opportunity for some serious Plain of Infinite Portals flavor, and a random encounter or two if you want. A couple of vrocks are likely to attack, and, uh, vrocks are pretty serious business, guys. You can scare them off by putting up a show of force, but they’re not messing around.
As a side note, one of the biggest difficulties in fighting in the lower planes is that lower planar creatures are immune to all weapons below a certain level of enchantment (vrocks, for example, require +2) and weapons lose one “plus” for every plane you are removed from the plane where the weapon was forged. Even if you have an Outlands-forged magic sword, it has to be at least a +3 to even hurt these guys. Demons in general are a big pain in the ass, although having a high level mage around helps some.
Anyways, the book has some neat ideas of flavorful bits to include, and encourages the PCs to talk to Taraere; she’s friendly enough once she’s sure they’re obeying, and she knows a lot about the modrons and the March from having followed it for so long.
The Fortress of the Fallen Stair is your standard dimensionally twisted non-Euclidean tower of madness, full of Escher stairs and what-not. It’s famous as a place where many Abyssal lords launched their careers, and so the belief is that controlling it makes you a big deal. So, in a form of self-fulfilling prophecy, ambitious and powerful demons fight constantly for possession of it, and only the strongest survive. Of course, the Abyssal Lords know this, and keep an eye on the Fortress; any tanar’ri experiencing too much success there can expect to have a nasty accident soon. Power hates competition.
Here, have a map.
The DM is encouraged to come up with some fun stuff to put in the extra passageways in case the PCs want to return later. I don’t know why they would, but uh, sure.
Taraere is actually willing to let the adventurers lead the way. She informs them that they’re heading for the library, but as long as the PCs’ route seems to be going there, she’s cool with it.
The first chamber is an empty entrance hall with six doors, each with a horrible leering demon face. Taraere can narrow down the correct path to two doors, but she lets the PCs pick one. The first door shines with blue light and shows a “mewling child with eyes that seem to reflect vast experience.” Sure. The second is made of wood and shows an armanite (a centaur tanar’ri) in severe pain.
The child-face door is wizard locked and leads to a guardroom. There’s a small group of armanites resting in here. They’ve given up on conquering the Fortress and are stopping here on the way out. They’re not super eager to fight, but armanites live for conflict, so they’ll certainly attack the PCs-- unless cowed by a sufficient show of force. If you can intimidate them you can pick their brains a little about the Fortress. They’ll specifically mention the Arena, which Taraere recognizes from her map.
Armanites are pretty weak (especially compared to vrocks, geez) though they can shoot spark bolts and crush armor.
Anyways, nothing else useful here, so the PCs can use the other door (the screaming armanite one). This door is trapped with a fairly nasty electrical trap, but that’s pretty standard for adventures of this level. The door leads to a nasty torture chamber, specifically for tanar’ri. Amusingly, among the implements of torture and pain are some holy symbols kept swaddled in cloth. There’s some holy water too!
Past the torture chamber there’s a chapel to the Abyssal lords who rose up through the Fortress. It’s full of art, made and installed by the lords themselves in no sort of order, depicting their triumphs and rises to power. It’s not magical, but messing with it incurs the notice and the wrath of the appropriate lord so, uh, don’t do that.
Beneath an altar of bone and sinew lies a narrow tunnel going straight down. As long as you crawl wormlike along its walls, you actually stick to them-- the tunnel’s gravity orients towards the walls. If you try to walk, though, you’ll fall 200 feet straight down and take a shitload of damage. At the bottom of the shaft there’s another crossroads and Taraere lets them pick right or straight.
Right leads to the lair of a glabrezu, a powerful fiend. The door to its room is warded with strange sigils but can be opened by a simple knock spell. And it turns out… the glabrezu and Taraere know each other!
“You! You bound me a century to your whims, you tormented me, and at the end of that time you slew me and forced me back here! Yet now you dare to walk into the heart of my power? You must be truly foolish, mortal!”
And Taraere’s response? “Adventurers, I choose you!”
Time for a brawl! The glabrezu knows Power Word: Stun and is also horrifically strong, and frankly, the chances of beating it aren’t great. A knowledgeable PC can notice that the runes on the door keep it bound here, and if they can convince Taraere that this battle is a waste of time, she’ll let them withdraw to where it fiend can’t follow.
Anyways, the other path leads to the arena, which is always a happenin’ place. Right now there’s a fight on between a marilith and a pair of vrocks, with both sides fairly evenly matched. The arena’s stands aren’t just full of tanar’ri; there are all kinds of planars watching, since the arena is neutral ground and nobody fights outside of the sandy arena floor itself.
Of course, the PCs now have to cross the arena floor to reach the door that’s their way out. It’s littered with hazards like quicksand and there’s always the chance of getting caught in the crossfire, though neither marilith nor vrocks will specifically target them.
Past the arena is the Disputed Ground, a massive cave where tanar’ri armies clash endlessly. There are six of them, all seeking to control this pivotal chokepoint, and so endless hordes of dretches and manes slay each other by the thousands. The PCs have to navigate this chamber and avoid getting swept up in the carnage, which is particularly difficult when they pass the entrances since reinforcements constantly surge in, requiring a penalized Dex check to avoid trampling.
Escaping the Disputed Ground leads the PCs to the Chaos River. As the name implies, this is a river of pure chaotic matter, which long since eroded its only bridge. Any use of magic in this room has a vastly increased likelihood of mutating and requires an Int check to avoid a wild surge. The only way across the river is, basically, to shape it like Limbo’s chaos. A concentrating character can do so, carving a path, though failure leads to consequences since this stuff is nastier than Limbo’s primordial ooze.
Finally the PCs have made it to the library. It’s musty, old, and smells dank, but that’s not the worst of it. The worst part is that someone beat them to it, someone who even now clutches the Mors Myserium Nominum; an Arcanaloth.
This is a very high-ranking Yugoloth, the Neutral Evil equivalent to the tanar’ri and baatezu. It looks somewhat like a jackal-headed furry, though in reality it’s a brilliant and powerful spellcaster. Like many powerful villains, the arcanaloth is genteel, and will be willing to negotiate-- though Taraere’s “negotiation” is basically just her screaming threats. The arcanaloth will not rise to the bait. It will suggest she show a bit of respect, and it clearly finds her amusing, though the longer she rants the less amusing she becomes.
The PCs here should realize that the binding spell has almost worn out. If they’re canny, they can draw out the negotiations, placating Taraere and offering valuable things to the arcanaloth. Maybe they can even get the book! The arcanaloth is fully aware of the spell that’s holding them and how long it lasts, and if they do attack (or if Taraere loses her patience and forces the issue) it’ll fight defensively to hold them off. Sooner or later, those magic 24 hours are up, and as the world blurs around the PCs they should see the arcanaloth grinning with malice and hear Taraere’s scream of despair.
Of course, it doesn’t have to kill her. Why would it? She’d make a much better pet… though she’ll remember who let her down, and if she meets the PCs again, she’ll be in the mood for revenge…
So. This adventure is railroady. It’s very railroady. That’s sort of the point of it. It’s a cute idea, and I have to say one day means it doesn’t really outstay its welcome. There’s a couple too many “supposed to lose” fights for my liking, but the Abyss is really no place to play around. There also aren’t many illustrations in this chapter, disappointingly enough. Overall, the concept is kind of neat and makes sense as “the sort of thing that might happen” but it’s always annoying when the PCs are forced into a course of action, especially when the way they “win” is simply by delaying long enough that nothing truly dangerous happens. There are also very few true obstacles; mostly it's just "watch all this nastiness and stay away from it."
The modrons, by now, are long gone from the Abyss. They’ve moved on to Carceri, a plane that’s easy to reach but very hard to leave, and a lot of people are keen to know just how the modrons plan to do it.
Way Under the MountainOriginal SA post
I have a terrible habit of getting distracted with other shit (RTTTOH took me three years to finish) but I am putting on my Good Boy hat and planning to chug through the rest of this adventure at a brisk clip.
The Great Modron March Part 10: Way Under the Mountain
It's been more than a year since my last update, so to get people caught up: the modrons (the cute little robot-people who occupy Mechanus, the plane of ultimate Law), every 289 years, march out in a vast horde and tromp around the Outer Planes. Nobody knows exactly why, but nobody questions the regularity of the March-- you could set your watch by it, the modrons are so precise.
Until now. This March is different. This March is early, and nobody knows why, or what it might mean. The PCs have gotten entangled with it, and in the course of helping the modrons complete their odyssey, they might find out some information they don't really want to know.
Anyways, when we last left our heroes, they had been summoned to the Abyss by the tiefling wizard Taraere Illsmiser to protect her in her quest to loot a demon fortress. That went about as well as could be expected, but fortunately the spell binding the PCs wore off and sent them home before anything really bad could happen to them. By then the modrons had moved on, from the Abyss to the chaotic evil/neutral evil plane of Carceri, and they've left that plane behind too. Therein lies the rub... because a lot of people are very, very keen to find out how they did it. Carceri's not known as the Red Prison for nothing. It is very, very hard to leave, probably the hardest of all the planes, and a gigantic swarm of modrons must have found one hell of an exit. They see everything and record everything, so of course they have the dark of portals every other berk's long forgotten. This could be very profitable, and it's attracted a lot of attention. The PCs should have no shortage of rich patrons willing to pay handsomely for this information. The Fraternity of Order very badly wants to know, at least, for their portal compendiums, and they won't just pay handsomely-- they'll tell the PCs about a portal to Curst, the gate-town to Carceri in the Outlands, potentially saving them a hell of a trip.
The adventures opens (beyond this initial hook) by saying that the PCs should quickly make it into Carceri from Curst, foregoing any description of the town, which is a bit of a wasted opportunity, but it's described elsewhere and I guess you could people it with some color and encounters if you wanted to. Arriving in Carceri is rather unpleasant; the PCs show up in a stinking swamp full of trampled corpses. They have no way of knowing this, but these were petitioners of Carceri who were hoping to follow the March to freedom (they don't like the plane any more than visitors do) and were either mistaken for attackers or just trampled. The trail of bodies and modron tracks goes on for a mile or two and stops. See, Carceri's layers are made up of massive orbs hundreds of miles apart, and (many) modrons can fly. This information should be pretty obvious to any planar-knowledgeable PC.
Course, they're shit outta luck as far as tracking the things is concerned. That is, until a voice speaks up: "Hey berks, you lookin' for modrons?"
The speaker is Aach, a 14th-level human thief and member of the Revolutionary League. Of course, what she really is is a top-shelf cony-catcher looking to run a peel on some clueless sods, but the PCs'll do in a pinch. Aach is charming and affable, and while she'll read as evil to a detect spell, she'll try to pass that off as background effects of the evil plane they're all standing in. She'll ask for 200g to lead the PCs to the modrons, half up front. She claims she knows where they went and has transportation ready, and those things are both true. Of course, she's nowhere near as altruistic as she seems-- she's been sent by the League to foil the Fraternity's plan to learn about the portal. The Revolutionary League headquarters are on Carceri and they don't fancy other factions learning too much about the plane's secrets. (As a side note, I like that the Revolutionary League embodies the darker, more violent and destructive side of revolution, with the Free League representing Bakunin-style anarchism). In keeping with the Revolutionary League's particular idiom, though, Aach has no intention of seeing their plan through, either. She plans to turn stag on her erstwhile faction and sell the information she's got in Sigil to set herself up nicely. She'd like the PCs as backup to investigate the portal the modrons used, and hopefully she can strand them on the other side of it.
Aach's "transportation" is a hot-air balloon made of petitioner skin (ew) that can easily hold the party, and while it's a bit slow, it can cross the gap in about five hours. Aach will be friendly enough, gently probing the PCs for information (so she knows who to sell the knowledge to when she makes it to Sigil). She leads them to a huge pool of quicksand, which the modrons obviously used; hundreds of tracks lead to it. The gate is keyless, and anyone who jumps into the quicksand will pass through...
Some of you might be nodding along at this point. For those who aren't, Undermountain is a massive megadungeon on the world of Abeir-Toril (here just called Toril). A mighty (and mightily crazy) archmage named Halaster excavated a dungeon complex because he was a shithead wizard and that's the sort of thing they do. He opened tons of portals to the Lower Planes to stock it with fiendish foes, bound a bunch of them with magic, and then left the portals open.
this image is never not apropos
Most everyone forgot the barmy wizard and his portal, but not the modrons. They, as has already been established, don't forget anything. And while Toril isn't Outland, it's a hell of a lot easier to escape from than Carceri.
The portal spits the PCs out in the lower levels of Undermountain. Halaster implemented all kinds of enchantments here to make sure pesky adventurers couldn't cheese his dungeon, so teleportation and like spells (dimension door, passwall etc.) don't work. Scrying magic like ESP and Locate Object can't penetrate the walls, floors, ceilings and doors. And given how much background magic suffuses the place, Detect Magic is useless.
Here, have a map. The book notes that this adventure is almost a typical "dungeon crawl," which Planescape PCs would not be familiar with (dungeon crawls not being a typical feature of Planescape campaigns). It's an interesting idea. I like cross-genre play.
The PCs arrive in Location A, next to a nasty archway carved with gehreleths (the fiends native to Carceri). It's keyless and two-way, so they could retreat to the Red Prison, if that was something anyone anywhere wanted to do. Area B is a similar gate to the Abyss. Going through this gate is a tremendously bad idea, not just because it leads to the fucking Abyss, but because on a 1 on 1d6, passing through it gets you hit with Feeblemind. This works in both directions and explains why no demons show up on this side.
The gates marked C are Charm Wards that Halaster set up. They're undispellable wards, and if you fail them you get hit with a charm spell if you fail a saving throw, but the only effect of the charm is to make you think Halaster is a pretty cool dude and want to do what he says. Since he doesn't show up in this scenario, there's no actual effect unless the PCs get trapped here. But it's a nice bit of flavor.
Area D leads to, you guessed it, Baator. There are guards on it (two red abishai; at the PCs' current level, presumably 6 to 9, these should not pose too much of a threat), and while they saw the modrons pass by, they're not gonna volunteer that information. They're bickering now about whether to explore the dungeon, but they'll attack on sight, fleeing back through the portal if things go against them.
The central area marked H is the Pillar of Gates, a gigantic pillar 50 feet wide that slowly rotates. Its segments all rotate in different speeds and different directions, except the top two, which have ceased. Muddy footprints lead to a stone door set in the bottom of the pillar. The whole thing is a tremendously powerful magical artifact that's basically impervious to harm. PCs can explore it, but Aach reminds them that they still don't know where they are, and their mission was to find out where the Carceri portal led. So no leaving yet. Plus, they don't know how it works.
As you can see from the map inset, you enter the hollow pillar through a door on the bottom. Each of its ring-shaped segments has a portal on it, leading to a different lower plane. Narrow staircases connect the levels and come up through gaps in the ceiling. The only key for the portals is the rotation of the pillar-- when a level stops rotating, its portal deactivates. As you might surmise, climbing between levels can be hazardous, and it's only possible when their rotation brings stairway and hatch in alignment-- which only happens once a minute or so, and only long enough for a couple creatures to get through (this held up the modrons for two whole days).
The pillar may be magical, but it's not totally indestructible. It's slowly winding down; levels 6 and 7 no longer work at all, and levels 3, 4 and 5 are getting very close to ceasing their movement (the adventure says that Aach realizes this, but I don't see how). Apparently canny PCs who study the pillar for a few minutes can figure this information out with a -12 Int check, but Aach's Int is only 14, so I guess she rolled really well. When the rotation stops is up to the DM; the adventure says to wait until the PCs have the chance to explore and get the chant on how it works (from an NPC to be named shortly) before it happens. The modrons, as it happens, went up to level 4 and passed through into the Grey Waste, and if PCs somehow figure out to do that, they can see the March if they haven't dawdled too much.
The upcoming shutdown isn't the only problem with the pillar. One of Halaster's curses turned an adventuring wizard named Cryvistin into a vampire, and the archmage impressed him into his service to act as Guardian of the Pillar. He's supposed to watch over the portals and prevent them from being used as an interplanar highway. He couldn't stop the modron march, but a small band of PCs is more his speed. He'll watch the PCs in gaseous form to assess their capabilities; his first move to approach someone alone and charm them to act as his spy, but he'll flee if this doesn't work. North of the pillar is a hallway leading to Cryvistin's sanctum, and the floor is trapped (he can fly, so who gives a shit). Activating the trap releases a swarm of 100 bats, who mob the characters and distract them while a time-delayed trapdoor beneath them drops them 30 feet into a huge pit. A dex check at -10(!) can avoid this, but if you fall, you end up trapped (after taking 3d6 falling damage) when the trapdoor swings closed. This summons a tiny energy sphere into the pit that seeks out living bodies, attacking randomly once per round at Thac0 12. It does 1d10 cold damage and drains a level from anyone it hits. The ball cannot be destroyed or dispelled in any way.
"When it came to traps, Halaster was no piker," the book cheerfully informs us.
This is a bastard of a trap and not one I'd feel comfortable springing on PCs, since 2nd Edition level drain was serious fucking business. The vampire's lair is past the trap and has some loot, plus a really disorienting "thick black curtains plus everything inside is painted blood red" decor that inflicts a -1 to all die rolls by all living creatures while inside. Also Cryvistin's coffin is cursed, and anyone touching it who fails a save will be hated by anyone he or she meets. The loot listed is pretty typical of a vampire, but not at all worth the nasty trap and the difficulty of actually battling a vampire. If for some reason the PCs explore around here, Area G is where Halaster puts the many, many paintings (all blood red, natch) he creates in his centuries of free time.
Cryvistin is just in charge of the pillar. This region of the dungeon is under the control of Paellistra, a drow priestess. She doesn't work for Halaster, but she came here to see if the portals might be of use to the drow, and she bribed Cryvistin to let her stay with an amulet of protection from turning (a fact which the PCs might not be thrilled to find out).
diterlizzi is a treasure
She's a level 9 priestess, and while she's no slouch in a fight (partially thanks to fact that she's festooned with magic items) she's not openly hostile to the PCs. To get to her, though, the PCs have to either pass through area M or area J. M is a high-ceilinged chamber full of "crushed bones and feces" and home to two harpies, who act as Paellistra's guardians. They'll prefer to use their magical song to charm those who hear it, but if you have powerful missile attacks or some way to force them into melee, they'll mix it up. Paellistra's bound them magically, but she doesn't really like them (their singing is annoying, we're told) and won't be mad if they're killed.
If the PCs would rather avoid the boids, they can pass through hallway J. Halfway through, PCs must save vs. spell. Failure means the PCs are pulled down the hall the rest of the way as if by Strength 23, into the marked room. Once they're inside, the door slams shut and hundreds of magically animated iron hooks attack. Each hook has a Thac0 of 15 and inflicts 1d6 points of damage, and 1d6 attack a given target each round. The hooks have AC 2 and 20 HP each, but destroying them all really isn't feasible before you're torn to shreds; escaping the room is a much better option. Assuming the PCs do that, they can reach Paellistra's suite. Room K is her boudoir, a lavishly furnished room with some valuable jewelry and typical Drow Priestess stuff (fancy clothes, nice furniture, drugs, torture implements, etc.). Paellistra herself is in Room L, sitting on a swiveling iron Supervillain Chair. She's polite and nonhostile, but not particularly nice; fortunately, she doesn't have any reason to hurt the PCs and will be very susceptible to flattery and charm. She'll answer any questions they have (especially about Halaster and Undermountain) though she won't say that the pillar is winding down. In return for this help, she'll want the PCs to fill her in on some things she doesn't know: the strange clockwork people, Sigil, the planes, that sort of thing. Refusing her would be kind of rude. Paellistra is perfectly willing to be civil, but threats, rudeness, aggression, or carrying around bright lights and refusing to douse them will arouse her anger. She can be a very dangerous opponent, so... don't provoke her, and you should be fine. She's also got five giant spider servants lurking around the ceiling in case PCs try anything.
Anyways, once the PCs learn about the pillar from Paellistra, they'll know what they needed to know to complete their mission: yes, there's a labyrinth full of portals under the Prime world of Toril; no, it's not really a good highway (too full of monsters and magic). Aach has learned all she needs to, and now she just needs to give these berks the laugh and make it to the Cage. She suggests they follow the modrons into the Gray Waste to see where the portal lets out. She has figured out that the pillar is about to stop rotating, trapping anyone inside it (when it no longer rotates, the staircases will no longer be navigable and the portals will close). Aach will stall the PCs on level 4 until she feels the pillar grinding to a halt, then dive through the access hatch with a "So long, rubes!" Only very quick thinking (and acting) can prevent this, and Aach is slippery, doing whatever she has to do (up to and including violence) to avoid being trapped. She's very dangerous and totally capable of killing a PC or two. If she makes it down to level 3, she's good to go, as levels 1 and 2 are still rotating. Anyone stuck on 4, though, is trapped. There's one hope for escape: level 5 spins a little longer than 4, and PCs can climb up there and take that portal before it closes. Being stuck on Gehenna is no fun, but it sure beats starving in a teleportation-proof pillar.
If the PCs don't make it before level 5 shuts down, merciful DMs might decide that Halaster shows up to fix his precious pillar and set them free, though he'll surely extract a price (and they might already be charmed to obey him). If they do make it out, the portal takes them to a gully by the River Styx in Khalas, the first layer of Gehenna. This place is a sulfurous, volcanic hellscape that can inflict environmental damage from heat. If PCs have no magic that lets them escape Gehenna, they can wait around until a marraenoloth (a yugoloth boatman) shows up to guide them down the Styx to the lower plane of their choice (or the Astral) though the price is steep... and there's a chance the marraenoloth just takes them where it wants to go. The PCs might explore Khalas, but they're close to the realm of the evil power Sung Chiang, and they'll likely be accosted by a pair of hydroloth thugs. This is the home plane of the yugoloths, after all, and they don't take kindly to outsiders round these here parts. They won't attack unless the PCs do something really stupid, but they'll only guide the PCs to a portal in exchange for a magical item or an oath to aid them later (and frankly, I'd rather just fork over the magic). Also, the key is a pained scream from someone losing at least 3 hp, and boy do the hydroloths love "helping."
So you can wrap up the adventure here. Aach will take some time to make it back to Sigil, so the PCs might be able to beat her there and claim the reward. Course, she won't like that, and might vow revenge... but of course, they probably want revenge on her as well. She's gone into hiding, but she's out there, biding her time. She's a dangerous foe, but the Revolutionary League has by now figured out she's turned stag on them and might approach the PCs to find someone to scrag her...
And of course, the March goes on.
One thing I really love about this campaign is how many hooks there are embedded in it. Like Taraere Illsmister, Aach might show up later, looking to work out her grudge against the PCs. Paellistra, on the other hand, might be an ally, or at least a contact, if the PCs want to go on a planar adventure later. The Great Modron March is designed to be threaded into a longer, running campaign, and I love how many opportunities it provides to flesh out a campaign setting with characters, settings and plots.
Next time: the return of the Tacharim! (See parts III and V for the skinny on these chumps).
Floral ReckoningOriginal SA post
The Great Modron March Part 11: Floral Reckoning
We're closing in on the end here. The modrons have made it nearly all the way around the Great Ring and even now tromp through Gehenna, the volcanic lawful evil/neutral evil plane and home of the yugoloths. The bright side is that they're back on the Order side of the Great Ring, which is presumably safer than the Chaos side; on the other hand, having weathered Limbo and The Abyss (which severely reduced the March's numbers) there aren't many of the little pikers left. Canny bloods who remember the first post in this series will recall that, as modrons on the March die, others are promoted, ensuring that only the toughest survive-- so while the March is a lot smaller than it used to be, at least its remnants can mostly take care of themselves.
The various fiends and sundry other inhabitants of the Lower Planes don't bear the modrons any particular animosity, at least not over and above their generalized omnidirectional hatred of everything. Others, though, have their eyes on the reduced March. Foremost among these are the Tacharim, an evil planar order of "knights" that the aforementioned canny bloods may recall from episode 3. There, the Tacharim attacked the March in search of Modron parts, hoping to use them to create an army of "modronized" warriors. The Tacharim's headquarters are located in Gehenna, and as the March passes by, they're not going to pass up an opportunity for a really big score.
The modrons are currently in Gehenna, having found a secret portal in the marshes near the gate-town of Torch. They're tromping through Khalas, the furnace-like first layer of the evil plane. Gehenna's layers take the form of massive "earthbergs" that resemble nothing so much as two huge volcanos set base-to-base. Khalas's volcanos are active, and visitors face the twin perils of bursting lava flows and steep slopes. There's basically no flat ground anywhere on the plane, and gravity doesn't orient itself towards the ground like in some other planes. If you fall, you might fall right off into the void between earthbergs-- that is, if you're not torn to shreds by the jagged terrain on the way down. Anyone walking around who's not protected from heat takes 1d2 damage every round.
However, the PCs probably start in Sigil. They're visited there by Sir Vaimish Crasad, a paladin of Excelsior who they had the pleasure of dealing with the last time they faced the Tacharim together. Crasad's a good guy, and he's here with good news: his allies have tracked the evil Tacharim to their lair and are even now preparing to put an end to them. He's come to thank the PCs for their help earlier, but he waves off any offer of help. If the PCs insist, he'll put his foot down, insisting that they leave the Tacharim to him and his men; he can't risk bystanders' lives on such a dangerous errand. He will do everything he can to dissuade the PCs, and if they actually start to follow him, he'll slip through a portal at the very last moment to keep them from using it.
This, I don't like. The PCs are almost certain to assume that "help Crasad" is the adventure hook, and they should want to, too, since he's a nice dude and the Tacharim are major bad news. The players will surely assume that they're supposed to go with him and his protestations to the contrary are just playing hard to get. It also sort of beggars belief that he'd push back so hard, especially since he knows the PCs can handle themselves in a fight. If I were running this I would rework the timeline so they either hear about Crasad's mission after he's departed (from a letter or something) or just... go along with him. It would require some retooling of the later portions of the adventure to account for his presence, but that's not impossible.
Anyways, assume Crasad pops in, tells the PCs "we're about to go smite some fools gg no re" and peaces out before they can follow him. A few days later, the PCs are preparing to go out on the town or on an adventure or whatever when there's a knock at the door, followed closely by the sound of a body hitting the ground outside. When they open the door, it's poor old Crasad, looking somewhat the worse for wear. He's covered in burns, missing an eye, and parts of his flesh look like metal plates have been peeled off him. Any attempt to heal him with magic fails and the motes of magic sizzling against his skin visibly pain him.
"Ain't gonna work, friends... the Tacharim took care of that when they welded those modron plates to my body. Ruined all chance of magical recovery, and my body's not going to last long without it. 'Fore I go, I've got to ask a favor of you... please, travel to Torch, pass through the gate to Gehenna, and look for their headquarters, the Flower Infernal. It's pretty easy to get there... the Tacharim are starting to wear a trail. Y'have to sneak up, and probably in. They have guards posted all over the place. When you get in, find the prison and free my brother. And if the cursed sods who run the place have done to him what they did to me, kill him. Then torch the place. Please."
With this, Crasad passes out, lingering in pained unconsciousness for a few hours before finally dying. There's no magical healing allowed, and only a wish can save him. From here, the PCs have the choice to disregard his words and carry on with their lives, or plan an attack on the Tacharim, for revenge or just for the good of the planes. Hope they pick the latter 'cause that's the adventure!
It's not too hard to get to Torch, and while it's not fully described here, the other Planescape materials have plenty on it. I'd linger in the town for a bit, since the adventure notes that it's changed. Never a nice place (gate-towns to the Lower Planes seldom are), Torch is gripped by superstition and paranoia right now, since something has been waylaying caravans outside of town. The survivors of these attacks claim that they were attacked by metal men and mechanical creatures. The people of Torch assume that the March (which just passed through here) left a few rogue modrons behind in the hills, and they're responsible. There's a lively debate on this, since going rogue is pretty rare especially on the lawful side of the Ring, but the town is preparing for potential modron invasion. They're in a siege mentality, and that should be apparent to the PCs from the start. The adventure actually takes place in Gehenna, but the PCs might want to stick around Torch for a session to gain info and prepare, especially since the portals are somewhat hard to take. There's one in the marshes, but it's not well known at all. Fortunately the modrons' trail makes it pretty easy to find, but it's still hours of wading through muck and mire, and PCs are likely to catch a nasty disease. Alternatively, they could take the well-known midair portals in Torch, but those come with their own hazards. See, traditionally, the way into Gehenna involves climbing the spires of Torch and leaping off to jump through a midair gate; this requires a Dex check to climb and another one at -2 to jump. Failing the second leads to 20d6 falling damage, so basically nobody just jumps hoping for the best. Flying magic is ideal, but PCs are creative. This portal puts the PCs a bit closer to the Tacharim base, but it's up to the PCs which one they use.
It's not too hard to locate the Flower Infernal. For one thing, it's a gigantic flower! It's two stories tall and occupies an island in one of Khalas's jagged canyons. A thousand feet below, the stinking waters of the Styx foam and froth. The plant itself is metallically dense, possibly as a result of its roots reaching down into the heavy waters below. Its nine jagged, hollow petals thrust skyward and reflect the volcanic red glow of Khalas. The Tacharim have hollowed out the stalk and petals of the flower to make their home. They discovered a seed pod in the center of the Flower that, when exposed to heat, can cause the entire structure to rotate, and individual petals to raise and lower; they use this to turn the petals into "drawbridges" that let them access their home, or keep it safe from invaders. This is a very effective tactic, since it lets them divide and isolate an invading force within the petals (this is probably what happened to poor Crasad's paladins). The Tacharim have bribed the various fiends of Gehenna to leave them alone, and here they carry out their twisted experiments. They've kidnapped modrons and humanoids alike, and used parts from the former to augment the latter. Their eventual goal is an army of modronized soldiers, deadly and loyal.
PCs who see the flower might recognize it as the logo from the Tacharim's armor in Chapter III. It's pretty clear this is where their enemies are, but how to get in? Crasad wasn't kidding about the guards. Only one drawbridge petal is down at a time, and the guards are on edge. They all carry bronze horns and are deployed so that they can see and reinforce each other quickly. A large force is not going to slip in unseen. However, there are options. The most obvious one is magic: invisibility and silence spells work here, and while the Tacharim have set tripwires (and the uneven terrain poses its own hazards) there's no reason that the PCs couldn't walk right into Mordor. Another option is the ol' stormtrooper gambit. The organization is big enough that not everyone knows everyone, and it should be easy enough to waylay a small patrol and lay hands on their super-duper-cool black armor. The PCs might still give themselves away by doing or saying something stupid, but this might actually get them in the door. Ambushing a patrol can also get the PCs some good information: the Tacharim are gearing up for a major attack on the March, to get all the modrons they'll ever need. Even if the PCs don't really like the modrons at this point, they'll surely want to stop an evil force from laying hands on an army like that. The March is about a day away from the strike point, so... chop chop!
There are 250 or so Tacharim in the Flower, a mixture of 2nd and 4th level Fighters, plus various servants and staff. Their commander is Doran Blackarm, a 12th level Fighter who's been... enhanced with some modron parts. Specifically, nonaton legs, which make her super-fast and able to leap 40 feet at once. She's dedicated, professional, and competent, and she knows all the guards by sight, so the ol' "I'm new here!" trick won't work on her.
There's one other person in the fortress who the PCs might recognize: Valran Stonefist, from the fifth chapter. You may recall him as a mad wizard experimenting along very similar lines to the Tacharim. The two of them hooked up, compared notes, and decided to join forces. Access to the Tacharim's resources have led Valran to a breakthrough, and he's successfully accomplished his goal: he's transplanted his brain in the body of a decaton modron. The change didn't destroy his sanity, either, though he's more aggressive a bit more lawful (and thus less intuitive) than he used to be. If he sees the PCs, he'll certainly remember them, though they might not have parted on bad terms last time. If they weren't hostile before, he'll assume they've come to join up with the Tacharim, and he's eager to share his discoveries and what he's been up to.
"By keeping a piece of the modron brain within the body, not only do we cure the modron madness, we also ensure that there's a built-in tendency to follow orders in the new modronoids. Of course, it tends to slow down the mental processes of some bashers, and it still drives others completely barmy, but that's a small price to pay for an army of creatures like this, eh?"
Yeah, he's still nuts.
Valran will show them around, but even he gets suspicious after a while. Of course, if the last time they met they parted on bad terms, he'll call for the guards right away. He's pretty beefy himself, now; he still has access to his old spells, including disintegrate, globe of invulnerability, polymorph other and lightning bolt, plus he has the decaton body's natural armor and attacks, plus spell-like abilities to buff and heal other modrons.
Here, have a map:
The drawbridges are barred by portcullises, each carved with magic-nullifying runes. Archers can fire through the bars, and they have murder holes above them, complete with pots of hot oil at the ready. The Tacharim have also constructed racks of spikes that slide into place in the portcullises; once they're set, they raise the drawbridge petal, spilling invaders onto the spikes. Past these portcullises is a ring-shaped balcony, which is separated from the fortress proper by still more gates.
Area B (the five numbered petals) consists of barracks and labs; these petals are typically not lowered, since they're in use. Area 1 is a stable, with 40 trained warhorses that will attack anyone not bearing the Tacharim symbol. Area 2 is the modronoid barracks. It's a mess, but in an orderly way; it looks as though the litter on the ground has been purposefully dropped in a specific spot, "as though the inhabitants were trying to assert their individuality while still conforming to a greater pattern." Area 3 consists of partially dismembered modrons hanging from chains and in baths of sludge, all of them twitching feebly. See, if a modron dies, all of its parts disappear, so they have to keep modrons alive so the grafts will remain active. Killing a modron here is an act of mercy and also kills the modronoid to whom its parts were assigned.
Area 4 is the surgery, and it's certainly grisly. There's a Tacharim squire hosing it down as the PCs enter, but if they're disguised, he won't see any reason to challenge them.
Area 5 is an infirmary for sick and injured Tacharim. All 30 beds are occupied, but none of the inhabitants is awake.
Areas marked 6 are barracks, where most of the inhabitants dwell. During daytime, there are about 30 Tacharim asleep here; at night, it's about 170. Anyone awake and active when the PCs arrive will assume they're new arrivals if they look appropriate and don't give themselves away.
Areas marked 7 are armories, full of nonmagical weapons. They're not locked or barred or anything since the Tacharim might need weapons at a moment's notice. The largest armory also has the portcullis mechanism.
The lower level of the Flower is for day-to-day life. Area 8, as you might deduce from the map, is a prison. The cells are all full right now, some with modronoids who haven't yet learned to obey, others with prisoners captured on Tacharim raids. The modronoids are pacing like crazed beasts, the prisoners are listless and hopeless. One of the prisoners is Vaimish's younger brother Tairish Crasad, but unfortunately, the PCs're too late for him; he's been modronized, and he's howling in frustration and fury. The PCs can soothe him and get some information out of him-- his mind's not gone yet-- but the only useful thing he knows is the dark of the Flower's seed-pod control system. Tairish has a pretty good idea that destroying that pod will destroy the whole flower. He also has a pretty good idea that he'd like to die, and soon, and this revelation is accompanied by new howls that are sure to bring down the guards unless the PCs knock him out or end his life. The book suggests good PCs go for the nonlethal option, but that's another weird conflict, since all the evidence they've seen indicates that this process is irreversible, and both Crasad brothers asked them to kill this poor sod. So who knows. I certainly wouldn't penalize a party who put him in the dead-book.
Area 9 is a smithy, with three anvils and three smith-guards, all of whom like to grouse and complain, though they're only on duty during the day. Area 10 is the Knights' Quarters for the higher-ranking Knights; they're alert, since many of them are up dicing and playing cards at odd hours, and they'll question any sod who stumbles into their room. Area 11 is an administrative room, used for strategic planning meetings and the multiplanar equivalent of McKinsey powerpoints. There's a lot of jink here, too, since this is where they keep payroll-- about 10k gp in gold and gems.
The areas marked 12 are the mess hall, with nothing particularly unexpected present, and 13 represent repair rooms. The 0th-level Prime Alana Sieron serves as the tinker here, but she's just in it for the money and has no loyalty to the Tacharim, so threats or a bribe should keep her shut up. Area 14 is just storage.
The Central Pod is where the action's likely to go down. As you can see from the map, it's like a chambered nautilus shell. Doran and Valran share these quarters. The walls of the center pod are translucent from the inside and opaque from the outside, which helps them keep an eye on the rest of their crew. 15a is an anteroom and Doran's library. Her books reach from floor to ceiling. She may be an evil, modron-legged knight, but at least she's a well-read one. 15b is Valran's room, which is spotlessly clean and orderly, though it shows some signs of once being quite opulent. His mind is slipping towards order due to his new modron body, and he spends his free time in here meditating on the joys of law and order. Areas 15c-d are Doran's rooms. She's a bit of an artist, and next to her bed is a writing table and painting station. Her paintings are beautifully composed, and the chamber "seems to radiate the health of a well-balanced mind." The thought occurs that well-balanced people usually don't kidnap and vivisect modrons to graft their parts onto unwilling captives, but what do I know? Anyways, area 15d is her exercise chamber, filled with weapons; she often spars with a randomly chosen knight. She's here at night and midday.
Area 15e is a guard post, manned 24-7, mostly in charge of operating the Flower's controls and keeping it rotating and raising/lowering drawbridges on schedule. Area 15f is Valran's library, which contains his spellbooks as well as his diaries, notes and favorite fiction (the lusty modronian maid?). Area 15g is the central pod, from which the Knights can control the whole Flower. It's not hard to figure out what it does, and it's not too hard to set it on fire, either. The trouble is making sure the whole Flower burns, since as soon as the pod starts to crisp, that'll alert the whole place-- and the PCs will definitely have to confront Doran and Valran, if not before, then when they arrive to put out the fire. The PCs can't just set it and forget it, or the Tacharim will easily put the fire out.
Once the fire's blazing, the PCs still have to escape, with whatever prisoners they've managed to free. This'll be chaotic, with flames spreading and Tacharim running to and fro. As the pod burns, the petals will raise and fall randomly and the whole Flower will spin ceaselessly. This'll cause some general panic and confusion, and might be enough to cover the PCs' escape, though they'll surely have to fight their way out.
Assuming the PCs burn the place down and make good their escape, they'll have done a great thing. The lords and masters of the Tacharim weren't present, but Doran was pretty senior, and the cream of their crop has just been wiped out-- along with their most substantial power base. They won't be destroyed, but they'll be a shadow of their former selves. And of course, like so many others the PCs have crossed in this adventure, they'll want revenge. Any escaping Tacharim will want to go after the PCs, and they'll use a variety of tactics, so one will just barrel down on them in the Lady's Ward while another might bribe a waiter to poison their beer. Of course, lots of people hated the Tacharim, and if news of the PCs' exploit gets out, they'll be feted in the Upper Planes. It doesn't hurt to be able to call in favors from the various Orders of Good out there. If Valran or his notes escape, the modronoid scourge isn't eradicated, either. The PCs may have to finish him off and burn his work to stop any other madman from picking up where he left off. The March, at least, is safe, and closing in on home.
Thoughts: this is probably my favorite of the adventures thus far, aside from the weird intro, since it has a good mixture of hook and freeform room to play. I can see a lot of different ways this could go down, depending on party creativity, and the Flower is a great setpiece.
Next time: a short break wherein we learn just what the hell is going on, actually.
Just What the Hell is Going On HereOriginal SA post
The Great Modron March Part 12: Just What the Hell is Going On Here
Now seems a decent time to introduce some of the fiction. This is for the DM's eyes only and really only serves to explain what's going on to DMs who plan to run Dead Gods. Since I plan to review it as soon as I'm done with this (and hopefully get it all done within a few months this time), I'll be including this. This fiction actually appears at the start of the adventure, but I've left it for now because it's spoilery.
The story begins with one of the secundi, the direct servants of Primus, leaving Primus's chamber after communing with the One and the Prime. Primus is left alone in the central chamber of the Great Modron Cathedral, connected to a lattice of waxy strands called the Infinity Web. Through this web, the One and the Prime can see through the eyes of every modron, everywhere in the multiverse. Only a Power like Primus can interpret, collate, cross-reference, sort, and process this inflow of information without going completely barmy, but most Powers can't literally see everything their servants do. Primus is therefore one of the most well-informed sods in the multiverse.
Primus detects a flurry of movement within the central chamber. This shouldn't be possible-- nobody should be here. Primus doubts the evidence of its senses, confirms it with other perceptions, and concludes: the impossible has happened. Correction: it is merely improbable, because it has happened. Primus's chamber has been invaded.
Primus attempts to call a secundi, but the call is blocked. This shouldn't be happening. Still, Primus is a Power in the heart of its domain, and feels no fear. It calmly adjusts to circumstances. The invaders resemble lower-planar beings, but of no kind Primus has seen before-- and you had better believe that eliminates nearly everything and everyone. They scurry around the chamber performing strange tasks, then part, revealing a shadowy figure that approaches Primus.
"You know me, do you not, modron?" In this figure's mouth the word becomes a slur. The One and Prime sifts through its recollection and realizes that yes, indeed, it does know this invader, and somehow this knowledge makes it uncomfortable.
"Yes," says Primus, the hint of shock in its voice hidden to all but the most careful listener. The smile the shadowy figure wears reveals that it is most careful indeed. "But, obviously, an elaborate deception is at work here," Primus continues. "You are dead."
"Yes, I am. But I've no time for your short-sighted observations. Do you know where my talisman lies?"
Primus scans its memory banks. It knows quite a lot about this entity, especially given that they've never met, and especially especially given that the entity is definitely deceased. The One and the Prime realizes that it does know of the talisman, but it has no idea what has become of it, or where it is.
"No," it replies. Primus is always truthful.
The invader psychically delves into Primus's mind, something that should not be possible and makes the modron Power recoil. The intruder's mental touch withdraws. "Yes, of course you're telling the truth... simpleton. But there's a way you can find out where it lies-- you and your little automatons."
Primus realizes suddenly that it is at the invader's mercy. As it struggles to summon its guardians, the invader continues: "Of course, I can't let word of my existence be revealed yet, and I don't actually need you alive to accomplish what must be done here."
The intruder speaks the Last Word, and Primus, the One and the Prime, dies.
Well! That's all very weird and ominous! But at this point, nobody knows what's happened... or rather, the only people who know have no intention of sharing that knowledge. But that's about the change. We're entering The Last Leg, the 11th and last adventure. At this point, the PCs should be level 8-10, which is good, because this is the toughest mission yet. The March is nearing home: it's passed through Baator, leaving behind more than a few modrons abducted by the baatezu for nefarious purposes. All that's left is to pass through Acheron, the plane of lawful evil/neutral evil, and then the modrons are home free in Mechanus, another successful March in the books.
This is, of course, the most perilous time for the March. Acheron is a dangerous place: the first layer, Avalas, consists of endless metal cubes in an airy void, on which countless disciplined armies endlessly clash, dissolve, reform, and clash again. The orcish and goblin pantheons make their homes here and war eternally against each other, and Sigil's Mercykillers also call Avalas home. Even if you're not press-ganged into an army, you may simply end up a smear on the ground when two cubes crash together-- everything on their exposed surfaces is smashed flat.
The second layer of Acheron, Thuldanin, might be worse. There's a bit less clangorous chaos, but Thuldanin is the scrap-heap of the multiverse, the caverns within its cubes full of all the detritus and castoffs of the multiverse. (Chant goes that any object disintegrated by magic anywhere in the multiverse ends up here... course, that might just be screed, but there sure are a lot of weapons and armor lying around, and some of it's magic...). Not only are the cubes haunted by the evil sentient ostrich-beasts called achaierai, but giant rust monsters and worse patrol the mines, looking for scrap to eat. If that wasn't bad enough, just standing around on the plane is dangerous: anything and anyone here left long enough eventually petrifies into metallic stone.
The modrons typically take a path through Avalas to Resounding Thunder, the realm of the Chinese Power Lei Kung. Lei Kung has granted them safe passage to Mechanus, so this should be smooth sailing, right? The poor little berks need it. After everything they've been through, the March is severely reduced. There are only 124 modrons left: 58 quadrones, 50 pentadrones, 5 decatons, four nonatons, four octons, one septon, one hexton, and one quinton. (Remember, as modrons die, others are promoted to their ranks, so the March always loses all its monodrones and duodrones first). The only modrons left are the toughest types, but there's so few of them, they stand a very real chance of being wiped out before they make it back to Mechanus.
The PCs get involved the usual way: the spread of rumor. The latest? The modrons have been carting around a powerful artifact called the modron crucible. It's like a mimir (a talking, knowledge-storing head), a storehouse of all the dark they've picked up in their multiversal trek. Even the most leatherheaded PC understands the significance of something like this: loaded with information known by nobody else, it's priceless. Nearly everyone who hears about the crucible schemes to pick it up for him or herself. The rumors of its existence should be enough to get the PCs moving, but you can always have a patron offer them a lot of dough to pick up the crucible for them-- or at least confirm its existence. The PCs should start off heading to Rigus, gate-town to Mechanus, to figure out where the modrons went. The March is small enough now that it's not super easy to track.
Rigus always throws open its gates to the modrons, probably due to some long-forgotten pact. The inhabitants aren't nice-- many of them would, I'm sure, love to butcher the modrons and be done with it-- but everyone follows the rules in Rigus. Or else. It's more lawful than evil, but it's got plenty of both. Visitors have to wear heavy plaques identifying their status; without one, you'll be enslaved and press-ganged into one of the endless wars of Acheron, sure as sure (the modrons, of course, are an exception). The PCs have just missed the little blighters, as it turns out. The portal to Acheron (known as The Lion's Gate) is located about a mile underground, in a cavern beneath town. You can get there via a staircase from the innermost of Rigus's walls, but the guards on the wall have orders to close the way up tightly as soon as the modrons pass through, and leave it closed for a week. No exceptions.
Dead end? Not quite. Rigus is lawful, but that doesn't mean everyone's on the up and up. It shouldn't be too hard for those of a roguish persuasion to find someone willing to sell them information: information on the modrons and their path through Acheron, or maybe even another, secret access to the gate. There are plenty of tunnels besides the main one (good opportunity for some combat here, too, though the adventure doesn't mention any). An informant can also tell the PCs that the Acheron side of the gate moves: sometimes it lets out in the Mercykiller headquarters of Vorkehan, sometimes on the Blue Cube, and sometimes on the Battlecube of the goblins and orcs. There's an information broker named Villich who'll sell this info, push comes to shove. He tells them about the modrons' deal with Lei Kung and the path they usually take through His realm.
Usually. See, here's something even Villich doesn't know: because this March is out of sync, the agreement with Lei Kung doesn't stand, so the modrons can't use that safe route. They've deviated from their route and are now headed to Thuldanin, the second layer, where the Mines of Marsellin hold another portal to Mechanus.
The PCs won't find many people who know this, but if they want more info on Lei Kung (always smart before trying to infiltrate a Power's realm), Villich will point them to Erinos Vail, an Athar member planted on Rigus specifically to undermine Kung. The Defiers hate all deities, everywhere, and want to take them down. Vail knows all about the modrons' deal and will sell the info for a little garnish. She even knows that the deal won't hold this time, but she doesn't know about the Mines route. Still, it's not exactly secret that the only other portal to Mechanus from Acheron is in the mines, so asking around (and shaking a purse) should get that info easily enough. It's also easy enough to get directions to the mines, even though it requires the PCs to pass through the goblin realm of Clangor and the duergar realm of Hammergrim. They'll pay for every word, of course. Nothing's free in Rigus.
Very, very extensive research performed by very resourceful PCs will give them a shortcut: there's a portal straight to the Mines of Marsellin in Sigil itself. It opens once a week and is in an alley full of trash, possibly infested with otyughs and the like, but at least it's not guarded; the dabus use it to push trash into Marsellin. Other adventurers might accost them during their week's wait; everyone's heard of the modron crucible and everyone wants a piece. That's assuming the PCs even find out about this thing in the first place, of course. The best way to do this kind of research is in Rigus's Chamber of Records, which is unfortunately off-limits to non-citizens. Fighting your way in just isn't going to work; the Rigus militia is numerous and tenacious. PCs can get fake papers, though, provided by a criminal syndicate called The Left Eye. The adventure provides some details on the Left Eye, its leadership, its members, and their practices, and adds that they're super untrustworthy and will ambush the PCs after they make it out of the Hall of Records to try to find out what they've learned-- though the fight shouldn't pose a problem to PCs of this level, especially since the Left Eye thugs will flee if it turns against them (or not attack at all if they're severely outmatched). The Left Eye will pass on information about the PCs to their allies in Acheron, though, which could be a pain later.
Meanwhile, the Modrons have arrived on the Blue Cube (an electrically charged cube with a blue dragon trapped on it, who loses his memory every day and scratches records into the cube Memento-style to try to escape). They fly to Vorkehan, from which they plan to travel to Thuldanin and thence to Marsellin. Here, have a map.
Probably, the PCs will have to travel through Acheron to reach Marsellin. By the time they make it through the Lion's Gate (either by tunnel or by waiting), the end has shifted, and it drops them on the Battlecube-- on the outskirts of a battlefield, in fact, surrounded by the dead. The sounds of battle are distant and ominous. The PCs can make their way across the cube, dodging various dangers, until they reach the town of Grashmog in Clangor, which will take them to the town of Forgegloom in Hammergrim (man, Acheron sounds like such a friendly place!). From here, they're headed to Hopeglimmer, and a portal to Marsellin. Clangor's about a day's march from their present location: a day's desolate, depressing march through a forlorn battlefield, full of scavenger vermin and corpses. There are occasional fiends and other dangerous things, but there are just as many encounters with scavengers looking for valuable scrap.
Grashmog's across a fast, wide river called the Lorfang, which surrounds the entire realm of Clangor. The only bridges across are within the walled city of Shetring, which is, if anything, more hostile to outsiders than Rigus (though telling rude orc jokes is one easy way in-- the goblins and orcs of Acheron hate each other). The PCs can also bribe the guards, and frankly, this shouldn't be a big challenge. Goblins aren't that bright.
Visitors to Shetring are not allowed to wear red, white, or black cloaks (all important insignia here) and must wear jade armbands. They are not told that these armbands allow any goblin officer to inflict hold person on them by saying "Maglubiyet compels you!" but hopefully they aren't leatherheaded enough to pick a fight here, such that that becomes necessary. Obedient PCs can pass on through to Grashmog and the portal, but the goblins won't let them use it unless they affirm the majesty of Maglubiyet (this isn't a portal key, it's just something the jerkass goblins make them do). You can sneak into the portal, which is challenging, or you can try to fight, which is suicidal, because these are goblin fanatics in the realm of their power, but stats are provided for the local shaman anyways.
Overall, this area is dripping with detail, which is great, except mostly what the PCs are doing is going on a sightseeing trip. I'd like to introduce some problem solving, maybe make them navigate goblin society a little bit to get permission to use the portal, or do some stealthy stuff. And a party of combat-loving types will get bored without a few encounters on the way. Be careful-- it's easy to get tempted to start a big fight in Clangor, but that's basically suicide unless you're willing to really deploy the deus ex machina.
The portal in Grashmog takes the PCs to Forgegloom, a duergar city that's as depressing as it sounds. There's no reason to dawdle around here-- the PCs have to head to Hopeglimmer, which is a three-day march away through rakshasa-infested mountains. To the adventure's credit, it provides suggestions for some encounters on the way, but this is a little freeform; I'd like to see more effort put into the actual PC-facing parts of the adventure, and a little less on local color only the DM will read.
Anyways, passing through the portal requires the PCs to give up some "great prize" to the duergar, or at least give them first dibs on anything the PCs turn up in Marsellin. See, scavengers and treasure hunters pass through here constantly, owing to the fabulous trove of lost magic in Marsellin, and the duergar hate competition. They also hate modrons, who are the other big scavenging force in the mines, and mentioning them in any positive connection is likely to rile up a swarm of miner-petitioners. PCs may have to use a little diplomacy, or at least beat feet. The portal key is a grim thought, which basically means that it's always open to the duergar.
Eventually we make it to the Mines and the climax. Another map!
The Mines are, basically, a giant junkyard. It appears to be made of nothing but endless scrap, compressed tightly enough that it forms a navigable surface. Whatever natural surface Marsellin had once has been buried beneath the junk of eons, all slowly petrifying into metallic stone. The place is alive with scavengers of all races, tearing the cube apart for its component parts. No matter how much they cart off, more wreckage appears constantly. Some comes through portals, but some just appears, and nobody knows where from. The scavengers are risking a nasty death via petrification, but it takes a long time, and PCs won't be here long enough to risk it (hopefully). The cube is ruled by a rust dragon (a gigantic, ancient rust monster) called Coirosis. She's allied with the Mercykillers and hates modrons, and so she's done a favor for a fellow member of the Mercykillers, a warlord named Craggis. Craggis has amassed a small army and wants to wipe out the March for good and all. Why? Well, he wants to be known as the man who stopped the March. Nobody's managed it so far, but Craggis thinks he can pull it off, and with the bladelings and undead hobgoblins under his control, he just might. (Bladelings are the native race of Acheron, a reclusive people that look like they're made of thorns). Craggis is also aware of the PCs thanks to his Left Eye informants, and he's laid a trap to stop them from interfering. This trap consists of two small flocks of achaierai waiting for the PCs just outside the portal. Achaierai are big, horrible ostrich-like birds, but with four legs; I like this depiction of them, but there are others much more whimsical.
They're fairly nasty combatants, with three attacks each (although their super-damaging bite only works on 10' enemies) and the ability to release a gas that causes damage and insanity. They're also intelligent, and will screech that they were sent by the mighty Craggis, which should be the PCs' first hint of him.
Once they get past the boids, the PCs can look for the modrons. They're just ahead, not too hard to find. When the PCs catch up with the March, they can try whatever technique they please to find the modron crucible. Creativity and cleverness is encouraged, but it doesn't matter what they try, they'll turn up emptyhanded, because the modron crucible doesn't exist. The modrons will ignore them entirely; this close to their destination, they're singlemindedly focused on getting home. They might use their clerical magic to get rid of annoying PCs if they're obstructing the March, but they won't initiate combat.
Of course, there's someone nearby who can help. See, sometimes modrons go rogue. It doesn't happen often, even less often on the Law side of the Great Ring, and almost never during the March; but it does happen, and it's happened here. A pentadrone has discovered self-awareness. Like all rogues, it's immediately transformed into a quadrone shape, and like all rogues, it's hiding from its fellows, who would destroy it in an instant. It has named itself 8, and when it sees the PCs, it will try to get their attention.
"This is 8," says 8, pointing at itself. "Non-8s," it says, pointing at the PCs. "Non-8s seek information on the Modron March. 8 will give non-8s information. Non-8s will assist 8 in successful escape of this plane and the Modron March."
A note here: I love rogue modrons. They're great PCs and better NPCs. They're a lot of fun, and this is an adventure that thrives on the wild and wacky bits of the multiverse. 8 is a genuinely interesting NPC: someone weird, but not too weird to interact with normally; someone with well-defined goals, which only somewhat intersect with the PCs'; someone with a valuable resource the PCs need.
Why the fuck is he only being introduced here, when the adventure is nearly over? Sure, 8 wants to escape, so if you meet it in Rigus its mission is basically done... but that's easy to fix. As you're about to see, 8 actually has other goals, goals that directly contradict its mission of freedom. It would be incredibly easy to place 8 earlier and give it a reason to want to follow the March to Marsellin. This adventure would be so much better as a rogue modron escort mission. That's how I'd always run it.
Anyways, moving on.
The PCs are likely surprised by this, especially if they don't know what a rogue modron is, because 8 won't describe itself as such. Instead, it will merely say that it has gained awareness of self. 8 isn't chaotic, but it's rejected the standard social order of modronkind, and other modrons could never forgive that. They'd recognize it on sight and do their level best to put it in the dead-book. 8 is helpful, though. For one thing, it will definitively clear up the mystery about the modron crucible: it ain't real. But the rest of the modrons' knowledge is, and 8 has a lot to share. This could be almost as good as the crucible.
Of course, it's at this point that Craggis attacks. Undead hobgoblins leap out of the scrap and the rain down from the mine shafts above. There are almost four times as many of them as modrons, and they're accompanied by Craggis and a fighting wedge of 24 bladeling mercenary warrior/conjurors. The fight is on, but the odds are against the modrons ever making it back to Mechanus.
8, despite being a rogue, still feels a great deal of loyalty and affection for modronkind, and it wants to see the March succeed. When Craggis attacks, it will exclaim:
"8 has altered its decision! 8 and non-8s must protect the Modron March! Only if Modron March is safe will 8 provide information to non-8s!"
With that, it attacks. The PCs may want to stay out-- after all, this isn't their fight-- but 8, despite its very un-modronlike battle fury, is probably going to be torn to pieces in the ensuing combat, and with it will go their only lead. So once more into the breach, friends.
Fighting through hobgoblins is easy, they're mooks. Fighting the bladelings is significantly harder. They have magic resistance, magic swords, and spells through 5th level (though at least they haven't got any truly nasty fifth level spells prepared). They also have a "breath weapon" where they fire off a storm of razors, but doing so substantially worsens their AC and magic resistance and reduces their elemental resistances. They are immune to non-magical piercing and bladed weapons, as well as acid, and resist cold and fire, so they're pretty tanky, though their hp and Thac0 is just good rather than great.
At least one bladeling per character breaks off to engage the PCs (you can alter it up if your PCs are fightier, I guess), but this diversion is enough: the modrons get a chance to rally and use their spells, and there are still a lot of them (and they tear through the hobgoblins like chaff, too). When this happens, Craggis joins the battle. He's not nearly as tough as his bladelings, though he is substantially harder to destroy. See, when the PCs blast open Craggis's armor and lay him low, they'll find it was hollow. Craggis doesn't wield a broad sword +2. He is a broad sword +2.
The Unity of Rings is one of the laws of the multiverse, and just as this adventure started with a sentient magic item invented by Heiron Lifegiver, it ends with one, too. Craggis is a magic sword with a will and a voice. He can use animate object and ventriloquism to give himself the appearance of an armored warrior, but what he is, is a sword. It's not too hard to destroy the sword, once you've smashed its armor puppet to bits and routed its army, but you also don't have to. It's a sword. Once it's used its one animation per week, it's helpless. It'll beg to be left behind in Marsellin, where a week from now it can reform its body, but PCs would be smart not to let that happen. Heiron is probably gonna want this one back.
Once the bladelings fighting the PCs are down, their fellows will realize that the combat has turned against them and retreat. Craggis too, if he can. The modrons, without a word of thanks, continue on and pass through the gate to Mechanus. And the March comes home.
What about 8? Sadly, it won't make it. It wasn't just the bladelings-- the other modrons saw the rogue and attacked, too. 8's wounds are too severe, it's missing limbs, and it's clearly dying. As it lays there, it will tell the heroes the most valuable chant it has.
"Non-8s have provided the help 8 asked for. 8 will give the information the non-8s require. This Modron March was not a standard Modron March. This Modron March occurred because... because... the One and the Prime is dead..."
With that, 8 dies, its body decaying rapidly into nothingness. This would be a bit more of a tearjerker if the PCs hadn't met it five minutes ago, but like I said, you can change that.
So what do the PCs do now? What do you do with information like that? First of all, they can take Craggis back to Heiron, but that's a thankless task. The sword can dominate wielders with inferior wills, so the safest course is to toss it in a sack for the journey to Automata... but the sword will beg, plead and cajole the whole way. "It's an insolent knave, as swords go," the book informs us. Heiron won't be grateful either. In his eyes, Craggis was a failure, and the PCs are just reminding him of that; he'll take the sword to destroy it, but he won't like doing so.
The PCs may wish to investigate Primus's supposed death, but that'll be impossible to corroborate. Only the secundi even know of Primus's existence, and if the PCs somehow get access to one, it will merely say that the One and the Prime "is and always will be" so obviously rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. If the PCs go looking themselves, by the time they reach Primus's chamber (a difficult task in and of itself) the usurper is gone and a new Primus is in place, promoted automatically from one of the secundi. The new Primus certainly won't speak to them, and there's no way to tell it is a new Primus. One thing's for sure: The March is over, and everyone involved has been touched by a mysterious and wondrous planar event, the likes of which most cutters never see. PCs have become a part of history, if only a footnote. They might find themselves hounded by researchers, journalists, historians, publishers, or just addle-coves looking for tales of the planes.
We conclude with another short bit of fiction. The modrons arrive home in Regulus, to no fanfare at all. Nobody greets them; there are no cheers. They simply take up their duties. Still, it is good that they're back. It is right. The perfect structure of Mechanus is intact.
He paused. Had he thought that?
The shadowy figure detaches itself from the Infinity Web and steps down from Primus's place. He realizes he's been changed by the experience in unexpected ways. He had, after all, been Primus. He knows now that he has to leave so a secundi can be the new Primus and reassert order. Despite being chaotic evil, he can't deny this rightful succession. It is time to go.
He knows he's forced the modrons out of their lawful nature, and he maybe even feels a little guilty, though he's sure that will pass. Will they wait another 289 years, or will they march again on-schedule? Even he doesn't know. Why does he even care? These things don't matter. Reclaiming his power and his position, that's what matters. Soon, surely, the lawful urges will stop.
He pauses to look at his servants. Their flesh hangs off desiccated bodies. Things are easier to control when they're dead, the shadowy figure reckons.
He reflects on the time he spent on this gambit. It took a long, long time, but he's narrowed down the location of his precious talisman: somewhere on the Lower Planes. While connected to the Infinity Web, he was able to pull together connections and correlate data in a way he never could before, and certainly can't now. He'll miss that.
He reflects on the eternity of his existence, the regrets, the missed opportunities and failures, and the fleeting nature of success. Is this why he's come back? No, not at all. He wants vengeance, that's it. Enough reflection. He has work to do.
He addresses his undead servants. "To the Bottom of the Multiverse!" he declares. There's much to do, after all. Obstacles to surmount. Primus will not be the last god he has to kill.
So, that's the Modron March! Thank you all for your patience. I'll try to be quicker next time. Next time, I'll pick up with Dead Gods, another Planescape mega-adventure that builds directly on this one. In that, we'll find out who this shadowy figure is, just what he wants, and what could be so important that he'd hijack the entire Modron March to get it.