Tuesday, February 18, 2014

SSoI - Session 18: Blurred Lions

Our Heroes (8th level):
  • Lt. Alex Gravis, Water Genasi Warlord (and Ivan, vengeance-seeking owlbear of the night ) 
  • Zarra, Drow Vampire DECEASED (moreso than usual for her)
  • Gartok, Dwarf Earth Warden
  • Izenheim, Dwarf Cleric of Marthammor Duin 
  • No-Name, Elf Bow Ranger 
  • Sir Abel Primies, Human Paladin of Torm DECEASED
The surviving heroes, downcast, spend 3 days flying back to the home of the Tiri-Kotor elves and reuniting with Izenheim and the ranger. There, they share the news of their defeat and realize they need reinforcements to take out the behir and probably the lich as well, and the best place to find that help will be in Brindol, largest city in the vale. The elves mourn with them and agree to let the party continue using the owls for faster travel. The group thanks them and parts ways, headed for the city.

In Brindol the team keeps a low profile, not wanting to panic the city. There they unexpectedly meet the mysteriuos Xyla, another hooded and cloaked member of House Bauer. She seems very interested in the whereabouts of Zarra and reacts emotionally to news of her death, though it is difficult to gauge her feelings on the matter.

The warlord also puts out feelers to the wandering professional harm-giver network looking for an experienced combat expert. The best candidate for his purposes is one Torin Tsai, experienced half orc fighting man.

Also during this time the team searches various shops and contacts around the city for some special equipment. Potions, weapons, armor - there is a ton of wheeling and dealing.

Finally the heroes spend some time getting a feel for the city and the people, especially those who defend it, as they know that the fate of any invasion will be decided here. An invader has to deal with Brindol one way or another, and the city seems adequately defended, if not yet on high alert.

Coincidentally the party's second night in the city is the night of a lunar eclipse. This would not be especially noteworthy but there is a strange feel in the air as the darkness grows. Then, as the moon becomes visible again, there is an outcry at the main gate to Brindol -on a hill outside the city a huge stone lion has appeared and strange green vapors are rolling down a slope towards the city as ghostly lion shapes begin swooping down and through the city streets. Our heroes realize that somehow, through some mighty feat of magic, the Ghostlord has come to them!

This guy again!
Running for the gate the team catches as many details as they can, informs the knight on watch and the gate commander what they are facing, then charge up the hill to deal with the threat. Xyla recognizes the lion from what she heard earlier, and Torin gets a quick briefing on the run as to what they face. They stay clear of the vapors, as billowing green gas has never really been a good thing in their experience. It appears to be flowing out of the lion's mouth, sinking to the ground, and rolling down towards the city gate. They deduce that the mouth might be a way in, but not while it's spewing out that nastiness, and they're going to need to deal with the behir regardless, partly so they can find an entrance, partly for revenge.

Before they can deal with the dracoform though, the spirits that were harmless last time prove to be hostile and dangerous this time. As the heroes approach the great stone lion the spirits attack, gliding in and tearing into them with ethereal claws and teeth. When the defenders strike back, rather than dissipate as their wispy appearance would indicate, the lion spirits seem to solidify and intensify their attacks - instead of a skirmish with vaporous nuisances, the group finds itself in a real fight against serious opposition.

New companion Torin proves to be a devastating combatant, one of the feared Slayers, wielding a massive fullblade like some wield a rapier, spinning a wall of shining death about himself and tearing through the spirits as if they were any other mortal opponent.

Xyla too reveals herself in the battle, unleashing her rage in a very familiar style of claws, fangs, and a swarm of shadows, fighting the spirits on their own level - apparently Zarra had a sister, and her sister is also Vampire.

I think that's one outstretched leg of the lion
Gravis adapts his tactics to these new enemies and new allies. With the old familiar core of the elf in back, himself and Ivan in the center, and the two dwarves up front holding a line, the two new heroes find a place weaving their way through this formation, dancing in between the others, striking where needed.

The new team fights their way to the lion and begins looking for a hidden entrance as the swarm of spirits is thinned by their efforts. Though others continue to head for the city, the last of the guardian spirits eventually falls and no new ones appear to take their place. A quick search of the base reveals no secret doors into the edifice so the party prepares to assault the one entrance they do know about - the arch at the front of the lion, home of the behir that defeated them last time.

DM Notes: There was a lot of RP and administrative detail in this one and just the one fight at the end. We had some overland travel, a gathering of the remaining party members as we had full attendance this time, working in two new characters, a trip to a new city that will figure prominently in the campaign from here on out, and the unexpected appearance of their current enemy in their own back yard.

The paladin's player prefers fighter type characters, but having played two paladins in this campaign he wanted to change it up slightly. The Slayer is an Essentials class that is very much like an AD&D fighter - high AC, high HP, and deals a bunch of damage in melee. He doesn't have a bunch of flashy powers but he can throw pretty serious hurt out every round. I think he was pretty pleased  with his choice.

Lady Blacksteel was perfectly happy playing a vampire and wanted to continue that. So, she took this as an opportunity to tune up her choices at each level and came up with an even meaner melee striker than she had before. Sure, Drow Vampires are probably fairly rare on the surface, but if you are going to have two then it makes perfect sense that they would be sisters!

Given the rest of the party - two leaders, a ranged striker, and a very solid defender, adding two more melee strikers should turn them into an absolute blender in combat, and down the road this proved to be true.

I let the new characters come in at level 8, the same as the rest of the party. I used to say one level lower but given the way 4E is structured and the way they went out I don't really see a need for a "death penalty" - they hate dying enough as it is. So we had a six character 8th level party ready to roll by about halfway through the session. My reasoning here s that though the characters are the highest level adventurers active in the vale, others might have been drawn here by reports of the invasion activity and that's where Torin came from. Xyla was sent by House Bauer to help Zarra and watch Brindol - when informed of her death Xyla became her house's next top agent on the scene and joined the group - duty and revenge lined up nicely in this case.  

The teleporting lion is absolutely not a part of the original adventure. With the breaking of the phylactery we are way off script as far as the adventure is concerned anyway so I decided to embrace that. I presumed a powerful ritual performed on the night of a lunar eclipse as a plausible enough means of moving the thing. This also eliminated the long distance travel between the vale and the Ghostlord, made him a direct threat to the vale itself, and showed some initiative on his part, instead of being a good monster and waiting for the adventurers to come back and finish him off. It also allowed me to work in some additional history of the knights, the lion thing, and do some more setup for later in the campaign. I think it surprised the players and that's always good too.

Short version: The Lion Knights of Brindol were founded by a former Knight of Argent, a legendary order that faded out long ago. The stone lion was a part of the founding of the successor order and some of that backstory will come out later. Those of you who recognize "Argent" in its 4E context probably know where I'm going but don't spoil it for now.

The lion spirits are all over the Ghostlord lair description so I decided to give them a spotlight moment and give the party something to fight besides dragons and humanoids. With Big Solo Round Two coming up I thought they might enjoy taking on some other opposition first and it would give them a chance to  figure out their roles and tactics in combat prior to that big fight too.  

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