The Autophage is the 25th episode of The Chain. It aired on August 21st, 2019.
After defeating the MindKiller (retcon), The Chain of Acheron continue to explore Ringwell. After discovering some mysterious changes in the Iron Golem room, things get dangerously squirmy. Later, Boots gets invited on a date?
After the Mindkiller
After driving off the mindkiller, who was frightened back to the astral plane by Slim’s menacing attack (retcon), they continue exploring the area. King heals everyone post-battle. The cells they peek into are empty and the doors are standing open. The room that had been behind the door sealed with gold runes -- the gold from which is in a melted but cooled puddle on the floor -- isn’t full of dust like the others. The only other difference in this area is what appears to be a shattered jade door on one of the cells, but there’s nothing to indicate what might once have been held in that cell.
King checks the Chronicle to see if he can find any information on how to defeat an iron golem but isn’t able to quickly put his finger on the information they need. After some deliberation, they return to the Iron Golem room, but find that the hole made by Copper's excavation arrow has been filled in by a layer of metal lying underneath the sandstone floor of the chamber. They investigate the construction of Ringwell to try to find some hints about how it all works, but they don’t really find anything useful. Judge puts down a ball bearing to see if the floor is straight and finds that there’s a slight dip in the middle of each corridor, sloping down from the walls.
The Building Room
Leech sends an invisible Odie down one of the corridors to scout. He finds crates and tools in a 20-foot circular room and sees blood on the ground. There are exits from this room into further corridors. The blood looks fresh, but not wet. Odie examines the tools and reports back what he’s seeing, which are ancient Caelian tools. There’s one crate of rusted nails. Most of the rest of the crates are empty of everything but dust. The blood trails into the room from the corridor then stops.
Exploring further, they find another room with tables, upon which are some preserved vellum documents, one of which appears to be another map of Ringwell. There are a handful of journal notes there too, but as they pick documents up, they begin to disintegrate from age. They find some documents with partial text they can read:
“...thinks they were obsessed with curves and arcs. This may be. But I think they built this place for much the same reason we need it now. To keep something in. And the complete absence of straight lines, and lack of any symmetrical axis is part of the containment geometries. Of course, there is now way to…”
“...has agreed to remain here, as the final seal. Immortal, unending, to ensure the power within remains sealed away. Realizing the sacrifice his friend was making, the Emperor wept. We forget sometimes we are in the presence of a god.”
“...much debate we agreed the Greater Wards would be sealed inside the other vaults. Should this forbiddence fail, the future should not change.”
“...work is done. Future generations will not know our sacrifice. I believe law and civilization will eventually lead to utopia and equality. I care not overmuch for the history of three thousand years the Emperor seeks to protect, but we live longer and enjoy more freedoms than our forefathers. Must we be destined to fall into barbarism? All it will take is sealing away the knowledge, and eradicating the cult of . This we have done. These words should pass unread into eternity. If any read this, know then that we failed to….”
“...engineer disagreed, but speaking for the Gods, I agreed we would collect the evils in this level. Their proximity to Ill’ios, even in his prison, may restrain them further.”
The new map they found mentions the Cauldron of Xorannon and an autophage. Tracking the blood trail back, they realize that it must be the tracks of Lady Orozivaar following her battle with the Blackiron Pact. Odie scouts further and finds a silver door blocking the way forward. They follow Odie carefully to the silver door, which is runed, but doesn’t have gold in it, nor does it appear to have had. There’s no writing around the door or friezes like they’ve seen in other rooms. Boots cautiously reaches out to touch the handle to see if it’s trapped. When nothing happens, he opens the door to see what’s inside.
Behind the door, they see a room with about a dozen mummified corpses in various stages of contortion. Most of them are riddled with holes. There’s another exit on the opposite side of the room. There’s a distinct, musty odor in the room that Bigcat reacts poorly to. They see dust particles glinting in the light from the corridor that seems to be conglomerating, growing from motes to worms and from worms to man-sized creatures made of worms.
Copper escapes nimbly away from the creatures attacks one of the creatures. As he hacks into its body, worms go spilling all over the place. Bigcat attacks the same one Copper did and bites it. Slim edges around Judge to a better position and slices through what would have been the neck of the creature, but being made up of many worms, it is not beheaded. On his second attack, Slim distracts the creature to give the next person to attack it an advantage. The phages that were attacked look to be struggling to maintain a human shape.
One of the phages tries to claw at King with hands made of twisting worms, but can’t gain purchase on King’s armor. It stops and flexes an arm. There aren’t any actual muscles there, but the worms move as if they were muscle tissue, which causes one of the worms to be flung at King. King’s unable to evade the worm and it crawls around his face, looking for a place to burrow. The phage next to Leech claws him, then begins to convulse and spits a worm onto him, which also crawls around him looking for a place to gain entry. Judge is surrounded by phages. As he’s clawed, he also dodges to evade the flung worm from the first phage. Two more phages claw him and this time he’s unable to evade the slap that deposits one of the worms, which begins to burrow into Judge’s ear. One more phage attacks Judge and misses with his claw, but lands another worm on him, which begins burrowing under Judge’s armor.
Judge casts a hellish rebuke on one of the phages, which is now barely maintaining a human form. Another phage attacks Bigcat and also deposits a burrowing worm. Two phages claw Boots and also deposit a worm. The remaining phage misses Slim with its claws and leaves a worm behind. Boots scrapes the worm off himself, shaving it off his skin with his rapier, then says, “Gross,” as a healing word.
Leech orders Odie to remove the worm from him, then casts blight on the phage that attacked him, then casts a healing light around Judge. Judge digs the worm out of his ear, then casts shield of faith. King casts a fire shield on himself and then moves down the corridor to stand next to Copper. Copper casts a hunters mark on a phage and shoots it twice. Bigcat grooms herself and uses the hook claws on the inside of her tentacle pads to scrape the worm off her body. Slim attacks the phage that attacked him, killing it with his first blow and ignoring the worm that’s trying to burrow into his body. Slim moves closer to Judge and lands another blow on one of the phages. Slim’s menacing attack frightens the phage. The worms that make up the form ripple and shudder in a wave. Slim takes another step forward and attacks the phage next to Bigcat, calling upon his second wind. His attack is so ferocious that this phage is also frightened, then hits it again. Slim feels the worm on him bite and everyone can see the worm disappear into a burrow in Slim’s skin.
The phages attack, clawing Copper twice and depositing a worm. The frightened phages move away from Slim. He swipes at one of them as it passes, hitting it. Leech also gets clawed twice and another worm lands on him. Another phage also claws Leech, who goes down and a second worm lands on him uncontested. Odie pops out of existence. The second frightened phage is unable to hit Slim, but spits another worm on him. Bigcat is hit by another claw and picks up another worm. The attack on Boots is successful, but he dodges the worm. Judge dodges two attacks from the phages and slaps away the worm attack, but he had one worm burrowing into him under his arm.
Boots disengages and runs down the corridor. As he passes Leech, he says a healing word and taps Leech to get him back up. Leech stands up, disengages and moves away from the creatures. The two worms on him burrow into him and everyone can see them moving around in lumps under his skin. Judge disengages from the fight and moves away from the phages. Judge feels the worm inside him draining his life essence and has an overwhelming sensation that the problem is his skin and that the only thing that will fix it is by peeling off and eating his own skin. King casts a fireball down the corridor, bathing the autophages, Slim, Copper, Judge, and Bigcat in fire. Two of the autophages die in the fire.
Copper draws his bow, waiting for a clear shot and yelling at Slim to get out of the way. Slim withdraws, dodging the claws of the phage next to him, then attacks another. Once again, the ferocity of his attack frightens the phage. Slim’s blow also lands. Copper steps back and calls Bigcat to him. The phages around her swipe at her, clawing her twice. Once she’s clear, Copper shoots a fireball arrow, once again bathing the phages in fire and killing two of them. The remaining two are no longer humanoid masses of worms, but are only small piles now. One of the remaining phages, still afraid of Slim, backs up to the door. The other one claws Slim and deposits another worm on him.
Boots steps up next to Judge and Slim and hits the phage in front of them three times, killing it. Leech casts a healing spell on himself, then also casts a healing light on Boots. He has two worms inside him, eating him up from the inside, which nearly cause him to pass out again. Judge feels something inside him churning and a biting pain in his gut from the worm inside him. Judge casts a lesser restoration on himself, channeling the infernal power of Asmodeus through himself, and feels the worms inside him to wither and die. King casts toll the dead on the last phage and kills it. Slim scrapes the worm on him off, but still has two more inside him, still eating him from the inside.
Bigcat spends a bit of time healing herself. Copper casts a healing spirit over himself. Copper is damaged by the worms inside of him. Boots, realizing his comrades are in discomfort, plays a healing song for Leech. Leech tries to cut the worms out of himself. He finds one of them, slicing between his ribs and stabbing one right next to his heart. The other worm remains and continues to eat him. Judge casts lesser restoration on Slim, killing the worms inside of him and curing his desire to eat his own flesh. King performs the same service for Leech. Copper, still bathed in his healing spirit, heals a little bit, as the worms continue to eat him and Bigcat. Boots casts another healing spell on Copper to keep him alive while the other healers try to deal with the worm problem. King and Judge cast lesser restoration on Copper and Bigcat, destroying the worms inside them.
Summoned to Dinner
King feels a sudden weight in the diplomat’s pouch. When he looks, he sees a message from Angel saying, “That college kid wants to talk to you, Boss.”
Leech uses a ritual to resummon his familiar and Odie pops back into existence as the group takes a quick breather. Many spells are cast to try to get everyone back up to snuff. King decides that Leech should take the Scepter of Count Rhodar von Glauer. Leech spends some time with the rod trying to attune to it, but nothing seems to happen. King suggests that Leech say, “I do the devil’s work.” He repeats the phrase and becomes attuned to the rod, gaining the ability to summon vampiric mists; command, summon and create undead; to command or to persuade people. It will also allow him to change his form, but he’s not sure what forms are available to him. Nocturnal creatures seem appropriate.
As a result of attuning to the rod of Von Glauer, Leech also realizes that he can no longer cast eldritch blast and that his link to his patron is gone. Realizing what he’s lost, Leech returns the rod to the Commander, but nothing changes. King gives the rod to Boots, who says, “I do the devil’s work.” Leech’s connection to his patron returns and Boots is now attuned to the rod.
They send Odie into the room with the mummified bodies, where he finds another silver door, but he can’t open it. King enters the room with the mummies, ready to cast another fireball if anything looks to be materializing. When he opens the door, he sees another room similar to the one he’s standing in. Sitting in the middle of the room is a giant cauldron. There is a metal ladder that reaches to the lip of the cauldron. There appear to be images carved around the outside of the cauldron. Leech sends Odie in to fly over the cauldron. Odie reports back that there’s something inside it. Looking through Odie’s eyes, Leech sees a membranous, slowly writing, pulsing, moist surface. It’s yellow, almost like skin, and white snaking fibers that crisscross back and forth. Odie looks at the images on the cauldron, which appear to be depictions of slimes and molds.
Leech orders Odie down to touch the mass in the cauldron, which quivers. Leech tells Odie to poke it again, and his connection to Odie snaps. There was some reaction by the mass in the cauldron and Odie disappeared.
They decide to go back topside. When they emerge in the candle shop, Angel is there waiting for them. He says, “Boss, this,” and he holds up a blue card with gold edging, “someone came into the sausage shop and left this for you. Boss, none of the people in the sausage shop work for The Chain.”
King reads the invitation and says, “Boots, you have a date.” King hands the invitation to Boots, who reads,
“The Presence of Deo Bertone is requested at the Bookbinder’s Club, 27 Iter Corollo, tonight, the 13th of Pianta, at 8 o’clock. Please present this invitation and you will be granted admittance.
After-dinner coffee and tobacco service will be provided, but the kitchens will be closed.”
Behind the Scenes
The Autophage was initially scheduled to air on August 14th, 2019, but because of audio issues with the stream, the episode was delayed to next week, August 21st. Additionally, the title was changed from "The Great Game" to "The Autophage".
Originally, Matt planned to use the Mindkiller encounter at the beginning of the game to pit the players against each other, similar to the Changeling encounter in episode six. In order to keep the players guessing, he had everyone roll a saving throw even though only one was being targeted, then handed out cards to each player saying whether the player was possessed once the results of the saving throw were known. However, as discussed in the campaign diary for this episode, after the game the player of the possessed character approached Matt and told them that they didn't want to be possessed and wouldn't have fun. At the end of the day, the game is played for the fun of the players, so Matt decided to cancel the encounter. He chose the explanation that Slim's menacing attack caused the Mindkiller to flee to its home plane so that the rest of the party wouldn't blame the player who didn't want to participate for "ruining their fun". This serves as a lesson, that DMs should think about the interests of their players when designing encounters, not just encounter structure.