Chrismas in Hell

Posted on Feb 3, 2024 in Tales from the Table.

When our Dungeon Master suddenly had to leave the group I took it upon myself to create a worthy ending to his campaign. The result was… not what the group had expected.

The Tragedy of Bubble-tar Swamp

I was a player in a campaign that had been going for about three months. My character was called Ordim: a badass fencer and heir to a fallen noble house. Joining him on the adventure was a lizardfolk shaman (cleric) named Doc, a bugbear monk philosopher known as Diomedes, who did not believe in possessions—except his hip flask, and Ilith, the elven bard, playing some kind of lyre made from a horned skull with strings tied between the horns.

On their quest to stop a nasty monster, they stumbled into a swamp covered in a magical fog courtesy of Noctys—an ugly hag. As long as the fog was present, no one could find their way out of the swamp. The party befriended a tribe of goblins, found a little city where they partook in a smidgeon of faction warfare, and had an epic battle in a nearby cave. All the while occasionally finding angry messenger trolls sent by the hag who clearly saw them as a threat.

Then the DM had to leave, just as the group was leaving the cave of epic battles. I asked him if I could wrap up the campaign which he agreed to. I tried to extrapolate from what little I knew about the hag to figure out where the plot might have been heading. Apparently she had a connection to a place called Gehenna, which is some kind of hell in D&D lore, so I figured I’d simply send them there to fight her. Oh, and this was around Christmas, so I’d have to throw in something christmassy as usual.

The Plot Goes Straight to Hell

Coming out of the cave, the group found themselves back in the swamp once more. But something was different. It was cold, and the ground was covered in snow. The fog was thicker than before. Ordim was suddenly gone, because I was now the DM instead of a player and kind of forgot about him. As the gang was making their way back to town1, having just broken a dam inside the cave and drowning all the evil duergar within, they heard the distant cry of goblins. Following the sound, they spotted several of them from the nearby camp running for their lives, another of Noctys’ despicable trolls close behind. The party had dealt with those before and decided to save their goblin friends from the filthy creature. But there was something different about the troll, too—it wasn’t afraid of fire like the last one. In fact, it seemed entirely unbothered by it. This was a problem since the last troll they fought simply refused to die until they set it on fire. However, this troll seemed to be shivering in the cold, and one ice spell later, the troll was down for the count.

The goblins explained that a great number of those ugly things had started coming from the northwest about an hour ago. Taken by surprise, the goblins had no option but to flee. In the snow, the party could easily trace the tracks of the trolls and figure out where they came from. It was time to stop them once and for all. To stop Notcys. But first, they headed back to town to resupply.

With more food and gear, the group followed the giant footsteps of the trolls, eventually arriving at the opening of a mountain cave. Inside the cave was a swirling, black portal. The group decided to send in the bugbear—Diomedes—first. Stepping through, he found himself in a different cave. The rock here was red, and the air was hot and humid. Before him stood another troll, which roared with the voice of Noctys and promptly burst into a fiery explosion. The blast flung Diomedes back out through the portal behind him, landing him by the feet of his party members.

After dusting the soot and blood off, he headed right back in, this time with the bard and cleric in tow. Entering the hot, red cave once more, they could see the opening, with a pitch-black sky beyond. Stepping outside they realized they were on an enormous mountain with rivers of lava flowing down it. A volcano floating in an endless black void. Gehenna. The mountain extended steeply up and down as far as the eye could see and the air was thick with the smell of brimstone. In the distance, a charcoal-black horse with mane and tail of flame appeared out of thin air, galloped along a river of lava, and disappeared as quickly as it came. The only landmark they could see was some kind of city, sloped much like the mountain but seemingly hovering just above it. Every building was solid black. The party began making their way across the rocky terrain in the direction of the city. The hot air made the journey difficult, and they quickly realised they wouldn’t be able to stay for long.

As the group approached the black city, they noticed that it wasn’t hovering at all, but rather crawling across the mountain on thousands of black, insect-like legs. As it moved closer, the group hopped on, arriving on an obsidian street. The architecture of the city was jagged and pointed with tall, sharp-looking buildings at odd angles. Everything was made from solid obsidian. It was quiet. The streets were empty. As the group aimlessly wandered the desolate cityscape, they eventually picked up the sound of a large crowd. They followed it to a crowded market. There were human-sized insect creatures, thorn-covered monsters, horned devils, souls of the dead, all fiends of hell imaginable. The party did not blend in. The locals went quiet and eyed them as they walked past. All kinds of things were being sold on the market. Stange, otherworldly artifacts, spell components, jars full of eyes, unusual animals, everything. The party found that their trail rations were quite valuable here and bought a glowing fruit with healing properties, and some spell scrolls.

While discussing how to find Noctys, a well-dressed human man approached the group and asked if they needed any help. He claimed to be a merchant named William who had become rich by trading with the lower planes. This was a lie, he was really a disguised arcanaloth2 who intended to rob the party blind. He claimed that Noctys lived in a small hut down the river and offered to take them there. The party agreed, not once questioning the hospitality of a stranger in hell. Together they left the city and walked along the volcano, eventually reaching a river. Not of lava this time, but an actual river of water. There was a small dinghy with a pair of oars sitting on the volcanic river bank. William suggested that the party cool themselves in the water to avoid heat exhaustion, something they were all too happy to comply with. However, this was the river Styx, flowing through all of the nine hells, and touching the water meant losing all your memories. I decided that the effect would be temporary since it was Christmas and all. After Doc and Diomedes jumped in and forgot who, what and where they were, Willaim pulled the classic there’s-no-time-to-explain-throw-me-your-bags–trick, which the confused adventures bought hook, line, and sinker. Then Willaim ran away with the bags. Ilith, knowing fully well what would happen, jumped into the water too because she was getting really warm.

After some confused sitting around by the river, the group’s memories began coming back. There was something about an evil witch in a hut down the river for them to investigate. They hopped onboard and braved the white-water rapids of Styx. The slope of the volcano led to the boat moving at an incredible speed, and some serious teamwork was needed to maneuver the twists and turns of the river. Eventually they crashed, falling off the boat and onto the rocks once more. There was a small hut in the distance, made from charred wood. The party navigated the treacherous rocks carefully, but Doc slipped. He rolled down the volcano, gaining speed with every tumble. The idea here was for the party to make a saving throw to avoid falling, which could then be repeated to try and stop. If they failed several times in a row, they’d eventually roll off the volcano and fall into the void. Doc rolled horribly and, by all means, should have died. But it was still Christmas and I felt bad about killing off his character right before the boss fight. So he stopped eventually, though rather low on health. Too bad William stole the glowing healing fruit.

Inside the cabin were three cages. One contained a goblin, another the two missing children the party had set off to look for on the first session (closure, woo!), and a third one a man who looked suspiciously like Santa Claus. The goblin kept shouting about being let out of the cage, to the point where Ilith got annoyed with him and slapped him across the face. The goblin then turned back into its true form; a barghest—a hairy, sabertoothed monster. They’d met this one before. It had infiltrated the goblin camp in the swamp and tried to kill off the goblins one by one. After a good ol’ stabbing, the party freed the kids and Santa from their cages. Santa told them of a hatch under the carpet leading to Noctys’ secret lab. He came with them as they climbed down. Beneath the hut was indeed a laboratory, with walkways hanging from the ceiling, looking down at huge glass tanks of green liquid with trolls floating inside them. It was some kind of troll factory. Santa began singing, casting a Christmas version of the spell Blind Guardian. Noctys was there, along with a group of trolls. The party fought her, eventually breaking one of the tanks and causing acid to spill out on the floor. Then they kicked her ass and went home.

I really gotta work on the denouement of my games because it pretty much just ended there. Anyway, the kids were saved, Bubble-tar Swamp was saved, and Christmas was saved. All in all, a pretty good day for the adventurers, though they never did get their revenge on William.

  1. My notes claim that the wind carried the whispered voice of the hag here, but I can’t remember what she said or, honestly, anything at all regarding her motives. ↩︎

  2. Jackal-headed trickster creature. ↩︎