In my game world, the spell fireball doesn’t exist anymore. It was banned two hundred years ago by a powerful college of magic-users and gold dragons called The Circle. Very few copies of the forbidden spell have been stored in six remote locations for future, wiser generations to retrieve. One of these six locations is a ruined city where a large Gate to Avernus opens every 25 years, and only remains open for 50 minutes. A copy of the spell is stored over there – in Hell.
A group of rogue magic-users have decided to defy The Circle and their ban; they plan to go through the Gate, and bring back that infamous, banned spell.
Pun or no pun, they are literally “going to hell”.
At the beginning of the session, every player gets to choose if he’s gonna send his real character on that perilous expedition, or if he would rather play one of the fifth level NPCs provided. The risks of dying are high, but the rewards are huge: a big chunk of XP, in addition of the spell fireball for the magic-users!
The decision to play “real characters” or NPCs doesn’t have to be a group decision: that’s the real beauty of it. The gate only allows for 10 people to go in and then come out 50 minutes later. The 10 NPCs – three magic-users, one cleric, one thief, and five fighters – are all set to go through that Gate when it opens. Players characters can choose to bump one NPC out of the lineup, and take its place. If the “real” thief or the “real” cleric decide not to go, they can play a barbarian and a druid – and not risk the lives of their characters. But the ranger, bard, and magic-users decide to send their actual characters, and there you have it: an unexpected combo of “real” characters and NPCs-turned-PCs-for-a-day.
Basically, it would have been like a game of Frostgrave, with 7 players controlling 10 characters and aiming for one precise objective.
But then, 6 of my 7 players decided to send their “real” characters to Hell. I was quite surprised, given that they were all too afraid to open any of the doors in one puny first-level dungeon, three years ago. Kudos, guys! Being crackbrained bold fuckers can go a long way – or you can remain trapped in Hell, or die.
The party had many tricks up their sleeve: a Figurine of Wondrous Power, a Potion of Fire Control, a Potion of Heroism, plus several one-shot magic items – two “mass cure wounds” items, a holy sword, a rending wave (4d6 damage on 4 different targets), a Compelled Duel, and a talisman allowing its wearer to cast one Bigby’s crushing hand.
In the very first room beyond the Gate, they squared off against two lemurs, two Legion Devils, and three fire bats. The magic-user cast his one and only lightning bolt there.
The second room proved to be much more challenging: three Legion Devils and one Horned Devil – and that Horned Devil later gated in three additional Legion Devils – and some reinforcements came in from the previous room (two more devils, one of them wielding a frightening “lemur blade”). So, eight Legion Devils, plus one gargoyle guarding the fire tower where the forbidden spell is stored.
The magic-user monster summoned three goblins, and one of those teeny-weeny goblins held its ground and lasted five whole rounds against a mighty Horned Devil and one Legion Devil. That nameless goblin became my favorite NPC of the game.
The other NPCs went down one by one, having shielded the PCs from 150 HP of cumulative damage.
The two “mass cure” had to be used in that room, along with the “rending wave” and the Figurine of Wondrous Power (a stone golem). The magic-user cast jump to get to the fire tower, climbed the ugly thing, and copied the priceless fireball spell. Then, the party scrambled to get out of there. Their golem carved up a few more pesty lemurs while carrying an unconscious barbarian NPC.
They all headed back towards the volcano crater where the Gate is located, but monsters kept coming “like bats out of hell” (the expression is literal this time – and they are fire bats).
The only exit was now blocked by a salamander boss, three magma elementals, and one more Legion Devil – number Eleven, for those of you who are keeping track. At one point, the fight turned into an intifada, with both magic-user and cleric picking up rocks to throw at the devil and elementals, since they were out of spells AND missile weapons.
The magic-user drank his Potion of Fire Control in order to ward off the fire bats: an inventive and clever use for that potion. They also used Bigby’s crushing hand on the first elemental. They were fresh out of cure light wounds and all running pretty low on Hit Points.
Hope was dwindling, so the Dwarf decided to drink up his Potion of Heroism despite being down to 4 HP. The potion made him gain 4 levels of experience and 44 HP. He was now an eighth level fighter with 48 HP and 3 attacks per 2 rounds! He used the Compelled Duel on the salamander – unblocking the Gate for his friends to get out as fast as they could. But the salamander still managed to cast heat metal twice, first on the ranger’s splintered mail, and then on the cleric’s magic armor...
Ranger and cleric both successfully threw one unconscious NPC into the Gate, thus gaining the reputation of “stand-up guys”. The magic-user cast one last lightning bolt from his precious scroll; then he yelled “aligato, sayonara” and jumped into the Gate. The ranger fired his last two arrows +2 and also threw himself into the Gate. The thief tried to throw the last remaining unconscious NPC into the Gate but missed his roll and that NPC fell into lava. Six fire bats then swarmed the thief, and he dropped to -2 HP. And sadly, there was nobody left to rescue him.
Despite the Potion of Heroism, Gorik the Dwarf died battling the salamander, and the last man standing (the cleric) had to jump into the Gate right away – abandoning Kalarion the thief, because Kalarion was on the opposite side of the crater, and had fallen right on the one evil rune that prevented his friend to reach him. (Plus, that salamander was now making its way back towards the cleric...)
Nevertheless, that killer mission is a success. They now possess the spell fireball and its dreaded “ouch” factor. But it cost the party their awesome fifth level thief and their valiant fourth (almost fifth) level fighter. Yes, we will have two new first level characters in the mix, next time.
Hell, that was some grandiose / Homeric D&D, wasn’t it?