Random Blogness: Curse your Sudden but Inevitable Betrayal!

Night Below: Finally at an end.Almost five years ago, I got an anonymous gift in the form of the old AD&D boxed set Night Below: An Underdark Campaign. This is a mega-adventure that I used to own and have always wanted to run because the idea of a boxed set that could take characters from 1st level to 10th level and above was awesome to me. Mind you, this was before the existence of Pathfinder adventure paths.

Over the past five years, I’ve been running this campaign on and off, using D&D 3.5 edition and then Pathfinder as the system, with me making conversions on the fly. I also made some major changes to the campaign here and there, such as changing the origin of the Rockseer elves, switch grells to gauth beholders, and adding a spot in for the great enemy of my campaign, the Red Mage.

Sunday marked the last session of the campaign, and it ended in a way that I found quite satisfying. The PCs defeated the aboleth in a series of epic battles that taxed them but didn’t destroy them. When the Grand Savant finally died in an explosion of slime and gore, there was a moment of peace. (Well, technically, that moment had to wait until after three of the party got cured of the aboleth slime that took away their ability to breathe air.)

Then the players were given an option: end the campaign now or keep going forward with an adventure that will take them to around 20th level and quite possibly beyond. They chose the latter, so the Red Mage stepped back in and asserted himself as the real bad guy.

Between this campaign and the last time the Red Mage appeared, 100 years of game time had passed. During that time, the mage had been in a self-imposed temporal stasis effect, hibernating and waiting for all his old enemies to die out. He awoke when some mind flayers ended the effect and sought an alliance with him. He wasn’t interested in any alliance and certainly had no desire to see somebody else take over the world, but he also wasn’t going to throw his life away attacking the aboleth head-on. Luckily, after meeting the PCs, he decided that they were the folks for the job.

For most of the game, the Red Mage has been lurking in the shadows, watching the heroes and making sure they were on course for victory. His presence showed up only in ways that the players wouldn’t have picked up on, such as the fact that a group of mind flayers they allied with were able to teleport. (Mind flayers have the ability to use plane shift, but that teleportation is not very precise. My players don’t read the rulebooks, and the PCs have never met mind flayers who didn’t teleport – the enemy flayers were able to do so because of magic coming from Great Shaboath and their allies had the help of the Red Mage.)

In entering an alliance with mind flayers, the PCs were wise to protect themselves via a contract. This contract ensured that they would not be betrayed, that the slaves of the aboleth would be freed, and that the mind flayers would not ally with “the red one.”

That last bit was kind of the sticking point.

Mind flayers don’t really see much difference between humans. They see people about the same way that we see cattle. So by defining the Red Mage only as “the red one,” the mind flayers knew they weren’t supposed to ally with a guy based on the color of his robes. So when the Red Mage showed up dressed in black and offering an alliance of his own, the illithid decided it was technically within their contract to do so. And so, after the death of the big bad of the campaign, the mind flayers showed up again with the Red Mage (now dressed in black) in tow.

Whether this was a legitimate out for the contract or just me dicking around is a matter of debate. Had one of the PCs gotten a bad sunburn, I doubt they would suddenly be considered “the red one” and betrayed by the mind flayers. In a court of law, the mind flayers’ logic certainly wouldn’t have stood. However, the Red Mage didn’t really care about the inevitable legal argument. He just wanted to get close enough to the Tower of Domination.

While others debated, the Red Mage flew up to the sphere of magic that represented the collective magical energies of hundreds of spellcasters. He then used a wish spell not to destroy the tower, but rather to drain its magical energies into himself, giving him the powerup to become the dragon-god he had once been. The PCs, realizing that they were outmatched, dogpiled on the paladin who decided to charge the dragon and then teleported to safety. Whether the mind flayers were legitimately within their contract became a moot point, since the dragon-god Derrezen has no interest in keeping bargains and promptly incinerated them all.

So the good news is that the aboleth have been defeated and the day has been saved. The bad news is that something much worse has emerged. As Derrezen, this villain has killed a god, destroyed a dozen kingdoms, warped the land to become unlivable except by monsters, and unleashed a godswar on the land.

I like playing the long game with my campaigns, and this is a turn of events that I’ve had kicking around in the back of my mind for years. While Night Below was restricted to a small farming community and the dungeons below it, now the whole wider world is going to open up and the scale is about to get much more epic. As the PCs try to figure out how to combat a being that even the gods don’t want to mess with, they’re going to have to search out artifacts and assemble an army of high-level heroes to take out the monster once and for all.

This next campaign arc, tentatively titled Derrezen Must Die (yeah, a bit trite on my part, but on the other hand suck it), is going to either result in the final death of a villain who has been a focal point of my campaign setting for close to 15 years or will result in him getting ultimate victory and turning the entire world into a post-apocalyptic Dark Sun style setting. Whatever happens, I’m grateful to whoever originally bought me Night Below and thrilled to be moving beyond it. The next few years will be a chance to run a huge world-shaking epic campaign while also giving a send-off to the very best RPG villain that I’ve ever come up with.

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One Response to “Random Blogness: Curse your Sudden but Inevitable Betrayal!”

  1. B-honey Says:

    I, too, would like to thank the mysterious benefactor.

    And I am not naive to think that our nemesis would ever stay perma-dead.

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