Thursday, September 8, 2011
Return to the Ruins of Adventure - Session 28: Jaws of Doom
Althea, Eladrin Wizard
Mikal, Human Warlock (infernal pact)
Javanni, Half-Elf Bard
Kordan, Human Fighter
Uthal, Goliath Barbarian
(All are 7th level)
After pausing for a few minutes after the battle with the snakes, the party pushed open the old wooden door at the end of the room and realized they had one more battle before them - six armed lizardman temple guardians and a hooded figure with a gleaming golden bow awaited them inside a chamber where much of the floor was underwater and the walls were covered in frenzied writings proclaiming the divinity of Zarius, the lizard king.
The initial volley of magical fire killed several of the guardians but as the hooded figure fired back the heroes realized the arrows were shaped like serpents and envenomed like them as well! Kordan charged, leaping over a watery gap in the floor to close on the archer. Uthal waded into the guardians while Javanni moved to assist Kordan and Althea and Mikal stayed where they were, blasting away at their enemies.
As Javanni fired off a near-constant stream of insults, one of them evidently struck a nerve with the hooded figure and it leaped across the gap, away from Kordan, in an effort to harm the bard. Somewhat surprised, Kordan followed planted his magical battle standard, and engaged with his trusty sunblade. He was even more surprised when the hood came down and revealed a scaled feminine visage with seprentine hair that lashed out, biting him and poisoning him in a sudden furious assault. As he staggered under the attack, the creature's eyes began to glow and as he met her gaze he felt his legs growing heavy and realized he was in serious trouble.
As this was going on, most of the party was gathered on a stone platform in the middle of the room, the dryest part of the room and the place where the fight had come together. The casters, though, had backed into the passageway from the prior room as the guardians swarmed in. Out of nowhere, a column of water erupted from the well behind them and the biggest crocodile in the world lumbered forth, jaws snapping at Althea! As her life flashed before her eyes, she teleported away to safety. Mikal stepped back and began blasting the thing, hoping that it would be enough. As the jaws snapped down on him, he realized it was not and he too teleported across the room to safety. Frustrated by the narrow passage, the croc disappeared into the dark swampy water.
As Uthal finished off the guardians he realized the roaring behind him indicated a new threat had arrived. and turned to deal with it, though the croc was gone before he could react. Javanni moved to a more advantageous position to support Kordan. Seizing the moment, the fighter lashed out in a flurry of sword strikes, separating her head from her shoulders, then finishing the thing off with a shield bash that knocked her dying body off of the stone platform and into the water. As he stood there gazing down, his body stiffened, hardened, and turned to stone, the gleaming golden bow of the creature lying at his feet - a glorious way to end, if indeed it ended here.
Javanni's maneuver had helped to distract the thing but it also exposed him to a new danger as the croc exlploded out of the water in the main chamber, a terrifying storm of teeth and bellowing, and seized him in its jaws, savaging the bard. Uthal realized it was up to him and charged, Black Spear of Thar held high. Smashing into the big reptile, he managed to slam it back hard enough to free the battered and bloodied bard. Flaming spheres and arcane bolts slammed into the beast with visible effect, but it kept on coming.
As quick as the lightly-armored goliath was, he was not quick enough and the wounded croc seized him next, biting down hard. With Kordan out, Javanni seriously wounded, and the barbarian being crushed by the giant croc, things looked grim. Then, the power of Kordan's magical standard began to take effect on the huge creature, drawing it forward and forcing it to release Uthal as it advanced. Taking a moment, the barbarian gathered his strength as the enraged croc smashed the standard aside, ending its magic. As it turned back, the heroes realized the fight would soon be over, one way or another. With incredible speed the monster croc rushed the barbarian and seized him once again. Horrified, the arcanists blasted the thing but it only paused long enough to gulp Uthal down completely, then it splashed back into the water and disappeared from sight.
A few minutes later the drenched, chewed upon, and slightly digested goliath emerged from the "well" in the other room, roaring in triumph but accepting aid from the relieved wizard, bard, and warlock. Being swallowed had driven him nearly mad with rage, and he had cut his way out of the beast in a frenzy, killing it, and then fumbled his way to the surface.
The group took a few minutes to enjoy being alive and then began to consider the problem of the fossilized fighter. After much pondering and debate, the wizard and warlock agreed that the blood of the medusa, appllied to the lips of a victim, should reverse the magic. Finding blood from the creature was no problem and was soon smeared across Kordan's lips. There was a shudder, then over the next few minutes some twitching, and finally an intake of breath, and then Kordan was free, back to his human self.
Looking around the party determined that the serpent-thing was the high priest of Zehir. The only interesting item from the fight was her golden bow, which was identified as a potent magic item and stashed away. Having eliminated the religious leader behind the uprising, the next step appeared to be an assault on the keep itself, the lizard king's seat of power. Slaying him would end the attacks, break the spirit of the rebellion, and secure the party a new home and base of operations. As the sun set, the party camped amid the ruins on top of the hill and gazed across the swamp where they could just barely make out the towers of the distant keep, awaiting their arrival.
DM Notes: Much of this session was consumed by an epic 11 round fight where the party faced off against some minions, a medusa, and a giant crocodile and it was one of the best fights we have had during the campaign. It went back and forth several times and the medusa and the croc were both signifcant threats that managed to hurt the party enough to put some fear into them. The croc outperformed any hopes that I had and was as tough as any solo I have run. The fight ended when the swallowed Uthal used "Rampage" and scored a critical hit - I could not have asked for a more appropriate or dramatic ending as the doomed barbarian managed to pull off a win from inside a monster! Everyone played a part and was pretty happy with the whole thing. They also managed to gather enough XP for almost everyone to advance to 8th level.
Sessions like this are golden to me as even though it was mostly combat there was no lack of role-playing going on. That's one of the things that I laugh at when someone gets on a soapbox about combat versus roleplaying - since when are they mutually exclusive? If you're talking in a funny voice, calling other characters by name, fake-yelling in distress, letting out your battle cry, shouting out plans or battle tactics, or popping off one-liners during a fight, then you are role-playing. There's no set time for it - it happens constantly during the game. It's also not exxclusively vocal - if your character always targets certin enemies first, or always opens wit ha certain move, you might be role-playing! If you consistently move to stay with another character, working together to overcome your enemies, you might be role-playing! Anything that you do as a player that makes your character stand out or makes them more memorable to your fellow players is a part of role-playing that character! Combat is a time of tension, stress, and danger, a time when some players are at their most-engaged, and it's when some of the most memorable moments can happen in a game - don't ignore it! Encourage it!
Around the table use character names as turns come up ... liven up descriptions of comabt moves ... give enemies a touch of personality to go along with the stats. In-game let your villains make speeches or snide comments as they fight - let them gloat when they're winning and let them curse as the fight slips away. If the party fighter bears a particular device on his shield then let some oppoinents start to recognize it and react appropriately. If the ranger regularly garbs himself in the skins of his enemies (boots, cape, armor, hat) then give him a reputation that has an impact in combat - maybe the lizardmen automatically lose initiative when informed that they will provide boots for a whole village - especially when they recognize the scale pattern of their high priest in the ranger's cloak! Movies and comic books do this kind of thing all the time and if it's good enough for them then it's worth a try in your game.
Next up is the final of this little side trip into the swamp as they attempt to take out the Lizard King in his own lair.