SESSION 0: A SUMMONS TO OLYA’S (9/8/2021)
The mage-merchant Olya summons a group of adventurers in service to him to gather at his shop within the Theurgy District of the city of Re-Atum in Otherwhere’s South kingdom. Answering his call:
* Airr Greyhorn, a vanir arcane archer of the Fellowship (thieves guild);
* Ani D’Fracko, a tiefling bardic Knight, a professional monster hunter;
* Melvin and Lester, a bardlock ventriloquist with a sentient dummy;
* Vannekethemek, a githzerai psychic navigator from an astral vessel.
Within the strange “office” is found twin bodyguard minotaurs Hox and Yox, the alchemist goblin Scrumble, and the eladrin teleportation technician Seviene. At one point an unnamed red-haired human delivers something to Olya before removing her Wig of Disguise, revealing herself to in fact be a half-orc spy.
Olya himself is sitting beside a massive indoor tree that sprouts purple whispering leaves. The mage-merchant is mid-pitch about his latest innovation: “dream vaults,” small enchanted trinkets that can record the sensations and memories of its wearer, then later be played back by another to experience everything seen and felt in the recording. “Imagine!” shouts Olya. “All of the thrill of fighting a red dragon – feeling the heat of the fire, smelling the blood of the wrym – with none of the danger!” He says there are practical uses ranging from entertainment, to instruction, to espionage, and more.
His prospective investment audience is made up of representatives from the other four main factions across Otherwhere:
* Sir Feth, a being of indeterminate heritage, a mid-ranking officer in the Knights of the Blade and Bow.
* Revealer Ko, an Apostate who champions chaos and open use of magic;
* Justiciar Rhys, a Warden who champions law and controls over magic use;
* Brother Fox, an intelligent animal wearing eyeglasses and smoking a pipe, a representative of the Fellowship of Thorns and Coins (thieves guild).
Olya says that while “field tests” of the “dream vaults” have been going well, five test subjects are each a week overdue to report in and return their mind-recording trinkets. The merchant-mage has called on adventurers to track down and return these devices in exchange for 500 gp each. (Olya gave the group 500 gp upfront and one “tracker” pendant that can detect the presence of the missing “vaults” within 1,000 feet. This device does not need attunement and is keyed to ignore other items besides the missing “vaults.”) Ani D’Fracko takes the pendant and agrees to wear one of the test “dream vaults” during this mission.
The missing “dream vault” objects include:
* A wolf’s tooth necklace sent with “Imperial” Jorge, a Knight priest, to a frontier village in the North. There had been unconfirmed reports of some possible undead sightings which the cleric hoped to investigate and possibly resolve.
* A golden pendant depicting an eyeball sent to the West with Marielle Hellbringer, a bard and agent of The Fellowship. She sought to “record” performances by several up-and-coming musicians auditioning on the talent circuit out there.
* A canopic jar sent with Jhonn the Woodsmith, an Apostate sorcerer, to a remote island in the East. The sorcerer claims odd fossils and unusual psychic auras on this island suggested an undiscovered site of lost Atlantean relics could be found nearby.
* A black rose sent with Steph of the Summers, a Warden fighter, going to reunite with her daughter in the South, a priestess named Ana who is researching old sacred texts and religious lore.
* A badge of royal authority from the Necromancer Queen, worn by Fleg the Tax Collector, a minor bureaucrat sent to a borderland region under dispute by Western and Southern nobles. Legally, whoever collects the taxes there has a stronger claim to the lands, but also the government wants to monitor their own tax collectors against corruption. Fleg probably doesn’t know his memories are being recorded by the badge he wears.
The adventurers will also be testing out a new powerful teleportation spell that sends subjects to one location upon casting, then to another predetermined site every 24 hours over the course of five days. This “one casting vacation tour” will help get to wear each “dream vault” was last known to be undergoing testing.
The party teleports into a ruined village where almost every building appears to have been trampled to the ground. Five exhausted-looking commoners in a state of panic are desperately trying to dig under a massive stone mill that has collapsed into a sinkhole, trapping 10 of their companions underground. Four other wooden buildings still stand nearby.
The frightened workers claim a new moon is about to rise, and with it will come hordes of vicious undead. Safety is only found in a walled city seen miles away in the distance. Lester the imp transforms into a rat and burrows under the rubble, confirming “Imperial” Jorge is among those trapped.
As the commoners beg for help, Airr Greyhorn notices a little elven girl with bright yellow eyes watching from a shaded row of hedges several yards away. Her clothing is splattered with dried blood. She silently smiles, showing her fanged teeth, just below walking backwards and disappearing into the woods…
CHAPTER ONE: WAVES OF UNDEAD (9/15/2021 and 9/22/2021)
As the farmers spend an hour using shovels and picks to dig a rescue tunnel under the foundation of the mill, the heroes soak mattresses in oil, reinforce windows and put up barriers around the site in anticipation of undead. And as the Amethyst Moon rises, so too did hundreds of undead within 600 feet all around the site. As the fire traps are lit, a dozen undead came into the camp and were put down by blows and magics – buying time to free those trapped underground. As silence falls, the farmers huddle in their barracks building, waiting for the inevitable confrontation with death to come…
CHAPTER TWO: OTHERWHERE ICON AUDITIONS
The party arrives via teleport into a lightly wooded area of the West where a gnome named Gonny Dimples is found being menaced by a troll wearing only brightly colored briefs. The group made a few attacks on the troll – who was mostly incapacitated by a Hideous Laughter spell – and fled in Gonny’s horse-drawn cart full of musical and theater gear. Vann the mystic disappeared, and a rune-knight dwarf named Brunhilde Stoneforge and her badger companion Honey appeared in his stead.
Gonny introduces himself as a talent agent en route to Gryph & Gruff’s Taverna where auditions are being held for “Otherwhere Icon,” the demiplane’s most popular talent competition. Once arriving, the sunny weather turns cloudy and the venue turns out to be a dilapidated tavern surrounded by a half dozen theater buildings that look to have been shut down for years. Another talent agent, Arak Goldsmile, attempts to steal representation of the party but both are rejected by the show’s field producer, a heavily tattooed man named Haldrake.
Airr sneaks around, pickpockets show host Lukas the Smiling Seer, and finds a note reading: “LUKAS – YOU’RE GOING TO DIE TONIGHT. I WILL ENJOY IT. – LOVE, LUCINDEE” – something the famous bard explains away as a recent lover who caught him in bed with another woman. He warns Luncindee is a mage, and she’s pissed off enough that Lukas offers a considerable sum for protection. Meanwhile, Ani makes connections with the judges over some high-quality wine and Brunhilde’s badger detects that “something didn’t smell right” about the four judges. Gryph the bartender/owner keeps mentioning he’s out of money and desperately wants to sell the place.
In the corner, the group notices the same half-orc woman seen the previous day at Oyla’s place, but she turns invisible when confronted.
The first performers of the night, sister act Kira and Sira, get a mixed reaction and are disqualified after being revealed to be harpies using their luring song magic on the crowd. They are kicked out of the tavern, taking with them the only audience member who kept failing all his saving throws. (He is later devoured by the angry sisters.)
Next up is Melvin and Lester, subbing in for the missing Collin Rogue (aka The Satin Fog). His opening music number is well received, and his comedy routine with the ventriloquist dummy gets huge laughs, but his closing material is average.
The third act is Grunha, a bugbear opera singer, who starts off horribly but slowly improves more and more as she sings, ending her performance with a stunning aria that brings tears to audience members’ eyes.
Despite the merits of each act, the judges’ comments are always unkind:
“Was that singing or screaming?”
“Your failure of imagination sickens me.”
“You just presented an exhausting array of cliches.”
“I can’t tell what’s worse – your talent or your material.”
“You tried with dogged persistence, despite having no inspiration, charisma, or talent.”
“That was good, like how Wisp used to be good. Used to be.”
“You walked in sulky, quite rude, very aggressive and you’re got very, very bad energy.”
“I think you’re possibly the worst performer we’ve seen this season, maybe ever.”
However, Grunha was caught on stage donning a snakeskin glove and crushing an eggshell in her hand, gestures which triggered a Bigby’s Hand spell to grab Lukas the Smiling Seer. Airr quickly moves to attack, Ani’s faerie fire illuminates both Grunha – who drops Disguise Self to reveal herself as Lucindee – and the invisible half-orc woman, and Melvin uses Calm Emotions to slow Lucindee from further spellcasting. However, Brunhilde transforms into a giant, rushes the stage, makes several crit failure attacks and thrills the crowd who think this destructive melee is all part of the show.
Amid the chaos, the halfing performer Lord Sparkles – who keeps bemoaning he has sold his soul to the demon prince Demogorgon in exchange for just middling fame – rushes the stage in his smelly unicorn costume and launches into his act of juggling, singing and dancing.
Melvin again uses Calm Emotions on Lucindee and begins to lead her toward the front door. Airr follows the fleeing half-orc woman and catches her in the room serving as a kitchen/storage/green room. Lukas the Smiling Seer slips out of the still-active Bigby’s Hand spell and tries to get off stage. The crowd is loving it, but the judges are hard to read…
CHAPTER THREE: THE WAYWARD CHILD
Gryph & Gruff’s Taverna is destroyed as Lord Sparkles’ ritual transforms several “Otherwhere Icon” show staff into manifestations of the demon prince Demogorgon, resulting in panic and a building-engulfing blaze. The heroes recover the golden eyeball pendant but learn its previous carrier, Marielle Hellbringer, was seduced and killed by none other than Lukas the Smiling Seer, “Otherwhere Icon” celebrity host and psychopathic werewolf rake. (When last seen, Lukas had made amends of sorts with Lucindee the Mage as the couple wandered off to celebrate their reunion.)
Teleported to their next stop, Melvin and Brunhilde Stoneforge fail to appear, replaced by Vannekethemek and the increasingly unlucky barkeep Gryph. The heroes find themselves in a frigid bio-mechanical science complex full of partially formed tiefling clones and a few dead illithid mind flayers. Ani D’Fracko learns her past – left at the Knights of the Blade and Bow’s Southern desert training castle when she was 4 years old – was a fabricated lie. Memory implant machines insert a fond childhood memory of Ani’s “mother” into Vannekethemek’s head and delete a few months of maternal memories from the wizard’s real childhood.
A trigged self-destruct sequence motivates the heroes to escape – along the way finding more half-illithid clones, a manifestation of the demon lord Juiblex, a living mind flayer named Qelinur, and a monstrous red illithid-like giant simply called Subject Omega. Gryph’s head explodes, allowing his corpse to be reanimated by some box of alien technology. Ani D’Fracko the bard is also killed during the chase, but she is immediately replaced by “another” Ani emerging from an abandoned clone tank. The missing canopic jar is found, but the horrid fate of Apostate sorcerer Jhonn the Woodsmith remains a mystery.
An exit portal is reopened by Subject Omega into what appears to be a mind flayer homeworld, perhaps a site within the psionic creatures’ native Far Realm dimension. It is a vast nightmare, a living landscape where insanity has been made flesh.