Wednesday, February 5, 2014

SSoI - Session 5 - Cairn of the Winter King Part 5

Beginning in the forge room where they battled the tiefling and his friends our heroes start exploring, discovering a series of connected rooms with no obvious inhabitants. Guard rooms, a well, bedchambers, a secret staircase, and then, passing through a secret door, the party finds themselves in a large throne room, Atop a tall dais stands a massive throne, and upon it sits a skeletal figure, sheathed in ice, one hand outstretched as if reaching for something. The halfling Marko steps forward, unwrapping the Ice Scepter as he draws it from his pack and holding it out towards the Winter King. The frozen hand ... moves ...

Not so fast! Gravis steps up as well and begins speaking to the icy figure, trying to determine exactly what they are dealing with. The vampire and the ranger chime in as well in their own special ways. The ice falls away as the undead thing rises to its feet but his menace seems diminished as the party informs him of the vast amount of time that has passed since his day and of the many foes they have defeated ,,, his own followers! And right here in his own throne room!

The King has never dealt with this kind of arrogance! He lashes out with a blast of cold and the fight is on! The warden leaps into melee as the ranger unleashes a volley of shafts. The vampire unleashes her true nature and rips into the Winter King at the foot of his own throne and he staggers back! Then the warlord shouts instructions, moving the team into a perfect position and after another icy blast from the King the vampire strikes, tearing his frozen body asunder, ending the Winter King for all time.

Pausing to contemplate what just happened the adventuring band realizes that in addition to the Ice Scepter they possess there is an icy adornment on the King's head as well. They take it, adding the Crown of Winter to their growing list of magical items. Then the rumbling starts, and ice and water begin to fall from the ceiling - apparently the Winter King helped sustain this place and with his demise it is coming undone!

Urgently the party retraces their steps through a quaking, collapsing cavern, praying that their magical flying ship survives and still functions well enough to get them home. Emerging into the brilliant light of the snowy mountains, it takes a second for them to realize they are not alone - between them and the ship stand some rough-looking fur-clad humans and a monstrosity with two heads - an Ettin!

Our heroes now pause to consider their course of action. Aboard the ship stands Dar Bloodmane, "speechifying" and letting them know just how doomed they are if they dare lay a hand on his vessel while Izenheim loads a crossbow. Moving even more rapidly now, Gartok (the warden) charges the ettin with the intent of locking him down so that the rest of the party can reach the ship. Zarra (the vampire) charges the barbarians with the intent of taking them down before they can do any real damage. Gravis (the warlord) and No-Name (the ranger) move up to support.

One of the barbarians is already down and the dwarf has the ettin under control when an owlbear emerges from the rumbling Cairn, apparently fleeing the place. He rumbles right down the path towards the party, and as he does so, roaring and screeching and hooting, the party realizes this could be trouble.

Poster maps! Props! Pulling out all the stops here!

The vampire is ripping through the barbarians with a little help from the ranger as the dwarf and warlord keep the ettin tied up. Then the owlbear, moving faster than anticipated, thunders into the ranger, wounding him and forcing him to deal with something right up in his face - not his preferred scenario. Gravis gets too close in an attempt to lend his aid and takes a huge paw to the head for his troubles.

Look! A Bloodied Bow Ranger! This is an incredibly rare sight, so I wanted to memorialize it online!

Finally the ettin and then the last barbarian fall and Gartok and Zarra run back to their companions, leaping into the fray with the owlbear, which is wounded but still fighting mad. The great beast manages to grab the dwarf, nearly crushing him, and tearing into him with its beak, but the tough (and slippery) warden squirms free, just in time for the Zarra to tear into the beast and for No-Name to skewer the thing with twin arrows. As it falls lifeless to the hard-packed and red-stained snow our heroes spare it no further thought, running for the ship  which Dar and Izenheim (and Marko - not at all interested in fighting, but very interested in leaving) have ordered to lift off. Leaping aboard and settling in, the band takes to the oars, pulling the ship through the sky, hoping to make it back to Fallcrest before the ship's icy magic fails completely.

DM Notes: This was another good run, a little more serious than last time. The WInter King encounter has an interesting mechanical setup where the party can cause damage to the king - who is a fairly nasty solo - by succeeding in a skill challenge, making him easier to defeat in combat. Surprisingly my players initiated this with no prompting from me (as they themselves say, they're usually a "Plan A" kind of group) and no knowledge of what this would do, and had some pretty creative uses of Diplomacy, History, Bluff, and Nature to back it up. Things did eventually come to blows but in his weakened (though not THAT weakened) state they took him out in two rounds! 

The Warlord to Vampire connection was tremendous in this session, as she did something close to 100 points of damage in one round and killed the WInter King thanks to normal attack, warlord bonus attack, and warlord action point bonus attack. This was a hint of things to come. Mechanically the Tactical Warlord is extremely effective when paired with the more Essentials type classes that work mainly from a basic melee attack and can then stack damage boosting powers or attack boosting stances on top of it, and the Vamp is that style of character.

Once they killed the king I thought it would be really anticlimactic to have them clear out the last few rooms in this small dungeon, plus it was a pretty magical environment anyway, so I had the place start to collapse - this is not in the adventure as written. This is a DM sensing that it's time to close out the warmup adventure and move things along. That does not mean those unchecked room inhabitants go to waste though! The Ettin and Barbarians were part of an encounter that was not used, and the owlbear was form a different encounter and using the distance and his movement rate I determined he would still be moving out when the party emerged, which made for a more interesting encounter anyway. It made for an appropriately climactic 9-round fight that had everyone sweating but not complaining - not bad! 

Now I normally try to stay away from too much of the whole dramatic embellishment and keep my dungeons more of a sandboxy environment, but I knew that it would probably take at least one more session to finish exploring the place completely. I also felt like walking out the door and getting on the ship like nothing had happened seemed wrong in this case as well. So I went for the big movie ending with the collapsing, melting dungeon and the fleeing monsters fighting for an escape and all of that, Part of having a preference or a style is knowing when to violate it, and that's what I did here. The mission was accomplished, the dungeon was largely explored and cleared, and after 5 sessions it was time to get their pats on the back and move on to the main focus of the campaign. 

Next time: Back to Fallcrest, and the Red Hand of Doom invades 4th edition!


thekelvingreen said...

I think you made the right decision regarding the collapsing castle. If you're going to skip the last few insignificant rooms of the dungeon then have some fun while doing so.

Blacksteel said...

It seemed to work alright and it avoids the inevitable "should we go back for any loot we might have missed" discussion the following session. It's a big flashing sign that says "dungeon over" so everyone can move along.