I simplified this encounter as the PCs engaged this encounter right after the swine shogun which was a pretty epic battle. I also changed it to a straight up cyclops-oni (a reskinned cyclops). If the PCs had this encounter first and prevented the gong from being run then I would have ran it as written.
The Pinnacle and Writhing Tower
An island of vast broken stones is piled, impossibly, one atop the other from the base of the pit and rise to the level of the Edge and pagoda. Teetering over this isle is a leaning tower throttled by thick hard vines – a place that looks likely to fall at any moment. Webs choke the landward side of this tower, whilst on the opposite side, a huge stone arched bridge dancing with koi statues grasps the feet of the porcelain pagoda.
The Toll-Keeper and his Mistress guard the main access between land and the House of Withered Blossoms, and watch over the second alarm of the House – a great gong which, when sounded, reverberates throughout the area and alerts everyone – Munasukaru’s children included.
The temple is built upon three levels, each forty feet apart and connected by a tortuously broken spiral stair which requires a climb check (DC 5) to use. The structure has been smashed by the fury of Munasukaru and lies mostly open to the elements, its four corners miraculously stable although themselves leaning so that the middle floor lies ten feet east of the ground floor and the rooftop ten feet more eastwards, giving the tower a look of imminent collapse. Only the grasping withered vines hold the place from collapse.
The middle floor contains a huge gong and beater, which is sounded by the Toll-Keeper of his mistress in the event of attack. Whilst this second alarm alerts those within the House, it also reverberates downwards, echoing through the tunnels beneath and alerting Munasukaru, at which point her fury is released here. Mjnasukaru’s fury in this case is to phase the battlefield into a vast steppe like plain where the swine shogun attempts to kill the intruders. The top floor is choked in webs and is used as a nest by the curious pair. The bridge, like the one linking to land, is gracefully arched and lined with kirin statues, which act as a handrail on each side.
The Toll-Keeper (a drider) and his Mistress (a maximum hit point phase spider) guard the main entrance to the House of Withered Blossoms. The phase-spider finds the companionship and protection of the drider useful, and the mutual protection has been useful for some time. The two have ventured far from the Darklands below over a period of many years and eventually made their way here. The Mistress is able to speak goblin and amuses the Toll Keeper with her particularly unsettling and cruel phase spider tales (which almost all involve eating things alive). The two have developed a companionship reflected in their tactics.
Toll Keeper Tactics
During Combat The Toll Keeper fears Akinosa, and as soon as he is aware of combat he moves to the gong and strikes it, the ettin then moves into combat, attempting to keep intruders at bay whilst awaiting Aranae reinforcements from the House of Withered Blossoms. However, should the Mistress become badly injured he abandons all duties and goes to aid the phase spider.
Morale The Toll Keeper never flees whilst the Mistress is alive, and if she is killed he flies into an insane rage, striking out at random targets nearby (including its allies) as it howls its grief until it too is dead.
The Mistress Tactics
During Combat Stay close to the Toll Keeper, the Mistress has learnt over long years that the best tactic when fighting with an ettin is to stay ethereally nearby until the opportunity for a flank attack and quick escape is possible.
Morale If the Toll Keeper is slain, the Mistress escapes ethereally and plots her vengeance slowly. How this develops in the future is up to you, but consider that whoever struck the killing blow on the ettin is going to have a phase spider waiting in the shadows for him to be at his most vulnerable before attacking.
The gong itself is an eight-foot round metal disk held in a frame made from lashed (hobgoblin) bones. The beater is a hefty metal bar similar to a morning star but set with rough-cut lapis lazuli worth 300gp. The Toll Keeper and his Mistress’ lair is littered with various hobgoblin body parts and bones, as well as some objects from the pairs travels in the Darklands – a curious clay pot containing a black powdery ore (inert lazurite), the split head of a strange insectoid creature (a cave solifugid that the Toll Keeper split in two with one strike and which it still finds amusing) and a seugathi skin wrapped around a chest roped to an intact otyugh upper jaw. The chest contains 210gp, and a fine fire opal (worth 500gp). For more information on some of these curious objects see Into the Darklands.
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