Thursday, February 27, 2014

SSoI - Session 27 - Red Dragon Fight

Our Heroes (still 10th level):
  • Lt. Alex Gravis, Water Genasi Warlord (and starting second base-bear Ivan!) 
  • Gartok, Dwarf Earth Warden
  • No-Name, Elf Bow Ranger 
  • Torin Tsai, Half-Orc Slayer
  • Zarra, Drow Vampire (in a torpor for this session after gorging herself on hill giant "juice")
Returning to Brindol after their emergency expedition the heroes realize that much of the city has been evacuated, presumably during their expedition to the Fane of Tiamat. They are invited to a council of war to share their advice and help plan a strategy for the defense of the city. As the most powerful adventurers in the city they are an important resource, and the city leaders know it.

Mechanically this is a 3-part skill challenge that will help frame the rest of the climax of the adventure.

Part 1: Formal Introductions

In this opening discussion the party meets the city leaders and makes their first impression on each. 

Success or failure here will affect how difficult the targets for the subsequent skill challenges are, initial attitudes of some of the NPC's,  and some of the offers that might be made by some of the individual NPC's.

This goes extremely well. The major players are:

  • Lord Cartwright, ruler of the city 
  • Lady Kaal, leader of a powerful trading house
  • Marshal Ulverth, head of the city watch
  • Lady Goldenbrow, high priestess of Lathander
  • Immerstal the Red, leading wizard of Brindol
Also Appearing:

  • Sorana and Speaker Wiston from Drellin's Ferry
  • Sellyria Starsinger representing the Tiri-Kotor elves
  • Captain Helmbreaker, leader of a dwarf mercenary company 

This was a Level 10 Complexity 2 skill challenge to make a good impression on the town leaders. Previous successful efforts in the adventure drop this to a level 8. Primaries are Diplomacy, Religion, and Insight. Secondaries are History, Arcana, Streetwise, and Perception.

The party blew right through this one. They are very good at some of those skills, had good references from Drellin's Ferry and the elves, and handled themselves perfectly.

Part 2: Strategy Session

With the introductions out of the way the talk turns to a debate on how to use the forces available to best defend the city.

This counts as one of the "battles" in the defense of the city. There are definite wise and unwise options on the table and choosing the bad ones will count as a defeat and remove some of the assets available to defend the city. This, combined with the results of our played encounters will determine the "finale" scenarios and the fate of Brindol - a successful, heroic defense and breaking of the Red Hand's siege, or a desperate rear guard action as the horde overwhelms the city's defenses and the remaining defenders flee for their lives.

This goes well too. It's a Level 10 Complexity 5 challenge. Primaries are Diplomacy, History, and Religion, Secondaries are Arcana, Bluff, Insight, Nature, and Streetwise. The basic debate is whether to meet the enemy in the field with the Lion Knights leading the way, or to hold the walls, giving up the initiative but maintaining a stronger defensive posture. Lord Cartwright and the knights are in favor of the field battle while the marshal favors holding the walls. The others hold varying positions or are undecided.

Gravis the warlord quickly realizes the army is not large enough to take the Red Hand on straight up ad argues forcefully and persuasively for holding the walls. Aided by his companions, they convince the lords of the city to play defense instead of a glorious but foolhardy charge into a stronger foe.

Part 3: Defending the City

Having decided on defense, the question arises as to what happens if they get inside the walls.

This affects some of the possible scenarios later in the campaign and there are advantages and disadvantages to both sides. This isn't a win/lose so much as it is a way for the players to decide how they want to handle things later.

One option is to run a resistance cell type of defense - small groups of snipers with makeshift barricades spread throughout the city making the entire area dangerous for invaders. The danger is that healing and power may be spread too thin. The alternative is a centralized defense stationed around the High Cathedral of Lathander. Clerics and elite defenders would be staged there to provide centralized healing and a rally point for any retreating defenders and to act a dispatch-able fire brigade if things are going wrong at any point on the walls. The danger here is that if this group/location falls, the whole city may fall. Lord Cartwright, Immerstal, and the high priestess favor the centralized defense while the rest favor a distributed defense as they are unwilling to abandon their individual holdings.

This is a level 10 complexity 2 challenge and the party once again blows it away with Torin setting Gravis up for an intense but diplomatic illustration of the perils of the distributed defense. Success here = the players get to choose how this goes, failure = a distributed defense regardless as the disunited leaders refuse to pool their resources and only defend their own holdings

After this the party is made the leading edge of the city's defense. To ensure communications the wizard uses a scroll of telepathic Bond to link Lord Cartwright to Gravis so they can communicate from anywhere in the city. Then word comes that giants are making another push for one gate, siege engines are bombarding the north wall ... and a red dragon has just landed inside the city and is setting that quarter ablaze. Our heroes mount up on giant owls and head out to deal with the dragon.

Abrithiax, the red dragon, has driven off the gate guards, smashed some smaller buildings, and set others on fire. He shows no fear as the party rushes in. In fact, though they have faced several dragons, none were as large and powerful as this one and his magnificence has an effect on them - briefly. All of them charge in (except for the ranger, though he does open fire). They wound the dragon but he repsonds with fiery breath and furious claws leaving Gartok bloodied. The warden stays in the fight, and the slayer keeps swinging, but a tail slap knocks the warlord across the street!

Continuing hits from the others are beginning to hurt the great beast and it unloads more flame on Torin and Ivan but Gravis gets back in the fight and shots encouragement to everyone. As the dwarf holds the red's attention, the slayer unloads a series of punishing slashes with his fullblade, and the ranger plants a final arrow in the thing's head as it staggers and falls.

After the dragon is slain it's a Level 10 Complexity 3 skill challenge to put out the fires. This was a little more freeform as to skill relevance so I let the players justify their skill choices. It was a lot of fun and a nice way to wrap up this session.

Marked, Quarried, and Bloodied - that's a tough situation
DM Notes: Most of my notes are above but I wanted to give the players some say in the defense of the city and the skill challenges worked very well. Their characters are the highest level beings in the valley other than the enemy leaders, and given their track record so far it makes sense that the town leaders would listen to their counsel. Note they are not just turning it all over to the PC's, but they are treating them as valuable partners, maybe even equals. I had notes on each leader's position on each of these questions and let the player's direction drive whose opinions were swayed. Skill challenges play much faster than a typical combat, so it's easy to include a few, make them feel fairly important to what's going on, and then wrap it all up with a fight against a big dragon I was very happy with the way this one went and I think the players were too. The decisions made here will shape a lot of the remainder of the adventure when it comes to encounters and the opposition.

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