Friday, August 26, 2011
Return to the Ruins of Adventure - Session 26: Attack of the Lizard People
Returning to Phlan after the adventure in the SIlver Pyramid, our heroes discover that they have been gone for a month and that much has happened:
- Increasing lizardman attacksfrom the swamp have cut off much of the landbound trade to the east
- More ships have been destroyed on the Moonsea close to Phlan
- Rumors are flying that the Fire Knives have assassinated the leaders of several rival organizations, consolidating their power in the ruins
- The Temple of Bane, according to the ancient charter of the city of Phlan, has asked for a place on the council, stating that they wish to play a recognized, legitimate role in the city's growth and promising to help pacify the ruins
The party contemplates these news items for a bit and decides to kill two birds with one stone: At one point in the past the city council, by way of Barnabus, offered them titles of nobility and a seat on the council if they would reclaim an old keep out near the swamp. The lizardman uprising appears to have taken control of this same keep, so dealing with the lizardmen and claiming the keep will both solve a problem and seal their deal with the city. The city also promises to help supply a garrison and to provide some of the supplies neccessary to rebuild the keep. With their future seemingly secures, the group rests and re-equips (mainly healing potions from the temple of Torm) then heads out to deal with the scaled folk.
Before they depart,Barnabus tells the team that an old woman lives on the edge of the swamp and is a good source of information on the goings-on therin. She may not be completely trustworthy, but when dealt with from a position of strength she can be civil. This becomes the party's first goal. However the journey is not that simple.
While traveling along the elevated roadway the party encounters a group of lizardman blocking the road, and when the team approaches one of the lizardfolk turns out to be a spellcaster and the magic starts to fly along with a rather impressive volley of blowgun darts. Kordan is hit, slowed, and poisoned in the first burst, but the rest of the heroes come through in decent shape although the mystic's spell turns the road into swampy ground, interfering with their advance. This does not slow the lizardmen down at all as two stand fast to protect the castrer while the rest flank the party, spreading out and puffing darts as rapidly as they can.
Mikal, dodging darts as best he can, sets up his infernal curse on several of the creatues. Uthal fnally gets into hitting range and rams his spear through one of the scaly ambushers, killing it and causing the warlock's curses to go off, killing two more! Kordan, battered and angry, engages the bodyguards with the help of Althea and Jovanni as Uthal and Mikal take down the rest of the skirmishers, ending the fight. The heroes win out, but poison darts and swampy terrain go on the list of "things the party does not like."
Soon enough the group spots the small house where the mysterious woman lives. Uncertain of what they are dealing with they show a sensible amount of caution, knocking politely on the door and engaging the rather attractive half-elven looking woman who answers it in conversation. Showing a remarkable degree of restraint they learn quite a bit about the lizardmen and the reasons for their agitation. Jovanni shines, words flowing from his lips like honey, until he commits a terrible faux-pas. Fortunately Kordan decides this nis a good time to strip off his armor and his shirt and offer to start chopping firewood, which he does, and which seems to perk her interest to the point she ignores the Bard's mistake. The strange woman eventually mentions that a party of lizardmen even now carries a powerful magic item to a nearby temple, another indication of their growing power.
Eventually the conversation winds down and all the wood has been chopped. Final pleasantries are exchanged, Kordan puts his shirt back on, and the party departs with the intention of intercepting the magic item and then paying a visit to the temple, one of the rallying points of the unrest in the swamp.
Uthal leads the way through the swamp, using his skill in the wild to guide his friends to their target. They choose speed over stealth though, and they emerge onto the ancient roadway leading to the temple to find four huge black-scaled lizardmen blocking their way. As the party moves to engage they hear a loud slurping sound - something lurches through the swamp on their flank and Uthal identifies it as a Shambling Mound, a terrible plant-monster! The party also spots another lizardman nearby, who begins casting as the shambler closes in and the guards move to engage - the party is in for a tough fight!
Uthal and Kordan end up taking on the shambler as Jovanni and Mikal take on the blackscales and Althea starts a magical duel with the mystic. The potent wizard blows the rival caster away in short order, then ties up the plant-thing with her signature "grasp of the grave" spell, as skeletal arms burst from the swampy ground and grab on to the creature. Even with this, the fighter and barbarian bot hget tangled up with the monster and end up hacking at it at close range while it tangels and squeezes them in return. Mikal can't let himself be shown up by the wizard and blasts 3 of the blackscales apart himself, though Althea does finish off the 4th as Kordan and Uthal finally hack down the shambling mound. Jovannis strips some gold necklaces from the big lizardmen and discovers a chest near the road as well.
Breaking open the chest carried by the lizardfolk party the heroes discover a powerful magical rod inside, one useful for defending against magical attacks. Mikal claims it for the moment and then the party decides to rest for the night before "delivering" it to the temple of the reptile god.
This was a really good session after a longer break than usual. My players know their characters now, they know the environment now, and know what they want to do in the medium to long term. This makes things easier on the DM. Some of this is in contrast to past campaigns where they did a lot of wandering and so never got particularly invested in any one area. It also helps that a five person party can be a lot more cohesive than an eight or nine person party which is almost guaranteed to have some conflicting goals, or at the very least someone in an "I don't want to do that" contrarian mood in my experience. This has been a real eye-pener as to the potential with the right mix of players and it's been a lot of fun. Plus it's likely to be the first time in a very long time that I've had PC's running a keep and I'm looking forward to that.
The first ambush lasted all of four rounds. I think the learning curve is starting to pass me by as at 7th level the players have been using the same set of powers with occasional upgrades for along time now while the DM gets to learn a whole new set of powers and tactics with every encounter. Variety is cool, but I'm wondeirng if more uniform opposition would pay off with a greater threat level.
The encounter at the hut was set up as both a straight combat encounter - a tough one in my opinion - and a skill challenge, and I figured a hint from Barnabus would be enough to let them know it was an option. They took to it wonderfully with the bard's awesome diplomacy skill leading the way initially. They worked in some creative use of history, nature, and bluff as well from different party members. Kordan's player was at a bit of a loss as to how to contribute at first as it was more of a talky challenge and fighters do not typically have a lot of that, but then the bard fumbled a diplomacy roll so he decided to do something different to use his very impressive athletics skill that had us all cracking up around the table. "I see you managed to get your shirt off again." I suspect that is not the only time we will see that move, especially if the opposition is female, and I'm all for it - if it was good enough for everyone from Captain Kirk to the werewolf kid in the Twilight movies, it's good enough for my game.
The second fight was against a slightly different set of lizardmen plus my first use of a Shambling Mound in 4E. Shamblers were a fairly common opponenet in our 2E games - lord knows I got engulfed by them more than once - and were still somewhat common in our 3E games. I was glad to see that they work similarly in 4E, merrily slapping and engulfing people just like the old days. Despite this different mix the fight still lasted only 4 rounds. Sigh.
One notably effective thing that's going on is that the Warlock took "Daughter's Promise" which is an enhancement to his curse ability. The curse is a minor action and targets the nearest enemy at the time it is done, and it can affect more than one target. Normally it just grants the 'Lock some temporary hit points when a cursed target dies - nice, but not a game-changer. This DP ability though turns them into little grenades waiting to go off, especially minions. Now when a cursed target dies they explode and do damage to every enemy adjacent to them - not a to nof damage but enough to kill minions and badly bloodied creatures. I've seen this thing take out 3 creatures in one turn, robbing the DM of another round of mayhem from those beasties in a seriously annoying way. I'm thinking that maybe it should be "adjacent creatures" rather than "adjacent enemies" - that sounds like more fun - to me, anyway.