We’re in it for the Money: The Shawshank Damnation

GM Note: The thief is referred to as “Mat King” in this adventure.

After nearly three straight sessions of off-the-books adventures, the players somehow still manage to have some time to themselves at the start of this one; even in mercenary work, slow weeks happen.

Strauss has invested in a reloading press and is experimenting with building specialty ammunition. The process is slow, intensive, and often explosive. Certain elements are gradually ruled out as poor choices in bullet construction. Gorak, still getting put to work on the Escalade, has the KPV machine gun they acquired in the City of Brass shipped back to Sigil and sets about mounting it on the vehicle, just forward of the sun roof.  Norm, meanwhile, realizes that he’s been in Sigil for months now and yet still hasn’t actually bothered to obtain a driver’s license. With the Escalade they acquired back in the second adventure finally out of the shop, it seems like it’s high time for Norm to get the legal OK to drive it.

Mat, however, decides that it would be funny to try and get Norm drunk before taking his test. Putting forth the idea that the Escalade’s finishing touches are cause for celebration, he takes Norm out to drinks and tries to get him as sloshed as possible. The players actually rolled opposed checks to see who succeeded, and while Norm ends up a bit buzzed, he still maintains control of the majority of his motor functions and succeeds at the following skill challenge to obtain a driver’s license. He then rolls a charisma check to see how good his license photo comes out, and gets exactly 10: it’s not a great photo, but it could be worse.

In major news, the ongoing trial has finally come to a conclusion, ruling in the favor of Michael Kennedy. The Divine Spark research leads have been imprisoned, leaders within the company have been forced into resignation, and Arcane Tech as a whole has lost its holdings in Sigil, being replaced by Gatehouse Security, whom the players have a very good relationship with after the SecureExpo fiasco.

As the party is congratulating themselves on a satisfying conclusion to one of their earlier missions, they get an official job call from Punwick. This time he isn’t offering them a spot in a major industry event or extending a vacation package: he actually has a real job for them this time. He was contacted by a man named Dennis Thorogood, who said he had a job he wanted done. He didn’t offer any details but said he’d only speak directly with the team. Normally Punwick wouldn’t accept such terms but the man paid a decent portion of the contract fee up front, so he decided to make an exception. The party is to meet him in Boar’s Tavern to get filled on the mission.

The party obligingly proceeds to the tavern, Gorak wondering all the while whether or not they’ll have any of that special ale left. The bar is lightly occupied for midday, and the players approach the only solitary figure in the establishment, who is sitting with his back to them at the bar with a hooded sweatshirt raised over his head.

Strauss: “Mr. Thorogood, we presume?”

Dennis: “Correct. And you are the team sent from Gillespie & Haggard?”

Norm: “That’s us”

Dennis: “Very well then. All of you may leave, save for Mr. King here. He and I have things to discuss.”

Mat: “Uh. We do?”

Dennis: “Yes. I have information you’ll be interested in, but I want to tell it to you first. You can decide then whether your friends should hear it as well.”

Norm: “Now wait a minute: why the hell did you call all of us down here if you only wanted to talk to him?”

Dennis: “You sound upset for a man getting paid to sit in a tavern and kill time.”

Gorak: “He has a point.”

Strauss: “Fine. We’ll wait over here. Call us when you want to stop playing cloak and dagger.”

The party begins to move off toward a corner booth, but Norm doesn’t trust Mat alone with a shady client. On a rather lucky slight of hand check, he manages to sneak one of Mat’s bugs out of his bag, but when he goes to actually plant it, Mat notices the movement out of the corner of his eye and snatches it back, glaring angrily at Norm. Not wanting to provoke a confrontation by trying again, Norm backs off and goes to sit with the rest of the party.

Dennis: “Y’know, it gets really hard to track you down when you change your name every other week ‘Mat’. Had to throw out a few more hooks than I’m really comfortable baiting to find you.”

Mat: “That’s kind of the idea. ‘Dennis’.”

Dennis: “It’s been a while. Not since, uh…”

Mat: “Yeah. What are you doing here, anyway? What’s so damn important?”

Dennis: “I found your daughter.”

There is a sudden shocked pause, both from Mat in character and from the other players at the table. Mat’s backstory has been, up to this point, known only to him (and myself as the GM). This was the first time anything substantial had been revealed about his character.

Mat: “How?”

Dennis: “I’ve had my ear to the ground just like you told me, ever since you left. I picked up a few stories here and there, but nothing really substantial by itself. It took me a while to narrow down the leads and put together something useful, but I think I finally got it. There was a bit of a stir in the rumor mill and I managed to track her down to the border town of Curst, going by the name ‘Clarissa Fulton’. She went dark again shortly after that.”

Mat: “When was this?”

Dennis: “Not more than two days ago. I would have gone to check it out myself but Curst isn’t good for me. Too many people there that want me dead, you know how it is.”

Mat: “Yeah.”

Dennis: “I’m assuming you’re gonna want to go after her yourself. There’s a shopkeeper in Curst by the name of Tinmor. He tends to know what happens in that town so I’d look him up when you get there.”

Mat: “Thanks, Dennis.”

Dennis: “Don’t mention it. Seriously. I gotta get back to Faerun, so you be careful. And I hope everything works out.”

Mat: “Me too.”

Throwing a few bills on the bar to cover his drink, Dennis stands up and pulls the hoodie a little tighter around his shoulders. Then, stepping back from the bar he passes behind a pair of Tieflings and seems to disappear. The rest of the players stand up and approach the bar, curious looks on their faces.

Strauss: “What was that about?”

Mat: “Dennis is an old friend of mine. He’s… paranoid though. Shifty. I guess he didn’t trust you guys.”

Gorak: “So what’d he want?”

Mat: “He’s got a job he wants us to do for him. Dennis is a merchant and he’s had some of his goods stolen in transit. He wants us to get them back for him.”

Gorak: “That’s it? Does he know we just saved an entire city from being submerged in a world made of lava?”

Strauss: “Apparently not.”

Norm, who doesn’t believe a word of anything being said, finally speaks up.

Norm: “So how are we getting paid for this?”

Mat: “Let me worry about that.”

Gorak: “So… your friend doesn’t trust us… and so he’s gonna let you handle all our finances for this job?”

Mat: “Afraid so.”

Strauss: “Right, well nothing could go wrong there.”

Mat: “You guys sound like you don’t trust me.”

Norm, Strauss, and Gorak (In unison): “We don’t.”

Mat: “You’ll get paid, don’t worry.”

Strauss: “We’d better. Where are we headed?”

Mat: “Curst.”

Gorak: “Somebody named their town ‘Cursed?’”

Strauss: “That sounds more than a little ominous.”

Mat: “Just pack your stuff. We leave in an hour.”

Putting together their collective adventuring gear, the players meet back up at Mat’s storage locker, Norm behind the wheel of their Escalade, the newly added machine gun swaying slightly on its swivel mount. They only have to ask around briefly before they find a portal that will take them to the Outlands close to their destination. The gate towns of the Outlands are 12 settlements that contain fixed portals to their respective alignment-themed planes. Because they house the most reliable means of traversing between planes of alignment, they are fairly well-traveled and the portals leading to them tend to be more readily remembered than one that leads into the pantry of a small abandoned farmhouse in Kansas.

Driving through the portal deposits the players beneath a rock archway about two miles outside the town of Curst. There are no real roads to speak of, so Norm simply points the vehicle in the right direction and drives off, taking advantage of the lack of posted speed limits. He checks his speed as he enters the town proper, not wanting to accidentally run into something that could damage the car again. At an intersection, Mat sticks his head out of the passenger window and asks a few passing residents where he can find Tinmor. They are able to direct him to Tinmor’s shop, which is located only a few blocks away. The shop itself is a run-down, rusted building that lists heavily to one side and looks as if it might fall over at even the slightest breeze.

Telling the rest of the party to wait outside, he steps out of the car and goes to ask Tinmor a few questions. The party grudgingly stays put, still not entirely trusting the vagueness and secrecy of their current mission and collectively wishing they could go back to the good old days when they had clearly defined enemies trying to kill them and all they had to do was shoot first and ask questions when they felt like it. As they survey their surroundings, they notice that most of the residents are eyeing them with suspicion.

GM Note: As I said earlier, Curst is one of 12 gate towns that link to the alignment-themed planes lying along the rim of the Great Wheel. The plane that connects with Curst, happily enough, is the chaotic-evil (with a bit of neutral) aligned plane of the Tarterian Depths of Carceri. Structured as a massive prison arranged in concentric spheres, this is where the truly unfortunate criminals of multiverse are sent, and remain for the rest of their days. Because the various gate towns tend to reflect the traits of their adjoining plane, the citizens of Curst are constantly plotting and scheming against one another, trying to get their neighbors sent to the Red Prison, thinking that the more people they turn over to its cells, the fewer there are to turn on them. There is a balance to be struck, however: it isn’t unheard of for gate towns to suddenly disappear off the Outlands as their defining alignment traits become too strong and the town is shifted into the connected plane, usually returning some time later after things have balanced out.

As Mat steps inside the dark, musty store, he sees a short, fat human speaking with a tiefling in front of the counter. A dejected-looking gnome stands between them, hands cuffed in front of him. Mat stands back while the two of them speak, clearly haggling over something. After a minute or two they appear to reach an agreement and shake hands, the human handing the tiefling a small key which he pockets and then turns to leave, the gnome in tow. As the two of them pass Mat, he stealthily slips his hand into the tiefling’s pocket and removes the key, handing it off to the gnome with a wink. The gnome appears shocked by Mat’s sudden interjection and needs to be pulled along by the tiefling in front of him to keep up.

GM Note: The rest of us were a little surprised, too. Freeing slaves hasn’t exactly been the MO for our group of hostage-killing, state secret-stealing group of mercenaries. But hey, if they want to play nice then I won’t argue against it.

With the tiefling gone, Mat approaches the counter, the human staring at him with a frown.

Human: “Need something?”

Mat: “Tinmor, I take it?”

Tinmor: “Yeah, that’s me. Who wants to know?”

Mat: “I do. Word is that you’re a man who knows what goes on around here.”

Tinmor: “I sell things what people need, that’s all. Might be I hear things, though. There’s always rumors floatin’ around.”

Mat: “I need information.”

Tinmor: “Talk, then. Can’t promise I’ll know nothin’, though.”

Mat: “I’ve heard that an elf woman was here a few days ago, name of Clarissa Fulton. Ring any bells?”

Tinmor: “Eh, not sure. My memory can get a little fuzzy sometimes…”

Mat throws down a few bills on the counter. Tinmor picks them up and inspects them briefly before grinning and shoving them in his front shirt pocket.

Tinmor: “Yeah, sure, I know who you’re talkin’ about. She came through here a little while ago, picked up a few things.”

Mat: “Things?”

Tinmor: “Some rope, lockpicks, a few other small tools and stuff.”

Mat: “What for?”

Tinmor: “Didn’t ask. She just said she needed ‘em for a job she was doing in Petitioner’s Basin.”

Mat: “What’s that?”

Tinmor: “Just some canyon a few miles to the northeast. Nothin’ there, really, so I don’t know why she’d be interested in it.”

Mat: “Anything else?”

Tinmor: “Nah. Haven’t seen her since. Might be she’s still down there, but who knows.”

Mat: “Thanks for your time.”

Tinmor: “Yeah, yeah.”

Mat exits the store and reconvenes with the party, telling them that they’ll be headed to Petitioner’s Basin to look for leads on their “stolen property”. The other party members are still suspicious but load up in the Escalade and drive to where he directs them. They depart from the town and begin the short drive to the northeast, but are forced to exit the car upon reaching the canyon itself, as the path down is too narrow for the vehicle to traverse. The canyon isn’t especially deep, but it still takes them approximately 20 minutes to descend to the bottom, which is a relatively flat, open area with a few boulders scattered about. There is no sign of Clarissa, however.

The party spreads out and begins to scan the area for clues, Norm, Strauss, and Gorak for any signs of stolen goods having been moved through the area and Mat for any trace of his daughter. They search for a while before they are distracted by a sound. Faint, but growing louder, are the telltale sounds of helicopter blades. Moments later, two Blackhawk helicopters appear over the lip of the canyon and expertly swoop into the basin itself, coming to a stop some 30 feet above the ground. Rappelling lines drop to the canyon floor and a small platoon of black-clad soldiers rope in from the choppers above. They fan out in a half-circle, M4 assault rifles leveled, hemming the party in against the rear wall of the canyon, the steep ramp back to the surface the only way out.

Norm: “How many of them are there?”

GM: “About a dozen.”

Norm: “… F*ck ‘em.”

Drawing his katanas, Norm charges towards the line of soldiers, a course of action that at the very least can be said to have netted him the element of surprise. He swings at the closest soldier and cuts straight through his Kevlar, the screeching sound of metal-on-metal overpowering even the chopper blades as his sword meets the vest’s trauma plate. The rest of the party takes a moment to react after Norm’s sudden seemingly suicidal charge, but once they’ve regained their wits they all dive for cover behind whatever cover they can find. Strauss drops to a knee behind a boulder and starts sniping while Gorak, due to his height, remains standing behind another boulder and adds his shotgun fire to the barrage. Mat, surveying the situation, mentally echoes Norm’s thoughts on the situation and does the only thing he sees as logical.

He goes invisible and begins to backtrack his way up out of the canyon.

The soldiers don’t spot him slipping away under the cover of his invisibility augment and keep up their fire on the other players, who have however taken note of Mat’s retreat and are none too happy about it. Norm, especially, is very unhappy as the soldiers turn their rifles on him as one and open fire. A veritable swarm of bullets fill the air around Norm and while most of the rounds miss their mark, more than enough do not. Riddled with bullets and tossed to the ground like a rag doll, Norm is dropped deep into negative hitpoints and falls to the canyon floor, only a few rounds short of bleeding to death. Strauss and Gorak retaliate with as much fire as they can muster, but it isn’t enough to even keep the heads down of much of the opposing force. Strauss’ boulder gives him good cover from the retaliatory gunfire, but Gorak is struck by a number of shots, dropping his health to well below recommended amounts for a fight such as this.

Knowing that their odds of surviving this battle are slim, Strauss and Gorak share a look and wordlessly reach a decision. Stepping out from behind their cover with hands raised, they throw their guns to the ground and slowly lower themselves to their knees on the shouted commands of the soldiers. Several black-clad figures rush forward and push the players facedown to the ground before securing their hands with zip ties. One secures Norm as well before applying some quick first aid in the form of a small vial containing a health potion. The small vial isn’t enough to get Norm back up to fighting strength again, but it does save him from bleeding out. One of the helicopters touches down on the canyon floor and the players are loaded into it like so much cargo.

Strauss: “You guys okay?”

Norm: “I’ve been better.”

Gorak: “Same here. I’ve taken enough damage to kill a normal man.”

Norm: “it did kill a Normal man.”

Gorak: “Well… not quite.”

Soldier: “No talking.”

The players quiet down, but only because they don’t have access to their weapons. As the chopper rises back into the sky, they collectively wonder one thing: Where the hell is Mat?

Mat is, in fact, running for his life back up to the top of the canyon and the party’s Escalade. Looking up, he sees the two helicopters rise into the sky and set off to the east. As they fade into the distance he finally deactivates his invisibility augment, flickering back into the visible spectrum. He doesn’t know exactly what happened, where the rest of the party is going or if they’re even alive, but he does know one thing for certain: only one person knew they were headed into Petitioner’s Basin. He’s going to have words with Tinmor.

Jumping behind the wheel of the Escalade, Mat whips the car around and kicks up a roostertail of dust as he accelerates back toward Curst. Rolling into town, he slams on the brakes in front of Tinmor’s shop and jumps out, angrily slamming the door behind him and marching through the shop’s front door with his jaw set firmly. Tinmor looks up as he enters and looks like he’s about to say something before the grip of Mat’s pistol slams into his nose.

Mat: “Why’d you send them after us?”

Tinmor: “Send who?”

Another blow from the pistol.

Mat: “The guys in the helicopters. Talk!”

Tinmor: (Groans) “It was nothing personal.”

Mat: “Oh, well that makes it all better.”

Tinmor: “Look, it’s just the way things are done here. You were new, I couldn’t trust you, and I saw an opportunity.”

Mat: “An opportunity? To get me and my friends killed?”

Tinmor: “Not killed. Put away.”

Mat: “What?”

Tinmor: “Look, you know this town is the best way into Carceri, right?”

Mat: “Yeah.”

Tinmor: “Well, people from around here develop a special kind of self-preservation skillset. Nobody wants to go to the Red Prison, and the best way to stay out is to send other people in. Most people just do it cuz of simple math; the less of them there are, the less likely they are to get sold out, see? Only me, I got a little bit of a different arrangement: I send a few rubes into the cells every now and again, and the folks inside turn a blind eye to me.”

Mat: “So is that what you did to my daughter, too?”

Tinmor: “Your dau- aw, hell.”

Mat: “That’s right, pal: you made a mistake.”

Tinmor: “I didn’t know, I’m sorr-”

Mat: “Save it. Where is she now?”

Tinmor: “A layover prison to the east of town called the Boiling Pot: they keep prisoners there while they figure out which ring of Carceri to send ‘em to: after they sort ‘em out, they ship ‘em into the next plane and that’s where they stay. Your friends should be there, too.”

Mat: “So there’s still a chance to get them out.”

Tinmor: “Well, maybe, but nobody’s ever-”

Mat: “Not yet, anyway. Thank you, Tinmor.”

Mat cocks his pistol and points it at Tinmor’s face.

Mat: “Now: on your knees.”

Tinmor: “Oh, c’mon, you can’t just kill me.”

Mat: “I’d like to think that I can.”

Tinmor: “Hey, it’s like you said, I know things in this town. I know people. I can get you anything, what do you want?”

Mat: “I want my daughter back, you sonuvabitch.”

The gunshot seems louder than usual, perhaps having been loaded with a few extra grains of drama when it was assembled. With Tinmor’s body lying on the ground in front of him, Mat heads back outside to the Escalade and takes a spare fuel can from the back. Carrying it back inside he douses the counter, the shelves, and Tinmor’s corpse (just because) in the flammable liquid, striking a match and lighting the place up before he leaves.

Although he feels a little better, he still has the problem of his friends and his daughter being locked up inside of a maximum security prison quite literally on the borders of hell. He needs a way inside, and so far the only way he knows to show up without being arrested himself is to turn someone else in. As he slowly contemplates his list of enemies (most of whom aren’t viable candidates on account of being dead) he finally settles on three that he thinks will fit the bill. He smiles grimly as a plan begins to form in his head.

Hopping back in the escalade, Mat turns the car around and drives back through the portal to Sigil. Several hours later he returns with three figures bound and gagged in the rear of the car. These three unfortunate souls are Chad, Zach, and Mikey: the three cocaine-abusing frat boys from the second adventure the players were sent on. The fourth, Big Tom, had conspicuously gone missing shortly after Norm dropped a few hints to the right people that he may have sold out their drug operation. There’s something different about these three now, however. In addition to the regular cocktail of substances that normally is swimming around in their respective systems, Mat has taken it upon himself to add another one to the mix: the weaponized lycanthropy virus they stole from the British government and have been hanging on to ever since.

GM Note: In my years of tabletop gaming, I have never heard laughter more maniacal than that which sounded at the table when this idea was proposed. If everyone had suddenly grown a Snidley Whiplash moustache I don’t think I would have been surprised.

As Mat drives east, he gets his first look at the Boiling Pot, and his first idea of how difficult it will be to break people out of such a place. A complex of fenced-in buildings overseen by watchtowers , the prison is located on an island that sits in the middle of a boiling lake, scalding to the touch and deadly if immersed. The lake itself is surrounded by sheer cliffs, making the island accessible only via helicopter or a cable car that runs from the top of the cliffs to a receiving and processing building on the island below. Getting in is easy enough, but getting out will be another matter.

Mat nonetheless parks the car outside the cable car station and lets the operator know that he’s there to drop off several prisoners. The three tied up, confused, and rather terrified victims behind him provides enough evidence for his explanation to be valid, and the prisoners-to-be look pretty much like everyone else that comes through here, so the group is loaded onto the cable car and shuttled down to the processing building. Several guards meet them at the bottom and Mat is simply asked to sign for his prisoners, who will then be admitted to the population. He does so, and explains that he also knows of several other inmates in the prison that he needs to speak to. Through a few lucky diplomacy checks, he manages to convince the desk clerk to let him see them.

GM Note: While I make a point to take notes on the players’ actions and the unfolding events of each session, the fact is that I don’t always have time to write down everything as I also have a game to run while I’m attempting to take notes. Sometimes I have to move on to the next event before I have time to completely record the one previous. Add to that the fact that I’m writing these logs several months after the initial game actually took place, and my memory sometimes completely fails to recall specifics. This is one of those times. I can’t for the life of me remember what Mat said to get in and talk with the rest of the party, but I remember that it happened. Some things (like force-feeding a bunch of frat guys a weaponized lycanthropy virus) you never forget, but other stuff becomes a little more blurry over time. I’m sure there are other things in these logs that are either missing bits of info or are actually outright wrong simply because I couldn’t remember precisely what happened. I believe these occurrences are few, though. It’s far more common that I’ll add things here and there to make events more clear and easy for the reader to follow. I never make things up, though: what you’re reading is what the players did, no exceptions.

At this point, we switched perspectives and let the rest of the party play out their side of the story. Restrained, disarmed, and fairly badly beaten, the players are flown to the Boiling Pot and escorted roughly through prisoner processing. Provided with new (mandatory) prison uniforms, and once again thoroughly searched to ensure that they aren’t carrying weapons, the players are finally admitted into the prison and kept in a temporary holding cell while other new arrivals are similarly processed. Once everyone has been through the gauntlet, they are ushered into the main yard for a “welcome ceremony” of sorts, delivered by the warden.

The warden in question is a winged half-fiend by the name of Oliver Piek. Piek hovers out of his office onto a small balcony that overlooks the main yard, setting himself down and surveying the inmates below him for a moment before stepping up to a microphone stand that has been set up for him.

Piek: “Welcome to Ayala Memorial Prison. My name is Oliver Peik and I’ll be your warden for the duration of your stay here. For some of you, that stay will be longer than it is for others. It may also be more pleasant based on the course of your actions. Let me be perfectly clear about this: for many of you this will be the last time you see the sky before they haul you off to the Red Prison. To make the most of it, I suggest that you cooperate with any and all rules and regulations, and the guards who enforce them. If you do not… well, we’re contractually obliged to keep you alive until such time as you can be transferred to your more permanent holdings; as such we’ve learned how to employ methods of punishment that keep you breathing. But… accidents do happen. Enjoy your stay.”

With that, Piek turns and re-enters the building, leaving the prisoners muttering amongst themselves before the guards funnel them back inside for the evening meal. Norm, being a native of earth, has seen plenty of prison movies in his day, and now he finally gets to put that knowledge to use. Knowing that the first rule of prison is to assert your dominance (something that Norm hasn’t exactly struggled in doing so far anyway) he strides into the mess hall and looks around for the biggest guy in the room. His eyes finally settle on a massive bugbear eating near the center of the room. Without looking to the rest of the party for approval (or even to let them know what he’s doing) he walks over to the Bugbear and stops right in front of him. The bugbear turns to look at him with an expression of disinterest.

Bugbear: “What do you-”

He doesn’t get any farther than that, as Norm’s fist smashes into his jaw in a vicious uppercut, snapping it shut. Norm continues his full attack with a left-handed roundhouse to the side of the bugbear’s face. Then he promptly uses his heroic surge ability to grant himself another combat action and slams the bugbear’s head face-first into the table in front of him. In less than a round, the bugbear is knocked unconscious and slides to the floor, overpowered by Norm’s sudden and un-prompted flurry of blows.

Grabbing the bugbear’s glass of water from the table, Norm splashes it on his face, restoring him to consciousness. The thoroughly trounced bugbear looks up at him with confusion.

Bugbear: “Why’d you do that?”

Norm: “Now you know who the boss is.”

Without any further explanation he reaches down and offers the bugbear a hand up. His opponent hesitates for a moment, wary of another beating, then grasps it and rises to his feet. The gesture is clear to everyone in the mess hall: don’t mess with Norm.

The players, having made themselves known, then continue through the dinner line and are loaded up with something that could only be called “food” by the most generous of people. Taking a seat at an unoccupied table, they eye their meal cautiously while silently debating their next move. Before too long, an elven woman takes a seat next to them. She doesn’t waste time with introductions.

Elf: “So. Any reason you punched that guy in the face?”

Norm: “I ain’t a bitch.”

The elf looks quizzically at Norm for a moment who only takes a bite out of the meal in front of him in way of explanation. She turns her look to Strauss who simply shrugs in return.

Strauss: “He ain’t a bitch.”

The elf appears to give up on that line of questioning and moves the conversation along.

Elf: “So, horribly clichéd as it sounds: what are you guys in for?”

Strauss: “We’re not entirely sure.”

Elf: “Yeah, well, welcome to the club.”

Strauss: “The club, huh? I suppose a small army of black-clad soldiers swooped in on helicopters and hauled you away at gunpoint for no adequately explained reason while you were minding your own business in the middle of a canyon?”

Elf: “Yes.”

Strauss: “Oh.”

There is a momentary awkward silence.

Strauss: “So let me guess then? You talked with a shop keeper named Tinmor?”

Elf: “Yeah, how’d you know?”

Strauss: “He’s the one who sent us out there. I’m guessing he’s also the one that arranged our stay here.”

Norm: “Actually, I’m not too sure of that.”

Strauss: “What do you mean?”

Norm: “Out of our team, who’s the only one not here?”

Strauss: “You think Mat set us up?”

Norm: “I’m just saying, where was he when those thugs dropped in on us? Why didn’t he try to fight? I think he led us in there and left us to get pinched.”

Gorak: “It does seem to be a suitably logical explanation to our current plight.”

Everyone stares at Gorak in mild astonishment for a moment. Gorak looks at them apologetically.

Gorak: “Sorry. I haven’t had any alcohol in a while. I might not be myself until I sauce up a bit. I don’t suppose you know of anywhere I can get some?”

Elf: “It’s prohibited. I haven’t seen so much as a light beer since I got here.”

Gorak stares nervously at the glass of water next to his food tray.

Gorak: “Oh dear me.”

GM Note: This was a pretty hilarious bit of roleplaying on Gorak’s part. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “God invented whiskey to keep the Irish from taking over the world” then that’s pretty much the basis behind Gorak’s sudden jump of intelligence. He decided that as long as he’s playing a typical drunken dwarf then there ought to be a flip side to that: as a dwarf approaches sobriety, his ability for coherent thought increases at an exponential rate. Silly, yes, but this game is about creativity and having fun, and Gorak completely nailed it in that regard.

Elf: “Well, whoever got you put in here, you’re here to stay. At least until we get transferred into Carceri.” (She extends a hand) “I’m Clarissa. And since you seem to be able to handle yourselves better than anybody else in here, I’m gonna stick around you when I can.”

Norm: “Just try to stay out of trouble.”

Elf: “Will do.”

Gorak: “Welcome to our merry band”

The group eats in silence for a few more minutes until Norm catches sight of a few familiar faces entering the mess hall. Jumping to his feet he hurries over to the three figures on the far side of the room, slamming his hand against the wall in front of them to stop them and gain their attention.

Norm: “What the hell are you three doing here?”

Chad: “You? What are youdoing here?”

Norm: “I’m asking the questions here, Chad, so talk.”

Chad: “Some guy, elf guy, freaking kidnapped us. Hit us with a Taser and tied us up in the back of his SUV. Then he made us drink some kind of weird drug. I still feel like I’m on fire, I don’t know what the hell was in it but it wasn’t anything I’ve ever had before.”

Norm shoots a knowing look at Strauss and Gorak, who respond in kind.

Norm: “You stick with us, okay?”

Chad: “Wha-”

Norm: “No. You wanna stay alive, you stick with us. End of story.”

Norm then turns and walks away with the air of someone who is fully confident that others will follow him. As it happens, the three thoroughly confused frat boys do exactly that and join the party at their table. Then, a few minutes later as the evening meal is wrapping up, as if there hadn’t been enough excitement for one meal, large ogre enters the mess hall, wearing a guard uniform and carrying a shotgun. Clarissa identifies him as Dobson, the Warden’s right-hand-man when it comes to taking care of… messy jobs. Dobson approaches the players’ table and prods Gorak with the muzzle of his shotgun. He’s clearly the kind who enjoys flaunting his authority over the inmates however he can.

Dobson: “Looks like you three is some kinda special. You got a visitor.”

Strauss: “Who?”

Dobson: “Don’t know, don’t matter. Window’s closin’, you comin’ or not?”

The three players stand up and follow Dobson, feeling comfortable enough leaving Clarissa and the frat boys behind as the meal is ending anyway and they’ll be headed back to their cells. Dobson leads them through a few hallways until they reach the visitor’s area. There aren’t many booths as there typically isn’t any much of a demand to see prisoners in the Boiling Pot. Waiting for them on the other side of the glass is Mat. Both parties pick up their respective phones.

Strauss: “Well. Look who it is. How’s freedom, jackass?”

Mat: “Hey, I’m not a fighter. It was pretty obvious there were too many of ‘em, so I did what any self-preservationist thinker would do: I ran away.”

Norm: “Yeah, and now we’re in here.”

Mat: “But I’m out here, and isn’t that what’s really important here?”

Gorak: “You narcissistic rapscallion!”

Mat: “What’s with him?”

Strauss: “No alcohol.”

Mat: “Is… is his beard actually shrinking?”

Gorak: “Preposterous.”

Norm: “No, I think it is. Okay, this is getting weird.”

Mat: “Okay, whatever, that’s not important right now. Listen, you guys run into our old friends yet?”

Norm: “Yeah.”

Mat: “Stay close to them. You know how volatile their constitution can be. It happens when you’re born with a silver spoon in your mouth. I’d hate for somebody to poison their food or something.

Norm: “Thanks, we got it.”

Mat: “Good. Just hold on in there. I’ll see you guys later.”

Mat hangs up the phone and the party hangs up their own before being escorted back to their cells for the night. Mat leaves the visiting room and goes into the bathroom on his way towards the exit. Entering the stall on the end and standing on the toilet, he reaches up and opens an air vent near the ceiling, stashing his gear inside. Then, going invisible, he exits the bathroom and ducks into a nearby utility closet. Then, for the next nine hours he stays crouched in the rear of the closet hoping that no one has to use a broom until he can make his move the following day.

Meanwhile, in the cell block, Gorak, falling ever deeper into the clutches of sobriety, has secured a piece of chalk from one of the other inmates and has begun scrawling out calculus equations on the walls of his cell. For Gorak, rescue will need to come soon.

The next day at breakfast, the party reconvenes with the small group they formed the day before. They all eat in relative silence, Norm, Gorak, and Strauss eyeing their three werewolf time bombs with apprehension. Norm, spotting the bugbear he assaulted yesterday across the room, he stands up and approaches him. The bugbear tenses as Norm walks up.

Bugbear: “You not going to hit me again, are you?”

Norm: “No. I’ve got an offer for you. How’d you like to get out of here?”

Bugbear: “I would like that.”

Norm: “I thought so. You stick with us, and we’ll get you out.”

The bugbear appears to think about it for a moment, weighing the pros and cons of teaming up with a guy who recently beat him up. Finally he reaches a conclusion.

Bugbear: “Okay, I do that.”

Norm: “Good. What’s your name?”

Bugbear: “My name Hank.”

Norm: “So what are you in for, Hank?”

Bugbear: “They caught Hank jaywalking.”

Norm: “… Jaywalking?”

Bugbear: “Hank not think it so bad either. Prison people disagree.”

Norm nods slowly, then heads back to his seat with Hank in tow, somewhat dejected that his defeated opponent from the previous day isn’t the hardened criminal he appeared to be at first glance, somewhat cheapening his victory. He and Hank sit down and the group eats the rest of their morning meal in relative silence.

Back in the maintenance closet, Mat consults his watch (which, if you’ll recall, is really just a glowing portion of his now-luminescent skin) and determines that he’s waited long enough and it’s time to make his move. Disguising himself as a janitor using a pair of coveralls and a utility cart located in the closet with him, he returns to the bathroom and retrieves his gear from the vent, noting that since no one discovered him, hiding his equipment was somewhat unnecessary. Re-armed, he sets off for the guard locker room.Wheeling his cart inside, he is paid no mind as most think he’s just another janitor, there to clean up something or other. Idly cleaning a light switch near the door, Mat steals a look at the guard rotation roster and, in comparing the list of names to the names stamped on small nameplates on each of the lockers, works out who isn’t scheduled for a shift today. One guard by the name of Hendricks appears to have the day off, so Mat walks over to his locker, takes a quick look around to ensure that no one else is in the room with him, and then changes into Hendricks’ uniform. It’s a little loose in a few places, but it’ll fool most people who don’t look too closely at his nametag.

Now disguised as one of the prison guards, Mat moves on to the next order of business: preparing the rest of the party for escape. Knowing that even should his unwitting werewolf agents accomplish their task, such chaos will still not completely cover the escape of three prominent prisoners and so, loading up the supply cart with a few spare uniforms to make it look like he’s delivering laundry, he sets off toward outprocessing. This section of the prison is never used, being an oversight from a design plan that was drafted from more conventional prisons; in a prison which serves only to eventually get you shipped to Carceri, something like “outprocessing” is an irrelevant process.

The advantage to this, then, is that there is absolutely no one in the area. While guards come by every now and again to put items into storage, outprocessing usually bears more resemblance to an abandoned warehouse. Walking through the isles, Mat finally comes to the shelves full of more directly lethal paraphernalia and digs through them a bit before locating the players’ weapons. Stashing them in the cart beneath a few piles of clothes, Mat sets off toward the mess hall to see how the plan is coming along.

For Norm, said plan is coming along a little too slowly for his tastes. He’s eager to escape this place and get back to attacking people with swords instead of fists. Besides that, Gorak has begun quoting Shakespeare and it’s really starting to unnerve him. It’s been nearly a day by now, and the lycanthropy virus has been spreading through the systems of Chad, Zach and Mikey for even longer. Knowing that their time of transformation has to be getting close and that stressful situations can antagonize the change, Norm decides to help things along a little. He turns towards Chad.

Norm: “You wanna be somebody’s bitch?”

Chad: “What?”

Norm: “Answer the question.”

Chad: “Of course not.”

Norm: “Alright then.” (He scans the room) “You see that minotaur over there?”

Chad: “Yeah?”

Norm: “Good. Go fight him.”

Chad: “What? Are you crazy?”

Norm: “Listen kid, if you wanna survive in here then you gotta make yourself known as somebody who can’t be messed with. I can’t keep an eye on you all the time so it’s time to start forging your own image.”

Chad: “But… that’s a minotaur!”

Norm: “Yup. The bigger your point, the better.”

Chad: “I… No way. I can’t do that, I’ll get killed.”

Norm: “You don’t, you’re dead anyway. Choice is yours.”

Norm nods to the rest of the players and they all get up to leave, leaving the three frat boys alone and suddenly very, very exposed and terrified. Norm and the rest take up a position casually leaning against the far wall. Sure enough, before long, a group of tough-looking, roughly tattooed inmates approach the now defenseless trio at the table and start exercising their own authority in the inmate hierarchy. A few taunts and insults, followed by a few shoves and slaps to the head begin to antagonize the three kids, which is just what Norm was hoping for.

As one of the antagonists upends Chad’s tray, covering him in bits of lousy prison food, Chad suddenly goes rigid. A low growl begins to build in his throat and his eyes narrow as he turns his face on the leader of the small assaulting band. The man laughs, thinking that Chad is trying a too-little too-late “tough guy” routine. He stops laughing, however, when Chad launches himself up off the bench and locks his teeth onto the man’s throat. His screams draw the attention of everyone in the cafeteria, and also have the side effect of causing Zach and Mikey to tap into their own inner werewolf, now suddenly awakened and out for blood.

As the three frat boys begin to howl and grow tufts of hair, a panic runs through the inmates. People jump up onto their tables and try to run over the heads of the crowd in an attempt to reach the exit. Prisoners fall and are trampled in the mad dash, and still more use the opportunity to settle old grudges, more than a few prison shanks seeking out old enemies. The players, plus Hank and Clarissa, push their way through the roiling mass, Hank clearing the way with massive but relatively gentle sweeps of his large arms until they reach the exit. They head through the hallways until they reach a room with a single guard who holds up a hand and tells them to stop, saying that they will need to give a statement about what is going on.

At that moment, mat enters the room from a separate door. The guard turns and, seeing Mat’s uniform, gives him a curt nod before turning back to the other players. This was the last mistake he ever made as Mat then reaches into his cart and withdraws his pistol, firing one round into the back of the guard’s head, killing him instantly. In the silence following the gunshot, the sounds of what is quickly becoming an all-out prison riot drift into the small room.

Mat: “So I take it our three friends…”

Strauss: “Just bought a one-way ticket to wolf town, yeah.”

Mat: “Well, that went pretty much perfectly then, I’d say.”

Gorak: “A baseless claim, seeing as how the three of us were incarcerated in this wretched place whilst you lollygagged about like a great bloody coward.”

Mat: “Still no booze, I take it?”

Gorak: “If you had any, I’d be absolutely tickled if you could spare a few drops for a dwarf down on his luck.”

Mat reaches into the cart and roots around for a few seconds before coming up with a bottle of rubbing alcohol. He hesitates for a moment, but then remembers that dwarves can and will drink just about anything and come out the other side smiling. He tosses the bottle to Gorak.

Gorak: “Ah, sweet nectar of the gods. Return me to who I once was, you delightful elixir.”

Gorak unscrews the lid and downs nearly half of the bottle in a single gulp. For a moment, nothing happens, then he is knocked flat on his back as though someone had struck him with a wooden plank. He shakes violently for a moment, his eyes rolled back in his head and incomprehensible dwarvish words spewing from his mouth. Shortly, the shaking stops and he rises back to his feet, surprisingly steadily for someone who just consumed nearly half a liter of cleaning product.

Strauss: “Gorak?”

Gorak looks around at the rest of the party for a moment, then his eyes dart downwards. His beard, which had regressed to hardly more than some five o’clock shadow, suddenly bursts back into its usual bushy mass with a slight poof.

Gorak: “Gorak’s back baby!”

With Gorak back in fighting shape, Mat begins handing out weapons, but pauses when he comes to Hank.

Mat: “Who’s this?”

Norm: “Oh, this is Hank.”

Hank: “Hello.”

Strauss: “He’s a notorious jay-walker, this one.”

Hank: “Hank have problem.”

Norm: “We had an elf girl with us, too, but I’m not sure where she got to.”

Mat: “An elf girl?”

Strauss: “Yeah, Clarissa something.”

Mat seems to freeze at the name.

Mat: “Clarissa?”

Norm: “Yeah. Why, you think you know her or something?”

Mat: “Um… yeah. Yeah, old acquaintance. I… know her mother.”

Gorak: “Too bad, she’s probably dealing with those werewolves you let loose in there right now.”

Mat: “We’ve gotta get her out.”

Norm: “Why? It’s not our problem, and we need to get ourselves out of here as fast as possible.”

Mat: “Look we just… we have to. If I let something happen to her then her mother would never forgive me, and I’ve got enough enemies as it is. When was the last time you saw her?”

Strauss: “She was with us in the cafeteria, but we lost track of her when the kids wolfed out. She could be anywhere now, there were a lot of people running for exits.”

Mat: “Alright, we’ll split up and cover the whole prison. Norm, you and your new friend here check Ward B. I’ll take Ward A. Strauss, you and Gorak see what you can do about securing us some transport, I think we’ll need to get out of here in a hurry.”

Strauss: “How about one of those helicopters?”

Mat: “Perfect. Stay in touch via your radios. Now let’s move.”

The three groups split up and dash off toward their respective destinations. Mat taking the ward farthest from the front gate, Norm and Hank the nearest, and Strauss and Gorak heading to the roof of their current building to see if they can steal a helicopter. As they search, the riot spills out into the yards, guards fighting prisoners, prisoners fighting guards, and werewolves fighting everyone. There already appear to be more than the initial three werewolves, which means that the curse is spreading, and quickly. They’ll have to move fast to avoid a more intense repeat of their time in Lebanon.

After a few minutes of hectic searching, Norm and Hank find Clarissa in a courtyard area of Ward A. Unfortunately, she’s not alone. Pressed up against a wall, she faces down Dobson, the ogre guard they met earlier. Dobson is carrying a huge shotgun and is aiming it at Clarissa, a cruel smile on his face. Norm, turning to Hank, lifts the “backup” claymore off of his back and hands it to the bugbear.

Norm: “You know how to use one of these?”

Hank: (Nods) “Not hold by sharp part.”

Norm: “Close enough.”

Without further distractions like coming up with a plan or searching for a doorway, Norm launches himself through the window in front of him and hits the ground in a shower of broken glass. Rolling and coming up at a run while drawing his swords, he rushes toward Dobson who turns in surprise and fires his shotgun at the charging figure, succeeding only in peppering the wall behind him with buckshot. Norm slides past Dobson as he approaches, his swords trailing behind him and slicing into the ogre’s leg, making him roar in pain. Dobson retaliates with a second shotgun blast, this one connecting with Norm’s side, the heavy buckshot load tearing flesh from his ribs. Grimacing, Norm clutches at his wounded side and goes at Dobson again as Hank lumbers into the fight himself.

Hank proves that his proficiency with a sword doesn’t go much beyond “grip it by the hilt” and his attacks are slow and clumsy, often narrowly missing Norm in their wide, careless arcs. The clumsy assault does, however, draw Dobson’s attention and he fires his third round toward Hank, the shot taking a bite out of his left arm and furthering impeding Hank’s attacks. As Norm cuts a large gash in Dobson’s back, the ogre turns to fire on Norm once more, but his shotgun clicks empty when he pulls the trigger. Now wasting a moment, he flips the weapon in his hands and uses the stock to bash Norm back a step.

While the shotgun makes a formidable club, it is hardly an ideal weapon. In a few more rounds Hank and Norm manage to bring down the massive prison guard together. As the ogre drops to one knee and then slowly keels over, the courtyard is suddenly washed in a powerful downdraft. Looking up, they see a Blackhawk helicopter fly into position above them and begin to lower itself to the ground. Norm holds his swords at the ready, but relaxes when he catches sight of Gorak leaning out the side cargo doors. Strauss carefully sets the chopper down in the center of the courtyard, but keeps the rotors turning.

Strauss: “Mat, we’re in the courtyard of Ward A. We’ve got transport and we’re just waiting on you so we can get the hell out of here.”

Mat: “Is Clarissa with you?”

Strauss: “Mat… I’m sorry…”

Mat: “WHAT?!”

Strauss: “Nah, I’m just kidding, she’s fine.”

Mat: “Don’t ever do that again.”

Strauss: “No promises.”

Mat: “I’m on my way.”

Mat rejoins the group as Gorak is inspecting the shotgun Dobson dropped. An Ithaca Mag-10 model, it packs more of a punch with its 10-gauge shells, but holds significantly less ammo and takes longer to reload than his Saiga-12. Ultimately deciding that the tradeoff is worth it, he picks up the new shotgun and slings it over his shoulder. As the party begins to load up the helicopter, a figure suddenly flies over the courtyard and sets down on the roof to the east of them.

Warden: “No one escapes from my prison!”

As the Warden appears to only be armed with a submachine gun, the players don’t pay much attention to him and simply continue to load up the chopper. They pay a bit more attention, however, when a load roar carries over the rooftops and a troll appears on the roof next to the Warden, a club clutched in its hand and the logo of the prison tattooed on its chest. Hoping to flee instead of fight, the last of the crew jumps into the chopper and Strauss begins to lift the craft into the air. The troll is having none of it, however, and leaps from the top of the building, leading his fall with the end of his club. The massive club smashes into the tail rotor of the helicopter, sounding warning klaxons throughout the cockpit. The rotor begins emitting smoke and Strauss struggles to keep the chopper in the air as it spirals wildly. With lateral control lost, Strauss abandons any hope of flying the craft out and sets it back down on the ground, shouting at the party to get out and fight.

The players exit through the cargo doors and fan out in cover behind the chopper as the troll strides toward them and the Warden glides down from his perch above them, submachine gun firing as he goes. Bullets stitch the fuselage of the aircraft as Gorak leans out and takes a shot at the troll, who takes notice of the wound but can’t be said to have been bothered unduly by it. Already, his skin begins to re-knit over the opening left by the buckshot pellets. Mat, from a sheltered position in the cockpit, fires off a few potshots at the Warden, most of which go wide. The Warden in turn makes another swooping pass of the courtyard, strafing the escaping prisoners below him. His weapon runs dry as he reaches the terminus of his low arc, and as he pauses to reload Strauss opens fire. One round punctures one of the Warden’s wings, causing him to spiral out of control and drop to the ground. As he stands up, the look of fury in his eyes changes to one of surprise as Strauss’ second round enters through his forehead. While the situation at the Boiling Pot is certainly a mess, the Warden won’t have to answer for it anymore.

With the Warden out of the picture, everyone can concentrate fully on the troll. Norm, in his trademark fashion, charges the troll with a shout, but succeeds only in rushing into the monster’s grip. Lifting Norm off the ground, the troll gives an idle squeeze and tosses Norm across the courtyard, smashing him into the wall. Near death, Norm crashes to the ground and doesn’t move. Combined fire from Strauss, Gorak, and Mat make the troll stagger backwards, and as it advances again with a swing of its club, another barrage forces it to the ground. Knowing full well of the regenerative power of trolls, Mat and Gorak keep up their fire on the supposed “corpse” of the troll while Strauss digs in his pack for a spare magazine. Fishing out the mag and feeding it into his rifle, Strauss aims at the troll’s head and fires a single tracer round. While not exceptionally powerful, the burning phosphorus that the bullet is coated in is enough to inflict the fire damage necessary to halt the troll’s regeneration and keep it down for good.

While the immediate threat is dealt with, their means of escape has been compromised. As Strauss applies first aid to Norm, Mat, Gorak, Clarissa and Hank debate their options. They ultimately decide to go see if the cable car is still operational, letting them escape that way. They strike out across the prison grounds, giving any fights a wide berth. As they approach the wall of the complex, a guard shouts out for them to stop or he will open fire.

Mat: “How many of them are there?”

GM: “Just the one.”

Mat: “Well screw him, then.”

Without even bothering to break stride, Mat fires his pistol at the guard on the wall, striking him in the chest and sending him toppling over the wall into the boiling lake below. As they approach the cable car station, they don’t see any serious presence guarding it, but they do have a thought: a cable car is a very isolated, dependant vehicle. While they could escape in it, someone on either side of the gap could very easily shut the line down or cut the cables, leaving them stranded and easy to arrest in the best scenario, and dead in the worst. Instead of taking that risk, they decide instead to head back to the landing pad and see if they can steal the last helicopter.

Fighting their way back inside and through the massive riot still ongoing, they work their way up to the helipad, where a few other prisoners apparently had the same idea as them. They were, however, not as well armed and are currently being chewed on by one of the werewolves. Not wasting any time, the players raise their weapons and unload on the creature in front of them. In less than a round of sustained fire, the werewolf dies.

GM Note: You know how in games like Oblivion the enemies will level with you and always be just as hard to kill as they were at level one? Remember how much that sucks? I’ve always hated the feeling that I’m not getting any stronger as I level up, so I try to alleviate that when I can. Sure, your players will always be getting more abilities and gear as they level up, but they’re also mostly going to be fighting increasingly challenging enemies (note that we went from goblins to efreeti in only seven adventures). Just for kicks, try throwing your higher-level players up against an enemy that they had a lot of trouble with at lower levels. It’ll reinforce the idea that they really are getting to be better fighters as time goes on. When this group fought werewolves for the first time, they nearly got destroyed. Now a werewolf is hardly even much of a threat to them, and they get to feel like badasses for conquering an old enemy.

With the werewolf out of the way, they pile into the chopper and Strauss powers up and lifts off just as a number of prisoners burst onto the landing pad, the riot spilling out with them. Flying up and over the boiling lake and away from the Boiling Pot prison, they pause near the cable car station at the top so they can retrieve their Escalade. Then, just for good measure, they turn the machine gun on its roof onto the cable car station, destroying its controls, its mechanisms, and most of the structure itself, ensuring that no one else can get out that way. (They made it out, so screw the rest, right?) Feeling pleased with themselves, they turn toward the town of Curst and immediately notice that something is wrong.

Black smoke rises in clouds over the town, and several visible fires and ruined buildings are readily apparent. Looking around, they also notice a great deal more unusual creatures in the area and even some of the local geography is unfitting and not the same as when they left, with more seeming to change before their eyes. Realization dawns on Norm suddenly and brutally.

Norm: “Oh crap.”

Mat: “What?”

Norm: “This place is shifting.”

Gorak: “Shifting?”

Norm: “As in it’s moving itself off the Outlands and into Carceri.”

Strauss: “How the hell is that possible?”

Norm: “It’s all based on alignment. The more chaotic evil this place gets the closer it gets to Carceri.”

Gorak: “And we just incited a riot in werewolf prison hell.”

Norm: “Exactly.”

A low rumble is heard from behind them and as they turn to look, the Boiling Pot flickers and fades from existence as it shifts into Carceri. The lake bubbles and hisses and the sound of rushing water is heard as it too begins to change dimensions. Curst is effectively moving backwards, drawing them closer to the Red Prison from which there is no escape.

Mat: “I suggest we run.”

Most of the party jumps into the Escalade as Norm turns the engine over, but Strauss sticks to the helicopter and hurriedly lifts off. The pair of vehicles accelerate in tandem towards Curst and the portal, their last chance to get back to Sigil before it’s too late. Behind them, the world continues to blink out, the onset of Carceri growing steadily closer.

Mat: “You said this shift is based on alignment?”

Norm: “Yeah.”

Mat: “So would actions of the opposite alignment slow it down?”

Norm: “Maybe?”

Mat takes a deep breath and then rapidly starts speaking into the party’s shared radio frequency.

Mat: “Guys, I’m sorry I left you back there in the canyon, I should have stuck with you. Strauss, I’m sorry I’ve been keeping stuff from you guys and if we get out of this I’ll come clean with all of it. Gorak, you’re always out there in front of us, taking the big hits, and I never thank you for that. Norm, you’re a badass, man, you got no fear and I’m glad you’re fighting with us.”

Gorak: “Mat, I’m sorry I ever doubted you. I was convinced you set us up and I never should have thought that, I’m sorry.”

Hank: (Sobbing) “You guys the best friends Hank ever had!”

GM Note: This is one of those unintended roleplaying moments that is absolute bliss for a GM. The fact that some of it was ingenuous and most of it was never followed up on is irrelevant; in the moment, this kind of stuff is classic.

Also, yes, I realize that this is taken pretty much wholesale from Planescape: Torment. While I’ll concede to using the town of Curst and its denizens as an inspiration for this adventure, the plane shifting and the good vs. evil motif to counteract it was not in my original plan and evolved out of the events of the game itself. The fact that they mirror part of Planescape is, believe it or not, something of an accident, despite my stated inspiration taken from the game.

As the players (and Hank) continue to try and counteract the shifting of the planes with their own goodwill, Norm and Strauss attempt to get them all safely home. Norm swerves around debris, people, and the requisite fruit cart that shows up in every chase scene since. Above them, a harpy flies into the air directly in Strauss’ path. Throwing the stick to one side, Strauss executes the closest thing a helicopter can perform to a drift turn and swings the chopper in a full 360 degree rotation, the harpy passing harmlessly through the open cargo doors.

As they pass through the center of town, the portal back to Sigil looms in front of them, underneath a stone archway in an otherwise dead end road. Strauss and Norm coax every last bit of acceleration they can out of their vehicles and, with the onset of Carceri literally inches behind them, they fly through the portal and are transported back to Sigil’s crowded streets.

Safe.

Norm throws the Escalade into a sliding halt and Strauss sets the chopper down on the roof of a nearby building. As they each kill their engines they sit in silence for a moment, reflecting on the fact that they just outran hell itself (or at least one of them).

Mat: “Okay. Let’s never do that again.”

There is a murmur of agreement, then, with nothing else to be said, the party goes their separate ways.

Norm takes Hank back to G&H and enters Punwick’s office. Punwick looks up with a frown, seeing Norm and a bugbear enter unannounced.

Punwick: “Who’s this?”

Norm: “Your new employee.”

Without another word, Norm turns and walks out.

Punwick: “What? What the hell am I supposed to do with him?”

Again, no response from Norm is forthcoming as he exits out the front door. Punwick looks at Hank dubiously.

Punwick: “You have any skills?”

Hank: “Hank like crochet.”

Mat, meanwhile, has a few uncomfortable tasks to take care of. Renting a car, he takes Clarissa through a portal back to the Feywild. He drives to the outskirts of the town and then, stopping the car, he takes out his phone and makes a call to the same number he did outside the Temple of Correlon before boarding the Akagi.

Mat: “It’s me. She’s back.”

He then hangs up the phone, hands Clarissa the keys, and gives her an address. Without another word, he exits the car and begins the walk back to the portal to Sigil. He never tells her who he is, though he is the only one that knows why. Perhaps for him, it’s enough that she’s home, and safe.

As he walks toward the edge of town, he sees out of the corner of his eye some movement in the trees several feet to his left. Looking more closely, he is able to make out a figure crouched in some of the underbrush. Drawing his weapon, Mat points it at the figure and orders it to come out. Standing slowly, Strauss moves out into the open, having been up to this point miraculously lucky in avoiding detection.

Mat: “You’re going to forget everything you saw here, and you’re going to walk away and never come back to this place. If you do, I’ll kill you, and that’s a promise.”

Strauss appears to consider it, then wordlessly turns and runs to a car parked nearby, just outside the town. Jumping in, he drives away, leaving Mat behind. With a sigh, Mat holsters his weapon and begins walking once again. He’s going to have to keep an eye on that one, he tells himself.

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