Our group finished Sloobludop this week. That means, yes, we got the big scene and I hope it felt suitably epic for them.
The previous week largely consisted of random encounters for leveling and environment, then a big fight against the kuo-toa loyal to the Deep Father. I don’t set up full maps for these small encounters, so we’re still getting comfortable as a group with narrative combat (“theater of the mind”). I put tokens on the Roll20 map for tracking health and who is generally engaged with whom, but the players still want to interpret it as a simple map. The only drawback to this comes when they want to draw very precise conclusions. I believe that we’ll all find a happy compromise eventually.
The session ended with them entering Sloobludop and seeing the altars. The Deep Father’s altar in particular creeped them out more than I expected, maybe because the players already knew about Blibdoolpoolp the Sea Mother (a naked woman with the head and arms of a crawfish).
We started with some roleplay while the party waited in the Sea Mother archpriest’s hovel. I wanted the party to spend some time planning the next leg of their journey before everything went to hell, even though I knew their plans would likely change. But this gave them a sense of the lay of the land and a bit of interaction with their fellow escapees. They really do not trust Prince Derendil, at least not out of character. Stool remains a favorite and I used that to give them a sense that Jimjar, the deep gnome gambler, isn’t such a bad guy even if they find him a bit annoying.
Once the ritual started and the ensuing battle, everything got a bit crazy. There are a lot of moving parts in that fight before Demogorgon shows up, and so I mostly just handwaved everything except the adventurers and a few key NPCs. (Who has time to sort out which fish people serve the crazy crayfish lady god and which serve the crazy tentacle dude?) I brought Demogorgon out a round early because otherwise they’d have spent more time just figuring out who to attack.
Funnily enough, the players were expecting an aboleth, not a demon lord! I think they expected something “normal” (although still an aberration) from deeper in the Underdark itself. Since I do all my rolls in the open, they saw a couple of his tentacle attacks. They immediately changed their travel plans from “let’s take some boats and hug the shore around to Gracklstugh” to “GET ME AWAY FROM THE WATER!”
One thing that works well despite the fact that I didn’t expect it: they only have one or two encounters per long rest, meaning that they can go full-bore against the monsters. They don’t feel the need to save spell slots and other features that won’t become available again until the next day. I like the feel of this! It means I can tune up the encounters to make them a real challenge. When a minotaur skeleton crits with a greataxe for something like 40 damage, fun times are ahead!
The party also had an encounter with some drow spore servants (though they didn’t know about that last qualifier). Because they believe that their drow captors remain hot on their trail (and because the drow acted super creepy), they decided not to deal with them at all. The players have already asked me what the deal was with that… but if they want to know, they’ll have to try to find out in game.
They will have quite a few more random encounters to boost their XP plus the Silken Paths. I’m really not sure how to run this last one, though. According to the text, the chasm “stretches for nearly five miles” (about 26,000 feet). But if they have a chance for an encounter every 500 feet, that’s over 50 checks! Currently they carry no light sources because they understand the tactical and environmental implications, so according to the procedure they should have about 8 encounters in this relatively short distance.
I think I’ll just pick a few for them instead. The cocooned halfling will provide a handy breadcrumb to the Lost Tomb of Khaem, which (if all goes well) will cap off the next session.
All never goes well. But I can try to prepare anyway…