Deep in the catacombs beneath the Moathouse, our heroes arise from an extended rest:
- Torgor Bearkin, Dwarf Sentinel Druid with his bear companion "Po" (Apprentice Red)
- Isaac, Human Swordmage (also Red)
- Torinn, Dragonborn Sorcerer (Apprentice Blaster)
- Apollo Magewood, Elf Bladesinger (Also Blaster)
- Draco, Elf Bow Ranger (Apprentice Who)
- Dayereth, Human Wizard, rejoining the party after leaving to answer nature's call last session (a friend of the Apprentices)
After exploring the catacombs, the party followed an earthen tunnel into darkness but eventually turned back as it turned into a confusing maze of tunnels filled only with rat droppings.
Turning back, the group went in a different direction and found themselves in the familiar stone corridors of the under-moathouse. The first room they entered was unoccupied but they did find some doors. After checking for traps they opened the nearest one to find a blank wall behind it and then heard a distant "clang!", which worried them but presented no immediate effect.
Behind the second door they found an empty stone room but as they were investigating Torgor and Draco felt eyes upon their backs and turned around in time to spot some orcs holding bows on them from an unexplored hallway. "Hey, you guys, you're not supposed to be in here" in broken common from the orcish ambush proved to be the opening line of a rapid negotiation between traditionally hostile parties and this time it did not lead directly to violence. The Orcs were just not ready to die today, and the party was fine with talking through an encounter (after some internal debate). The sorcerer asked about their boss and employment opportunities and was directed down a nearby corridor to a particular door. Warily, the heroes took their leave, determined to confront the "boss".
Following the directions from the orcs the team eventually comes to a door and knocks. When it is answered by an armored human bearing a symbol of a flaming eye on his tunic, Torinn says they are seeking employment and were told this was the place to come. Confused, the guard calls for backup, but lets them in.
In an unexpected turn of events, the dragonborn sorcerer talks the party past the initial guard, plus his sergeant, plus the lieutenant, into a meeting with Lareth, commander of this secret outpost of the Temple of Elemental Evil. To meet with him, they are required to disarm themselves, which most of them do - Torgor, Po, and Draco elect to remain in a side room with the party's gear. In the big meeting the evil leader is not completely convinced of their sincerity in asking to join his forces so he offers them a choice: To prove that they are sufficiently committed to his cause, he says that they must select one member of their band to be sacrificed at the temple, a great honor to true believers. The group immediately nominates Draco, who is surprised and dismayed to hear his name chosen so rapidly by people he thought were his friends. Stunned, he makes no move as the guards walk in, take his bow, and frog-march him towards the main room.
|That's a lot of badguys - our heroes are in the middle and in the back right room|
The rest of the heroes realize that this ruse has run its course and explode into action! Torinn and Dayereth need no gear and erupt with fiery blasts, lightning, and frost. Isaac calls his sword to his hand and leaps into melee with the guards. Apollo would really rather be using his luck blade, but since it's under guard in the entry room he makes due with a dagger hidden in his boot, calling forth various blade songs that look a lot less impressive on a dagger than they do on a longsword. Torgor and Po smash into the guards on Draco who retrieves his bow and begins slinging arrows into the fray two at a time.
|Marks are out and the LT is already bloodied|
In a swirling melee that spans 3 rooms Lareth, his lieutenant, 3 sergeants, and 18 well-armored guards take on 6 adventurers and an angry spirit bear for an epic fight that will be discussed by the victors for ages. Lareth the Beautiful's magic manages to interfere with the heroes long enough to get his men into favorable positions, but it turns out the favorable positions just gather them together for a massive display of blasting effects from the wizard, the sorcerer, and the bladesinger. The swordmage holds the center, while the druid and the bear hold one flank, and the bow ranger assassinates guards one after another. At the height of the battle, a wounded Lareth attempts to withdraw towards the entrance, guarded by his lieutenant and a sergeant, but a magic missile from the sorcerer drops the LT, giving Draco a clear shot at the Boss, who summons all of his concentration and makes the most of his opportunity, slaying the Dark Hope of Chaotic Evil with a single sure shot!
After their leader falls, the remaining forces of the Elemental Eye attempt to withdraw too, but to no avail - they are slaughtered to the last man by the forces of good. The last one to go down was a sergeant who cried "The Elemental Eye sees all! as he died. Triumphant, the battered and bloodied adventuring band takes a moment of rest, now knowing for sure that the temple is re-awakening and that they must take action to stop it.
|Late in the fight - It's a little blurry but red ring = bloodied|
DM notes: This was a really fun session as a friend of the boys was able to rejoin for this one and we had more time to play. When things started they kept talking about wanting to get into some action right away but they took a surprisingly cautious approach that led to more talking than fighting at first.
The clang of the portcullis that drops when the false door is opened bugged them - whereas my thinking is that hey, we obviously just triggered a trap but no one is poisoned or on fire so it's not so bad - but they decided not to go seek out what it was. It cuts off the obvious route to the upper level and is supposed to make the players feel trapped. Since my group didn't come down that way, they wouldn't have cared much anyway so it was just as well.
The orcs spurred a pretty strong reaction though as they were distracted with searching a room when they found them. The negotiations were a surprise, frankly, as this is not a talk-first group. If you have the module, or if you have read my notes here then you may realize that these orcs (replacing the gnolls in the original version due to level issues) are a little disgruntled with their situation and are more ready to talk than fight. This attitude combined with the presence of a dragonborn sorcerer in the party (for old schoolers, he basically has an 18/00 charisma) who has a very strong diplomacy skill meant that things went very smoothly for the party. The Apprentices (and friend) realized right away that they could shortcut right to the "Boss" and try to talk their way into seeing him and this became their plan for the rest of the session.
Following this strategy paid off big time, because most guards do not have much in the way of insight, bluff , diplomacy, or charisma of any kind, making them easy prey for the silver-tongued sorcerer.* It also managed to get them in a bit over their heads as when conflict inevitably broke out they were standing in the middle of a roomful of armed guards without most of their weapons instead of fighting their way into the place but it was a good plan up to that point. This is a good example of why D&D benefits from having mechanical systems for "roleplaying" activities, which most of the time stands for "anything that's not combat": because 13 year old boys don't always make the most persuasive arguments, but when playing a character with a charisma of 20 who is trained in Diplomacy, Bluff, and Insight he should be as effective in social situations as a Barbarian with gauntlets of ogre power and a two-handed sword is in combat! Additionally, it reinforces that there are other approaches to a situation than "Charge!" and while I'm a big fan of violence in D&D a) it's not the answer 100% of the time and b) there are other games besides D&D that we play sometimes.
The big fight: This was supposed to be a sort of escalating encounter with the heroes plowing through some minions and then seeing progressively stronger reinforcements over the course of several rounds. Instead, it started with all combatants already on the map with friends and foes mixed together in 3 different rooms and the leader already present at the start of the fight. It was ugly, and it's a good thing they had 6 characters because if it had only been the most-usual 4 PC's I don't know that they would have made it. In this case, however, nobody died except for the bear (and considering he's a spirit animal and re-formed across the room the following round it was more like a painful teleport than actual death) although everyone was bloodied at some point except for the wizard and the ranger. Thirty combatants, nine rounds, about two hours - I'm pretty sure it's the biggest fight I've run in 4th edition and everyone was happy with it when it was over.
Next session I expect they will loot the leader, clean up a few more encounters in the dungeon, then head back to town and prepare to head to Nulb or the Temple proper which means I have some more work to do.
*I'm so using that as a Quality on my next ICONS or M&M character.