Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Actual Play - Death by Dragon in The Incandescent Grottoes

My regular Friday night gaming group has been playing through Gavin Norman's The Incandescent Grottoes. It's a dungeon that's full of caverns of glowing crystals, which is what it's named for, and also classic D&D monsters like fungi, slimes, and the undead. And, oh yeah, a dragon!
Leighton Connor from Akashic Library volunteered to be our referee for this one, since he's run this particular adventure before, for a group of kids and teens. Peter Kisner from Fantasy Heartbreak Workshop is the other player besides me in this game. 
I want to shout out a fun incident that happened in one of our recent sessions. As ever in these kind of situations, it's not possible to tell this story without spoiling a few possible surprises from the adventure, although I've tried my best to keep that to a minimum.
After our initial party of four got cut in half by some early dangers, Peter and I each rolled up two characters to accompany Gone Girl the thief and Gildur the dwarf. One of my new characters became a terrible wizard, and I made the other into a pretty good elf. The elf got a bonus language, which I rolled to select at random, and the dice decided he knew how to speak Dragon. I decided to make that a focal point for his personality. I gave him magic missile as his lone spell, used his remaining cash after getting armor and weapons to buy oil, and named him Flamethrower. (The wizard also got a bonus language - Regional Dialect. Like I said, terrible.)
So, when our newly enlarged party learned that there might be a dragon living in one part of the dungeon, obviously I had Flamethrower suggest that we should go visit it, so he could try talking to it. Peter agreed, because why not? How often do you actually encounter the monster the game is named after? Plus, we hoped it would go well. I thought Flamethrower might be able to engage the dragon in conversation, offer to do it a favor in exchange for treasure, that sort of thing.
We experienced one ominous omen on our way to the dragon's lair - a random encounter with a shadow monster. This was a pretty tough fight. Gone Girl used her only silver arrow, Flamethrower used up his one casting of magic missile, and Gildur made very good use of the magic sword he found earlier. I can't honestly say that this encounter changed the outcome of what happened next, but like, it was a very bad sign, and depleted us of resources that theoretically could have been useful.
Okay, so we leave the tunnel and enter the cavern where we think the dragon will be. It's not there, but we see another tunnel exit at the far end. In a loud voice, Flamethrower starts declaiming a polite greeting, "Well met, noble dragon, allow me to extend our most felicitous greetings to your royal eminence," and so on.
The dragon Kramers into the room, rolling up looking absolutely crazed with hunger and fury. It turns out the thing has only bestial intelligence. It shouts the only phrase it knows "EAT YOU!" and lunges for us, causing everyone to try to scatter.
I imagine this dragon looking like this angry weirdo from Shin Godzilla

We all wanted to run away, but unfortunately, the dragon won the initiative, and let loose with its breath weapon - a cloud of knockout gas. Everyone lost their saving throw except for Peter's gnome, Schnoz, and they all fell unconscious to the floor.
It turns out there was one spell left that the party didn't cast when we were fighting the shadows, and Peter had Schnoz cast it now, an illusion spell called spook that inspires temporary terror. And, in what I can only describe as a Looney Tunes moment, it actually works! Picture Droopy the Dog holding up a grotesque Halloween mask, and this big angry dragon suddenly recoiling in horror and scampering away at top speed, whimpering like a scared dog.
Who knows what terror lurks in the hearts of dragons? The spook spell knows.

The spell has a very short duration, so we only had a couple combat rounds of safety while the dragon ran away, came to its senses, and then came thundering back, even angrier than before. Schnoz managed to wake up Gildur the dwarf, and they each lugged another character to safety by retreating down the tunnel we came in. They took lucky Gone Girl and Peter's third character, leaving my other two behind, including Flamethrower, because this was all his fault.
The dragon came back into its main lair and started savaging my two unconscious characters, I think starting with the terrible wizard. Schnoz tried to wake up the two he rescued we are still sleeping, but to no avail. Gildur lights a torch and throws it across the cavern onto Flamethrower's supine body. You'd think being lit on fire would wake him up, but no.
The dragon wins initiative again, finishes killing Flamethrower, and starts advancing toward the rest of the party. When the initiative passes to us players, the torch lights Flamethrower's collection of oil on fire, and he explodes in a giant ball of flame, harmlessly, a safe distance behind the dragon.

I should note that at no point have we made any attempt whatsoever to actually fight this thing. After our attempted diplomacy failed, Peter and I have just been trying to get our characters to run away. Everything that's happened so far has been based on saving throws and initiative rolls. The dragon didn't even need to roll to hit our unconscious characters, just for damage, and even that was mostly a courtesy, considering they're defenseless.
As the enraged dragon stomped toward them, Schnoz and Gildur lugged the other two down a side passage toward and underground river, hoping that the current would quickly carry us far enough away, as long as we could all float until we got to shore. In the first bit of good luck we'd had in awhile, the shock of the cold water woke the two sleepers up. 
Now, swimming in armor is dangerous. Gone Girl was wearing leather, and got lucky again, so she survived to make landfall with Schnoz and Peter's remaining character. Gildur the dwarf was wearing plate armor, and he did not get lucky, so he sank and drowned, taking the magic sword (which was almost our only treasure up to that point!) with him.
This session was an absolutely magnificent failure, and I loved it!


  1. Thanks for writing this up, it's a good story!

  2. I like Hole in the Oak more than Incandescent Grottoes, but I give IG good marks for being a dungeon with a dragon in it. And that dragon being a nice twist on the standard formulas.

  3. That really does sound like fun!