Thursday, March 24, 2011

Return to the Ruins of Adventure - Session 21: Last Stand of the Ogre King

Lurking outside what appears to be the final chamber of the Ogre King's tomb the party observes a single zombie ogre standing near a dark pool. Inlaid into the floor is the horned skull symbol of the ancient ogre god. At the back of the room the same symbol hangs on the wall with wisps of black vaporous energy drifting off of it. The same grey-black vapor drifts about pool in the center of the room and everyone in the party knows that this is the link to the shadowfell that they have been sent to close.  A loud chanting coming from somewhere in the back out of sight tells them that they are not too late - the king has not completed his ceremony yet - so they determine that they must take action now.

The battle begins simply enough. The single undead ogre guardian is blasted by spear, sunblade, magic missile, and a fiery blast from the warlock. As a second undead guardian emerges from the back near the horned skull symbol, the barbarian explodes into the original zombie and blasts him apart with a ferocious spear charge. As the second ogre zombie joins the fight the first one reappears in the pool, somewhat battered but clearly in fighting shape again, only seconds after being destroyed. 

At first the heroes are undaunted as they have seen this kind of thing before with slain undead getting back up. Within seconds the first ogre is down again and with a mighty roar the Ogre King emerges from his chamber and charges into the fight wielding a great iron spear and a ferocious attitude. Then the first ogre reappears in the pool again and the heroes realize they might be in trouble.

Deciding on a course of action the party decides to concentrate on the king, hoping that if they bring him down then the ceremony will not be completed and the link will be closed. As the King fights he sings a battle-chant (in ancient giant speech) that at first seems to be recounting his history but the heroes realize there is more to it than that. 

They came from a far kingdom/

 They attacked my people, corrupting many with their magic/

The Pool of Twilight gave them limitless power/
The only way to fight them was by using the only magic they could not corrupt – the power of the Pool of Shadow/ 

Raising my fallen warriors I led the attack and drove them back to the cave of steel/ I could not breach it but I had a vision that they would return so I went back to my city and began a great ceremony/ 

This tomb is a vessel for channeling mighty magics and now the time is right to bring them back and destroy the pool once and for all/

 A vicious melee locks in around the king and while chanting he also inflicts some serious harm on Kordan and Uthal who are right up on him during the fight. Eventually though the power of the heroes overcomes even his mighty defenses and he falls, staggering back into the Pool of Shadow. In what appears to be a moment of clarity he urges the party to find and destroy the Pool of Twilight in the Cave of Steel near the river as now is the time for the others to return and with his fall his warriors will not be around to stop them. He then collapses into the pool as a howling wind springs up and the pool begins to spin and shrink. The vaporous energy in the pool swirls and is sucked into a point in the center and then disappears, leaving nothing but an empty basin, a ruby-studded belt, and the great black spear wielded by the king. Then the ground begins to shake and the still-standing guardian ogre moves back into the tomb at the back of the cave as the symbol on the wall explodes into fragments. Uthal grabs the spear and belt as the party retreats out of the tomb and back up the long path to the surface. 

Discussing the king's final words as they climb, the group eventually emerges from the black rock and discovers that it is night on the surface. They make their way back through the ruined city and arrive at the gates to civilized Phlan around midnight, forcing them to wait outside the city until dawn when the gates open again. They make camp, examine the two magical items they recovered,  and discuss plans for the next day.

During the night however some unwelcome visitors make their way into camp. The night watcher notices a robed human standing on a ruined wall 50' away from the camp and as he does the man gestures and the ground in the camp explodes upwards, startling many awake and also alerting them to the two humans stalking towards the camp from another direction. As the two enter the disrupted camp daggers ignite with green flame and the female calls out "Greetings from the Fire Knives" and they move in, slashing and tumbling and leaping amongst the startled heroes as the wizard rains spells down from a distance.

A fight breaks out all over the area as the two knife-fighters strike again and again. Kordan engages them but can't stop them from stabbing Althea. Jovanni takes long range action against the enemy wizard and manages to disrupt his spellcasting long enough for Uthal to charge. The enemy wizard fires back and turns the bard into a rabbit! Frightened, he leaps down Althea's shirt looking for a warm place to hide as the startled wizard moves away from the vicious knife-wielders. Mikal takes the opportunity to blast one enemy, draining the life from her with a vampiric embrace. Uthal takes down the enemy wizard and Jovanni changes back to his normal shape. 

Seeing the odds change the way they have, the last Fire Knife attempts to run off into the ruins. Annoyed and upset, the party unloads a volley of ranged attacks into him, from spears to magic missiles and eldritch blasts, slaying the assassin before he can flee to safety. 

As dawn approaches the party waits outside the gate and debates what is more urgent - the threat of the Pool of Twilight or the Fire Knives recurring efforts to kill them.

DM Notes: This was a very satisfying session as we wrapped up the Ogre King adventure with a good fight that opened up some future possibilities and brought the Fire Knives back into the picture with another ambush in the ruins. I've tried to run this campaign in a non-linear fashion, with the party having 2 or 3 or more choices about what to do next at any given point. Now once they have made that choice, some of the adventures have been pretty linear (the Ogre King's tomb was very linear) but I've found most players don't care so much about that if they had some choices going into it, especially if the dungeony parts are fairly short. The beginning was pretty much the only way to start but we were all very new to the system at that point and it needed to be. Since then I've added some options and not all of them have been used. As those unused options accumulate, I could probably run another party through the ruins and not re-use any of the material I have already run through, which is kind of cool and makes the city feel like more of a lived-in place as opposed to a simple linear series of expeditions to be run. It's a little weird, but for the first time in many years I'm actually excited when they skip past some material I have worked up - it makes it feel like I'm doing my job right. 

Our fights this session lasted 8 and 5 rounds respectively so the idea of having a shorter but still interesting fight is good. I think less than 10 rounds is a good sweet spot to aim for so I'm keeping that in mind when I choose monsters and set up encounters. 

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