Saturday, February 15, 2014

SSoI - Session 15: Red Hand of Doom - The Ruins of Rhest

Our Heroes (7th level):
  • Lt. Alex Gravis, Water Genasi Warlord (and Ivan, experienced professional Owlbear)
  • Zarra, Drow Vampire
  • Gartok, Dwarf Earth Warden
  • Izenheim, Dwarf Cleric of Marthammor Duin
  • No-Name, Elf Bow Ranger 
  • Sir Abel Primies, Human Paladin of Torm (talking theology with the elves back at Starsong Hill)
In the village of Starsong Hill the party's old friend Izenheim catches up to them, muttering something about "chases" and "swamps" and " ...cleric, not a ranger".

One of the Elven leaders

After the funeral a council is called. The elves noticed a new presence in the ruins of Rhest a few months back  but have steered clear of it until now. Most of the old city is underwater except for a few of the taller buildings in the center, and that seems to be where the new forces are concentrated. They do share that the lake is inhabited by lizardmen who have been co-opted by the invaders. They have seen a black dragon flying in the area as well. The elves are all for the party's expedition and will help with food and healing but will not send warriors or owls into the ruins. With a hearty thanks, the rested and resupplied band heads out into the marsh once again.

The ruined city is surrounded by a lake, so the first task is to get past the lizardman patrols in the nearby marsh and the villages around the shore. Led by the ranger, the party does this with astounding ease - clearly lizardfolk are not the most alert of guards. Stealing a boat, the heroes advance to the outer ruins of ancient Rhest.

The next challenge is to figure out which area the Red Hand is using. Some time spent observing the central ruins leads them to one building in particular, where large humanoids can be seen moving around on the roof. The first floor of the buildings is underwater, but some appear to have wooden decking built around them. This is where the party aims to land and where they first encounter opposition, as on the landing a pair of armored ogres stand guard. Paddling quietly, the infiltrating heroes manage to pull right up to the dock without being detected. Then all hell breaks loose as they leap from their boats and the ogres snarl and charge.

The armored ogres guard the stairs - apparently the only entrance is on the roof - while the others rain spears down on the party. From a nearby building connected by a bridge a green razorwing charges in as well. A nasty fight develops as the walkways are so narrow it's almost impossible to make any headway. The warden stands firm as the ogres close in. The cleric chants and swings his axe on one side as the vampire tears into an ogre on the other. The warlord directs traffic and looks for an opening as the ranger starts feathering targets on the roof.

This is a long fight. Zarra, aided by Gravis, bloodies one ogre in her opening storm of fang and claw and it is slain soon after. The ranger drops another ogre from the rooftop with his amazing arrow fire. These small victories open things up a bit and allow the heroes to begin fighting their way up to the roof. As the fight hangs in the balance, the razorfiend is finally slain, one ogre is knocked into a hole in the roof (THUMP - ARGH! - SPLASH!) then the warlord is knocked off of the roof and into the water! The dwarves back the last armored ogre into the adjacent building over the bridge and there they finally bring him down.

As the battle ends, half the party looks down a hole into the darkness inside the big ruin. The dwarven half looks around and realizes they are in a hatchery ... full of strange green eggs.

DM Notes:  After the initial war-council, this was pretty much a full-session commando raid and it was a blast. I was worried, because they breezed right through the stealthy sneaking part - not having the paladin along may have helped here. It was a skill challenge and I don;t think they failed anything. 

The fight, however, made up for it - ten rounds of intense melee with every attack leading to a small gain or loss of ground or a potential fall from a height! This is one where 4E's push/pull/slide and lockdown attacks really felt especially cinematic. The ironclads had marking and the ability to push a target when it violated their mark. The skirmishers had a close burst 2 that let them push targets up to 2 squares and then move themselves! There was a lot of tension around the table whenever one of those went off. Of course the characters have those kinds of powers too and one of them managed to knock one of those ogres into the big hole on the roof, which is exactly what the ogres had been trying to do to them! It was great and I'm glad I had some pictures to help recapture that night.

Friday, February 14, 2014

40K Friday - Dark Angels 2014: Progress!

Over the last month I have acquired just about all of the parts I need for my Dark Angels army. That's a new thing for me - I tend to start small, building and painting and playing as I go and building an army up over years. For this one while I sort of started out with the Dark Vengeance set in the fall of 2012 I never really had a desire or a vision of a full DA army until the end of 2013. Once I knew what I wanted to do with it, I decided to go ahead and put it together all at once.

So, a month into this, how does it look?

Well, everything is basecoated in a nice flat black. That pile includes a razorback and two rhinos. Yes I spray coat things still on the sprue - it's easier in some situations.

HQs are still in their baggy. Work on them comes later. I need to get the paint scheme completely finalized before I finish them.

Predators actually were painted with some yellow when I acquired them. I am carefully converting them to something that matches this army. Still experimenting a little here as it's going to take some false starts to get the exact mix of red and white details that I think looks good. Not there yet.

I'm still experimenting with the dreadnoughts too but they tend to be easier for me as they mostly follow the infantry paint scheme. That's one classic metal "Dark Angels Dreadnought" - first Hellfire type - and one current plastic version that's probably going for the classic assault cannon + powerfist combo.

That's two ravenwing bike squads in bags. Basecoated, saving for later. THinking about getting a command squad for them too for a more bike-heavy version of this army.

Command squad! These guys will be carrying the banner of devastation and are a key part of my infantry force. I am still trying to decide on whether I need to make one of them a medic - a few more points, but it does give the squad Feel No Pain. To keep the banner alive it's probably worth it but I may have to make him an extra figure. No special gear for these guys, just bolters. While their 2 attacks make it tempting to load them up with power weapons and stormshields it would make them stupidly expensive. That banner makes bolters pretty special and that needs to be the focus. They will be riding in the razorback.

The harassment/trolling assault squad. Five guys, two flamers, melta bombs and krak grenades - look out cheap objective holders and lonely vehicles. While I don't think of Dark Angels as an assault force, I'm not really planning to use these guys as a typical assault squad.

The all-plasma devastator squad. Yes it may be overkill, and yes, the odds are one of them will blow himself up during a typical game, but this is a plasma-themed army. Plus they make people nervous, which is good.

Tac squad number one - this is where most of my attention is going right now. The two tac squads along with the command squad make up the core of my initial force. Two rhinos and the razorback move up, dump out the troops, who then start unloading on anything in range with quadruple-normal bolter fire.

The main challenge is getting the basic paint scheme right - everything else in the army will be a variation of what goes here. The red helmet top is almost too mohawk-like but it looks alright on the table. The unit type insignia on the right is red, the chapter insignia on the left is white, the chest eagle is white, and the weapon will be largely silver. Right now I think the robes will be white/off white but I'm not sure - have to see how it looks with the rest of the scheme.

The other issue is the visually cool but tactically stupid weapon choice on the sergeants. The DA codex has sergeants starting with a bolt gun and a bolt pistol. That makes perfect sense for a squad whose main job is shooting things. In the Dark Vengeance tac squad the sergeant comes with a plasma pistol and a chain sword! To do this he has traded in both of his starting weapons for two shorter-ranged weapons and paid 15 points for the privilege! That's terrible! He's now an assault sergeant in a shooting squad - and he's not particularly effective in HTH! A power weapon I could understand, but the plasma pistol is the single most overpriced weapon upgrade in the game and all it does in close combat is open up the two-melee-weapon bonus attack - for 15 points on a one-wound model!

That configuration was just not going to work for me. Getting rid of the bolter in a squad I intend to park next to the banner of devastation is not going to happen, but it would be nice to have another special shot in the squad. So I picked up some combi-weapons and started cutting. I agonized over choices here and ended up going with "more plasma". The flamer is nice defensively but I'll take a 4-shot bolter (or specialty shots) if I get charged and I just don't see this squad making an assault, limiting the flamer's usefulness. I seriously considered melta but it's only 1 short-ranged shot, it's really only contributing against vehicles, and I don't want to rely on a single shot in those situations. I like stormbolters but they don't qualify for the banner bonus so they were out. So, comi-plasma it was and it keeps the "plasma plasma plasma" theme of the army alive too.

I went ahead and kept the chainsword - it does look cool.

That's where things stand now. I also have a land raider crusader and some deathwing knights on the way - more about those next time.

SSoI - Session 14: Red Hand of Doom - Swamp Lovin

Our Heroes (now 7th level):
  • Lt. Alex Gravis, Water Genasi Warlord (and Ivan - that's EEE-VAHN)
  • Zarra, Drow Vampire
  • Gartok, Dwarf Earth Warden
  • Izenheim, Dwarf Cleric of Marthammor Duin  (passed out on a floor somewhere)
  • No-Name, Elf Bow Ranger 
  • Sir Abel Primies, Human Paladin of Torm
We open at the now-defunct fort/tollgate constructed by the Red Hand on the Old North Road. Presumably this was part of their invasion plans, but the party isn't sure what role it was to play.

(Also, my players had a heck of a time remembering some of the details from the previous session. This is odd, because we only had the usual two-week gap here but they were pretty fuzzy about some of the decisions/findings/conclusions from last time. We got it all sorted out and moved on.)

Having learned something of the local lore while in Drellin's Ferry the party knows that the ancient city of Rhest was the center of some long-lost realm that was destroyed before the war captain Imphras founded Impiltur in 1095 DR. Now it is a ruin in the middle of the Blackfens. This seems the most likely place to find this "Saarvith" noted on the captured map. With the ranger leading the way, they head into the marsh.

After a few hours the ranger notices an unusual set of tracks and the party notices a hill with some trees (it's been pretty sparse so far) rising out of the muck. They approach cautiously and soon spot a giant owl, dead (recently killed) at the base of one of the trees. Deciding to investigate they draw the attention of a large green draconic beast that stands up, hissing as they approach. The paladin moves to stand between it and the party and as he does so the thing charges.

Sir Abel and the dragonspawn clash, sword and shield against blade-like wings and acid spit. The ranger begins firing on the creature as well. Quickly, a second beast rises out of the murky water an charges the vampire, who is all too ready to mix it up blade-to-claw. The warlord and friend move in to help as does the warden but Zarra takes a serious beating from the second dragonspawn. Sir Abel is also in bad shape, bearing the brunt of the beast's blows on his side of the battle. He calls upon the power of Torm and manages to finish the thing off in a flurry of blows. Gravis rallies Zarra enough to let her loose one last burst of fury that rips the other beast apart, then uses its essence to heal her wounds.

After the battle, the group's best guess is that these monsters are some kind of mutated green dragon and that they are not native to the area. Investigating the dead owl it looks like a pet or companion and based on the clues they end up cutting the greenspawn open to see if there's any sign of the owner. They find nothing recognizable other than a ring. Some other gear scattered around the area (along with other scattered remains) does prove to be useful and some of it even magical.

As they gather up these things and search the area an elf riding on the back of another giant owl drops down out of the sky and holds them at swordpoint, demanding to know what they are doing in the marsh and how that other owl ended up dead. The party explains and Killiar Arrowswift relents enough to realize they did not kill the owl or his missing friend, Lanikar. As more elves and owls descend, the leader decides to take the whole party back to their village to try and make sense of what happened. The team agrees.

Our heroes are led to Starsong Hill, the largest encampment of the Tiri-Kotor elves, a rustic group who dwell in the Blackfens. This is a large area of solid ground, heavily wooded, and topped by the hill it was named for. Lit by lanterns, many elves appear to live in tents on the ground though there are some larger constructs in the trees. As the patrol splits up, Killiar takes the newcomers to meet the leaders of the tribe and to share the hard news that one of their own was killed. The party does well in these meetings and is invited to watch the funeral for Lanikar the next day.

DM Notes: Another multifaceted session with some thinking by the players (both in and out of character), a fight, and interaction with some unexpected allies. Having a pair of nature-oriented characters like the ranger and the warden is a real help in this adventure as there has been a lot of cross-country travel, tracking, and just dealing with the wilderness. Having two means the game is unlikely to get bogged down in basic travel/survival issues.

The fight was with a pair of Greenspawn Razorfangs, down-leveled to be a decent challenge:

Elites with a ranged attack for ongoing damage and a melee attack for ongoing untyped damage makes them pretty nasty. This was not their last appearance.

Magic Items here were filling in some lower level gaps so lots of utility if nothing spectacular: Iron Armbands of Power (lv6), Boots of the Fencing Master (lv7), Amulet of Physical Resolve (lv7), Flagon of Ale Procurement (lv5), Bag of Holding (lv5)

The interaction with the elves was a skill challenge drawn out over several locations and with multiple parts.

24 – Blackfens Starsong Hill – Level 7 Encounter, 1500 xp
Killiar Arrowswift (600)4 Tiri Kotor Hunters (800)5 Giant Owls (1000)
This is a Skill Challenge to successfully work things out with the Tiri Kotor elves.
Complexity 5, Level 7 – Moderate = DC 16, Hard = DC 23 
Primaries: Diplomacy, History, Nature (Perception counts as a Primary here)
Secondary: Religion, Insight, Heal
Stage 1 is convincing Killiar (Ranger) that the PC's are friendly – 3 Moderate, 1 Hard
(Killing the fiend counts as an automatic moderate, turning over the owl band counts as an automatic moderate, turning over the ring counts as an automatic Hard)
Stage 2 - After flying to Starsong Hill,
convincing Sellyria (Druid) takes 3 Moderate and 1 Hard (Nature)convincing Trellara (Bard) takes 3 Moderate and 1 Hard (History)funeral and convincing Illian (Cleric) takes 3 Moderate and 1 Hard (Religion)

They did very well with this one and set things up well for the future. This was a part of painting the picture of the Vale as not just being full of monsters and farmers but keeping some of the "fantasy" alive in it for the good guys too. I will admit that when I first read it elves living in a marsh riding giant owls did not impress me. They come across as a flavor of "wood elf" and I seriously considered making them much more barbaric "wild elf" from old school Greyhawk lore. I ended up not doing it, mostly because they are just not remote enough to justify it. As I spent more time with them I came around on the original description and decided it was OK. Hopefully the players did too. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

SSoI - Session 13: Red Hand of Doom - The Great Debate

Our Heroes (6th level):
  • Lt. Alex Gravis, Water Genasi Warlord (and Ivan, teenage owlbear sidekick!)
  • Zarra, Drow Vampire
  • Gartok, Dwarf Earth Warden
  • Izenheim, Dwarf Cleric of Marthammor Duin  (off frolicking in the mountanis)
  • No-Name, Elf Bow Ranger (off frolicking in the woods)
  • Sir Abel Primies, Human Paladin of Torm
(It is the 9th of Flamerule, 1450 DR, in  Drellin's Ferry, in the Elsir Vale, Impiltur)

After saving the village the heroes rush to deliver their news. Speaking to the town leadership, the party recommends an evacuation of the village without delay.

Iormel, speaking for the wealthy landowners & merchants, is completely against that, and isn't too happy that they destroyed Skull Gorge Bridge when that little tidbit comes out. He proposes fighting ("we have property here!"), dismissing the invaders as just a larger than average bunch of marauding bandit goblin trash.

Kellin, the halfling innkeeper suggests buying off the horde if they cannot stand against it militarily.

Soranna, captain of the militia, is in a hard place. She doesn't want to appear cowardly but she knows that the village militia cannot beat the things that are scouting for the invaders, much less the actual army. She proposes a rearguard action while evacuating the area.

A new arrival, one of the (locally) famous Knights of the Lion informs the group that her patrol was ambushed to the north on the Old Rhest Trail and that it is possible the invasion force is maneuvering to cut off any retreat from the western parts of the vale.

Speaker Wiston, the leader of the village, waffles and appears to be leaning towards sending emissaries to the invaders to determine their intent.

At this, Sir Primies stands and delivers an impassioned plea for realism and compassion, that there is no way to stop the army with the forces available and that attempting to do so will only get the militia killed, along with the entire population of the village shortly thereafter.

Gravis chimes in citing numerous historical accounts of successful retreats - and heroic defenses that ended in massacres.

Gartok shares stories handed down from the primal spirits of the world, imploring the elders to take a larger view of things.

Finally, Zarra glares at the assembled leaders and very loudly whispers - "LISTEN ... TO ... THEM"

Amid hushed whispers a decision is made to evacuate the village, retreating east down the Dawn Way with an ultimate goal of Brindol, the largest city in the vale, fortified, and home to the Knights of the Lion. The militia will defend their people on the road. Sura the Lion Knight has to get word to her order in Brindol, but will meet the evacuees on the road with more knights.  

The heroes, satisfied that the village's plan is sound, plan to investigate the Old Rhest Trail and root out any forces the invasion has in the area. This will both serve notice that the vale is not defenseless and will help shield the evacuation. Gravis also wants to investigate the cryptic "Saarvath" note in the area on Koth's map. They requisition/borrow some horses, transcribe the notes from the captured map for Sura to take back east, and then head out on their next adventure.

 The ride north is uneventful until they are just west of the southern section of Lake Rhestin. Here they come across a large timber ... fortification ... blocking the road. This is no ambush - it's a roadblock! A pretty stout one too, built like a castle's gatehouse with the road passing right through it. It also appears to be manned by the by-now-expected hobgoblins plus some large, brutish humanoids - ogres.

As they come under bow and javelin (large javelin) fire, our heroes once again go with "Plan A" and smash open the wooden gate. As the warden, paladin, and warlord rush in to attack the ogres on the ground, the vampire floats up over the "battlements" and tears into the archers up on top. One of the hobgoblins turns out to be a spellcaster as lightning flashes out and into Sir Primies. He engages the warcaster as Gartok and Gravis (and Ivan!) tackle the ogres. Fresh out of archers to massacre, Zarra joins in on the ogres as well. As Gartok locks them down, Zarra tears them up, both assisted by Gravis. As soon as he finishes off the caster, the paladin turns back to help against the last ogre. In a very workmanlike display the party rips through the roadblock and the garrison, setting things right once again.

DM Notes: Lots of out-of-character party debate, lots of in-character speechifying, lots of NPC interaction, then a nice little combat to round things out - it's another good run. If you're interested, here are my notes on the debate:

Conclusion of Part 2 – The Great Debate
Fight, Talk, or Run

  • Speaker Wiston
  • Captain Soranna – Reluctant but Run – suicide, can't fight off thousands
  • Innkeeper Kellin (halfling) – Talk (buy them off with gold and prepare to fight later)
  • Stablekeeper Delora Zann - Run
  • Wealthy Landowner Iormel - Fight

Level 6 Complexity 3 Skill Challenge – 7 Moderate (DC 15), 3 Hard (DC 23)
Primary: Diplomacy, History, Intimidate, Streetwise
Secondary: Arcana, Nature, Religion, Insight
Raids repelled = 1 automatic success each
Using Koth's map = 1 hard success

The paladin kicked things off with diplomacy, the warlord went with history, the warden went with nature, and the vampire wrapped it all up with intimidate and it went very well. I think everyone appreciated the change of pace after the fight-heavy sessions before this one. Our last talk-heavy session was with Warklegnaw back in Session #10.

There are various ways this fight can go and the adventure is pretty good at covering the implications of all of them, including a pretty detailed description of what happens if the decision is made to fight. I kept the main parts of this and built it into a skill challenge to give it a mechanical framework - thank you 4E, this is exactly the kind of thing they were made to handle.

This concluded "Part 2" of the adventure and after this they leveled up! I told them ahead of time that they would jump to 7th in this session and to bring sheets for both. We all use a character builder so it's easy enough to do.

The roadblock is another set encounter in the adventure and I stayed pretty close to it, from map to garrison. There were some nuances to this one, from breaking things to climbing to levitating to dealing with their first enemy spellcaster in some time. It lasted 11 rounds which was quite a bit longer than I expected but it was a cool fight, and only having 4 players probably made it a little tougher than it would have been normally.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

SSoI - Session 12: Red Hand of Doom - The Defense of Drellin's Ferry

Our Heroes (6th level):
  • Lt. Alex Gravis, Water Genasi Warlord (and Ivan, teenage owlbear sidekick!)
  • Zarra, Drow Vampire
  • Gartok, Dwarf Earth Warden
  • Izenheim, Dwarf Cleric of Marthammor Duin  (making a pilgrimage to some dwarf mine, no doubt)
  • No-Name, Elf Bow Ranger
  • Sir Abel Primies, Human Paladin of Torm
We begin on the outskirts of Drellin's Ferry, where the team has returned with news of an invasion only to find the village under some kind of attack...

Somewhat dismayed by the smoke rising over their safe haven, the party rests briefly and then pushes on into the burning section of the village. As they move in they hear some unusual noises, then finally confront the source of the fires - a chimera! Concerned about taking on a beast like that, but unwilling to let it burn its way through the entire town our heroes move in - Gravis shouting commands, Gartok calling on the spirits of the earth, Sir Primies chanting the battle hymns of Torm, Zarra showing her fangs, and the elf silently drawing his bow.

There is, of course, a breath weapon in play here and despite their best efforts it does catch a few of our heroes but they press on. The ranger is fairly safe at his firing position but the rest of the party is under heavy threat as each of the thing's heads is a vicious opponent up close. Quickly, although they are inflicting some harm, Zarra is down and in bad shape. In response the paladin calls out and strikes with a radiant blade, infused with the divine. The blow lands but brings mixed results as the dragon head responds with another blast of fire The warden summons his strongest spirits, taking blow after blow to almost no effect while the warlord tries to think of a plan to salvage this situation. In a brutal half-minute of redoubled action, the swords, arrows, and hammer of the heroes put an end to the beast right there in the western village square, though they take a serious beating to do so - except for the bow ranger. Sometimes, there's no secret weapon other than force against force. The vampire is saved, but as her wounds heal her pride does not and she is in a furious bloodlust, looking to avenge her fall.

Fortunately a pair of winged shapes sweep over the rooftops and the riders on their back throw javelins as the leonine forms fling tail spikes - Manticores! With goblins riding on their backs! The vampire however has very few ways to attack an airborne target, pushing her rage even further! In fact the entire party (other than No-Name) is having some difficulty reaching these airborne enemies but eventually one of the riders becomes a little too confident and swoops in for close combat. With an evil, anticipatory grin she tears into the manticore who is going nowhere now. Gravis leads Ivan into melee as well and the owlbear lands a telling blow The rider is knocked off of his mount and rather quickly slain, even as the other rider drops in to try and extricate him. In a tremendous terrestrial tussle both riders and the first manticore are killed. The second manticore struggles out of this furious furball and flies off, wounded repeatedly by the bow ranger. The creature finally passes out of range. As the elf finally lowers his bow, Gravis, Gartok, and Abel realize they still have news to deliver, and the vampire wipes the blood from her lips - and smiles.

DM Notes: This was a combat-heavy session and it was a lot of fun. I dug out the old Mordheim buildings for some 3D terrain and spent a little more time on the map. I thought I had some pictures of the fight but I cannot find them. 

A chimera, manticores, goblins, and hobgoblins are all part of the forces that can attack the village depending on what the players do and how much time they take. I wanted to keep the flavor true to the source so that's what appeared here, adjusted to fit 4E's encounter system.  

The chimera fight was tough - a level 9 solo going against a 5-man party of level 6 characters. They beat it in 5 rounds (with one casualty) but it was a fairly tense 5 rounds. The vampire was hit in each of the first 3 rounds and was down and dying in round 4 - even with marking it's hard to lock down something with 3 heads. A party member dropping is usually the signal to take it up a notch and as powers were fired off the warden hit AC34 at one point and that's a tall order even for a chimera. 

The manticores & riders fight went 10 rounds, mainly due to the party's lesser abilities in ranged combat - at least compared to their melee prowess. Early on the vampire landed a 45 point hit, somewhat making up for her KO in the last fight. The bow ranger burned an action point to finish off one target and managed to miss with both shots from a twin strike but yet another attack from the warlord finally let him grab some glory.

This fight is one where a controller could have made a big difference. Partly because they usually have a fair amount of ranged capability, and partly because they might have been able to tangle up or knock down the flying targets to get them in range of the meat grinders. The bow ranger is a very potent ranged combatant, but when he's (effectively) the only one making attacks compared to all 5 when in melee, well, it's not great.

Regardless, it was a successful defense against aerial scouts and raiders from the Red Hand and set up the next session quite well.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

SSoI - Session 11: Red Hand of Doom - Retreat to Drellin's Ferry

Having defeated the advance guard of the Red Hand our heroes take on the puzzle of how to destroy the bridge over Skull Gorge - after some basic looting and treasure-sorting of course.

Our Heroes (6th level):
  • Lt. Alex Gravis, Water Genasi Warlord (and Ivan!)
  • Zarra, Drow Vampire
  • Gartok, Dwarf Earth Warden
  • Izenheim, Dwarf Cleric of Marthammor Duin 
  • No-Name, Elf Bow Ranger (out this week, off scouting for more goblins)
  • Sir Abel Primies, Human Paladin of Torm
The party is also accompanied by Warklegnaw, aged chieftain of the Twistusk hill giants

The bridge is a tough one. Thankfully with the return of the dwarves there are some experts on stonework present and they begin inspecting the structure. Soon enough some weak spots are located and the hard work begins. With the aid of some magic - and a friendly hill giant - the bridge is weakened to the point that breaking one final, critical stone will being the span down. SMASH! The paladin is the last one off of the bridge as it collapses but he makes it - barely.

After this the group decides to head back to Drellin's Ferry to warn them of the invasion and to begin getting the cities of the vale organized for defense. There is a little more urgency in their travel now so there is even less of an attempt at stealth than there was before. After all, the bridge is down, what could possibly be left in the area? Warklegnaw announces that he's going to head into the mountains to find his tribe and bring them to the aid of the vale. Goodbyes are said and then the aged giant heads out alone.

This rhetorical question is soon answered by the howling of worgs as the party crosses paths with a team of goblin scouts - worg riders! The riders charge and the party is forced into melee as their ranger is not with the team! A somewhat spread-out fight develops as the heroes charge downed riders or move to intercept riderless beasts. Soon enough the red hand riders are slain and the mission to Drellin's Ferry can continue.

As the party emerges from the Withchwood ("which wood?" - gamer humor) they see smoke -from fires burning in the very village they have come to warn. Drellin's Ferry is already under attack - are they too late?

DM Notes: This was largely a free-form problem solving exercise in dropping the bridge without time, tools, and magic that would normally make that easier. I didn't even use the skill challenge system as the adventure has a lot of notes on how this can be done. Some skills do come into play but it really depends on the players reasoning things out and doing the best they can with what they have on hand. So it's a lot like old AD&D modules in that respect. They did fine.

Once that was solved, the option to go and scout out the army encampment at Cinder Hill is pretty much gone. They were perfectly willing to accept Koth's war plan at face value and decided it was more important to warn the village so off they went. The worg riders were advance scouts who had been patrolling between the keep and the bridge and livened things up considerably with 12 combatants - 6 riders, 6 worgs. 

The burning village was a nice twist and led into another good session.

Monday, February 10, 2014

SSoI - Session 10: Red Hand of Doom - The Battle of Skull Gorge

We begin in Vraath Keep, newly claimed domain of Baron Gravis, vassal of House Reinhardt, in the Elsir Vale, Impiltur, in Flamerule of 1450 DR. Our heroes have cleansed the ruined keep of evil and in the process discovered plans for an invasion of the vale.

Our Heroes (all newly 6th level after clearing the keep):
  • Lt. Alex Gravis, Water Genasi Warlord (and his young owlbear companion, Ivan)
  • Zarra, Drow Vampire
  • Gartok, Dwarf Earth Warden (out this week)
  • Izenheim, Dwarf Cleric of Marthammor Duin (out this week)
  • No-Name, Elf Bow Ranger 
  • Sir Abel Primies, Human Paladin of Torm
Rested and recovered, the party decides to take the old forest road north to scout out Skull Gorge Bridge, marked on the invasion map.

Moving along the old road through forest the group is making good time when they come across a strange figure made out of wood, covered in moss. It's crudely humanoid and looks like it's been here some time. The ranger recognizes it as a territorial marker used by certain hill giant tribes in the region. An old track leads off of the road and into a hilly region of the woods. The party decides that it's worth a short side trip to see if the giants are still around and if they are part of the invasion plan. They head off into the woods attempting some measure of stealth.

Soon they come to a clearing where they can see smashed remains of a massive wooden fortress, built on a larger than human scale (think of the steading from G1 smashed apart for the proper visual). In one section of the ruins is a large firepit with a large wild boar turning on a spit over it. A gnarled old hill giant sits next to the thing, seemingly oblivious to the party. The team debates on how to approach this lone creature and eventually decides to parlay with him.

As they emerge from the woods the old giant assumes a defensive stance, raising his club and warning them off. Sir Primies takes the lead here and talks the giant down. As the rest of the group joins in things relax until the whole group is sitting around the fire sharing roasted boar and swapping stories. Here, the party learns of the rest of the history of this part of the vale, and that Old Warklegnaw is the last of his kind living here. The ruins are all that remains of the steading of the Twistusk tribe. He was there during the dispute with Vraath Keep and after the mutual devastation dealt to both dwellings his tribe moved up into the mountains under his leadership. Eventually though he decided he was too old to lead and returned to this place to live out his final years. He hasn't noticed the influx of goblins but he hasn't been travelling much as of late. As our heroes share what they have found, he decides to accompany them for a spell as he is familiar with Skull Gorge and the bridge and figures a walk would do him some good. The party is happy to have a hill giant companion, figuring even an older, somewhat worn giant is better than no giant if it comes to a fight. They all rest for the night and head out the next morning.

The party approaches from this end of the bridge

Arriving early in the afternoon, our heroes and their new friend discover that the Red Hand has already taken possession of the bridge. Banners over the encampment on the north side bear the sign of the red hand while hobgoblin troops man the towers, hell hounds watch the bridge, and a green dragon patrols above.

Not daunted for a minute the party decides that action is required as based on their information the army will be crossing here - better to stall them by taking out this advance guard than to wait for the entire army. Plus if they can figure out a way to destroy the bridge it will give them time to warn Drellin's Ferry and figure out a strategy for defending the vale. There's not much point in stealth with hell hounds guarding the place and frankly they prefer a straight-up fight anyway so with a mix of battlecries they charge the southern end of the bridge, Warklegnaw right alongside them - "it's been a long time since I've fought a dragon".

Notably the ranger does not charge. Instead, he draws back his bow and begins shooting death into the opposition, first the hell hounds and then the hobgoblin archers on top of the towers. Zarra rips into one hound and slays it single-handedly while the giant, the paladin, and the warlord (and Ivan!) tear up the other.

As the hounds expire (and more hobgoblins fall from the towers with elf-arrows in their hides) the dragon swoops into the cluster of heroes on the bridge and unloads his poison breath followed by a  flurry of claws and teeth. Hurt but not dismayed the team tears into Ozyrrandion the -probably-too-overconfident-dragon, with Gravis shouting commands, Ivan watching his back, Sir Primies holding the thing's attention with sword and shield high, while Warklegnaw and Zarra rip into the beast with fang, claw, and club. As the last of the hobgoblins falls, the ranger adds his arrows to the fight and the dragon falls to a final flourish by the warlord and his little owlbear friend.
He's just a level-adjusted green dragon
With the garrison handled, the party pauses to recover from the fight (and the massive amounts of poison gas spewed out by the dragon) and realizes they're going to have to figure out how to drop this bridge if they are going to delay the army of the red hand. That's going to take a little thinking ...

DM Notes: There was a fair amount of discussion at the beginning of this session about how to proceed. Should they go back and warn the village? Should they use the map to head out and attack the invaders? They eventually decided to go as far as the bridge and see what was happening there before returning to Drellin's Ferry.

Warklegnaw is a part of the original adventure and I wanted to keep him in there. I did change him from a forest giant to a hill giant as there aren't any forest giants in 4E and I don;t really see the need for yet another type of giant when we already have one that fits just fine. I turned the whole thing into a skill challenge once they got to him and it worked out very well. While we played without this kind of thing for decades I will say that it's nice to have a mechanic for handling non-combat situations beyond "make a skill roll" and it's really nice to have a system for them that actually awards XP and is built into the game. Plus, skill challenges play out much faster than combat usually does in 4E and help make balance out the time played to XP ratios if you're trying to plan this stuff out. The players did really well befriending him and learning more about the vale. Beginning here he ends up tagging along for the rest of the campaign! I gave the players his statblock and let them run him after this if he was present for a fight.

Once that was handled we had the big set-piece of  the Skull Gorge Bridge. This is the big climactic battle of this part of the adventure and I tried to stick to it as closely as I could. My general rule in this has been to keep the flavor of each encounter as much as possible. If the big bridge fight has hobgoblins, hell hounds, and a green dragon, then my version should have those same elements, and it did. Around this time is where I finally broke down and started subscribing to DDI for the monster catalog/tool. With 4th edition's monster level system it's a snap to add or remove a few levels to make something level-appropriate to the adventure, even if it's not "by the book". In this fight the hobgoblins were a mix of minions and regular monsters, the hounds were normal monsters, and the dragon was a solo but he was only level 5 which made him tough and gave him some interesting options in a fight but meant he was not overpowered when combined with  the other creatures.

So, some planning, some RP and a skill challenge, followed by a big fight - this was another really good session. 

Motivational Monday

Sunday, February 9, 2014

SSoI - Session 9: Red Hand of Doom - The Secret of Vraath Keep

After resting in Koth's chamber the heroes look around for clues as to what's driving this goblin activity. Investigation reveals some notes and a map showing forces moving across the entire Elsir Vale. They also discover a secret trap door in one corner - one that does not appear to have been discovered by the invaders. Being adventurers, there is no question as to what happens next.

The trap door opens on to a long passage down into darkness. Descending, the party finds a single room deep underground. The chests visible behind a barred gate lead to the conclusion that this was the treasure vault for the keep. The bodies on the floor indicate that it was also the final retreat for someone. The shadowy forms drifting in towards the team say that it was not a pleasant end for those concerned ...

A desperate battle against the undead erupts as numerous wraithlike forms sweep in and attack. Some are easily dispersed while others are more stubborn opponents, striking again and again. drawing the very life force from our heroes. Gartok the warden seems to draw special attention from the shades and is having a hard time of it.

Eventually the group does prevail, dispersing the last of the evil spirits. Flashes of dreamlike memory - someone else's memory - have hit them with some of the more potent attacks and they now know the ultimate fate of the keep's previous ruler. It was not a pretty one.

After catching their breath the iron gate proves to be a temporary obstacle and they have the old baron's treasure - gold, gems, a magical hammer, and a set of gauntlets made from bulette hide and sized to fit a giant! Also, among the secured chests is the original writ of ownership of Vraath Keep. They gather up the hoard and return to the more pleasant surroundings of the surface, to recover from this battle in the darkness and plan their next move.

DM Notes: This was a shorter session but it accomplished several important things. First, it opened up the party's eyes to the scope of what was happening, as can be seen on the map above. This gave them some long term elements to think about as they decided what to do next. Second it gave them the history of Vraath Keep  and some of the local relationships it had involved. These would come up in the next session and down the road too. Third it gave them their first decent-sized treasure haul in the adventure and that always makes a party feel good. The anti-giant magical hammer should prove to be particularly handy as giants figure prominently in my adaptation of this adventure and possibly beyond as well.

The fight was a good one and it was a tough challenge for them. The opponents were wraiths of various 4E types and because they were insubstantial they could sweep through the room, inn one wall and out the other, only to come back in from a different direction. Using a mix of minions and tougher types made it a bigger fight and this was one of our longer battles at 9 rounds. There was some sweating by the players as characters took their beatings but no one actually dropped so it was a tense fight but not a collapse.

The only other notable item from this part of the game was that the party was a little disappointed at the state of the keep. I think they were expecting a more immediately useful base and instead what they got was a pile of rocks that barely had a roof on it. The entire thing will have to be rebuilt but I reminded them that they had the full support of House Reinhardt which means that in time they will be able to construct a pretty nice castle. Right now there's an invasion coming and they're going to need to deal with that first. 

Also, clearing the keep completed a "major quest" in 4E terms and the party was now 6th level. Progress!